This week, Brazilians elected “the Trump of the Tropics” to lead the world’s fifth-largest country. Jair Bolsonaro has considered pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and vowed to open up public lands to industry. And he rose to power using the blunt weapons of racism and homophobia.
This is a frightening moment for Brazil, and for the world. In a must-read article earlier this month, Grist’s Paola Rosa-Aquino laid out the stakes of Bolsonaro’s election for the planet’s most important forest, the Amazon.
Since the election on Sunday, indigenous groups in the Amazon have called Bolsonaro’s plans to steal lands a looming “genocide.” Environmental defenders in the Amazon are already dying at horrific rates while protecting their homelands, and now are likely to face fresh waves of attacks from loggers and miners with the government looking the other way. “The livability of the entire planet is at stake,” warned the New Republic. One climate-focused news organization has already called Bolsonaro’s election “the environmental story of 2018.”
In a congratulatory tweet, Trump praised Bolsonaro, in effect pledging a new political-economic-military alliance built on divisiveness and planet-killing policies. Brazil’s stock market rallied after the announcement of the election results, along with hopes of billions of dollars of new foreign investment in the extraction of the country’s natural resources. This is a nascent alliance between the world’s biggest historical contributor to climate change and the steward of the world’s best hope to suck all that carbon out of the air. There are no words to express how dangerous the spread of this kind of ideology is to the people on the front lines of this fight — and eventually, to every living thing on the planet.
Setbacks like this hurt. A lot. But there’s a model for resistance that has worked in Latin America.
Earlier this year, a group of 25 young people in Colombia, Brazil’s northern neighbor, successfully sued their government and won a landmark protection for the section of the Amazon forest within their country’s borders. Colombia’s highest court awarded “personhood” to the Amazon, which granted the forest additional rights under the nation’s constitution.
This might not be feasible in Brazil (especially right now), but it’s important for those of us who understand the stakes to keep thinking of creative solutions to the existential risk of continued deforestation.
Trees are still the best technology we know of to suck carbon dioxide out of the air — and they were already under grave threat even before Bolsonaro’s victory. As global weather patterns change, trees are dying worldwide at the fastest rate in history. We don’t need someone trying to make money off cutting them down. We need to make a daily commitment to imagine and build a better world, together.
When everything is at stake, a setback like this makes our work that much more important.