Brazil’s Leading Presidential Candidate Vows To Cut Down Rainforest to Make Way for Agriculture

October 19, 2018 at 11:38 pm

Scientists say the world depends on the rain forest to prevent catastrophic climate change. The man likely to be Brazil’s next president threatens to cut it down.

The “people’s choice” for the next president of Brazil is a man who brags about his intention to obliterate the rain forest to make way for agriculture and mining.

If elected, Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to:

  • Open up protected indigenous rainforest territories to agriculture and mining
  • Pave a highway through the middle of the Amazon
  • Abolish the ministry of environment
  • Withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement
  • Ban international non-governmental organizations, such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation

Bolsonaro has promised to open up historically protected indigenous lands to agriculture and mining. About 13% of Brazil’s land is recognized indigenous land, most of it in the Amazon. Indigenous people are the primary protectors of the forest, as evidenced by the fact that only 2% of rainforest deforestation has occurred inside indigenous territory.

Bolsonaro’s environmental policies are tied to racist attitudes toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples. In a campaign speech last year, he said: “Minorities have to bend down to the majority … The minorities should either adapt or simply vanish.”

Not only is this a grave attack on the human rights of Brazil’s indigenous people, but also on their ability to continue acting as the best defenders of the world’s forests,” writes Becca Warner, an environmentalism journalist for The Ecologist.

“We need all the forest we can get, to capture carbon from the atmosphere and keep it locked away,” she says. “In fact, scientists agree that halting deforestation is just as urgent as reducing emissions.”

Bolsonaro recently pledged to join U.S. President Trump in withdrawing Brazil from the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep the global average temperature less than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

He’s also promised to abolish the ministry of environment and transfer its functions to the ministry of agriculture, a classic case of asking the fox to guard the hen house.

The agriculture ministry would be headed politicians from the “beef caucus,” a group of lawmakers who have opposed indigenous land conservation, supported agricultural expansion, and attempted to relax slave labor laws.

Last week, the beef caucus formally endorsed Bolsonaro.

Halting deforestation could play a vital role in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius —  instead of the current goal of 2°C  —  which could save 10.4 million people from severe flooding, allow 10 percent of coral reefs to survive, and leave half as many people without drinking water. Current policies will take us above 3°C; Bolsonaro’s would take us higher, according to a new report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Brazil contains 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest—by far the largest forest in the world.

Bolsonaro accepts the climate is changing dangerously, but believes the solution is controlling the world’s human population.

“This explosive population growth leads to deforestation,” he told Climate Home News. “Because you will not grow soy on the terrace of your building or raise cattle in the yard. So we have to have a family planning policy. Then you begin to reduce the pressure on those issues that lead, yes, in my opinion, to global warming, which could be the end of the human species.”

(He might not have got the memo that agriculture fuels population growth).

“A Bolsonaro-led Brazil will change everything,” writes Warner. “Not just the lives of Brazilian citizens, but our chances, as a global community, of maintaining a liveable planet beyond 2030.”