Brazil has been a world leader in the fight against climate change for years. However, all of that could be undone if Bolsonaro is elected. The Amazon, Indigenous communities, and international efforts to prevent catastrophe are at great risk.
Bolsonaro has declared in speeches that he will follow in President Trump’s footsteps and withdraw Brazil from the Paris Accords. The accords require nations to reduce their greenhouse emissions in order to combat climate change and prevent the Earth from heating beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A U.N. panel on climate change warned in grave language that the international community stands to fail unless “rapid and far-reaching” measures to curb emissions are enacted immediately. Experts on climate change say the world at large has just over ten years to alter course.
Those measures include the conversion of agricultural land to biodiverse forests. In contrast to the U.N.’s call to action, Bolsonaro’s vision of deforestation for the sake of industry is the exact opposite of what climate scientists advise.
“I think we are headed for a very dark period in the history of Brazil,” Paulo Artaxo, a climate change researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, told Science Magazine. “There is no point sugarcoating it. Bolsonaro is the worst thing that could happen for the environment.”
Brazil’s borders lock in around 60 percent of the rainforest. As home to the majority of the Amazon, Brazil holds an integral role in the battle to keep the Earth from overheating.
The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical forest. It is widely considered “the lungs of the world” because 20 percent of the globe’s oxygen comes from the rainforest. This also provides a cooling effect that is critical to the rest of the world.
The country has scaled back deforestation in the Amazon over the last 13 years. Deforestation had dropped 80 percent with the help of law enforcement and incentives for sustainable practices. However, deforestation has increased recently, though, as demand for two of the country’s' main exports, soy and beef, has increased expansion of farmland into forested areas.
Bolsonaro’s campaign has promised to promote agriculture and mining in the region. Expanding the agricultural border for things like soy and cattle production into the Amazon, and opening up land for mining, would devastate the homes of a remarkable array of diverse creatures. Over 2,000 different species live in the Amazon including sloths, jaguars, poison dart frogs and river dolphins.
“The increase of deforestation will be immediate,” Edson Duarte, Brazil’s environment minister, told a Sao Paolo newspaper. “I am afraid of a gold rush to see who arrives first. They will know that, if they occupy illegally, the authorities will be complacent and will grant concordance. They will be certain that nobody will bother them.”
The right-wing politician’s candidate for the Agriculture and Environment Ministry, Nabhan Garcia, promotes legal deforestation in the Amazon and wants to merge the agricultural and environmental sectors. That merger would mean the end for governmental protections on the environment.
Garcia has also been accused of organizing paramilitary groups to attack the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), a social movement of rural workers and their allies who are fighting for land reform and against social inequality in rural areas.
The likelihood of a Bolsonaro presidency threatens indigenous communities as well, who could see their rights stripped from them. Bolsonaro has long supported opening up indigenous areas to agricultural and commercial use. Indigenous peoples are renowned stewards of the health of the natural world. In Brazil, their land rights are currently protected by government policies.
Oswaldo Ferreira, one of two generals set to be appointed in Bolsonaro’s cabinet if elected, is a possible candidate for the Transport Ministry. The former head of the Army’s department for construction and engineering was in charge of Bolsonaro’s plan for infrastructure and the environment. Ferreira participated in the construction of the Cuiaba-Santarem highway, responsible for displacing Indigenous communities.
“If (Bolsonaro) wins, he will institutionalize genocide,” Dinamam Tuxá, the national coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, told Climate Home News. “He has already said that the federal government will no longer champion Indigenous rights, such as access to the land. We are very scared. I fear for my own life.”