DATE: October 29, 2018
SNIP: It is not hyperbole to wonder if the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil is a planetary game over when it comes to climate change.
Proto-fascist Jair Bolsonaro handily won the presidency on Sunday on a platform of xenophobia, homophobia, and a promise to silence political dissidents. It’s a dark day for the world’s ninth-biggest economy and the 47 million Brazilians who didn’t vote for Bolsonaro or subscribe to his views. But his plans for the Amazon are what will reverberate far beyond the country’s borders and well into the future.
The Washington Post reports that Bolsonaro has a plan to privatize vast swaths of the forest, turning it over to agribusiness and mining. In addition, he would like to expand hydropower and nuclear power in the region, and has indicated he will not let outside environmental groups have much sway over conservation. He also said he would like to pull Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, meaning two of the world’s six largest carbon emitters will have potentially turned their back on international climate action.
His policies of environmental and cultural violence could work in tandem in the Amazon to devastating effect. The forest is already in a weakened state after decades of logging, extraction, and agribusiness interests taking their toll. And while previous governments have paid lip service to protecting the region, degradation has continued.
The threat to indigenous people is likely to increase under Bolsonaro, who has expressed admiration for Brazil’s former military dictatorship that was part of a wave of neoliberal suffering that afflicted Latin America in the 1970s.
Bolsonaro’s rise to power has been marked by violence, threats, and even murder. But the violence could soon ripple around the world in a planetary sense. The Amazon is commonly called the lungs of the planet, because it absorbs an astounding quarter of all carbon dioxide that land around the globe takes up each year. However, its natural carbon sink seems to be diminishing. Research published in 2015 showed the Amazon takes up a billion tons less carbon than it did in the 1990s.
Bolsonaro’s plan to turn more forest into soybean fields could reduce the Amazon carbon sink even further. That would mean more carbon in the atmosphere speeding along climate change, and a drying out what forest is left. And without the Amazon functioning near full capacity, humanity has little to no hope of constraining climate change to within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, let alone the more ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
Because irony is dead, Brazil is set to host international climate talks in 2019.