Brazil’s presidential election takes place on 2 October. As commentators have pointed out, the future of the Amazon is at stake in the poll. But countless lives, near and far, are on the line too.
The election is effectively a battle between two candidates, despite others being on the ballot. These are the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (commonly known as Lula). Recent polls suggest that Lula is ahead. A survey released on 29 September showed Lula with support of 48%, compared to 34% for Bolsonaro. If either candidate gets over 50% of the vote, they win outright. In the event that neither secures that level of votes, a second round will take place at the end of October.
Bolsonaro has attempted to cast doubt on the validity of Brazil’s voting system ahead of the election, leading to concerns that he may not relinquish power easily.
Miles apart on the Amazon
The choice before voters is stark in relation to the Amazon. The right-wing incumbent has overseen a wholesale assault on the vital biome since his election in 2018. As Vox highlighted, over 34,000 square km, or 8.4 million acres, of the Amazon “disappeared” under Bolsonaro’s watch between August 2019 and July 2021. This deforestation doesn’t include forest loss from natural fires, it emphasised, and is an increase of 52% on the previous three years. Nonetheless, a government representative told Vox:
The Brazilian government is fully committed to reducing deforestation rates in Brazil, in particular in the Amazon.
The main cause of Brazil’s deforestation is land clearing for cow meat – beef – production. Clearing for soybean and palm oil plantations also has a significant impact, as does the production of paper and wood. The scale of destruction is a result of the current president’s gutting of protections for the Amazon via rule changes and cuts. Greenpeace Brazil’s Cristiane Mazzetti told the Mirror:
There is no hope for the Amazon under Bolsonaro’s administration.
Lula’s record is different. Deforestation fell sharply during his previous time in power. And he has vowed to crack down on illegal deforestation if elected again. If he holds true to this, analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that Amazon deforestation could drop by 89% over the next decade.
Indigenous peoples under attack
The Amazon isn’t an abstract entity, however. It’s a vast area, spanning numerous countries that countless people and other animals call home. Their futures are also on the line in this election.
Global Witness releases a report each year about people killed while defending their lands and environments. Its latest report is called Decade of Defiance, as it marks 10 years since the organisation began these records. According to its findings, 26 land and environment defenders were killed in Brazil in 2021. The country is among the top three countries for deaths of this kind. Mexico took first place with 54 killings. Colombia, another Amazonian country, saw 33 deaths.
The report shows that in the last decade overall, Brazil tops the list for killings of land and environment defenders. A total of 342 defenders have been killed in the country during that period. Global Witness highlights that:
Around a third of those killed were Indigenous or Afro-descendants, and over 85% of killings happened within the Brazilian Amazon.
Although the lethal attacks on defenders span the decade, the organisation says that they have “intensified” under Bolsonaro. As Human Rights Watch’s Brazil director, Maria Laura Canineu, commented in August:
The government’s anti-Indigenous rights policies and statements have emboldened miners, loggers, land-grabbers, and poachers to encroach on Indigenous territories with impunity, leading to devastating consequences for Indigenous people and the environment.
The indigenous Yanomami people are among those who have faced these devastating consequences. A recent investigation by Forensic Architecture and the Climate Litigation Accelerator found a doubling of illegal gold mining activity in their region under Bolsonaro, leading to human rights violations and deforestation. The organisations analysed government policy announcements and rhetoric, along with satellite and video data. It concluded that:
the Bolsonaro government’s policies and rhetoric leading up to and during his presidential term correspond in timing to the rapid increase in environmental destruction and violence against Indigenous people across the Amazon
Countless lives at stake
The investigation also found that the illegal mining has likely released toxic mercury into water sources and ecosystems in some places. This affects all the living inhabitants of the Amazon, not just people. The same is true of all the rampant environmental destruction that has happened under Bolsonaro’s watch.
The Amazon is so vast and so full of life that scientists don’t yet know the extent of organisms it holds. As Inside Climate News highlighted, it’s estimated to be home to around 10% of the world’s species. Greenpeace says this amounts about three million different lifeforms.
A 2021 study found that, since 2001, up to 85% of the Amazon’s known threatened species may have been impacted by deforestation and fire, Inside Climate News reported. The study covered almost 15,000 plant and animal species. Scientists are also furiously trying to catalogue species, before they are lost to rainforest destruction. As Phys.org reported, the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA)’s Francisco Farronay says that:
The rate of destruction is faster than the rate of discovery… It is a race against time.
The Amazon matters to everyone
Moreover, as Vox highlighted, the “Earth’s future depends on the Amazon”. It plays a central role in cooling the planet. With global warming, the world needs the rainforest – and all other remaining rainforests – more than ever.
In other words, the result of Brazil’s upcoming election will have an impact that spans the globe. And although Lula is no absolute panacea, he is a far, far better alternative to Bolsonaro. The incumbent president has shown himself to be an existential threat to the Amazon and the countless lives who depend on it, including many indigenous peoples, millions of wildlife species and, indeed, the global community as a whole.
- Follow Progressive International’s updates on the Brazilian election here.
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