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Bolsonaro year 1: Environment

. Dec 18, 2019
brazil environment Photo: Guenter Manaus

Of all the sectors of the Jair Bolsonaro government, the environment is perhaps the one which has undergone the most changes in 2019, a year also marred by a series of ecological tragedies. Meanwhile, experts consulted by The Brazilian Report—including former Environment Minister Marina Silva—say that the worst is yet to come.

</p> <p><strong>Brumadinho.</strong> 2019 got off to a horrific start with the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/01/26/brumadinho-dam-collapse/">collapse of an iron tailings dam</a> in the town of Brumadinho on January 25, killing over 250 people. The <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/01/28/brazilian-authorities-vale-disaster/">government response</a> was reasonably swift, ordering the <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/01/31/vale-dangerous-dams/">decommissioning</a> of notoriously precarious &#8220;<a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/01/27/brumadinho-collapse-desperate-situation/">upstream</a>&#8221; dams. However, in the face of reports suggesting the tragedy had <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/03/24/brumadinho-sao-francisco-river/">contaminated the nearby Paraopeba river</a>, the official water agency rubbished the evidence.</p> <p><strong>Denial.</strong> <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/06/08/bolsonaro-brazil-land-science-skepticism/">Butting heads with the scientific community</a> has been a hallmark of the first 12 months of the environmental administration. After <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/11/19/driving-brazil-amazon-deforestation-rates-up/">alarming deforestation numbers</a> were released by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) in July, the government denied the figures and <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/09/amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro-government-truth/">fired Inpe director</a> Ricardo Galvão. Later in the year, despite plenty of evidence to show it is severely harmful to the environment, the government signed a decree to allow the <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2019/11/26/sugarcane-deforestation-brazil/">cultivation of sugarcane</a> in the Amazon and Pantanal.</p> <p><strong>Fires.</strong> The headline issue of 2019 was the strong surge in <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/21/amazon-rainforest-slowly-dying-images/">fires in the Amazon</a> in the middle of the year—and the <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/08/31/amazon-debacle-jair-bolsonaro-under-pressure/">government&#8217;s handling</a> of the crisis. Jair Bolsonaro spouted a lie that <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/08/22/amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro-fires/">&#8220;NGOs&#8221; had started the fires</a> to cast his administration in a bad light. Pressure from the international community caused environmental woes to spill over into Brazil&#8217;s diplomacy, falling out with <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2019/09/08/bolsonaro-macron-brazil-pick-fights-france/">France</a>, <a href="https://brazilian.report/money/2019/07/04/amazon-fund-end-deforestation-bolsonaro/">Germany</a>, and <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2019/09/04/european-amazon-destruction-macron-norsk-hydro/">Norway</a>, among others.</p> <p><strong>What&#8217;s to come? </strong>The overriding feeling among Amazon experts is that the worst is yet to manifest itself. The first year of the Jair Bolsonaro government has seen the dismantling of Brazil&#8217;s environmental protection agencies. Departments related to climate change and the Amazon have been scrapped, the Brazilian Forest Service was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture, the oversight work of environmental agencies has been inhibited, and indigenous land demarcations have stopped dead. </p> <p>We are already seeing some of the effects of this bulldozing of protections, but the expectation is that with less and less oversight, more and more atrocities will occur in the <a href="https://app.datawrapper.de/map/omJyn/visualize">world&#8217;s biggest rainforest</a>.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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