Conservation news

A healthy and productive Amazon is the foundation of Brazil’s sovereignty (commentary)

Copernicus / Landsat image of the Amazon River as seen via Google Earth.

Copernicus / Landsat image of the Amazon River as seen via Google Earth.

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro likes to assert that foreigners deserve no say over the fate of the Amazon because it is a national sovereignty issue. In making the argument, Bolsonaro at times lays out a grand conspiracy under which a body like the U.N. tries to “internationalize” the Amazon, claiming it as the domain of the world.
  • As fires rage, some on social media are raising the idea of the Amazon being the domain of the world. But this discussion plays directly into Bolsonaro’s narrative, strengthening his hand.
  • Instead, concerned people of the world should talk about how a healthy and productive Amazon actually underpins Brazil’s sovereignty by strengthening food, water, and energy security, while supporting good relations with its neighbors.
  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro likes to assert that foreigners deserve no say over the fate of the Amazon because it is a national sovereignty issue. His logic: Brazilian Amazon is Brazil’s sovereign territory and therefore it has the right to do what it wants with it, whether that be clearing it for cattle pasture and soy fields or making the decision to conserve it.

In making the argument, Bolsonaro at times lays out a grand conspiracy under which a body like the U.N. tries to “internationalize” the Amazon, claiming it as the domain of the world. This conspiracy theory is not new — it was a common refrain under Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964-1985 and is still frequently used by opponents of Amazon conservation efforts.

With worldwide attention now on the fires burning in the Brazilian Amazon, Bolsonaro is again using this rhetoric. For example, today he cited Brazil’s sovereignty (as well as perceived “insults” from French President Emmanuel Macron after Bolsonaro slighted Macron’s wife) as the reason for rejecting a $20 million G7 contribution toward firefighting efforts.

Aerial view of a large burned area in the city of Candeiras do Jamari in the state of Rondônia on August 23, 2019. (Photo: Victor Moriyama / Greenpeace)

As fires rage, some on social media are raising the idea of the Amazon being the domain of the world. But this discussion plays directly into Bolsonaro’s narrative, strengthening his hand.

This strategy is the wrong approach for those concerned about the future of the Amazon. Instead, concerned people of the world should talk about how a healthy and productive Amazon actually underpins Brazil’s sovereignty by strengthening food, water, and energy security, while supporting good relations with its neighbors.

This argument is straightforward and grounded in good science — science by Brazilian scientists.

In summary, disrupting the ecological function of the Amazon risks disrupting the economic foundation of Brazil. In other words, a healthy and productive Amazon is necessary for a healthy and productive Brazilian economy.

Satellite view of the Juruá River as seen via Google Earth using Landsat / Copernicus imagery. This commentary only looks at the value of the Amazon for its water services. It leaves aside carbon storage, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services as well as the fact the biome sustains roughly a million indigenous peoples.

When Bolsonaro rallies his base by talking about opening up the Amazon to deforestation, he’s taking a very short-term approach. Farmers and ranchers will be among the biggest losers in the long-run if the Amazon rainforest tips toward something drier.

Instead of talking about internationalizing the Amazon, critics of Bolsonaro and his policies would be wise to look for opportunities to find common ground with his supporters. The economic well-being of Brazil seems like a good place to start.

Header image: Satellite view of the Amazon Basin as seen via Google Earth using Landsat / Copernicus imagery.