Many Brazilians have an environmental commitment, even if the political leaders focus on something else. Photo: Flavio Boaventura (CC BY-SA 2.0)


The good will for the environment also exists in Brazil

After right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, many claim that Brazilians do not care about the environment. That is a provocative statement. I think the truth is more complicated than that. During my stay in Brazil, I have come to better understand the Brazilians' love for nature and the environment. Just as the philosopher Roger Scruton points out in his book Green Philosophy begins our care for the environment with the love of our home environment. This is something that also applies to Brazilians.

There are still major problems with waste management in Brazil, here in São Paulo.

While Brazilians are proud of their country and have modern laws that protect the environment, it is not always visible in their everyday lives. In many households it is not sorted at source, plastic is overused and meat is consumed in large quantities. The country often has problems with waste sorting. In Rio de Janeiro, the city has put the garbage underwater by the beach. It has destroyed drinking water and marine life. 

However, this does not mean that Brazilians do not care. At the individual level, I have met many who want to make a difference and nowadays there are more and more media, businesses and companies that highlight environmental and sustainability issues. 

Civil society in Brazil is more strongly involved in environmental issues than the state. Politicians prefer to highlight other issues, such as the country's economic and social problems, but are less involved in environmental issues. When the new president legalized the deforestation of the Amazon, he claimed that he did so as a way of fighting poverty in Brazil. By allowing new factories where rainforest once stood, he sees the opportunity to benefit Brazil's economy and reduce unemployment.  

What is important to know about Brazil is that there are large gaps in the country. Those who are poor live in extreme poverty and those who are rich live a life of abundance. Currently available around 25 percent of Brazil's population below the poverty line, ie more than 50 million people. That is unacceptable. There is much that the country could do better. But the question is how? What approaches should be applied?

I have now seen Brazil from a different perspective. I no longer believe that the country should receive such harsh criticism for how they handle the environment if you do not see the whole picture. Having been more integrated into the culture, I understand that a large part of the population actually cares about the environment. It's true. During the last 5 years, many changes have already taken place. Many restaurants in the big cities now offer vegetarian options, the bike lanes in the city have become more popular since the e-scooters were introduced (in some cities) and a more open debate about the country's environment is ongoing. In parallel, more and more non-profit organizations are getting involved in environmental issues, but they rarely receive support from the government. Sometimes they are directly opposed.

How the country handles its environmental policy can be discussed. Former Environment Minister Marina Silva criticizes Bolsonaro's government for their changes and claims that they have destroyed an environmental policy that they have needed decades to build. She believes that Bolsonaro violates human rights when his government forces the indigenous people away by opening up the rainforest to economic activities. Silva, along with many other Brazilians, believes that there are other approaches to improving the country's economy, where the environment is included.

Why then was Jair Bolosnaro elected president? Well, to get rid of the previous government that was accused of being corrupt. Brazil has a long history of corruption where the population is usually excluded because everyone is a bit corrupt. But a new wave of people were tired of institutionalized corruption and spoke out. A majority of the population therefore voted for an unscrupulous politician who promised to fight high crime and established corruption. Environmental issues therefore ended up in the shadows. 

So what is the solution? It is not easy to answer. But one thing I am sure of and that is that a deeper understanding of Brazil is necessary to contribute to solutions. Some environmental activists think we need to act quickly to save what is left of the destroyed environment. Unfortunately, I think it is a longer process given that Brazil has several problems to deal with at the same time. But I see a lot of hope. I agree with Roger Scruton who says that change begins in the individual. I have come to meet many individuals in Brazil who now include environmental thinking into their everyday lives. If it continues, the country will increasingly integrate environmental issues into politics. 

The good will for the environment exists in many Brazilians. The thought of wanting to do something may not always be enough, but it's a start.

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