Believe it or not, when Brazil lost in the World Cup last week, it was really bad news for the Amazon rainforest.
That’s because Brazil’s rich landowners — agriculture, biofuels, and energy barons, mostly — are once again attempting to change the Forest Code, a piece of legislation that has protected the Amazon for more than 70 years. If the changes are voted through, it could mean that the rainforest area that can be legally clearcut would double, according to Greenpeace and Amazon Environmental Research Institute researchers. That means about 210 million acres gone — more area than has been deforested to this date.
So what’s the World Cup got to do with it? When Brazil plays in the World Cup, it’s like a national holiday. If they’d been playing Uruguay this week like they would have been if their football skills were a little better, then a key committee vote would not have taken place and the disastrous changes would not have a chance at passing the Congress this year. Instead, the committee voted to approve the changes 13 to 5 on Tuesday, pushing the measure to the last approval stages.
The Forest Code has been around in one form or another since 1934, but was significantly improved by former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso in the 1990s. Back then, deforestation rates were so abominably high, Cardoso mandated every farm or settlement protect 80 percent of their land — a huge increase from the prior 50 percent “legal reserve.”
The last 10 years have brought no less than 30 attempts to undermine the Forest Code (here’s reporting on a previous effort). All have failed, but now this new effort could roll the legal reserve back to 50 percent. It’s spearheaded by Aldo Rebelo, a politician who literally calls the whole concept of forest protection a developed world “conspiracy” to restrict Brazil’s economic development. This chimes conveniently with the demands of agribusiness corporations looking to expand into land with “undeveloped potential” — because we all know that virgin rainforest should be ruthlessly chopped down before it can meet its full potential.
This may seem like a Brazil issue, but it is of global importance. The influence the Amazon rainforest has on climate and water cycles stretches far beyond its official boundaries, and the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from such drastically expanded deforestation would affect us all.
There’s nothing you can do to help at the moment except to help publicize this story and let the fatcats in Brazil who are trying to push these horrendous changes through know we are watching. If it looks like the new Forest Code is getting closer to becoming law, though, I will certainly let you know how you can take action to save the Amazon rainforest.
Photo Credit: Marizilda Cruppe / EVE / Greenpeace