Environmental Policy and the Amazon
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall College
Vice President for National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations
Eve Bratman, assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall College, discusses environmental policy and sustainable development, focusing on the Brazilian Amazon, as part of CFR’s Academic Conference Call series.
Learn more about CFR’s resources for the classroom at CFR Campus.
FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website CFR.org.
We’re delighted to have Eve Bratman with us to talk about environmental policy in the Amazon. Dr. Bratman is an assistant professor of environmental studies at Franklin & Marshall College. She previously served on the faculty at American University’s School of International Service, where she was named 2016 Green Teacher of the Year for her work supporting sustainability initiatives in the classroom and beyond. Dr. Bratman’s research focuses on sustainable development politics in the Brazilian Amazon, and she’s working on a book based on 10 years of research concerning the links between development policies, infrastructure, conservation, and human rights. She holds a Ph.D. in international relations from American University and was a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil.
Eve, thank you very much for being with us today. It would be great if we could start by talking about why does Brazil’s deforestation in the Amazon matter in terms of global environmental protection, and what can be done about it.
BRATMAN: Thank you for having me on the call and thank you to all the participants. It’s great to be here. And I love this opening question because there’s so many—so many things to talk about regarding the importance of the Amazon and such an interesting and complex history of Brazilian environmental policy.
To start off with, I think it’s important to remember why we care about forests in the context of global environmental protection and particularly in regard to climate change. So Brazil is host to the Amazon. Two-thirds of the Amazon is in Brazil. And globally, there’s only 15 percent of the rainforest that we have remaining, so there’s a significant problem in the world regarding the loss of biodiversity and the carbon emissions that come from deforestation, and particularly rainforest deforestation. Carbon dioxide emissions are a major greenhouse gas contributor, and land use change is the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the world next to fossil fuel combustion. So land use change can come, in an Amazonian context especially, from deforestation and from conversation of what was forested land into agriculture.
So the context for understanding why the Amazon matters from an environmental perspective is largely around greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. It’s also really important to remember that the Amazon is host to lots of people quite vulnerable, so specifically there are dozens of indigenous tribes that are still living in the Amazon who have been subject to genocidal histories and considerable loss of land, tradition, and their own resources for the past 500 years of initial colonization in the rainforest.
And the people of the Amazon are also very diverse. In addition to the indigenous populations that live there, there are descendants of rubber tappers who have had over a hundred years of active history of living in the Amazon, and many more recent residents who are largely Brazilians who came to the Amazon seeking opportunity and who were encouraged to settle there and participate in development projects and agriculture around the 1970s as part of Brazil’s larger push to develop economically and to move its population into relatively unsettled areas as a means of better controlling its fairly large national territory.
So people matter, too, in this context of thinking about Amazonian policy and how we can address it, to both work for environmental conservation goals and to work in the interests of human development, or protecting the people who live in the region in tandem.
I’ll just say a few additional bits about the prospects for Brazil environmentally and Brazil’s commitment to reducing deforestation, to answer that second part of the question, which is that after the Paris Accords were signed, Brazil’s commitment was to reduce levels by 37 percent by 20—37 percent of emissions by 2025 from the baseline of 2005 levels of emissions and to achieve a 43 percent emissions reduction by 2030. And in order to achieve this, land use, energy, and agriculture are really the key areas for intervention. And so, again, the Amazon is really kind of front and center in Brazil being able to meet its commitments to the Paris Accords.
The recent progress is that Brazil has a track record that shows that it can get deforestation under control, especially if you look at the significant decline in deforestation rates from 2005 to 2016—or 2015. Brazil did a tremendous job of reducing deforestation, and it set a goal of having zero Amazonian deforestation by 2030, which is an impressive goal, and one that would also be very key in meeting the Paris target.
That said, achieving that goal will take significant effort and investment, and past year or two has been far from laudable and a significant divergence from the progress that was made between 2005 and 2015. So, to put a little bit more nuance on that, most recently deforestation has spiked by 29 percent this year, compared to last year, and there were nearly 2 million acres deforested from August 2015 to July 2016. So, in contrast, in 2014 Brazil was at around 70 percent reductions in deforestation, and just as it was looking like we had pushed the rock all the way up the hill, we saw in 2015 a serious backslide.
The recent political situation is also one where fiscal austerity and the budgetary cuts and recent political turmoil are significantly putting the environmental ministry and environmental protection at risk. The ministry budget has been cut by 51 percent in the past year, so in comparison, say, to what’s happening in the United States, we have an even more severe slashing of environmental protection budgets, and along with that, of course, enforcement and research are some of the first things to go.
There are other political debates which—and intriguing current events which we can talk about more on the call with questions. But among them are also some very active discussions and proposals by Brazil’s leading ruralista coalition, which is the multiple political constituencies that basically support agribusiness. It’s cattle ranching and soybean production, predominantly, that are doing significant lobbying for reductions in the forestry code and which are significantly behind agricultural expansion efforts.
And then the last thing I’ll say in regard to Amazonian prospects and larger development, to end on a somewhat hopeful note, is that much of the challenge of recent Amazonian deforestation has also been about infrastructure, specifically large dams being built in the Amazon as part of a larger national project to encourage energetic connection between the north and the south of the country for greater energy yields. And because of the financial and economic crisis that the country is facing at the moment, many of those projects have been put on hold. And so, while significant deforestation and pretty significant corruption has also underpinned many of those larger development projects, most notably the Belo Monte Dam—(audio break)—two years we’ve seen many of those projects be put on ice as the corruption investigations have moved forward and as the financial constraints that the country is facing have made some of those projects seem less feasible.
So I think that is about a 10-minute answer to your question, and I’ll now open it up to other questions from our participants.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you so much, Eve.
Let’s open it up to the group.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our first question comes from Washington and Lee University.
Q: Hi. My name is Jim Kahn. I’m at Washington and Lee University and also since 1992 at the Federal University of Amazonas.
And I’d like to address the dam issue, because most people have the completely wrong perspective on it. In the first place, it’s not really the deforestation that’s the problem. It’s the fragmentation of the watershed and the interruption of the pulse of the river and all these ecological impacts directly related to the dams. But the real source of misunderstanding in Brazil and in the United States is that this is a question of a trade-off between the environment and the economy, and it’s not. We have a recent paper in Energy, 2014, that shows that the effective cost per watt of capacity of hydropower is much higher than alternatives such as solar power and wind power, which actually can be produced in—near the population centers, rather than transmitting the electricity a couple thousand kilometers and losing about 20 percent to resistance in the lines.
So I guess my point is—my question is, why has this kind of discrepancy existed, why people still think the dams are an economic benefit when they’re clearly not?
BRATMAN: My response is that in many ways I agree with your assertion that dams are not—well, for the most part, especially these mega dams—this should be qualified a bit—but for the most part the economic value of the dams has been totally overblown in terms of the calculations.
And a lot of the rationale is, as I see it, tracing back to very clear special interests behind civil construction as a political force. Specifically, in Brazil in the context of the corruption investigations, one of the biggest findings was that in the construction of the Belo Monte Dam looking along the Xingu River in the Amazon region, between 1 (percent) and 2 percent of all the construction costs went straight into bribes to political officials. And the biggest power brokers in Brazilian private enterprise happened to all be civil construction firms, all of whom had a stake in the Belo Monte process. So the first major suspect in all of this underpinning of the economic rationale for building large hydro I would say goes straight back to the material interests of some of these companies and the politicians that are benefiting from them.
In addition, there’s a lot to be unpacked regarding the inaccurate estimates of the true costs of hydroelectric dams. And the Belo Monte case, which is one with I’m most familiar, is one where initially the estimates were that the dam would only cost 9 billion reais, and then the estimates went up to 16 billion reais, and then up to 19 billion reais, which was the actual amount that the dam was auctioned to be constructed for. But when all was said and done, the costs actually were around 32 billion reais, and just for that dam. And although there were many promises made for social protections, including, say, the development of a new hospital in the city of Altamira located near the dam, and sanitation improvements for the city and the affected population, many of those promises were still left on that. So the social costs are also incredibly important to consider, and in the scheme of things the evidence seems to show in a significantly clear way that the overall strategy of complementarity of energy infrastructures between the north and the south is somewhat short-sighted.
Brazilian jobs are also not particularly benefiting from these sorts of construction projects. The lines are all being constructed by Chinese firms. So that’s the—that’s the short answer.
Q: I think also there’s a little bit of a cultural element to it as well, that in some ways has parallels to the U.S. in coal, in that, you know, until very recently everyone—almost everyone in the United States thought, well, we’ve always based our energy matrix on coal. We need to continue to do that. There’s no alternative. And if you look at the history of energy in Brazil, it’s been 85 percent hydroelectric, and people think that that needs to continue on into the future and they’re not considering the new technologies.
BRATMAN: Yes, there’s—and the legacy of developments in the Amazon has been grand projects for a very long time. And in some of my research, where I’ve interviewed officials at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, many of these are the same technically trained administrators and bureaucrats that have been working in those ministries since the 1970s, when the plan to open up the Amazon through massive hydroelectric projects and through roads was initially proposed. And so the aspiration within those particular government’s offices has, I think, continued since that time to be rooted in an older way of thinking that doesn’t give as much credibility or value to the more decentralized and renewable energy projects that all sorts of current science is telling us is a more resilient and more efficient way of guiding development.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
Eve, while we’re waiting for questions to queue up, can you talk a little bit about the relationship between human rights and environmental degradation?
BRATMAN: Yes, I’m really happy to, and I’m glad you asked.
The situation with human rights in the Amazon is one that I think is often neglected in these conversations about just preserving the trees when we think about deforestation. Brazil has an unfortunately poor track record when it comes to labor conditions. It’s one of the top countries in the world for forms of labor akin to slavery. The Amazon is also oftentimes in the news because of the assassinations that take place against environmental defenders who are generally also social justice defenders working with rural landless populations or others that are in vulnerable situations because of associated poverty and land rights issues. And so those frontline environmental defenders are often very vulnerable because of the precariousness of the Amazonian isolation and the relative lack of a police presence in the region, relative laxity in terms of rule of law, and coupled with all of that is the deep-seated connections oftentimes between local military police and civil police and powerful individuals who may be in government or who may represent the interests of the larger, more powerful agribusiness interests that often act as strongmen in local contexts.
So this is very much of concern, finally, for indigenous populations who oftentimes are—(inaudible)—prior to informed consent, which is the human rights protection under ILO Convention 169. And so when projects, including large dams and oftentimes large mines are proposed, the human rights law states that indigenous peoples not only need to be informed about these projects but also to consent to them. And that frequently doesn’t happen, and Brazil has actually been found guilty of violating ILO Convention 169 in, for example, the Belo Monte case, but also in several other instances because of these sorts of objections to how the projects proposals have proceeded without adequate consultation and support from the most affected populations.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
FASKIANOS: So I will continue asking questions in—while we wait for more.
So, Eve, in your opinion, how does divestment and activism contribute to the climate change movement?
BRATMAN: I’m sorry, the divestment and activism?
BRATMAN: So in some of my research on climate change, there’s an interesting push that is taking place to divest from polluting industries—for example, the coal industry and fossil fuel oil and gas industries. And this is something that we’re seeing on college campuses all over, as I’m sure some of our participants in the call will appreciate, that campuses are pushing their universities to divest. And it’s also something that is catching on internationally. The government of Norway has divested its entire state pension fund from fossil fuels. And this is sending a clear symbolic symbol on one level to the world that people’s future depends on alternative energies and not on financially contributing towards business as usual, which is—which is promoting climate change.
And on another level, it’s actually starting to force the economic questions into high relief, that when we’ve now got a total of $4 trillion that has been divested from the fossil fuel industry, that this is actually really mounting financial pressure to show that business as usual is no longer viable.
I’ve done a little—(audio break)—how this also informs climate justice and would be happy to speak about that. The movements have lots of different ways of conveying the moral imperative to divest, some of which is rooted in ethical arguments about the rights of the youth and future generations to live in a clean and healthy environment, and some of which is focused on the importance of divestment from a much more sort of economic perspective that investments in fossil fuels are no longer a viable way to go.
And one of the more interesting ways to think about this in bigger picture perspective, especially for students, is that sustainability and sustainability activism isn’t just about changing out the light bulbs or having individual action to be buying local or driving less, but instead this divestment movement really represents a re-politicization of sustainability issues as campuses are actually mobilizing around climate change in a way that I think really progressively pushes the issue into attention in the public spotlight.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you so much.
Let’s open it up. I think we have several questions now queued up.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Harvard (sic; Howard) University.
Q: She said Harvard. Hi, my name is Jordan. I’m with—I’m an international business major with Howard University.
And we—you know, I think, like world, I guess, like, environmental groups, we’re talking about it, like you said, campuses. I think the exploitation of the Amazon is, like, a big issue. But as far as, like, Brazilian constituents, like citizens there, is it a big political issue? Is it, like, talked about in politics? It is, like, a voting issue that’s considered? So I just wanted to know, like, how do citizens in Brazil actually feel, and how important is, like, the exploitation of the Amazon, as, like, a political issue?
BRATMAN: Great question, Jordan. And it’s obviously really hard to answer a question like how do all Brazilians think, especially as I’m not a Brazilian. But, I—you know, even if I was a Brazilian, I wouldn’t want to speak for the whole country.
So take that caveat. In the spirit of I’m going to do my best to summarize a little bit of the public dialogue and landscape around how the Amazon is talked about. So for one, there has been a lot of pushback in Brazil that too often there’s North American would-be Amazon—saving the Amazon sort of neocolonialists telling them what to do. And on the other hand, there’s a lot of Brazilians—I would—(audio break)—the vast majority from my general sense of having lived and worked in Brazil for a long time—that really are concerned about how to protect their national resources, and how to also live and work in the region in a way that is healthy and viable for the whole nation.
And a lot of the people who are concerned about Amazonian deforestation in Brazil also realized the importance of having people in the Global North talk about the Amazon and exert political pressure in support of their interests. Part of the most successful cases of protection for indigenous peoples and for the defenders of the forest have come really only through the strategic alliances that have been formed with anthropologists and with NGOs that are able to use their power from the—from Washington, D.C., and other parts of the world to then publicly shame the Brazilian government and to leverage financial pressure on the agencies that oftentimes are involved in some of these development projects.
And that’s—specifically if you want to sort of analyze that for a research paper or something of that sort, check out the case of the rubber tapper Chico Mendes, who was assassinated for his activism in 1988—in 1989. It’s a case where the protection of the forest really came into the public spotlight because he began traveling internationally, and specifically to D.C. with the help just a few key allies who had really deeply known the situation on the ground in the state of Acre, where he was working. And effectively, they pressured the Inter-American Development Bank to stop financing the road that was being proposed to go right through those—that area. And although Chico Mendes was assassinated, the assassination was kind of the shot heard around the world. It was the wakeup call for Brazil, and it catapulted the creation of new conservation areas and protected areas in the Amazon in really important ways, and that’s something that has been very well received by many Brazilians. Today we have 44 percent of the Amazon that’s protected in the form of either indigenous reserves or different types of national parks and other sorts of conservation areas. Some Brazilians will tell you that that’s too much, that it’s a lot of land for very few people who live in the region. But many Brazilians are also very concerned with the recent politics that sometimes are talking about—(inaudible)—together the protections for indigenous peoples and for conversation areas.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our next question comes from St. Edward’s University.
Q: Yeah, my question is in regard to the recent spike in deforestation, and I’m just wondering what were the reasons for that. You said recent political turmoil. Could you kind of go into that?
BRATMAN: Yeah, absolutely. The history—the recent history here is that Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached because of various corruption charges, and there has been a tremendous amount of political upheaval because of the ongoing corruption investigations, which have touched the highest level officials of government and is just an absolutely massive amount of shall we say political vulnerability that all of the elected officials are now facing because there are very few who are ultimately left out of the investigation. And some of the most powerful people in the country are actually getting into jail for various bribes that they have offered and accepted.
And so all of that has been happening in tandem with an economic crisis that has significantly affected the national economy and caused a major shrinkage in the growth agenda that had really been booming from 2006 to around 2009, 2010, when it had significantly tapered off along with most of the rest of the world’s economy. And so in part at the moment there’s a rise of even more power consolidated by the ruralista, the ruralist coalition. And the government is in something of a mess because of all of the politicians are kind of quaking in their boots trying to figure out who’s going to be next and how long they will themselves be able to stay in power.
And in that context, there has been a very controversial constitutional amendment proposed, which would drastically reduce all sorts of enforcement and social protections, as well as cut the education budget and other sorts of social policies. And there’s a lot to be said for the importance of cutting back on government spending, given the financial crisis that the country is in, but a lot of—(audio break)—the expense of really important protections for people and especially for Amazonian monitoring. So that’s, you know, funding projects like satellite monitoring of deforestation, as well as just the straight amount of boots on the ground police forces and offices for land agencies, and to the IBAMA, the federal environmental protection agency, that is doing the stuff of everyday accompaniment work and enforcement work to make sure that the law is actually followed in Brazil.
So the political turmoil is that sort of two-fold crisis. And while there was a little bit of focus in 2014 and 2015 as Brazil was hosting the World Cup in 2012 and then the Olympics, they were in the spotlight, and so there was a real desire to make sure that there wasn’t as much bad press around some of these issues because the whole world’s eyes were watching. And then after they sort of got through the Olympics, their—many of these cutbacks started to happen and really rise in prominence. So I think that’s also at work.
FASKIANOS: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our next question comes from University of Southern Mississippi.
Q: Hi, Dr. Bratman, thank you very much for talking with us today.
BRATMAN: My pleasure.
Q: To those of us not as familiar about the environment and the Paris Accords, could you talk a little bit more about the Accords in general? You mentioned certain countries had to make commitments, and whether or not you think they went far enough, including for the United States?
BRATMAN: Thanks. That’s a great question.
So the Paris Accords are the world’s attempt to have commitments to address climate change, which especially for this audience of U.S. students I will emphasize: There is significant scientific consensus that climate change is happening, and that it is anthropogenic, that is—that means it is caused by humans. We’re burning fossil fuels, and greenhouse gases that are emitted from that combustion of fossil fuels, as well as from deforestation, are the main contributors to global warming.
And the Paris agreements mandate that every country sets certain targets for how it’s going to—they’re going to address their emissions contributions, and one of the key components is that there are differentiated responsibilities. So—(audio break)—these around 37 percent emissions reductions by 2025 commitments. I don’t remember offhand what the U.S. is, but those commitments are going to take significant investment and really reshaping of our economy.
And same with Brazil. You know, Brazil is getting a little bit more money for meeting their commitments because they’re still considered a developing country. So there’s an Amazon fund that the government of Norway has really helped to sponsor. It’s about a billion dollars that they committed to helping Brazil to meet its commitments on the intended nationally defined contribution.
The most recent follow-up meetings from the Paris Accords have also showed how much work there is to do for all nations, Brazil included, to really achieve their goals for mitigation. So it’s a tremendous step that nations actually agreed in Paris, and I don’t want to minimize the fact that we—you know, we were desperate as a world to get to some sort of global agreement on how to address climate change. And it’s terrific that we were able to in Paris. And yet, there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to make sure that the intended nationally defined contributions—sorry, the acronym here is INDCs—so that these intended nationally defined contributions are actually met in order to reduce our climate change contributions overall. And in Brazil, there is also special concern that oftentimes Brazil signs onto international agreements but then doesn’t follow through with as much of a whole-hearted implementation in enforcement as would be desirable. So making—finding ways to make sure that Brazil actually can meet these commitments, just as we need to in the U.S. keep our own government accountable to its commitments and to make sure that we don’t pull out of the Paris Accords, is really important.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our next question comes from Seton Hall University.
Q: Hi. So we actually have a couple of questions from our students here. The first one, my name is Anna, and I have a question about what, if anything, is being done to reforest the Amazon, and what do you think the cost would be to make this happen? And also, should we expect a solution in the short term, or are these, like, more focused on stopping deforestation as of right now?
And then our other question is—
Q: Hi, my name is Sam. I’m a student here at Seton Hall.
You had sort of spoken on this just a moment ago, but considering the current climate—(audio break)—and cuts to the EPA, along with Brazil’s current decline toward those efforts, and there’s some political corruption, what do you see happening with global actions such as the Paris Accords? Will other countries be picking up that load or, you know, if you could just speak on that? Thanks.
BRATMAN: Is that it?
Q: Yes, sorry.
BRATMAN: No, great. (Coughs.) Excuse me. Those are both really good questions.
And my response is—to the first question on reforestation efforts, that there’s a—there’s some funding for an emphasis politically in the Paris Accords for what’s called REDD—reduced emissions from avoided forests degradation—so avoided degradation and deforestation. And also in REDD-plus, considering reforestation as an important way to address these issues.
So we want to basically avoid deforestation from happening in the first place. It’s what the law is saying. And we’re going to put our money where our mouth is to try to encourage for people of—whose experienced so far with REDD in Brazil is largely positive, and those efforts could be expanded, I think, in important ways.
I don’t have the numbers offhand for how much it would cost to do more massive-scale reforestation, though those numbers, I’m sure, can be accessed with some good Googling. But the gist of it is also encouraging farmers to have agroforestry techniques and low-carbon agricultural incentives that could significantly help those who are living on degraded lands but who still need to make an income from agriculture to effectively incorporate forest management much more actively into their agricultural practices. And so climate-friendly agriculture is also really an important piece of the puzzle.
And let’s remember here too this is not just about putting money towards the problem, but really where the rubber hits the road is making sure that farmers are supported through agricultural assistance, from agronomers and forest managers and others to be able to incorporate those sorts of techniques into their land management practices. And so incentives would help, but so does technical assistance, and so too does a political and legal framework where the government makes—(audio break)—in the first place and where there’s clear penalties if you are violating the existing laws that are actually enforced. And there’s still considerable, I think, work to be done in the Brazilian context to make sure that the forest code, which was revised about five years ago, is actually holding the legal weight that it could and should so that forest is protected and even encouraged for reforestation. And so the evidence thus far is somewhat mixed about the effectiveness of the forest code. And the prospects for reforestation are, I would say, cautiously optimistic.
To the next question, on the cuts in Brazil, it’s hard to talk about this in a way that doesn’t just make it seem totally disastrous. So to be quite honest, there’s a lot of indication that these are sorts of the fox guarding the henhouse types of political appointments in Brazil. And so the Brazilian environmental minister is a guy named Jose Sarney Filho. And he recently criticized his own environmental agency for cracking down, for example, on JBS which is a major beef exporter who—which has been known to buy beef from illegally deforested lands. And so when you’ve got the head of the environmental ministry telling IBAMA that they shouldn’t be coming down hard on, you know, basically an industry that’s complicit in deforestation, it’s like, what is going on? This is kind of strange.
So I guess that gives you a little bit more of a sense what’s happening within the Brazilian context. I hope that answers the question.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Babson College.
Q: Hello. My name is Brandon (sp). I am a senior at Babson College. I’m going to be getting my degree in business administration and I’m concentrating in environmental sustainability.
And my question is actually a two-part question. So before it was mentioned that climate change is driven by fossil fuel consumption and deforestation. And as a result of this deforestation, pastures are created for cattle ranching and production of meat. And one of the papers said that approximately 8 percent of Brazil’s exports are beef products alone, not even including other animal products. So my question is twofold: Does deforestation include animal agriculture, or have we not yet included this other climate change driver that is not often mentioned? And are the majority of companies responsible for logging Brazil-based or based outside of Brazil? Thank you.
BRATMAN: Brandon, your question actually I think really importantly gets to the nuance of the overall statistics on sources of—sorry—sources of greenhouse gas emissions to begin with. So fossil fuel combustion is the major category. And then the secondary category is land use change. And deforestation is an important part of land use change, but it’s not the only part of land use change. So pasture and agriculture that includes animals is included within that larger land use change category, for sure. And cattle ranching often drives deforestation, but so too does mega infrastructure projects like the dams that we were talking about earlier on the call. And so too does mining, which is also increasing in significant ways in the Amazon region.
And this leads me actually to respond to your question about logging companies and others who are responsible for deforestation. So it’s a big mix. And one of the more paradoxical things in Brazil is that—to Jordan from Howard’s earlier question about how is Amazonian exploitation talked about by the Brazilians—there are both Brazilian companies and international companies that are involved with the commodity chains of soy, beef, logging, and mining. Brazil’s largest gold mine is slated to go in right near the Belo Monte Dam, the land that was actually recently dried out by the dam’s rerouting of the river. And it’s a Canadian-owned company called Belo Sun that’s responsible in that case. Many of the logging firms are domestically owned, but then are internationally shipping their logs. A lot of the cattle ranching is domestic, primarily.
The paradox is that oftentimes in the more sort of right-wing Brazilian discourse, there’s a critique of international outsiders, like Greenpeace is often named explicitly, as a sort of, like, intervening NGO actor that represents all these outside interests. But then sort of paradoxically there’s very little critique by that same sector of Brazilian political actors who tend to simultaneously critique international firms for essentially exploiting Brazilian resources. The international firms, I would just add, are oftentimes more tightly scrutinized. And so it’s a—it’s a strong way to exert pressure over some of these issues if you can have a clear international campaign, although it’s oftentimes very hard to track what’s happening locally in their actions in a foreign country.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Syracuse University.
Q: Hi. Thanks for the discussion today.
You talked earlier about how northern exertion of voice through NGOs or private activism had the power to shape policies for the Amazon, or at least to influence policies. My question is about how northern demand for Brazilian soy products affects deforestation. And in particular, you talked recently about climate-friendly agriculture. And what I want to know is how important a factor is soy production and soy exports to deforestation? And are these new climate-friendly policies really effective counterweights, or just nice things to talk about? Thank you.
BRATMAN: Great questions.
The demand for Brazilian soy is linked in really interesting ways to our global overconsumption issues. And it’s not as straightforward of a response as people in the U.S. should eat less tofu. It’s—a lot of the soy is actually getting shipped to China as feed for chickens. And Brazil has a strong rivalry with the U.S. and Argentina as the three countries that are leading international soybean exportation. So the northern demand for soy is actually I think something that we could think about in the context of how much international agricultural competition is promoting some tension around the need to intensify—or, sorry—the need to expand soybean production into new areas in Brazil. And we should really scrutinize to what extent various trade deals are ultimately encouraging deforestation along those lines.
The soybean roundtable is an interesting example of more responsibility within the soy supply chain actually being a relatively successful case of corporations pressuring themselves to not conduct soybean agriculture on newly deforested land. There is a lot of potential, I think, in intensifying agricultural production. And the evidence seems to hold that soybeans can be grown in more sort of high-yielding but less land-consumptive ways. But it’s an area where I’m not an expert in. I’m just reading other climate news efforts that are underway.
And this is one area where it’s largely big firms. It’s not as much small-scale growers for soybeans where the responsibility lies. And so in general, also, I would add: The first way to really encourage climate-friendly agriculture, or low-carbon agriculture, is by steering our whole globally toward less meat consumption and less food production overall. So soy is a big factor, but remembering that soy is also part of a logic of food consumption that is increasingly reliant on animal protein from cows and chickens is an important consideration to keep in mind for people around the world.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next—
Q: Can I ask a follow up question?
FASKIANOS: Go ahead.
Q: You spoke about trade agreements, but I’m wondering in particular what you’re thinking of there. To some extent agricultural trade is so distorted with the U.S. and EU actually having subsidies to kind of dump produce and lowering their price, I’m wondering why you are seeing it—the trade agreements only as, you know, a negative for the Amazon?
BRATMAN: Oh, what I actually meant there is an allusion to the ways in which we in the U.S. have distorted our price. So we’re creating a sense of false competition with Brazil, right? Brazil would be doing much better in terms of soy and perhaps having less economic pressure on the industry if only the U.S. wasn’t dumping soy.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: I’d like to try and squeeze in one last question, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our last question will come from Fordham University. Fordham University, your line is now open.
Q: Hi. Thank you very much for your discussion today. I’m Christoph Stumma (sp) from Fordham University.
And my question is, how do you start to solve this issue of deforestation when it’s a complex problem involving so many other problems, like corruption, culture, the importance of dams, the trouble in the government, residents who may have jobs tied to industries. So how do you start providing a solution to deforestation and climate change? And secondly, how do you get all the powerful companies that make huge profits from deforestation and fossil fuels to turn towards renewables when there is so much profit for them in it?
BRATMAN: That’s a great question to end on. And I think part of your observation—in part of your observation that it’s such a complex problem also lies the answer. For one, there’s no silver bullet. And so recognizing the complexity of this—of tackling deforestation and the multiple levels of interconnected power relations is an important place to start so that you don’t get a policy instrument that you think is going to solve everything, and thereby create new problems through it. (Laughs.)
There are a few key recommendations that most people know would begin to really make a difference in terms of reducing deforestation and tackling the question of corruption. And for one, on the corruption front, it’s that Brazilian investigations are really working to eliminate the corruption that has been so rife throughout the political system. And right now, that’s a very hard political reality, there’s a lot of turmoil that it has created. But on the balance, I think it’s a really terrific thing in the country that those investigations are moving ahead and are being as all-encompassing as they are in starting to make accountability more real within the Brazilian political system.
The second major thing to consider is that protected areas and indigenous lands are really well-known to be effective as buffers to illegal deforestation. So if you can resolve some of the land tenure issues by creating and then enforcing the creation of new parks and the protection of indigenous lands, then we know that that can create forest corridors and buffers for a lot of the deforestation that otherwise takes place as a way of land claiming. So if you—if you tackle land rights, then you also get to a lot of this problem in very effective ways.
And we’ve talked already about agricultural practices and corporate commitments. I mentioned the soy roundtable earlier, but similarly pressuring at different points throughout the commodity chain—especially in cattle ranching, pressuring the slaughterhouses to not source from ranches that have been associated with slave labor or with illegal deforestation is—can be a really effective way of addressing some of these problems because it’s an economic tool as much as it is an enforcement tool. In the Amazon, there’s only four major slaughterhouses. And so if those four slaughterhouses can be pressured to not buy beef that comes from dubious sources, then a significant amount of the illegal deforestation from cattle ranching can be stifled, we think.
And finally, you know, monitoring and funding and technologies—including satellite monitoring—can all really help. And solving the complex problem will also take really creative thinking. And a lot of that will inform Brazil’s energy strategy and hopefully begin really bringing into high relief the need for more renewable energy sources, including wind and solar investments and more decentralized electric generation opportunities. And creative thinking along the lines of reimagining what a good development and conservation strategy for all Brazilians will look like, together with Brazilians and especially led by Brazilians, as they think about their country’s future and the importance of Amazonian protection within it. So I think I’ll leave it at that.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, Eve. We usually try to end on time, but I can’t resist this opportunity to ask one last question. You were named as teacher of the year for your work in supporting sustainability issues initiatives in the classroom and beyond. So if you could just give a one minute sort of kernel of advice to the students on this call of how do you get involved in sustainability issues on their campuses.
BRATMAN: Oh, thanks Irina.
So, yeah, I got that award because in addition to thinking about Brazil stuff, a lot of what helped me deal with the enormity of these environmental issues was actually taking local action. And so on our campus, I sort of behind the scenes was coaching the students that were at the—at the forefront of our campus divestment movement at American University. Of course, this is now going to go on record. Shoot. (Laughs.) Anyway, I was behind the scenes. And thinking about the importance of making sustainability issues something that we can relate to through our everyday actions. I was also our campus beekeeper and started the beekeeping society at American when I was teaching there, and also involved with beekeeping here on our campus.
And that’s a very tangible way to make environmental issues really personal. You feel like you get a closer connection to nature through working with bees, through paying attention to what’s blossoming, through trying to pay attention to what nature is doing all around you. And I think that that’s a really important first step in beginning to think about how on our various campuses we can not just approach sustainability from a sort of technological fix or abstract mathematical kind of angle on energy efficiency, but actually to make it real, make it in your hands or in your everyday consciousness as a way of beginning to do the piece of sustainability that’s really about engaging in our own personal ways with why we care about environmental issues.
And that’s what I tried to bring through the exercise of beekeeping, of talking with students about the divestment politics that were happening on our campus, and that continue to be a really pressing issue. And also, then making the connection to, you know, why should we care about deforestation in other parts of the world if we’re not also walking the walk ourselves. And so that’s something that I think is important for all of us to keep in mind if we care about the environment. That we should also try as best we can, even given very adverse circumstances, to embrace sustainability and not be hypocrites.
FASKIANOS: Great. Eve, thank you very much. I apologize for going over, but I wanted to give the students the opportunity to hear what they can be doing on their campuses. So, Eve Bratman, we really appreciate your being with us. This discussion was terrific, and obviously you’re one of the leading experts on these issues. I encourage you all to look for Dr. Bratman’s forthcoming book. And we appreciate your doing it.
So our final call of the semester will be on Thursday, April 20th at 3:00 p.m. eastern time. And Adam Segal, director of CFR’s Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program, will talk about cyberspace—governing cyberspace and cyber policy, which is a very important issue these days. I encourage—(end of available audio).
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