Youth and the environment: the Brazilian Dossier
This publication is about the political project for the destruction of Brazilian biomes and the initiatives of young people for the preservation of the environment. It is yet another instrument through which young activists try to defend the planet.
The exploration and destruction of Brazilian biomes has always been an issue in our history, from the colony to the present time. And in recent times, especially from 2018 onwards, with the election of the current president Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation has returned to growing at high rates. In addition, the destruction of what we still have has been accelerated by the federal government’s efforts to speed up the dismantling of Brazilian environmental agencies, by reducing their funds, cutting field inspections, dismissing valuable specialists and, in general, by manipulating and lying about environmental policies.
With deforestation in the Amazon, fires in the Pantanal, water contamination in the Cerrado, irregular exploitation in the Caatinga, a reduction in the scarce Atlantic Forest, soil erosion in the Pampas, this collection of texts written by young communicators Lívia Gariglio, Luis Miguel da Costa and Amanda da Cruz Costa, who are part of the Youth Press Agency (YPA) network in Brazil, will provide an overview of the environmental issue in the country, focusing on the current political project that has been neglecting and contributing to the destruction of native biomes. The reports are based on facts, historical issues, reflections and initiatives by young Brazilians engaged in the fight for the climate, so that it is possible to understand the context of this Brazilian scenario that borders on the apocalyptic.
Brazil is on fire!
By Livia Gariglio
During the 16th century, Europeans (mainly Portuguese, but not only) invaded Brazil. They didn’t “discover” it, because there were already indigenous civilizations here, which got caught literally between a rock and a hard place: either they converted to Christianity or they were enslaved and decimated.
Furthermore, these foreigners had an extractive and bullionist (metallist) intention: thinking about the impact of this on nature was not even a distant thought in the back of their minds. This vision lasted for many centuries and even today it is possible to see reflections of this, such as the reduction of the Atlantic Forest, now only 7% of its original size.
We are part of a system of unbridled production and consumption, aiming for profit above all else. Obviously this is unsustainable in the long term, but in the short term too.
Mass industrialization, the waste caused by excessive and unnecessary consumption, the pollution that this generates: all this contributes to unsustainability. Yet another factor is to be added to the above-mentioned ones, which is urbanization: it can lead to heat islands, huge burning of fossil fuels, dumps instead of landfills, little afforestation, increased albedo, incorrect sewage handling, contamination of watercourses.
In Brazil, mining is a problem too. The activity has two types of processes: wet and dry. Although there is already technology to implement dry mining, wet mining is cheapest and thus still largely used: this results in dirty water, destined for tailings dams. And two of these dams have failed in the last 6 years, causing not only material damage, but also deaths, injured people and environmental damage. Even today, large parts of the Paraopeba and Doce rivers are contaminated. Mining companies are currently implementing the dry way, but the pace is still very slow and, in the meantime, there is risk of a new dam failure.
Most of the Brazilian electricity comes from hydroelectric power, which undeniably has many advantages: it does not emit as much carbon as other forms of electricity production, it comes from a renewable source (water) and has a high durability. However, the entire construction area needs to be flooded, which is where a problem arises: many people lose their homes, local vegetation is lost and, when it decomposes, it releases a lot of methane. In addition, river flows change and flooding can alter oxygen levels in the water. In other words, without effective planning, it can become a disaster and an example of this is the Belo Monte Dam, which directly affected the region’s indigenous and riverside communities.
Speaking of water, the poor preservation of rivers, oceans, seas and groundwater is a huge problem in the country, which has one of the longest coastlines in the world (16th place) and is home to the Amazon River, the longest river in the world (6,992 km), as determined by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
The latifundium (vast rural domain) is a huge environmental adversity. Land concentration was a historic process in Brazil, which has consequences nowadays, such as social and environmental damage. Some examples of these environmental damages are the large use of pesticides, the controversy over transgenics, the impoverishment of the soil and the reduction of biodiversity. Deforestation (like what is happening in the Amazon right now) is also directly linked to agricultural production, an activity carried out in rural areas, whose economy is based on agriculture, livestock and extractive activities.
Deforestation, a process which has been going on for centuries and has been rising recently in Brazil, is the topic of the following text.
Brazil’s historical problem and the current environmental (un)policy
By Luis Miguel da Costa
Despite Brazil being the country with the largest standing native forest of the 21st century, the country currently has a serious deforestation problem. It is a problem rooted in the historic past of Brazil, as the destruction of its biomes has been going on since the colonization of its territory. Its main cause is the expansion of agricultural, timber extraction and mining areas. The biggest example of this deforestation issue is the Atlantic Forest, which has been degraded to the point that today only about 7.6% of its original extension remains. Despite this, the Atlantic Forest still survives and is home to about 8,000 species of angiosperms unique to Brazil.
Deforestation affects all Brazilian biomes. Recent studies show that by 2010, only 47% of the native vegetation of the Cerrado region and about 60% of the Caatinga region are still standing. When we look at the Amazon basin and the Pantanal region, the situation is more alarming: in the last 20 years alone, more than 700 thousand km2 have been deforested.
Let us look at the legal aspects around the deforestation problem. Until 2012, deforestation, especially in the Amazon, was decreasing: this positive trend was mainly due to the investment in enforcement agencies, scientific advancement to detect deforestation and an increase in the number of inspectors. The expectation was that, starting from that year, the investments in all environmental policies would increase even more, thanks to the new Brazilian Forest Code – a stricter one in terms of conservation. However, this expectation never became reality. On the contrary, deforestation resumed while environmental agencies, such as IBAMA and ICMbio, were dismantled.
From 2018, after the election of president Jair Bolsonaro, who has always defended the expansion of the agricultural frontier over the Amazon, deforestation began to grow again at high rates. In addition, the destruction of Brazilian environmental agencies has proceeded through the decrease in funding, cuts in field operations, manipulations and lies about environmental data and the dismissal of the heads of the same agencies, which is what happened to the then president of Inpe , with decreased funding, effective cuts in enforcement, attempts to manipulate and lie about these data, and even the dismissal of heads of these agencies Ricardo Galvão soon after the institute he led disclosed real data about deforestation in the country.
In 2021, miners have constantly tried to invade indigenous lands (protected by law) in order to expand their domains in the Amazon. The situation is so alarming that even the UN has spoken out against it. Also in 2021, a bill is being considered that aims to dispense with environmental licensing, allowing the self-declaration that everything is environmentally correct. All former environment ministers who worked in the post-military dictatorship governments repudiated such a project and declared that it would be a step backwards for Brazil and would open precedents for the increase of deforestation in any national biome.
Another important point that makes the situation in Brazil more preoccupying is that the Minister of the Environment himself, Ricardo Salles, has been under investigation (since 2021) for one of the biggest environmental crimes in the country, and it all started with an attempt to get rid of authorizations for wood exports, by means of an Ibama dispatch. However, the STF, supreme court in Brazil, revoked this dispatch.
With so many attacks against those who fight for the preservation and the sustainable management of the environment or against those who merely inform about its degradation, it is even more urgent that the civil society continues to act to safeguard environmental rights. In this sense, the youth are becoming increasingly aware of the need for a balanced ecosystem to ensure a healthy and sustainable future. Organized in groups and spread all over the world, these young people demand, from public and private powers, effective actions to fight the degradation of biomes and the destruction of global health.
Next, we will bring you some initiatives by young activists in Brazil.
Young climate activists in Brazil: organizations, mobilizations and profiles
By Amanda da Cruz Costa
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched the Global Warming of 1.5°C Report, bringing in-depth research into the possible catastrophes that will happen on Earth, such as droughts, floods, migrations, atmospheric pollution, flooding of coastal cities, maritime death due to the whitening of corals, if the goal of containing the increase of the global temperature to +1.5ºC is not reached.
Unfortunately there is no satisfactory engagement of governments and decision makers on the issue of climate change. This fact made young people from different parts of the world organise and mobilise themselves to seek solutions that guarantee intergenerational equity and climate justice.
In Brazil some organizations and movements are references on the subject, such as Engajamundo, Fridays for Future Brasil, Perifa Sustentável, Muvuca and Agência Jovem de Notícias (Youth Press Agency Brasil).
Engajamundo was born in 2012, after the participation of a group of young people to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development: Rio+20. Made by young people for young people, the organization’s mission is to make Brazilian youth aware that by changing themselves, changing their surroundings and actively engaging in politics, they can transform their reality.
To achieve this goal, methodologies of education, mobilization, participation and advocacy are used in order to provide bureaucratic tools for young people to play an active role in spaces for dialogue and decision-making whether at local, national or international level.
Engajamundo is divided into 5 Working Groups (WGs): Climate, Gender, Biodiversity, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Sustainable Cities and Communities. Each group has weekly meetings for training, articulation and mobilization, to deepen the environmental debate and promote political impact in a structured manner.
WG Climate has followed international climate negotiations since 2016, when it was structured. Since then, it has accumulated experience at COP 22 – Marrakech (Morocco), COP 23 – Bonn (Germany), COP 24 – Katowice (Poland) and COP 25 – Madrid (Spain).
Spokespersons: Paulo Ricardo and Giselli Cavalcanti
Started in August 2018 by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future is a popular movement that aims to raise climate awareness among citizens and mobilize young people to put pressure on decision makers, demanding effective measures to keep global warming below 1.5ºC.
The movement is in 156 countries and mobilizes young people in more than 2267 cities around the world. This wide reach is the result of intense work on social media, especially the networks of Twitter, Tiktok and Instagram.
This articulation is intended to bring the youth closer to their respective governments, strengthening ties with public policy makers so that they listen to scientists and take more ambitious measures against the climate crisis.
The movement arrived in Brazil in March 2019, when some groups from different regions connected and began to organize the first Global Strike. Since then, several activities have been carried out, such as sustainable youth empowerment actions and training in climate education in public and private schools.
Spokespersons: Mariana Guião and Daniel Holanda
Perifa was created in 2019 by climate activist and young UN ambassador Amanda Costa, who had the desire to democratize the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda for the Brazilian suburbs and favelas.
Incubated by United People Global, an international organization whose mission is to empower people to create a better world, Perifa has become a network of young activists committed to the future of the planet. Through a transversal action, the movement trains young people from the periphery to position themselves as leaders in the environmental and climate fields.
By means of educommunication strategies, community actions and political participation, Perifa Sustentável is empowering racialized youth to mobilize networks, articulate with strategic actors and pressure decision makers to include young people in consultative and deliberative processes in the socio-environmental area.
Spokespersons: Amanda Costa and Marhyan Sampaio
Muvuca is a climate activism program that seeks to strengthen young leaders with prominent careers in the environmental area in Brazil.
Created by Nossas organization, an activism network that develops technologies, shares methodologies and articulates people to support democratic and solidarity activism, the program aims to engage climate activists in building campaigns to strengthen environmental protection.
With advocacy strategies, black and indigenous young people have the opportunity to access online training with Brazil’s leading experts, develop mobilization campaigns to influence public policies with a focus on climate justice and to receive training in leadership, social media management and press advocacy.
Spokespersons: Karina Penha and Izamir Barbosa
Young Press Agency (YPA) is a Viração Educomunicação program that believes in the power of independent educommunicative journalism as a tool for social transformation and the defense of human rights.
Created in 2005 during the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, YPA is present in Brazil, Italy, Argentina and Colombia and produces content in four languages (Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and English) in the areas of youth, education, environment, human rights, diversity, science and technology, politics and citizenship, work, art and culture and health.
YPA has already held more than 50 coverages in the world, such as COP 25 – Madrid (Spain), COP 24 – Katowice (Poland), COP 23 – Bonn (Germany), COP 22 – Marrakech (Morocco), COP 21 – Paris (France) and COP 20 – Lima (Peru).
Spokespersons: Luis Miguel da Costa, Lívia Gariglio and Amanda Costa
All these young people and associations work to ensure an environmentally fair and healthy present and future for everyone. That is why it is extremely important to strengthen youth associations that work with urgency to think about the climate crisis and its causes and devastating effects in the short, medium and long term. It is necessary for young people to engage more and more in the fight for their future, to confront different actors and actively to participate in the construction of an inclusive, collaborative and sustainable world.
Don’t forget: there is no such thing as change without mobilization.
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