Bolsonaro invites Biden to deforest

Authoritarian anti-environmentalism cannot deliver what it promises

The Brazilian government does not expect little of the Leaders Summit on Climate. It wants to be seen as a serious and competent actor, and then take billions of dollars to support its projects. The obstacle will be one of persuasion: with vertiginous records of deforestation, environmental deprotection and aggression to indigenous people, every single act practiced during these almost 30 months betray this ambition.

Persuasion asks for credibility and coherence, attributes that Brazil, a former environmental power and a former international protagonist, has slowly renounced through its "panic and circus" policy. There is a doctrine and a method in authoritarian anti- environmentalism, both incompatible with constitutional and international duties of climate protection and ecological equilibrium.

The doctrine brings together a mixture of pre-constitutional ideas. A body to be exploited, the Amazon would be destined to the extraction of wood and ores, to cattle, export agriculture and large hydroelectric dams, all of which presuppose forest suppression. Indigenous people should serve this productive process and be forceably integrated into the market system and consumer society.

From this 19th century understanding of wealth, the value of biodiversity and the role of ecosystemic services are absent. Climate change and savanization would be conspiracies of science; plural and multicultural society, a communist subversion; conservationist policies and the knowledge economy, a threat to sovereignty.

"The Amazon is ours" has become a maxim of this dishonest view of national interest. Inside "ours" usually predominate land grabbers and invaders, miners and loggers that make up the organized crime of the region. Invariably, private and predatory interest varnished with the ink of national interest. They devastate the land and make quick profit, not wealth for the country. Not to mention the contribution to global warming.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, tragic sanitary inaction was justified through the suggestion of a tradeoff between health and economy, which has already caused almost 400 thousand deaths. Anti-environmentalism also contends that it is impossible to combine economic development with environmental protection. And it hides that deforestation is a determinant cause of the perennial misery in the region.

In order to convert doctrine into method, the authoritarian anti-environmentalism applies a playbook with five techniques.

The first is deregulatory blitzkrieg. It consists of the massive enaction of executive rules (resolutions, ordinances) that loosen or extinguish common sense environmental protection legal norms. These norms are manufactured with the awareness of illegality. It is a way to overburden and challenge the political capital of courts, which cannot hold authorities to account of invalidate rule timely and comprehensively. It is a kind of "Lawfare" within the state. "Slipping the cattle" ("passando a boiada") in the minister's jargon.

The second is the institutional evisceration of environmental agencies. The goal is to collapse state capacity for pursuing complex tasks. There are sub-techniques here: budget cuts (or suspension, for example, of German and Norwegian aid through the Amazon Fund); dismissal and reallocation of public officials; exclusion of social participation; scratching and obstructing accountability procedures, blocking the application of fines or amnestying billions in fines (and creating incentives for environmental delinquency).

The third is the militarization of essential functions of environmental policy. In other words, de-professionalization of bureaucracies and the subjection of environmental policy to the paranoid doctrines of the military dictatorship (which, among other things, slaughtered thousands of indigenous people ). The attack on NGOs that would disguise "international greed" is a typical example.

The fourth is a multifaceted disinformation program. From the formal point of view, this program empties and defund organs that produce data and knowledge, such as INPE, ICMBIO, IBGE etc. Informally, it spreads fake news through the obscure channels of hate dissemination, or even through public misleading statements.

The fifth is a permanent program of surveillance and intimidation of critics, on the one hand, and incitement of environmental delinquency, combined with a promise of accountability leniency, on the other hand.

Surveillance and intimidation target state bureaucracy and external critics. Scientists, journalists and activists were already legally challenged by Minister Ricardo Salles. Incitement to deforestation or invasion of indigenous land do really trigger what they ask for. Acts that are well documented and forgiven for the sake of the program.

The result is out there: a state devoid of legal, human and operational equipment to prevent the ongoing tragedy. What it flaunts in fanaticism, it lacks in governance.

President Biden, we need money to rebuild what we have judiciously destroyed. The guarantee?

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