the environmental emergency

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By ELTON CORBANEZI*

A little air, otherwise we suffocate: incendiary crises

The sea of ​​crises in which we have been wallowing in recent months is notorious. Health, economy, politics, culture, education and, now, again, the environmental emergency, this time around the unprecedented devastation caused by the uncontrolled fires. All at once directly implicating our lives.

At the sordid ministerial meeting of the Bolsonaro government on April 22, 2020, while the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes, treated public servants as enemies in whose pockets grenades had already been introduced, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, enunciated his purpose , considering it, at the very least, an index of cleverness: with public attention all focused on the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be necessary to “take advantage of the opportunity” and go “passing the cattle”, said the minister. Well known, the two facts mentioned and the vile and warlike language denote the treachery and destruction that motivate the current government. In one case, public servants are treated not as allies, but as enemies – a target, among so many other ghosts that haunt the palaces of the time. In the second, the “cattle” to which Salles referred did not, at first, relate to the movement of the bovine herd itself. His demonstration, on the contrary, highlights the death machine he is involved in: while bodies pile up by the thousands due to a viral infection irresponsibly disregarded by the head of government, the subordinate responsible for the environmental portfolio insinuated the desire to deregulate and simplify controls regulatory frameworks around environmental protection. The intention was to have administrative acts published unnoticed while the public, the press and justice and control bodies concentrated their attention on the health emergency and its victims. The disregard for environmental protection in favor of a certain agricultural production method, mining and illegal logging heralded the repetition and intensification of the catastrophe we are witnessing.

We saw accumulating crises. Despite the seriousness of the health and economic issue, a political crisis continues, the clear result of which is the absolute failure in managing the pandemic. In biopolitical terms, failure to manage the lives of the population. In the midst of a health emergency, an active-duty general remained for four months as interim Minister of Health, and is now effective as holder of the portfolio with a team consisting essentially of military personnel, as if the metaphor of the war against the virus were taken to the foot of the letter and the management, care and medical prescription of health dispensed with medicine itself. But if the subversion of logic and the accumulated crises were not enough, and what they mean for the populations that live in the national territory, the government strategy to which Salles referred is the basis from which one can understand the intensification and lack of control of the current environmental crisis. It is true that it is no longer new in relation to the predatory model of economic development adopted worldwide, but, nowadays, the environmental crisis acquires, in Brazil, the red color that refers to the urgency of helping life, as it puts at risk, the from fires and deforestation, three biomes in the country, the Amazon, the Pantanal and the Cerrado. Together with the production of the crisis, the government's specialty, it becomes evident, once again, the deadly machine to which fauna and flora are also subjected. The whole of Brazil is appalled at the news about the fires incinerating the most diverse and endangered animals, scorching the vegetation and suffocating people. A path that may never return, because even the vegetation, experts warn, when subjected to the recurrence of fires, tends not to restore itself, “savanizing itself”.

While we are experiencing the drama, asserting the adage of the passing of the cattle in the middle of the pandemic, environmental protection and control bodies, such as ICMBio and Ibama, are, like us, systematically suffocated. The strategy of “pushing regulatory simplification in all aspects” continues, as Salles said on that occasion. After disorganizing such institutions, removing leaders endowed with technical competence and making positions, if not idle, occupied by the military, the government presents, with the country on fire, a significant budget reduction for 2021, further compromising the functioning of federal entities and intensifying the crisis environmental. Within this, other and new crises unfold: health, cultural, economic, political... Indigenous peoples already in precarious conditions are forced to move to other regions, thus exposing themselves to an even higher risk of contamination by the new coronavirus; respiratory problems become more acute even in urban areas; riverside populations and tourism itself have their activities compromised; extends to political dispute around causes and data, which are tirelessly denied. The list of crises within the environmental crisis multiplies, as if we were not already immersed in a crisis on a planetary scale. The failure to open public tenders exacerbates the drama. of administrative reform to Congress, as if it were time to “make the cattle pass”, that is, to deregulate and dismantle as much as possible the principles that govern civil service, the same thing that would serve, according to the arguments of the mainstream media, to combat environmental degradation. In any case, we no longer have the illusion that science and accurate information are elements to be considered by the government: the cultural war that drives populism also here, in the south of America, shows no signs of abating. With the emergency situation decreed in the state of Mato Grosso, now due to forest fires, while trying to make the “boiada pass”, civil society organizes itself with countless campaigns to save the biomes – the fauna, the vegetation and the people who inhabit them.

For days now, the typical blue and clear sky has not opened up for those of us who live in regions around the fires. The blurring of the horizon amidst the dense and continuous cloud of smoke shows the dimension of the suffering of those who are trapped where the fires are raging. Air deprivation threatens our existence. It is known that fatality due to Covid-19 comes mainly from lung impairment and respiratory failure. The brutal asphyxiation that led to George Floyd's death awakened a crowd to fights against racism. Considering the proportions, with the uncontrolled and destructive advance of fires, it is also the air that we are being deprived of, as if it weren't enough for so many other deprivations to which the Brazilian population is subjected on a daily basis. In addition to the metaphorical meaning, the expression of the Minister of the Environment about the “passage of the cattle” also has a literal, concrete meaning: it is with the purpose of increasing the pasture that farmers in Mato Grosso do Sul are investigated by the Federal Police for having supposedly started arson fires.

From home, in the capital of Mato Grosso, we always see the hill of Santo Antônio de Leverger, from which the Pantanal can be seen. A few days ago, the hill disappeared from the everyday horizon again. The image of the disappearance on the visual map resembles Bacurau. In dystopia, insurgency was inevitable. How will we react to yet another real violence? From the interior of Brazil, we see the fire spreading like a crisis, at an accelerated speed and without resolution. In our country, biopolitics has even become necropolitics.

*Elton Corbanezi is professor of sociology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT).

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