Environment – ​​the return of the repressed

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By LISZT VIEIRA*

Sustainable development should not be confused with the quantitative notion of economic growth, as it involves combating social inequality and respecting cultural diversity

Traditionally rejected by the right and the left, the environmental issue has gradually been accepted as a relevant political issue. Now, with the environmental catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul, the bomb exploded in the hands of governor Eduardo Leite, the mayor of Porto Alegre, Sebastião Melo and the vast majority of mayors in the cities of Rio Grande do Sul, all climate deniers and neoliberals.

To focus on the best-known cases, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, a closet Bolsonarist, canceled or changed 480 points of the state's Environmental Code in 2019 to facilitate private investment without complying with environmental law. And the mayor of Porto Alegre, an avowed Bolsonaro supporter, did not spend a single penny on maintaining the flood protection system, despite the heavy floods last year. Both, as good deniers of the climate crisis, diverted the funds allocated for environmental protection to other purposes.

In an indirect declaration of guilt, Governor Eduardo Leite was quick to say: This is not the time to look for those to blame! For him, that time will never come. Did not believe or did not want to believe in the scientific predictions that announced the climate tragedy that has now flooded 85% of the territory of Rio Grande do Sul. Hundreds of missing people, dead, isolated cities, lack of water, electricity, transport, food, a chaos that turned one of the richest states in Brazil into a beggar for help from the population. The governor didn't even suggest something more dignified and strong, such as, for example, donations from political parties that receive billions from the electoral fund, or donations from billionaires who barely pay taxes, if at all.

But, truth be told, denialism is not a monopoly of the right. The so-called developmentalist left – at least in its majority – has always disregarded the environmental issue. The environment was considered an obstacle to development. In the PT in Rio de Janeiro, where I fought in the 1980s and was elected deputy on an environmental platform, the contempt of party leaders was paramount. I heard pearls like: “In Brazil, there is no environmental issue, the issue is social” Or: “The environment is a false issue imported from Europe”. The environment was not part of the Marxist manual that the leaders adopted.

Torpedoed by the developmentist Dilma Roussef, then head of the Civil House, Marina Silva left the Ministry of the Environment in May 2008, during the second Lula government. The idea that the environment is an obstacle to development was a common voice in the developmentist line. Now, as reported by the website Intercept On May 6, the “Brazil 2040” Report, prepared in 2015 by technicians and environmental experts, was shelved by the Dilma Rousseff government that had commissioned it. The Report pointed out dramatic results such as “Sea level rise, deaths from heat waves, collapse of hydroelectric plants, lack of water in the Southeast, worsening droughts in the Northeast and increased rainfall in the South”.

The report was prepared by several bodies and was displeased because, at the time, the Dilma Rousseff government supported the construction of the Belo Monte Plant and the Report showed the impact of the climate crisis on water resources. In other words, the Report clearly stated, according to the matter of the Intercept, that “droughts in the Southeast, Central-West and North regions could reduce water in river basins, impacting the production of electrical energy from hydroelectric plants. At the time, the Government was building the pharaonic Belo Monte Plant, which could have its energy production capacity reduced by 50% with the projected drought”.

“Times change, desires change”, begins a famous Sonnet by the great Portuguese poet Luís de Camões. The environmental issue, previously rejected by many, despite the predictions of scientists and ecologists, today becomes a priority and there will be no shortage of candidates to be the child's father. The right, out of interest, has always rejected the issue of the environment, has always been a denialist of the climate crisis and environmental degradation. He has always supported agribusiness, extensive livestock farming, mining, deforestation, polluting industry, the poisoning of rivers, in short, he has always supported any economic activity that destroys the environment.

Capital has no complaints from the urban working class, which has behaved very well. On the agricultural frontier, capital feels obliged to murder rural leaders, peasants, quilombolas, indigenous people, environmentalists, etc. They dare to criticize productive activities that pollute and destroy the environment.

Scientists and journalists who denounce environmental degradation are being threatened. According to a UNESCO study from 2024, two out of every five climate researchers suffered threats to their safety. According to journalist Jamil Chade (UOL, 10/4/2024), “a wave of attacks against journalists and scientists who deal with environmental issues gains strength and opens a new frontier of concern in the fight against climate change. Surveys carried out by international organizations and research entities reveal that the advance of populism, the erosion of democracy, misinformation and the impact of new technologies are putting pressure on the safety and freedom of scientists”.

In the post-military dictatorship years, the majority of the so-called developmentalist left defended economic growth without concern for environmental protection. It was only later that the notion of sustainable development paved the way and gained respectability in the political world, with the exception of neoliberals and the extreme right. Today, the environment, Mother Earth, returns to reclaim its spaces – destroyed without respect for the care required by environmental legislation.

According to Marcio Astrini, Secretary of the Climate Observatory, extreme events such as the environmental tragedy in Rio Grande do Sul will be increasingly common because of climate changes and can no longer be treated as “unforeseen events”. In addition to many state and municipal governments, the majority of Congress is also denialist and works to destroy Brazil's environmental legislation. “Right now they want to end the Environmental Licensing Law, legal reserves in the Amazon, and indigenous reserves.”

According to climatologist Carlos Nobre “What happens in Rio Grande do Sul is not a natural tragedy. It is a consequence of human action, irresponsibility, disregard for the Environment. Public bodies could have taken preventive measures, because we knew last year that this could happen. Disasters like the one in Rio Grande do Sul will be increasingly frequent in Brazil.” In an interview with the newspaper Metropolis, he said Brazil could have three million climate refugees in the coming years from climate-related disasters.

Rualdo Menegat, professor at IG-UFRGS, denounces that there was a blackout in the infrastructure of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, privatized by the current state government and managed in an incompetent manner. Natural drainage and water cycles have been destroyed by intensive land use policies. According to him, “they relaxed laws to increase soybean planting areas, dismantled master plans to expand real estate speculation in riverside areas, to establish coal mines, to encourage real estate speculation.”

“For science, this is nothing new,” says physicist Paulo Artaxo, member of the IPCC and researcher at USP. “For more than 20 years, all climate models have shown that, with the increase in global temperature, the amount of rain and very intense droughts will increase, that is, the climate It's going to get more extreme. The Brazilian Panel on Climate Change report that we produced eight years ago already predicted more extreme rains in the South and droughts in the Amazon.” And INPE (National Institute for Space Research) warned that extreme rainfall in the south of the country will increase by 60% in 30 years. The same scenario is seen in the countryside and coast of the Northeast. Extreme drought tends to worsen in the north of Minas, south of Bahia, Tocantins and Goiás.

Thus, the catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul is not a consequence of chance or unforeseen nature. It is a tragedy announced and with double denial. Conservative governments deny the role of the State, reduced to the minimum State foreseen in the neoliberalism manual, and also deny the climate crisis and the extreme weather events announced and predicted by scientists and ecologists in Brazil and around the world. While Rio Grande do Sul faces the biggest ecological disaster ever recorded in Brazil, its denialist deputies and senators, all Bolsonarists, support in Congress the extinction of environmental licensing, indigenous reserves and the reduction of legal reserves in the Amazon. In Rio Grande do Sul, the penny dropped, but in Congress the herd continues to pass.

It is to be hoped that the notion of sustainable development stops being an empty expression, used only as an ornament in some party programs or as formal rhetoric in politicians' speeches, and starts to be incorporated into concrete projects designed and implemented by governments and companies. of the market that traditionally ignore the environmental impact of their production activities. Sustainable development should not be confused with the quantitative notion of economic growth, as it necessarily involves combating social inequality and respecting cultural diversity.

But the neoliberal vision of fiscal austerity, defended by the financial market and the media, ignores even the conservative notion of economic growth, prioritizing jaboticabas that only exist in Brazil, such as, for example, a spending cap, zero deficit and a minimum state. In the USA, for example, the State invests heavily in infrastructure and technology. But he defends fiscal “austericide” in the countries on his periphery.

Environmental protection and sustainable development are strange notions that are ignored by the market and the mainstream media at their service. Unfortunately, however, they were also ignored, for a long time, by the developmental left that mocked environmentalist proposals. The environment, repressed, returned to reclaim its violently destroyed spaces, causing an unprecedented and chaotic environmental catastrophe in Rio Grande do Sul, predicted by scientists and ecologists from Brazil and around the world.

The big question is whether, from now on, the predictions of scientists and the proposals of environmentalists will be ignored or taken into account by public policies and private investments.

*Liszt scallop is a retired professor of sociology at PUC-Rio. He was a deputy (PT-RJ) and coordinator of the Global Forum of the Rio 92 Conference. Author, among other books, of Democracy reactsGaramond). [https://amzn.to/3sQ7Qn3]


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