At the mouth of the Amazon River

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By MICHAEL LÖWY*

Instead of embarking on the regressive and ecologically catastrophic adventure of off-shore exploration, Brazil could become a leading example of ecological transition.

The confrontation between Ibama and Marina Silva, on the one hand, and Petrobras – supported by an alliance of developmentalists and ruralists – on the other, is a decisive battle. Not only for the local population and indigenous communities in the Amazon; but for all the Brazilian people – what will become of the south of the country without the rivers of rain in the Amazon? – and for all mankind.

Not only because of the – immense – risk of an accident, with the resulting ecological destruction of the entire region of the mouth of the Amazon River, but because this oil will make a notable contribution to CO emissions.2, responsible for climate change.

Petrobras' demagogic argument is that the exploration of this oil off shore will bring resources to Brazil, which would serve to develop the country. One of the ways to respond to this argument is with a proposal similar to the Plan Parque Yasuni in Ecuador. The Yasuni Park was a region of the Amazon in Ecuador, with an enormous wealth of biodiversity, inhabited by indigenous communities, which contained considerable amounts of oil in its subsoil.

The indigenous people and ecologists, with the support of the then Minister of Energy, Alberto Acosta, proposed a plan, which was accepted and officially announced at the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, by the government of President Rafael Correa. The Plan Parque Yasuni consisted of the following: Ecuador would keep the 850 million barrels of oil under the soil of the Yasuni. In return for the resources that the Ecuadorian State would fail to collect from the exploration and sale of this oil, the international community would be encouraged to financially compensate it for the application of this difficult decision, which, according to the proposal, would bring benefits to the entire planet, thanks to preservation of this precious Amazonian biome, and thanks to the enormous amount of CO2 that would not be emitted by this oil.

The Ecuadorian government expected to receive at least US$3,6 billion, equivalent to 50% of the resources that the State would collect if it opted for oil exploration in the region. However, the governments of rich countries, which were supposed to assume this commitment, abstained, or proposed much lower funding. The result was that in 2013 the government of Rafael Correa abandoned the Plan, which provoked a conflict with the indigenous movement in Ecuador that lasts until today.

The Lula government could propose something equivalent, a Plan Foz do Amazonas: Brazil would renounce the exploitation of this oil off-shore, and in exchange, the governments of the richest countries (Europe, North America, Japan) would indemnify the country for half the value of this oil. This money would be placed in a fund destined to protect the Amazon and promote the ecological transition in Brazil, with the development of organic agriculture (family or cooperative), of a free public service of collective transport in the big cities, etc.

The difference with Ecuador's experience would be that, even if, at first, the advanced capitalist countries did not show much enthusiasm for the proposal, the Brazilian government would not back down. With growing pressure from youth and the ecological movement – ​​precious allies of Brazil in this fight – and with the worsening of the climate crisis, proposals to “leave oil underground” will become increasingly central in the political debate. It would be a political battle carried out by Brazil at the international level, and perhaps an example to be followed by other countries in the global South.

Oil – like coal – is an energy source condemned by history. Instead of launching, with Petrobras, the regressive and ecologically catastrophic adventure of this exploration off-shore, Brazil could become a vanguard example in the ecological transition.

*Michael Lowy is director of research in sociology at Center nationale de la recherche scientifique (CNRS). Author, among other books, of What is Ecosocialism?Cortez).


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