One of the narratives used by those who place themselves as conniving or even defenders of deforestation in the Amazon is that environmental protection would be a cause of foreigners or people from outside the region. According to this reasoning, Europeans and North Americans would have deforested their forests in the past to develop their economies and now they do not want to allow Brazil to develop by deforesting the Amazon. The premise of this narrative says that it is in the interests of Brazil and Amazonian residents to deforest and that this is essential for the country’s economic development.
The results of an unprecedented survey, carried out in Manaus in 2021, with 1,003 respondents and a 3% margin of error, show the opposite. Manauara is against deforestation: 86% do not agree with the thesis that deforestation is necessary to develop and 88% defend the protection of the environment.
When the topic is forest fire, 94% see fires as harmful to health. In the open question, the main mentions are related to air pollution and its consequences for human health. In fact, according to scientific research, forest fires in the Amazon are one of the main causes and aggravation of diseases in the region, from respiratory to cardiovascular diseases. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution represents the main problem for human health worldwide. During the burning period, the level of air pollution in the Amazon is worse than that of large cities such as São Paulo.
The majority of the population of Manaus (67%) believes that urban green areas improve the quality of life, mainly due to the reduction in heat (40%) and the production of clean air (20%). The vast majority defends that governments work to reduce deforestation and increase afforestation of streets and protection of urban green areas.
When it comes to the creation of environmental conservation units, 74% of the population understands that this does not hinder economic development. Among the main reasons mentioned is the view that protected areas generate more benefits than harm and create opportunities for economic development. In fact, one of the main potentials for economic development in the region is the Amazonian bioeconomy, and this depends directly on the production of fruits, oils, fish, etc., which come from protected areas with the presence of traditional populations and indigenous peoples.
The survey, carried out by Action Pesquisas de Mercado, at the request of the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS), with support from the Climate and Society Institute (ICS), clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of Manaus residents are against deforestation and fires. and is in favor of keeping the forest standing. The results show that this position is consistent across all income, age, gender and education classes; with slight variations within these categories.
The survey results show a huge gap between society’s vision and the narrative of political leaders, both in Amazonas and in other regions of Brazil. There are several hypotheses that can explain this contradiction. The first is that this is yet another phenomenon that attests to the low representation of political leaders in Brazil, which points to the need to improve the electoral system in order to strengthen democracy. Another hypothesis is that, in this specific case, political leaders are more related to the economic agents that benefit from deforestation than to the concerns of society in general.
It is worth remembering that deforestation and forest fires in the Amazon are the result of an economic engine that generates large profits for a small segment of Amazon society, represented by loggers, land grabbers and miners — all of them acting illegally and criminally. Illegal loggers generally operate on public lands, including conservation units and indigenous lands. They do not pay the taxes due, employ workers irregularly, without proper labor rights, and operate without the necessary environmental licenses, causing enormous environmental damage. Illegal loggers open illegal roads where land grabbers enter, who steal public lands. The creation of cattle by land grabbers has the main function of creating a facade of rural producers to obtain land documents illegally and fraudulently. Illegal miners, who are the overwhelming majority, invest a significant part of their earnings in the purchase of land from land grabbers and in raising cattle, as a way to heat up the money illegally earned and which leaves a trail of destruction in the rivers and social degradation of the local communities. The global food market adds fuel and profitability to this economic gear.
Based on the Action/FAS/ICS research, we can better understand where the narrative comes from and for whom the narrative used by those who position themselves as connivers and defenders of deforestation in the Amazon serves. This is not a position of Amazonian society or Brazilian society.
Deforestation in the Amazon is not only contrary to the wishes of Amazonian and Brazilian society: it is contrary to the national interest. Deforestation and fires negatively affect the rainfall regime throughout Brazil and contribute to the increase in dry periods, aggravating the water crisis. Continuing deforestation could lead to Brazil’s water collapse, with enormous consequences for agricultural production, hydroelectric power generation and urban water supply. In addition, the increases in deforestation observed in recent years worsen Brazil’s image, driving away productive investments in the country, reducing the generation of jobs throughout the national territory.
The results of this research allow us to keep the flame of hope burning, as Pope Francis teaches us. If the population wants the protection of the Amazon against the action of illegal loggers, land grabbers and miners, we hope that our political leaders will listen and better represent the wishes of Amazonians in particular and of all Brazilians in general. Perhaps the current political leaders will start to change their position… Perhaps new political leaders will emerge in the next elections, more committed to the national interest… It is worth keeping the flame of hope alight!
Virgilio Viana he is general superintendent of the Sustainable Amazon Foundation (FAS).
Support our journalism. Subscribe to EL PAÍS by clicking here
sign up on here to receive the daily newsletter of EL PAÍS Brasil: reports, analyses, exclusive interviews and the main information of the day in your e-mail, from Monday to Friday. sign up also to receive our weekly newsletter on Saturdays, with highlights of coverage for the week.
Log in to continue reading
Know that you can read this article now, it’s free
Thank you for reading EL PAÍS