Invest in entrepreneurs to save the rainforest

Point at which the Rio Negro meets the Rio Amazonas. Like the polarising forces in Brazilian politics, the composition of these two rivers prevent their waters from mixing for up to 10km.

The election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s next President has polarised the nation. The far-right politician, infamous for his controversial views, has raised fears about the future of Brazil’s fragile democracy. But his win also has global significance. As the home of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil has a particular responsibility for environmental stewardship. Despite this, Bolsonaro has made his environmental intentions clear. These could have far-reaching and devastating implications for the planet.

What does Bolsonaro believe?

As a climate denier, Bolsonaro doesn’t believe in protecting the Amazon. He plans to expand agribusiness, mining and hydropower in the region. He has refused to offer further protections for indigenous communities and has proposed a new highway through the region. His aides have suggested he intends to roll the Ministry of Environment into the Ministry of Agriculture and cut funding to the two agencies that enforce existing environmental regulations. Some fear he will turn the Amazon into a giant soya bean plantation.

The region is already fraught with conflict. Indigenous communities have mounted campaigns against the development of new transit corridors. Environmentalists and agribusiness are in perpetual disagreement. Brazil has an unenviable record of human rights abuses against environmentalist. Not only do people fear Bolsonaro’s anachronistic tendency to return Brazil to the days of its military dictatorship, but they also fear a return to a Brazil’s reliant on environmental exploitation for its development.

The dangers of global warming

According to the latest UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, rapid and far-reaching action is need to halt further global temperature rises.

We are already witnessing rising sea-levels, artic ice melting, biodiversity loss and more severe weather patterns, particularly drought conditions. Further warming will make this worse.

Warming also has a significant human impact. It increases the likelihood and risk of famine, lack of drinking water, disease outbreak, lower economic growth and forced migration due to climate change — particularly for already vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. It exacerbates poverty not only for communities that rely on farming but also in urban areas.

Major global cities like Sao Paolo, Mexico City and Cape Town have already run the risk of running out of water. Cities like London, New York, Venice, Jakarta and Dhaka run the risk of rising sea levels — not to mention the low-lying island nations that could disappear entirely. In regions like Northern Kenya and Senegal farming is becoming unviable for the populations that live there. These are not distant threats, then are present threats.

The Amazon: A global asset

The Amazon rainforest is often referred to as the ‘lungs of the planet.’ It is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and is responsible for absorbing a quarter of the earth’s carbon each year. It also produces more than one-fifth of the world’s fresh water and 20% of world’s oxygen. It makes an invaluable contribution to absorbing carbon from the atmosphere which leads to global warming.

Protecting large ecosystems like the Amazon could play a vital role in limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius and limiting the devastating effects of climate change on populations around the world. Forests absorb and store carbon — so deforestation has the double impact of releasing stored carbon from trees into the atmosphere and greatly reducing the ecosystems ability to absorb further carbon.

Historically, Brazil’s largest emissions have come from deforestation, not industrial activity. One of Brazil’s key contribution to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions has been through the halt of deforestation.

With 60% of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil alone, it’s responsibility for stewarding this globally important resource is paramount.

Bolsonaro’s next steps

Bolsonaro’s policies could unravel one of Brazil’s greatest achievements — that of halting deforestation — and rapidly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Importantly, Brazil will be hosting the COP25 in November 2019. But while Bolsonaro has rolled back on his promise to take Brazil out of the Paris Climate Agreement, this appears to be more PR stunt than a softening of intentions.

Bolsonaro can still roll out his plans for environmental devastation, with support from various conservative caucuses in Congress and the support of some regional governors.

Responsibility of the international community

This being the case it is incumbent upon all nation’s to encourage Brazil to protect the Amazon. It is not simply a Brazilian asset, but a global one. The run up to COP25 is an important window in which to demand environmental leadership from Brazil.

Bolsonaro’s policies prioritise short-term economic and security goals over long-term environmental ones. While the global implications are significant, we have also seen from the IPCC’s report that the impacts they will have in Brazil will also be damaging, ultimately undermining Bolsonaro’s goals.

If you’re as worried about this issue as me…

I visited the Amazon in July. It is clear how precious, fragile and essential this ecosystem is to the health of our planet. If you’d like to do more, here are a few examples of what you could do:

  1. Invest in making a difference — Invest directly in entrepreneurs who make a difference by putting environmental impact at the heart of their business purpose through crowd funding or investment platforms like Seedrs, Armstrong Energy, Energy4Impact, Ethex or Envesterly.
  2. Divest your money — Ensure that your long-term investments like pensions are environmentally friendly and are invested in Green Funds or Funds that have divested from fossil fuels.
  3. Support campaigns — Support the international and local advocacy efforts of organisations like Greenpeace, WWF, Sierra Club, Fossil Free and 350.org
  4. Support local organisations — Ensure that any money you wish to donate goes directly to the local communities and grassroots organisations making change in their local areas.

These are just a few examples of what you can do. There are many organisations out there working to support entrepreneurs, scientists, academics, activists, politicians and communities trying to move the world on this important issue.