This year’s general election in Brazil almost feels like the climax of the highest-rated season of a political drama series. The first round took place on October 2, and a second round on October 30 will decide the political fate of candidates Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (better known as Lula) and Jair Bolsonaro. It’s no exaggeration to say that they are arch-rivals, with their direct confrontation described as “a drama that took years to prepare”. (BBC News) They couldn’t be more different in ideology or disparate in their governance priorities. Bolsonaro, the incumbent, presents himself as a nationalist and a populist, proclaiming the hard-right motto “God, family and country”. Core elements of his platform encompass freedom of religious practice and expression (as well as support for traditionalist strains of Christianity), gun rights, and unregulated capitalism. Lula, on the other hand, was for decades considered a dean of Brazilian leftist thought and one of the most recognizable veterans of Latin American leftist politics.
The treatment and future of the Amazon rainforest, colloquially known as the lungs of the Earth, are at the heart of the candidates’ concerns. While Lula’s environmental policies during his presidential tenure from 2003 to 2010 have been a mixed record, he remains the preferred choice of climate activists, who warn Bolsonaro’s re-election would mean further economic exploitation of the forest’s ecosystem tropical. Lula said he would strengthen measures to protect rainforests. If he beat Bolsonaro at the end of October and implemented his campaign promises, the loss of 75,960 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest by 2030 could be averted. In his first three years as president after taking power in 2019, Bolsonaro wiped out 34,018 square kilometers of rainforest, an area larger than Belgium.
There are good reasons to believe that it is possible to overcome the increasingly tenuous dichotomy between preserving jobs and protecting the environment. The perceived economic value of fossil fuel industries is accepted in mainstream economics as mere common sense. However, the most powerful and sustainable sources of energy are already known to us: the wind, the sea, the sun and, of course, forest ecosystems. With proper management, they can provide renewable energy almost indefinitely and retain the potential for economic growth. There are few rainforest systems that can match the Amazon, despite ongoing deforestation, logging, and corporate-sanctioned attacks on its native stewards.
Virgilio Viana, director general of the Amazon Sustainability Foundation, suggests that a “bioeconomy” is not just an ideal, but a practical and beneficial model for Brazil and for the Amazon. A bioeconomy refers to a “set of economic activities linked to production chains based on the management and cultivation of native biodiversity. It includes the value chain of biocosmetics, biopharmaceuticals, biochemicals, fibers and other products. (International Institute for Environmental Development) In this vision, the economy thrives not in tension with the preservation of biodiversity, but because the economy itself is geared towards the advancement of biodiversity. While investment and innovation are always challenges, there are already concrete examples of an Amazonian bioeconomy, such as the sustainable management of Amazonian pirarucu fish, which has led to a 427% recovery of fish stocks, or management of the açaí palm, which has injected annual revenues of US$1.5 billion into the Brazilian state of Pará.
Buddhism has accumulated various traditions and customs which, taken together, show that building a sustainable environment and economy is the right livelihood for the 21st century. Just livelihoods are those that minimize harm to others and the environment and, conversely, maximize benefits and respect for others and the world at large. We have, in the Jatakas and in the traditional life story of the Buddha, insights into the Blessed One’s unique relationship with nature. We know that for centuries, even when the first rock-cut caves in India and along the Silk Road were dug for monks to shelter and worship in, the Buddhist order was completely mobile. Monks and nuns were constantly on the move, with a minimal environmental footprint, only staying put during the vassa (withdrawal of the rains). Other teachings that establish Buddhism as a pro-environment and pro-bioeconomy tradition include the idea of Buddha-nature (tathagathagarba) that manifests in all living beings, a philosophical appreciation of the interconnectedness of the world, and the notion that we are reborn as endless living beings. While the notion of stewardship of the Earth is more commonly mentioned in theistic religions, the fact that we are almost always reborn as non-human beings, given the rarity of human rebirth, stewardship is not far removed from what Buddhism advocates for the world. environment.
There are deep potential affinities between Buddhist thought and an inclusive and green economy, of which the Amazon bioeconomy is only a part. The philosophical and ethical underpinnings of the green economy are based on the Global Coalition for the Green Economy’s definition of an economy that “provides prosperity for all within the ecological limits of the planet”. Such an economy:
1. Allows all to create and enjoy prosperity;
2. Promotes equity between and within generations;
3. Protect, restore and invest in nature;
4. supports sustainable consumption and production; and
5. Is guided by integrated, accountable and resilient institutions.
(Green Economy Coalition)
From mapping productive systems and building human capital for biodiversity to developing hybrid finance, governance mechanisms and sustainable value chains through public policies, there is no shortage of challenges to be addressed as the world seeks new ways to envision the future. There is no doubt that our global turmoil in some way reflects the dark path that humanity is headed down when it comes to planetary ecology. Beyond Bolsonaro and Lula, beyond even Brazil, it seems essential that the world move towards an inclusive green economy, with bioeconomies established not only for the lungs of the Earth, but in as many local ecosystems as possible in the world. Rather than seeing the economy and the environment as opposing forces, there has never been a more urgent time to view “planetary prosperity” as our world’s best hope.
How Brazil’s elections could impact social and environmental rights (Fair Planet)
Brazilians Lula and Bolsonaro face second round after surprisingly close result (BBC News)
Analysis: Bolsonaro’s electoral defeat could reduce Brazilian Amazon deforestation by 89% (Carbon Brief)
How the Amazon bioeconomy can catalyze an inclusive green economy (International Institute for Environmental Development)
Green Economy Coalition
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