The Brazilian Amazon and the election: A breath of fresh air?
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The Brazilian Amazon and the election: A breath of fresh air?

Just days after encouraging news suggesting that progress is being made in the battle to save the Amazon, a new report shows a sharp increase in Brazil’s deforestation over a 12-month period ending in July 2013.

Though it was already common knowledge that late 2012 saw a rise in environmental destruction in the Brazilian Amazon region, satellite data released last Wednesday by the Brazilian government confirms a 29 percent spike in deforestation over that time period.

The northern state of Pará, home of the controversial Belo Monte Dam project, along with the west-central state of Mato Grosso saw the largest amounts of forest cleared, mostly due to agricultural expansion. In context, the rate of deforestation is still the second lowest on record since the government began its measurements in 2004. That year, a whopping 30,000 sq. km (11,580 sq. mi) of forestland was destroyed. The 2012-2013 period saw 5,891 sq. km (2275 sq. mi) destroyed, with Pará alone accounting for 2,346 sq. km (906 sq. mi) in losses and Mato Grosso losing 1,139 sq. km (440 sq. mi).

Source: Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE)

From Reuters:

Fighting the destruction of the Amazon is considered crucial for reducing global warming because deforestation worldwide accounts for 15 percent of annual emissions of heat-trapping gases, more than the entire transportation sector. Besides being a giant carbon sink, the Amazon is a biodiversity sanctuary, holding billions of species yet to be studied.

Could Brazil’s first environmentalist president bring hope?

Socialist Party candidate and former Minister of the Environment Marina Silva grew up poor and uneducated in a rubber-tapping community in the western state of Acre. Orphaned at 16, she left home to earn a university degree, eventually becoming involved in political activism for workers’ rights and environmental issues like deforestation.

Despite her participation in former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government as part of the Worker’s Party, Silva is seen as a political outsider who offers some hope of a break with corruption and fiscal waste. This approach may help woo voters from the right, while her background with Lula and Green activism gives her credibility with the left. Silva may also glean support from religious communities due to her opposition to abortion and somewhat conservative stance on gay marriage. At the same time, economic woes and allegations of fiscal irresponsibility and corruption of party members appear to be hurting sitting president Dilma Rousseff’s chances for re-election.

From the LA Times:

Brazil’s environment minister in 2004 was Marina Silva, who is now narrowly ahead in polls and poised to defeat incumbent Dilma Rousseff for the presidency next month. If she wins, she would be considered Brazil’s first environmentalist president as well as the first president from the Amazon region.

With Amazon destruction hot in the news following the release of the satellite data and the murder of four indigenous leaders who were active in fighting against deforestation in Peru, Marina Silva’s activist background could be her strongest weapon, at least among young voters. Silva’s time as Minister of the Environment coincided with a 60 percent drop in deforestation, but she resigned due to what she saw as a prioritization of development over conservation by Lula’s administration.

Read more: Silva surges as Rousseff’s main challenger in Brazil elections

While her activism credentials are well established, her political stability has some questioning her capabilities. The Socialist Party, which she joined only last year, is the third political party Silva has been a member of since leaving the Worker’s Party in 2009.

On the other hand, she is clearly more concerned about issues than partisan politics and party loyalty. This could mean a breath of fresh (and cleaner) air in a political system that has worn out the patience of many voters.