A date of importance
The 2 of October 2022 is a date which should be of importance to us all – the Brazilian presidential election. Dubbed one of the ‘most important presidential elections in years’, the choice of president will lie between the re-election of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro or the former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and this choice couldn’t be starker.
Who is Bolsonaro?
Popular amongst evangelical Christians, Bolsonaro prides himself on being a family man, with staunch conservative views around the nuclear family. Bolsonaro is brash with his intolerance and bigotry, making global headlines with such declarations as ‘Brazilian society doesn’t like homosexuals’.
His popularity has been cemented through his social media presence, rarely making mainstream comments or media appearances, and his commitment to fighting for law-and-order policies have appealed to vast swathes of Brazilians. But both online and off, political violence has been a constant backdrop for recent Brazilian elections, “including the murder in 2018 of Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco, who was a well-known champion for women’s rights, racial equality and the rights of LGBTI persons.”
From the get-go, Bolsonaro’s presidency has been littered with controversy. From allegations that he told a female colleague that he wouldn’t rape her because she’s ‘not worthy’ of it, to his close alliance with Donald Trump, (as in his mirroring of Trump’s catastrophic response to the Covid-19 pandemic), Bolsonaro is unapologetic in his stance.
Private gun ownership in Brazil has soared as he adopts a strong military vision for Brazil, influenced by his ex-military experience. Bolsonaro calls the upcoming election “a battle between good and evil” and demands leftists be “eradicated from public life”.
Our connections – the climate emergency
In our increasingly interconnected world, the re-election of Bolsonaro would have impacts from the local to the global. Covering around 60% of Brazil, the plight of the Amazon has brought together activists and academics to highlight the destruction a second term of Bolsonaro would cause.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly made clear his intention to exploit the Amazon under the guise of prosperity for the Brazilian people. However, the reality is that he continues to disempower local people with repeated attacks on indigenous peoples’ rights. According to Human Rights Watch, during his electoral campaign in 2018, Bolsonaro lambasted Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency (FUNAI) for protecting indigenous rights and pledged to “scythe” it. Once in office, he has delivered on that pledge.
Alongside illegal logging and mining, Bolsonaro is ravaging environmental safeguards, loosening laws around deforestation, and dismantling related agencies and government bodies, which is having catastrophic effects. It has been reported that since he took office, a section of “the Amazon larger than Taiwan has already been torn down”.
The climate emergency: who is responsible?
When it comes to the environment, the dominant narrative as to where the power resides must be challenged. Emphasis has long been placed on the individual, from the introduction of plastic carrier bag charges to an increase in zero waste shopping, through to encouragement for individuals to instal solar panels on their homes. However, these ideas underpinned by ecological modernisation, embrace capitalism and do little else but put forward a green version of ‘business as usual’ allowing those at the top to continue the status quo.
Of course, individual action is necessary, and changing consumer habits can send a powerful message, but the emphasis on the individual is both exhaustive and distracting. Not only does individualism distract us from our collective potential, but also distracts us from the people who are really causing and sustaining the worlds ills – the ruling classes.
Bolsonaro is not alone in his links between ideology and the environment. Neoliberal policies, underpinned by growth at all costs, are reflected around the globe. In the United Kingdom, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has hit the headlines with his plan to lift the ban on fracking, claiming it will help with the energy crisis.
Of course, we must not be fooled into thinking the opposition offers all the answers. Lula is not perfect, having served a controversial jail sentence for corruption. But he is well-loved in Brazil and known for lifting millions out of poverty.
In 2014 Brazil was removed from the World Food Programme’s hunger map after ”a decade of progress in reducing hunger”, much of which occurred under Lula. Yet currently, over half of Brazilian families are dealing with food insecurity. All around the globe people are struggling, and right-wing leaders, like Bolsonaro, pontificating the politics of hate, risk progress for us all. In the current global climate, Lula’s leftist, inclusive policies would be warmly welcomed.
Individual acts are commendable, but there are limitations, and in pressing times the risk is that we are only tinkering around the edges of a global capitalist system which puts profits before people. Nevertheless, we have the chance to work towards dismantling power structures which allow the current system to continue.
Climate activist Bill McKibben said that people are always asking: ‘What can I do as an individual to save the planet?’ His response is the best thing you can do is ‘be a little less of an individual’. Reusable coffee cups and ditching fast-fashion have their place, but this risks appeasing individual responsibility and alas, leaves individuals feeling they have done all they can. This plays directly into the divisive politics of right-wing leaders globally, who lay blame on individuals making ‘poor choices’.
Instead, we should be turning our attention to those at the top, as the ruling class continue with their ecologically damaging policies in the name of growth. By involving yourself with grass-roots movements, together, collectively, we can put the power into the hands of the people.
After failing to secure a majority needed for first round victory, we are now in for a tense wait to see if Lula can secure a victory on 30 October.