As Host to Rio+20, Brazil Faces Own Environmental Struggles

Photo by Karen Hoffmann
Cattle ranching and soybean cultivations are the two major drivers of deforestation in Brazil.

As leaders from 130 countries gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week for the “Rio+20” United Nations environmental summit, the host country is grappling with its own increasingly volatile struggles between economic growth, ecosystem conservation, and human rights protection.

From deforestation for soy and cattle plantations to violence against forest activists, to the scores of dams being built on the country’s rushing rivers, Brazil faces debate both internally and internationally about its future. The South American nation is home to one-third of the world’s remaining rainforests, including a majority of the Amazon rainforest. Its forests host an incredible biodiversity, with more than 56,000 described species of plants, 1,700 species of birds, 695 amphibians, 578 mammals, and 651 reptiles.

Photo by Karen Hoffmann
Chief Jose Carlos Arara gestures to the Xingu River that his village in Altamira depends on for life. Brazil plans to build 60 big and small dams on its many rivers and their tributaries, most infamously the $11billion Belo Monte dam over the Xingu that would displace several Indigenous and riverine communities.

Twenty years ago, at the first Earth Summit in Rio, protecting the Amazon was already on everyone’s minds. Canadian environmental activist John Hemming wrote in his book Tree of Rivers: “More heads of government attended this gathering than any previous event: It took place in the country that held the most tropical forests and rivers, and ironically it was in the 500th anniversary of Columbus. … I was at this huge, vibrant conference and experienced the resulting feeling of optimism.”

Now Brazil is on its way to becoming an economic powerhouse and its using up its natural resources faster than ever. …

More at Earth Island Journal >

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