D espite increasing global concern, Jair Bolsonaro is determined to expand his exploitation of Brazil’s crucial natural resources. His latest project, one of the most destructive yet, would rapidly deforest large areas of the Amazon.
Bolsonaro’s plan? To construct a 1,000km railway system extending right into the heart of the Amazon rainforest – with trains passing within 500 metres of 726 official environmentally protected areas. The new railway, called Ferrogrão, would also entail construction within 10km of another 18 priority conservation areas established by the ministry of the environment.
The pretext for Bolsonaro’s environment-destroying plan is a problem that, while real, could be easily addressed through far less harmful measures. Currently, soybeans and other grains grown in the Brazilian midwest must travel a considerable distance – 2,000km – to reach seaports in the states of São Paulo and Paraná. The proposed railway would reduce transport costs and increase the competitiveness of these products in the international or national market by roughly 8%.
This underscores a key point of tension between Brazil and the international community. One reason the Amazon, a massive carbon bank, is so crucial to global climate policy is that countries in the global north became rich by exploiting their own natural resources, including through massive deforestation. Now that western European and North American countries are economically developed, they demand that Brazilians not do what they did: exploit our environmental resources so that we, too, can thrive economically. Many Brazilians, understandably, resent the hypocrisy.