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Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the charge to protect the Amazonian rainforest.
Following Lula’s example, leaders of eight South American countries are now pledging to end illegal deforestation in the massive region that has been called the lungs of the planet, reported Bloomberg. The pledge is tantamount to a declaration of war against farmers, ranchers, timber companies, oil drillers, and gold miners who have been plundering the rainforest for profit.
Acting as a sink that sucks up and sequesters carbon in the atmosphere while releasing oxygen, the Amazon cools the entire planet by approximately 0.25 degrees Celsius, according to the Lever.
But over the past few years, his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, hobbled environmental regulators and encouraged farmers and miners to exploit the rainforest in the name of economic growth, wrote National Public Radio. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon increased to its highest rate in the past 15 years, with around 5,100 square miles lost.
Lula, 76, has demonstrated success in protecting the Amazon since he won office in a stunning political comeback last year, explained CNN. He has managed to reduce the annual rate of deforestation by 34 percent through June this year compared with 2022.
A leftist who served as Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2010, he served more than a year in jail on corruption charges in 2018 and 2019 before the country’s top court exonerated him on procedural grounds. Then he ran for office again and defeated rightwing populist Bolsonaro.
The question, however, as the Washington Post asked, is whether Lula can keep it up.
Conservative lawmakers in Brazil’s Congress have reversed Lula’s efforts to grant Indigenous communities more authority over their lands, describing them as “constraints on agribusiness that could harm exports,” according to Al Jazeera. Lula’s critics on the left said he could have done more to fight the lawmakers but didn’t. Reports that top players in Lula’s cabinet also have conflicting visions of how they want to enact his policies likely helped fuel that negative reaction from the president’s base.
“Indigenous people and environmental campaigners have reacted in horror,” wrote the Irish Times in an editorial.
Furthermore, while rainforest destruction has declined, it’s risen to a seven-year high in the Cerrado, a savanna region bordering the Amazon. More than 4,000 square miles, an area larger than the Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon were lost between July 2021 and July 2022, reported Reuters in December.
Progress in politics can be slow and unsteady. However, Lula and the Earth don’t have the luxury of time.