Brazil: Too Green To Grow?
The Amazon forest is not only amongst the globe’s most biodiverse sites. These days, it is also centre stage to a fierce, if quiet, battle over which model of development Brazil should embrace. Given the global reach of its potential consequences, this is a fight whose interest should not be confined to Brazilians alone.
Brazil’s recent rise to prominence has come as the result of a combination of political stability, sensible economic policies and favourable market positions. The consolidation of a stable democracy in the country – after the peaceful overthrow of a military dictatorship – and with regular, peaceful and transparent elections being held since 1986, has allowed for a number of major economic reforms in the 1990s. Together, these changes slashed inflation from a mind-boggling 993.3% (1987) to 5.91% (2010), while sound economic and social policies allowed for the reduction of poverty levels.
More importantly, democracy translated into the lessening of the (still enormous) gap between the richest and the poorest strata of society. In recent years, the government has been able to expand its social policies and enhance its financial position thanks to an intense inflow of capital due both to the crisis in traditional Western markets, and to a gargantuan Chinese appetite for commodities.
Too much of a good thing however, can do harm. In order to translate the present bonanza into long-term sustainable growth, Brazil has to make some tough choices. Amongst the biggest forks in the road involves a choice on environmental policy. In spite of the lofty speeches and their mandatory lip service giving importance to preserving our natural resources and guaranteeing a better world for future generations, recent political decisions send mixed messages on how much the government is willing to slow down this growth, in the name of a much burdened environment.
This is perhaps understandable – which is not to say acceptable – in political terms. Politicians know only too well that being responsible for something not happening – say, deforestation – usually brings fewer votes than making some things happen – say, a growth in commodities exports. And governments, left and right, cannot afford to lose votes. In politics, rather paradoxically, those who avoid disasters are often less celebrated than those who make the decisions, which will ultimately make them inevitable.
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