If ethics or politics tutors wanted to make up a conundrum for their students, one to really bend their beans around like a kind of Kobayashi Maru No Win scenario, they’d be hard pushed to make up anything as effective as one particular one-word agenda item looming over the Copenhagen climate talks like a giant bovine methane cloud.
I mean, this one’s like some sort of twisted boardgame for Geo-suffix nerds.
If you are one – sitting there, getting off on your global issues and your impossible political predicaments and your sickening, cynical desire to make an actual difference to this world we share with tomorrow’s children and all the little woodland creatures – then you’ll really be rubbing your thighs at Brazil’s current teaser. You probably already know about it. You’re probably writing a bloody ‘blog’ about it right now. You lefty, conshy pervo.
Now, I won’t pretend that my own knowledge of Brazil extends much beyond the two most pertinent facts of the place – namely, that the country’s cultural GDP ballooned in the late fifties with the invention of lift music, and that the female population’s freakish levels of natural beauty are apparently genetically inverse to the male’s – but I do know that they really have it in for Wales.
As every schoolboy knows, Brazil has been destroying areas of its rainforest that are specifically the same size as Wales since, ooh, the late seventies.
Why, is anybody’s guess. People have been asking for it to be verified in double-decker buses, elephants and football pitches for a long time, but nada.
The moral condundrum in question is this:
Brazil, right? Largest country in South America, fifth largest in the world and fifth most populous to boot – some M192 people spread unevenly over more than three million square miles of diverse geography, from Atlantic coastlines to mountain peaks, by way of lots of scrubland, low plains and altitudinous highlands. Though not the sort with tartan kilts and swearing.
Oh, and the single largest tropical forest in the world of course.
Now, if you’re as ignorant as I am, you might be forgiven for thinking that a Latin American country will have its work cut out to keep its head above the Third World waterline – what with all those cocaine-filled, twin-engined planes crashed in jungle trees, and militias in the hills and what not. Right?
But Brazil is something like the tenth largest economy in the world. And, lest we forget again, it’s the country that invented culturally sublime things like Bosa Nova, chic-sharp space-age architecture, football as a creative genre of ballet and all manner of spectacular ways to keep girls from Ipanema and everywhere else just about in their famous carnival outfits. It’s a country of a very great deal of groovyness and even, reportedly, happiness. And it’s in the middle of spending a fortune in improving its infrastructure.
The thing is, of those almost two hundred million groovy citizens of said Federative Republic, more than fifteen per-cent still live below the poverty line.
As with many countries juxtaposing fast-growing post-modern parts of themselves with almost pre-industrial parts, Brazil as a whole is made up of all kinds of parts that don’t all fit together comfortably. The cities grew so fast in the late 20th century, that people flocked to them from the countryside – and found themselves living on the urban periphery in favelas. Today in Rio, for example, it’s thought that one in five of the city’s residents now lives in of of its six hundred police-no-go slums. Favelas represent the fastest growing populations in Brazil still.
Meanwhile, people in many of the inland areas are facing poverty that so many others left behind when they headed for the cities. And climate change predictions threaten to make some of these dry parts of Brazil uninhabitable by the end of the century.
And then there’s the key factor with Brazil as far as the geography schoolboy is concerned – the rainforest. If the Amazon is the lungs of the world, how can the country find a financial way to stop the loggers, ranchers and miners tearing it apart? How do you fund such a fundamental shift in cultural finances locally – and how the hell do you police an area so utterly vast?
It’s going to take more money than the middle classes in Rio or Brasilia have got, right?
Now, let’s add two facts that turn this interesting but largely academic study into a right bloody moral conundrum.
Firstly, and randomly, I think, Brazil currently has a world-leading status as a green energy provider. Almost all its cars currently run on bio-fuel. A country struggling to catch up with the ‘developed’ world is actually leading it in eco-economic vision. A recognised pioneer in its field, renewable energy is becoming a key part in Brazil’s future.
Secondly, it’s just struck oil in the Campos Basin. A staggering shite-load of it.
So now what?
What the arsing hell do you do, when you have a green agenda pressing down on you from the rest of the world that will only dramatically hasten the swelling economic pressure from within, just as you feel your country might stand a chance of taking a more important place at the global table – when someone pipes up: “Ah, you’ll never guess. Funny thing, but we’ve discovered enough black gold to pump a world record-breaking 100,000 barrels of crude a day into our economy. Eh? Cuh.”?
Chew on THAT Copenhagen hopefuls.
It doesn’t get us anywhere, sitting in our lounges across the UK, but watching Channel Four News’ week of special reports from the balmy waterfront at Rio last week was inspiring. I have no idea what else to do now, but I can only hope – as I did with such teeth-gritted conviction about Spitting Image, 20 years ago – that some politicians were watching and feeling challenged.
If there are still journos with enough vision to turn their caravan 180° from where everyone else’s lenses are currently focussed and get to the heart of an issue’s impact, then maybe these people can also give the politically powerful, the scientifically informed and the financially invested a right bloody drilling about what should be done next by all of us.