Brazil’s Forests, Ecosystems At Lawmakers’ Mercy

The Amazon and other important ecosystems in Brazil could soon be in danger, as new legislation attempts to send crucial forest protections to the chopping block.

The bill seeks to cut elements of the nation’s Forest Code, which mandates that a certain proportion of rural land be protected as forest, as well as establishes protections for natural vegetation in “sensitive” areas, such as on steep slopes and along the margins of rivers and streams.

According to a statement issued by the World Wildlife Fund, which starkly opposes the legislation, Big Ag has been lobbying Brazilian lawmakers to remove portions of the code in order to open up more land for cattle ranching and agriculture.

Thousands of protestors filled the lawn in front of the Brazilian National Congress this week, urging lawmakers to reject the legislation. The WWF also reports that over 1.5 million Brazilian have signed a petition encouraging President Dilma Rousseff to veto the reform bill if it were to pass both house of Congress.

Several of the country’s senators have expressed their opposition to the bill, according to representatives from the WWF who were present at the demonstrations.

“The draft bill, as it stands, only benefits a handful of big agribusiness groups and large landowners, and it will actually be promoting and rewarding deforestation in the Amazon,” Sen. Randolphe Rodrigues commented, according to a WWF report. “The text sets us against the tide of history – it stands for economic power alone, which destroys and debilitates so many beautiful things.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill this week, and it will then be sent back to the House for the final vote.


Money Over Matter: Poll Finds Americans Value Economy Over Environment

(Image: Copyright © 2011 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.)

A new Gallup poll finds that Americans prioritize the economy over the environment by a wider margin than in almost 30 years, reflecting large attitude shifts among conservatives and widening political divides.

Results from Gallup’s annual environmental poll show that 54% of Americans prioritize the economy over the environment, compared to 36% who view environmental issues as more pressing. (It is assumed that 10% of those surveyed were “Undecided,” but Gallup does not account for the missing 10%.)

These results contrast drastically from those released in 2000, when Americans prioritized the environment over the economy by a greater than 2-to-1 margin (67% to 28%).

Gallup notes that the widest swing in views came from right-wingers. Republicans actually picked the environment over the economy by a 26 percentage-point gap in 2000. In the latest poll, however, their views seesawed a dramatic 81 points to favor economic prioritization by 55 points. Among conservatives (which Gallup defines as a separate group from “Republicans”), there was a significant 71-point swing.

Views from Democrats and liberals (defined as two separate groups, in this study) did not change as dramatically, with 38% and 32% shifts, respectively, toward economic prioritization.

‘The question should not be Environment vs. Economy.’

The results of the poll clearly reflect a drastically different economic climate in 2011 vs. 2000, as well as political views influenced by a current agenda propagated by the likes of the Tea Party and Fox News.

But as disconcerting as the lack of concern for the environment is, the mere existence of this Gallup poll, which has been conducted annually since 1984, could be even more troubling. Indeed, the question should not be Environment vs. Economy. The political discourse of late, however, has increasingly encouraged a divide between issues that do not inherently contract each other.

Environmental preservation is not a hindrance to nor an opponent of economic development, but rather a catalyst to its growth. The clean-energy sector, for instance, represents a giant opportunity for economic proliferation. It is through this symbiotic relationship, and bipartisan cooperation, that the U.S. economy — as well as our planet — will have the opportunity to truly flourish.

(Survey methodology: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted March 3-6, 2011 with a random sample of –1,021—adults, aged 18+, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit dial sampling. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points. For results based on the sample of –494—national adults in Form A and –527—national adults in Form B, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.)

DOI’s New ‘Scientific Integrity’ Policy Fools No One

Well, we can all rest assured that the federal government — or at least the scientific activities carried out and overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior — will be free from corruption and outside influence. I’m being cynical, of course.

Perhaps with positive intentions but naïve expectations (in true accordance with the president’s character) the department has established a new policy to “maintain the integrity of scientific and scholarly activities used in departmental decision making.”

It’s a great idea, in theory: regulate the ethics of the government. In fact, Secretary Salazar and his PR team have invented a genius strategy to inflate not only the department’s image, but also that of President Obama and his administration.

Except we all know that law and ethics are not the same. Regulating ethics with a vague and subjective “policy” is like putting a bowl of candy in front of a four year old and telling her not to eat it: You’re stating a rule, but you’re not enforcing it — in fact, by instituting broad guidelines instead of drafting specific laws, you’re actually enabling the behavior.

“Regulating ethics with a vague and subjective ‘policy’ is like putting a bowl of candy in front of a four year old and telling her not to eat it.”

According to a statement from the DOI, the new “Scientific Integrity” policy will “use clear and unambiguous codes of conduct for scientific and scholarly activities to define expectations for those covered by this policy.”

When these “unambiguous codes of conduct” are stated in writing and are actually enforced, please feel free to correct me. But as of right now, the policy remains pretty vague, with goals such as these:

  • Facilitate the free flow of scientific and scholarly information, consistent with privacy and classification standards, and in keeping with the Department’s Open Government Plan;
  • Facilitate the sharing of best administrative and management practices that promote the integrity of the Department’s scientific and scholarly activities; and
  • Encourage the enhancement of scientific and scholarly integrity through appropriate, cooperative engagement with the communities of practice represented by professional societies and organizations.

What I think we all want to know is, will this policy really make a difference in upholding the ethics of the way science is used to formulate and influence policy? Forgive my cynicism, but the answer is no.

Will the agricultural, pharmaceutical and oil behemoths — and their lobbying counterparts — still have control over policymakers’ decisions of whether to enforce scientifically ethical behavior? Unfortunately, yes.

Can we do anything about it? Actually, yes. Despite all the government bureaucracy, people still have the power to effect change — look at the current uprising in Egypt, or any revolution for that matter. We can voice our opinions, air our concerns and urge our representatives to make the right decisions. Hey, if they want to be re-elected, believe me — they’ll listen.