It's time to think radically when it comes to climate campaigning.
Brazil’s fascist leader Bolsonaro gave the green light to those who wish to decimate the Amazon for short-term gain. What can our movement do to save forests?
“When we eat meat, we have deforestation on our plates”, said a speaker at the Brazilian Embassy Save the Amazon protest on 23 August. But while growing awareness of the need to eat less meat will gradually help cut deforestation, we need pressure to enforce forest protection now.
Only motivated governments can provide this enforcement. Most are much more open-minded on the issue than Bolsonaro. We should campaign for much greater funding to help poor nations preserve their forests, and develop with clean energy, strengthening plans which the G7 is going to raise at the UN. Our campaign should also target particularly outrageous forms of carbon pollution in wealthy nations, thus countering attempts by politicians like Bolsonaro to misrepresent concern about the Amazon as indicative of a “colonialist mentality”.
Stop the MERCOSUR Trade Pact
It is vital, as Brazil’s former environment minister emphasised, that governments should know that they will lose economically if they fail to protect forests. We must push the EU to delay ratification of the trade agreement with the four-nation MERCOSUR bloc, which includes Brazil, until it has shown a sustained and significant fall in deforestation, and is taking rigorous steps to protect the Amazon.
End import of meat from nations who do not comply on deforestation
With global demand for meat predicted to soar, we need an international campaign with wisely chosen actions, informed by the participation of NGOs and indigenous peoples in major forest nations. We need to tell large supermarkets and restaurant chains that they must immediately stop buying meat from specified suspect countries until there is sustained evidence that they have cut deforestation to our target level.
Evidence shows that this can be achieved. We need to insist on seeing the supermarkets’ and restaurants’ public cancellation of relevant contracts, and their written demands to suppliers stating that any contract would be considered invalid if it emerged that any meat from the suspect countries was supplied to them. Supermarkets and restaurant chains know that they will lose a great many customers if they are not taking vigorous action against deforestation.
We should go in large groups to any supermarket or restaurant which does not take appropriate action, sing campaign songs, and film our conversation with the staff telling them we would not buy anything. No supermarket would want their name and logo next to the words Forest Destroyers stuck all over their windows. We can get plenty of support: nine out of ten Europeans told pollsters they cared deeply about forests. Producers would see that quite soon only meat from innocent countries would sell for a good price.
There would of course be difficulties in tracing the true origin of any consignment of meat. This is why our actions must be linked to the easily verifiable deforestation level. Regardless of companies’ claims, if a forest nation’s government had failed to cut deforestation to notified target level, our movement would continue to take action against all exports of meat or other forest-risk commodities from that country. This would give all producers in that country a strong incentive to push their government to protect the forest. We would also insist that each nation’s forest protection target was linked to them protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, and ceasing persecution of environmentalists.
We can also go beyond just meat production. For example, tourism accounts for 8% of Brazilian national income. Thanks to Greta Thunberg and others, our movement now has the influence to persuade many people not to travel to countries with guilty governments. Many people considering holidaying in Brazil would be willing to go to a comparable destination instead. If a country like Brazil saw that it stood to lose just 1% of national income due to a tourist boycott, its legislators would see that it made economic sense to cut deforestation.
We should show all governments which are failing badly on the climate emergency that they could suffer a tourism boycott. This would be another powerful weapon against Australia’s irresponsible plans to increase coal mining, which also threatens the precious Great Barrier Reef. Tourism accounts for 11% of Australia’s national income.
We could get high-profile people to publicise a tourism boycott of a few carefully selected countries. Madonna and Lewis Hamilton are among those who have recently expressed concern about the Amazon. We should include Germany, which refuses to stop using coal until 2038, and hence is destroying the Hambach Forest. Tourism brings in 10.7% of Germany’s national income.
Concern about deforestation could slide into pessimism unless we take assertive action soon. Now is the time to launch a bold campaign!
Tim Root is co-ordinator of Muswell Hill & Hornsey Friends of the Earth