Brazil, once a global leader when it came to positive action on climate change, is, under its current leadership, increasingly turning into a danger instead. The work being done by environmental defenders from Brazil is more challenging - and more necessary - than ever before. In this interview we talk to one of them, Abel Rodrigues, about his fight.
Not only are people in the Global South often among the most vulnerable to rising global temperatures, but they are also climate activists, educators and changemakers - fighting for a better world, innovating and inspiring others to tackle the issues that we as a planet face. In this series of interviews with environmental activists from Latin America, Africa and Asia, we want to do our bit to decolonise the conversation around climate change and lift up the underrepresented voices within the climate movement. Find all of the interviews in this Voices of Climate Justice series right here.
It's been a year since the world was horrified by photos of the huge fires blazing across the Amazon in Brazil. And while the headlines have been dominated by the coronavirus, those fires never actually stopped. Recently-taken aerial photographs of the region show that in 2020, the Amazon continues to burn - shocking, but maybe hardly surprising in a country where once strict laws on indigenous and environmental rights are increasingly being dismantled by the government in charge.
In Interview #6 in our Voices of Climate Justice series, we talk to Abel Rodrigues, a young socio-environmental activist from Belém, Pará, in the Amazon Region of Brazil - the state with the highest rate of deforestation in the country. Currently a law student at the University of Lisbon, he's active in the Fridays for Future movements in both Portugal and Brazil, as well as also being one of the founding members of the regional group Fridays for Future Amazônia. Right now Abel is also busy coordinating the international SOS Amazônia campaign which is fighting to combat Covid-19 in the Amazon Rainforest and protect those on the front line of the climate emergency, the indigenous peoples of Brazil, from the double threat of climate change and the coronavirus. We talk to Abel about holding politicians accountable, the power of unity and the role of digital tools in allowing anyone, anywhere, and regardless of how much time you have to spare, to become an environmental activist.
Where does your passion for climate activism come from? And what was your motivation for getting involved?
I learned about the concept of climate change at school, but it was the events in the Amazon that really taught me about the urgency of the situation. My home is literally burning and being destroyed, and my people are being murdered. What we're living through is a climate emergency.
I first got really involved with Fridays for Future when the Portugal group invited me to do a short speech with Greta Thunberg, at Lisbon, when I was there to receive her. After that, I joined the movement and, together with my sister and her friends, founded the Fridays for Future Amazônia movement in Belém, an area which is the gateway to Brazil’s lower Amazon region. My motivation is the same of most of the climate strikers: we want to save humankind from the sixth mass extinction. We want to save our future.
What role has digital media played in your activist journey?
Our digital activism has helped us to build new networks with other movements and activists, and also helped us to reach lots of new people. The digital world is allowing us to stay active and doing something positive, even in the middle of this crisis - and we're really happy about that. Even now, we can use digital and social media to keep are alerting all members of society that they must “listen to the science” and “unite behind the science”.
How has coronavirus affected your activism?
Coronavirus has disrupted almost everything in our society, including our climate protests. We cancelled all of our in-person strikes around the world, right away, because we need to respect our scientists and the health of our population. While we fight against the Covid-19 crisis by quarantining, we're carrying on with our online protests and alerting society about the environment and climate problems, at a local and international level.
While it doesn’t change the fact that we need to treat every crisis as a crisis and to listen to the science, in reality, the coronavirus crisis is much smaller than the climate crisis: while many people recover from the coronavirus, the climate crisis is set to make the planet completely uninhabitable.
What does your poster say when you hold it up? And who do you want to see it?
“When the last tree has fallen and the rivers are poisoned, you cannot eat money”. It is a line from a song, “The Seed”, by Aurora Aksnes, and it represents a lot of what I think when I stand up with my poster. It is a message to everybody, but it's directed at the people in power, the decision makers.
We need to remind our politicians that we're voting or will be voting soon. We will not allow them to destroy the future of the human race. They will be judged in the next elections and they will be judged by history as the people who tried to destroy human life.
What do you hope the Global Strike for Climate can achieve?
Sustainable development around the world. I believe we are strong enough to change how politics is done. We need to put pressure on our leaders or replace them if they do not understand the gravity of the situation.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I think that everybody should participate in this movement. Even if you do not have time enough to go to a strike (or to the digital strikes now), you can follow the Fridays for Future Instagram page of your country and interact there with other people who want to change the damaged system that we live in. You can support us by sharing information about our strikes, sharing the scientific facts and by respecting the scientists. If you have more time, you can join us more actively: if you are a student, join your nearest Fridays for Future movement or create a group in your city! If you have children of your own, join the Parents for Future group in your country, or if you are a scientist, join Scientists for Future, and so on... We need to be united to achieve the change we want to see!
You can find and follow Fridays for Future Brazil's digital activism on Instagram and Facebook, while Fridays for Future Amazonia is mostly active on Twitter and Abel also has his own Twitter and Instagram. From the 28th to the 30th of August, Fridays for Future Brazil will be carrying out special protest actions around the world - both on the streets and online - to raise awareness about the situation in the Amazon. Follow the protest and join them under the hashtag #SOSAmazonia.
The SOS Amazônia campaign is still working to raise 1 million Brazilian reais (around 150,000 euro) to donate hygiene items, food supplies and health equipment to the Amazon region. Find out how you can help by visiting the fund's website.
Co-authored by Marisa Pettit and Jan Wisniewski