First, the Bolsonaro administration must recognize that the Amazon is urbanizing as rapidly as any region in the world. Instead of encouraging developers to plunge deeper into the forest, it should invest in its existing cities. Award contracts for more schools, water treatment centers and hospitals, not penetration roads and private prisons.
Second, de-escalate the war on drugs and refocus on corruption in the halls of state and local governments. Trafficking is a problem, but the more worrisome issue is that traffickers can provide communities a sense of security and cohesion that they don’t get from the state.
Third, though Brazil’s agricultural exports are booming, ranchers are over-reliant on fertilizers and pesticides, the razing of new land and abusive labor practices akin to slavery. Instead of urging farmers to clear new pastures, help farmers raise healthier herds on existing land.
Lastly, a supposed law and order president like Mr. Bolsonaro ought to redouble — not weaken — the agencies that enforce environmental laws and Indigenous rights. Restore funding to Brazil’s environmental and Indigenous protection agencies. Come up with new biotechnology agreements that guarantee species are collected, studied and analyzed in Brazil by Brazilians so that the bioprospecting of the future is not as exploitative as are today’s illegal logging and gold mining.
Indigenous councils should play a leading role as they decide what land and knowledge are sacred, what can be shared with the world, and how best to recoup a just share of the rewards. With the right resources, they could be exemplary stewards of the land, lessening fire risk, organizing law enforcement teams to defend their borders, and teaching the world respect for a forest that outsiders usually observe through satellites.
Of course all of this supposes that Jair Bolsonaro is governing rationally, in the interest of all Brazilians. As the coronavirus pandemic has made clear, like his counterpart in the United States, Mr. Bolsonaro has his eyes on the past, not the future, and he lacks the temperament and moral authority to lead a tour of the presidential palace, let alone a multiracial democracy. Even the dictatorship-era generals Mr. Bolsonaro so admires would be ashamed of his lack of strategy in Brazil’s most vital region.
Polls show that Brazilians treasure the rainforest and understand the threat of the climate crisis. If Captain Chain Saw continues to cut down the Amazon, the next generation of Brazilian leaders will cut down his administration.