As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup, it has found itself wrestling with the impact these games will have on the environment. The Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the earth,” creates 20 percent of the earth’s oxygen and drinkable fresh water. But it has also been razed with shocking speed thanks to Brazil’s rapid economic growth over the last decade. Now the country is spending $280 million to build a “FIFA-quality stadium” in the rainforest. Travel to such a location during the World Cup will help produce as much greenhouse gas as 560,000 cars driving for one year.
Climate change is an extremely touchy subject in Brazil. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva once said, “Those who failed to take care of their own forests, who did not preserve what they had and deforested everything and are responsible for…most of the greenhouse effect, they shouldn’t be sticking their noses into Brazil’s business.”
But statements like that, which make destroying rainforests sound like a bold act of Global South defiance, do a grave disservice to Brazil’s own environmental community, a crucial force in the founding of Lula’s Workers’ Party and a movement that has been fighting to preserve the Amazon for decades. As the legendary Brazilian environmentalist Chico Mendes put it, “At first I thought…I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.”
Even those in Brazil who believe fiercely in national autonomy, and who reject any interference from international environmental groups, are crying foul. Romário, the soccer star turned politician, called the stadium project “absurd….There will be a couple games there, and then what?… It is an absolute waste of time and money.” In response to such criticism, the Brazilian government is considering uses for the stadium after the World Cup. One leading idea? A massive prison processing center.