Eye on the Amazon

In the U.S. Elections, the Amazon Rainforest Is Also on the Ballot

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

This election in the United States could well be the most consequential of our lifetimes. Racial justice issues are on the ballot. Climate change is on the ballot. The future of the American democratic experiment – as flawed as it has been – is on the ballot.

And yes, the Amazon rainforest is also on the ballot.

The outcome of the election – both for the presidency and control of Congress – will have profound implications for U.S. foreign policy in terms of human rights, trade agreements, regulations of investment, and bilateral and military aid, among other areas. Each of these policies will have important impacts on the future of the Amazon rainforest.

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Extraordinarily, the Amazon rainforest has figured in various presidential debates, mentioned briefly by presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden. During the September 29th debate, Biden stated that the "rainforests of Brazil are being torn down, are being ripped down." He said that as president he would be "gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion to say 'here's $20 billion, stop tearing down the forest and if you don't, you are going to have significant economic consequences.'"

Without offering significant detail, Biden outlined a carrot and stick approach to counter Bolsonaro's current policies towards the Amazon and encouraged local governments to protect it. Both presidential candidates should integrate policies that protect the Amazon into their foreign and climate agendas once elected. This would mean ending the cozy relationship the Bolsonaro administration has grown accustomed to. After the debate, Biden's comment provoked an acrimonious response from Bolsonaro, who has thrown his lot behind a Trump re-election.

To offer further guidance to policy makers, Amazon Watch has joined Artists For Amazonia and other organizations to support the Amazon Climate Platform. We are calling on electoral candidates to endorse the platform and to integrate those principles into policy as part of a broader push for environmental justice and climate change.

Several important principles of the Amazon Climate Platform include:

  • Supporting supply chains and financial portfolios free of deforestation and fossil fuels
  • Upholding the collective and territorial rights of Indigenous peoples
  • Defending environmental defenders, including Indigenous community leaders and forest guardians

These key ideas have informed much of the Washington, DC policy work we have done in recent years, always in close collaboration with allied organizations and social movements. These activities offer an idea of what could be possible into the near future:

  • We worked with Amazonian communities in Peru, Colombia, and Brazil and allies to successfully expose U.S.-financed greenwashing support for multinational corporations in the extractive industries, leading to the cancelation of a $23.5 million project through USAID.
  • We spoke out against a potential Trump-Bolsonaro Free Trade Agreement, planting the seed for public opposition from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
  • We partnered with the Blackrock’s Big Problem campaign to provide information to Congressional offices which informed letters sent by both the House of Representatives and the Senate to U.S.-based private financial institutions demanding that they stop financing Amazon destruction.
  • We denounced the killings and death threats against Indigenous leaders for defending their territories, catalyzing U.S. embassies in the region to express concern to national authorities behind closed doors. This diplomatic pressure complemented other expressions from the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
  • We supported the delegation of Brazilian Congresswomen – including Brazil’s first Indigenous Congresswoman Joenia Wapichana – to visit the halls of Congress and discuss collaboration with their counterparts in the House and Senate.

In addition to these and other policy initiatives, we have been honored to join sister groups and movements in galvanizing grassroots mobilizations for the protection of the Amazon rainforest, including national and international protests during the Global Day of Action for the Amazon, held annually on September 5th.

While we encourage you to always take action out in the streets for the Amazon, right now we strongly encourage all who are able to exercise your right and responsibility to vote and cast your ballot between now and November 3rd.

As individuals, we at Amazon Watch are voting for and supporting national, state, and local candidates who will promote ambitious measures to address climate change, environmental justice, and human rights. We are closing our offices so that our team can cast their ballots and support get-out-the-vote efforts in their local communities.

Of course, voting itself is not a solution for the multiple crises we face as a country. The same system of white supremacy that brought us to this moment will still be in place. Regardless of the results of this election, we will have to continue organizing for the bold policies necessary like the Green New Deal to address persistent racial and environmental disparities in our society.

Protecting the Amazon and its peoples is just one component in the global struggle for climate justice. Policy makers in the U.S. and worldwide will need to address a packed agenda. First, we have to vote into office people who are at least rhetorically attuned to the climate crisis, and then we must continue organizing to hold their feet to the fire.

So get out and vote!

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