Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Carbon credits and the green desert

As the struggle for land and water resources in Brazil intensifies, Heidi Bachram discovers that the new carbon market is an added burden for vulnerable communities.

September 1, 2006
5 min read

The dust whipped up by the trucks lies like a red fog over the road ahead, meaning we’re driving blind most of the time. Occasionally one of the trucks, transporting wood charcoal, veers dangerously close and its overburdened load leans ominously towards us.

We’re driving along a track in the middle of the Brazilian cerrado (savanna) attempting to get to a scattered farming community, Cana Brava, before nightfall. The subsistence farmers ahead are surrounded on all sides by eucalyptus plantations that provide the raw materials for the charcoal in the trucks. There is a chance we might be stopped by the armed guards that ‘protect’ the plantations. Between the encroaching twilight, the unpredictable trucks, the guards and the dust, nerves are beginning to fray.

Finally we arrive in the absolute darkness that can only be found in rural areas, far away from the orange glow of the city. The house we reach belongs to 48-year-old Maria Camargo Soares, whose grandmother worked the land here. Now she continues the family tradition of subsistence farming. She’s uncertain that her children can or will carry the traditions into the next generation.

Cana Brava dates from over a hundred years ago, which is a long time in the remembering of a young colonial nation like Brazil. The community is 22 kilometres from the nearest town along the aforementioned dirt road. There are over a thousand people living in the area; two thirds of the original inhabitants have now moved to the city as the encroaching plantations gobble up water and land around them.

‘They left because when the company came in 1975 the land become so little that people couldn’t support themselves. When my grandparents had their farm here there was enough land for everyone to live comfortably. Now the water has dried up and this year we didn’t harvest anything at all because of the drought and the drain on the water from the plantation,’ Dona Maria explains.

Juarez Teixeira, a local trade union worker, adds: ‘These people used to have freedom to use these lands, to come and go, to graze their cattle, to extract wood, to collect fruit and herbs. Today they are confined to this small area. One side it’s rock and on the other the armed guard of the company.’

The company in question is Vallourec & Mannesmann (V&M), a French-German steel company that uses the eucalyptus charcoal to fuel steel production. They have over 40,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations in this region alone. In total there are five million hectares of eucalyptus in Brazil, a country where land issues are top of the political and social agenda. The history of eucalyptus is closely tied to that of the oppression of the military dictatorship, during which people were forcibly removed from their lands to make way for the ‘green revolution’.

V&M did not evict the people from the lands in Cana Brava, yet their more subtle tactics are just as effective. Dona Maria describes how the company flouts agreements by not terracing the land within the plantation, resulting in rains flooding through to her farm and causing silting. Her first home was destroyed when a V&M truck crashed into it after careering off the nearby road.

Juarez Teixeira catalogues many other problems caused by the company, such as health and safety violations where workers have been put in danger or poorly compensated for death and injury; outsourcing to small contractors who illegally log native forests so the company can not be held accountable; and breaking environmental laws by planting near to water sources. ‘The threat to workers and people here is great. Shots have been fired on people by the armed guards. They feel prisoners within their own lands.’

Perversely, an agreement designed to ameliorate climate change now adds to the burden local people face in the form of the new carbon market. In 2003, V&M announced a landmark deal with the Dutch government and Toyota to secure carbon credits as a result of their switching to wood charcoal instead of coal to fire their steelworks. At the time there were objections locally and internationally that support for the company meant new financial incentives to plant more eucalyptus, thereby increasing the pressure on the community’s water and land resources. According to Juarez Teixeira, ‘Carbon credits are just another way for V&M to make money and continue as before.’

The local people beg for intervention here, yet it seems the manner in which the international community has become involved seems only to increase pressure on an already fragile existence. The subsistence farmers of Cana Brava manage the land in an infinitely more climate-friendly way than companies like V&M. Unfortunately they don’t qualify for carbon credits.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.