Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Brazil has been . . . what . . . a sleeping giant in the Western Hemisphere?    Not quite.  We Americans have perhaps been the sleeping ones while Brazil has gained in economic power and international clout as a nation that is on the rise in the 21st Century world.
      While the U.S. continues to seek to strengthen its position in the Middle East, China and Europe, Brazil has been slowly consolidating nd increasing its power not only in the Western Hemisphere and the United Nations but worldwide.  

      In my recent visit to that country with the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea Fall 2012 voyage, I discovered through my pre-voyage reading supplemented by observtions and shipboard talks by my collegue Sergio Carvahlo and US Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon just how far Brazil has come in the last 20 years. I may not get all the facts exactly right in this blog (to be fact checked and updated) but I do know that Brazil's  has the 6th largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world. - expected to be the 5th largest by the first of the year.  The U.S. is among Brazil's major trade partners, importing many goods from its Latin American neighbor.

View from Babilonia
     According to  Shannon, who first served in Brazil 1989-1991, returning in 2009 as Ambassdor (a professional diplomat, not a politician, by the way), Brazil has experienced a stable government for the past 20 years after transitioning from 20 years of military dictatorship to the governments led by Presidents Cardoza, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva  and now Dilma Rousseff who succeeded the popular "Lula." Over time Brazil has succeeded in raising 40 million people out of poverty and increasing its middle class to 42% of the population (albeit a broader "middle class" at the lower end than the US standard, this group now has disposable income that contributes to the overall economy of the nation). 

     One way Brazil seeks to lessen poverty is through the Bolsa Familia, a condiitonal grant program intended to encourage education of all children while lifting families out of poverty.  Brazil also has a program whereby every child in public school gets a computer. 

     For my own purposes, I loved visiting two favelas in Rio de Janeiro.   One out of 5 people live in the many favelas in Rio and they vary from extremely dangerous and huge neighborhoods (250,000 in Rochinba) to smaller "pacified" favelas such as Babilonia, which has an incredible community network and efforts to create a  community incorporating good environmental practices into their daily lives.

Babilonia historic property now in forest
 preserved as historic home 
     After a trip there, one of my students, Jenna wrote:  “I was surprised at what I learned.  I had assumed this poor community was doing its best to incorporate sustainable practices.  Instead, they incorporated into their everyday life things my hometown should take note of.”

     Similarly, I marveled at being in a community where ordinary people were incorporating environmental well-being into their daily lives.  Economic, health and environmental purposes were not opposing but complementary forces. In Babilonia Recycling leads to reductions on the family electric bill; cisterns on the roof equals free rainwater to  supplement city supplies; adding trees to the forest at the top of the hill prevents mudslides inevitable in this time of unpredictable and serious storms. 
The Author with our Guide and Tyler
from University of San Diego

     While people were moved off precarious parts of the favela, early houses are being preserved for historical and cultural purposes.  New homes in modern buildings are constructed with green roofs and energy efficiency features to meet the standards of “sustainable development.” 
New "green" building in Babilonia
     I'm excited about Brazil for not only the way its people are paying attention to the micro-sustainability issues but also Brazil's efforts as a leader to make the issue of sustainable development part of the conversation and the reality of international climate change talks. 

     I hope the U.S, will eventully find more ways to follow Brazil's lead and help bring nations together on climate change rather than continue to find obstacles to taking full responsibility for our contributions to the crisis and a willingness to recognize the need to have different goals for developing nations while encouraging their growth in a sustainable fashion through technology transfer and funding.

Another view of Babilonia through its Laundry drying on the line

     Watch out for Brazil!  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kay, I would love to go there with you before long. What a learning experience! Thank you for the pictures and introduction to places that, I imagine, most tourists never see. Mary