Less than two months ago, the world stood aghast as huge fires swept the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and neighbouring countries, damaging one of the planet’s top biodiversity hotspots.
However, yet another major environmental disaster hit Brazil hard this month – and, shockingly, we still don’t know how it happened, and very little was said about it in international media.
At least 1,000 tonnes of crude oil washed up on the coastline of Brazil’s Northeastern states.
TIE’s office is located in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco, which was hit the hardest by this oil spill – which means we’ve witnessed this disaster first-hand, as little as ten miles away from our homes.
And the horrible consequences have been felt by everyone.
Beaches all across the region were covered in oil.
Dozens of sea animals such as turtles, manatees and dolphins washed up dead – completely covered in dark oil – on beaches across 9 Brazilian states. This specific type of crude also infiltrates deep into coral reefs and mangroves (which are abundant ecosystems in this region), killing micro and macroscopic life, leaving irreparable damage.
In addition, from an economic point of view, thousands of people’s livelihoods have been impacted.
Fishery is an important economic activity in the region, and seafood represents a big part of people’s diets. The oil contaminating the sea means that sea life – including fish, shrimps, lobsters and crabs – have ingested the carcinogenic crude oil. The subsequent health implications this could have on humans consuming seafood are tremendous, especially in the case of subsistence fishermen and women for whom seafood is the only option.
There is also a large number of people who have moved away from eating fish in the face of this disaster, which has had a significant impact on the subsistence fishery businesses in the region.
And we haven’t even touched on the obvious impact all of this is has had on tourism.
This is the third major environmental disaster in Brazil in 2019 alone, after the Amazon fires, and the collapse of the Brumadinho dam in January which killed at least 250 people and spilled 12 million cubic meters of toxic waste into nearby rivers.
In all three cases, the Brazilian Government’s response has been utterly inadequate, which is not too surprising due to its disregard of environmental issues (including a foreign minister who is a climate change denier).
But this also makes you stop and think.
All of these disasters have happened as a result of irresponsible and corrupt corporations and an irresponsible and corrupt government.
The Amazon is burning to make space to sell the land off to companies to grow more food that can be sold internationally.
We still don’t know exactly what happened with the oil, which is shocking and unbelievable with today’s satellite images, and the government has done very little to help. The beaches are slowly but surely returning to their original pristine conditions, but this has been due to the hard work of local people and communities.
And the dam collapsed as a result of Vale using it over capacity and not adhering to necessary security procedures. They didn’t evacuate the area in time, leading to the disaster. Putting profits before people’s safety and well-being.
All of these examples show how decisions and actions made in one place, can drastically impact people and communities in another.
And how we are all connected.
What is happening in the Amazon, for example, will impact everyone around the world.
We need to hold these companies and governments to account.
But it also raises another important issue.
Businesses have the power to be on the right side of the change that is necessary.
And we need serious change, now. It can no longer be business as usual.
Consumers are demanding more and more action. Employees are looking to work for businesses that stand for more than just making profit. And the planet doesn’t have the capacity to absorb many more of these disasters.
The message is clear.
Bold, transformative change is what is necessary. And those companies that recognise that, and do something about it, will not only stand out, but be part of the future, and the change that is crucial. Now.
The clock is ticking.
Photo by Léo Malafaia/Folha PE