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  • Greening Brazil: Environmental Activism in State and Society
  • Cathy Marie Ouellette
Hochstetler, Kathryn and Margaret E Keck. Greening Brazil: Environmental Activism in State and Society. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2007. 304 pp.

With decades of scholarship and archival experience under their belts, Kathryn Hochstetler and Margaret Keck have collaborated on this project and produced a synthetic evaluation of how politics shape environmental policies in Brazil. In doing so, the authors have achieved a multidisciplinary study that highlights the complexities of environmentalism in a global context. A nuanced assessment of the personal and political relationships affecting policy, their investigation traces change over time in an effort to evaluate and better comprehend the correlation between associations and political realities. Greening Brazil examines the networks within government and non-governmental agencies that shape environmentalism, and takes into account international movements and organizations that had some bearing on Brazilian domestic policy. The authors researched the themes of multilevel governance, studied the interactions between agents of the state and society, and identified patterns of response to policies. By prioritizing associations, Hochstetler and Keck illustrate the importance of personal patronage in Brazil and reveal that ratified policies are not routinely enacted. The book is divided into chapters that analyze the movement chronologically through several waves of environmentalism that include early legislation of the 1970s, redemocratization during the 1980s, and the current focus on pollution and sustainability. The text offers case studies on the Amazon, Cubatão and São Paulo.

Greening Brazil offers several significant contributions to our understanding of global environmentalism and details the specific challenges of implementation on national and local stages in Brazil. Notably, the authors challenge past assumptions about environmental movements in developing nations, chiefly that pressure from outside international organizations has resulted in a surge of domestic concern for environmental predicaments. The scholarly tendency to [End Page 225] focus on dominant actors over peripheral nations diminishes the complexities of political processes and oversimplifies outcomes, and the authors locate the dawn of environmentalism in Brazil prior to the 1972 United National Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. Likewise, Hochstetler and Keck contend that this study of environmental policy and politics differs from that of native Brazilians who have reacted to the intrusion of international agents, and they acknowledge that international forces have swayed domestic actions "in contradictory ways"(8).

Hochstetler and Keck's assessment of change over time heightens our comprehension of the environmental perils that have plagued rural and urban Brazil during the last several decades. Greening Brazil concludes that the tendency to anticipate continual and upward progress over time does not do justice to the complexities inherent in environmental political processes. Similarly, measuring outcomes in a conventional linear fashion flattens the substance of how politics shape policy. The authors instead argue that forward-thinking developments marked Brazilian environmentalism, but were interrupted, abruptly concluded, or left significant gaps. For instance, the end of the 1990s witnessed a heightened emphasis on export products resulting in deforestation, despite significant steps forward in environmental activism in some states, such as Rio Grande do Sul. The transition to democracy did not squelch rampant deforestation in the Amazon; rather, the authors identify a "cycle of predatory practices" such as cattle ranching and burning forests that "proved difficult to control" (146–147). Activism and international monetary support could not contend with eager opportunists, enticed by profitable exports, who exploited limited citizen participation in lawmaking and lack of law enforcement. The deaths of Chico Mendes in 1988 and Dorothy Stang in 2005 heightened attention to deforestation and land reform; yet advances and setbacks mark the period, and illegality continues to be widespread in the Amazon despite federal efforts.

According to this analysis, institutional weakness, poor implementation of laws, and the impact of federalism combine to impede environmentalism in Brazil. Indeed, institutions easily mutate with recurrent modifications in structure and practice. The fragility of organizations and the decidedly politicized state affect the relationships between people and institutions, further weakening the implementation of laws. The authors bring to light the contradictory principles of Brazilian politics: a tradition of federalism within a democratized country whose 1988 Constitution guaranteed power over environmentalism to the federal government but established unequal...


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pp. 225-227
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