Marina Silva: philosophy in practice



Posted on 28 October 2008
The resignation of Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of the Environment, was a surprise for the conservationist community.
The resignation of Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of the Environment, was a surprise for the conservationist community.
© WWF-BrazilEnlarge
Interview with Marina Silva, winner of the 2008 WWF Duke of Edinburgh Medal

Common people, in their majority, envisage philosophers as persons who have lost contact with the real world and live somewhere between heaven and earth, in some kind of ideal realm, far from the ungracefulness of every day life. Maybe they are like that, or at least partly so, since their occupation is to understand and explain the human soul and the meaning of things.

Maria Osmarina da Silva de Lima, known as Marina Silva, did not go to Philosophy school. Perhaps this can explain her amazing nonchalance as she goes back and forth between the ideal and the real worlds. Furthermore, she creates a solid bridge between those two realms, pointing out earthly solutions for environmental problems - whether they are real, philosophical or invented ones.

It could be that her sensitivity and reality during a very difficult childhood and adolescence made dream and pragmatism blend together.

Marina Silva was born 50 years ago, in Breu Velho, at a rubber tapping forest area called Seringal Baçado, 70km distant from Rio Branco, the capital city in Acre state. She spent her childhood and early teenage years laboring in rubber latex extraction. Marina Silva was 16 years old when she finally learned how to read and write – that happened after she moved to Rio Branco to work as a house servant. Until then, she had learned from nature, the forest and her own people – these masters arose in her the love for the environment, as well as the senses to interpret it.

At 26 years old she got her university degree in History, from Acre’s Federal University, and in 1988 she started a political career.

Now a global citizen, Marina Silva is one of the most acknowledged and celebrated women in the world; she was awarded over 50 honor distinctions.

After heading the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, where she fought the conservative forces composing the rural scene in Brazil – especially in the Amazon, Marina Silva is back in the Senate, where she continues to fight for social and environmental sustainability. Brazil learned that her apparently fragile physical structure is inhabited by two different personas: a gentle and well balanced forest citizen and a powerful and bold warrior.


Senator Marina Silva, what are your views on the environmental movement today, as far as the alleged antagonism between development and conservation is concerned?

First of all, I don’t think we should envisage environment and development in opposite sides. I believe this century’s greatest challenge is to achieve protection with development, and development with the protection of the natural resources. During the last ten years, the environmental movement has made significant progress in that direction. Those who insist in that opposition have a purely developmentist mentality.

Environmentalists have already understood that the greatest challenge is to act to achieve change in the development models – from unsustainable to a sustainable ones – in order to cover all sustainability dimensions, i.e., the economic, social, cultural, political, ethical and even aesthetic aspects, since the changes we impose upon the natural landscape deconstructs our identity, as well as our relationship with each other and with nature.

Therefore, I believe the great challenge is to achieve the change in the development model. The starting point is to break with the established patterns which took natural resources for granted, as if they were infinite, and required that all efforts should be endeavored to overpower nature in order to protect ourselves from the phenomena which we could not control. During this effort to overcome our limits as human beings, we ended up by facing nature’s own limits.

In my opinion, the real challenge is to understand that we are actually living in the age of limits. It is an age that leads men towards a new vision of wealth and a new meaning of happiness. Moreover, it is a new vision of what is it that places us as the subject in our relationship with one another, with ourselves and with nature.

What is your view on the climate change issue in a global level?

Once more, the change in the development model is the great challenge for both the developed and the developing countries. For developed countries, this means “decarbonize” their economy, i.e., to change the energy matrix from fossil fuel to renewable sources.

In the developing countries, change means to diversify the energy matrix and to use natural resources on a sustainable basis. Countries will need support to do that. They will need funds and technology transfer, but our contribution to revert the climate change process will help the entire planet.

The developed countries already have a stabilized economy and fulfill the basic needs of their population. Theoretically, it is now easier for them to develop an emission decrease process. Developing countries, on the other hand, have to decrease emissions while ensuring economic growth to meet the people’s needs.

Thus, we have two different challenges: one in the developed countries, where decrease of historic and present emissions is mandatory; and another one in the developing countries, where historic emissions are low but present ones are extremely high and therefore must be reduced. This goes for Brazil, China, Mexico, India, and any other developing country with high emissions.

Are you optimist regarding the Earth’s social and environmental future and its sustainability?

In this situation one ought to overcome the optimist-pessimist duality. We have to be persistent to structure policies that can lead us with a civilizing vision, policies which can change the production, consumption and residue destination processes we are used to.

I am talking about a civilizing inflexion through a democratic and transparent process, which can enable society to access the means to be proactive in a political way, influencing both the national and the global strategic agenda. An agenda to be backed by all governing leaders – because changes will happen in medium and long term and a commitment to decrease emissions, diversify the energy matrix and protect biodiversity is something to be sought by all leaders, aside from their political alignment.
The same goes for the creation of a structure to take in the contribution from the rich and the poor, citizens and business, scientists and civil organizations – a structure with firm process management objectives and, at the same time, flexible enough to take in all the contributions and to provide quick answers in emergency situations.

It is also crucial to keep in mind that efforts need to be made: national, individual, group, and regional efforts. The crisis will only be solved in the context of a strong multilateral agenda and commitment. There will be no ‘homeland savior’ heroes. This is about a joint effort, a horizontal one, where each and every one has its own responsibilities in order to achieve the common goal of saving the objective conditions to promote life on Earth.

What would you highlight as an achievement in your administration at the head of the Ministry of the Environment?

One of the most important things was the environmental policy vision we brought to the Ministry. We set the principle that we should establish an environmental policy based on social control and participation, sustainable development, strengthening of the national environmental system and a crosscutting environmental policy.

Following those guidelines, we started to tackle the policies in a practical way. Perhaps the best example is our plan to fight deforestation, where all guidelines were jointly implemented. We realized that in order to fight deforestation we needed a crosscutting action, involving the various government sectors. We needed a lasting strategy, to build a structure with a long term view.

It was a three-fold plan: fight illegal practices, put an order to land use and land property, and support sustainable economic activities.

Regarding the fight against illegal practices, we managed to seize one million cubic meters of timber, send more than 700 criminals to jail, break over 1,500 illegal businesses, bar around 37,000 illegal properties, and increase patrol and intelligence actions, by making the official environmental agency – Ibama - work together with the Federal (Investigation) Police and the Defense Ministry. We involved all sectors dealing with illegal action combat.

As far as ordering the land property and use, 24 million hectares of protected areas were created and 10 million hectares of indigenous territories were ratified. The Public Forest Management Law was approved, creating sustainable forest districts for the production of sustainable timber, with certification and forest management in order to add value to the standing forest.

As to the support of sustainable activities (I understood that it depends on other sectors, particularly agriculture, energy and transports), the agenda did not develop quite in the same speed. Nevertheless, we managed to decrease deforestation by 57%. During three consecutive years, deforestation decreased: from 27,000 square kilometers in 2004 to 18,000 in 2005; then 14,000 in 2006 and 11.200 in 2007.

By the end of 2007, the predatory forces got organized and deforestation went up again. Very strong measures were adopted and there were lots of pressure to cancel them; pressure came from sectors which I consider to be in the wrong way of history in Brazil.

It was in such a pressure context that I asked to leave government. I understand that my leaving aroused the national public opinion in a fantastic way, in support of all the measures taken – and those measures referred to criminalization of the entire production chain if it were on illegal basis, preventing any illegal activity in the Amazon to have access to bank credit, both public and private banks, as well as establishing a moratorium in 36 municipalities which were the top deforestators, conditioning the return to normality to the legalization of all the embargoed owners. If this measure gets implemented, I believe we will break the deforestation structure. The great challenge is to consolidate those measures and to change the development model.

Interview by Gadelha Neto

The resignation of Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of the Environment, was a surprise for the conservationist community.
The resignation of Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of the Environment, was a surprise for the conservationist community.
© WWF-Brazil Enlarge

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