Like Oil and Water: Struggles Against the Brazilian Green Economy – Introduction

like oil and water_web

Almost 50 years after the first oil reserves were discovered in Brazil, off-shore petroleum was found deep in the Earth’s crust under a geological formation known as the pre-salt layer located off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo states.* The 2006 pre-salt discovery is considered the largest oil finding in the Western Hemisphere since the 1970s.

In addition to the impacts from the petroleum industry, land intensive industrial agriculture has a long history of destruction in the region. In Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo states vast expanses of monocultures have blighted the landscape since colonial times. In some regions over 85% of the land is covered in eucalyptus and sugarcane monocultures rendering survival for traditional and indigenous communities nearly impossible. Brazil exports more than 14.2 million tons of cellulose and 9.8 million tons of paper according to the Brazilian Association of Paper and Cellulose (Bracetpa). Over 46% of the bleached cellulose is exported to Europe, followed by China (25%) and North America (19%).

As commandeering land becomes more challenging, companies and governments have created another loophole through the dogma of ‘the green economy’, which attempts to reduce all nature’s functions into economic calculations for possible ‘compensations’ or offset trades including: water, forests, soil, pollution, biodiversity and even indigenous cultural heritage. Large polluting industries can then purchase these offsets and claim “carbon neutrality”. These include controversial ‘offsets’ in the form of Payments for Environmental Services (PES), biodiversity offsets, energy projects and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

The inequality and corruption brought about by old colonial land divisions and new petrochemical money erupted once again in June 2013 when Brazilian citizens and social movements took to the streets in over 100 cities by the millions denouncing corruption, dire public services, police brutality and escalating prices.

As Brazil increasingly catapults into the globalized economy, serious threats to local communities and the environment intensify. The “Like Oil and Water: Struggles Against the Brazilian Green Economy” photo essay highlights the links between extractive and land-intensive industries and how the financialization of nature benefits polluting industries. Told through the stories of people directly impacted, this work aims to increase awareness of the economic and political connections between these capital intensive industries under apparently green discourses through direct experiences of struggle.


* The pre-salt layer is a geographical formation found off the coasts of Africa and Brazil. Large tracks of petrochemicals have been found along more than 800 meters of the Brazilian coast. Heavy infrastructure is required to drill 2000-3000 meters into the Atlantic Ocean and then more than 2000 meters into the pre-salt layer, involving extensive financial investment for extraction.