Brazil turns to Elon Musk’s private space company to fight deforestation

President Jair Bolsonaro met with Elon Musk’s company to discuss options for raising funds for projects that promote social mobility in the Amazon

Brazil has announced that it will seek to develop partnerships with Elon Musk’s private space company, SpaceX, to help it link communities and monitor the Amazon rainforest and stem deforestation.

President Jair Bolsonaro spoke by phone with the company’s chief executive officer and chief technology officer, Musk, at the president’s invitation in Washington on Friday, the latest visit to the US for the outspoken nationalist.

Bolsonaro was likely seeking help in funding social programmes launched this year with the $300m federal budget for ecological causes, say analysts.

Brazilian president fires cabinet members over airport delay scandal Read more

He has taken other steps in recent months that could become politically risky but have increased his chances of election for re-election in October, including the dismissal of a transport minister after she admitted she had leaked a report citing security risks to Bolsonaro before it was released to the media.

His administration has also taken a hardline on environmental issues, decreeing in January that anyone who clears a patch of forest will be fined $19,100 and jailed for three years. It is the highest punishment for deforestation under Brazilian law.

Bolsonaro, who assumed office in January, is trying to balance his calls for an aggressive foreign policy against voters’ concerns about corruption and the economy, said Robert Helmstedt, professor of political science at the University of Illinois, who teaches a course on Bolsonaro.

“The important thing is to be seen to be a president who seeks good relations with the US and that his strategy is [an] economic strategy. He obviously also needs to carry a conservative agenda that has to be defined as a broader foreign policy,” Helmstedt said.

The Brazilian leader has said he wants to establish a drone security system in the Amazon and to develop private investment to develop renewable energy that would curb deforestation.

Elon Musk, pictured in 2018, had earlier vowed to expand into renewable energy and buy a power company. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Brazil’s ministry of social development said earlier this week it will draft a decree later this month to work with companies that are “strategic partners” of SpaceX and its plans to develop technologies for certain ecosystems, particularly the Amazon, and to expand sustainable tourism.

The Brazilian president, who has pursued a “plan B” approach to passing legislation that may face opposition in Congress, is considering a request from SpaceX to raise funds, an official at the Brazilian space agency, Agencia Brasil, said. The official did not want to be named.

Elon Musk’s five favourite things: silver bullet, Lagos trams and his lifelong hero Read more

Bolsonaro has expressed support for BolsonaroSpace, a Brazilian company co-founded by SpaceX’s chief design officer and chief scientist. The company said in March it had been offered government funding to develop small satellites in exchange for Brazilian patents.

“I think the most exciting thing for Bolsonaro to do would be to connect his followers with technologies that benefit them economically and socially,” said Helmut Wohlleben, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies’ Center for Brazilian and European Studies in Washington.

“If SpaceX can be a good counterbalance to the government’s aggression against the Amazon then I think that will be very useful for Bolsonaro,” he said.

Musk’s company declined to comment.

Leave a Comment