A good day for the greens

A good day for the greens

The big surprise out of yesterday’s Brazilian election was the surprisingly strong showing of Green Party candidate Marina Silva, who beat the projections by picking up 19 percent of the vote and forced a runoff between the two leading candidates. Brazil’s Greens, who haven’t decided which of the remaining candidates to support yet, are in a pretty good mood

Sirkis said the record vote meant the Green party would be able to force debate on crucial environmental issues in the lead up to the second round. Such issues included controversial changes to Brazil‘s forestry code, which environmentalists claim will further damage the Amazon rainforest, and Brazil’s commitments on climate change in Copenhagen.

The O Dia newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, where Silva came second with 31.52% of the vote, described a "green tsunami" in its front-page headline.

"Marina Silva’s face will not be on the ballot on October 31 but her electoral ghost will decide the second round," the newspaper said. "She has become the central figure in this campaign," said Altino Machado, an Amazon journalist and blogger who has known Silva since the late 1970s.

Silva resigned with quite a bit of publicity as Lula’s environment minister in 2008 over the government’s unwillingness to implement her anti-deforestation agenda. In addition to an embrace of Silva’s compelling personal story — she is the child of rubber-tappers from the Amazonian state of Acre and was illiterate until the age of 14 — the Green’s success shows the increasing political salience of environmental issues in Brazil, where 85 percent of the population views global climate change as a major problem. (Only 37 percent of Americans feel that way.)

It would be nice to think that Silva’s success — along with the recent collapse of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government over broken climate change promises — is a sign that voters are starting to take environmental issues seriously at the ballot box. But it’s probably a bit premature, and I somehow doubt we’ll be seeing a "green tsunami" rolling across the American heartland in November.