Every city needs a Climate Plan. São Paulo, where is yours?

For a very long time, I was convinced by arguments left and right that climate action was a distraction from more pressing issues. Poverty, war, crime, they are all more important than climate change or the preservation of the rain forest.

According to IBGE data,  2.2 million people lived in slums in the city of São Paulo in 2010 (11% of the total population then), many of them living close to the city’s water reservoirs, without access to sanitation.  Meanwhile, the city has been through severe periods of drought, bringing the city to the brink of collapse.

The situation is likely worse now, with a serious economic and political crisis going on. This is not about blaming the poor. People live in slums not because they want to, but because they lack any viable alternatives.

The argument of the right is known: climate change is not a real threat.  The more reasonable thinkers of the right believe that even if climate change is real, it is not a product of human action, but part of natural cycles of global climate change. On the left, environmentalism has often been discounted as a distraction and a ruse, if not a “hobby” from rich white people. Both left and right have accused environmentalism of being a mere distraction from more important issues. I prefer not to talk about the most hysterical conspiracy theorists from the right, for whom climate change is a hoax and a manoeuvre to make our economies less competitive These are children lost in dangerous role-playing games.

It is becoming increasingly clear that all of the above are wrong. Environmentalism is an answer to predatory capitalism and as such, it is the most powerful discourse to have emerged as an alternative to the status quo. But it is wrong to think environmentalism is only about saving trees or stopping dumping tons of plastic in our oceans. This is because saving trees and stopping dumping plastic in the oceans are part of a much bigger narrative in which capitalism is being criticised and predatory capitalism is being put in check.

The death of environmentalist leaders in the hands of big agro-business is a sad reminder that environmentalism is much bigger than saving trees. The 2.2 million people living in favelas in São Paulo and deforestation in the Amazon are only facets of the same system: predatory capitalism. It is the very model of production and consumption that must change if we want to survive in this beautiful blue planet of ours. And apparently, we can’t rely on our elites to guide us. Reality has the bad habit of surpassing fiction. While the film Elysium depicted a world where the have-nots have been abandoned on the surface of the Earth by an all-powerful elite living in a huge space station nearby, in real life, Elon Musk contemplates the colonisation of Mars as an alternative to life on Earth. Well, it is not difficult to imagine those 2.2 million people living in favelas in São Paulo won’t be travelling on the first rockets.

The Earth is our home, we have co-evolved with this planet for millions of years. While the allure of space exploration is undeniable, we must turn our conversations to what can be done to keep our planet alive and healthy, and how to make environmental gains accessible to all. Environmental justice is a big field of studies. It is also a great idea that brings together the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability.

For this reason, I am calling for São Paulo to have a climate plan as soon as possible. Hopefully, the city’s climate plan will seek solutions for those 2.2 million people who are most vulnerable to extreme climate events, like droughts or floods in the city. Hopefully, the city’s climate plan will address the extreme injustice of having people living next to the city’s water reservoirs because they cannot afford to live anywhere else. Hopefully, the city’s climate plan will address mobility as one of the key elements for a sustainable future. Luckily, the city’s climate plan will start reversing decades of spatial injustice in the city, where real estate speculation is rampant and where precious resources are buried under gleaming glass towers whose social function is so doubtful.

I call for a climate plan that addresses social, economic and environmental injustice and promotes a city for all.


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