Lutzenberger, José (1928–2002)

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Lutzenberger, José (1928–2002)

José Antônio Lutzenberger, born December 17, 1928, was a Brazilian ecologist. Lutzenberger served as Brazil's first secretary of the environment (1990–1992), a cabinet-level post created by President Fernando Collor de Mello in part to address growing international criticism of Brazil's Amazon policy as articulated during predecessor José Sarney's presidency. Lutzenberger, an agronomist with a special interest in the Amazon region and a native of Rio Grande do Sul, had long been a critic of government development policies. He accepted the cabinet post only after Collor de Mello guaranteed that his administration would halt expansion of the controversial BR-364 highway across the southern Amazon, respect the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, and end all economic incentives to environmentally destructive development projects. Lutzenberger also supported debt-for-nature swaps, unlike the Sarney administration.

Lutzenberger was known for making bombastic gloom-and-doom pronouncements and was often criticized for his adherence to the scientifically unproven "Gaia" theory, which held that the Earth is a closed physiological system capable of altering the planet's climate at will. In late 1991, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, along with conservative politicians and the military, complained that Lutzenberger was "internationalizing" the Amazon to the point of compromising Brazilian national sovereignty and hence called for his resignation. Color de Mello replaced him in March 1992.

Lutzenberger enjoyed an international reputation, initially based on his active opposition to the use of pesticides. In 1971 he was a founder of the Association for the Protection of the Natural Environment of Rio Grande do Sul (Associação Gaúcha de Proteção Ambiente Natural—AGAPAN), the first ecological entity organized in Brazil. He was the 1988 recipient of the Swedish government's Right Livelihood Award, the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Upon his death on May 14, 2002, he was buried in keeping with his wishes close to a tree farm in the Pantano Grande in Rio Grande do Sul state.

See alsoEnvironmental Movements .


"Um verde do outro lado," in Veja 23 (7 March 1990): 35; "New President Appoints Ecologist to Head Environmental Secretariat," in International Environment Reporter: Current Report 13 (11 April 1990): 152-153.

Nira Broner Worcman, "Brazil's Thriving Environmental Movement," in Technology Review 93 (October 1990): 42-51.

Additional Bibliography

Kumar, Satish. Visionaries: The 20th Century's 100 Most Important Inspirational Leaders. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2007.

Place, Susan E., ed. Tropical Rainforests: Latin American Nature and Society in Transition, revised and updated edition. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2001.

                                            Laura Jarnagin