The number one environmental issue that comes to mind when one thinks about Brazil  is the destruction of the Amazon jungle . To date, an estimated 18 percent of the world’s largest and most diverse rainforest has suffered deforestation, and an equal portion has suffered from degradation (mostly caused by logging). The worst damage to the forest took place during the 1970s and ’80s. During these years, the military government was eager to open up the hitherto inaccessible region to development and invested in Transamazonian highways that cut through the jungle from north and south and east to west.
The asphalting of the Amazon (parts of which subsequently fell into disrepair and were reclaimed by jungle) created links between the region’s major cities. It also paved the way for large-scale logging, agriculture, and cattle ranching, most of which took place with complete disregard to the welfare of the forest and its indigenous peoples. Further damage resulted from the installation of vast hydroelectric dams; the disruption of natural river cycles had a serious impact on the environment.
Over the last 10 years, various factors—ranging from increased global and national environmental consciousness to more enlightened political and business policies that have recognized the value of sustainable development—have led to some positive results. Other factors have contributed to reducing devastation. The flood of poor immigrants that, in former decades, swamped the Amazon in search of jobs and cheap land has dried up.
At present, contrary to popular belief, most of the farming, cattle raising, and logging are carried out on the 20 percent of Amazonian territory that has already been cleared. Moreover, strict new international laws governing the origins of Amazonian timber means that wood is harvested in accordance with rigid environmental regulations.
However, the biggest culprits of deforestation continue to be cattle-raising and large-scale production of soybeans. Soya not only serves as cattle feed, but is also a lucrative cash crop that is in great demand on world markets (Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer of soybeans).
Historically, economic expansion been at odds with the preservation of natural ecosystems, as evidenced by the destruction of Brazil’s Mata Atlântica and ongoing threats to the Pantanal  and the Cerrado. After President Lula appointed Marina da Silva—a former rubber tapper from the state of Acre—as minister of the environment, the government began to crack down more seriously on illegal deforestation and make attempts to preserve large swathes of virgin forest as national parks. Moreover, to date, more than 20 percent of Amazonian territory has been transformed into Indian reserves where indigenous people carry out sustainable activities ranging from small-scale fishing, agriculture, and rubber tapping to harvesting nuts and collecting leaves and roots that are crucial ingredients in medicines and cosmetics.
As a result of these and other policies, the rate of deforestation has actually decreased in the last few years. Nonetheless, many obstacles remain. Part of the problem lies with local and state governments (with the notable exceptions of Amazonas and Acre), along with wealthy landowners, whose greed, cronyism, and oligarchic values privilege short-term riches at the expense of long-term sustainable development.
Both air and water pollution are a big problem in Brazil . Pollution from industry and vehicle exhaust fumes is a problem in Rio  and Belo Horizonte, but is notorious in São Paulo , where skies can become thick with smog. To diminish pollution, Sampa’s municipal government implemented a rotation system, whereby cars whose license plates end in odd numbers alternate days on the road with those whose plates end in even numbers. However, with more people purchasing cars, this solution falls short of addressing the problem.
Water pollution is an issue throughout the country. In urban areas, lack of water and sewage treatment in some poor neighborhoods—particularly in favelas (slums)—is a hazard. In rural areas, pesticides, industrial waste, and the degradation of aquatic ecosystems due to the installation of hydroelectric plants are responsible for the pollution of lakes and rivers. Meanwhile, oceans are at the mercy of accidents because of heavy shipping activities and offshore oil drilling.
In recent years, progress has been made in addressing some of these problems. As Brazil has increasingly become a global economic player, to compete in world markets Brazilian manufacturers have had to adopt stringent environmental regulations, which include the recycling of waste and alternative forms of energy production.
City governments such as Rio’s have taken small steps to integrate—instead of ignore—favelas by attempting to provide basic services to which all citizens are entitled. Meanwhile, growing tourism, particularly ecotourism, has provided a cash incentive for government, businesses, and local populations to preserve the environment and look for sustainable means of development. Although most Brazilians are hardly enlightened in terms of littering, the country does boast one of the highest rates of recycling of any nation.