Christopher Lesser


My dissertation focuses on the paradox of environmental laws that have been instrumental to the geographic spread of agriculture in Brazil. International conservation organizations suggest that Brazil’s environmental legislation was responsible for slowing deforestation in the early 2000s, while critics argue that such policies merely appeased foreign interests at the expense of local economies. My preliminary archival and field research in Brazil suggests that environmental legislation’s relationships to agriculture are neither as its critics nor as its champions have supposed. Brazil’s forest laws, I argue, grew out of a political economy shaped by production of agricultural commodities. Furthermore, recent forest regrowth is not necessarily a product of environmental legislation or scientific preservation practices. In the absence of a clear empirical correlation between forest regrowth and environmental laws, I ask how Brazil’s environmental legislation emerged and why forests are growing in some areas and not in others. My goal is to question the assumed socio-ecological effects of environmental legislation, and to establish a spatial correlation between contemporary ecologies and different historic land uses.