ZEF Public Lecture: Mind your language: Political discourse affects deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

May 25, 2023 | 13:30 h - 14:30 h

We'd like to invite you to ZEF's Public Lecture!

Topic: Mind your language: Political discourse affects deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

Speaker: Dr. Gustavo Magalhães de Oliveira (Bonn SDG Fellow based at ZEF)

The lecture will be held in hybrid mode, so you are also welcome to join us online via Zoom: https://uni-bonn.zoom.us/meeting/register/u5csceiurj8jGtd-vKlrtvULi8vc33ZgxsiB


Land users make decisions in an increasingly dynamic environment. Changes in expectations are driven by market and non-market factors, but research on market-related drivers of land use change so far dominates the literature. This paper examines how political discourses insinuating a laissez-faire type of government attitude towards illegal deforestation affect deforestation rates in the Brazilian Amazon region. Relying on novel data from Twitter, we present the first causal evidence of political discourse on deforestation. Our analysis relies on municipal-level monthly panel data for 2019 with alternative remotely sensed measures of forest loss and vegetation fires as outcome variables. The effect of political discourse on these outcomes is identified using a shift-share regression approach. High exposure to laissez-faire political discourses increases forest loss by 2.3-3%, and fires by 2.2%. Our findings are robust across land tenure regimes, varying levels of policy enforcement, and alternative shift-share measures. Moreover, excluding dry season periods from the analysis does not change the main result. Land use in the Brazilian Amazon is highly sensitive to whether, how, and when authorities communicate their will to enforce environmental policy regulations. ‘Walking the talk’ remains imperative to protect the world’s tropical forests, but this study suggests that policymakers must carefully choose their words while walking.


Dr. Gustavo Magalhães de Oliveira is an Bonn SDG Fellow at ZEF, University of Bonn, Germany. He holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Economics from the University of São Paulo in Brazil, along with an M.Sc. from the same university. During his Ph.D., Gustavo worked as a visiting researcher at the University of Perugia, Italy. His research interests are focused on the application of quantitative methods to explore sustainability issues in both environmental and agricultural economics. He has been collaborating on projects on deforestation and biodiversity footprints in food systems.

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