Jose Lutzenberger

A Latin American pioneer of environmentalism


| November / December 2002


JOSE LUTZENBERGER, outspoken leader of South American environmentalists, died May 14 in his hometown of Pôrto Alegre, Brazil, at the age of 75.

Lutzenberger was a practical scientist and a brilliant orator with a reputation for being outraged by injustice of any kind. Trained as an agronomist and chemist in Brazil and at Louisiana State University, he headed for Germany in 1950 to work for BASF Chemicals. Troubled by BASF’s production of pesticides, he returned to Brazil, where in 1971 he helped found Agapan, Brazil’s first citizen environmental organization. Agapan quickly made a name for itself by leading a successful public campaign to stop pollution at a Norwegian wood pulp factory in Pôrto Alegre.

In 1988 Lutzenberger was awarded the Right Livelihood Award, known as "the alternative Nobel Prize." Two years later, he was appointed Brazilian environmental minister. Initial successes—he managed to persuade President Collor to recognize and protect the land of the Yanomami people in the northern Amazon—soon gave way to disillusionment. He resigned and re-turned to activist organizing.

Lutzenberger devoted the remainder of his life to promoting sustainable agriculture and denouncing industrialized farming methods. "The modern farmer," he said, "is only a tractor driver or a poison sprayer. He is only a tiny cog in an enormous and highly complicated techno-bureaucratic structure that begins in the oilfields, goes though the whole chemical and the huge agribusiness industry . . . and ends up in the supermarkets."

From The Ecologist (July/Aug. 2002). Subscriptions: $35/yr. (6 issues) from Cissbury House, Furse View, Five Oaks Rd., Slinfold, West Sussex, RH13, 7RH UK.