Virgilio Viana, the secretary for environment and sustainable development of Amazonas State in Brazil, presented a series of three lectures this week as part of a joint program between Yale’s School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
Viana, the first speaker to come to Yale on funding from a grant made to the SOM-FES joint-degree program by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in San Francisco, spoke on sustainable development, forest certification and climate change. His last talk culminated in a round table discussion of how to apply theories of sustainable development in the Amazon. In his lectures, Viana focused on applying business and economic concepts, such as incentives, to environmental problems like deforestation in order to find effective solutions.
“People don’t deforest because they’re stupid — there’s an economic rationality behind it,” Viana said in his second lecture. “The vision is to have good business that treats the environment well by convincing people that this is good for them. If they perceive that they will get more benefit by deforesting then that is what they will continue to do.”
Viana suggested a series of economic measures to address the issue of deforestation, including sales tax exemptions for non-timber forest products and support for small-scale forestry businesses.
Professor Garry Brewer, who teaches at both SOM and FES, said Viana’s work on the environment and the Amazon provides a good example for countries seeking to manage their environmental resources.
“Many countries just don’t have the capacity to care for their environment,” Brewer said. “The hope is that our Yale model [of a joint-degree program in management and forestry studies] will ultimately attract students from Latin America interested in addressing these issues. We’re looking to create a real relationship between Yale and the Amazon.”
Viana said he hopes Yale’s program will inspire similar programs in Brazil.
“A joint program like Yale’s gives foresters a view of business and how the economy of forest management industries can be improved by better competition,” Viana said. “We’re currently discussing the possibility of receiving a group of Yale students in Amazonas.”
Viana’s lecture attracted a broad range of students, including those not in the SOM-FES joint-degree program. Matt Brewer FES ’07 said he had only positive reactions to the talks.
“It’s very inspirational that he’s actually taking care of the earth,” Matt Brewer said of Viana. “It’s also smart of him to provide economic incentives, particularly tax-based ones that use the purchasing power of the state as an orchestrating force in encouraging more responsible management of forest resources.”
Latin American studies major Shannon Guy ’08, who attended all three of Viana’s lectures, said she thought his main asset as a speaker was his ability to explain environmental policy from both a governmental and economic perspective.
“It’s good to have someone from the inside talking about the success of their program,” Guy said of Viana’s Green Free Trade Zone initiative, which seeks to improve human welfare and promote environmental conservation in Amazonas.
Viana received a doctorate in biology from Harvard and a postdoctorate degree in sustainable development from the University of Florida. He leaves Yale today for the United Nations, where he will make a presentation on the state of Amazonas and its environmental policies.