Teresa Furtado, a journalist and environmentalist, is producing a regular series of environmental radio programs that educate the public and promote popular participation. Community environmental groups add the local dimension of the issues covered in the main body of the program and benefit from a more active, better informed citizen base of support.
The New Idea
An active contributor to the environmental movement in Brazil since its inception, Teresa believes its future depends on a strong, steady grassroots support base. To develop a broader constituency, she is helping people to see that their local environmental concerns are not only important, but are linked to regional and national concerns. "To do that we have to either go beyond the "fashionable" and "distant" environmental issues, such as the ozone layer hole, or relate these "big issues" to backyard problems affecting people every day." She is also showing that change requires popular participation. By offering a vehicle through which the local people and local environmental groups can voice their concerns, she is providing a powerful vehicle for this activism.
Teresa has chosen the radio as her medium because of its large audience, relatively modest costs, and ease of "distribution." Her weekly programs are keyed to the local community, addressing problems or issues that are current and pertinent to the listeners. Her audience is asked to call in on the air to offer sugestions, opinions and possible solutions. At the same time, she is educating the community by relating their problems to global concerns . With the success of her program, a grassroots base of support for environmental organizations will begin to evolve.
In the last decade, a small, sophisticated and informed elite has been active in transforming modern environmental knowledge into concrete action. As a result of their untiring efforts in designing and winning acceptance for models of development that maintain a human focus through environmentally safe practices, Brazilian NGOs, backed by international groups and organizations, have managed to guarantee the survival of a number of human communities and saved large areas of rainforest from destruction. However, the efforts of these pioneer action groups are increasingly threatened by the absence of broad, informed public support. Despite their success, NGOs are unable to produce varied, in-depth information on the scale necessary to steadily mold a broad public opinion base.
Part of the problem stems from the widely held notion, particularly among the poor, that the alleviation of poverty is antithetical to protecting the environment. A typical case is the destruction of the Amazon forest: unsound agricultural practices and soil erosion have made hundreds of thousands of southerners migrate to the Amazon, where they proceed to use the same agricultural techniques in an even more delicate environment. Adding insult to injury, "amidst the severe economic crisis Brazil is facing, environmental concerns are being dismissed as elitist and superfluous," says Teresa. "Furthermore, there are many people interested in labelling environmentalists as defenders of wildlife and plants and against people. We have to make the environment a real and concrete issue affecting the "common man" every day."
Teresa's programs are designed to provide information that will establish the vitally important symbiosis between action groups and the common citizen.
Her 15-minute weekly programs will be composed of three modules, each with a different focus. The first will deal with a topic of immediate concern to the listener, such as the flooding of a local river, the need to build sewage systems, soil erosion, etc. It will address the roots of the problem, how the community is affected, and what can be done. The second module is designed to identify how the community feels about the situation, or how solutions are being suggested or implemented. In this module, the program will have an on-line system where members of the community can call in and express their opinions and concerns. The synsthesizing third section will relate the subjects covered in the program to what is happening elsewhere in the world and to the larger global environmental issues such as the greenhouse effect, ozone layer, etc. The program will also feature environmentalists and their solutions and options for the problems presented. Public action and public/NGO joint work will be encouraged and promoted.
An important part of Teresa's strategy was to integrate local environmental groups through her programs. These groups work together to prepare and contribute topics of discussion for the show and urge local stations to broadcast it. She now has received the support and collaboration of all the environmental organizations in the state of Parana. In order to ensure that her programs will be successful, she drafted some major radio personalities to participate and has put together a team of volunteers to interview people in the streets and compile information. She has arranged for ten major radio stations in the state of Parana to broadcast her programs, and designed plans to "export" at least part of her modules to other states in Brazil, leaving a space for environmental groups there to add local material.
If the programs are, as expected, nationally successful, Teresa has thought about the next step: she is planning to develop environmental programs for specific audiences, such as small farmers and public school children.
Teresa has long been committed to social issues. Arrested, tortured and exiled for her student political activities in the turbulent sixties, she is a key member of the strong environmental movement in Parana. She is on the advisory council of SOS Mata Atlantica, one of the first environmental NGOs in Brazil. She organized the Parana State Forum of Environmental NGOs, and was instrumental in designing preservation policies for the state. Well known as a journalist, having written for the major newspapers in Sao Paulo and Parana, Teresa has come to believe that "to reach people you need small tools and small spaces."