Sylvia N. Tesh

is currently a lecturer in the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona, has a PhD in political science from the University of Hawaii. Before moving to Arizona she taught for fifteen years at Yale University, where she had joint appointments in the Department of Political Science, the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the School of Public Health. She also taught for nine years in the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, and was a Fulbright scholar for a year in Brazil at the Instituto de Saúde Coletiva, Universidade Federal da Bahia.

Her earlier work on public health politics morphed into an interest in environmental health politics and from there to an interest in the environmental movement. She is now concentrating on environmental activism in Latin America with an emphasis on the two countries she lived in between 1962 and 1972: Brazil and Panama. Most of her work draws from scholarship on social constructionism.

Among her publications are two books, Hidden Arguments: Political Ideology and Disease Prevention Policy (Rutgers University Press, 1988) and Uncertain Hazards: Environmental Activists and Scientific Proof (Cornell University Press, 2000).

Research Project

Reducing Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Paradoxes of Environmentalism

Almost twenty percent of the Brazilian Amazon forest is now gone and although the Brazilian government and some non-governmental organizations have projects that rein in people who cut down trees, deforestation in the Amazon is likely to continue for a long time. While the reasons for this unhappy state of affairs are many, this project explores the idea that a fundamental reason is the framing of deforestation as an environmental issue. I will interrogate three aspects of international environmentalism. First is environmentalism’s focus on nature or people thought to be close to nature, a focus that emphasizes lush forests and indigenous peoples and pays scant attention to the most important ecologic conditions and political actors in the deforestation saga.  Second is environmentalism’s alliance with economic theory and its concomitant promotion of weak but politically acceptable solutions to the deforestation problem. Third is its concept of universal environmental responsibility, which plays into the hands of developmentalists in Brazil who accuse people working to reduce deforestation of trying to internationalize the Amazon.