Carnival is everything. The Greeks had the Dionysian feasts. The Babylonians, the ritual in the temple of Marduk and the celebration of the Saceias. Christians, Shrovetide. Brazil liquefies all these ancestral festivities to produce a global event of subversion of social roles, in a tropical version. It is a party that has a revolving relationship with the Brazilian identity. It both impacts and is impacted.
The Amazon, environmental heritage and biodiversity are central elements of the Brazilian ethos – all of which are already reflected in Carnival. Among the hundreds of samba-plots, the indigenous people of the Amazon have already been honored (Imperatriz Leopoldinense, 2017) and the importance of sustainability has been highlighted (Império de Casa Verde, 2014). Attention was drawn to the Millennium Development Goals (Portela, 2005) and to water as an essential good for life (Mancha Verde, 2022).
Unidos da Tijuca and Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel have already reused garbage in the construction of floats. This year, Unidos do Porto da Pedra will hold the first parade neutral in carbon dioxide emissions. Dozens of street blocks have already had sustainability as their main theme. Many schools help their communities with training courses and job sprees. The small Carnaval no Parque in Brasilia adopts a zero waste policy.
There is also no lack of inaudible incentives from city halls for the use of reusable cups and biodegradable glitter, in addition to requests for garbage disposal in suitable places. But there is a lack of a structured socio-environmental plan that guarantees a great carbon-neutral Carnival celebration. That is, a party that offsets the emission of greenhouse gases that could not be avoided by supporting environmental projects. Just follow the tripod: reduce emissions, quantify those that cannot be avoided and offset them.
It’s a trend out there. Flow Festival, a music festival in Finland, has been measuring its carbon emissions since 2009. In Australia, the first major mass event to be certified carbon neutral was the Adelaide Festival. The list is long: Paradise City in Belgium, Glastonbury in the UK, Pride Parade in Ireland. The sum of all the greenhouse gases these events emitted and removed from the atmosphere balanced out to zero. The famous Notting Hill Carnival in London is not yet “net zero”, but it is known for its sustainability practices.
For a Carnival to be carbon neutral, some measures must be taken. Let’s take the example of Rio. The city hall and the samba schools should adopt a long-term carbon neutral plan that includes the use of renewable energy and the adoption of energy efficiency measures. Then, emissions must be quantified: travel by participants and the public, hotel stays, energy consumption in the Sambadrome and surrounding areas, food consumption, volume of urban waste, among other factors. Despite the possible reduction of COtwo, mandatory greenhouse gases will be emitted. For these, the strategy is to compensate them, supporting, for example, environmental projects that are aligned with the philosophies of the samba schools or the Plan for Sustainable Development and Climate Action of the City of Rio de Janeiro.
If measuring the emissions of a Carnival party currently seems like something forerunner, it could soon become mandatory. In Europe, the most recent legislation already obliges the biggest companies (and many of the big events are organized by companies) to report their carbon emissions, together with those of their value chains. The same goes for British companies. And the American regulator is moving in the same direction.
Brazil has a hybrid experience in this area. Large public events, such as the Círio de Nazaré or the Festa de Iemanjá, are strong carbon emitters. On the other hand, the 2022 New Year’s Eve in Rio was the city’s first zero carbon event and the Oktoberfest in Blumenau plans to achieve the same goal by 2026.
If it wants to organize the COP30 in the Amazon, in 2025, Brazil needs to present credentials. Organizing a decarbonized Carnival in Rio or São Paulo in 2024 would give semiotic consistency to the international image of Brazil as an environmental power.
As Didi and Mestrinho’s 1982 composition for União da Ilha do Governador says, “The whole world waits”.
The author thanks the journalist Claudia Maximino for the carnival references mentioned in the article.
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