Talking Animals, Climate Change and Agriculture in Sao Paulo

David Cassuto

Today, I gave a talk on industrial agriculture and climate change at the Planeta Verde Conference, the largest environmental law conference in South America and maybe the world.  Instituto O Direito Por Um Planeta Verde (Law for a Green Planet Institute) is a Brazilian NGO founded (I believe) by Antonio Benjamin, a major figure in Brazilian environmental law.  Benjamin is now a Justice on the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice (this court has no direct analogue in the U.S.; it resides somewhere between the courts of appeals  and the Supreme Court).  He also manages to be a professor at several law schools both in Brazil and Texas.

I have a few things to report.  First, on a personal note, I currently dwell in a limbic space between 3 languages.  My Portuguese is improving but still not fully conversational while my Spanish suffers from its proximity to Portuguese.  This leaves me unable to speak either one.  Meanwhile, my English worsens by the day.  The upshot: I spent much of today and yesterday stammering in no recognizable language, but with a New York accent.          

Second, to my surprise, I found myself the only native English speaker at the conference.  In past years they have had numerous English speakers and excellent simultaneous translation.  Since I had not prepared to give my talk in Portuguese (which would have been a lengthy preparation, indeed), Justice Benjamin did me the honor of simul-translating.  His generosity, while deeply gratifying, left me all the more determined to start lecturing in Portuguese.  My current goal is to deliver my talk at the August conference on Animal Law (in Salvador) in Portuguese.  My other goal – directly related to the first – involves not humiliating myself when I do.

The talk went well.  Many people approached me to discuss agricultural policy afterwards, including a fellow who is helping fashion climate change law for the state of Sao Paulo.  He hopes that Brazil soon begins confining its cattle so that the country can institute a carbon capture program for their organic waste.  We had a useful conversation about the ethics of that approach as well as its long-term efficacy.  When I left there, I was approached by a Sao Paulo lawyer who wants to interview me for her blog, which deals with environmental and animal issues.  I took her over to meet the organizer for the Salvador animal law conference  (read about it in English here) where I found him doing a brisk business selling copies of the Brazilian Animal Law Review (Revista Brasileira de Direito Animal) as well as copies of Animal abolicionismo, a book written by his thesis advisor.  In short, I had a very good afternoon. 

Now I’m waiting to board a plane to take me back to Rio.  Tomorrow, I will run on the beach.

3 Responses

  1. Thanks for spreading the word – No matter what language it’s done in!

  2. Sounds like a very productive day. You’ve also made my day, since I am picturing you speaking some broken language that no one can understand, with all of Brasil looking at you and thinking, “Ah, Americans. It’s as bad as we thought.”

  3. […] problems accessing this site from there (hence the lull).  In any case, for those following my language struggles, you´ll be pleased to know that 4 days speaking Spanish has rendered me all but incoherent in […]

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