A standard return flight from New York to São Paulo has a carbon footprint of some 3.75 global hectares (gha). Further domestic flights around Brazil, for example, from São Paulo to Rio, Rio to Salvador, Salvador to Manaus, and Manaus back to São Paulo, add another 1.75 gha, for a total carbon footprint for the trip of about 5.5gha. Carbon offsets, which balance the carbon released by a particular activity, either through reforestation or avoided deforestation, or investment in energy efficiency or carbon trading projects, can be purchased through the NGO Carbon Fund (www.carbonfund.org). They will offset the 24,000km (40,000 miles) of flights involved in a trip to Brazil for an astonishingly cheap US$75. Never was environmental expiation purchased so cheaply.
But how can you try to mitigate your local impact once you arrive? First and foremost, live like the locals. Brazilian cities are already far less energy-intensive and resource-hungry than most North American ones. Brazilians -- even the middle class -- tend to live in high-rise apartments in dense urban neighborhoods, and navigate their cities by public transport or small fuel-efficient car. Do as they do, stay in a high-rise near the beach, take the Metrô or a bus or even cabs, and your ecological impact for the weeks you're here will drop some 90% -- from the U.S. average of 37.02 gha to the Brazil average of 3.04 gha.
Beyond that though, your options are somewhat limited. Brazilian resorts and tour operators do advertise "eco-tourism," but in Brazil this means anything that takes place in the outdoors, be it leave-only-footprints nature hikes or churn-up-the-wildlife ATV expeditions. It does not signify lodges or hotels with solar heating or clever ways of dealing with wastewater, or even outdoor operators that take particular care of their local ecosystems. "Eco-tourism" in Brazil is a term that has been stretched to and beyond the bounds of any useful meaning.
In Brazil's two most vulnerable remaining ecosystems -- the Pantanal and the Amazon -- there are tourism operators who strive to protect their local ecosystems. In the Pantanal the Araras Eco Lodge and the Jaguar Ecological Reserve have helped to popularize the private ecological reserve, a Brazilian program through which the government provides tax breaks in return for a landowner committing to preserving a portion of his in perpetuity. The presence of eco-tourism operators in the Pantanal -- particularly Araras -- has also provided a lobby to counter certain ill-advised development schemes, including the paving of the Transpantaneira highway, and the widening, straightening, and deepening of the Rio Paraguay, the better to transport soybeans to the coast.
In the Amazon, the Pousada Uakarí serves as an integral part of the Mamiraua Sustainable Development Institute (www.mamiraua.org.br), a project designed to preserve the habitat of the Uakarí monkey while improving the living standards of local human populations living in and around the Uakarí reserve. Other Amazon lodges come nowhere near this standard, though they do provide some local employment for guides and other lodge staff. Unfortunately, the minuscule scale of eco-tourism operations in comparison with the employment and revenues generated by the timber and cattle industries has rendered eco-tourism a nonplayer in the debate over preserving the Amazon.
However, one could argue that those who experience the Amazon become more likely to lobby to save it. Certainly, awareness of the importance of the Amazon, both globally and in Brazil, has lead to the passage in Brazil of a range of reasonably stringent preservation measures, including parks, reserves, Indian reservations, national forestlands, and restrictions on deforestation on private landholdings. The problem in Brazil is that these regulations are often not respected, while enforcement on the ground remains weak. Still, rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon have declined, from a 2004 peak of 27,400 sq. km (an area somewhat larger than Vermont) to 12,911 sq. km (an area somewhat smaller than Connecticut) in 2008.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.