He was born in a German-Brazilian family in Porto Alegre, the capital city of southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, as the only son of architect Joseph Franz Seraph Lutzenberger. He graduated in Agronomy at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in 1950. For more than 15 years he worked in Germany, Venezuela and Morocco for a German chemical company, BASF, selling the same products he would later campaign against.
In 1971, Lutzenberger founded the Associação Gaúcha de Proteção ao Ambiente Natural (Agapan), an environmentalist organization. He became famous for defending the environment together with Magda Renner, Hilda Wrasse Zimmermann and others during the time of military government in Brazil. He was appointed to the Environment Ministry in the Fernando Collor de Mello federal government, in the early 1990s.
"He was Brazil's first internationally known environmental activist, and the fact he was chosen environment minister in Brazil's first democratically elected government in 30 years was just one indication of the tremendous mark he made in that area," said Stephan Schwartzman, senior scientist at Environmental Defense.
Lutzenberger's time as the Secretary of the Environment came to an abrupt end. In December 1991, "L. Summers, who at the time was chief economist and a vice-president of the World Bank, made an internal note (leaked to the environmental community) that asserted that the economically correct policy for the disposal of environmental poisons was to dump them in developing countries. Lutzenberger wrote to Summers expressing very strong disapproval of these ideas (calling them 'totally insane'), and was removed from his post immediately thereafter."
Lutzenberger died in 2002 at the age of 75. He was buried as he wished: naked, without a coffin, close to a tree in a farm he restored, the Rincão Gaia, in Pantano Grande, also in the Rio Grande do Sul state.
Like millions of others in southern Brazil, the Kroeff-Lutzenberger family was bilingual, speaking both Portuguese, the national and official language of the land, but also German, a strong regional language in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Lutzenberg also achieved a high level of fluency in English, Spanish and French.
The German language as a minority language in southern Brazil: Riograndenser Hunsrückisch.
- Page 100, Economics Unmasked, Philipp Smith & Manfred Max-Neef