This article analyzes the trajectory of a group of Brazilian intellectuals from 1786 to 1810, who inaugurated a systematic critique of the environmental damage caused by the colonial economy in Brazil, especially forest destruction and soil erosion. These authors, schooled in the culture of Illuminism, adopted a theoretical framework centered on physiocratic economic doctrine and the "economy of nature" encoded by Linnaeus. Their focus was political, anthropocentric, and pragmatic. They defended the natural milieu based on its importance for the survival and progress of Brazilian society. Waste and destruction of natural resources were attributed to the rudimentary technologies and social practices inherited from the colonial system. They proposed an overall modernization policy as the road to overcome environmental degradation in the country.