Tag Archives: Brazil

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

Vegetation holds key to climate control

New studies shine a light on the intricate relationship in which climate affects vegetation, which in turn impacts on the global climate.

LONDON, 23 March, 2020 − Here’s an easy way to warm the tropics even further: just fell some rainforest, and the local temperatures will soar by at least a degree Celsius, showing the role played by vegetation.

There is also a good way to temper the summer heat of temperate Europe: just abandon some farmland, leave it to go wild and leafy, and the thermometer will drop by perhaps as much as 1°C.

And, paradoxically, there is even a leafy way to warm the Arctic: burn lots of fossil fuels, precipitate a climate crisis, advance the growth of spring foliage by three weeks or so, and check the thermometer. The region will be even warmer, just because the Arctic has become greener.

These apparently contradictory findings are, more than anything else, a reminder that the pas de deux of vegetation and atmosphere is complex, intricate and finely balanced. Nor are they inconsistent, as each study simply takes the measure of vegetation change on local or regional climate.

Reducing heating

In sum, and for the time being, the big picture remains that forests absorb carbon, and more vigorous growth absorbs more carbon to significantly reduce the average rates of global heating across the entire planet.

In effect, all three studies demonstrate that vegetation moderates extremes of temperature in three climate zones.

Brazilian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal
PLOS One that they subdivided a tract of the Atlantic rainforest in the southeast of the nation into 120-metre squares, measured those segments that had been part-felled or clear-felled, and read the local land surface temperatures.

If even one fourth of a hectare had been cleared, the local temperature went up by 1°C. If the entire hectare had been razed, the rise could be as high as 4°C.

Risk to trees

The Atlantic rainforest is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: it covers 15% of Brazil, but 72% of the population lives there. It holds seven of Brazil’s nine largest drainage basins, delivers water to 130 million people and its dams provide 60% of the nation’s hydroelectric power.

Between 2017 and 2018, around 113 square kilometres of this forest was cleared. As temperatures continue to rise, some tree species could be at risk.

“We don’t have enough data to predict how long it will take, but in the long run, rising temperatures in Atlantic rainforest fragments could certainly influence the survival of tree species in the forest, albeit some species more than others,” says one of the report’s authors, Carlos Joly, professor of plant biology at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

“The forest is extremely important to maintaining milder temperatures on the local and regional scale. Changes in its function could disrupt this type of ecosystem service.

“Abandoned cropland – or land cover change more generally – and its role in regional climate can help us adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change”

“The Atlantic rainforest doesn’t produce water but it protects the springs and permits the storage of water in reservoirs for consumption, power generation, agricultural irrigation and fishing, among other activities.”

By contrast, Europeans have achieved a local 1°C cooling simply by abandoning farmland that was no longer sufficiently productive.

Between 1992 and 2014, the European Space Agency satellites compiled detailed maps of the continents, measuring the extents of evergreen needle-leaf forest, deciduous broadleaf woodland, open shrubland, crop fields, urban and built-up areas, wetlands, peatlands, grassland and mosaic areas of crops and wilderness.

In those 24 years – partly because of dramatic political changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union – around 25 million hectares of farmland was abandoned.

Drying wetlands

Although farmland was colonised elsewhere, the continent was left with 5 million hectares – an area the size of Switzerland – to be colonised by trees and other natural foliage, European scientists report in the journal Nature Communications.

Overall, the loss of cropland in Western Europe was associated with a drop of 1° in spring and summer. In eastern and northeastern Europe, however, temperatures rose by as much as 1°C, partly because what had once been wetlands began to dry.

“We are already at a mean warming of about 1.8°C on the land, and we will be about 3°C on the land even if we are successful at stabilising the average global temperature at 1.5°C,” says one of the report’s authors, Francesco Cherubini, director of the Industrial Ecology Programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“That means we take action to adapt to a warming climate, and land use planning is one action that can bring local cooling benefits.”

The Arctic greens

“The message is quite clear. Abandoned cropland – or land cover change more generally – and its role in regional climate can help us adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. And by improving agricultural systems, we can free up land for multiple uses.”

But while Europe is changing, and forest in the tropics is being lost, the Arctic is becoming greener: as temperatures rise, vegetation has moved northwards and spring has arrived ever earlier, and growing seasons have lasted longer.

The science of measurement of seasonal change in plant and animal behaviour is called phenology. Chinese and US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at computer models of vegetation change and factored in the numbers: on average, in the last four decades, leaf-out has advanced by an average of more than four days a decade, and in some cases up to 12 days a decade.

That means snow-covered ground has retreated, and green leaves have moved northwards, and become denser.

Climate feedback

Snow reflects solar radiation, and darker colours absorb it. That means that local landscapes in the north have tended to become even warmer with each decade.

In the Canadian archipelago, the air has been measured at 0.7°C warmer, and parts of Siberia and the Tibetan plateau − far from any leafy canopy − have warmed by 0.4°C and 0.3°C respectively because advanced leaf-out further south means more water vapour, which moves north to change patterns of cloud cover and snowfall.

Climate scientists see this as positive feedback: climate change begets even faster climate change. Global heating tends to accelerate. Climate change affects vegetation, which in turn affects climate yet further.

“Positive feedback loops between climate and spring leaf phenology is likely to amplify in the northern high latitudes,” says Gensuo Jia, one of the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The impact of vegetation change on climate is profound in spring.” − Climate News Network

New studies shine a light on the intricate relationship in which climate affects vegetation, which in turn impacts on the global climate.

LONDON, 23 March, 2020 − Here’s an easy way to warm the tropics even further: just fell some rainforest, and the local temperatures will soar by at least a degree Celsius, showing the role played by vegetation.

There is also a good way to temper the summer heat of temperate Europe: just abandon some farmland, leave it to go wild and leafy, and the thermometer will drop by perhaps as much as 1°C.

And, paradoxically, there is even a leafy way to warm the Arctic: burn lots of fossil fuels, precipitate a climate crisis, advance the growth of spring foliage by three weeks or so, and check the thermometer. The region will be even warmer, just because the Arctic has become greener.

These apparently contradictory findings are, more than anything else, a reminder that the pas de deux of vegetation and atmosphere is complex, intricate and finely balanced. Nor are they inconsistent, as each study simply takes the measure of vegetation change on local or regional climate.

Reducing heating

In sum, and for the time being, the big picture remains that forests absorb carbon, and more vigorous growth absorbs more carbon to significantly reduce the average rates of global heating across the entire planet.

In effect, all three studies demonstrate that vegetation moderates extremes of temperature in three climate zones.

Brazilian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal
PLOS One that they subdivided a tract of the Atlantic rainforest in the southeast of the nation into 120-metre squares, measured those segments that had been part-felled or clear-felled, and read the local land surface temperatures.

If even one fourth of a hectare had been cleared, the local temperature went up by 1°C. If the entire hectare had been razed, the rise could be as high as 4°C.

Risk to trees

The Atlantic rainforest is one of the world’s richest ecosystems: it covers 15% of Brazil, but 72% of the population lives there. It holds seven of Brazil’s nine largest drainage basins, delivers water to 130 million people and its dams provide 60% of the nation’s hydroelectric power.

Between 2017 and 2018, around 113 square kilometres of this forest was cleared. As temperatures continue to rise, some tree species could be at risk.

“We don’t have enough data to predict how long it will take, but in the long run, rising temperatures in Atlantic rainforest fragments could certainly influence the survival of tree species in the forest, albeit some species more than others,” says one of the report’s authors, Carlos Joly, professor of plant biology at the University of Campinas in Brazil.

“The forest is extremely important to maintaining milder temperatures on the local and regional scale. Changes in its function could disrupt this type of ecosystem service.

“Abandoned cropland – or land cover change more generally – and its role in regional climate can help us adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change”

“The Atlantic rainforest doesn’t produce water but it protects the springs and permits the storage of water in reservoirs for consumption, power generation, agricultural irrigation and fishing, among other activities.”

By contrast, Europeans have achieved a local 1°C cooling simply by abandoning farmland that was no longer sufficiently productive.

Between 1992 and 2014, the European Space Agency satellites compiled detailed maps of the continents, measuring the extents of evergreen needle-leaf forest, deciduous broadleaf woodland, open shrubland, crop fields, urban and built-up areas, wetlands, peatlands, grassland and mosaic areas of crops and wilderness.

In those 24 years – partly because of dramatic political changes that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union – around 25 million hectares of farmland was abandoned.

Drying wetlands

Although farmland was colonised elsewhere, the continent was left with 5 million hectares – an area the size of Switzerland – to be colonised by trees and other natural foliage, European scientists report in the journal Nature Communications.

Overall, the loss of cropland in Western Europe was associated with a drop of 1° in spring and summer. In eastern and northeastern Europe, however, temperatures rose by as much as 1°C, partly because what had once been wetlands began to dry.

“We are already at a mean warming of about 1.8°C on the land, and we will be about 3°C on the land even if we are successful at stabilising the average global temperature at 1.5°C,” says one of the report’s authors, Francesco Cherubini, director of the Industrial Ecology Programme at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“That means we take action to adapt to a warming climate, and land use planning is one action that can bring local cooling benefits.”

The Arctic greens

“The message is quite clear. Abandoned cropland – or land cover change more generally – and its role in regional climate can help us adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. And by improving agricultural systems, we can free up land for multiple uses.”

But while Europe is changing, and forest in the tropics is being lost, the Arctic is becoming greener: as temperatures rise, vegetation has moved northwards and spring has arrived ever earlier, and growing seasons have lasted longer.

The science of measurement of seasonal change in plant and animal behaviour is called phenology. Chinese and US scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at computer models of vegetation change and factored in the numbers: on average, in the last four decades, leaf-out has advanced by an average of more than four days a decade, and in some cases up to 12 days a decade.

That means snow-covered ground has retreated, and green leaves have moved northwards, and become denser.

Climate feedback

Snow reflects solar radiation, and darker colours absorb it. That means that local landscapes in the north have tended to become even warmer with each decade.

In the Canadian archipelago, the air has been measured at 0.7°C warmer, and parts of Siberia and the Tibetan plateau − far from any leafy canopy − have warmed by 0.4°C and 0.3°C respectively because advanced leaf-out further south means more water vapour, which moves north to change patterns of cloud cover and snowfall.

Climate scientists see this as positive feedback: climate change begets even faster climate change. Global heating tends to accelerate. Climate change affects vegetation, which in turn affects climate yet further.

“Positive feedback loops between climate and spring leaf phenology is likely to amplify in the northern high latitudes,” says Gensuo Jia, one of the researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The impact of vegetation change on climate is profound in spring.” − Climate News Network

Ex-general takes over Brazil’s Amazon protection

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, is a former soldier. He’s now appointed an ex-military colleague to oversee Amazon protection, causing widespread dismay.

SÃO PAULO, 31 January, 2020 − Alarmed by warnings that his neglect of the need to protect the Amazon could lead to disinvestment and export bans, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has turned to his usual solution to problems: call in the army.

He has chosen his vice-president, retired general Hamilton Mourão, to head a new Amazon Council which will co-ordinate “the activities of all the ministries involved in the protection, defence and development and sustainable development of the Amazon”.

He has also decided to create a new environmental police force (in Portuguese) to protect the Amazon. The “Green Police” will recruit agents from local state forces.

The creation of the council is a belated attempt to undo the damage done in the first year of Bolsonaro’s government, when the environment ministry was entrusted to right-wing climate sceptic Ricardo Salles.

Salles, a São Paulo lawyer who had never set foot in the Amazon and faces charges of fraud dating from his term as environment secretary of the local state government, immediately set about dismantling the ministry’s capacity to monitor deforestation, enforce the law and fine offenders, replacing experienced, qualified staff with retired police officers, and blaming Greenpeace and other NGOs for environmental disasters.

“What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors”

As a result of his unfounded accusations of irregularities among recipients, Norway and Germany suspended their contributions to the billion dollar Amazon Fund, set up in 2000 to finance sustainable development projects and firefighting brigades.

Bolsonaro also gave the go-ahead to wildcat miners and landgrabbers to invade protected areas, with remarks that disparaged indigenous peoples and encouraged economic activities in the rainforest.

The effect of this policy was a huge surge in Amazon forest fires and a big increase in deforestation over the previous year. When confronted with the figures, Bolsonaro’s answer was to accuse the head of Brazil’s internationally respected monitoring agency, INPE, of lying and being in the pay of NGOs, forcing him to resign.

What finally persuaded Bolsonaro that he had to listen to the critics was pressure from Brazilian exporters and foreign investors.

Change of tune

With disinvestment in environmentally unsustainable areas growing, large investment fund managers warned that pressure from shareholders, increasingly worried about the climate crisis, would force them to pull out of Brazil unless the government changed its tune and began protecting the Amazon.

Brazil’s politically powerful agribusiness lobby spelt out the consequences for their grain and meat exports if the government continued to encourage deforestation, because consumers now demand sustainability.

But instead of sacking his environment minister or increasing funds to prevent deforestation and fires, Bolsonaro has appointed Hamilton Mourão, whose Amazon experience is five years as military commander in the region, to sort out the problem.

Scientists, environmentalists and NGOs with years of experience in the Amazon were not consulted before the surprise move. Even Mourão himself, when interviewed, was vague about what he is meant to do or how he will do it.

Ignoring local knowledge

The army’s involvement in the Amazon began in the 1960s when Brazil was at the beginning of a 21-year-long military dictatorship. The key word was development – highways, dams, cattle ranches – ignoring the indigenous and traditional people who already lived there. As a result, thousands were displaced and many died from diseases transmittted by outsiders.

The decision to resort to the military has caused dismay among environmentalists. Suely Araújo, former head of Ibama, the environmental enforcement agency, who resigned in protest (in Portuguese) at the minister’s and Bolsonaro’s comments, said: “The solution is not in militarising environmental policy… military support for operations in critical areas might be necessary, but it should be understood that environmental monitoring has to go way beyond troops on the ground.”

She pointed out that Ibama’s 2020 budget for monitoring work throughout Brazil has been slashed by 25% over the previous year.

The latest figures from INPE show an 85.3% increase in deforestation (in Portuguese) for the year ending in August 2019, compared with the year before. Fires for the same period were 30% higher. − Climate News Network

Conservation pays its way handsomely

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Money does grow on trees. The conservation of a native forest is natural capital, its cash value often reaching trillions of dollars.

LONDON, 2 December, 2019 – More than 400 scientists in Brazil have once again established that conservation pays: landscapes and people are richer for the native vegetation preserved on rural properties.

They calculate that 270 million hectares (667m acres) of natural forest, scrub, marsh and grassland contained in Brazil’s legal reserves are worth US$1.5 trillion (£1.7tn) a year to the nation.

Natural wilderness pays its way by providing a steady supply of natural crop pollinators and pest controls, by seamlessly managing rainfall and water run-off, and by maintaining soil quality, the researchers argue in a new study in the journal Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation.

“The paper is meant to show that preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil and diverges from what was done in Europe 500 years ago, when the level of environmental awareness was different”, said Jean Paul Metzger, an ecologist at the University of São Paulo, who leads the signatories.

“Brazil conserves a great deal, protecting over 60% of its vegetation cover, and has strict legislation. It’s ranked 30th by the World Bank, behind Sweden and Finland, which protect approximately 70%. However, we must call attention to the fact that conservation isn’t bad,” said Professor Metzger.

Protection maintained

Brazilian law requires rural landowners to leave forest cover untouched on a percentage of their property: in the Amazon region as much as 80%; in other regions as little as 20%. But these protected areas shelter a third of the nation’s natural vegetation.

A bill that proposed to weaken or eliminate the Legal Reserve requirement went before the Brazilian Senate in 2019. Had it passed, it could have led to the loss altogether of 270 million hectares of native vegetation.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but a small army of scientists – including 371 researchers in 79 Brazilian laboratories, universities and institutions – have responded with a study that attempts to set a cash value to simply maintaining the natural capital of the wilderness.

Brazil is home to one of the world’s great tropical rainforests, and to one of the world’s richest centres of biodiversity. The global climate crisis is already taking its toll of the forest canopy in the form of drought and fire. But under new national leadership there have been fears that even more forest could be at risk.

“Preserving native vegetation isn’t an obstacle to social and economic development but part of the solution. It’s one of the drivers of sustainable development in Brazil”

The cash-value case for conservation has been made, and made repeatedly. Studies have confirmed that agribusiness monocultures – vast tracts devoted entirely to one crop and only one crop – are not sustainable: animal pollinators can make the best of the flowering season but then have no alternative sources of food for the rest of the year.

Other researchers have separately established that the loss of natural forest can be far more costly and economically damaging than anybody had expected; and that, conversely, conserved and undisturbed wilderness actually delivers wealth on a sustained basis for national and regional economies. But farmers concerned with immediate profits might not be so conscious of the long-term rewards of conservation.

“It’s an important paper because it presents sound information that can be used to refute the arguments of those who want to change the Brazilian Forest Code and do away with the legal reserve requirement”, said Carlos Joly of the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, and one of the signatories.

And his colleague Paulo Artaxo said: “Farmers sometimes take a short-term view that focuses on three or four years of personal profit, but the nation is left with enormous losses. This mindset should go. The paper makes that very clear.” – Climate News Network

Indigenous firefighters tackle Brazil’s blazes

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

If the fires raging across the Amazon are controlled, much of the credit should go to the indigenous firefighters with intimate knowledge of the terrain.

SÃO PAULO, 8 November, 2019 − As global concern increases over the burning of the Amazon forest, the Brazilian government is keeping very quiet over one telling point: in many cases the people it is using to combat the flames are indigenous firefighters.

In August, the fires raging in the rainforest alarmed the world. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, variously blamed NGOs, the press and indigenous people for them, although there was plenty of evidence that many were deliberately caused by farmers and land grabbers wanting to clear the forest for cattle, crops and profit.

Bolsonaro eventually sent troops to try to extinguish the blazes. What he never acknowledged was that, far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them, because of their first-hand forest knowledge.

Writing on the website Manchetes Socioambientais, Clara Roman, a journalist with Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), one of Brazil’s largest environmental NGOs, described the work of these firefighters. They are recruited by the Centre for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires, Prevfogo, a department of IBAMA, the official environment agency.

They number 700 and come from many different ethnic groups: the Tenharim, Paresí, Gavião, Xerente, Guajajara, Krikati, Terena, Kadiwéu, Xakriabá, Javaé, Karajás, Pataxó and Kayapó, including several tribes in the Xingu area.

Survival knowledge

Rodrigo Faleiros, of PrevFogo, who hires them, says indigenous people make better firefighters than local people, because “they know the territory well, they know how to survive in the forest and they understand the effects of fire”.

Their equipment is a backpack pump with 20 litres of water. They carry flails to beat the flames and wear protective goggles, fire-resistant shoes to tread on burning embers, leg protectors against snakes and thorns, and uniforms that are fire-resistant for up to two minutes.

They usually set out at night or in the early hours when the temperature in the burning forest is more tolerable and the humidity a little higher.

The work of the firefighters mixes modern technology with ancient knowledge. Prevfogo receives real time information on where the fires are from a satellite controlled by INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency. This is transmitted to the nearest firefighters’ unit.

“Far from starting the fires, hundreds of indigenous men are actually employed by a government agency to fight them”

Since it began hiring indigenous firefighters Prevfogo has gradually incorporated into its practices traditional wisdom on the dynamics and management of fires. These include the use of preventive controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season, when humidity is still high and the chances of the fire spreading are fewer.

These controlled fires burn up dry organic material, reducing the amount available which could fuel fires that get out of control when the dry season is at its height. Another practice is the use of firebreaks or clearings in the forest where the fire finds no organic material and so dies out.

But the number of fires this year is a record, and the effects of climate change are not helping, as the rains that traditionally start in September have been delayed and average temperatures all over Brazil are higher than usual.

ISA researcher Antonio Oviedo says that because of the increase in deforestation, plus climate change and the present political context, the number of fires that turn into forest fires has increased. Even when it is not clearcut, humidity has fallen as the forest gets degraded by illegal logging.

An increasing number of fires are inside indigenous areas, traditionally the most intensively preserved areas, whether in the rainforest or in other areas of Brazil. In August this increase amounted to 182% more fires than in 2018. Bolsonaro’s (literally) inflammatory rhetoric, which has encouraged the invasion of indigenous reserves, has contributed.

Farming tool

Most of the fires occur in areas that have been invaded by illegal loggers and miners. Indigenous people use fire as a tool for their agriculture. They burn at the right time, in the right place, to guarantee flowering, fruiting and also refuge for the wild animals they need to hunt.

The fires that raged through the Amazon between July and September and are now devastating a large area of Brazil’s wetlands, known as the Pantanal, are destructive, harming habitats, killing wildlife and drying out the forest.

In September deforestation alerts were almost 100% higher than in the same month of the previous year. INPE data revealed that almost 1500 sq. kms of forest were cleared, compared to just over 700 sq. kms in 2018.

Deforestation already accounted for 44% of Brazil’s carbon emissions in 2018, according to SEEG, the System of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Climate Observatory. This year they will almost certainly be higher. − Climate News Network

Rising heat drives hungry people to hospital

When the heat is on, hospital admissions rise for already undernourished and hungry people. As the mercury rises, so do the case loads.

LONDON, 6 November, 2019 – Australian and Chinese scientists have identified a new hazard in the summer heat waves – more undernourished and hungry people are driven into hospitals.

They combed the records of Brazil’s hospitals, matched them against temperature readings and found that for every 1°C increase in temperature, there was a 2.5% increase in hospital admissions for undernutrition.

Undernutrition is defined as “inadequate intake of energy and nutrients to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.” That is: with extremes of heat come the ravages of hunger. The researchers also found that the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable.

Undernutrition is a global public health concern, especially in the low- and middle-income nations. In 2016, around 420 million adults of 20 years and more, and 192 million children and adolescents between 5 and 19, were underweight.

Of children under 5 years of age, 150 million were stunted, and 52 million were wasted. Around 45% of deaths of children under 5 were associated with undernutrition.

“The malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on”

And now the climate emergency, which brings with it ever greater extremes of heat, could make a global problem even worse.

Quite how dangerous heat and dangerous hunger are linked is uncertain, but the researchers report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine that they have confirmed that the link is a real one.

Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia and colleagues gathered data from the 5,570 cities in Brazil’s unified health system from January 2000 to December 2015. However, they included data only from the 1,814 cities – with more than 78% of Brazil’s population, in five regions – that could produce 16 complete years of records.

They had already established that hospital admissions rose with the thermometer. This time they established that one in six of the hospitalisations for undernutrition – that is, 37,129 cases – could be attributed to heat exposure. This proportion had risen from 14% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2015, during which time average temperatures rose by 1.1°C.

Spreading heat extremes

The links between heat and health have been repeatedly confirmed. Heat extremes, driven by global average temperature rises, in turn powered by profligate fossil fuel use, are on the increase: by the end of the century, they will be more intense, more frequent and more prolonged. And by the end of the century, three-fourths of the world could be at potentially lethal risk from the baking days and sweltering nights.

Researchers have repeatedly established that extremes of heat can affect harvest yields, and that high growing season temperatures, driven by ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, can reduce protein and vital nutrient levels in crops, to amplify global hunger and malnourishment. One research group even catalogued 27 ways in which heat extremes could kill.

These are long-term consequences. What the latest study does is put a measure to the short-term effect of heat upon illness linked to undernourishment. How the connection works is – the scientists concede – “not well understood.”

They suggest that high temperatures could reduce appetites, provoke more alcohol consumption, or reduce motivation to shop and cook, which would make any existing under-nutrition even worse. They also think that the sweltering heat could worsen already-impaired digestion and increase the frequencies of gastroenteritis.

Less healthy targeted

And, of course, those already undernourished are less healthy and less able to naturally regulate their own body temperatures. Finally, the malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on.

There could be many factors. But one thing is clear: heatwaves most harm those already less healthy because of undernutrition. By 2050, climate change could reduce global food supplies by more than 3% and cause around 30,000 underweight-related deaths.

But, the researchers warn, this now looks like an under-estimate, because it does not take into account the short-term and direct effects of temperature rise on future undernutrition-related morbidity and mortality.

“This direct, short-term effect will be increasingly important with global warning,” the scientists warn. – Climate News Network

When the heat is on, hospital admissions rise for already undernourished and hungry people. As the mercury rises, so do the case loads.

LONDON, 6 November, 2019 – Australian and Chinese scientists have identified a new hazard in the summer heat waves – more undernourished and hungry people are driven into hospitals.

They combed the records of Brazil’s hospitals, matched them against temperature readings and found that for every 1°C increase in temperature, there was a 2.5% increase in hospital admissions for undernutrition.

Undernutrition is defined as “inadequate intake of energy and nutrients to meet an individual’s needs to maintain good health.” That is: with extremes of heat come the ravages of hunger. The researchers also found that the very young and the very old were the most vulnerable.

Undernutrition is a global public health concern, especially in the low- and middle-income nations. In 2016, around 420 million adults of 20 years and more, and 192 million children and adolescents between 5 and 19, were underweight.

Of children under 5 years of age, 150 million were stunted, and 52 million were wasted. Around 45% of deaths of children under 5 were associated with undernutrition.

“The malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on”

And now the climate emergency, which brings with it ever greater extremes of heat, could make a global problem even worse.

Quite how dangerous heat and dangerous hunger are linked is uncertain, but the researchers report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine that they have confirmed that the link is a real one.

Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia and colleagues gathered data from the 5,570 cities in Brazil’s unified health system from January 2000 to December 2015. However, they included data only from the 1,814 cities – with more than 78% of Brazil’s population, in five regions – that could produce 16 complete years of records.

They had already established that hospital admissions rose with the thermometer. This time they established that one in six of the hospitalisations for undernutrition – that is, 37,129 cases – could be attributed to heat exposure. This proportion had risen from 14% in 2000 to 17.5% in 2015, during which time average temperatures rose by 1.1°C.

Spreading heat extremes

The links between heat and health have been repeatedly confirmed. Heat extremes, driven by global average temperature rises, in turn powered by profligate fossil fuel use, are on the increase: by the end of the century, they will be more intense, more frequent and more prolonged. And by the end of the century, three-fourths of the world could be at potentially lethal risk from the baking days and sweltering nights.

Researchers have repeatedly established that extremes of heat can affect harvest yields, and that high growing season temperatures, driven by ever higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, can reduce protein and vital nutrient levels in crops, to amplify global hunger and malnourishment. One research group even catalogued 27 ways in which heat extremes could kill.

These are long-term consequences. What the latest study does is put a measure to the short-term effect of heat upon illness linked to undernourishment. How the connection works is – the scientists concede – “not well understood.”

They suggest that high temperatures could reduce appetites, provoke more alcohol consumption, or reduce motivation to shop and cook, which would make any existing under-nutrition even worse. They also think that the sweltering heat could worsen already-impaired digestion and increase the frequencies of gastroenteritis.

Less healthy targeted

And, of course, those already undernourished are less healthy and less able to naturally regulate their own body temperatures. Finally, the malnourished are more often from the poorest communities: they cannot stay indoors with the air-conditioning switched on.

There could be many factors. But one thing is clear: heatwaves most harm those already less healthy because of undernutrition. By 2050, climate change could reduce global food supplies by more than 3% and cause around 30,000 underweight-related deaths.

But, the researchers warn, this now looks like an under-estimate, because it does not take into account the short-term and direct effects of temperature rise on future undernutrition-related morbidity and mortality.

“This direct, short-term effect will be increasingly important with global warning,” the scientists warn. – Climate News Network

Rebellion grows against climate emergency

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Global protestors disrupt traffic and target government buildings to protest at the lack of action to halt the climate emergency.

LONDON, 8 October, 2019 − This city yesterday re-echoed to the sound of dozens of drums beating outside Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence, as thousands of protestors closed down London to warn the UK government it faces rebellion over the climate emergency and the plight of the natural world.

In 23 major cities across the planet the global movement known as Extinction Rebellion has begun two weeks of disruption intended to show governments that citizens are not satisfied with their actions to curb climate change and to protect wild species.

An extraordinary range of people with a variety of causes all linked to climate change crowded into London’s Trafalgar Square and other streets around Parliament.

Watched by bemused Chinese tourists attempting to take in London’s attractions, key road junctions and bridges were blockaded at 10 am by protestors sitting in the road. The Metropolitan Police arrested 280 demonstrators in the course of the day, although in most places they made no attempt to intervene.

With thousands of protestors trained in non-violent direct action and preparing to be arrested, the police clearly decided not to try to stop them. Instead they stood in front of the entrance to prime minister Boris Johnson’s house in Downing Street and protected the entrances to nearby government buildings.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored”

Handing out leaflets entitled: “It’s time to tell the truth”, the protestors stressed their key message: “We are in trouble. Sea levels are rising. Heatwaves are killing crops. The Arctic is melting, and Africa and the Amazon are on fire.”

Although the atmosphere was friendly there was no doubt about the determination of those taking part. There were young mothers with children. Italian Monia Salvini, in Trafalgar Square, was carrying her six-month-old daughter Delia.

She had travelled from her home in east London and said she was there because she feared for her daughter’s future − “but I am not doing it just for her, I am doing it for everybody.”

She had first learned about the climate crisis a year ago, and the more she read the more she realised how urgent it was and how little governments were doing about it. “I thought as soon as my pregnancy is over I must do something.”

There were many homemade placards: “Choose Extinction or Rebellion”, “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”, “Mars for the Privileged, Earth for the Poor”, and “We must rise before the tides.”

Next generation

Sarah, who did not want to give her surname, had travelled overnight by train from Edinburgh with her eight-month-old son and carried a notice reading: “Failure to Grasp Science is not an argument against it.” She said that, while the US and Brazilian governments were a disgrace, the United Kingdom led by Boris Johnson was just as bad “because after his government declared a climate emergency he has taken no action to do anything about it.”

There was a hearse across the road blocking the entrance to Whitehall. It held a coffin covered in flowers, and protestors dressed as undertakers. Trained protestors, ready for arrest, lay in the road beside it, but rather than attempt to move them police directed traffic to turn round.

Most drivers were good-humoured about the disruption to their day even though some were caught in traffic jams for over an hour. More vocal were some taxi drivers who shouted expletives at both the protestors and the police.

Outside Downing Street was a large number of people demanding a Citizen’s Assembly, an idea already being tried in Ireland, France, and in some English cities like Oxford.

A key demand of Extinction Rebellion, the idea is to recruit a cross-section of the population, “ordinary people selected at random”, to learn about climate change from experts and then decide together what should be done about it.

Destined to grow

The assemblies, which would undertake to have “no party politics, no short-term election thinking and no hidden money”, would recommend to governments the best way to get out of the climate crisis.

Among the protestors was 66-year-old Steve Morton, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, “hardly a hotbed of the revolution.” A veteran environmental campaigner for Friends of the Earth for nearly 40 years, he said he had been trying “official channels” for all that time to get action on climate change.

“A lot of the time it felt like banging your head on a brick wall – now, after 40 years, it is so nice to see something is happening, something that could not be ignored.” He was particularly pleased to see that the vast majority of protestors were young people.

So far the police have made no comment on how long they will stand by while central London traffic is halted by the protests. It is not known either whether they have enough cells to hold the hundreds of demonstrators said to be ready for arrest.

What is clear is that the demonstrations are larger than the last set of disruptions in London in April, and better organised and financed. Like the school strikes begun by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, they seem destined to grow. − Climate News Network

Moderate forest damage raises local temperature

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Trees cool the world. They also cool themselves. Even moderate forest damage makes local temperatures soar.

LONDON, 13 September, 2019 − Destruction of the Amazon rainforest is bad news for the planet. It isn’t good news for the people, plants and animals of the region either. And even moderate forest damage raises local temperatures faster than it can affect the average global temperature.

British researchers used comprehensive and systematic sets of satellite data to test the local temperatures of both surviving tropical rainforest in the Amazon basin, and of the surfaces cleared of canopy by fire, axe, drought and grazing.

They report that even if two-thirds of the tree cover survived, the local ground temperature increased. The more canopy that was lost, the more pronounced the effect.

Local thermometer readings went up by almost half a degree in the first 13 years of this century, compared with the original undisturbed forest. And in the dry season, over the areas most affected by severe deforestation, the average temperatures soared by 1.5°C compared with intact forest.

This figure of 1.5°C has almost iconic status. It represents what 195 nations in Paris in 2015 agreed should be the limit of global average warming by the end of the century.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems. But intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate”

Forests – and in particular the tropical rainforests – are part of the global strategy to constrain global heating driven by ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, themselves the product of fossil fuel use and the destruction of grasslands and forests.

In a process called evapotranspiration, great tracts of canopy draw cascades of water from the soil and release it into the atmosphere, to lower local temperatures and at the same time absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide.

But rainforests such as the Amazon are also at risk, directly from human assault and less directly from global heating as higher temperatures increase the hazard of longer droughts, which in turn intensifies the loss of canopy.

And political change in Brazil now means that the planet’s “green lungs” are more at risk than ever, as fires blaze over the region.

Jessica Baker from the University of Leeds and her co-author report in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change that almost one million square kilometres – an area the size of Egypt – of the Amazon has already been cleared: this is nearly a fifth of the original forest.

Damage increases heat

The researchers combed through local studies, satellite observations made by day and night, and other research to grade the forest as intact or no longer intact, and then as moderately or severely affected, and then started comparing averaged data from the three years 2001-2003 with that of 2011-2013.

They found that even if 70% of the canopy survived, the damaged forest was significantly warmer than the nearest intact forest. Towards the end of the dry season of August and September, heavily disturbed forest regions warmed by as much as 1.5°C compared to intact canopy.

“The Amazon wildfires have reminded us all of the important role that forests play in our global systems,” Dr Baker said. “But it cannot be overlooked that intact Amazon forests are also crucially important for Brazil’s local climate.”

And her co-author Dominick Spracklen said: “Evapotranspiration can be thought of as the forest ‘sweating’; when the moisture emitted by the forests evaporates it cools the local climate. Deforestation reduces evapotranspiration, taking away this cooling function and causing local temperatures to rise.

“As temperatures rise this increases drought stress and makes forests more susceptible to burning.” − Climate News Network

Bolsonaro’s legal bonfire fuels Amazon inferno

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Brazil’s president has destroyed the protection enacted by his predecessors, leaving an Amazon inferno to torch the rainforest.

SÃO PAULO , 26 August, 2019 − The dry season in Brazil is only just beginning, but fires are raging throughout the rainforest, leaving an Amazon inferno, and heavy palls of sooty smoke engulfing towns and cities.

The images of huge patches of Earth’s largest tropical forest being reduced to charred ashes and blackened tree stumps have alarmed the world as the planet’s biggest carbon sink is transformed instead into a source of carbon emissions.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who has deliberately weakened public policies which were in place to protect the rainforest and punish illegal loggers and farmers, tried to blame NGOs and indigenous peoples for the fires.
His foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, decided it is all a leftwing plot to destroy Brazil.

The truth is less exotic. All the evidence points to the fires, many inside protected areas and national parks, being deliberately started by land grabbers, ranchers and farmers, to claim the land, once cleared of forest, as theirs.

“The Amazon is our common good”

Encouraged by the president’s openly pro-development, anti-environment agenda, they are so confident that they will not be punished that in one small Amazon town, Novo Progresso, the local paper published a call by local farmers for a “Day of Fire” with the declared aim of showing Bolsonaro they were ready to open up the land for agriculture.

The day chosen was 10 August. The following day INPE, the government’s institute for space research, which monitors the Amazon daily, recorded an explosion of fires, with over 200 in the immediate area, including some in the Jamanxim national forest and the Serra do Cachimbo nature reserve, both protected areas.

INPE recorded over 72,000 fires all over Brazil during the first seven months of this year. The INPE system of deforestation alerts in real time, Deter, showed an increase of 278% over the year before. From August 2018 to July 2019 it showed a total of 6,833 sq kms of cleared forest, up from 4,572 sq kms between August 2017 and July 2018.

When confronted with these statistics, instead of taking steps to halt the fires and the deforestation, Bolsonaro declared the numbers were “lies” and forced the director, Ricardo Galvão, a highly respected scientist, to resign.

Day becomes night

However, what caused the shockwaves that turned the fires into an international crisis was the huge black cloud of smog which descended on São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest metropolis, on Monday 19 August, turning day into night.

Scientists, with the aid of satellite images from Nasa, concluded that the cloud came from fires in Brazil’s mid-west and north, as well as from neighbouring Bolivia and Paraguay.

INPE researcher Saulo Ribeiro de Freitas, quoted by FAPESP, São Paulo’s scientific research institute, said that the mass of polluted air generated by the fires in these areas was pushed to a height of 5,000m by the winds blowing from east to west, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, until they hit the Andes mountains.

Then the air was blown south by the anti-cyclone system. de Freitas explained that “the convergence of this mass of polluted air coming from the north with a cold front coming from the south” produced “a river of soot which mingled with other pollutants in the atmosphere, like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and methane, to form a smog.”

For the first time, inhabitants of São Paulo were feeling the direct impact of the Amazon fires, over 2,000 miles away. Even so, it took the government several more days before it reacted, ordering Air Force planes into the air to spray water, and boosting local firefighting teams with units of the national guard.

Forest defences sabotaged

This belated action was triggered by the international repercussions, with the Amazon fires making their way onto the agenda of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, thanks to French president Emmanuel Macron, who said: “The Amazon is our common good.”

France has a physical stake in the Amazon region because of French Guiana, officially a regional department of France. Nine countries include a part of the Amazon basin in their territories.

It is not the first time that the G7 has put the Amazon and its role in global warming on its agenda. In 1991 it established a US$250 million Pilot Programme (PPG7) for the preservation of tropical forests in Brazil, which funded the demarcation of indigenous reserves and sustainable development projects.

More recently, Norway and Germany set up the Amazon Fund to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation through grants to local authorities and NGO projects. Due to interference by the environment minister, Ricardo Salles, who tried to discredit the NGO projects, Norway and Germany have suspended some of their funding, leaving local authorities without the money for firefighting activities.

Through its own actions, the Bolsonaro government has not only encouraged the assault on the Amazon rainforest, but deliberately sabotaged the public policies put in place by previous governments and other countries to defend it. − Climate News Network

Brazilians reject Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network

The prospect of more atomic energy for Brazil, envisaged under President Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan, fails to impress many of his compatriots.

SÃO PAULO, 6 July, 2019 − President Jair Bolsonaro’s nuclear plan is leaving many of his fellow Brazilians distinctly unenthusiastic at the prospect not of pollution alone but also of perceptible risk.

A few days ago a procession of men, women and children carrying banners and placards wound its way through the dry parched fields in the country’s semi-arid region in the north-east. It was a Sunday, and the crowd was led by the local bishop. But this was not one of the customary religious processions appealing for rain.

This time, the inhabitants of the small dusty town of Itacuruba were protesting against plans to install a nuclear plant on the banks of the river where they fish and draw their water.

The São Francisco river, which rises in the centre of Brazil and meanders its way 1,800 miles north and east to the Atlantic, is Brazil’s largest river flowing entirely within the country.

Over the years five dams and a scheme to divert and channel water to irrigate the region have severely reduced its volume.

“If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected”

Now the local population sees a new threat on the horizon: a nuclear reactor drawing water from the already diminished river, returning heated water that will kill the fish and bringing with it the risk of accidents and radiation.

So over 100 organisations have come together to form the Antinuclear Sertão (Semi-arid) movement, supported by the Catholic church, to challenge the planned reactor and denounce the risks it would bring.

The alarm was raised when the government’s proposed National Energy Plan 2050 was revealed. It includes plans for 8 new nuclear reactors, the first of them to be located in Itacuruba, and a £3 billion (R$14.4bn) contract to finish the Angra 3 reactor, begun over 30 years ago by Siemens KWU, but abandoned in 1986.

This is in spite of Brazil’s chequered history with nuclear power, and an abundant variety of renewable energy alternatives. Two pressurised water reactors (PWUs), Angra 1 and 2, were built over 40 years ago by Westinghouse and Siemens KWU respectively, near Rio de Janeiro.

Low output

Together they supply just 3% of national energy needs, while Itaipu, Brazil’s largest hydroelectric dam, a bi-national project with Paraguay, alone supplies 15%.

Hydropower provides over 60% of Brazil’s energy needs, and the share of other renewables, wind, solar and biomass, although still regarded as unreliable by the government, is steadily increasing. But nuclear energy remains a cherished dream for some in the government of Jair Bolsonaro.

Leonam Guimarães, president of Eletronuclear, the company responsible for the three Angra reactors (in Portuguese), likes to point out that Brazil is one of only three countries, along with the US and Russia, which possess the three conditions needed for the complete process: it has some of the world’s largest uranium reserves, it dominates enrichment technology, and it has reactors.

For Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, finishing Angra 3 “is a priority project.” More alarmingly, one of President Bolsonaro’s sons, Eduardo, a federal congressman, said recently: “If Brazil had an atom bomb we would be more respected” (in Portuguese).  Nobody took him seriously, and Brazil did sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1998.

Finishing Angra 3 will cost approximately £3bn. The estimated cost of the proposed new reactor at Itacuruba is £6bn. Nobody knows where the money will come from or whether these figures are realistic. The Brazilian economy is stagnating, with growth at a standstill.

Leak possibility

And what about the risks? Professor Heitor Scalambrini Costa, an energy specialist, said the reactor at Itacuruba would bring risks to the entire São Francisco river basin.

“Installing a nuclear reactor next to the São Francisco river brings the possibility of a leak of radioactive material”, he said. He pointed out that the river passes through 5 states, inhabited by several million people.

The protestors also have a local law on their side. It bans the installation of any nuclear plant unless all renewable sources, including hydropower, have been exhausted. That could be a long way ahead.

Bolsonaro’s government might dream of nuclear energy, his son might even dream of a nuclear bomb, but the law and economic reality are likely to get in the way. − Climate News Network