Brazil vows Biden won’t change environmental policy. The number of fires in the Amazon this October was more than twice as many as last year.
Welcome to our Climate Blog!
This week, we’d like to introduce Meghie Rodrigues, a young science journalist from Brazil and a Board member of the Brazilian Network of Science Journalists and Communicators as she shares the latest update from the Burning Kingdom of Bolsonaro
Olá a todos e todas!
This is Meghie writing from long coronavirus confinement in São Paulo, Brazil. With more than 160,000 COVID-19 deaths, we are second only to the USA, and confinement still makes a lot of sense to me (though not to our president). Right now, however, a key debate is whether Brazilians will be open to an experimental mandatory vaccine.
On the climate and environment side, our minister of Environment, Ricardo Salles, has been working hard to “change rules and simplify [environmental] norms while the media only talks about COVID” as he suggested in a cabinet meeting in April.
By the end of September, Salles had approved a decision that reversed the protection of sandbanks and mangroves, opening these areas for exploration. Mangroves have been protected areas in Brazil since 1577, and are critical in countering coastal erosion as well as capturing carbon. It was only then thanks to a proactive lawsuit from the Sustainability Network, that the supreme court blocked the decision.
Meanwhile, both the Amazon and the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland area, are still on fire. According to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE), the number of fires in the Amazon this October was more than twice as many as last year. The Pantanal region has seen the most fires ever, with over 3,000 in the last month alone. More than a quarter of the Pantanal has turned into ashes.
The Pantanal usually attracts thousands of tourists every year searching for giant otters, jaguars, tapirs, hyacinth macaws and other endangered species.
This year, though, the fires (most of them likely to be illegally lit by ranchers) came at the end of an unusually long dry period – a clear effect of the changing climate in the region. This “turned the wetlands into a tinderbox and the fires raged out of control” as the New York Times recently reported.
For Indigenous communities in the area, this has been tragic. Estêvão Bororo described the fires to Mongabay earlier this October, stating that “it came very fast and even surrounded the homes. Even though the houses themselves didn’t catch fire, our leader had to be taken to Rondonópolis because he inhaled a lot of smoke. We have elderly people, pregnant women, new mothers and children here”.
Our presidency doesn’t seem to care.
Last year, smoke from the Amazon forest fires turned the day into the night here in São Paulo, leading to immediate response. This year, a succession of political scandals as well the unrestrained coronavirus crisis meant that it took at least four months before for the government to sent any help.
Amidst it all, however, it looks like most fellow Brazilians, from all regions and classes, do care about the Amazon. A recent national Datafolha poll found that nine in ten Brazilians think it’s important to preserve the Amazon to protect biodiversity. In addition, eight in ten Brazilians think it’s important to protect the Amazon and 70% of women consider the Amazon to be critical to the economy. Men were a little lower, at 59%, but I guess they’re only men, right?
This poll gave me a small sense of respite in what’s been a disparaging few years. I am not sure Bolsonaro is likely to listen to any evidence that doesn’t reinforce his worldview, and the only polls that really seem to matter to him are his hardcore Twitter and Whatsapp “fanbase”.
Vice President Hamilton Mourão, who is also President of the National Council for the Amazon, confirmed that his “environmental policy will not change under Biden.” Soon after, he compared the 94,347 forest fires in the last year to a spilled soup; “There comes a time when the broth spills”.
It might really take us a long time to recover from this collective nightmare we’ve sunk into, but it’s somewhat nice to imagine that even when we are so deeply divided as a nation, it seems that common sense still exists across Brazil.
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