Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has derided Greta Thunberg after the teenage climate activist added her voice to growing international condemnation of a surge of anti-indigenous violence in the Amazon.
“It is shameful that the world remains silent about this,” the 16-year-old campaigner added.
Bolsonaro – who activists accuse of green-lighting a new era of destruction and violence with his hardline anti-environment rhetoric – hit back on Tuesday.
“Greta’s been saying Indians have died because they were defending the Amazon,” a smirking Bolsonaro told reporters outside the presidential palace in Brazil’s capital, Brasília.
“It’s amazing how much space the press gives this kind of pirralha,” Bolsonaro added, using a Portuguese word that loosely translates as “little brat” or “pest”.
Bolsonaro had initially failed to remember Thunberg’s name, labelling her simply “that girl”.
Thunberg appeared to take Bolsonaro’s disparagement as a badge of honour, changing her Twitter biography to “Pirralha”.
Thunberg is far from alone in challenging Bolsonaro over the spike in rainforest destruction and attacks on indigenous communities during his first year in power.
Brazil’s Indigenous Missionary Council rights group reported in September that 153 indigenous territories had been invaded since the start of 2019 – more than twice last year’s figure of 76 – and said Bolsonaro’s “aggressive” talk was partly responsible.
After Saturday’s killings in the northern state of Maranhão, Brazil’s former environment minister, Marina Silva, tweeted: “This Amazon bloodbath demands a strong and swift response from Brazilian authorities.”
“We have been cut adrift and left unprotected by the Brazilian state,” wrote Sônia Guajajara, a prominent indigenous leader.
In a recent interview, the Amazon senator Randolfe Rodrigues said Brazil’s native peoples stood at a historic juncture as Bolsonaro pushed ahead with plans to open their lands to commercial mining.
“Not since the [1964-85] dictatorship have Brazil’s indigenous peoples felt as threatened as they do now,” Rodrigues said.
The Amazon has reached a “tipping point” where the rainforest has begun to self-destruct—and a “major reforestation project” is required to save it, according to the editors of a leading scientific journal.
In an editorial, Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre wrote that deforestation and fires are increasingly threatening the functioning of the rainforest, hampering its ability to act as a crucial carbon sink, a stronghold of biodiversity and critical link in the global water cycle.
“Although 2019 was not the worst year for fire or deforestation in the Amazon, it was the year when the extent of fires and deforestation in the region garnered full global attention,” the authors wrote in the Science Advances editorial. “The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we.”
In many parts of the Amazon, deforestation—which now affects around 17 percent of the basin—is helping to convert the landscape in many areas into tropical savannah, hindering the forest’s ability to sustain itself by producing its own rainfall.
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“Researchers predict that deforestation will lead to developing savannahs mainly in the eastern and southern Amazon, perhaps extending into central and southwestern areas, because these zones are naturally close to the minimum amount of rainfall required for the rain forest to thrive,” the authors wrote.
This process is being exacerbated by human-driven global warming which is leading to reduced rainfall and increased temperatures in the region.
The authors say there are already signs the tipping point is “at hand”: for example, a lengthening and hotter dry season, periodic historically unprecedented droughts and the shifting composition of tree species towards those which favor drier climates.
Studies are showing that the role of the Amazon as a carbon sink is declining over time as deforestation spreads—a process that will have significant implications for global warming.
“The atmospheric carbon dioxide removal rate has declined over percent in comparison to the 1990s,” Nobre—a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences from the University of Sao Paulo—told Newsweek. “The occurrence of a sequence of very severe droughts in 2006, 2010 and 2015-16 also increased tree mortality and emission rates. Considering removals and emissions—including deforestation and fires—the Amazon has moved from being a relevant sink to being a source of about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide in the last decade.”
Furthermore, the destruction of the Amazon would also harm its role as a provider of freshwater for every country in South America—except for Chile, which is blocked by the Andes mountains.
“Bluntly put, the Amazon not only cannot withstand further deforestation but also now requires rebuilding as the underpinning base of the hydrological cycle if the Amazon is to continue to serve as a flywheel of continental climate for the planet and an essential part of the global carbon cycle as it has for millennia,” the authors wrote.
In order to “build back a margin of safety,” Lovejoy and Nobre recommend a “major reforestation project,” particularly in the southern and eastern Amazon.
“Any additional increment of deforestation should be matched by three times as much reforestation, with details tailored at national levels,” they said. “Citizens and leaders across South America and around the world must create and promote a new vision of the Amazon, one that recognizes that the natural and economic assets of the region must be managed to maintain its essential role for South America and in sustaining the health of the planet.”
“This new vision will need to respect and protect its natural infrastructure and include a thoughtful review of all related commercial activities.”
This new vision would require putting a stop to “illogical and short-sighted” agricultural practices such as monocultures of cattle, soybeans and sugarcane. Instead, the authors advocate sensible use of intact forests, the harnessing of power from its massive flowing rivers, or the sustainable harvesting of biological assets.
But how successful could such measures be when it comes to stopping or reversing the destruction being wrought in the Amazon, especially given the apparent lack of concern of the Brazilian government—whose territory hosts the majority of the forest.
“If the matter is taken with the seriousness it deserves—and it is recognized the Amazon must be managed as a system—then it should be possible,” Lovejoy—a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University—told Newsweek. “We don’t believe the current [Brazilian] government is interested in going down in history as the administration which tipped the system into dieback/savannahization.”
Nobre added: “All the Amazonian countries have forest restoration in their commitments towards reaching the Paris agreement targets. For instance, Brazil intends to restore 12 million hectares of forest by 2030. The big open question is still the financing of such activities and progress was not achieved at the 25th U.N. Climate Change Conference on how to fund such urgent mitigation actions.”
The authors conclude the article by arguing that we currently stand in a “moment of destiny.”
“The tipping point is here, it is now,” they wrote. “The peoples and leaders of the Amazon countries together have the power, the science, and the tools to avoid a continental-scale, indeed, a global environmental disaster. Together, we need the will and imagination to tip the direction of change in favor of a sustainable Amazon.”
(CNN)While the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest may constitute an “international crisis,” they are hardly an accident.
The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle. The practice is on the rise, encouraged by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s populist pro-business president, who is backed by the country’s so-called “beef caucus.”
While this may be business as usual for Brazil’s beef farmers, the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
So, for those wondering how they could help save the rainforest, known as “the planet’s lungs” for producing about 20% of the world’s oxygen, the answer may be simple. Eat less meat.
It’s an idea that Finland has already floated. On Friday, the Nordic country’s finance minister called for the European Union to “urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports” over the Amazon fires.
Last year the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef — the highest volume in history — generating $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (Abiec), an association of more than 30 Brazilian meat-packing companies.
The growth of Brazil’s beef industry has been driven in part by strong demand from Asia — mostly China and Hong Kong. These two markets alone accounted for nearly 44% of all beef exports from Brazil in 2018, according to the USDA.
And a trade deal struck in June between South America’s Mercosur bloc of countries and the European Union could open up even more markets for Brazil’s beef-packing industry.
Speaking after the agreement as announced, the head of Abiec, Antônio Camardelli, said the pact could help Brazil gain access to prospective new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand, while boosting sales with existing partners, like the EU. “A deal of this magnitude is like an invitation card for speaking with other countries and trade blocs,” Camardelli told Reuters in July.
Once implemented, the deal will lift a 20% levy on beef imports into the EU.
But, on Friday, Ireland said it was ready to block the deal unless Brazil took action on the Amazon.
In a statement Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described as “Orewellian” Bolsonaro’s attempt to blame the fires on environmental groups. Varadkar said that Ireland will monitor Brazil’s environmental actions to determine whether to block the Mercosur deal, which is two years away.
He added Irish and European farmers could not be told to use fewer pesticides and respect biodiversity when trade deals were being made with countries not subjected to “decent environmental, labor and product standards.”
In June, before the furor over the rainforest began, the Irish Farmers Association called on Ireland not to ratify the deal, arguing its terms would disadvantage European beef farmers.
And, with that growth, comes steep environmental costs.
Brazil’s space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil is 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.
Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, told CNN that the burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for mechanized and modern agribusiness projects.
Farmers wait until the dry season to start burning and clearing areas so their cattle can graze, but this year’s destruction has been described as unprecedented. Environmental campaigners blame this uptick on Bolsonaro, who they say has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.
Brush fires burn in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on August 20.
Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires, but a clear shift seems to be underway.
Beef is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions. And methane — the greenhouse gas cattle produce from both ends — is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.
An alarming report released last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said changing our diets could contribute 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Namely, eating less meat.
Still, global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade according to projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
A joint report predicted global production would increase 16% between 2017 and 2027 to meet demand.
The majority of that expansion will be in developing countries, like Brazil.
To Brazil’s National Congress, the Special House Committee, and President Michel Temer:
We demand that you listen to the appeal of the Brazilian people and stop, once and for all, passing laws, decrees, and any other irresponsible legislative measure to please the interests of powerful parties and politicians. This abuse triggers deforestation and the irreversible destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is part of the shared heritage of humanity for present and future generations.