Brazil’s deforestation soars under Trumpy prez; U.S. climate hawks pivot locally

Brazil’s deforestation soars under Trumpy prez; U.S. climate hawks pivot locally

July 22, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Andre Pagliarini explains what accompanies the deforestation: violence.

Freshly cut eucalyptus awaits transportation in the Comexatibá Indigenous Territory in Bahia state, Brazil.
Freshly cut eucalyptus awaits transportation in the Comexatibá Indigenous Territory in Bahia state, Brazil.

After the tragic murders of journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous rights advocate Bruno Pereira last month, the world angrily decried the lawlessness that seems to have gripped the Amazon region under far-right extremist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who’s up for reelection in October. The area where Phillips, a British freelance journalist working on a book called How to Save the Amazon, and Pereira, a former Brazilian government official committed to Indigenous rights, went missing is sparsely inhabited and so vast it could fit the state of Texas five times over. It is difficult to keep track of what goes on there, so in an attempt to shield his administration from any culpability, Bolsonaro treated the horrific incident with a degree of fatalism that bordered on victim blaming. Phillips, he said, “was frowned upon in the Amazon region” because of his extensive reporting on the illegal exploitation of the rain forest and should have trodden more carefully. (Amnesty International later denounced these “cruel and insensitive comments,” which were pretty on-brand for Bolsonaro.)

The murders of Phillips and Pereira are part of a pattern. On Bolsonaro’s watch, there has been a huge uptick in illegal deforestation and violent land grabs. His first minister of the environment resigned after federal investigators said he was involved in a conspiracy to smuggle timber out of the country. As an experienced journalist, Phillips had reported extensively on the degradation of the Amazon, drawing international attention to criminal activities that the perpetrators would prefer stay far out of the limelight. Pereira, a dogged advocate for the rights of native peoples, was also a nuisance to those who would rip undue profit from the rain forest and its inhabitants. This combustible climate in one of the world’s most biodiverse places has forced Bolsonaro into a defensive position on the Amazon, some 60 percent of which is in Brazil, throughout his presidency. However, confronting illegal deforestation in the Amazon, as I’ve previously written, “would require making commitments that are anathema to Bolsonaro’s political agenda.” Amazon deforestation today is perpetrated mainly by illicit prospectors, loggers, and cattle ranchers—some of Bolsonaro’s biggest supporters.

Bolsonaro’s opponent in October will be Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He was the president who from 2003 to 2010 brought about major social and economic reform, lifting 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. His record on deforestation was a huge improvement. For the Indigenous people, not so much. For instance, Lula was criticized and protested against for demarcating and thus protecting far fewer Indigenous territories than his immediate predecessors. Bolsonaro, on the other hand, is openly racist. He’s said he’ll not demarcate any other Indigenous lands. 

The Pataxó people have waited seven years for the presidential decree formally demarcating their territory and giving them full legal rights to it. This year, they’d finally had enough with the delay while plantation operators encroached on that territory, as reported by Sarah Sax. A month ago today, some 180 of them occupied a eucalyptus plantation inside the boundaries of what is meant to be their territory in Bahia state and set fire to the fast-growing trees that are used for pulp. A few days later, they posted a video manifesto citing the damage to their lands and health that this and other plantations have inflicted on them with pesticides and water pollution.

As the murders of Phillips, Pereira, and countless Indigenous people over the years show, confronting the forces that make money off deforestation is not something the Pataxó take lightly. A few days after the tree burning, another group of about 100 took over a mostly abandoned pasture. They were soon confronted and run off at gunpoint, according to a report by the Indigenist Missionary Council, a rights advocacy group that’s affiliated with the Catholic Church. No casualties, though the risk is always there. But like the rainforest itself, the Pataxós’ survival is always at risk as long as racism and greed aren’t curbed.    

In place of the eucalyptus, Sax writes, the Pataxó have started planting native fruit trees like amesca, imabaúba, and sapucaí.

“The Pataxó families need the land for their survival, and to promote Indigenous agriculture, religious practices and protection of existing natural resources,” an Indigenous chief says in a video. “We ask for help from the Brazilian and international authorities and society. Support the Indigenous cause, which is true and legitimate. We can’t take it anymore, this land is our flesh, the water is our blood and the forest is our spirit. Pulp, monoculture and extensive farming are destroying everything.

WEEKLY ECO -VIDEO

You can read details of the study results referenced in the following video here and here

GREEN TAKES

Climate Activists Pivot to Local Action, Frustrated by Washington Gridlock

Reporters at Bloomberg Green found that ticked-off climate hawks in various organizations are switching gears in the wake of Joe Manchin’s deep-sixing the Biden administration’s attempt to salvage some climate elements from the Build Back Better proposal that the fossil-fueled West Virginia senator had previously wrecked:

Jamal Raad of Evergreen Action
Jamal Raad.

Many climate groups that had been focused on Washington since the 2020 election are now reassessing strategy. Jamal Raad, executive director of Evergreen Action, a climate lobbying group, said his organization is pushing for executive orders but is also expanding their state-focused approach. “We now have a state policy director and a state campaigns director that is working directly with governors and groups like US Climate Alliance,” he said. “I think that investment will be more important now.”

Over the past couple of decades, some states and more than 200 cities have set goals for emissions reduction and renewable energy expansion for themselves. But even some of the most forward-looking of these jurisdictions, like California, are not yet on a trajectory to attain these goals. 

Said John Paul Mejia, national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, “We have to make the intentional decision to start building powerhouses locally across communities in this country.” One of Sunrise’s ideas is the Green New Deal for schools. This would entail spurring middle school, high school, and college students to involve themselves in local climate action and campaigning for pro-climate supporters on school boards. Sunrise has faced internal criticism for past failures to adequately support its local hubs.

Julio López Varona, co-chief of Campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a collective of community groups, said, “We know that Black and brown folks care about the environment, but we also know that they have not been reached out to.” 

Focusing on the benefits to localities and states of climate-related policies could make them more palatable to people now resistant to them. But federal policy remains essential. For now—and now could last a long time if Democrats lose their slim majorities in Congress in the November midterm elections—local actions and policymaking will fill in the gap that obstructionists have created.

Report: U.S. on track to fall ‘significantly short’ of its climate goals

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The Rhodium Group, a think tank founded in 2003 that follows environmentalism as well as China’s and India’s economies, has for the past eight years provided an annual assessment of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and progress toward achieving the nation’s climate goals. In its 2022 Taking Stock report released last week, Rhodium evaluated current U.S. climate-related policies, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Environmental Protection Agency’s new standards for light-duty vehicles, and state-level renewable energy targets:

Given these trends and current federal and state policies in force as of June 2022, we find that the US is on track to reduce emissions 24% to 35% below 2005 levels by 2030, absent any additional policy action. This falls significantly short of the US’s pledge under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. These estimates represent a rosier outlook for emissions reductions compared to Taking Stock 2021 (which estimated a 17-30% reduction by 2030 under current policy), but this change is largely attributable to slower macroeconomic growth projections and higher fossil fuel prices—not large policy changes. Even by 2035, GHG emissions remain stubbornly high at 26% to 41% below 2005 levels

Zoya Tierstin at Grist notes that the key takeaway from the report is that estimates “can change at the drop of a hat.” For instance, if the Democrats somehow managed to pass climate legislation before the midterms, it could put the U.S. on a path to a 50% reduction in emissions by 2035. It seems almost certain they won’t. And if instead they decide to ramp up natural gas production and are blocked from injecting more climate-related funding into the economy because of inflation, then reaching those goals will definitely be out of the question. “Uncertainty is our watchword” this year, a Rhodium Group spokesperson stated in a press release. 

The case of the missing fireflies

Firefly
A firefly flashes hopefully.

Vox has begun its second season of Today, Explained to KidsIn each episode, a group of friends travels to the magical Island of Explained, where they will take on “some of the biggest questions in the world.” 

In Today, Explained to Kids: The case of the missing fireflies, Luz the firefly is missing, and producers Izii and Sara want to know why. They take a trip to the Island of Explained, where they learn why whole species are losing their habitats and what humans can do about it.

Listen to the episode with the young people in your life—or just because—and then come back here to download our educational activities that build on what we learned in the episode. Thanks to early childhood education specialist Rachel Giannini for developing our learning materials!

ECO-TWEET

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ECOPINION

Cities Should Pay Farmers to Get Drought-Smart Irrigation by Robert Glennon at The Conversation. Limits on watering lawns won’t solve the West’s water crisis. “Most farms that irrigate are small operations with fewer than 50 acres (20 hectares) and less than $150,000 in annual revenues. But large-scale farms, with annual revenues over $1 million, use about 60% of irrigated water. Bigger farms have the necessary capital to invest in sprinkler systems, but not necessarily enough to invest in highly efficient subsurface drip or microirrigation. Existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs offer modest incentives, usually a maximum of $100 per acre – not enough to justify switching for most farmers. Helping farmers switch to high-efficiency irrigation systems would benefit the entire Southwest. I propose a two-pronged approach.”

The U.S. plan to avoid extreme climate change is running out of time by Chris Mooney and Harry Stevens at The Washington Post. “In 101 months, the United States will have achieved President Biden’s most important climate promise—or it will have fallen short. Right now it is seriously falling short, and for each month that passes, it becomes harder to succeed until at some point—perhaps very soon—it will become virtually impossible. That’s true for the United States, and also true for the planet, as nearly 200 nations strive to tackle climate change with a fast-dwindling timeline for doing so. … At the center of the Biden administration’s climate policy is a promise, made in 2021, to slash U.S. emissions by 50 to 52 percent by the end of 2030—101 months from this August—against what they were in 2005. Achieving this target would require a significant reshuffling of the American economy—millions of new electric cars on the road, transformations of key industries to rely more on renewable energy, and probably millions of jobs focused on making this happen.”

Chart shows the center of a range of projected emissions under current U.S. policies

It Took a Climate Crisis to Rehabilitate the Nuclear Power Industry by Liza Featherstone at The New RepublicPeople who once feared reactor meltdowns and toxic waste have come to see nuclear energy as an acceptable alternative to the greater danger of fossil fuels. “Two weeks ago, environmentalists reacted with concern to news that Germany, with the backing of the Green members of its coalition government, has decided to go ahead with a plan to close its remaining nuclear reactors. The Bundestag voted to reopen several coal-powered plants instead of prolonging nuclear power to replace the recently reduced supply of Russian gas. The discourse around the news highlighted a profound transformation that’s been occurring quietly over the last few decades: At one point, most environmentalists would have agreed with the German government’s decision to close nuclear plants. Not anymore. Now we’re terrified because we fear the climate crisis far more.”

George Monbiot
George Monbiot

This heatwave has eviscerated the idea that small changes can tackle extreme weather by George Monbiot at The Guardian. “Can we talk about it now? I mean the subject most of the media and most of the political class has been avoiding for so long. You know, the only subject that ultimately counts – the survival of life on Earth. Everyone knows, however carefully they avoid the topic, that, beside it, all the topics filling the front pages and obsessing the pundits are dust. Even the Times editors still publishing columns denying climate science know it. Even the candidates for the Tory leadership, ignoring or downplaying the issue, know it. Never has a silence been so loud or so resonant. This is not a passive silence. It is an active silence, a fierce commitment to distraction and irrelevance in the face of an existential crisis. It is a void assiduously filled with trivia and amusement, gossip and spectacle. Talk about anything, but not about this. But while the people who dominate the means of communication frantically avoid the subject, the planet speaks, in a roar becoming impossible to ignore. These days of atmospheric rage, these heatshocks and wildfires ignore the angry shushing and burst rudely into our silent retreat. We have seen nothing yet.”

Californians will still get burned under solar killer proposal by Jessica Guadalupe Tovar at PV-Magazine. NEM 3.0 would be disastrous for locally produced solar energy and harm vulnerable communities who want access to local solar and jobs. Once again, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is trying to kill off net metering, which compensates owners of rooftop solar energy arrays for the local clean electricity they generate and export to the grid. The CPUC’s latest proposal, dubbed NEM 3.0, replaces a proposal that received an avalanche of community criticism earlier this year. Now, the CPUC is back with what it is advertising as a new approach, but it’s still a threat. Don’t be fooled, NEM 3.0 is another attack on net metering in California, designed to further enrich the state’s corporate utilities. SoCal Edison, SDG&E and PG&E see the value of our solar sector, and they do not want to share that value with everyday Californians. We must not allow utilities to colonize our emerging clean energy future —  to control our solar energy — by hoarding profits and power.”

McKibben October 2015
Bill McKibben.

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now interviews Bill McKibben about the “appalling” European heat wave he says demands massive climate action. McKibben: “The scariest thing, really, about what’s happening this week, not just in Europe, but also in China, where there’s an extraordinary heat wave underway, and also across much of the U.S. — the temperature is going to be 104 in Minneapolis today, I think — the scariest thing is, we’re in the middle of a La Niña, a cold cycle on this planet. As you know, we break new global temperature records normally when we’re in an El Niño phase in the Pacific, but June, last month, was the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. When we next have an El Niño, the numbers are going to be just completely off the charts. This is very, very scary.”

To Reduce Methane Emissions, Take on the Oil and Gas Companies by Rishika Pardikar at Jacobin. “At the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last year, President Joe Biden called methane ‘one of the most potent greenhouse gasses’ and said that the United States and Europe would work collectively to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Since then, more than a hundred countries worldwide have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge. To help meet that pledge, US and European officials at a side event on the matter at a United Nations climate change conference in Bonn, Germany last month targeted one culprit in particular: the agriculture and livestock sector, particularly in African and Asian countries. That’s because manure, certain cultivation techniques, and gastroenteric releases account for a significant portion of methane emissions. But these officials failed to address one of the largest and easy-to-fix sources of methane: emissions from the oil and gas sector, both from production of oil and gas as well as leaks across the supply chain.”

ECO-QUOTE

“I’m not going to sugarcoat my disappointment here, especially since nearly all issues in the climate and energy space had been resolved. This is our last chance to prevent the most catastrophic—and costly—effects of climate change. We can’t come back in another decade and forestall hundreds of billions—if not trillions—in economic damage and undo the inevitable human toll.” — Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR LISTEN TO)

The Field Report: In DC, Lawmakers Push ‘Common Sense’ Food Waste Solution by Lisa Held at Civil Eats. “A new bill would make it easier for businesses and organizations to donate surplus food, helping fight hunger and reduce food waste. Every day, the U.S. wastes the equivalent of 1,000 calories of food per person—enough to feed more than 150 million people each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That waste of resources also produces huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and food sent to landfills becomes an additional climate liability.”

When the Power Goes Out, Who Suffers? Climate Epidemiologists Are Now Trying to Figure That Out by Laura Baisas at InsideClimate News. “Joan Casey of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and her team of 10 multi-disciplinary researchers across the United States are among the first researchers taking a comprehensive look at how power outages affect public health. They have also begun studying the negative health impacts of wildfires, including an intriguing possibility that wildfire smoke could hasten the onset of dementia. Casey and company are part of a growing new field: climate epidemiology. ‘At a basic level, climate epidemiology is understanding how our climate and the changes it brought on by man-made decisions are affecting our collective health,’ she said.”

The US Postal Service (USPS) Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) is displayed during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 5, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. Postal Service’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicle is displayed during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 5, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Even under the new scheme, 60% of these USPS vehicles with a 30-plus-year lifespan will be gasoline-powered.

USPS will make 40% of its new trucks electric, up from 10% by Jacob Bogage at The Washington Post. “The Postal Service had been set to purchase as many as 165,000 vehicles from Oshkosh Defense, of which 10 percent would have been electric under the original procurement plan. Now it will acquire 50,000 trucks from Oshkosh, half of which will be EVs. It will also buy another 34,500 commercially available vehicles, with sufficient electric models to make 4 in 10 trucks in its delivery fleet zero-emission vehicles. … Activists at a minimum want the Postal Service’s fleet to consist of at least 75 percent EVs, though the agency’s Office of Inspector General found that 95 percent of delivery routes are suitable for electrification.”

Solar, storage projects set to bring jobs, tax revenue to Illinois coal communities by Kari Lydersen at Renewable Energy World. “Solar panels and energy storage will be paired on the sites of six retired coal plants in downstate Illinois under a provision of last fall’s sweeping state energy law.  The sites for the installations were recently announced, along with five other former coal plants that will host standalone energy storage projects. Vistra, which owns the solar-plus-storage sites, will receive a premium for renewable energy credits at those locations, while the state will provide grants to the battery-only projects, owned by Vistra and NRG Energy.  The companies and other proponents hailed the program as a pioneering model, helping to create jobs, bolster the tax base and generate clean energy in communities where coal plants have closed. Vistra spokesperson Meranda Cohn called it ‘a first-in-the-nation fleet transformation of legacy coal plants into renewable energy centers.’”

Power outages were widespread in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida.
Power outages were widespread in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida.

The EPA has more options to rein in climate change than you think by Elizabeth Shogren at High Country News. “Even though the Clean Power Plan never took effect, the shift away from coal is happening far more quickly than the Obama administration predicted. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has promised to build on that progress despite the court ruling, noting that coal plants pollute the air, water and land in various other ways and that the agency will still require them to clean up their act. Many of those plants will shut down rather than pay to install pollution controls. “The decision does constrain what we do, but let me be clear it doesn’t take us out of the game,” Regan told the PBS NewsHour in early July. ‘We still will be able to regulate climate pollution.’ … To Earthjustice lawyer Jenny Harbine, though, the EPA’s talk of its response to the Supreme Court ruling rings a bit hollow.”

Lack of investment and innovation adds to worries of grid failure and outages by Landon Stevens at Utility Dive. “Because grid investments are often the ‘can kicked down the road’ and regulatory oversight crosses multiple jurisdictions, adequate investments to the grid have not been made. ‘Investing in transmission gives consumers access to electricity that is more affordable, reliable, and clean,’ claims a report from Americans for a Clean Energy Grid. ‘Dozens of studies from grid operators, national laboratories, and others have found that transmission investment provides large net benefits, several times greater than its costs.’”

A Chinese worker installs solar panels on top of containers being converted into homes.
A Chinese worker installs solar panels on top of containers being converted into homes. 

China’s ambitious rooftop solar pilot helps drive ‘blistering’ capacity growth by Chloé Farand at Climate Change News. “In September 2021, the National Energy Bureau promoted a pilot scheme that allows local authorities to partner with solar developers, often state-owned companies, to meet rooftop solar targets for different sectors. By the end of 2023, the bureau proposed to cover with solar panels 50% of rooftop space on party and government buildings, 40% of schools, hospitals and other public buildings, 30% of industrial and commercial spaces and 20% of rural households. A total of 676 counties from 31 provinces have registered for the scheme. … The program has been hailed for the way it delivers a top-down policy in a decentralized manner. In the first five months of the year, China’s overall installed solar capacity was 24 gigawatts—a year-on-year increase of close to 140%. The pilot program alone could deliver installed capacity around 100GW, analysts estimate. If the policy is rolled out across the country, it could eventually reach 600GW. Currently, China’s total installed solar capacity is 307GW, a third of worldwide total of 939GW. The U.S. has an installed solar PV capacity of 97GW.”

ECOBITS

Water resources to become less predictable with climate change • BLM approves 500 MW Oberon Solar Project on 2,700 acres in California desert SOLV Energy, SEI partner to empower women in solar 5 Ideas for Simple DIY Vertical Gardens in Small Spaces With Climate Change, Nights Are Warming Faster than Days. Why? Texas narrowly avoids rolling blackouts after 2nd conservation plea by ERCOT this week Methane pollution is poorly tracked, so activists on the Navajo Nation are monitoring it themselves • Governments Turn Against Deep-Sea Mining as EV Boom Drives Demand for Metals This Map Will Make You Optimistic About Fighting Climate Change Middle East trip yields little for Biden on oil, climate • EU lawmakers declared natural gas ‘green.’ Now they may face lawsuits.



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