Journalist Heriberto Araujo spent four years reporting on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his new book, which explores the complex web of issues underpinning the deforestation of the world’s largest rainforest.
Last October, when former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the far-right incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, in Brazil’s national election, environmentalists around the world breathed a sigh of relief. Under Bolsonaro, who had weakened environmental protections and pushed to open Indigenous lands to commercial exploitation, deforestation in the Amazon had exploded. Lula has pledged to safeguard his country’s rainforests, but, as Spanish journalist Heriberto Araujo says in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the job won’t be easy.
For his new book, Masters of the Lost Land, Araujo spent four years traveling from his home in Rio de Janeiro to Rondon do Pará, a town in the eastern Brazilian Amazon, to understand how, in less than 60 years, the largest rainforest on the planet has been transformed into an engine of economic growth. Tracing the story of land rights activist José Dutra da Costa, or “Dezinho,” who, before his assassination in 2000, led a revolution among landless peasants, Araujo comes to see how a handful of ranchers managed to grab huge swaths of pristine rainforest and why deforestation, violence, and lawlessness remain pervasive in the region. Continue reading
We can only hope the answer is yes:
With his return as Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is promising to reverse the alarming rate of deforestation in the Amazon. But as he heads to key UN climate talks, his ambitious plans to achieve “zero deforestation” will need to find international support.
The month before Brazil’s October 30 presidential election was the most brutal of Jair Bolsonaro’s term as president. Landowners rushed to illegally clear forest while they could rely on the impunity that had been a characteristic of the Bolsonaro era. From my home in Altamira, I could see flames on the other side of the Xingu River from a blaze large enough to generate its own lightning. Most other days in September and October, my asthmatic lungs tightened and the horizon was shrouded in haze as a consequence of the rushed burn-off. Continue reading
To fight climate change, companies and nonprofits have been promoting worldwide planting campaigns. Getting to a trillion is easier said than done.
On a hot morning in April, near the start of Brazil’s dry season, four women and two men walked single file across a sodden field at the edge of Engenho, a village in the northern part of Goiás State. They wore long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats to protect against the sun, and leather gaiters and gloves to protect against snakes. In a plastic tub, they carried an entire forest. Continue reading
Thanks to Augusto Gomes for bringing this region, unknown to us, to our attention:
In a little-known region that calls to mind Tolkien’s Middle-earth, photojournalist Augusto Gomes marvels at one of the oldest, harshest, most biodiverse – and most threatened – ecosystems on the planet
When I was a child, my family would drive three hours from our home in Belo Horizonte to visit my grandfather’s ranch near the town of Santana dos Montes. On the way, we would cross the Espinhaço mountain range, which runs north to south in the central-eastern portion of Brazil.
Espinhaço means “spine” in Portuguese, and the name could not be more apt. The range spans 1,200km (750 miles), its bony peaks reach as high as 2km, and the thriving, humid Atlantic Forest drops away to the east, foggy and dense with evergreens, ferns, mosses and bromeliads, the air bursting with the strange songs of birds you never see. On the west side of the mountains, the arid, savannah-like Cerrado stretches flat and exposed, with golden grasslands and small, twisted trees. Continue reading
Stewardship has rights and responsibilities, and we expect better both from and for Brazil in their stewardship of the Amazon region. For our part, among other things, we can all avoid purchasing products that result from this deforestation:
International team of researchers also found that deforestation rose nearly four-fold in 2019
The Brazilian Amazon released nearly 20% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed, according to a startling report that shows humanity can no longer depend on the world’s largest tropical forest to help absorb manmade carbon pollution.
From 2010 through 2019, Brazil’s Amazon basin gave off 16.6bn tonnes of CO2, while drawing down only 13.9bn tonnes, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Continue reading
Trust, a kind of social glue, keeps us from having to think nonstop about worst case scenarios. We trust that those with authority, whether intellectual or political, will use it responsibly. Thinking about this recently, I have been adjusting where I have least and greatest trust that responsible environmental actions are taken. Today I have made an adjustment on the former. The USA’s political leadership has been at the forefront of my thought when it comes to least responsible, least trustworthy actions. Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, studies the consequences of deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest, so his word carries scientific weight for me. He has put in perspective why I should turn my attention to Brazil:
Thanks as always to the Guardian for coverage of environmental crises in the making:
Brazil’s ambition to become a palm oil giant could have devastating social and environmental impacts if the move is not carefully managed, say experts Continue reading
Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:
Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.
Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery. Continue reading
On January 31st, 2017 New Directions Publishing is bringing this masterpiece, published originally in Brazil in 1984, to an English-reading audience for the first time:
For André, a young man growing up on a farm in Brazil, life consists of “the earth, the wheat, the bread, our table, and our family.” He loves the land, fears his austere, pious father, who preaches from the head of the table as if from a pulpit, and loathes himself as he begins to harbor shameful feelings for his sister Ana. Lyrical and sensual, written with biblical intensity, this classic Brazilian coming-of-age novel follows André’s tormented path. He falls into the comforting embrace of liquor as—in his psychological and sexual awakening—he must choose between body and soul, obligation and freedom.
I was completing a degree in literature the year this was first published, but Portuguese was not an option for my reading, nor was Brazil really on my map at that time. As a result, or for whatever other reasons, I never heard of this book before.
Work assignments took me to Brazil several times in the intervening decades, and Latin America has been home base for most of the last two decades. I know I must read this, and soon, so it has just moved to the top of my next-book list. But for a very different reason the author has my attention, thanks to this:
In 1984, at the height of his literary fame, Raduan Nassar announced his retirement, to become a farmer. Continue reading
The 2016 Rio Olympics start in two days and in three days athletes will have to face the uncontrolled pollution debris and hazardous water contamination levels. The 1,400 athletes participating in water competitions and 300,000 to 500,000 foreigners expected to visit Rio de Janeiro and the beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema are at risk of becoming ill. This unfortunate predicament comes even after the city’s 2009 Olympic bid when authorities pledged that they would invest in a billion-dollar cleanup program to “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways.” Continue reading
We care deeply about Amazonia, and Brazil is the country with the most deforestation in the river region, specifically from cattle ranching. But good news is coming from The Nature Conservancy in the April/May issue, where, as the article’s subtitle reads, “After decades of turning forests into pastures and fields, Brazilian landowners have begun reversing the trend.” Julian Smith reports for the TNC Magazine:
Lazir Soares de Castro stands amid white and gray Nelore cattle on his ranch in São Félix do Xingu, a remote and sprawling county on Brazil’s northeastern Amazon frontier. Beyond a wooden fence, high grass and scrub brush fade into sporadic trees in the distance.
Still vital at 70, Soares describes how different this area looked when he arrived in 1984, when it was all virgin rainforest. “It was the poorest area. There was no electricity, no telephone, no TV, no roads, nothing.” The military dictatorship then running the country was encouraging settlers to occupy the Amazon in the name of national security. “There was no organized environmental policy,” Soares says.
This post continues my discussion of biofuels from Part 1.
Brazil contains many of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as one of the most important CO2-sinks in the form of rainforests. As the second largest sugarcane grower in the world, Brazil’s biofuel production relies heavily on sugarcane ethanol, which has one of the highest savings in GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels. However, increasing sugarcane production is not sustainable in the long-term if one of Brazil’s goals is to curtail GHG emissions, since growing more sugarcane means cutting down more rainforest. Instead, second- and third-generation (advanced) biofuels should be considered viable options for replacing sugarcane, or at least strongly supplementing it.