Amazon Deforestation, Already Rising, May Spike Under Bolsonaro
By Robert T. Walker
Over the past 25 years that I have been conducting environmental research in the Amazon, I have witnessed the the ongoing destruction of the world's biggest rainforest. Twenty percent of it has been deforested by now—an area larger than Texas.
I therefore grew hopeful when environmental policies began to take effect at the turn of the millennium, and the rate of deforestation dropped from nearly 11,000 square miles per year to less than 2,000 over the decade following 2004.
But a new political climate in Brazil, which set in even before President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, has led to a recent increase in the pace of rainforest felling. And Bolsonaro, a former army officer, made Amazonian development a core campaign pledge.
Damming the Tapajós
At stake is what becomes of the region around the Tapajós River, one of the Amazon's largest tributaries and home to about 14,000 Munduruku tribal people. The Munduruku have until now successfully slowed down and seemingly halted many efforts to turn the Tapajós into the "Mississippi of Brazil."
The Tapajós River is the Amazon's last undammed clearwater tributary. The basin that surrounds it is roughly equal to 15 percent of the Brazilian Amazon region and about the size of France. This remote area has a great deal of biodiversity, and its trees store large quantities of carbon.
Because the Amazon rainforest absorbs a lot of the carbon emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, climate scientists consider its preservation key to preventing an uptick in the pace of global warming.
Brazil is planning to build a series of big new hydroelectric dams and webs of waterways, rail lines, ports and roads that can overcome logistical obstacles standing in the way of exporting commodities and other goods.
The government did suspend plans to build an 8,000-megawatt dam at the heart of this sprawling project in 2016. At the time, it cited the "unviability of the project given the indigenous component" and stated it would stop building big dams in 2018, before Bolsanaro took office.
Yet many observers remain very concerned about how Bolsonaro's presidency will affect the Munduruku and the rainforest they protect. Groups like International Rivers—a nonprofit dedicated to the "protection of rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them"—are not about to declare victory.
South American Gambit
Brazil's Amazon development plans are part of a broader gambit that includes all the South American nations. First conceived in 2000, the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America is designed to build a continental economy through new infrastructure that provides electricity for industrialization and facilitates trade and transportation.
Known widely by its Spanish and Portuguese abbreviations as IIRSA, this initiative is turning the Amazon, 60 percent of which is located on Brazilian territory, into a source of hydropower and a transportation hub connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It will become easier to ship Brazilian soybeans to global markets, and manufacturing will expand, stimulating population growth in the Amazon.
The blueprint for this bid to develop the Amazon, which also includes portions of Peru, Bolivia and six other countries, calls for building more than 600 dams, 12,400 miles of waterways, about 1.2 million miles of roads, a transcontinental railway and a system of ports, much of it in the tropical wilderness.
New Wave of Development
A complex of dams, roads and commercial waterways could turn the remote Tapajos River basin into a South American trading hub in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Michael P. Waylen / University of Florida, CC BY-SA
Bolsonaro has not yet confronted the Munduruku or taken concrete actions to keep his promises about developing the Amazon. But he has taken steps that point in this direction with the officials he has selected for key posts. He has also transferred responsibilities for demarcating indigenous lands from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Agriculture, which an agricultural lobbyist is running.
The new Brazilian president's plans for the Amazon come on the heels of decades of deforestation following the construction of roads and hydropower facilities during the 1960s and 1970s. This initial wave of construction opened the sparsely populated region to an influx of newcomers, and contributed to the destruction of about a fifth of the forest over four decades.
Then came a wave of stronger environmental policies—such as the stricter enforcement of logging laws, the expansion of protected areas and the voluntary decision by soybean farmers to refrain from clearing the forest—which lowered Brazil's Amazon deforestation rate after 2000. It seemed to me and others that a new era of Amazonian conservation had dawned.
But that was before I understood the full implications of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America.
This plan is far more ambitious than earlier infrastructure projects which were completed by the end of the 1970s, and I believe that it could wreak even more destruction.
Should all of its components be built, the new transportation and energy infrastructure would be likely to spark a new wave of deforestation that I fear could have disastrous impacts on the indigenous communities living in the region. The new projects need only to repeat what the earlier projects did. This would bring total deforestation to 40 percent.
Climate scientists such as Carlos Nobre worry that this magnitude of forest loss would push the Amazon to a "tipping point" and undermine the process of rainfall recycling, which replenishes the Amazon's supply of water. The outcome would be a drier climate in the Amazon, which has already begun to experience droughts, and the transformation of the forest into savanna. Indigenous people would suffer, and the Amazon's biodiversity would disappear.
A massive increase in the pace of Amazonian deforestation could bring about climatic changes in both South and North America. Scientists predict that precipitation would decline in many areas of the Americas, including the southeastern part of South America and the Mississippi River Valley. The whole world would suffer from reduced agricultural production in these two regions, which are important global suppliers of agricultural commodities like corn and soybeans.
The Conversation, CC-BY-NDNational Institute for Space Research of Brazil
Attacking the Amazon
To be sure, some of this construction is already underway in Brazil, particularly for hydropower. So far, 140 dams have either been built or are under construction, notably the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River and the Santo Antônio and Jirau dams on the Madeira Rivers. And Bolsonaro's predecessors had downsized some of the Amazon's protected areas to facilitate development.
When Bolsonaro addressed world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland for the first time, he promised to protect the environment in his country—which he called "a paradise."
I remain skeptical, however, given that he seems to be staffing his government in preparation for construction projects that could devastate the Amazon, reducing its biodiversity and destroying its ecological and cultural treasures.
‘There will be an increase in deforestation’: Brazil’s new president signs order endangering amazon and Indigenous… https://t.co/pK7smZHeru— Earth Alliance (@Earth Alliance)1547080047.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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