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“Brazil could become a desert”

“Brazil could become a desert”

Antonio Donato Nobre is one of the most important Brazilian specialists in virgin forest ecology. He advised the government on the Brazilian forest protection law, the “codigo florestal”. He lived and researched  years in Manaus Amazon. He is currently a professor at the Brazilian Institute for Space Research in Sao José dos Campos near São Paulo, which records deforestation and forest fires.

Why was the director of the Brazilian National Institute for the Study of Deforestation in the Amazon Region (INPE), Ricardo Galvão, recently fired by President Bolsonaro? has done highly respected research colleague, outraged by the President’s personal attacks on him. Bolsonaro and his advisers simply said that our rainforest destruction data are blatant lies.

In fact, it is Bolsonaro and his employees who fabricate lies. After these personal attacks against himself and his colleagues, he defended himself in a public statement against the president. And that clearly. The result: one of the most respected scientists in our country was fired and replaced by a military.

The shattering images from the Amazon are just going around the world. What is the current situation on the ground?
It’s really very, very bad. It is clear that the current fires are due to illegal arson by those who want to exploit the forest economically for their particular interests: land robbers, timber merchants and ranchers. If you want to have new land for yourself, go after the old traditional rules of the hinterland: Deface the land and it is yours. So burn down the forest and let you then issue a document that it is now in your possession.

This is a machine of destruction. So it’s really bad and we are only at the beginning of the dry season. The areas in which it burns the most are those with the most proven land rovers, lumberjacks and ranchers. These are the districts of the transition.

In the past these were the forests of Matogrosso, the east of the state of Pará and Tocantins. Today there is hardly any forest left, only remnants, fragments. So now it’s getting to the west of Pará and the state of Amazonia, one of the most intact areas yet. They cut roads in, wood from. An invasion.

Why so slow right now?
This has been going on for a long time. However, by the end of last year, the surveillance and containment of these criminals at least worked reasonably well. Under the Minister of the Environment Marina Silva, at the beginning of the Lula government.

But, under President Dilma Rousseff, the agrarian lobby managed the “Codigo florestal”, a forest protection law, to stamp. And immediately, the rate of deforestation rose again with the onset of significant dismantling of state control bodies.

With the impeachment trial against Dilma Rousseff it got even worse.

And since Bolsonaro is in power, the “agents of jungle destruction” have been completely off the leash. There was a public mediator alliance between the new Minister of the Environment and the loggers, under current law criminals.

In addition, the government has systematically prevented and prevented all control measures to protect the forest. What we have now is the result of these activities of the new government, which now wants to “develop” the Amazon as it sees fit.

Bolsonaro claims that it is the international NGOs that are responsible for the fires …
This is really the peak of the absurd. The NGOs in particular make sure that there are so many projects and programs for sustainable forest management. Incidentally, on this point, the regional governments, the states of the region, are opposed to the federal government. They are really angry.

Just like the individual communities and municipalities. Blaming the NGOs is the same as blaming a raider on the robbery. So it is clear that the responsibility for this fire is borne solely by the Brazilian government and its policy of encouraging criminal activity.

How many fires are actually burning at the moment?
A week ago it was 50.000 single Fire. Yesterday it was already . So an increase of 25 percent within a week. But we do not only record the number of fires, but also the emissions of carbon monoxide. And the current amount emitted by the forest fires is really worrying. And it’s not just burning in South America. There are also huge fires in Congo or Siberia.

Is this a new phenomenon?
No, that’s been good in Brazil years. However, with the exception of the few years at the beginning of the millennium, when Brazil was able to stop the deforestation process in the short term and suddenly took on a kind of role model role for sustainability. The current government has now completely stopped this policy and turned it into its opposite. However, she has achieved a strange effect with it.

Those who have helped power this government, the landlords and lobbyists of agribusiness, suddenly turn against them. It now seems to them that the current policy also harms them enormously. Above all, they are afraid of losing their international sales markets.

People like ex-Senator Katia Abreu or Brazil’s biggest soybean producer Blairo Maggi – both carriers of the dubious Order of the Golden Chainsaw – are now publicly opposed to Bolsonaro’s policies. Maggi, responsible for large-scale forest destruction in Matogrosso, gets cold feet and suddenly worries about Brazil’s extremely poor visibility. And suddenly, the President sends military to fire-fighting and persecuting the arsonists in the region.

What are the direct consequences of the fires?
We have local, regional and of course global impact. All three have already reached a very, very serious, even catastrophic level. Recent, unpublished studies show that the eastern Amazon has already passed the tipping point. The climate has already changed so much that the forest can no longer keep up.

My brother, the meteorologist Carlos Nobre, already has this snowball effect But this process is already in full swing. It all happens much earlier than predicted.

This, in turn, has immense effects on the “biotic pump”, which creates the so-called flying rivers. Air currents that transport moisture emitted by the forest in the atmosphere over thousands of kilometers to Central Brazil with its huge agricultural output and to the Brazilian South, economic center of the country, raining down there and making life in cities such as São Paulo possible.

Without these waters from the Amazon, it would all be desert. And what did we have in São Paulo? Instead of the humidity of the flying rivers, a stream of dark, rust-colored smoke appeared over the city, struck a cold front, and darkened the sky to But it hardly rained. The little that fell from these poisonous clouds was ashes from the Amazon.

The local and regional effects just described have, of course, severe global implications. This is about the connection of the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean and the circulation systems in the atmosphere. The Amazon is the territorial hydrological link between these two oceans and, of course, also affects Europe in this context.

Why? Because the air flows, which are also supplied with moisture, blow across the Atlantic and along the African coast to the Caribbean and South America. These moisture-laden streams of air over the Caribbean Atlantic are, so to speak, the head of the Gulf Stream, which in turn determines the entire climate in Europe. This is a huge, intricate complex system.

What are the consequences?
Another issue is the water evaporation itself. The forest emits moisture, which forms clouds in a few thousand meters by condensation, which in turn cools the underlying earth formations. That’s the vertical effect. Also, we have a horizontal effect: through the just mentioned air currents and winds, the moisture of the hot equatorial areas is transported to the cold, actually very dry northern areas of the planet.

The equatorial forests are therefore existential for the transport of moisture from the tropical zones to the northern regions of the planet. Destroying the Amazon rainforest means attacking the heart of the planet. Moreover, if we destroy this rainforest, we can completely forget the climate goal of no more than two degrees of warming set by the Paris Agreement. The rainforest is a huge store of carbon. Carbon, which is released now. So what’s going on right now is incredibly irresponsible in terms of the climate.

But according to Bolsonaro, Amazonia is only about Brazil itself. He interferes with “interference” from the outside.
The Brazilian right actually speaks uninterrupted by the sovereignty of Brazil. And that we can do what we want with our land. I see it completely different. Especially with what is happening right now, we risk this national sovereignty. By risking the survival of the planet in this way, all you can do is make the whole world turn against Brazil. And that will ultimately lead to the loss of our sovereignty.

Since the beginning of my career I have been fighting to protect the Amazon, because it is our treasure chest and guarantees our sovereignty. Without the forest, Brazil becomes a desert. And not only for Brazil it will be the end. But how do you explain to people that you can not live on our planet anymore? You just can not imagine that. And that’s why it’s so hard for people to understand the consequences.

Is that the reason why the Brazilian public behave so cautiously against this disaster?
But it does happen. The vast majority of the Brazilian population opposes the destruction of the Amazon. I guess it might , 100. 000 from 209 Millions. So because of “sovereignty”. For the sovereignty of who is this? To those of the Brazilian people or those of a small criminal minority?

But always when externally criticized the current incidents in Brazil or help is offered, is usually played the national card and the “Gringos” colonial arrogance, yes even assumption ambitions accused. So what could Europe do here?
First, there is the public concern about what happens with us, very helpful. The pressure generated by this is already considerable. It is constructive and has a positive effect when humanity says: “Wait a minute, what’s going on with you?”

However, you also have to take your own nose and name it , which is wrong with you. On the one hand, Norway plays an extremely positive role for the Amazon Foundation, and at the same time, a Norwegian mining company is causing enormous damage, a disaster. Why are coal-fired power plants still running in Germany, where they do have solar technology that they have developed and brought to the world market?

Why? What we need, all over the world, is what I call “esforço da guerra”. So a reaction that corresponds to the drama of this war. Bolsonaro recommended freezing German funding for rainforest projects in Brazil to Germans using the money to reforest their own forests. Then the federal government has published a very good video about the German forests, which is already done in Germany for it.

Such information helps a lot. They show that it is possible to use the forest without destroying it. Especially as far as the Amazon is concerned, there are countless technical possibilities to preserve it. This is the worst thing ever for people like me who work in the field of environmental engineering. It’s all on the table, it would only need to be funded to put it into practice. Keyword Amazon 4.0

What do you mean by Amazon 4.0?
This is a usage concept developed by my two brothers Ismael and Carlos Nobre. They have developed a system for the economics of biodiversity. A technology incorporated into the Amazonian biological system. You could use the agricultural products of the forest without destroying the forest. This includes the commercial use of cocoa and cupuaçú. You do not have to fell any trees.

The current use of Açaí was the pattern for this concept. No one knew this outside Amazonas years ago. Now it is a worldwide business of more than a billion dollars. Amazon 4.0 shows that with the technical capabilities we have today, the Amazon communities could use and preserve their forests at the same time.

Chocolate production via 3-D printers directly in the forest, distribution of the products of the remote communities via drones or direct sales of such products via the Internet, without intermediaries. This project was on the desk of Bolsonaro. But Ricardo Salles, Bolsonaro’s Minister of the Environment, came around the corner with his anti-environment plan.

Ein verbranntes Gebiet des Amazonas-Regenwaldes im Reservat Serra do Cachimbo im Bundesstaat Para.
A burned Amazon rainforest in the Serra do Cachimbo Reserve in the state of ParaPhoto: Leo Correa / AP / dpa

So it makes no sense to try to win this government for yourself?
The current central government in Brasilia certainly not. But state governments are now trying to get European aid directly. There are still countless other great projects lying on the table to save the Amazon while making good use of it. What is missing is the money to realize it.

Getting the money from the Amazon Foundation to protect the forest is extremely difficult. Why? Europe pays the money for this foundation to the Brazilian development bank BNDES and it acts like a bank. It takes forever for the funds to be released. The INPE had to wait two years for the funds for the current forest monitoring coming from this fund.

Can the rainforest still be saved?
I do not have a crystal ball. We already have the disaster. I said, well five to six years. It’s a bit as if the plane is already off-hook, you’re too late, you can not get in there anymore. That’s why I say it makes no sense at all to talk about the future. It is so black, so terrifying, so catastrophic that people could panic and be completely paralyzed.

So the reality is: the Titanic is sinking. She has already collided with the iceberg and, yes, she is sinking. What else is left to do? Let the lifeboats get on the water and get the life-jackets out. And fast. Because very soon she will hit the bottom of the sea.

Does not sound very hopeful.
No, that’s not it. Climate change is a reality. The climate researchers warn since And now we enter this stage of the emergency, something that was then thought of as radically redirect months, we will have lost the ship. The international research group to which I belong has been saying Years that forests are essential in the fight against climate change. But even within the academic community this was doubted.

And now? Now suddenly an article in the magazine “science”, which explains that by replanting one trillion trees about one third of the CO2 content could be bound in the atmosphere. OK, now it comes down to the carbon on how existentially the forest is for us.

Our approach was based on the water cycle in the forest, ie its function as a biotic pump. And then you suddenly hear news that millions of trees have been planted in a few hours in Ethiopia and India.

But we could do it do. Take a look at Greta Thunberg. An adolescent girl, an autistic woman who sits down in front of the Swedish Parliament and is now world famous.

So there is still some hope to save the Titanic?
We need exceptional measures. Greta Thunberg says the truth. We must immediately throw everything we have into the balance. But not, as the Chinese have done, just planting trees without meaning and understanding. In recent years  square kilometer of land planted with trees of which only 18 percent have survived. So that’s pointless.

Or as the Senegalese did: they planted millions of trees with funds from the UN, which were then cut down again to make firewood.

So we need to know exactly where we plant these trees, how we plant them, and what effect trees have on the climate. We have to make the biotic pumps functional again. Yes, we could recapture even deserts like that. To do that we finally have to translate the scientific findings and possibilities that we have into real actions.

What can one say about the Bolsonaro is obviously learning to exterminate because they are in the way of his idea of ​​”development”
I have so far completely suppressed. These peoples have developed an ethic based on ancestral knowledge that guarantees much greater harmony with the environment and nature than our Western civilization envisages. We can learn so much from them. Nature has been here for billions of years and dominates this planet. It first enabled us to be here. It is time to return to this nature. Otherwise we go under.

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