Geraldo Luís Lino for Veterans Today
As an adult of the generation of your grandparents, a Geosciences-trained professional, a student of the history of the civilization and a Brazilian citizen, I felt particularly disturbed by your recent UN speech and the petition that you and other fellow youngsters filed against Brazil and four other countries in the UN Children’s Rights Committee.
First, the speech. I don’t know if someone told you but your rant against the previous generations sounded quite ungrateful. I won’t use the verb to dare because its interrogative form can sound aggressive and disrespectful but please, how could you say that the adults of the last generations have “stolen” your dreams and your childhood?
You were born and live in one of the world’s most advanced countries, one that in the post-war period has given the world important lessons of political practice and social organization in order to reach the goal of a high level of development shared by the society as a whole, and not only by a tiny few at the top of the socio-economic pyramid. There are 195 countries in the world but less than 40 are regarded as fully developed, comprising less than one fourth of the world population. Sweden ranks among the top ten by its Human Development Index (HDI), a measure of life expectancy at birth, education and income per capita. So, you have enjoyed all the privileges of a first class educational system, health care, physical infrastructure and other requirements of a decent life in a just and prosperous society. The same goes for most of your fellow class strikers in the OECD countries.
Did you know that one in every six children and teenagers in the world is out of school? That 900 million children cannot even wash their hands at school because of the lack of clean water? That youngsters are the majority among the 1 billion people that do not even have a simple toilet at home and are forced to do their physiological needs outdoors? That according to the UNICEF, 22,000 children die every day due to the consequences of poverty (hunger, preventable diseases, lack of sanitation and health services etc.)?
So, yes, as you admitted in your speech, you are a privileged girl – and should make the best possible use of such privileges, that are shared by less than one in four children and teenagers in the world.
Greta, our world civilization is a work in progress, a sort of a compromise between consecutive generations. The rule of thumb is that every generation aims at leaving the following one in a better condition than that enjoyed by itself. Granted, this pact seems to be threatened today but the global climate has nothing to do with this. Our current crisis is not due to a lack of “climate justice”, whatever this means, but to a lack of “civilizational justice”, meaning that most of the world population is not on a path that may ensure a fair share of the benefits of the progress inside the countries and among them. Inequality is rising, the financial system calls the shots and acts like a parasite to the real economy, the body politic is not accountable to the citizenship in many countries, some major powers insist on preserving an outdated system of military-economic hegemony and there are several other symptoms of a civilizational deadlock, with a resultant loss of a positive vision of the future, specially among the younger generations. However, for those like you who are understandably concerned about the future, the best answer to your anguish is to start being knowledgeable about the world’s real major problems and perhaps preparing yourselves to be part of the constructive solution.
Would you appreciate a real challenge? Here’s one: raising most of the world’s countries and peoples to living standards at least close to the ones enjoyed by Western Europe until mid-century. Quite a challenge, isn’t it? I can assure you that it is quite feasible, at least in terms of the physical, scientific and technological means. What is needed is a new mindset and a good deal of political will, something toward which the younger generations can offer a great contribution indeed.
Some words about energy. There’s a direct relationship between the per capita energy consumption of a country and its development level. In broad numbers, the inhabitants of the advanced economies use four times more energy in all its forms than the Latin Americans and six to seven times more than the Africans and Asians. Over 80% of the energy consumed in the world comes from the so-called fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas. One does not need to be an energy expert to determine that such structure cannot be drastically changed in just a decade, as you and many others are proposing. It will take a little bit longer and the fossil fuels will be needed for some time still in order to reduce the gap between the advanced and the developing economies, while new energy technologies are being developed. Here, I don’t mean the environmentalists’ favorites, wind, solar and the like, but really advanced sources like fusion power, new designs of fission reactors (including the use of thorium as a fuel), low-energy nuclear reactions (also known as cold fusion), hydrogen and the real ultimate source, quantum vacuum energy or zero-point energy. While some of these may look like science fiction to you, there are many research institutions, private companies and creative individual inventors engaged in their development, including in Sweden and other European countries. Perhaps, you and your fellow strikers could visit some of these projects in your days off school (I’m sure that many teachers would approve this).
Besides, you do not need to limit the range of interests to energy. There’s a lot of thrilling perspectives in the field of the new materials, for instance. Sweden is a world leader in the research of graphene, this promising and versatile variant of carbon. And have you heard about “artificial wood”? The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm is developing this interesting material. The examples are legion, just look for them.
Ah, if you go to Chile for the COP-25 conference, you should spare some time to visit the Advanced Innovation Center in Santiago, where the Plasma Water Sanitation System (PWSS) is being perfected. This is a really amazing device that eliminates 100% of the bacteria and virus load in the water and offers a low cost solution for the fresh water supply in countries lacking water treatment and sanitation infrastructure.
Maybe the contact with those and other promising efforts is inspiring enough to motivate some of you to pursue research and development careers, making you part of the solution for the urgent need of “civilizational justice” for the whole world.
You also said that science has been “crystal clear” in the last decades with regards to the Earth climate. Well, in fact it has been so clear in the last century after the mechanism of the glacial and interglacial cycles has become known. As you surely know, in the last 800,000 years the Earth has undergone eight glacial periods about 90,000 year-long each, separated by warmer interglacial periods 10,000-12,000 year-long (we are now in an interglacial the Holocene, which started 11,600 years ago). These cycles are driven by an interaction of astronomical factors involving the parameters of the Earth’s orbit and inclination axis, the current distribution of the continental masses and oceans, ocean currents and others factors prevailing in the last million years. No, carbon dioxide has nothing to do with this; on the contrary, its concentration has generally followed the temperature oscillations, not the other way around. At least the last interglacial periods were warmer and had higher sea levels than the Holocene. And higher temperatures and sea levels have also occurred in the Holocene itself with less CO2 in the atmosphere than today. Your own country has enjoyed higher temperatures during most of the Holocene (see among others, Bigler et al, 2002, Bigler et al, 2006, Borzenkova et al, 2015, Kullman, 2018).
Years ago, when Climatology had not yet been converted into a “politicized” branch of science, such warmer periods where aptly known as “climate optima”, due to the correct understanding that our biosphere and Mankind itself do better in warmer periods than in colder ones. So, I now dare to suggest that you and your friends leave your unjustified anguish about the climate aside and enjoy our mild Holocene.
As to the petition to the UN Children’s Rights Committee, let me be frank: I’ve never seen such a preposterous, unreasonable and inconsistent document. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France and Turkey are flatly accused of “recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change”, and of failing “to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights to life (Article 6), health (Article 24), and culture (Article 30) and are thus violating the Convention [of the Children’s Right]”. This nonsense is amplified throughout nothing less than 439 pages that were redacted by the US NGO Earthjustice. Honestly, did you or any of your fellow petitioners (aged between eight and seventeen years-old) bother to at least read the introduction of this voluminous waste of paper? Do you have any clue about the vested interests behind this outrageous document?
Brazil is a developing country and is still struggling to find its way towards the full development of its human and natural resources. We are open to any kind of serious foreign contribution for this struggle, be it investments, political support, scientific cooperation, technology deals or whatever (there are 220 Swedish companies in the country, some since over 100 years). But we can surely dismiss unfounded accusations or empty denunciations deprived of any constructive intent.
Right now, we are being unjustly accused of “devastating” the Amazon Rainforest, a biome that despite all the hype displayed in the media is almost untouched in 84% of its area. This is an extension of 3,500,000 square kilometers, or about the size of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Holland, Italy, Spain and Portugal together (if it were a country, it would be the world’s seventh in extension, larger than India).
A last comment: I’ve read that you do not fly because planes are regarded as big carbon emitters. Carbon hysteria apart, the development of aviation is duly regarded as one of Mankind’s greatest accomplishments, not only in terms of the knowledge and technology involved but also the level of international cooperation needed for its proper operation worldwide, hardly surpassed by any other human activity. Aviation has drawn people all over the world together for business, politics, tourism and all sorts of personal affairs (with time saving schedules compatible with the possibilities of most people who cannot spare many days or weeks to travel by other means), saved lives in local emergencies and big disasters, carried all kinds of cargo to every conceivable destination, disseminated updated technologies among many other industrial sectors and holds a list of achievements too long to be summarized here. And you should be proud that Sweden is a recognized world leader in the aeronautical technology; pity that it just makes military planes today but it used to design fine commercial craft like the Saab Scandia (a Brazilian company bought all of them, some were still flying around when I was a young teenager in the late 1960s). So, an intelligent girl like you should not incentivize this undeserved idea of flygskam (flying shame) that is originating in your country.
Well, Greta, you ended your speech with a strong word like “treason” for the previous generations, mine included. I won’t address this because I think that you are perfectly capable of reasoning yourself and recognize the injustice of such a slander. And because I also hope that your brilliant intelligence will soon prevail over the dazzle of being raised into the leadership of this enthusiastic – but disoriented – youth crusade against one of the finest climate conditions this planet has enjoyed in millennia.
Greetings from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
* Geologist, former environmental consultant and founder and director of the Ibero-American Solidarity Movement (MSIa); e-mail: [email protected].
What everybody needs to know about the Amazon Rainforest
Geraldo Luís Lino
1) The Amazon Rainforest biome has an extension of about 6.7 million square kilometers shared between Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and the French Guyana. Some 62% of it is in Brazil, where 84% of its original area at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500 A.D. are preserved. This mostly untouched area is about the size of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Spain and Portugal together; if it were a country, it would be the world seventh in extension, larger than India.
2) The Amazon Rainforest must not be confused with the Legal Amazon (Amazônia Legal), a geographical region delimited for the purpose of establishing special tax regimes in order to encourage economic activities in the nine Northern Brazilian states. These states comprise 61% of the national territory but harbor less than 13% of the country’s population, and account for less than 8% of Brazil’s GDP. Their low living standards can be assessed by the fact that only 13% of its urban inhabitants have access to sewage systems; a great part of the 4 million Brazilians who do not have a simple toilet at home live there. The region also holds significant parts of two other Brazilian biomes, the Cerrado (savannah) and the Pantanal (wetlands). The Legal Amazon covers 5.1 million sq.km; the Brazilian part of the Rainforest, 4.2 million sq.km.
3) The Rainforest is not the “lungs of the world”; its vegetal and animal biotas consume all the photosynthesis-generated oxygen in their process of respiration (yes, plants do breathe), so the net budget is near zero. (And after all, lungs do not produce oxygen.)
4) It is not a functional “carbon sink” either, because as a stable climax ecosystem its net carbon budget is also close to zero (except when it burns). Anyway, if people are worried about carbon, they should support the clearing of the forest and its replacement by the secondary regeneration vegetation (called “capoeira”) instead, that captures the atmospheric carbon during its growth, indeed. By the way, between 2008 and 2012, the area of “capoeiras” increased two and a half times faster than the area of cleared forest (there isn’t more recent data). (Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting this course of action.)
5) The Rainforest is obviously relevant for the biogeochemical cycles of the biosphere but it does not have any significant impact upon the world climate. Its chief contribution for the atmospheric dynamics is to recycle half of the rainwater coming westwards from the Atlantic Ocean back to the atmosphere by means of evapotranspiration, forming a water vapor flow that is partly re-directed southward. This process is important for the Rainforest itself and its surroundings but its influence can hardly be regarded as being global.
6) The much-ballyhooed projections about a feared “tipping point” of deforestation beyond which the Rainforest would supposedly suffer an irreversible “dieback” are just products of mathematical models without factual evidence. These models may be useful as academic drills but should not be the turf of policymaking. If other biomes are useful for comparison, the Atlantic Forest (Mata Atlântica), with a biodiversity similar to the Rainforest, covered 1.3 million sq.km of the Brazilian territory along the coast in the 16th century, and has lost over 80% of its original area since but it has not suffered such a “dieback” so far. The hypothetical deforestation “tipping point” for the rainforest is 20%, a number that grants appealing apocalyptic forecasts and shocking media headlines but does not fit with the hard facts and common sense.
7) The annual deforestation rates in the Legal Amazon have been decreasing steadily since the last decade, and are now well under 10,000 sq.km a year. Taking into account that much of this deforestation occurs in the Cerrado, a hypothetical linear projection using such rates suggests that it would take well over 400 years to clear the Rainforest entirely – an absurd scenario that is unimaginable by anyone in their right mind except some delusional and uninformed radical environmentalists, anyway.
8) Much of the deforestation occurs in private properties and government-sponsored settlement areas for small family farmers, meaning that it is legal. The Brazilian 2012 Forest Code allows that 20% of the property areas in the Rainforest and 50% in the Cerrado be cleared for economic use. Unfortunately, the deforestation rates regularly trumpeted in the media do not make this needed distinction.
9) The number of fires in the Legal Amazon (including the Cerrado) has also been falling since the record years of 2004-05; the projections for 2019 indicate that they will reach half or so the numbers of those years. A good deal of such fires occur in private properties where people have been using fire as a method of cleaning the terrain for centuries; it’s not the best method but it is what they have access to. It’s relevant to notice that most of the fires are not located in the Rainforest itself but in its Southern transition zone to the Cerrado and in the Cerrado itself, as can be seen in the Fire Information for Resource Management System website (https://firms.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/map/#z:3;c:0.0,0.0;d:2019-08-24..2019-08-25 – the Rainforest is roughly delimited by the huge dark green and light green area north of parallel 15oS). Incidentally, one can also observe that Brazil is far from being alone in the current worldwide fire season.
10) There are over 25 million people living in the Legal Amazon, most of them in precarious socio-economic conditions. The vast majority of people who cut trees or make use of fire are not criminals but do it because they need to eke out a living somehow (of course, there are criminals that manage to avoid the law enforcement and the due punishment, like everywhere else). Keeping in mind the respective proportions, nobody but some stubborn environmentalists is regarding the Germans as environmental criminals because the remnants of the Hambach Forest near Köln are intended to be felled by the RWE energy company, in order to get the lignite in the subsoil needed to fuel thermoelectric plants, after chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the closing of several of the country’s nuclear plants for purely political reasons.
11) Brazil is a developing country and is still struggling to find its way towards the full development of its human and natural resources. For the Amazon region, the path is not “preserving” it as a gigantic combo of botanic garden and zoo, as many people seem to think naively. It must begin with the long overdue tasks of land rights regularization, ecological-economic zoning, adding value to the local productions and resources with the best techniques available, improving and expanding the infrastructure needed to enable quality of life gains for the local populations and a massive effort of research and development of its vast biodiversity resources, combining research institutions, private enterprises and the precious traditional knowledge of its inhabitants. In short, a kind of an Industrial Amazon 4.0, an impulse capable of bringing most of its inhabitants to the levels of wellbeing permitted by the 21st century knowledge. All this can and must be done with the needed care for the environment and, hopefully, we will be able to put this rational agenda in practice but a fundamental prerequisite for this is to dispel the myths and hysteria about the region and its development.
12) So, people, including foreign leaders and personalities, should inform themselves better before ridiculously blaming Brazil of “threatening the world climate”, or asking for sanctions against the country (mostly motivated by political and economical reasons). And the same goes for many Brazilians who are always willing to reverberate any criticisms against the country coming from abroad, regardless of their seriousness or lack thereof.