Since taking office in January, President Jair Bolsonaro has received widespread condemnation for his staunch, anti-environmental views. His regressive policies have caused a public outcry from indigenous groups and green activists. The former army captain, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, has been a long-standing skeptic of global warming.
Approval of harmful pesticides has caused irreversible damage
Recent reports indicate that Bolsonaro’s administration has greenlighted a record 290 pesticides this year. That brings the total up to over 2,300. Agencies classify around 43 percent of these pesticides as ‘highly or extremely toxic,” and regions ban a large portion of them.
These pesticides are often used only for prevention and not when they are actually needed. This poses a serious health hazard for rural workers. Additionally, experts are worried about the risk of chemicals seeping into farmland and water. These chemicals could eventually reach consumers around the country.
There are other repercussions as well. New lab research uncovers that through December 2018 and March 2019, a staggering 500 million bees spanning four Brazilian states were killed due to pesticides like neonicotinoids and fipronil.
If a global overhaul of intensive agriculture does not take place, 40% of insect species, including bees, could go extinct within decades. Bees fill a crucial ecological niche and pollinate as much as 75% of the world’s crops.
A grave threat to Amazonia
Brazil is home to much of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, which has recently seen a drastic increase in deforestation.
There have been nearly 75,000 wildfires recorded in 2019 so far, with some blazing so intensely that smoke has traveled thousands of kilometers to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
True-color images show that wildfire smoke is visible from space. Photo: NOAA
The rainforest’s natural moisture and humidity prevent natural fires from occurring, which means most of the fires are caused by humans. Aside from the logging industry, farmers clear space for pastures and cropland with uncontrolled slash-and-burn methods.
Earlier this year, Bolsonaro launched a campaign to explore the economic potential of the Amazon. He relaxed environmental regulations and encouraged agribusiness and the mining sector to clear land for development. The administration has passed laws that significantly hampered the legal and institutional framework for environmental licensing and protection.
Deforestation is happening at an alarming rate
This has led to an unprecedented surge in deforestation rates. According to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE), an area the size of one-and-a-half soccer fields is destroyed every minute.
In early August, INPE satellite images also revealed an 88% increase in deforestation in June compared to the previous month. Bolsonaro falsely charged the findings as ‘lies’ and fired the agency’s director, Ricardo Galvão, who had defended the accuracy of the data.
“We cannot accept sensationalism or the disclosure of inaccurate numbers that cause great damage to Brazil’s image,” Bolsonaro said.
Not to mention, the introduction of commercial agribusiness is devastating populations living in parts of the rainforest. Bolsonaro’s plan to assimilate over 800,000 indigenous people and open reservations up for development has been met with resistance. In June, the Supreme Court blocked an attempt to transfer the responsibility of indigenous territories to the country’s agriculture ministry, citing it unconstitutional to encroach on ancestral lands.
The Amazon is home to 10% of the world’s species and absorbs millions of tons of carbon emissions annually. It is one of the world’s most important natural resources making it critical for future scientific discoveries and advancements.
A strained foreign policy
During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Bolsonaro viewed the 2015 Paris Accords as a major threat to Brazilian sovereignty. Following the footsteps of President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro promised to pull Brazil out of the deal. Shortly after, though, he backpedaled on that promise. Nonetheless, at its current rate, Brazil won’t meet climate targets set forth by the agreement, even without complete withdrawal.
Then, in late 2018, foreign minister Ernesto Araújo rescinded the offer for Brazil to host the 2019 UN climate talks. This, along with other policies, has created friction between Brazil and other countries.
Tensions rose dramatically between Brazil and several European nations after Brazil announced it would transfer funds intended to protect the Amazon to soybean and cattle farmers. In retaliation, Germany and Norway froze millions of dollars of planned foreign aid.
The dispute threatens the hard-fought EU-Mercosur trade treaty that was ratified in June after nearly two decades of talks. The three other South American countries in the treaty are Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The future is on the line
In the past few months, President Bolsonaro and his inner circle of ministers have maintained unethical ties to big business, rejected evidence from the scientific community and ignored demands for the preservation of indigenous lands. It seems likely that the administration will continue with its plans unless international interventions occur.
To slow the acceleration of global temperatures and rising sea levels, bringing pro-climate policies back to Brazil is a vital piece of the puzzle. It’s not too late to turn back.
Australia urged to move towards a circular economy on recycling
Australia should take its cue from the circular economy on recycling, reusing its waste rather than sending it to landfill, says a recent report by business advisory firm EY. It added that Australians need to have confidence in their country’s recycling system and should look upon it as a resource rather than waste.
The accounting firm affirmed a combined approach to waste which included households, local councils and the private sector is needed to “restore faith” in the country’s recycling system. This would lead to the start of a win-win circular economy.
Such an economy can be achieved when “people minimize waste and make the most of resources. Shifting to a more circular economy will grow the economy, increase jobs and reduce impacts on the environment,” according to the Victorian State Government.
China recycling ban
Australia’s strategy of dealing with its waste by sending it to China for processing was thrown into confusion in 2017. It was then when China decided to tighten the restrictions on contamination for accepting foreign waste. The new standards effectively banned all Australian paper, plastics and textiles because of their high contamination rate.
Before the Chinese ban, it had been sending 619,000 tonnes of recycling waste to China every year.
A “lost opportunity”
Terence L. Jeyaretnam, an environmental and sustainability expert who is also a partner at EY in Melbourne, described the present methods as an example of a “lost opportunity”.
“Through better sorting of recyclables, reducing contamination and developing markets for our recycled waste, Australia could take advantage of this lost opportunity sitting in our kerbside bins,” he said.
He added that Australians were missing out on up to $324 million of value in our waste bins and needed to change to adapt to the future.
“The old way of sorting our waste is not the right fit for 21st century Australia,” he said in the study, adding that “not only does it lead to poor environmental outcomes, it’s preventing us from grasping an opportunity worth hundreds of millions per year.”
Restoring belief in the system
The report underlined the need for Australia to view waste as a valuable resource saying it “will only be realized if households take a more diligent approach to sorting, councils assist though education and infrastructure and there is a greater focus on waste as a resource.”
It points to a lack of confidence currently amongst households with the country’s recycling methods.
“Instead of ‘waste’ we need consumers to see a tradable asset, a commodity with a market value. The first step in changing consumers behavior is restoring their belief that what they are putting in the recycling bin is actually being recycled,” said the discussion paper.
Restoring the customer’s faith in the broken recycling system would be the first step towards creating a viable circular economy and finding a solution to the recycling crisis in Australia, summarized the report.
Kamala Harris’s climate plan: How does it hold up against the competition?
In the third Democratic debate last Sunday, 2020 presidential candidates did not spend much time on climate change. However, candidate Kamala Harris made sure to use her time to make a strong stance about acting on climate change now. Harris also released a climate plan earlier this month, her own version of the Green New Deals many other candidates have released.
During her allotted 45 seconds to summarize her stance on climate policy, Harris focused on the effect of inaction on future generations. In reference to the Republican stance on denying or minimizing the topic, Harris accused them of having a “lack of courage.” She also stated that as president she would “lead as president on this issue because we have no time, the clock is ticking.” However, during the debate time, Harris did not mention many specific details about her plan to take on climate change, besides her history of “[taking] on the big oil companies.” So what specific actions would Harris take as president to fight rising temperatures?
Kamala Harris has a history of advocating for the environment
Harris released a plan detailing her goals as president to act on climate change earlier this month, but even before that, she has backed several pieces of legislation to not only act on the emissions of big companies, but also to protect the Americans who suffer the most from pollution. In July, she joined forces with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to create the “Climate Equity Act.” Covered at length in this article from The Rising, this piece of legislation aimed to first identify and then give assistance to the communities which would suffer climate-related consequences.
Harris has also referenced taking on big oil companies in her previous job as the attorney general of California. She held this role from 2011 through 2016. While the claim that she has sued oil companies herself is controversial, statements from her campaign spokesman Ian Sams support her claims of more general action against them. Sams stated that she “obtained $50 million in settlements from oil companies she took on like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. She also announced criminal indictments against Plains Pipeline for the massive oil spill they caused off the coast (of) Santa Barbara. The case continued after Harris left the AG’s office and resulted in conviction.”
The 2020 presidential candidate also supported a carbon tax at a CNN forum on climate change. As this was common among the other democrats who attended the event, Harris took a step to set herself apart even further and voiced support for even more aggressive policy, including an outright ban on offshore drilling for oil and hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking).
Harris’s $10 trillion plan
Following the trend of other presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders releasing plans of action for a presidential term specifically pertaining to environmental policy, Harris also released her own, right before the climate forum. While the general ideas of her plan was similar to those in Green New Deals already released, there are certainly notable differences.
First, the presidential candidate sets a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2045, five years faster than the United Nation’s recommended date of 2050. She would invest $10 trillion into reviving and overhauling infrastructure to achieve this. Possible methods of raising this money could come from the carbon tax backed by nearly all democratic candidates and even some of the republican candidates.
Other goals from Kamala Harris that are less common among the Green New Deals currently circulating are to pass new fuel economy standards by 2035 to ensure that all new passenger vehicles would emit zero emissions. She would also expand the clean energy tax credit program beyond its current reaches to achieve total carbon-neutral electricity in 10 years.
Perhaps the thing that Kamala Harris stresses most in her plan, though is that it is for the people of the world, not against big companies. While it certainly does aim to put legislation in place against these companies to achieve set goals, the focus is always brought back to protecting those that cannot protect themselves from big company carbon emissions. Harris frequently references her Climate Equity Act in the plan, making it a central component. Many believe that this feature allows her plan to be more well-rounded; it is not just about punishing the companies who hurt the environment, but also about supporting those who are and will suffer the most from the pollution.
Climate Change Is a GOP Issue Too.
Today, conservatives have largely abandoned environmental causes in a fog of climate change denial set in motion long ago by the fossil fuel industry. But we’re beginning to see some cracks, even from that very industry itself.
Recently, a group of CEOs from high-profile corporations—including some oil companies—joined forces with environmental groups to form the CEO Climate Dialogue, which called for U.S. policy that would get the nation on a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent or more by 2050.
Those of us who care about the environment need to try to build off this effort, as well as similar ones by other corporations, to generate support among Republicans. For decades, this was a bipartisan issue, and there’s no reason it can’t be again. I consider myself a conservationist, and when I speak to my conservative friends, I remind them that there’s a reason “conservationist” has “conservative” as its root—conserving our natural resources is in fact a conservative value.
Hard as is it to picture now, the GOP once had leaders with progressive views on the environment.
In 1970, Nixon devoted several minutes to the issue in his first State of the Union address, rightly casting the issue as one that transcends politics:
In 1988, Bush campaigned as the “environmental president”; once in office, he signed the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the law that forced the Trump administration last November to release the National Climate Assessment, which warned of dire impacts of climate change to our economy and environment. He also signed a new Clean Air Act that same year, which is credited with eliminating acid rain.
Two decades later, McCain made climate change an important part of his unsuccessful Republican presidential campaign.
There used to be pro-environment Republican governors, too. My friend Tommy Thompson had an impressive record in conserving lands during his four terms as governor of Wisconsin. He often kids me that he did more in this area than my dad—the late Wisconsin Sen. and Gov. Gaylord Nelson, who had founded Earth Day—when he was governor. (Of course, Tommy served a lot longer.)
Tommy is still proud of that accomplishment, recently touting: “We purchased and saved more lands than any administration ever under my administration.” And on Earth Day, he teamed up with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) to urge a return to bipartisanship on the environment.
Recently, three Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee—Reps. Greg Walden of Oregon, Fred Upton of Michigan, and John Shimkus of Illinois—wrote an op-ed declaring “climate change is real.” They urged policies to encourage innovation and renewable energy development, among other ideas.
Whether you support free-market solutions or the Green New Deal, the important thing is that citizens and elected officials engage in discussion about how we make swift progress toward a prosperous future of clean energy and a strong economy.
Some Republicans are publicly challenging President Trump’s hostility to climate change solutions. At last December’s United Nations climate conference in Poland, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stressed that the U.S. was still in the Paris climate agreement, despite Trump’s decision to leave the accord.
There’s no doubt, pro-environment Republicans have become an endangered species. But as the Nixon-era Endangered Species Act has demonstrated, there’s always hope for recovery.
This article was originally published by the Outrider Post and republished with permission as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
Tia Nelson is the Founder of the Outrider Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on advancing science-based literacy on global risks that affect the well-being of the planet. Content posted on this column has been syndicated from the Outrider Post as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
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