Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Brazil Meets Reality - At Last

For years Brazil has viewed global warming and greenhouse gas emissions as a Northern hemisphere problem, something to be resolved by the Western world. That's now changing as Brazil comes to realize that it can no longer defy gravity.

Most scientists see Brazil as the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter. Those emissions come not from vast seas of fossil-fuel burning cars or from heavy industry or coal-fired power plants. They come from deforestation - the clearing and burning of the Amazon rainforest.

As recently as last June, Brazil joined with India and China to tell the developed world to mind its own business on GHG reductions. It was a stupid, juvenile response and one that was quickly overrun by events even the West cannot control. From the New York Times:

A number of recent events have led political leaders and ordinary Brazilians to conclude that they are not immune to climate change. First and foremost was a disastrous 2005 drought in the Amazon that killed crops, kindled forest fires, dried up transportation routes, caused disease and wreaked economic havoc.

Brazil sees itself as an emerging agricultural and industrial power, and global warming could have a disastrous impact on those aspirations. Scientists note that Brazil’s southern breadbasket flourishes largely because of rainfall patterns in the Amazon that are likely to be altered if droughts recur or climate change accelerates.

“Once they really register that the Amazon rain machine is very important to the south of Brazil, they are going to be much more interested in avoiding deforestation,” said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment. “You don’t have to be interested in biodiversity to want rain to keep that amazing agricultural system going.”

Brazil also envisions constructing a large network of dams throughout the Amazon over the next several decades to supply electricity to its industrial heartland in São Paulo, 2,000 miles south of here. But those plans depend on water flows in the region’s vast rivers not drying up.

In addition, in 2004 a hurricane formed in the South Atlantic for the first time since weather records began being kept. The storm came ashore in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, which was not prepared for it, and destroyed houses and forced thousands to flee.
“There was no previous registry of this happening, not even in the literature of colonial times,” said Carlos Nobre, Brazil’s most prominent climate scientist, who works at the National Institute for Space Research.

The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued in April, has added to concerns here. “By mid-century, increases in temperature and associated decreases in soil water are projected to lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia,” it predicted, while also warning that “crop productivity is projected to decrease for even small local temperature increases” in tropical areas, “which would increase risk of hunger.”

Among climatologists who study the Amazon, the buzz words these days are “tipping point” — the moment at which damage to the environment is so severe and widespread that it pushes the ecosystem into an irreversible cycle of self-destruction.
Whether it's China or India or Brazil, climate change is as real as gravity. Put another way, you don't have to "get" global warming, it'll come to you.

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