Brazil: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Brazil Protest

In today’s class lecture we discussed Brazil’s progress towards mitigating climate change. Brazil has made an enormous effort in reducing tropical deforestation, Brazil has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2004″ (Atkin, 2014). Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world mainly due to livestock and logging. Rainforests are an important carbon sink, however deforestation emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate. Although Brazil’s 70 percent decline in deforestation has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other parts of Brazil are still feeling the effects of climate change. Sao Paulo is suffering from one of the worst droughts to have hit Southern Brazil in several decades. The water scarcity is causing violent conflicts between residents. As the climate continues to change, and droughts become more prevalent we can expect to see more violent conflicts and citizens protesting for access to resources like water, which are necessary for survival. Rainy seasons in Brazil have shown a pattern of less rainfall each year, “The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total only 9 inches” (Gomez-Licon, 2014). The government is being blamed for the issues of water scarcity, which shows that as the climate keeps changing and water becomes more limited there must be systems implemented for distributing water equally. Otherwise the world’s poor will be exposed to more vulnerabilities, and violent conflicts will increase. 

 

Atkin, Emily. “Brazil Has Done More To Stop Climate Change Than Any Other Country, Study Finds.” ThinkProgress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/06/3446097/brazil-cuts-carbon/>.

Gomez Licon, Adriana. “Sao Paulo Drought Leaves Brazil’s Biggest City Desperate For Water.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/07/sao-paulo-drought_n_6118888.html?utm_hp_ref=green>.

 

WANTED: Adaption at Home and Abroad… NOW

A basic principle of the UNFCCC agreement is CBDR, or Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. This stems from the idea that based on historical emissions, developing countries should not have their development taxed because of harm to the environment caused by already developed countries’ development 100 years ago. Because of this, developed countries are held responsible for funding any climate change efforts developing countries decide to embark on. Furthermore, developed countries are to share information and technology to help developing countries develop in a “greener” way than developed countries had in the past.

My question is, how can we do this if we still haven’t gotten the hang of smart development in our own country? I’m not suggesting the U.S. should help itself before it helps others, but instead should be taking a bilateral approach to both change domestic ways and provide support internationally for cleaner development.

Yesterday, the story “With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate” made the front page of the NYTimes. Households in California, and especially those in Tulare County, a rural county with especially impoverished residents and barely any water. With three years of drought and still going strong, the California drought, although as a single event it cannot be attributed to climate change, calls for more caution when dealing with the climate. Even in one of the richest country in the world, the U.S. still doesn’t seem to be able to come up with even effective adaptation plans, never mind mitigation. One family the article focuses on hasn’t had running water for more than five months. How is the U.S. caring for these Californians? They aren’t. When families call the state and local governments for advice, they are told there are no public agencies set up to help them. Water is provided through bottled water from residents’ pockets and local charities. Even the counting of households without water is spotty, with an estimate of 700 households, overlooking households in rural areas with dried-up wells. One volunteer is quoted describing the drought as “it’s a slow-moving disaster that nobody knows how to handle” (Medina 18).

The U.S. is obviously having trouble preparing for and dealing with the “slow-moving” crises brought on by climate change, so how can it be expected to help others? The solution is not, as I said before, to focus on itself first before it helps others. There is no time to wait; climate change does not wait for domestic pilots, it comes when it wants, where it wants, and countries must be as ready as best they can. This means focusing on security threats from more than just other states but from the earth itself. The U.S. needs to take the terrible lessons it’s learning in California to realize that a much more though-out, cross-sector, and multi-level approach must be employed in adapting to climate change domestically and globally.

Medina, Jennifer. 2014. “With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate.” The New York Times, October 3, p. 1, A18.

A Change at Home

Over winter break last year I was on a hike in the hills around my home in San Rafael, California with my two siblings. It was in that space of time between Christmas and New Years and it was an incredible day; not a cloud in the sky and perfectly warm sunshine was hitting us. I have spent long mornings and afternoons throughout my life running and hiking in them, surrounded on either side by tall grasses and oak trees. When you get to the top you are guaranteed a particularly beautiful view of the Bay Area. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to the financial district of San Francisco, the East Bay, the Headlands, and the beginnings of Napa.

We were taking a break near the top, gazing at our stunning surroundings. But instead of being comforted by the familiar sights I was on edge looking around. The grass should have be green this time of year but it was the color of straw, we hadn’t needed to jump the creek as we normally did in December; this was the landscape I knew as summertime not winter.

California is in the middle of the worst drought it has ever had on record. In parts of the state the ground has raised up to half an inch because water is no longer weighing it down. Just in the last few years the landscape of my home is being completely altered because of climate change.

I do not consider my self a scientist or even a scientist in the making. Nor have I ever really attempted to delve into the world of science aside from the mandatory classes in elementary through high school. However, in The Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart lead his audience not just through the scientific milestones behind our current understanding of climate change but how other major historical events interacted and informed the blunt science. From the 1896 calculation that asserted global warming was possible through human emissions to the media coverage informing the public in the 80s. The fact is the weather has been changing since the beginning of the industrial revolution and it has been swift. However, we are reaching a point where the consequences are dire if action is not taken just as rapidly.

While reading this book I thought back to that moment with my siblings when I fully understood for the first time that climate change is not in the future, it is here. I also thought back to a poem by Donald Marquis entitled “What the Ants are Saying.” For me, one stanza sums up all the science I know and the personal experiences I have with climate change:

what man calls civilization

always results in deserts

man is never on the square

he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth

each generation wastes a little more

of the future with greed and lust for riches

 

Before And After: Statewide Drought Takes Toll On California's Lake Oroville Water Level