THE MAD KING AND HIS COURT: JAIR BOLSONARO’S MINISTERIAL MEETING VIDEO IS RELEASED

It’s become somewhat of a trope in Brazilian newsrooms to draw parallels between the storylines of Netflix’s House of Cards and the never-ending drama of Brazilian politics. However, after the Supreme Court made public a video of a meeting between Jair Bolsonaro and his ministers, it would seem that Scarface is the more fitting comparison.

Released as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged political interference by Jair Bolsonaro, the meeting shows the President ranting and raving like the Mad Kings of old.

“It’s a disgrace!” he screeches. “An absolutely disgrace that I don’t have the information I need.”

JAIR BOLSONARO, APRIL 2020

It soon becomes clear that the information he craves is really access — the ability to call up a friendly face in every organ to enquire about cases of interest.  

Spitting expletives, Bolsonaro shouts that that he will continue to interfere into any body he sees fit.

“This isn’t a threat, nor an extrapolation on my part” he barks “It’s reality.” 

Implicit in this bulldozing of checks and balances is the constitutionally independent Federal Police which is currently investigating two of his eldest sons. Son 01, as Bolsonaro likes to refer them, is being investigated re links to the Brazilian mafia. Son 02, for his role in the fake news machine that keeps the Bozo base outraged.

Next to speak are several senior ministers — each keen to demonstrate their loyalty to the sinking government ship.

The Minister of Education suggests jailing Supreme Court Judges.

The Environment Minister promises to let Big Agro run unchecked through the Amazon while the press is busy with the pandemic.

The Minister of Human, Family and Women’s Rights implies that the reason so many indigenous people have been infected is because “communists” got their first and started spreading the disease to discredit Jair Bolsonaro.

While each indulges in their own language of betrayal, mutiny or mission creep, the message is clear. This is a government that feels persecuted by the very institutions that elected them.  

While it’s not a new narrative in our populist era, it does acquire a unique flavour in Brazil.

Throughout his presidency, Bolsonaro has fattened the idea of a communist takeover into a sacrificial lamb. The more instable his government gets, the juicier it becomes.

Forget that the Communist Party have one of the lowest shares of power in Congress or that Bolsonaro has scared off more foreign investment than the last three Presidents combined. Communists — which has come to encompass anyone with centrist or left-leaning tendencies —are what has robbed Brazil of its destiny of becoming a modern thriving nation. 

By this same logic, any evidence against Bolsonaro must also be fabricated, planted by the rapacious commies that stalk the land.


“I didn’t ask for special treatment from Moro, just for him to prevent them planting evidence in my son’s house”

JAIR BOLSONARO, MAY 2020

Like most conspiracy theories, it obfuscates more than it reveals, robbing the population of the chance to have structured conversations around the very real problems of racism, inequality or corruption.

Instead we’re forced to live in the psychological territory Bolsonaro sets out for us. In this nostalgic Wild West, there is no nuance, just the light-skinned ‘goodies’ and the black ‘bandidos’ — both of which are brandishing arms. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is deemed “necessary” is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish.

Enter the military, often portrayed as the only viable alternative to the ups and downs of Brazilian politics. An almost knee-jerk reaction, Brazil has seen 4 military coups in the last century. Worse still, their cruel reigns are often revised as periods of relative “stability” in the shared consciousness —  despite their well-documented reputation for torture.

With an unscrupulous General for Vice President, it’s exactly this muscle memory of repression that Bolsonaro looks set to ignite. As the cards fold under this ramshackle government and recession looms, it’s hard to see how Brazil will avoid this most unfortunate of fates.

Feature Image Cartoon by the great Paulo Caruso for O Globo 

THREE’S A CROWD: XI, DON & JAIR IN THE BATTLE FOR BRAZIL

Threesomes of any kind are awkward arrangements. Diplomatic ones tend to be even more so. And whether it’s a strategic alliance between Russia, China & the US or the underlying tensions between the European Union’s Big Three, there always seems to be one party who feels like they are missing out on the action.

One such trio includes the the back-and-forth between Brazil, China and the US. While perhaps more of a tug-of-war than your standard ménage a trois, there are several interesting takeaways that can be made by comparing them together.

The most important?  While the US have failed to show up for several key dates, China has emerged as an incredibly persistent suitor. 

This isn’t an impression immediately deductible from the Twitter-sphere. Indeed, the attempt by the Bolsonaro family to rope their largest trading partner into a coronavirus culture war has led many commentators to ponder whether it would engender permanent damage to Sino-Brazilian relations. China, much like science or diversity quotas, is another one of Bolsonaro’s boogiemen

Via Globo G1

Such a diagnosis seems hasty. Instead, it’s a reminder that the mud-slinging that occupies the front page is rarely the real story.

Ever since Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019, Xi Jinping has proven himself to be a reliable and committed trading partner. 

When the Brazilian government realised that interest was lacking for their state oil auction in November, they immediately turned to China for help. Xi promptly responded by sending two state-owned Chinese firms to attend. As fate would have it, they were the only two foreign bidders to participate. 

And then there is the Brazil-China fund, initiated under the auspices of former President Michel Temer but currently in operation today. 75% of the $20 billion dollar project is funded by China, and sits primed and ready to realise infrastructure projects in Brazil. 

Once approved, they will join the massive investments already taking place in the state of Maranhão under China’s Belt & Road initiative. Their objective is simple. To secure Chinese access to food and mineral supplies while upgrading much of the region’s basic infrastructure. 

That all of these projects look set to take place in Amazonian states is a blow to anyone who thought that a green new deal was a foregone conclusion post-lockdown. 

Now contrast this with the unrequited love between Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. While both leaders are fond of paraphrasing the other, it appears to be a classic case of actions speaking louder than words. 

Both of Bolsonaro’s trips to the US have been short but sweet, followed by a domino of concessions on the Brazilian side. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro’s request to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is still pending, with many assuming he will be left in the lurch. 

Then there is the mysterious disappearance of 600 ventilators that were on their way to the North East of Brazil via Miami, assumed by many to have been confiscated by the Trump government. While not entirely surprising, the Lord of the Flies-esque behaviour is a reminder of what failure to prepare for a pandemic can do to international relations.

In trying to deduce who will be the outright winner for Brazilian affection, it’s helpful to consider each nation’s underlying intention. While China is looking to lay down deep socio-economic roots, America’s vision is half-hearted and mainly geopolitical, characterised by the desire to secure easy access to Venezuela should another opportunity for regime change re-emerge.  

The usurping of vague US promises by determined Chinese investment is a trend that can be observed across the globe. However, it’s a political U-turn that might prove challenging for Jair Bolsonaro. After spending months peddling Wuhan conspiracy theories, one wonders how his base will react to the idea of Chinese-backed infrastructure projects snaking into the heart of the Amazon. 

The episode provides yet more evidence of Bolsonaro’s tenuous position as Head of State in a government with clear, enduring ambition. Jostling at the helm is Vice President Hamilton Mourão, an ultra-conservative General, whose schmoozing of Chinese delegates is well documented

As the coronavirus continues to reveal the cracks in the populist facade, one can’t help but wonder whether the days of sycophantic bromance between Bolsonaro and Trump are numbered. Next in line would be a steely union between Xi Jinping, Mike Pence and General Mourão. For supporters of democracy, gay rights and the environment, the follow-up tryst might prove more troubling than the original.

TEARS OF A CLOWN: BOLSONARO & COVID-19

Brazil has a history of electing clowns. In 2010, Francisco Oliveira Silva, a television comedian and children’s entertainer, was elected as one of the federal deputies for Sao Paulo, garnering more than 1.3 million votes. His slogan? It can’t get any worse than it already is. Seven years later, Jair Bolsonaro crash-landed onto the political centre-stage — a reminder, if ever there was one, not to tempt fate.

Since then, Bolsonaro has gone above and beyond the role of jester, eroding away any respectability of office with his lewd jokes and unabashed racism. An increasingly erratic presence, his attempts at governance have provoked laughs from across the political spectrum. And while we are all entitled to a sense of humour, what happens when the punchline is democracy itself? 

His supporters would have you believe it sensationalism. To them, he is like a drunk uncle at a family barbecue — bumbling but harmless. For the rest of the population, he is a dictator-in-waiting, flanked by generals who have grown tired of chomping at the democratic bit.

Indeed, Bolsonaro’s frustration with his own government and the democratic process has become particularly pronounced over the last month. On the 15th March, he could be found greeting throngs of supporters, following a call-to-arms to “defend the President” against the scrutiny of Congress.

That swathes of people turned out despite strict warnings from the Ministry of Health about the risk of COVID-19 contagion is testament to the fervor he inspires amongst his base. 

Image captured by Roberto Sungi for Futura Press of the pro-President protests on 15/03/20 — engineered in part by former General Augusto Heleno.

Things reached a crescendo last Tuesday during an address to the nation in which Bolsonaro abandoned the government line on how best to mitigate the outbreak of coronavirus. 

Bolsonaro’s polemic address to the nation on 24/03/20

Over the course of five minutes, he skidded from one scapegoat to the next, attacking everyone from state governors to the media at large for instilling a climate of “hysteria” over COVID-19. The virus, he touts, is nothing more than a light flu, which would have no impact on a “former athlete” such as himself (such a claim is false on both counts). He concluded by urging Brazilians to return to schools and work, in effect sabotaging the nation-wide attempt at social distancing. 

This weekend, speakers could be heard blaring out in the capital of Minas Gerais encouraging residents to leave their homes for a pro-President parade in the park. 

In a rare act of unity, 26 of Brazil’s 27 state governors met to move against him, advocating the need for continued social distancing within their respective regions. Former allies such as Ronaldo Caiado (state governor of Goias) severed ties with the President all together, describing his behaviour as “appalling”.

A tearful Bolsonaro has since responded by looking to his military cronies for backing — among them General Walter Braga Neto, newly appointed Chief of Staff. In a truly ingratiating move, Neto took it upon himself yesterday to undermine the Minister of Health, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, mid-press conference, while dropping veiled hints of his potential dismissal.

Such fraying relations between a Head of State and congress are not uncommon in the Trumpian era. However, they do have sobering overtones in a nation whose last military dictatorship is within living memory. 

It’s a legacy that’s already been aggressively revised under the current President. This time last year, Bolsonaro sent a letter to the UN denying that a coup d’etat ever took place on the 31st March 1964. Instead, he claimed, the military takeover was a “necessary move to fight the growing threat of communism in Brazil”. 

Compare this unnecessary action in 2019 with the lack of action in 2020, and we have an insight into the hollowness of his far-right ideology. Like his ally in the White House, it’s clear that Jair Bolsonaro is only good at responding to imagined threats, rather than real, impending ones.

Climate change, pandemics, and rising global debt cannot be reduced to moral crusades and as such tend to infuriate men like Bolsonaro. In response, he lights all the political bonfires possible to avoid having to deal with them. 

However, with the economy sputtering and unemployment on the rise, this particular bonfire has the potential to blaze even larger than the Amazonian fires that engulfed much of north-west Brazil last August.

In positioning himself against the national quarantine, Bolsonaro flinches away from assuming any responsibility, preparing for a possible “I told you so moment” when the inevitable post-corona recession hits. 

At such a time, he will no doubt point to the governors and institutions of state who, in acting to save lives, allowed the economy to stumble.

How the wider population will view this is the great unknown. Jair Bolsonaro might be politically illiterate, but he has proven himself perfectly adept at inciting extreme emotions in the electorate. With the backing of his uniformed pals guaranteed, could Jair have the last laugh when it comes to Brazilian democracy? That remains to be seen.

WHY MYOPIA IS DEADLIER THAN COVID-19

Infectious diseases are the only types of illnesses that affect us collectively. As such they tend to bring into focus the fragility of the resources we share. This particular outbreak has reminded developed countries that safe air and stable food supplies are privileges, not guarantees. It’s also underscored that we are more interdependent and connected than contemporary politics would have us believe. So while it’s easy to get lost in the panic, it’s perhaps worth reflecting that the most virulent sickness plaguing mankind is not COVID-19, but the myopic way in which we respond to such events.

Coronavirus doesn’t exist in isolation. Instead, it is the result of several problematic practices, for which we have all received ample warning. Whether it’s the wet-markets in China or the 5,000,000,000,000 animals being reared in close confinement, our current agricultural system is creating billions of hosts for dangerous pathogens. 

Couple this with the fact that Big Pharma hasn’t produced a new antibiotic in the last 35 years (apparently, it’s just not that financially interesting) and we are fabricating the conditions for our own demise. 

But just as stress creates the conditions for evolution in the microbial world, so it can in our societies. 

If we are brave enough, governments will use this calamity as an opportunity to reframe public health infrastructure across the modern world.

Needless to say, it will require a lot more creativity than billions of pounds worth of low-interest business loans, as announced by the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer this week. 

But just as stress creates the conditions for evolution in the microbial world, so it can in our societies.” 

The first step in such a microbial war would be an ambitious vaccination programme that seeks to treat the HA stem of all influenza viruses. Just as we invested $23 billion dollars into the Manhattan Project, we would need to invest $7 billion1 to fund such a scheme, the results of which could save rather than kill more lives than ever believed possible.

As the AIDS vaccination programme has revealed, we are more powerful when we pool our resources — be those intelligence, money or time. Open source technology could play a key role in opening up such an investigation to scientists across the globe. 

The second might be more challenging. We will need to be rigorous in our opposition to all practices which exacerbate our contact with harmful pathogens. This includes factory-farming and deforestation (the latter of which provoked the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa). 

This will require loosening the chokehold that agricultural lobbyists hold over elected officials. Alternatively, it will require consumers to vote with their forks, opting for ethically sourced animal products as opposed to mass-produced ones. 

Organic food sales (while the fast-growing sector of the UK food-market) only account for 1.3% of total market share.”

Soil Association, Organic Market Report 2020

The third is to realise that such audacious action is possible. After all, we’ve done it before. Individual welfare states and the World Health Organization were all created in the post-War period, the vestiges of which are the only institutions offering any protection against the current Coronavirus. 

Our world is capable of healing, and fast. We’ve seen it in the clearing of Venice’s canal water and the improvement in air pollution across China in recent months. But is our politics? 

If we go back to business as usual, the 2020s will be the decade of collective crises. From climate change to mass immigration to antibiotic resistance, our current model is short-changing the human race. And piecemeal policies will no longer be able to save us. 

1 Estimated figure provided by Michael Osterholm, American public-health scientist and biosecurity and infectious-disease expert, in his book Deadliest Enemy: The War Against Germs billion1

Header Image illustration by the incredibly talented Aykut Aydoğdu (https://www.aykworks.com/)

5 CHANGE-MAKERS TO TAKE NOTE OF THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

Where do we go looking for the women that society erased? The 16th century poets or contemporary Middle Eastern composers who leave this world with their music still imprisoned inside them? In Alice Walker’s moving essay, In Search Of Our Mothers Gardens, she suggests that we must look to the female leaders of today, each of whom are the fruits of their ancestors’ stifled creativity. 

And so this International Women’s Day, we’d like to draw attention to 5 international change-makers. A mix of creatives, founders and activists, they are the women our grandmothers always dreamed of becoming. And while many hail from different countries, they are all united in finding ways to reshape the world so it can be examined anew in the brilliant light of the female perspective.

ALICE CARVALHO

Photo via @carvalhoalice

Who is she? A Brazilian actress, screenwriter and all-round word wizard, Carvalho has transformed the editorial landscape with her fearless poetry that demands equality as the only truth worth having.

Currently working on… Series two of her award-winning web series “Septo” that reclaims lesbian stories from the over-sexualised male gaze.

Where can I find her? On Instagram at @carvalhoalice.

check warner

Who is she? One of the co-founders of ADA Ventures, a venture capital company that seeks to invest in minority founders and markets.

Currently working on… supporting a variety of up-and-coming FemTech’s, one of which hopes to increase fertility prospects through study of the vaginal microbiome.

Where can I find her? On Medium at @checkwarner where she breaks down the esoteric world of investment-raising into easy-to-read blogs.

Tarana burke

Who is she? The original founder of the #MeToo movement and founder of the Just Be Inc, a non-profit organisation that seeks to provide support for victims of sexual assault.

Currently working on… a memoir that should be available by the end of 2020.

Where can I find her? On Twitter and Instagram at @TaranaBurke and @TaranaJaneen respectively.

PETRA COSTA

Via Wikimedia Creative Commons

Who is she? An Oscar-nominated Brazilian filmmaker who’s riveting documentary Edge of Democracy tracks the corruptions and contradictions of politics in the world’s fifth-largest democracy.

Currently working on… reconnecting with the nuance of the written word while touring the US to discuss the ongoing impact of her latest documentary.

Where can you find her? Costa is most active on Twitter, where she goes by the handle @petracostal.

THE SLUMFLOWER AKA CHIDERA EGGERUE

Who is she? An author and influencer whose work on self-love and dating represents an exciting new wave of contemporary feminism.

Currently working on… promoting her latest book “How To Get Over A Boy”.

Where can I find her? On Instagram at @theslumflower where she regularly hosts Instagram lives.

bjarke ingels meets jair bolsonaro – A B.I.G Opportunity?

It’s often been said that you can glean an insight into the aspirations of a society by looking at its buildings. And yet architecture can be misleading — particularly in a country as contradictory as Brazil.

Brazilian architecture first made its mark in the 1930s with the blistering debut of Oscar Niemeyer. His Brutalist buildings shot up like curvy concrete dreams —as bold in their sinuosity as they were in their hopes of bringing about a socialist utopia. While the latter was never realised, Niemeyer did establish concrete as the material du jour of Brazilian modernism. A symbol of power and permanence, it took on an almost reverent significance — the only material capable of taming Brazil’s Atlantic forests.

The years that followed were neither so glamorous nor as audacious. Concrete continued to eat its way through the jungle, connecting the prosperous south with the ancient forests of the North.  

Several major infrastructure projects began only to be forgotten. Sewn into each of the contracts — be it the Trans Amazonian railway or the Angra III Nuclear Plant — were ample opportunities for sticky fingered plundering by the Brazilian elite.

In 2019, Elaine Brum tapped into popular sentiment when she described Brazil as a “constructor of ruins” — a claim now poignantly underscored by the festering Rio Olympic park.

Rio Aquatic Centre
Photograph: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

So it might take readers by surprise to learn of a new architectural masterplan in Brazil’s North East.

In late January, Bjarke Ingels, of the all-star architecture firm, BIG, joined Jair Bolsonaro and a couple of cabinet cronies for a two-week tour of Brazil. Accompanied by investors from the Mexican group, Be-Nômade, they were here on a fact-finding mission to discuss the future of tourism in the country’s idyllic North East.

“”We have travelled Brazil’s northeast region with our collaborators from Nômade Group and met with local governors and mayors, as well as the relevant ministries of economy, culture and tourism and finally the president’s office to gauge the possibility of devising a holistic masterplan for the northeastern coastal states of Brazil to create ecologically and economically sustainable development,” Ingels affirmed .

News of the pairing initially took the media off guard, with portions of the design community immediately denouncing Ingels for fraternizing with a fascist.

Dezeen Comment Thread 17/01/2020

While the allegation may ring true, in his impassioned defence, Ingels stumbles upon two important questions.

How we do deal with despots when it comes to international development? And is it ever possible to separate the project from the regime?

How better to impact the future of the region and the country than to plant the ideas we believe in at the highest level of government? Neither the president nor the ministers are our clients, but we are happy to share our ideas and ideals with a government that is willing to listen. As much as I would enjoy working in a bubble where everybody agrees with me, the places that can really benefit from our involvement are the places that are further from the ideals that we already hold. I love Brazil as a country, and I really want to see Brazil succeed.

Bjarke Ingels

In this particular instance it helps to get a little bit of context on the area that Bozo and his cabinet cronies are looking to develop.

This is not a down-town region of San Fran, destined to morph into a slick Apple Campus, but rather an area larger than France, Spain and Greece combined.


North East – Highlighted in Orange
Via Revista Galileu – Globo

Comprising nine giant states, 8 thousand kilometres of pristine beaches and the lowest human development index in the country, it is a beautiful yet complex region.   

Critics most ardent claim is that such a grandiose plan would legitimise the government, opening the floodgates for investors to do business with the belligerent Jair Bolsonaro.

However, the essence of this project — described as a bare-foot tourism endeavour — seem to be entirely at odds with the slash and burn conservatism of the Bolsonaro government.

If it came into fruition it could be the start of a new era of architecture in Brazil — a chance to turn the page from some the Brutalist tenets that have proved so ecologically damaging.

And if Brazil is to wean itself off its dangerous dependency on commodities (and the corresponding ecocide that comes with them) it will need other service-based sectors.

Sustainable tourism – however oxymoronic that might sound – represents a viable alternative. Not only does it employ citizens of all education levels but its profits, for the most part, can be relied upon to remain local.

Another question that must be asked is if not Ingels, then who? This is a government who has committed itself to development at all costs, accused of inciting violence against whoever gets in their way.

The knee-jerk reaction to any figure as repugnant as Bolsonaro is isolation. And yet in sitting back and letting things fester, we surrender the possibility of a better future.

The proposed masterplan offers a vision that Brazil’s maligned north-east deserves, one rooted in community, renewables and a celebration of its culture.

At a time in which clowns and xenophobes occupy public office, perhaps its only right that we must rely on architects to build diplomatic bridges. But build we must. Because if public opinion is anything to go by, Bolsonaro is not going anywhere. And we let him trample over Brazil at our peril.

Joseph Goebbels Resurfaces In Brazilian Politics

Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that the aim of totalitarian education is not to instil convictions, but to destroy a population’s capacity to form any. As one of the most prominent intellectuals in Nazi Germany, she had reason to fear its advance. So too, it would appear, do Brazilian creatives, following the announcement of Roberto Alvim, Brazil’s Minister for Culture, on Thursday evening.

“Culture will be national and heroic,” he snarled “or else it will be nothing”.

The announcement was accompanied by the allocation of 20 million reais for cultural projects that emphasise “the motherland, the family, the courage of its people and their profound connection with God.”

It wasn’t long before the Twitter Police began to investigate Alvim’s statement. In announcing the new cultural agenda, Alvim had swapped his usual brand of Old Testament tough talk for the chilling words of Hitler’s Minister of Propoganda, Joseph Goebbels.

An outpouring of public pressure ensued, in which Alvim was removed from his post and government strategists clamoured to distance themselves from the video. 

And yet the notion that this is even slightly off-message for the Bolsonaro government requires stern examination.

The personification of white, male power, Bolsonaro has perfected the art of hiding in plain sight. A ‘political outsider’ despite his 27 years of parliamentary experience, he cannot be seen to be governing. Instead, he relies upon more-qualified minions, the Ricardo Salles’ and Roberto Alvims of the world, to deliver the reforms that will pave the way for his binary vision of Brazil.  

And so it was that just hours before the video’s release, Alvim could be found side by side with the President in his weekly address, receiving compliments and back-slaps for his “bold new vision of national art”.

For older Brazilians, this will all sound eerily familiar. From the critical underfunding of cultural institutions to the slow degradation of artistic subjects in universities, Bolsonaro is following a tried-and-tested agenda to return Brazil to the cultural winter of his 21-year dictatorship.

The slow creep of censorship comes at a the height of interest in Brazilian art, with nominations at this year’s Oscars (Democracia em Vertigem / The Edge of Democracy) and prestigious titles secured at the Cannes Film Festival (Bacarau — Juri Prize).

So unnerved were the Bolsonaro government by the new documentary that a boycott ban was issued via the pro-Bolsonaro Whatsapp groups that proliferate fake news and debate among loyal supporters — an instant form of communication of which Goebbels could only dream.

Like any fascist, Bolsonaro naturally fears arts ability to subvert the status quo, creating futures and ideas that soar above the fickle constraints of politics. And so he’ll continue to use whatever leverage he can to stamp out that which he deems degenerate — the right to imagine new realities, to empathise with others and to ask inconvenient questions.

That Brazilian artists will go on creating goes without saying. Whether they’ll be able to continue to do so without repercussions is another. This month, we invite you to indulge in one of the many Brazilian series on Netflix, from Petra Costa’s Oscar-nominated documentary (Edge of Democracy) to the dystopian world of ‘3%’. In doing so, we save ourselves from a future in which expression is only permissible insofar as it serves the instruments of power.

Ricardo Salles Vs The Amazon

At 3pm on Monday in São Paulo, night fell. And yet, for the local paulistas there was nothing restful about it. Artificial and pungent, it was the result of rampant wildfires that are eating away at eight Amazonian states. In many ways, the thick smoke was a case of the chickens coming home to roost. In a city that glistens with greed, the black blood of the Amazon is everywhere.

Photo Credit: Rafael Goldzweig (@schmuziger)

Call it irony, pathetic fallacy —the terminology doesn’t matter. Brazil is losing the war on climate, and there is no going back. Not without radical, international pressure. Any local campaign to save the planet will not be polite like the ones in Europe. The environmental activists, the Greta’s of the Global South, are dead. Shot down in the heart of the Amazon by illegal loggers. You might wonder what you have to do with this? Why you should even care at all? And yet the reason they are setting it on fire is to feed the growing global appetite for meat, soy and coffee. I do not say this to scare you or to trick you into feeling guilty. I say it to remind you that it is all connected. We are all connected. And together we must put a stop to this massacre.

To understand how we got here one has to understand Brazil — it’s size, it’s people, it’s politicians. As the fifth largest country in the world, Brazil is enormous, bigger than Europe yet still considered a developing nation. The reasons for this are multiple but many of them can be traced back to colonialism in which its latent wealth was siphoned off and sent to Portugal.

Contrary to Western opinion, Brazil is not all rainforest and beaches. It is home to a staggering array of landscapes, from the crackling cerrado (Savannahs) to the undulating wetlands of the Pantanal. Two thirds of the Amazon Rainforest sit within its borders, making it one of the most biodiverse nations on Earth.

And yet, Brazil’s natural gems occupy a curious position in the public imagination. While the great rivers and forests are generally a source of pride for Brazilians, the people who live there are not. Be those indigenous communities or members of long-suffering quilombos, for Brazilians blighted by Eurocentric conditioning, they are a reminder of Brazil’s lack of development.

It’s a notion that has been courted and encouraged by the controversial new Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles. The poster boy for the powerful Brazilian beef caucus, he is on a mission to privatize the Earth’s lungs. For anyone looking to survive beyond 2050, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Fresh from an appearance at the annual AgriShow in Brazil, Salles spent the month of June visiting impoverished communities that surround areas of particular commercial interest. One such visit was to the Chico Mendes Reserve, a 2.3 million acre area of pristine rainforest placed under protection in 1990.

The trip was documented via a Tweet on Ricardo Salles Twitter account in which he decried the living conditions of the reserve’s 25,000 residents.

Translation: “900 thousand hectares. Thousands of people on the verge of living in misery. The farce of “florestania” (sustainable forestry). They cannot, nor do they want to, survive from the rubber tree, the açaí and the Brazil nut. They want to raise cattle, plant coffee and produce fish in tanks. They (governmental environment protection agencies) will not let you.”

That the minister for Environmental Protection should be seen advocating for big agribusiness is perhaps not a surprise in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. What is impressive, however, is the rhetoric being used to accomplish it.

In just 140 characters, Salles deliberately conflates two pressing social issues: rural poverty and environmental conservation. The straw man goes something like this. In supporting the protection of endangered lands, one is not just an enemy of progress but a threat to the prosperity of rural Brazilians.

It’s a slippery move but not entirely out of character. In 2016, Salles was charged with administrative impropriety for his role in the manipulation of the Environmental Management Plan of the Tietê River Basin. The Public Prosecutors Office accused him of modifying the maps developed by the University of Sao Paulo with the specific aim of benefiting national mining companies.

The recent tragedies in Mariana and Brumadinho tells you everything you need to know about the respect this industry has for human life.

Flanked by members of the Mendes community, Salles once again draws on the festering frustrations of a nation who’s wealth has always been just out of reach. Rather than atribute blame to corrupt elites or colonial powers, he instead focuses on environmental protections, without which the target of keeping global warming under 2 degrees cannot be achieved.

That the sustainable rubber tapping and nut harvesting that takes place on this reserve is not as immediately profitable as cattle raising is without question. And yet, it’s beyond the pale to suggest that industrialised farming will produce the kind of living standards these rural communities crave.

In the last 6 months alone, Brazil’s Queimada Programme has registered 74,000 forest fires, the worst of which have been centred in Roraima and Amajari. More than 2 thousand families who live off the land lost their livelihood as plantations, pastures and fish plants went up in flames.

The increase in forest fires is both an intended and unintended consequence of monocultural farming practices. On the one hand, there are the illegal loggers and clearers, who use fires to clear rainforest so it can quickly sold as sparse grazing pastures for cattle. Then there are the farmers themselves, who’s poor management of land often sends them in search of greener pastures.

The deliberate loosening of environmental protection under Bolsonaro has served as carte-blanche for loggers to set fires with impunity. As a result, the number of forest fires in Amazonian states has sky-rocketed by an average of 85% in the last eight months alone.

These wave of ecological tragedies offer just a tiny insight into the critical condition of environmental protection in Brazil, a situation that was publicly laid bare on the front of this month’s Economist magazine. In a harrowing report, the author revealed what scientists have long feared. That unprecedented deforestation is threatening to transform the world’s largest carbon sink into a barren, inhospitable desert.

In a world on fire, we are all refugees.

Such a grim and dystopian future was met with disdain by President Jair Bolsonaro. The head of the Brazilian National Space Research Institute, Ricardo Galvao, was fired for his role in divulging the data, and plans put in place for a new system to assess environmental damage.

As luck would have it, nature made it impossible to bury the hatchet, sending rolling waves of black smoke over the city of Sao Paulo.

Salles, once more took to Twitter, paraphrasing a letter from the INPE (now edited) in which he attributed blame to a cold weather front and forest fires raging in neighbouring Bolivia.

Such negligence in the face of fire is indicative of what Salles clearly finds to be an unbearable contradiction: a mineral rich Amazon and a government perfectly poised to exploit it.

It’s an agenda that was on display once again in today’s Financial Times, in which he called for “capitalist solutions” to the environmental crisis. This demand belies not just a flagrant disregard for his office, but a fundamental misunderstanding of what is at stake. Climate change is not a Bolshevik plot, but rather the inevitable consequences of a system that posits forests as real estate for the highest buyer. Without them, there is no us, no future, no hope, a fact that has been clearly outlined in the IPCC’s latest climate report.

In dipping beneath the unctuous public veneer, a grim picture of Salles emerges. Neither the People’s Prince nor a defender of public health, he represents the ugly face of corporate interest, prepared to co-opt any narrative he can in the pursuit of short-sighted financial goals.

If we wish to save what is left of the Amazon rainforest, solutions must be immediate and bold. They certainly won’t be found in meeting with large car manufacturers, as Salles did on the 6th August, to discuss the lifting of taxes on polluting industries.

With the announcement of a new trade deal between MercoSul and the European Union, we find ourselves at an important crossroad. Any trade negotiations must be subject to strict scrutiny, favouring nations whose environmental policies are in line with the ambitious targets set by the European Union itself. Most importantly, we need men like Ricardo Salles to wake up and smell the scorched earth. History will judge him either way.  

National American Indian Heritage Month: Token Gestures

Today marks the final day of National American Indian Heritage Month, a national holiday invoked by the world’s most fervent philanthropist, Mr. George W. Bush.

With Thanksgiving leftovers still cooling in the fridge, the US Army on Sunday issued a statement ordering the closure of the main encampment of activists at Standing Rock in North Dakota. The land, known colloquially as Oceti Sakowin, is just north of the Cannonball River where tribes-people and environmentalists have been congregating in their thousands to oppose the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

allnations-blog-1

That this latest denial of indigenous rights has occurred in November, the very month that purports to uphold the rights of America’s much-abused indigenous population, comes as no surprise.

Tribes have always paid the price for American prosperity.

The 1,200-mile long pipeline has been fiercely contested since its conceptualization in 2014. If construction goes ahead, it will carry 470,000 barrels of domestically produced crude oil across 3 states, from North Dakota to Illinois.

The pipeline was initially scheduled to run just north of Bismarck, but the project was rerouted away from the overwhelmingly white city due to fears about the possible contamination of water supplies. The good people of Bismarck had legitimate cause for concern; it transpires that these pipelines do leak, and often. Since 1995, more than 2,000 significant accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have occurred, creating roughly $3 billion in property damage. Of these 2,000, Polaris Institute found that 804 of these spills could be attributed to pipes supplied by Enbridge Energy partners, the majority stakeholders financing the North Dakota Pipeline.

carl-sack-cartographer
Copyright: Carl Sack, Cartographer, 2016

It would appear that Energy Transfer Partner’s operating principles to work with individuals to “make accommodations and minimize disruptions” are not applicable when it comes to black or brown landowners. Riding the tailcoats of Trump’s certain lives matter campaign, the pipeline will continue America’s legacy of exploitation of the lands of Indian people.

The Sioux tribes’ complaint is both historical and philosophical. 

In the 1830’s, President Andrew Jackson ordered Native Americans in the South to leave their homelands and move to the Great Plains. After their eviction from the tribal lands they had occupied for the last 12,000 years, the white populace were invited to seize and settle at will. This careless removal policy serves like lunch money for a bully and has permitted the State to shunt indigenous people from region to region for the last 500 years. The Dakota Access Pipeline reveals how governmental lack of regard for indigenous culture remains intact.

Kayla DeVault, youth ambassador for indigenous matters for the White House, in her speech to the UN in November said “to be impoverished does not always equate to having no financial leverage. Hardships come in many forms“.

To truly understand Standing Rock and the integrity of the sacred land the pipeline threatens to destroy, it is necessary to try to glean a holistic understanding of Native Indian perspective.

DeVault describes their governing values of interdependence and connectedness; a religious bond to each other, the land, the four elements which build all life, the four seasons that govern time. Hardships are also felt in fours:

  1. To hear an orphan cry, as it was a terrible sound.
  2. To lose a child, an indescribable pain.
  3. To lose your mother.
  4. To not know where your warriors fell.

sitting-bull-sioux
Sitting Bull (1885) – Standing Rock Sioux (Copyright: Creative Commons)

The Dakota Acess Pipeline comes into conflict with several of their guiding doctrines. It will rip into sacred burial lands, threaten the security of the local water supply and disrupt the wider health of the planet. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe belong to a culture that saw their ancestors culled from 16 million to 250,000. The desire to hang on to the remains of their ancient cultural heritage is not difficult to understand, and this ritual of remembering happens to be firmly embedded in their land.

The protesters, or Water Protectors as they prefer to be known, are being represented by Clan Chieftain, David Archambault:

“Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people. We have suffered much, but we still have hope that the President will act on his commitment to close the chapter of broken promises to our people and especially our children.”

The ability to hold on and create gardens out of rock is work indigenous communities have done for a very long time.

Of equal concern is the resurgence of guerrilla tactics used against peaceful and non-violent protestors. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department conjured the specter of 1960s racism as they blasted a crowd of 400 with a fire hose in freezing temperatures, shortly before the deployment of “non-lethal” concussion grenades and tear gas.

While the smooching of oil tycoons and government delegates is by no means a new phenomenon, Standing Rock demonstrates our inability to freely exercise our democratic right and protest major conglomerates and corporations; who, like it or not, are emerging as the real wielders of power in global affairs.

Whether it is the Black Lives Matter campaign or the Indian Sioux Tribe,this vicious suppression of democratic protesting contributes yet another page to America’s false narrative of social progress. With Donald Trump in the White House, these stand-offs are only likely to become more frequent.

We don’t need America or Britain to be “great” again, which is really just nostalgia for the lost epoch of Empire.

We need them to defend the rights of our peoples and animals that are on the verge of extinction rather than treating their communities as sacrificial zones for shortsighted American corporate interest. 

We need them to prove that the idea of State Protection doesn’t just apply to that which benefits the state: abortion, drug prohibition, rehabilitation.

And we as a global audience need to stop buying into media mythmaking about campaigns that only seek to improve the lives of communities that have always had to pay the price for American “prosperity”. This ludicrous narrative of white victimhood has enabled the transition of the far right from its shadowy spot on the margins, into the political center stage.

Despite popular belief and government action, we have much to learn from the Indian Sioux’s immensely successful way of life. As the West tiptoes towards chaos, we would do well to observe the Native Indian founding beliefs of balance and sharing, forces that create the harmony our world relies on.

~

For practical information on how you can help, click the link below.

10 Ways You Can Help The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Fight The Dakota Access Pipeline

Solastalgia

I want you to listen carefully to this extraordinary story for it is yours as well as mine. Just 15 minutes of your time, after which you may decide what you want to do with this information.

I wish to speak to you about solastalgia; a word barely a decade old but that has infected communities around the globe. Its reach is pervasive and undiscriminating.

It is felt by the indigenous Awá tribe of the Amazon who stand solemnly as their rainforest is ripped apart and thinned as though plagued by a virulent case of Alopecia.

Solastalgia lingers upon the cracked banks of Lake Poopò, once the second largest lake in Bolivia, now a stinking puddle. The residents who manned these shores for centuries have fled their home along with 75 different species of birds. Only the elderly remain.

Solastalgia is a term invented by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and environmentalist, and it describes the kind of homesickness that emerges from staying put. It speaks of powerlessness and involuntary farewells, the whispered goodbye to a familiar place, landscape or home as it is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action. Solastalgia cannot be undone or abated like its brethren nostalgia, as what was lost would take centuries to return. It is the creeping sense of distress we feel when we realise that the world has reached its nadir and yet no one is doing anything to stop it. Solastalgia is part of the emerging lexis that gives a name to the environmental changes occurring in plain sight around us.

Its reach is pervasive and undiscriminating. It is felt by the indigenous Awá tribe of the Amazon who stand solemnly as their rainforest is ripped apart and thinned as though plagued by a virulent case of Alopecia. Solastalgia lingers upon the cracked banks of Lake Poopò, once the second largest lake in Bolivia, now a stinking puddle. The residents who manned these shores for centuries have fled their home along with 75 different species of birds. Only the elderly remain. Solastalgia is a term invented by Glenn Albrecht, an Australian philosopher and environmentalist, and it describes the kind of homesickness that emerges from staying put. It speaks of powerlessness and involuntary farewells, the whispered goodbye to a familiar place, landscape or home as it is rendered unrecognisable by climate change or corporate action. Solastalgia cannot be undone or abated like its brethren nostalgia, as what was lost would take centuries to return. It is the creeping sense of distress we feel when we realise that the world has reached its nadir and yet no one is doing anything to stop it. Solastalgia is part of the emerging lexis that gives a name to the environmental changes occurring in plain sight around us.

polluted river mongolia
Picture taken from Photographic Book: “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Author/Editor: Tom Butler

Less than 24 hours into her tenure at Number 10 news broke that Theresa May, Britain’s second female Prime Minister, has dissolved the Department of Energy and Climate Change in a tirade of sweeping reform.

This suicidal omission of climate change from the political agenda occurs one week after the publication of a report from the Independent Committee on Climate Change ascertaining that Britain was “poorly prepared” for the inevitable impacts of global warming in the coming decades.[1] This builds upon the 2015 national security strategy which ranked climate change as a firm equal to international terrorism in the threat it poses to the UK. Oxford Street remains one of the most polluted streets in the world, breaching EU limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions for the entire year in a mere 7 days. The effects of this invisible killer are manifold; 9,000 premature deaths per year in the capital alone are attributed to air pollution while its festering particles attack our skin ageing us 10% faster than those living in the countryside.[2]

“My explanation of the CCC report is not enough. The words are not big or frightening enough to contain the enormity of our climate cataclysm. Look around you. Look at this absurdly perfect, balanced environment. Start taking pictures of it. 1 in 10 species will be extinct by 2050.

The report painted an apocalyptic picture of the next 20-30 years if fossil fuel emissions are not drastically curtailed. London, a sizzling 48° degrees in August luring in a cohort of Zika-bearing mosquitos and dengue fever; the winter months spent fighting the ravages of vicious flooding expected to affect one million homes each year. NASA part funds a report warning that systemic collapse is ‘difficult to avoid’.[3] Food supply chains interrupted, soil erosion and contamination rendering harvest impossible and a swath of climate related war and migration as we battle it out for the last scraps of habitable land. The message is simple: keep this up and it’s a hot, flooded, dead Earth.

Bleached Coral
Dead coral reefs of Lizard Island, Australia, as a result of rising sea temperatures. Photograph Copyright: The Ocean Agency.

So why is it that the fate of our home is consistently downgraded from the political agenda?

Besides the obvious spoils of environmental exploitation, climate scepticism goes hand in hand with the tilt towards far right politics that currently plagues much of Europe. But as Brian Cox astutely pointed out in his article in The Guardian, suspicion of experts and denying the truth about the world around us is the way back to the cave.

Warnings of climate change go unheeded not because there is not enough data or research, but because they fall like feathers upon our profit obsessed and hardened governments. My explanation of the CCC report is not enough. The words are not big or frightening enough to contain the enormity of our climate cataclysm.

Look around you. Look at this absurdly perfect, balanced environment. Start taking pictures of it. 1 in 10 species will be extinct by 2050.[4]

For many people it is easier to imagine the demise of our planet than an overhaul of our political economy and yet our Earth is the only thing that transcends the barriers of culture, class, nationhood that we have so assiduously constructed.

And so it falls to us, the people, you and me. It falls to us even though 10% of all waste is contributed by households. It falls to us because “the world is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our children”. 

Climate change asks hard questions of us all.

It asks us to think temporally in deep time, Earth time, the paths that run parallel and ahead of our own lifespans. It asks us to pull our heads out of the sand and look brutally at the impact we have made upon this planet. It asks even harder questions of scientists. Do we plough ahead with assisted migration to try and save the creatures we have left? Or will our involvement in their battle for survival create hybrid animals that pose threats to existing ecological systems?

Climate debates are not aided by the fact that we have to push and scream to even gain a foothold on the agenda about changing the world. Promising noises were made at the Paris Climate Convention in December last year during which 195 countries agreed to adopt a universal action plan limiting global warming to 2°C. But a mere 6 months later, Obama’s attempts to implement the necessary reforms have been stymied by the infantile politics of the Republican party who continue to deny climate change as a national concern. Theresa May has closed the department responsible for meeting carbon targets absorbing it into the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Action where climate policies will have to fight to be heard above economic proposals for the flagging post-Brexit economy.

Bangladesh
Picture taken from Photographic Book: “Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot”. Author/Editor: Tom Butler

And so it falls to us, the people, you and me. It falls to us even though 10% of all waste is contributed by households. It falls to us because “the world is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our children”[5].

At first look the task seems enormous, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of environmentally propped up capitalism. But we have to learn to hope with teeth.

Take comfort in the successes we have made so far. Look to campaigns such as Blackfish and realise our own potential to effect change on global organisations when it is packaged just right. Sign petitions and protest with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Rainforest UK. Stop buying toothpaste with micro-beads that leaving the ocean clinking and wheezing like an antique armchair. Reduce your meat consumption. Support Sadiq Khan’s campaign to clean up the air in London’s cities. Plant trees. Support the switch over to renewable energy and glory in the revolutionary technologies that have been created that might just be enough to tide us through this epoch of geological adaption; Scott and Julie Brusaw’s revolutionary solar panels roads for one are worth checking out.  The Earth has a remarkable capacity to heal itself if we just let it breathe. And above all, do not be passive, lend your voice wherever you can because if the politicians defending the EU referendum result have taught us anything, it is that we as a democracy will be listened to if we shout loud enough.

“There is hope. But for it to be real, and barbed, and tempered into a weapon, we cannot just default to it.” – China Miéville, Limits of Utopia

 

[1] 2017 Committee for Climate Change Report. Available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/uk-climate-change-risk-assessment-2017/

[2] Study conducted by Chinese Dermatologist Association and Olay Skincare.

[3] Review of the NASA Study: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/14/nasa-civilisation-irreversible-collapse-study-scientists

[4] Extinction Risk from Climate Change, (2004) C.D Thomas.
Available at: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v427/n6970/abs/nature02121.html

[5] Quote taken from: Wendell Berry The Unforeseen Wilderness (1971).