By Jan Lundius*
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Aug 2019 (IPS) – We live in different worlds. The ones of friends, family and work colleagues. Worlds which are overshadowed by other, much bigger ones. Global spheres of international finance, politics, climate change, etc., contexts that might threaten our smaller circle of relationships; our family, our income, our general wellbeing, in short – our entire existence. However, even at those levels there exist small circles of acquaintances and associates able to make decisions that affect the entire humankind. Let me take one example – the regimes of U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, which are menacing our global natural habitat.
Ten years ago, I flew across the Amazon Jungle, amazed by its immensity though also alarmed by scares where thick greenery had been cleared away and substituted by dismal remains of dead trees, or dry cattle pastures and soy plantations. Logging and mining are the greatest dangers to Amazonia since its exposed soil is generally old, weathered, acidic, infertile, and subject to compaction from intense solar radiation.
Within the framework of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) thousands of scientists and other experts write and review reports informing the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an endevour involving the governments of more than 120 countries. The IPCC, which in 2007 was rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize, was established in 1988. The U.S. Government was the main force for making the IPCC an autonomous intergovernmental body supporting a consensus between the participating nations.
At regular intervals, the IPCC presents comprehensive assessments on climate change and its impact on ecology, human society, and food production. In 2013, one of its reports declared that:
Climate change is occurring, it is caused largely by human activities and poses significant risks for – and in many cases is already affecting – a broad range of human and natural systems. […] Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Human influence on the climate system is clear. 1
Nevertheless, several influential world leaders and their sycophants refuse to accept unequivocal findings and warnings issued by the IPCC, among them the U.S. president, who continues to make badly informed, even mind-numbing statements, like:
My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years, Dr. John Trump, and I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject [climate change], but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture. […] Everything I want and everything I have is clean. Clean is very important — water, air. I want absolutely crystal clear water and I want the cleanest air on the planet and our air now is cleaner than it’s ever been. Very important to me. What I’m not willing to do is sacrifice the economic well-being of our country for something that nobody really knows. 2
While speaking about any scientific issue he does not know much about it is common that President Trump refers to ”Uncle John”, to whom he quite obviously did not speak about climate change, since Dr. Trump was a professor of engineering at a time when the phenomenon was hardly spoken of outside limited expert groups. 3 Donald Trump likes to refer to John Trump, who died in 1985, arguing that ”Dr John Trump at MIT, good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart”. The current U.S. president assumes he has superior genes as well:
I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain, my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff. […] I’m a gene believer. Do you believe in the gene thing? I mean I do. I have great genes and all that stuff, which I’m a believer in. 4
On 8 August this year, the IPCC launched a 1,200-page Special Report of Climate Change and Land, highlighting that human activities directly affect more than 70 percent of earth´s ice-free land. A quarter of this land is already severely degraded. Five hundred million people are currently living in areas experiencing desertification, while agriculture continous to use 70 percent of the earth´s freshwater. Our planet´s vegetation currently absorbs 30 percent of CO2 emissions, which contribute to global warming, but the ongoing clearing of forests increases average world temperature at an alarming speed, while access to freshwater is constantly decreasing. During the last decades, the average temperature has increased by 1,53 oC. 5 This critical situation could probably be reversed if agricultural and forestry methods are drastically changed from a present state of overexploitation, characterized by excessive use of pesticides, nitrogenous fertilizers, mechanization, wasteful irrigation and other harmful practicies favoured by large-scale agricultural producers.
Let me return to Jair Messias Bolsonaro and his acolytes. The world’s largest tropical rainforest is currently under a lethal threat from President Bolsonaro, a powerful supporter of large-scale agribusiness he is complaining about foreign pressure to safeguard Amazonia. Bolsonaro is following in Trump´s footsteps, for example by threatening to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. His Minister of Foreign Affairs has called global warming a plot by “cultural Marxists”, while Bolsonaro declares that ”Amazonas is ours and ours alone”, accusing ”foreign NGOs” of intending to steal natural resources of its rainforest from Brazil and hand it over to European exploiters. Furthermore, he accuses indigenous groups of keeping Amazonia away from the Brazilian people, trying to maintain it ”at a prehistoric level”. Accordingly, Bolsonaro has withdrawn governmental support to FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, which up until now has carried out policies related to indigenous people. He has also eliminated the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Environment, as well as two departments that dealt with climate change mitigation and deforestation.
On 6 August this year, the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported that 4,700 km2 of the jungle had been cleared since Bolsonaro´s inauguration on January 1st and in June alone, deforestation had been 278 percent more than for the same month in 2018. Bolsonaro immediately fired INPE´s director, Ricardo Galvao, accusing him of being in the service of ”some NGO´s” and that he himself would not fall victim to any ”environmental psychosis”. 6
Bolsonaro appears to belong to the same breed as President Trump. He behaves like a narcissist obsessed by his own worth and righteousness. Bolsonaro´s regime is already after half a year threatening not only Brazil with a moral and ecological meltdown, but the entire world as well. On March 28th The Economist described Bolsanero´s government as being in a state of monumental confusion. Apart from the economic team, it is a warring assortment of retired generals, mid-ranking politicians, evangelical Protestants and far right ideologues. “Nobody knows where he´s going, what´s the course he´s setting,” says Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president, of Mr Bolsanaro. “He goes forward then back, all the time.” 7
Despots like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong have proved that a single man and his acolytes can bring death, hardship, and devastation to millions of people. Remembering men like those and learning about the views, aspirations, and actions of people like Trump and Bolsonaro make it imperative for all of us to become aware of the craziness of these two leaders and the fatal consequences of their actions. All humanity must now join forces to support national and global efforts to save our planet.
3 Davidson Sorkin, Amy (2016) ”Donald Trump´s Nuclear Uncle”, The New Yorker, April 8.
4 Collins, Eliza (2016) “Trump: I consult myself on foreign policy”, Politico, March 16, and Mortimer, Caroline (2016) “Donald Trump believes he has superior genes, biographer claims.” The Independent, September 30.
6 Gatinois, Claire (2019) ”Déforestation record au Brésil, le jeu dangereux de Jair Bolsonaro”, Le Monde, August 9.
7 Bello, Andrés (2019) ”Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil´s apprentice president”, The Economist, March 28.
*Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.