My View: Climate Crisis Coming Sooner Than We Thought

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The fires have attracted worldwide attention to the peril that could hit this planet if the Amazon succumbs to an ecological disaster.  But as a Washington Post editorial this week makes clear – this isn’t just about fires.

The Post points out: “ONE OF the easiest ways to combat climate change is to stop tearing down old trees. This is why it is everyone’s problem that new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro seems determined to chop away at the Amazon rainforest, the world’s greatest reserve of old-growth forest.”

A recent analysis in the New York Times, “enforcement actions by Brazil’s main environmental agency fell by 20 percent during the first six months of the year, compared with the same period in 2018.”

They point out the result of these actions: “The drop means that vast stretches of the rain forest can be torn down with less resistance from the nation’s authorities.”

The result has been the loss of 1330 square miles of rainforest since January – larger than the state of Rhode Island.  Also larger than Yolo County which is 1024 square miles.

That increase has been about 40 percent higher than last year.

The New York Times this morning reports a sign for hope: “Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, took the rare step on Friday of mobilizing the armed forces to help contain blazes of a scale not seen in nearly a decade.”

Reports the NY Times: “The sudden reversal, after days of dismissing growing concern over hundreds of fires raging across the Amazon, came as international outrage grew over the rising deforestation in the world’s largest tropical rain forest.”

Of course leading the way on pressure was not the United States, led by chief climate denier Donald Trump, but rather European leaders who threatened to cancel a major trade deal as “protesters staged demonstrations outside Brazilian embassies and calls for a boycott of Brazilian products snowballed on social media.”

The Times notes: “As a chorus of condemnation intensified, Brazil braced for the prospect of punitive measures that could severely damage an economy that is already sputtering after a brutal recession and the country’s far-right populist president faced a withering reckoning.”

The problem is that while the President brought rhetoric, action is needed.

“I have a profound love and respect for the Amazon,” Mr. Bolsonaro said in a rare scripted message. “Protecting the rain forest is our duty.”

Moreover, they point out: “He provided no details about what assets the military would bring to bear in areas where fires are spreading,” and noted, “It was unlikely that Mr. Bolsonaro’s plan could address the underlying crisis without a fundamental shift in his environmental policies, which have emboldened miners, loggers and farmers to strip and burn protected areas with a sense of impunity.”

But as the Washington Post editorial points out, Mr. Bolsonaro’s brand of right-wing populism closely resembles that of President Trump.  In fact, he has called his own government’s information, “lies” and pushed back along with environment minister Ricardo Salles in alleging that there is a “permanent and well-orchestrated defamation campaign by [nongovernmental organizations] and supposed experts, within and outside of Brazil.”

As the Post points out: both Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro are “committed to breakneck resource extraction while dismissing expert warnings. And both lead nations with special responsibilities in the global fight against climate change.”

The Post argues: “Global warming cannot be successfully addressed without the engagement of the United States, the world’s largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases and erstwhile leader. The Brazilian Amazon, meanwhile, is a unique natural treasure, its abundance of plant life inhaling and storing loads of planet-warming carbon dioxide day and night. Without “the world’s lungs,” life on the planet is doomed.”

According to the Times, the loss of forest land according to experts, “appears to be the main driver of the fires in the Amazon this year.”

They also report, “The number of fires in the Amazon so far this year, 40,341, is the highest since 2010, and roughly 35 percent higher than the average for the first eight months of the year.”  Most of them are set intentionally to clear land for agriculture and cattle.

“But the fire season got off to an early start this year, and blazes set along the edges of the rain forest are unusually potent, raising the risk that some will spread beyond the intended areas,” according to Doug Morton, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center who tracks deforestation and fires in the Amazon.

“This is a critical time,” he said in an interview. “Part of the international attention to what is going on comes from the fact that Brazil has been such a pioneer and leader on environmental protection and it has shown the world it’s possible to have economic development while protecting the rain forest.”

The Amazon contains about 40 percent of the world’s tropical forces and represents a vital carbon store that slows down global warming.

The fires and clear-cutting are particularly alarming to scientists as they believe that the trees are the planet’s first line of defense against the global warming.

From a London paper: “Due to deforestation, scientists estimate that we are near the tipping point where the Amazon can no longer function as a carbon sink. They also warn the forest is in growing danger of degrading into a savannah. That means its capacity to absorb carbon will be severely diminished and could result in consequences for the rest of the planet.”

As Science News points out: there have been 9500 new forest fires since just last week as a result of “the natural dry season and fires intentionally ignited to clear forest.”

Environmental Scientist Jonathan Foley out of San Francisco put it into perspective: “The fires this year are unlike anything we’ve seen in quite a while. The preliminary data suggest that the number of fires burning now is about 80 percent higher from this time last year. That’s really alarming.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “My View: Climate Crisis Coming Sooner Than We Thought”

  1. Ron Oertel

    “Much of the land that is burning was not old-growth rain forest, but land that had already been cleared of trees and set for agricultural use.”

    https://reason.com/2019/08/23/dont-panic-amazon-burning-is-mostly-farms-not-forests/

    One of the consequences of obtaining agricultural products from elsewhere, vs. preserving our own farmland.  (Not to mention the environmental cost of transporting it, assuming much of it is exported.)  And of course, there’s continued population growth which underlies all such problems.

     

  2. Alan Miller

    There’s a on-line push to boycott Brazilian products over the environment, but we continue to support China by the trillions with their ongoing human-rights violations, occupation/suppression of Tibet, and their attempt to swallow Hong Kong whole.  Trump isn’t concerned about this with his tariffs, just their trade policies.  Banning because of spectacular fires making things worse — but ignoring what already is, such the mass-human way, made worse by instant communication.   US should not support regimes of mass environmental destruction nor mass human rights violations.  But we do, because we like 20¢ toilet paper and 39¢ disposable diapers at Walmart, shipped in from China on giant cargo ships.  Let’s re-industrialize North-America with a new era of environmentally-non-destructive practices, bring back a blue-collar working class and show it the respect we give to white-collar and academic classes, and stop supporting Brazil and China with dollars.

    But I cry into the wind and the wind, cries, “Mary”.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Everything you wrote here is spot-on.

      No one wants to directly acknowledge it, but in some ways Trump might be viewed as the “accidental-environmentalist president” – at least with his tariffs.

      Perhaps it will result in some better-quality, American-made stuff, as well. With workers paid a fair wage. Like the “old days”. (But, I doubt it.) But, those who find nothing but fault with Trump ignore what some of his apparent appeal was, in the first place.

      1. Alan Miller

        I’m a global free-trade believer.  In theory.

        But not at any environmental or human-rights cost.  And our present relationships have enabled the continuation of horrible destruction and abuse, and put China on a pedestal they do not deserve because they make all our stuff.  But the vote is clear, one vote with each purchase at Walmart.

        Of course the US has human-rights issues and does environmental damage as well.  One cannot run a modern society without some destruction, and so very few who protest this don’t fly on jets and use a smart phone.  Vigilance in our country.  A continuing effort, project by project, long past our deaths.

        The problem with demonizing Trump for political reasons is that his and our very real shortcomings are ballooned into the perception of being evil on the level of China or Brazil or . . . name that country.

        I don’t want to give him any credit for tariffs either, as doing things for the right reason is ultimate, and he isn’t.  If China ‘played fair’ in trade, Trump would gladly ignore their evil shortcomings, just like every recent President of every stripe has — because they make our stuff.

        Kill Walmart.

        Until then, the polls are open.  We support China’s abuses with every item we buy.  I do it, you do it.

        The only cure would be the entire US population getting real at the same time and being willing to collectively take the economic hit.  A MASSIVE change that would crush our way of life.

        Until then, enjoy your objects.

        While Tibet suffers and Hong Kong falls.

        The traffic lights they turn a blue tomorrow
        And shine their emptiness down on my bed
        The tiny island sags downstream
        ‘Cause the life that they lived is dead

      2. Richard McCann

        Unfortunately, Trump ignores the other side of the equation to accomplish what your goal. He explicitly undermines the ability of labor to actually be able to negotiate higher wages by handing power to corporations. His actions do nothing to help workers in any way because he’s transferring more wealth to the wealthy.

        He makes no effort to get China to actually take the actions that would improve the environment, which would be to require that they meet higher labor and environmental standards more equivalent to those in North America and Europe.

        In addition, production is not moving from China to the U.S.–it’s moving to other Asian nations where the environmental damages may even be worse.

        1. Ron Oertel

          No disagreement, there. However, if production actually returned to the U.S. (which is his apparent goal), then it should provide some benefit to workers here, while ensuring greater safety and possibly less environmental damage.

          A lot of this is related to the primary reason he got elected in the first place. Whether or not it’s actually possible to accomplish.

          One other aspect of tariffs is likely a general reduction in economic expansion, worldwide.  Given that such activities often degrade the environment, tariffs may inadvertently reduce such damage, as well.

          It likely reduces overall consumerism/consumption as well, in our throw-away society.

          Hence, the “accidental environmentalist president”, at least in this regard.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            “However, if production actually returned to the U.S. (which is his apparent goal), then it should provide some benefit to workers here, while ensuring greater safety and possibly less environmental damage.”

            That’s the folly of his policy. Production is not going to return to the US. All he’s going to accomplish is potentially disrupting the economy with no real upside to US workers.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I agree that this is the likely result.  I think Obama once said something like, “those jobs aren’t coming back”.

          But again, maybe the giant conglomerations of plastic floating around in the ocean will be reduced, if countries like China aren’t allowed to flood the market with artificially-cheap products.

          And maybe, just maybe – increased costs will have an impact on the never-ending pursuit of sprawl, since it also impacts the cost of construction materials.

          Bottom line is that if you want society to consume less of something, rising costs are pretty effective in accomplishing that.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I think the only way it is reduced is if there is a concerted effort to reduce – it’s not just going to happen. Market fixes are not going to be steep enough either.

    2. Richard McCann

      Alan

      I agree with your point. As an economist, I prefer free trade, but it also needs to be done on a basis in which the partners agree on a common moral or ethical base. When people complained about Trump imposing tariffs, I said that there is actually a situation in which tariffs are economically justified–the situation that you described. There’s a strand of environmental literature that advocates for using tariffs to set international carbon prices to address the climate change crisis. In fact, this can be economically efficient to do so. The same thing can be done for setting labor standards. But that’s not what’s happening with China right now and the tariffs appear to only be exacerbating the situation. The tariffs are not targeted at China’s highest GHG emitting products, and if anything, Trump appears to be trying to force China to allow the U.S. to increase production of its own highest emitting products.

  3. Craig Ross

    The problem with Alan Miller’s otherwise thoughtful comments (and I mean that in all sincerity) is that while I agree that the human rights concerns of China are problematic (to say the least) and their environmental stewardship is wanting (again to say the least), by drawing equivalents here we lose sight of the urgency of the forest situation.  If it reaches critical mass, as you can read from scientific analysis, it could pass the point of no return.  As someone who is young, the notion that my life will be drastically cut short by shortsightedness of our elders is a terrifying.  The future is now and our leaders are asleep.  An no, Ron, Trump is not the accidental environmental president, he’s the president who really could bring on environmental Armageddon.

    1. Alan Miller

      Don’t disagree, CR, the Brazilian situation is horrific.  I don’t know what the US can do about it except exert pressure, unless we would send in our own military to avert an environmental disaster, something I doubt Trump, or Obama, would do.  My main point, which was probably clear, unlike many of my points, is that human kind does feel itself getting boiled like the proverbial frog and jumps when the heat is turned up fast, but not so much when significant horrific changes take place over time.

  4. Ron Oertel

     “An no, Ron, Trump is not the accidental environmental president, he’s the president who really could bring on environmental Armageddon.”

    My comment was limited to the possible environmental benefits, resulting from the tariffs.  I didn’t even say whether or not I supported the tariffs.

    In general, advocacy (such as yours) for more development is what’s really causing harm to the planet.

    1. Ron Oertel

      And actually, your views would more closely align with Trump’s regarding development and growth.

      Reminds me of the positions that groups like the Chamber of Commerce often take. (Not just locally.) But, at least they don’t simultaneously claim to be so concerned about the planet.

      I can probably post articles regarding their positions, if you’d like.

    2. Alan Miller

      In general, advocacy (such as yours) for more development is what’s really causing harm to the planet.

      I agree and disagree with both of you, RO & CR.

      Overpopulation, of the planet and of parts of it, is the toxin.  Perpetual human growth as the means to sustain economic growth is not sustainable.

      Davis, however, is under pressure from forces far larger than Davis itself.  And we must adapt, or the rent will go through the roof.  Oh, it already did.  It will go even higher, way higher.  That is not sane.

      So I agree that we must grow.  What I don’t agree with is that now that we must grow, much of the consideration of zoning and city character should now be thrown out because ‘times have changed’.  With that, we’ll be a stack and pack city with a few parks and museum pieces from the old city.

      With a bit of sanity from those of us not on the extreme fringes, we can have growth and maintain much of what gives Davis character.

      But largely we hear from those who are no-growth or all-growth.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I don’t necessarily disagree with all of this, although absorption of growth in nearby cities has, and will continue to keep Davis (both rental, and sales) housing prices in check.  As will the planned development on campus, assuming that it’s built (and if UCD continues to grow).

        In the meantime, there are opportunities for more infill, as needed.  Still preferable to suburban expansion, as is continuing to occur throughout the region and beyond.

        There’s already developments like Sterling, Lincoln40, Nishi, Chiles Road apartments, Plaza 2555, Davis Live, University Mall residential/mixed-use development, University Research park residential/mixed-use development, etc. in the pipeline. Some of which might have been better-suited to house a range of populations, besides those who could have been exclusively accommodated on campus.

        So, regardless of what’s said on here, there’s LOTS of development going on.

  5. Ron Glick

    We could end the trade war and restart our soybean exports to China. That would lessen the demand for soya from Brazil and reduce the need for land clearing and burning of tropical forests on laterite soils for production of food for export. There is a direct linkage between Trump’s trade war and the destruction of rainforest in the Amazon.

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