Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has repeatedly claimed international leadership for Brazil on climate change in international forums, based on successes in reducing Amazon deforestation.
But days before the start of the new year, Rousseff appointed two ministers who cast doubt on Brazil’s leadership and bode ill for the atmosphere – especially given increases in Brazil’s deforestation rates from 2012–2013 and signs that deforestation may be once again be on the increase.
President Rousseff’s recent statements on climate change
Just three months ago in her address to the UN General Assembly in New York, President Rousseff discussed the challenge of climate change and lauded the Secretary General for convening a leaders' summit, which she said would strengthen the negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change:
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our times. To overcome it, we need a sense of urgency, political courage and the understanding that each of us should contribute according to the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities…
The Brazilian Government will strive to ensure that the outcome of negotiations leads to an agreement that is balanced, fair and effective.
President Rousseff went on to highlight Brazil’s success in the last decade in reducing Amazon deforestation nearly 80% below the 1996–2005 annual average.
Brazil’s actions to control Amazon deforestation (conceived and put into action under the previous administration), and President Rousseff’s assuming international leadership on climate change are good signs for the global struggle to avert disastrous climate change. But her late-December selections for the ministries of Agriculture and Science seem to tell a very different story.
Bad choice #1: Katia Abreu, Minister of Agriculture
The new Minister of Agriculture Katia Abreu was the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture (the national association of large and middle-size landowners and ranchers). As senator, she led the Congress’ powerful anti-environmental, anti-indigenous “bancada ruralista”, or large landowners’, caucus and earned the title among environmentalists of “chainsaw queen.”
The choice was clearly aimed at shoring up precarious support for Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) in the Congress, but at the potential cost of both indigenous rights and the environment. In the polemical 2012 revision of Brazil’s Forest Code, Abreu vehemently promoted radical weakening of forest protection legislation, which was opposed not only by environmentalists but the National Academy of Sciences and Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science. She also supports proposed Constitutional Amendment 215, strongly opposed by indigenous peoples since it would effectively halt the legal recognition of indigenous territories.
Bad choice #2: Aldo Rebelo, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation
Rebelo is clearly out of touch with modern science on climate change.
The new Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Aldo Rebelo is a long-time Communist Party of Brazil congressman and vocal anti-environmental advocate, and the principal author of the divisive and controversial Forest Code revision.
Rebelo is also on the record rejecting climate science. Note his frankness in a July 2014 letter to his former colleague in the Congress and current policy director for the Brazilian NGO Instituto Socioambiental, Márcio Santilli, in response to Santilli’s critique of his proposed revision to the Forest Code. (Note: I’ve translated part of the fourth paragraph from Portuguese, broken up the paragraph for ease of reading online, and added italics for emphasis.)
The positivist scientism that you call natural science and contrast with my devotion to dialectical materialism is not magical enough to convert me to the article of faith that is the theory of global warming, which is incompatible with current knowledge.
Science is not an oracle. In fact, there is no scientific proof of the projections of global warming, much less that it is occurring because of human action and not because of natural phenomena. It is a construct based on computer simulations.
In fact, my tradition links me to a line of scientific thought that prioritizes doubt over certainty and does not silence a question at the first response. Parallel to the extraordinary advances and conquests that Science has bequeathed to the progress of Humanity, come innumerable errors, frauds or manipulations always spun in the service of countries that finance certain research projects or projections.
I am curious to know whether those who today accept the theory of global warming and its alleged anthropogenic causes as unshakeable dogma, are the same ones who some years ago announced, with identical divine certainty, global cooling.
Interestingly, old-line Communist Rebelo is on exactly the same page on climate science as the hardest of the hard-core tea partiers in the United States: it’s all speculation – “scientism” – not real science.
I wonder what he does with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its 2,000+ climate scientists and experts, its ever-increasing certainty that climate change is mostly caused by human beings and will, if not urgently addressed, lead to catastrophic consequences? Or the clear evidence, rehashed at every climate conference for at least the last decade, that the poorest countries that have contributed the least to the problem are those that are already suffering the most drastic consequences in the form of sea level rise, floods and droughts?
Out of touch
Naming agribusiness darlings Abreu and Rebelo to the cabinet is good for the PT’s legislative body count. Less clear is how to square these selections with the government’s stated opposition to the ruralistas’ efforts to repeal environmental and indigenous rights legislation. Even harder is to square Brazil’s longstanding international support for climate science and climate action, not to mention its national climate change policy, with Rebelo’s explicit rejection of climate science as “an article of faith” and “incompatible with current knowledge.”
Rather than expressing an understanding of modern Brazil’s real and very considerable accomplishments and capabilities as an emerging world leader, Rebelo's worldview is shaped by the bogeys of 19th century geopolitics.
What’s really sad about this choice, though, isn’t just that Rebelo is clearly out of touch with modern science – and indeed the numerous world-class scientists of the Brazilian National Academy and Society for the Advancement of Science – on climate change.
It’s also that it completely unnecessarily makes Brazil look really provincial and silly on the world stage. (Memo to Dilma: Picking a Science Minister who thinks the overwhelming consensus of the international scientific community is “positivist scientism” – as opposed to dialectical materialism – and whose idea of state-of-the-art thinking on the relation between humanity and nature is the 19th century Karl Marx protégé Friedrich Engels, is making your friends in the international community roll their eyes and cringe.)
Sadder still is that someone whose worldview is so much shaped by the bogeys of 19th century geopolitics, rather than expressing an understanding of modern Brazil’s real and very considerable accomplishments and capabilities as an emerging world leader, was named Cabinet Minister just days before the start of 2015.