Top Obama aide endorses importance of Amazon climate change

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz gave his endorsement to the importance of large-scale climate change studies now being executed in the Brazilian Amazon, for greater understanding of evolving world weather patterns.

US Energy Secretary Moniz gives keynote. (foto: Michael Darden / Brazil Institute, Wilson Center)

US Energy Secretary Moniz gives keynote. (foto: Michael Darden / Brazil Institute, Wilson Center)

“We need the best minds and the best scientists to understand the changes that are taking place in the tropical forests, and the global effects that climate change today and in the future will have on these ecosystems, and how best to preserve them,” Moniz told a conference in Washington that brought together the “great and good” of Amazon studies in the fields of diversity and climate change.

The event marks a coming of age for Brazilian climate science in the Amazon, which had previously commanded limited attention and enjoyed only restricted budgets, Now the topic has caught the eye of President Barack Obama’s top team.

As a result, international collaboration and rising concerns about climate change being voiced by the IPCC, have vaulted Brazilian scientists and their work into the global limelight.

The New York Declaration on Forests issued in September 2014 during the during the UN’s Climate Summit, has raised awareness of the need to defend the Brazilian Amazon. Meanwhile Brazilian climatologists such as Paulo Artaxo, an IPCC panel member, have found themselves with increasingly prominent roles to play in an often-pugnacious international debate about which you can read more by clicking here. Globe-trotting Artaxo – one of the speakers at the Washington event – has been making appearances during 2014 in opinion-forming centers such as London’s Science Museum.

 

Paulo Artaxo: Brazilian climate change science champion

Paulo Artaxo: Brazilian climate change science champion

 

Secretary Moniz delivered the opening address for a seminar held October 28-29th at the Woodrow Wilson International Institute’s Brazil Center, sponsored by the São Paulo Research Foundation. Moniz – who as well as being a senior member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet is a distinguished energy scientist and MIT professor – said the world was at a critical juncture in terms of understanding climate change and of making changes to respond to this challenge.

He compared the different approaches followed by the US and Brazil in controlling carbon emissions: “The Amazon region is one of the world’s most vital ecosystems, and it is globally important in many ways, one of which is climate change, which is today one of the world’s greatest challenges. Part of the background, in this context, is that Brazil and the United States, the two largest continents and economies in the Americas, have forged different paths towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In Brazil, efforts have focused on managing the challenges of the Amazon region, while in the U.S., they have been on the development of energy supply and demand, such as replacing coal with natural gas, and on measures that seek energy efficiency, such as more efficient vehicles,” he said.

FAPESP

The seminar’s sponsor host organisation FAPESP has an annual budget of almost US$500 million used to fund higher education and research across multiple fields, Two its banner programs are climate change and biodiversity, and the Foundation provides new research grants for Amazonian studies at the rate of two or three a week.

You can read more about the seminar, its key presentations, and the projects described by scientists from the US and Brazil by clicking here. You can watch a video of  the Moniz presentation and key aspect of the  Symposium  by clicking here.

During the seminar scientists from both countries presented data from large ongoing studies including Green Ocean Amazon (GoAmazon). This receives funding from DOE, the department headed by Muniz, and from FAPESP. You can read more about GoAmazon by clicking here.

GoAmazon has turned the mid-Amazon region into a vast open-air laboratory where the interaction between the plume of urban pollution generated by the city of Manaus, and the pristine forest, can be studied. In addition to aircraft-based sensing, the project is building huge observation towers in the jungle from which to “sniff” changes to CO2. Other international partnership projects are tracking the link between climate change, environmental events, and changing patterns of human health in the Amazon basin. You can find out more by clicking here.

UN summit produced New York Declaration on  forests

UN summit produced New York Declaration on forests

The Washington event brought together distinguished experts of Amazonia from a number of fields, including Tom Lovejoy, the originator of the region’s longest-running experiment into tropical deforestation and the man who coined the term “biodiversity.” Now a professor at George Mason University, Lovejoy was the 2012 recipient of the Blue Planet Prize and the 20012 Tyler Prize.

Lovejoy told the seminar, “Looking forwards, I believe one of the greatest challenges for sustainable development will be to make progress in planning and integrated management for the Amazon region.”

The US scientist, who first visited Amazonia in 1965, said that back then, knowledge of the climatic effects of the region were so limited that it was a believed the El Niño climate effect was a phenomenon only affecting the Pacific basin. Lovey went on to develop the Minimum Critical Size project on Amazon deforestation, and has held posts at the Smithsonian Museum, the World Bank, the UN, the IDB and WWF, where he has helped lead opinion and influence policy on biodiversity issues.

"Green Ocean" over Amazonia: pristine forest view from space (foto Wikimedia)

“Green Ocean” over Amazonia: pristine forest view from space (foto Wikimedia)

Lovejoy told the conference that his own “quixotic dream” was to apply the lessons to be learned from Amazonia, on a planetary scale. These lessons, he said could be summarized in the principle that the planet is not simply a physical system, but a biological entity. Only once this notion is respected will humanity be able to have amore respectful interaction with nature. And, he said, every single person has a contribution to make. “We cannot think about climate change as something over which we personally have no effect, because we can indeed do something about it.”

Those attending the symposium were welcomed by Wilson Center President, Jane Harman, who indicated that the meeting was the result of “a long-standing friendship between the Brazil Institute and FAPESP.” Harman then mentioned the excellent relations maintained between the two countries in science and technology.

“The partnership between the United States and Brazil is driving research in nearly all areas, such as energy, nutrition, human security, and how to grow our economies while protecting the only environment we have. These subjects are at the core of North and South American prosperity. Environmental security means national security, and both the United States and Brazil have very encouraging data in this regard,” said Harman.

Atmospheric  plume survey tower in forest  (foto Wikimedia)

Atmospheric plume survey tower in forest (foto Wikimedia)

This changing and more collaborative attitude to Amazonia is long overdue. It will help reverse centuries of distrust, during which Brazil sought to shield the Amazon and its treasures from outside eyes. From the days of Alexander von Humboldt right through the closing years of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, foreigners were often viewed as unwelcome spies. Naturalists such and plant-hunters of the Victorian era, as Wallace, Spruce and Bates had to put up with huge hardships. Now the doors to full cooperation are wide open.

Portuguese readers can review detailed articles by the Brazilian journalist Heitor Shimizu on the Washington symposium and on Tom Lovejoy. SFB is indebted for his help. An English summary can be read by clicking here.

You can read another article on the links between deforestation and regional droughts now affecting  agriculture in Latin America, written by the Brazilian journalit Karina Toledo,  by clicking here.

Researching in Brazil

Brazil’s best-known scientist, the veteran nuclear physicist  José Goldemberg,  in September 2015 took office as the president of  the São…

Read more