A Climate Bomb in the Amazon

The Brazilian Amazon is burning, threatening the world’s largest repository of biodiversity. If the fires are not controlled soon, they could release a “climate bomb” of stored carbon that would accelerate climate change.

November 24, 2020 — 37:40 min
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Host

Gabrielle Sierra

Podcast Host and Producer Full Bio

Episode Guests

Monica de Bolle

Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics

Thomas Lovejoy

President, Amazon Biodiversity Center

Stewart M. Patrick

James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program

Show Notes

Deforestation has reached a tipping point in the Amazon Rainforest under the leadership of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Unprecedented fires, set intentionally to clear land for development, threaten to destroy biodiversity, alter weather patterns, and release vast quantities of carbon into the atmosphere. The consequences will reach the entire planet, but some argue that Brazilians have a sovereign right to use the land as they please. In this episode, three experts examine what’s at stake and what can be done. 

 

Dig Deeper

CFR Resources

The Amazon and You,” CFR President Richard N. Haass

Deforestation in the Amazon,” InfoGuide

How Brazil’s Burning Amazon Threatens the Climate,” Amelia Cheatham

The World Waits for No Country,” Richard N. Haass

Video: “The Global Impact of the Amazon Rainforest Fires
 

From Monica de Bolle 

The Amazon Is a Carbon Bomb,” Peterson Institute for International Economics

Amazon Deforestation Is Fast Nearing Tipping Point When Rainforest Cannot Sustain Itself,” Peterson Institute for International Economics

 

From Thomas Lovejoy

Video: “Amazon Deforestation: Exploring What’s Left of Brazil’s Rainforest,” Into the Unknown

 

Read More

The Amazon Is Completely Lawless,” New York Times

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest jump in October,” Al Jazeera

Could a Biden Administration Help Save the Amazon Rainforest?,” TIME

Brazilians, more than others, say climate change is ‘catastrophic risk’,” Thomson Reuters Foundation

The Glimmer of a Climate New World Order,” New York

China Wants Food. Brazil Pays the Price.,” Atlantic 

The Brazilian Amazon is still burning. Who is responsible?,” Washington Post

Who Owns the Amazon?,” New York Times

 

Watch or Listen
Brazil’s Environmentalists Worry Fire Season Will Worsen Amazon’s Deforestation,” NPR

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Transcript

The Amazon is the biggest rainforest in the world. If we were standing in the middle of it right now, we’d be surrounded by 2.5 million species of insects. The air would be thick with moisture, thanks to 390 billion trees that exude gallons of water every day. All around us would be thousands upon thousands of species of plants and animals, many hidden, many yet undiscovered.   

There is also something present that we can’t see or feel. An enormous repository of carbon that’s been sucked out of the atmosphere and safely stored away.

This place, is burning. From the summer of 2018 to the summer of 2019, more than 3,700 square miles of the Amazon were destroyed - a thirty percent increase from the previous year... and things have only gotten worse since the Covid pandemic began.

Without big changes soon, the Amazon as we know it could be lost. And the carbon could be released.

SKY NEWS: 0:03 “The Amazon Rainforest is on fire again. Whole mountains, hills, and valleys engulfed in smoke.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkZjUUXpICA

PBS NEWSHOUR: 0:02 “Burning at a record-breaking pace, sparking serious concerns around the world” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yMnMJWyY7k

TODAY: 0:26 “Scientists say we may have reached a tipping point. If just three percent more of the Amazon is destroyed... there will be no turning back.” https://youtu.be/8xFt2TYGbjI?t=26

I’m Gabrielle Sierra and this is Why It Matters. Today, the Amazon rainforest at a tipping point, and the climate disaster that hangs in the balance. 

SIERRA   

We read about fires in the Amazon, frequently. So how are they started? Are they sort of like the California wildfires or is it something completely different?

Tom LOVEJOY   

So actually, they're quite different from wildfires in other parts of the world because the rainforest is wet. 

This is Dr. Tom Lovejoy, a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and a professor at George Mason University in Virginia. He has worked in the Amazon since 1965, focusing on scientific research, conservation, and policy.

LOVEJOY

Lightning strikes don't start fires in the Amazon, people start fires. And to give you a sense, once somebody has cut down some forest, they have to wait for five days without a drop of rain before it is dry enough to set fire to and get rid of all this stuff that's between the firebrand and turning it into some kind of agricultural project.

Nine countries share the Amazon, but roughly sixty percent of it is within Brazil’s borders. Which means they have a lot of control over its fate. And today, across this vast territory, small groups of people are intentionally setting fires in order to dry out the land for logging, and to clear it for agriculture.

Monica DE BOLLE  

This way of clearing land for whatever activity you want to do is very damaging to the soil. So what happens is that if later you want to reforest that particular patch of land, it becomes very hard to do because the soil changes as soon as you clear it out because it's now sustaining a different kind of environment which is not rainforest-like. And then you can't really grow a rainforest back in that sort of setting.

This is Monica De Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

DE BOLLE

People refer to the Amazon a lot as the lungs of the world, but that's not really what the Amazon is. What the Amazon does, is that it keeps a lot of greenhouse gases from getting into the atmosphere. So it's not that the forest breathes for the world, it's that once the forest is standing, all of those greenhouse gases which are in the soil, they're kept there, they're not released into the atmosphere. And as soon as you start cutting down the forest, those greenhouse gases start to go into the atmosphere - start to be released. It's sort of like a climate bomb. And as soon as you start cutting down the rainforest, that bomb is released.

So how big is that carbon bomb? Really big. Scientists estimate that the Amazon stores 60 to 80 billion tons of carbon - or roughly twice the total amount released from fossil fuels in 2018 worldwide. Losing the Amazon would accelerate warming, with harmful impacts felt around the world.  

DE BOLLE

The other issue is these hydrological patterns. So when we say that we're referring to the rain cycles, and it's not just local, because given the size of the Amazon, again, it creates not just a microclimate, but a sort of macroclimate within the whole of the South American region, even affecting a bit of Central America as well, given that the Amazon is so far north. And so what happens is that the rain cycle patterns as you cut down the forests, they change, and sometimes they change really dramatically, to the point where, you destroy people's lives because they can no longer grow the crops that they used to grow because the rain cycles are completely different. That has already happened in many parts of South America that have felt this direct impact. And this is only going to get worse, if the deforestation continues. 

Hydrology is the study of the movement and distribution of water. Because the Amazon is so large, and so wet, its hydrology has a huge effect. It supplies water to almost every country in South America. And, in fact, according to NASA, deforestation has already been linked to reduced rainfall in the region. 

DE BOLLE

And then on top of all that, you have the issue of Amazon tipping point. So you get to a point where, if you go beyond that point in terms of deforestation, the rain forest is no longer self sustaining. It's going to turn into savanna simply because of the ecological dynamics of how rainforests behave. And there's a lot of concern that, where the Amazon is right now is dangerously close to this tipping point.

And as ominous as the climate bomb and chaotic rain cycles sound, these wouldn’t be the only global consequences of an Amazon tipping point. 

SIERRA   

I'd like to sort of have a bit of a broader picture. What's at stake for the world when it comes to the survival of the Amazon?

LOVEJOY   

So what's at stake is that a significant, probably the greatest concentration of terrestrial biodiversity is in the Amazon, which by the way is bigger than most people realize. It's essentially equal to the 48 contiguous United States. So it's incredibly important in terms of biological diversity and all that means for the future of humanity and the future of nature. 

He wouldn’t tell you this himself, but Dr. Lovejoy is informally known as the “godfather of biodiversity”. In fact he coined the term in 1980. It refers to the entire variety of life on earth, and all the systems that make life possible. The Amazon, home to 10 percent of all species, is kind of like the capital city of biodiversity. 

SIERRA

Are there specific examples you can point to that illustrate what humanity has gained from the Amazon’s biodiversity?

LOVEJOY   

Well, I would think that one that would appeal almost to everybody in the world is chocolate. You know, I mean, cacao is native to the Amazon and it was traded by indigenous peoples all the way up into Mexico. Another would be the ACE inhibitors, which hundreds of millions of people in the world, probably at least a billion people take every day to control their high blood pressure. And that all comes from understanding how the venom of a nasty Viper actually works. And at any point, something may be discovered about the biology of a particular species that turns out to have enormous practical value. One example would be what the indigenous people use to stun fish, which is actually a vine, and the molecule in it that does that is curare, big, long complicated molecule too expensive to synthesize. So actually, every major abdominal surgery in the world uses curare as a muscle relaxant. 

The venom of a viper from a corner of the rainforest led to a drug that is now coursing through the veins of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, helping them combat heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and even migraines. And it’s impossible to know how many other breakthroughs lie undiscovered in the forest. 

LOVEJOY   

So it's a library that most of the books have not even been cataloged, let alone read. And so you need to think about all that biodiversity as a whole bunch of species, every day, inventing new solutions to biological challenges in its natural history. Any one of which if you pluck it off the shelf and read it and understand it might have enormous practical benefit. So, to destroy the fundamental library for the life sciences, is about as short-sighted a thing as humanity could possibly do.

To understand why the fires and destruction have accelerated, it’s a good idea to take a look back at the history of the Brazilian Amazon. 

DE BOLLE   

It has always been pretty much a no man's land in terms of regulation, in terms of land rights. And thus, it has been subjected over the past several decades, to exploitation in various ways. In the 70s in the 80s, the Amazon was sort of like the last frontier for development in Brazil. And so in large part, roads, big highways, were built across the Amazon region and there was a lot of deforestation that was done for that, and after that development push, which lasted a while, went away, then the cattle growers came in and started deforesting some areas and that was happening throughout the 1990s, and through the better part of the 2000s. In 2004, that was the peak year of deforestation in a very long time. And at that point, the Workers Party which was governing Brazil, and the environmental minister that was in place then, Marina Silva, decided to put in place a plan to stop or to halt deforestation. And so that government put together a strategy to really reduce dramatically deforestation and it was successful and they really enforced environmental legislation. They also put together a very good monitoring system so deforestation fell by 80% in 10 years, as a result of these actions.

SIERRA   

I mean, that's a lot. So what happened after that?

DE BOLLE   

Brazil then dove into a deep recession in 2015 and 2016. So these economic troubles basically meant that all of these environmental concerns, issues, policies that had been put in place, they became sort of not as important given the other challenges that the country was facing, and therefore, from about 2015 or so, we did start to see deforestation pick up again, and that was because the government was trying to cut spending, so it couldn't spend on a lot of these agencies that were responsible for monitoring and for enforcing environmental legislation. There were a lot of financing issues that basically undid part of the effort that had been done over those previous 10 years and deforestation picked up again.

SIERRA   

So it was a mix of just not having the money anymore to enforce these new rules to, you know, oversee these new policies, but also people looking to make money from the Amazon?

DE BOLLE   

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that has always been a problem, because what happens is that given a lot of distorted incentives, regulations, lack of land rights and things like that, the land in the Amazon is actually worth more if it has no trees on it, than if it still has rainforests standing.

And that’s because clearing rainforests offers a quick dose of short-term profit. The lumber itself can be sold, and once cleared, the land can be used to raise cattle and other livestock. But economists like Monica note that this is a backward way to value the land - when compared to the potential profits of a discovery like ACE inhibitors and the enormous cost of climate change, these short term profits are miniscule. Still, they’re attractive to Brazilians with few other options. 

SIERRA   

Can you give me a sense of the scale of the current destruction?

DE BOLLE   

Every year you can see how much land is deforested. So in 2015, it started to pick up; it was broadly the same in 2016, picked up a little bit more in 2017, 2018. And then we hit 2019, and in 2019, two things happen.

One, an exceptionally bad dry season, which made the fires worse. And two, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president. Bolsonaro’s populist policies included an emphasis on Brazil’s right to do whatever it pleased with the Amazon. 

DE BOLLE

Throughout the presidential campaign and then afterwards when he was elected, he kept saying that the Amazon resources should be exploited, kind of using a military dictatorship sort of argument that, you know, this was the last frontier of development in Brazil. So there were a lot of incentives from that type of rhetoric for people to go in, do illegal logging, start cutting down parts of the rainforest to grow cattle and things of that sort. So the combination of a more severe dry season and longer dry season with, you know, a presidential posture that was unlike that of previous governments, led to a big increase in deforestation in 2019. And we're seeing that again this year. 

SIERRA  

So who benefits from clearing the land in the Amazon?

DE BOLLE   

These are small players, they're the ones that are benefiting. Why is it not the big sort of agricultural producers? Well, because the big agricultural producers in Brazil actually know they have a lot to lose if they start cutting down the rainforest. In fact the big agricultural producers in Brazil have made a lot of effort in getting sort of green seals, and you know, making sure that whatever agriculture they practice is environmentally friendly. And this is what makes Brazil an agricultural powerhouse and has made Brazil an agricultural powerhouse over the years. So we often see the Amazon issue being portrayed in the media sometimes and blaming these big producers. The problem is not the big producers. And in fact, they have been at the forefront of trying to convince the current government that, you know, it's just bad policy to deforest the Amazon because it hurts agricultural exports in Brazil. 

This may sound surprising, but big Brazilian companies have two strong motivations to end the fires. For one, global outrage is bad news for their brands. But perhaps more importantly, the domino effect of the fires on the ecosystem threatens to change weather patterns, which could make it hard to grow soybeans, or other commodities for export. They’ve run the numbers, and the fires are just bad for business. 

SIERRA   

Hearing all this, I sort of wonder about the government's role in it. Do you think it's fair to say that deforestation and the fires are a policy decision by the Bolsonaro Government? 

LOVEJOY 

So I would say, you know, de facto, one has to conclude that, you know, if we didn't have COVID right now, the fires in the Amazon, which are worse than last year would be the headlines. And there's just a lot of inadequate economic analysis that goes into the things that they allow to happen. But their, really, biggest fault is being really weak on enforcement. You know, six or seven years ago, the Brazilian government was actually quite strong in enforcing their environmental laws. But budgets have been slashed, and wrong kinds of signals have been sent. 

SIERRA  

What motivation does Bolsonaro have to sort of allow this all to happen or even to encourage it? What type of leader is he, like, what are his political motivations for allowing this?

DE BOLLE  

So Bolsonaro is a president that thrives on conspiracy theories, he thrives on chaos. He thrives on being anti-something. And so the anti-environment cause for him has been, to some extent, important because he has managed to create a narrative that polarizes and divides the country and helps him politically. On the Amazon specifically, he has no understanding and no interest in understanding the implications of cutting down the rainforest. To just underscore that, his current environmental minister is somebody who has absolutely no experience in this area. One thing that has happened in the Bolsonaro administration, from the get-go, this started in the beginning, is that many of the agencies that were involved in monitoring deforestation, and enforcing environmental laws have been stripped of their power to do so. But also, many people, including scientists, leading scientists in the country, were fired from their jobs for criticizing the government, with respect to its environmental policies. 

SIERRA  

Do you find that the argument for this and the information that people need to know about this gets trapped in this sort of partisan space? 

DE BOLLE   

Brazil over the past several years has become extremely polarized politically. And so there are people who view environmental issues as being something that we shouldn't be talking about. It's not relevant. And there are other people who think they're highly relevant. And the way that this is split up in Brazilian society is the people who don't view environmental issues as being relevant are supporters of the current government, and the remainder are not. And so that doesn't help things at all, because then you don't get a debate. Right? And then you can't really get the points across and even the science across, in telling people, look, but here are the facts. These are the facts. If you cut down this rainforest to a significant degree, it's gonna die out. And if that happens, it's a disaster and it's going to be a disaster for the country. It's very difficult to make those points on the basis of the existing science simply because the issue has become so politicized. 

Moving outside the political debate in Brazil, there can be no doubt that the loss of the Amazon would be an unmitigated disaster for the rest of the world. And with a problem that has such dire consequences for everyone on Earth, you’d think the international community would have some say on the issue. But as a sovereign nation Brazil can do whatever it likes with its Amazon. Sovereignty is a word that gets used often in international relations and not very often anywhere else.

We’re going to take a quick break, but when we return, a quick call with friend of the pod Stewart Patrick, who just so happens to be an expert on the concept of sovereignty, and its friction with global problems like climate change.   

SIERRA   

Hi Stewart! 

Stewart PATRICK 

Hey Gabby, how are you?

SIERRA

Good, how are you?

PATRICK

Doing well! What are we talking about today?

SIERRA

So I have a question. What is sovereignty?

PATRICK 

Well, the concept of sovereignty is basically the principle that every national government has supreme political authority over its territory and its inhabitants, as well as what crosses its borders, and no other country has the right to tell it what it can do there. So it's akin to a no trespassing sign globally.

But from an ecological perspective, the dilemma arises that there's this big contradiction between the international system, right, that's the political world that's carved up into 193 different sovereign countries. And the Earth system, which is a natural world that obeys no such boundaries, right?

Now, the collision between these worlds is most obvious in the case of global warming, because the emissions that are released anywhere in any country affect everybody. They add to the planet's total.

But what if your territory contains something that's so precious, that by exploiting it, you're threatening the future of others. Something like the Amazon, right, which is a priceless repository of biodiversity, as well as a carbon sink that we humans are relying on to absorb a lot of that co2 we've been pumping into the atmosphere, then things get a lot more complicated. 

And that's what's led to this controversy. Is Brazil, the owner of its portion of the Amazon rainforest? Is it able to do what it wants to it? Or is it only the Amazon's custodian with an obligation to treat it with a level of stewardship on behalf of all humanity? So that's really the crux of this dispute. Does the rest of the world have a say in what Brazil and the other countries in the Amazon basin actually do with their rainforest?

Okay so, the idea here is that if something is on my land, I can do whatever the heck I want with it. But what if I decide to burn leaves on my lawn, and the smoke makes my neighbor’s kids sick? I’d probably be hearing from the police pretty quickly. 

Climate change is similar, on a much bigger scale, and it presents a conundrum for traditional ideas of sovereignty. Rising sea levels and soaring temperatures do not obey borders. Still old norms are hard to change.  

SIERRA  

What do you say to the claim that Brazil needs to do this to better the lives of its own people, potentially at the disservice of the rest of the world?

DE BOLLE   

So that argument makes no sense to me. Because there is no strategy. This government doesn't have a strategy towards developing the Amazon that we could say, ‘Oh, this is good.’ ‘Oh, this is bad.’ There isn't one. There's simply a lack of a strategy and a view that, you know, this is an argument that the President has often made. Oh, these are the poorest states in Brazil and people deserve to use the Amazon as they please. So this is the sort of thing that we hear but in the end, it makes absolutely no sense because everybody loses including Brazil itself. If cutting down the rainforest is going to change the climate, the hydrological cycles, all of these things that I talked about, and given that Brazil is an agricultural powerhouse, it's a very important agricultural exporter, changing the hydrological cycle is going to affect other crops. It's going to affect the big soybean producers, it's going to affect other types of agricultural producers around the country, especially those who are closest to the Amazon biome. So it's not in the national interest at all to make the sovereignty argument to allow deforestation, it just doesn't make any sense.

SIERRA  

So you feel like, you know, the claim that this is lifting up Brazil's poor doesn't hold any water...

DE BOLLE   

Absolutely. It's completely short term and short-sighted, it's not helping the poor at all. It's not giving them anything. And if you think about this in a medium-term sense, if you are scrapping this natural resource, which has a lot of benefits for this population that's very poor, then what's going to happen to them over the medium term is that, you know, their living conditions are going to become even worse.

So yes, Brazil can do whatever it wants with the Amazon, based on its sovereign rights. But it’s not one of those classic sovereignty problems in which what’s good for a single country conflicts with what’s good for everyone else. The destruction of the Amazon isn’t even good for Brazil. 

SIERRA: 

What responsibility do you think that Brazil has to the rest of the planet when it comes to preventing climate change and preserving biodiversity?

DE BOLLE: 

I think Brazil has a huge responsibility. And what's sad, I think, is that previous governments actually recognized that responsibility and used it to increase Brazil's diplomatic power. Brazil is not exactly a diplomatic powerhouse in the world. But it did have this soft power when it came to environmental issues. It was very influential in putting together the Paris Climate Agreement precisely because it is a country that has all of these resources and has this massive rain forest. So previous governments knew how to use this and use this in the right way, you know, with the right perception. Yes, we have the responsibility, and with the responsibility comes this soft power that we really do want to use. This is a perception that's completely lost on the current government. The current government does not see Brazil as having any kind of responsibility when it comes to the rest of the world, nor does it perceive this soft power as being important. It just doesn't. And so this kind of attitude has been undermining to a very large extent, Brazil’s standing in different fora around the world when it comes to climate change and climate issues.

There has been some collective action by the countries that share the Amazon. In 2019, seven representatives met in Colombia to sign the Leticia Pact, an agreement created to address the issue of forest fires through coordinated responses, including monitoring and developing educational initiatives. The pact also sought to increase the role of the Amazon’s indigenous communities in sustainable development. But many other countries have remained silent. 

SIERRA 

Do you think this is an issue that should be a priority for other countries? 

LOVEJOY 

You know, I think there's absolutely no question about that. The answer is yes. This is too big a piece of how the climate system works, and too big a piece of the biological diversity of the planet for it not to be in the interest of countries which can afford it to contribute to improving the future trajectory of what's going on there. And that that's happened before in 1990, the G7 meeting in Houston, basically launched a program for the Brazilian rainforest, funded through the World Bank. It did a lot of good things, demarcated a lot of the indigenous areas in Brazil, and there's no reason that this kind of thing can't happen again.

SIERRA   

Is there a better way for the country to benefit from having the Amazon there rather than obviously just cutting it down?

DE BOLLE 

Absolutely. There's no lack of proposals to deal with Amazon. Over the last several decades, different environmental ministers and other environmental activists, NGOs, researchers, scientists, you know, there's just so much material that's been published on the Amazon, and how to deal with the problems that the Amazon faces, and how do you actually address, you know, these long-standing issues. I think that the main starting point for trying to get things right in the Amazon is the land registration and the land rights issue. Until you sort that out, you can't sort anything else out.

Clearing up land registration would help end the Amazon’s no-man’s-land status, and start the ball rolling toward a smarter valuation of the land. This means thinking about the long-term value of the land’s biodiversity, rather than it’s short-term value as cleared grazing land. 

LOVEJOY   

So my dear friend and colleague Carlos Nobre in Brazil has been talking about an intact rain forest bioeconomy. And yes, there are things you can do like aquaculture, because some of the Amazon fish could ultimately become as well known as salmon or cod around the world. But then there is a need for something which Carlos calls the “MIT of the Amazon”, which would be a Research Institute, which is dedicated to developing some of these secrets locked away in the biology and a really interesting example could be to study leaf-cutting ants. These are ants that have colonies of maybe a million, they will defoliate trees overnight. And you see all the ants marching along with little bits of green leaves. Well, what they're doing is taking those down into their nest where they have a giant underground fungus farm. And then they feed on the fungus, that's their agriculture. Well, for sure the ants have been able to figure out which trees have natural fungicides in their leaves, which it makes sense to leave alone and not take down to the fungus farm. So that could give you a direct way to find a whole variety of new fungicides then can be helpful in agriculture and other medical applications to add to the ones that we already have.

Fungicide may sound like small potatoes, but it’s not. In 2019 the global market for fungicides was $12.3 billion dollars. 

SIERRA  

That's pretty cool. I would definitely apply to go to the MIT of the Amazon. 

LOVEJOY  

I think it could be a really exciting place.

SIERRA   

I mean, to put it a bit crudely, the idea there is just stop cutting down the Amazon and start patenting the technology that it produces.

LOVEJOY  

That's true and the other really important thing to think about is how you can have sustainable cities in the Amazon, where people can have a reasonable quality of life and do it without destroying the forest. 

One of these cities already exists, it is called Manaus. It’s...amazing and you should probably Google some images of it when you get a chance. A thriving city deep in the Amazon, interwoven with the trees. It even hosted matches of Brazil’s World Cup in 2014.  

LOVEJOY

Most of the industry in Manaus is actually assembly, and they assemble things using materials that are not from the forest. So the largest Harley Davidson factory in the world is in Manaus. Most of the computer boards and similar devices for cell phones are assembled in Manaus. So that's created economic opportunity and the state of Amazonas, where Manaus is, has an incredibly low deforestation rate because opportunity is in Manaus.

I think most of the leaders of Amazon countries want to see a sustainable future for the Amazon. That's what they signed to agree to in the Laticia Pact. I think we know enough of the pieces of how you could put that together, that a program led by the Inter-American Development Bank, which the Laticia Pact has asked for, could actually make a serious difference. And there are enough countries in the developed world, I think of Norway in particular, who are really interested in the future of the tropical forests of the world and the Amazon, who would be willing to contribute.

SIERRA  

Are there any forms of progress that you're hopeful about, you know, overarching moves for change in this whole storyline?

DE BOLLE 

What I'm most hopeful about is that I do see that in the private sector in Brazil, climate change and environmental issues have become priorities. By and large, the businesses in Brazil are very worried about how the country is perceived and how they, themselves, are perceived as part of the country in sort of fighting for these causes, climate change, environmental problems, and all that. So that I think brings an element of hope because if there's another push from some kind of engagement with other countries, the private sector in Brazil would be largely supportive of that. Even if the government's doing nothing. So, for example, when it comes to greenhouse emissions, Brazil doesn't have, like the US has, any sort of monitoring or anything like that over greenhouse emissions but the companies do it themselves. They do it, and there's a private registry of greenhouse emissions that's done by the companies. They report on their own on what they emit. And so that's the part that makes me hopeful. I mean, in spite of the inclinations of this government, by and large, there's a perception in Brazil's private sector, big companies, small companies, medium-sized companies, that these are really important issues and that you can't overlook them and that the future of the country depends on them.

So there are reasons to be hopeful. Many Brazilians understand the true value of this land, to themselves and to the world. Brazil’s industries understand it too. And with the right international pressure, the fires and deforestation could stop. The problem is that the world is really distracted, more distracted than at any time in recent history. And it remains deeply unclear whether that pressure will actually materialize. 

LOVEJOY  

I think what it comes down to is most of the people who are doing things don't think that their increment is going to make much of a difference. But when you add it all up, it's at a global scale. So there's a real moment of reckoning going on. But now is the time to actually do something about that and end up with a soft, sustainable landing.

Global News 1:02:26 [protest chants] 

For resources used in this episode and more information, visit CFR.org/Whyitmatters and take a look at the show notes.

Have a question or some feedback? Want to just say hello? Send us an email at [email protected]

Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your audio. And if you like the show, leave us a review! 

Why It Matters is a production of the Council on Foreign Relations. The show is created and produced by Jeremy Sherlick, Asher Ross, and me, Gabrielle Sierra. Our sound designer is Markus Zakaria and our intern is Senniah Mason. Robert McMahon is our Managing Editor, and Doug Halsey is our Chief Digital Officer. 

Original music is composed by Ceiri Torjussen. Special thanks go to Richard Haass and Jeff Reinke. 

For Why It Matters this is Gabrielle Sierra signing off. See you soon!

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Why It Matters is pleased to present an episode from its sister podcast, The President’s Inbox. Today, U.S. national security is dependent on international nuclear a...

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The glamour and thrill of espionage, brought to life on screen by characters such as James Bond, have long captivated imaginations. But this profession is deeply mis...

The glamour and thrill of espionage, brought to life on screen by characters such as James Bond, have long captivated imaginations. But this profession is deeply mis...

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In this special episode, CFR President Richard N. Haass examines the war in Afghanistan and the lessons to be learned in its wake.

In this special episode, CFR President Richard N. Haass examines the war in Afghanistan and the lessons to be learned in its wake.

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The United States’ alliance with Japan is the centerpiece of U.S. security in Asia, but new demographic challenges from within Japan raise concerns about the future ...

The United States’ alliance with Japan is the centerpiece of U.S. security in Asia, but new demographic challenges from within Japan raise concerns about the future ...

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Fresh water is more than just a resource, it is the source of all life. But in many arid regions of the world, water supplies are under pressure from climate change,...

Fresh water is more than just a resource, it is the source of all life. But in many arid regions of the world, water supplies are under pressure from climate change,...

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Silicon chips are in almost all electronics, and access to them can make or break a country’s economic future. Their production relies on complex supply chains, and ...

Silicon chips are in almost all electronics, and access to them can make or break a country’s economic future. Their production relies on complex supply chains, and ...

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Will the world have enough water to survive in the era of climate change? Could a shortage of silicon chips eventually lead to war? Do human spies matter in the era ...

Will the world have enough water to survive in the era of climate change? Could a shortage of silicon chips eventually lead to war? Do human spies matter in the era ...

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Industrial overfishing and other man-made factors have pushed one-third of the world’s fish stocks to be threatened with extinction, and many other species are not f...

Industrial overfishing and other man-made factors have pushed one-third of the world’s fish stocks to be threatened with extinction, and many other species are not f...

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