Will the Amazon rainforest’s chances improve with Brazil’s new leader?

The fate of the rapidly disappearing Amazon rainforest is in new hands after Brazil's latest election. President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made fighting the climate crisis and protecting the Amazon a cornerstone of his campaign. Michael Mann, director of the Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The fate of the Amazon rainforest is a new hands after Brazil's closest election in decades. President-Elect, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Lula for short, made fighting the climate crisis and protecting the Amazon, a cornerstone of his campaign, deforestation accelerated under current president Jair Bolsonaro. In the first half of 2022, the Amazon lost an area five times the size of New York City.

    Joining us now to talk more about the future of the world's largest rainforest is Michael Mann. He's Presidential Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Science, sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania. He's also the author of, "The New Climate War." Thanks for being with us.

    Michael Mann, author, "The New Climate War": Thanks, Geoff. It's great to be with you.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, over the past 50 years, the Amazon has lost about 17% of its total forest, help us understand why the world's largest rainforest is important to the global ecosystem?

  • Michael Mann:

    Yeah. Well, it's important in lots of ways, obviously. The Amazon is a source of extensive biodiversity. Many of the medicines that we've developed in, you know, in recent time have come, for example, from plants that grow in that unique environment.

    But when it comes to the climate crisis, the Amazon is one of the most important carbon sinks on the planet, it literally sucks carbon out of the atmosphere, and it buries it beneath the ground in its root systems and in the leaf litter that's get gets buried. And so, it's a very important way that the Earth system has to moderate the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide.

    And when we destroy rainforests, when we deforest, when we burn the wood, when we clear it, that puts carbon back into the atmosphere. And so there have been some estimates that if we continue on the course that we've been on in recent decades, then the Amazon rainforest will go from being in a very important carbon sink, it's helping take carbon out of the atmosphere, it will become a carbon source, it will actually be adding to the net carbon pollution in the atmosphere. So, it's critical that we reverse course, and stop the continued destruction of this very important component of the Earth system.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It's interesting because Brazil had once been a model for conservation, protecting indigenous lands, cracking down on illegal logging, and closely monitoring forest loss that was rolled back under Bolsonaro. He was a real unapologetic cheerleader for the exploitation of the Amazon. What are some measures you believe would help restore the Amazon rainforest?

  • Michael Mann:

    Yeah, I'm encouraged by much of what da Silva has said. I'm encouraged by the Brazilian electorate. The people demanded a better environmental stewardship and climate action as somebody who will take them on a different course. And what that different course will look like is protecting these rainforests, not continuing to allow them to be destroyed for farming, or for mining or other commercial purposes. So, we can still ensure that the Amazon remains a carbon sink that it helps us when it comes to the climate crisis. But that will only be true if we act quickly, if we reverse those previous policies.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    As, you know, COP27, the U.N. Climate Change Conference is currently underway, thinking globally, I mean how important is the restoration of the Amazon, to reaching our overall climate change goals?

  • Michael Mann:

    Yeah, it's critical. And it sort of relates to a larger problem, which is, you know, the industrial countries of the world, the United States is the world's largest cumulative carbon polluter. Now, we need to make sure that the developing world and that includes countries in South America, countries in Africa, Indonesia, we need to make sure that these countries don't make the same mistake that we made massive deforestation and the development of fossil fuel energy infrastructure.

    We've got to make sure that they don't make the mistakes that we made, because we can't afford for them to do that. Or we will blow past those targets that we talk about for keeping warming below catastrophic levels.

    And to do that, we've got to provide incentives and this has been one of the problems in recent COP meetings. The developing world feels like the major industrial powers of the world haven't provided the resources that they had promised to in the form of leases, in the form of grants and assistance to help them leapfrog, pass this industrial stage, pass this fossil fuel stage directly into a clean energy economy that will not take us further down this path of carbon energy dependence and catastrophic climate change.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Michael Mann is the Director of the Center for Science, Sustainability and the Media at the University of Pennsylvania. Thanks as always for your insights. Good to see you.

  • Michael Mann:

    You too, Geoff. Thanks.

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