saucer in hand

Image: Gritt Zheng


The government's rhetoric and practice try to legitimize a kind of militia liberalism.

Dizziness, heavy eyes, a deep sleep and you don't wake up until the next day. Then you realize you are in a new world. Any activity that leads to the emission of greenhouse gases is no longer possible. US, Canadian or Chinese citizens cannot take their car out of the garage. Electricity or internet, just a few hours a day, since the energy matrix of these countries (and most of the others) depends on the burning of fossil fuels. If life does not stop, the collapse of the climate system, droughts, fires, hurricanes and rising sea levels will become even more destructive.

The pandemic has offered a mild version of this doomsday scenario. On average, during 2020, greenhouse gas emissions globally had an unprecedented retraction of 7%. Such a decline was only achieved with a brutal reduction in economic activities and social interaction.

The rate at which human dependence on fossil fuels is falling is much slower than is necessary to avoid the intensification of extreme weather events. Therefore, the United States and the European Union are committed to halving their emissions over the next ten years. And, of course, they don't want to do this by paralyzing economic life.

So, the path is twofold: first, to face powerful interests that help perpetuate our dependence on fossil fuels. The most important thing, however, is that these goals will only be achieved if technologies related to modern renewable energies and their storage are greatly improved, to counteract the intermittency of solar and wind energy.

In the US, 50 million electric cars and three million vehicle charging points will be introduced by 2030. The steel industry, cement production and other sectors highly dependent on emissions will have to be transformed, and very quickly. Agriculture will also have to emit much less than today.

These are transformations that will require huge investments, changes in habits, new patterns of production and consumption. And all this will only be possible if science advances and paves the way for technologies that make these new standards viable. In other words, what experts call “deep decabonization” (which will have to take place over the next ten years) directly affects the daily lives of citizens, the supply of goods and services, and all of this requires cutting-edge research.

It is us? The most important data for the climate meeting convened by President Biden is that among the ten largest global emitters, Brazil is now the only one (along with Indonesia) in which almost half of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation. Now, bringing deforestation to zero does not depend on science and technology, it does not require new production or consumption habits.

If you are the citizen who fell into a deep sleep and woke up in a world of zero deforestation, your food will not become more expensive, your consumption habits will not change, nor will structural changes be necessary in the economic and social life of your country. There will be, it is true, some reduction in the income generated by deforestation, often linked to slave labor and the lower purchase of equipment for the occupation of public areas, invasion of indigenous lands and for illegal mining.

Today, if deforestation grows and if the Federal Government tries to make the world believe that ending destruction is as difficult as decarbonizing the transport and energy matrix, this is due to a reason: it is that the rhetoric and practice of the Planalto and da Esplanada dos Ministérios try to legitimize a kind of militia liberalism in which known criminal and destructive activities seek to appear as if they were the maximum expression of the virtues of entrepreneurship. It is these people, who depend politically on the apology of crime and the attempt to legalize it, who now happily go to Washington with saucer in hand. And they will come back, empty-handed, saying, fiercely, that others are doing little to combat the climate crisis.

*Ricardo Abramovay is a senior professor at the Environmental Science Program at IEE/USP. Author of Amazon: For a Knowledge Economy of Nature (Elephant/Third Way).


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