Oct 27, 2022

Future of Amazon rainforest at stake in Brazil’s presidential election Transcript

Future of Amazon rainforest at stake in Brazil's presidential election Transcript
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The future of the Amazon rainforest is on the ballot. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

This coming Sunday, millions of people across Brazil will vote in the final round of their presidential election. They’ll choose between right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and the man known as Lula, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

To many, the very future of the Amazon rainforest is on the ballot. NewsHour special correspondent Jane Ferguson has this story produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.

Speaker 2 (00:26):

There are many reasons to marvel at the Amazon rainforest. It is the world’s most precious ecosystem, a natural wonder regenerating water, absorbing carbon dioxide, home to untold species of the earth’s creatures, and from above, it is simply beautiful, but from space, that beauty is obscured.

Speaker 3 (00:49):

So the smoke clouds can effectively be seen from space.

Speaker 4 (00:52):

Oh, yes, it’s clear. This is a picture from the geostationary satellite. This is about 40,000 kilometers away. So you’re not talking about something small; you’re talking about something that can be seen from such a distance.

Speaker 2 (01:06):

Senior scientist, Alberto Setzer examines these satellite images here at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. On any given day, there are 20 to 30,000 fires raging in the Amazon. Humans encroaching deeper into the forest, clearing it for farming.

Speaker 4 (01:25):

If you look here, you see a new area being deforested. Okay. This was a farm; they already deforested. And here, all the satellites detected the burning. And you can see the smoke plums.

Speaker 2 (01:37):

In the last few decades, over 300,000 square miles have been illegally deforested, more than twice the size of Germany. When Setzer began this work in the mid-eighties, deliberate forest fires were just being discovered by satellites. Gathering evidence of it and telling the world, says Setzer, was not enough. His whole career, and for 40 years, he has watched the Amazon burn.

Speaker 4 (02:02):

There was this tremendous outcry and I thought at that time, well, okay, we show this, it’s wrong. Everybody agrees it’s wrong. In about one or two years, the whole thing will be settled but it didn’t happen and still going on.

Speaker 2 (02:17):

At the time, the Brazilian government began permitting some limited encroachment into the forest. Roads were built and trees cleared to build farms.

Speaker 4 (02:28):

The initial idea was quite good. People were supposed to leave a forest patch here, so the whole area would have a very long stretches of forest connected one to another, allowing wildlife-

Speaker 2 (02:42):

So animals could move.

Speaker 4 (02:43):

Yes, everything was very well planted, but the original plan was neglected. Nobody was punished for that and nothing of that has been-

Speaker 2 (02:53):

Implemented at all.

Speaker 4 (02:55):

Implemented. Take, for instance, this area that has been already deforested.

Speaker 2 (02:58):

How much time would’ve passed when this had been deforested?

Speaker 4 (03:01):

Some 10 to 15 years. So you don’t need to be an expert in satellite interpretation to say, well, wait a minute, it’s not 80% of the forest here.

Speaker 2 (03:11):

[inaudible 00:03:11].

Speaker 4 (03:13):

It’s not even 50% left, maybe 10 or 5% left.

Speaker 2 (03:19):

That was Para State where the rate of forest fires this year has doubled. We traveled there to see the destruction for ourselves, the smell of smoke in the air, unmistakable. You really do not need to drive very far down the road here in the Amazon to see the burns brazenly taking place right in front of any traffic. Here by the side of the road, you can see this farmland is being expanded deeper into the forest. You see these types of fires everywhere you go here.

The rainforest has never been in more peril. Its future, largely in the hands of politicians, come November, either incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro or two-time former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known to everyone as Lula.

Brazil’s influential agribusiness supports Bolsonaro, and his campaign promises doubled down on his policies of the last four years. Under his presidency, environmental laws have been crippled and deforestation has spiked up more than 70% over the last four years. Last month, addressing the United Nations, President Bolsonaro argued that his policy benefited the world.

Speaker 5 (04:32):

Our agribusiness is a source of national pride in the Brazilian Amazon region. In the area as big as Western Europe, more than 88.0% of the rainforest remains untouched in pristine, contrary to what is often reported by the Mainstream National and international media.

Speaker 2 (04:51):

But as lawlessness by developers has spread across the Amazon, conservationists have been murdered at record rates. Lula is banking on support from people who care about protecting the Amazon. Currently, the front runner, he has pledge to support such stances in the past. Once in office, those policies have been weakened, watered down by business interests, political compromises and criminal cartels controlling industries inside the Amazon. Yet, these efforts to save the forest may be the last chance. We are approaching a point of no return. Once the forest is so degraded, it cannot sustain itself as an ecosystem, says leading scientists Carlos Nobre.

Speaker 6 (05:33):

If we exceed the tipping point, even if we stop deforestation, degradation, and even if we have success in reaching the Paris Agreement targets for climate change, the tipping point makes the degradation process to be self-enforcing. It will drive more degradation because the degradation process increases the length of the dry season. It’s impossible to maintain a forest with longer dry season.

Speaker 3 (06:05):

So passing the tipping point effectively makes the situation terminal for the rainforest.

Speaker 6 (06:13):

Terminal for the rainforests if we continue with the deforestation degradation and also with global warming.

Speaker 2 (06:23):

The problem is the degradation of the forest. As it is burned and cleared, the thick canopy that creates its own climate and environment is breached. This makes fires spread more quickly, worsening the threat.

35% of the entire forest is now degraded, says Nobre, roughly a quarter of the size of the United States. This matters for the entire planet.

Speaker 6 (06:47):

The Amazon Forest is most forest in the planet, does a very important environmental service, which is to remove carbon dioxide. The Amazon Forest removes more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. And the Amazon at one point 20, 30 years ago, removed more than 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide. So this is a very important ecosystem service.

Speaker 2 (07:13):

While scientists continue to sound, the alarm people on the ground, like Father Edilberto Sena, have for years been a thorn in the side of agribusiness and more recently, the Bolsonaro government.

Speaker 7 (07:25):

Amazonia is not agricultural land; it’s forest land. So when you cut the forest to plant, in a few time, it’s finished. Log. You need to see, full of log.

Speaker 2 (07:40):

Those are logs from the forest.

Speaker 7 (07:42):


Speaker 2 (07:44):

He is an outspoken critic of industries driving deforestation. He runs his own radio program near his home of Santarem in Para State. He took us to see deforested areas.

We just drove by on the road there, a huge trailer filled with logs. Where did that come from?

Speaker 7 (08:05):

Logs come from here, 70 kilometers from here. There’s forest, so the logs. And it comes from all over here, the area, because the Amazonia is rich in logs. You see the destruction of our territory is so shocking. Shocking,

Speaker 2 (08:22):

But you are very outspoken. It’s pretty dangerous that you’re standing here talking to us. We’re in this field. What are the risks?

Speaker 7 (08:31):

The risk, I am crazy because in 2006, some two people talking to each other by internet saying we need to kill two priests in order to give peace to Santarem. One was Sena.

Speaker 2 (08:47):


Speaker 7 (08:47):

At that moment I was scared.

Speaker 2 (08:49):

Father Sena is careful about which farms he goes near. Now he knows the risks. Carlos Nobre has a safer strategy, but a no less audacious one.

Speaker 6 (08:59):

We are planning to propose a restoration of more than 100 million hectares of forest, deforest degraded mostly over Southern Amazon. If we succeed, zero deforestation, forest degradation, wildfires, and this largest-scale forest restoration, this will be removing between 1 billion, 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year for more than 30 years. Very important element to combat the climate emergency, but more importantly, to prevent the tipping point to be crossed.

Speaker 2 (09:39):

After thriving on earth for 10 million years, it took humans a mere five decades to bring the rainforest close to a tipping point. If the Amazon survives what humans have done to it, what they continue to do to it, it can heal. For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jane Ferguson in Para State, Brazil.

Speaker 1 (10:02):

And tomorrow, Jane Ferguson will have another story from Brazil, looking at how the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon are also under threat.

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