¿Chau Servicio Meteorológico? El biólogo argentino que predice el clima estudiando hormigas. Foto: Archivo
Jorge Finardi predice el clima a través de las hormigas. Estudia sus movimientos, los registra, los compara y llega a la conclusión, por ejemplo, de que mañana a la tarde lloverá. Y acierta. Esta semana, Finardi anticipó con su método el calor sofocante del lunes, la tormenta del martes, y la caída de la temperatura del miércoles. Nada mal.
Finardi es químico, biólogo, y lleva adelante la cuenta de Twitter @GeorgeClimaPron. En ella, comunica sus pronósticos climatológicos. En una entrevista con LA NACION, explica su sistema.
-¿Cómo funciona tu método de análisis?
-En primer lugar, determino el grado de actividad de las hormigas en una escala del 1 al 10. Para armar la escala tengo en cuenta la cantidad de interacciones entre las hormigas, el número de hormigas involucradas, y el tipo y tamaño de carga que llevan, además, de la clase de hormiga que trabaja.
-¿Y de qué manera se relaciona con el clima? ¿Más actividad es indicativa de lluvia?
-En parte sí, pero depende de la carga que lleven. Por ejemplo, cuando las hormigas llevan palitos y barritas, es porque tienen que fortalecer el hormiguero, debido a que se aproxima lluvia o frío. Cuando hay movilización de tierra es porque se viene una lluvia fuerte. Cuando llevan cereal, viene frío, porque el cereal fermenta dentro del hormiguero y produce calor para que nazcan los hongos que ellas comen.
Para las altas temperaturas, por otro lado, se acondicionan los túneles: las hormigas empiezan a abrir “chimeneas”, que son como agujeritos esparcidos dentro del hormiguero, que puede llegar a tener metros de profundidad. Cuando pasa eso, se viene una ola de calor.
-¿Cómo te interesaste por el tema?
-Desde los tres años me paso horas mirando las hormigas y todo tipo de insectos. Por otro lado, mi profesión me ayudó a profundizar estos temas, y también a hablar con gente de edad avanzada que vive en el campo y no se fija en los pronósticos. No los necesita. Así avancé. Así y con un poco de prueba y error. Al principio introduje hormigas en un terrario para poder observarlas más cómodo. Pero ellas se comportaban de otra manera, por el aislamiento. Ahora las sigo con una cámara.
-¿Además de las hormigas, analizás otros insectos?
-Sí. Las arañas, por ejemplo, tienen la capacidad de detectar actividad eléctrica, cuando aparecen y están muy activas. Las libélulas pueden anticipar una tormenta o viento. Las cigarras anuncian calor. Los gallos, cuando cantan a media noche, anuncian neblinas. También hay que prestar atención a las hormigas cuando están desorientadas, porque pueden captar actividad sísmica a grandes distancias.
-¿Este tipo de análisis es científico?
-No. Hay que destacar que el método no es científico, no es positivista, pero sí es cualitativo, experimental y observacional. Y sirve. Los hombres estamos acá desde el período cuaternario, pero las hormigas, por ejemplo, están desde la época de los dinosaurios. Están muy adaptadas, son muy sensibles a los cambios de ambiente. Y la naturaleza, así, nos habla, nos presenta síntomas. Hay que saber leerlos.
Geneticists tell us that somewhere between 1 and 5 percent of the genome of modern Europeans and Asians consists of DNA inherited from Neanderthals, our prehistoric cousins.
At Vanderbilt University, John Anthony Capra, an evolutionary genomics professor, has been combining high-powered computation and a medical records databank to learn what a Neanderthal heritage — even a fractional one — might mean for people today.
We spoke for two hours when Dr. Capra, 35, recently passed through New York City. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.
Q. Let’s begin with an indiscreet question. How did contemporary people come to have Neanderthal DNA on their genomes?
A. We hypothesize that roughly 50,000 years ago, when the ancestors of modern humans migrated out of Africa and into Eurasia, they encountered Neanderthals. Matings must have occurred then. And later.
One reason we deduce this is because the descendants of those who remained in Africa — present day Africans — don’t have Neanderthal DNA.
What does that mean for people who have it?
At my lab, we’ve been doing genetic testing on the blood samples of 28,000 patients at Vanderbilt and eight other medical centers across the country. Computers help us pinpoint where on the human genome this Neanderthal DNA is, and we run that against information from the patients’ anonymized medical records. We’re looking for associations.
What we’ve been finding is that Neanderthal DNA has a subtle influence on risk for disease. It affects our immune system and how we respond to different immune challenges. It affects our skin. You’re slightly more prone to a condition where you can get scaly lesions after extreme sun exposure. There’s an increased risk for blood clots and tobacco addiction.
To our surprise, it appears that some Neanderthal DNA can increase the risk for depression; however, there are other Neanderthal bits that decrease the risk. Roughly 1 to 2 percent of one’s risk for depression is determined by Neanderthal DNA. It all depends on where on the genome it’s located.
Was there ever an upside to having Neanderthal DNA?
It probably helped our ancestors survive in prehistoric Europe. When humans migrated into Eurasia, they encountered unfamiliar hazards and pathogens. By mating with Neanderthals, they gave their offspring needed defenses and immunities.
That trait for blood clotting helped wounds close up quickly. In the modern world, however, this trait means greater risk for stroke and pregnancy complications. What helped us then doesn’t necessarily now.
Did you say earlier that Neanderthal DNA increases susceptibility to nicotine addiction?
Yes. Neanderthal DNA can mean you’re more likely to get hooked on nicotine, even though there were no tobacco plants in archaic Europe.
We think this might be because there’s a bit of Neanderthal DNA right next to a human gene that’s a neurotransmitter implicated in a generalized risk for addiction. In this case and probably others, we think the Neanderthal bits on the genome may serve as switches that turn human genes on or off.
Aside from the Neanderthals, do we know if our ancestors mated with other hominids?
We think they did. Sometimes when we’re examining genomes, we can see the genetic afterimages of hominids who haven’t even been identified yet.
A few years ago, the Swedish geneticist Svante Paabo received an unusual fossilized bone fragment from Siberia. He extracted the DNA, sequenced it and realized it was neither human nor Neanderthal. What Paabo found was a previously unknown hominid he named Denisovan, after the cave where it had been discovered. It turned out that Denisovan DNA can be found on the genomes of modern Southeast Asians and New Guineans.
Have you long been interested in genetics?
Growing up, I was very interested in history, but I also loved computers. I ended up majoring in computer science at college and going to graduate school in it; however, during my first year in graduate school, I realized I wasn’t very motivated by the problems that computer scientists worked on.
Fortunately, around that time — the early 2000s — it was becoming clear that people with computational skills could have a big impact in biology and genetics. The human genome had just been mapped. What an accomplishment! We now had the code to what makes you, you, and me, me. I wanted to be part of that kind of work.
So I switched over to biology. And it was there that I heard about a new field where you used computation and genetics research to look back in time — evolutionary genomics.
There may be no written records from prehistory, but genomes are a living record. If we can find ways to read them, we can discover things we couldn’t know any other way.
Not long ago, the two top editors of The New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial questioning “data sharing,” a common practice where scientists recycle raw data other researchers have collected for their own studies. They labeled some of the recycling researchers, “data parasites.” How did you feel when you read that?
I was upset. The data sets we used were not originally collected to specifically study Neanderthal DNA in modern humans. Thousands of patients at Vanderbilt consented to have their blood and their medical records deposited in a “biobank” to find genetic diseases.
Three years ago, when I set up my lab at Vanderbilt, I saw the potential of the biobank for studying both genetic diseases and human evolution. I wrote special computer programs so that we could mine existing data for these purposes.
That’s not being a “parasite.” That’s moving knowledge forward. I suspect that most of the patients who contributed their information are pleased to see it used in a wider way.
What has been the response to your Neanderthal research since you published it last year in the journal Science?
Some of it’s very touching. People are interested in learning about where they came from. Some of it is a little silly. “I have a lot of hair on my legs — is that from Neanderthals?”
But I received racist inquiries, too. I got calls from all over the world from people who thought that since Africans didn’t interbreed with Neanderthals, this somehow justified their ideas of white superiority.
It was illogical. Actually, Neanderthal DNA is mostly bad for us — though that didn’t bother them.
As you do your studies, do you ever wonder about what the lives of the Neanderthals were like?
It’s hard not to. Genetics has taught us a tremendous amount about that, and there’s a lot of evidence that they were much more human than apelike.
They’ve gotten a bad rap. We tend to think of them as dumb and brutish. There’s no reason to believe that. Maybe those of us of European heritage should be thinking, “Let’s improve their standing in the popular imagination. They’re our ancestors, too.’”
Researchers have coined this trend the ‘anti-enlightenment movement‘, and there’s been a lot of frustration and finger-pointing over who or what’s to blame. But a team of psychologists has identified some of the key factors that can cause people to reject science – and it has nothing to do with how educated or intelligent they are.
In fact, the researchers found that people who reject scientific consensus on topics such as climate change, vaccine safety, and evolution are generally just as interested in science and as well-educated as the rest of us.
The issue is that when it comes to facts, people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they ‘cherry pick’ the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.
So if someone doesn’t think humans are causing climate change, they will ignore the hundreds of studies that support that conclusion, but latch onto the one study they can find that casts doubt on this view. This is also known as cognitive bias.
“We find that people will take a flight from facts to protect all kinds of belief including their religious belief, their political beliefs, and even simple personal beliefs such as whether they are good at choosing a web browser,” said one of the researchers, Troy Campbell from the University of Oregon.
“People treat facts as relevant more when the facts tend to support their opinions. When the facts are against their opinions, they don’t necessarily deny the facts, but they say the facts are less relevant.”
This conclusion was based on a series of new interviews, as well as a meta-analysis of the research that’s been published on the topic, and was presented in a symposium called over the weekend as part of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual convention in San Antonio.
The goal was to figure out what’s going wrong with science communication in 2017, and what we can do to fix it.
The research has yet to be published, so isn’t conclusive, but the results suggest that simply focussing on the evidence and data isn’t enough to change someone’s mind about a particular topic, seeing as they’ll most likely have their own ‘facts’ to fire back at you.
Instead, the researchers recommend looking into the ‘roots’ of people’s unwillingness to accept scientific consensus, and try to find common ground to introduce new ideas.
So where is this denial of science coming from? A big part of the problem, the researchers found, is that people associate scientific conclusions with political or social affiliations.
New research conducted by Kahan showed that people have actually always cherry picked facts when it comes to science – that’s nothing new. But it hasn’t been such a big problem in the past, because scientific conclusions were usually agreed on by political and cultural leaders, and promoted as being in the public’s best interests.
“Rather than taking on people’s surface attitudes directly, tailor the message so that it aligns with their motivation,” said Hornsey. “So with climate skeptics, for example, you find out what they can agree on and then frame climate messages to align with these.”
The researchers are still gathering data for a peer-reviewed publication on their findings, but they presented their work to the scientific community for further dissemination and discussion in the meantime.
Hornsey told the LA Times that the stakes are too high to continue to ignore the ‘anti-enlightenment movement’.
“Anti-vaccination movements cost lives,” said Hornsey. “Climate change skepticism slows the global response to the greatest social, economic and ecological threat of our time.”
“We grew up in an era when it was just presumed that reason and evidence were the ways to understand important issues; not fear, vested interests, tradition or faith,” he added.
“But the rise of climate skepticism and the anti-vaccination movement made us realise that these enlightenment values are under attack.”
10th CIFAS Field School in Ethnographic Research Methods, June 12 to 22, 2017
The Comitas Institute for Anthropological Study (CIFAS) is pleased to announce the 10th CIFAS Field School in Ethnographic Research Methods, in New York City.
The goal of the Field School is to offer training in the foundations and practice of ethnographic methods. The faculty works closely with participants to identify the required field methods needed to address their academic or professional needs. The Field School is suitable for graduate and undergraduate students in social sciences and other fields of study that use qualitative approaches (such as education, communication, cultural studies, health, social work, human ecology, development studies, consumer behavior, among others), applied social scientists, professionals, and researchers who have an interest in learning more about ethnographic methods and their applications.
The total work load of the course is 30 hours. Students interested in earning credits for the course may have additional assignments in order to totalize 45 hours of activities (what is equivalent to 3 credits).
Course venue: Classes will take place at the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University.
Renzo Taddei (Assistant Professor, Federal University of São Paulo/Affiliated Researcher, Columbia University).
Lambros Comitas (Gardner Cowles Professor of Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University).
Registration and other costs: Places are limited. The tuition fee is US$ 900. The tuition fee does not cover accommodation, meals or transportation.
For more information or to register, see link attached, or please write to Renzo Taddei at firstname.lastname@example.org
Signatures of ethnicity in the genome appear to reflect an ethnic group’s shared culture and environment, rather than their common genetic ancestry, report scientists. Epigenetic signatures distinguishing Mexican and Puerto Rican children in this study cannot be explained by genetic ancestry alone, the researchers say.
A UC San Francisco-led study has identified signatures of ethnicity in the genome that appear to reflect an ethnic group’s shared culture and environment, rather than their common genetic ancestry.
The study examined DNA methylation — an “annotation” of DNA that alters gene expression without changing the genomic sequence itself — in a group of diverse Latino children. Methylation is one type of “epigenetic mark” that previous research has shown can be either inherited or altered by life experience. The researchers identified several hundred differences in methylation associated with either Mexican or Puerto Rican ethnicity, but discovered that only three-quarters of the epigenetic difference between the two ethnic subgroups could be accounted for by differences in the children’s genetic ancestry. The rest of the epigenetic differences, the authors suggest, may reflect a biological stamp made by the different experiences, practices, and environmental exposures distinct to the two ethnic subgroups.
The discovery could help scientists understand how social, cultural, and environmental factors interact with genetics to create differences in health outcomes between different ethnic populations, the authors say, and provides a counterpoint to long-standing efforts in the biomedical research community to replace imprecise racial and ethnic categorization with genetic tests to determine ancestry.
“These data suggest that the interplay between race and ethnicity as social constructs and genetic ancestry as a biological construct is more complex than we had realized,” said Noah Zaitlen, PhD, a UCSF assistant professor of medicine and co-senior author on the new study. “In a medical context both elements may provide valuable information.”
The research — published January 3, 2017 in the online journal eLife — was led by Joshua Galanter, MD, MAS, formerly an assistant professor of medicine, of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, and of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF, who is now a scientist at Genentech. The research was jointly supervised by Zaitlen and co-senior author Esteban Burchard, MD, MPH, a professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences and of medicine in UCSF’s schools of Pharmacy and Medicine and the Harry Wm. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professorship in Pharmaceutical Sciences II at UCSF.
“This is a big advancement of our understanding of race and ethnicity,” Burchard said. “There’s this whole debate about whether race is fundamentally genetic or is just a social construct. To our knowledge this is the first time anyone has attempted to quantify the molecular signature of the non-genetic components of race and ethnicity. It demonstrates in a whole new way that race combines both genetics and environment.”
Teasing apart roles of genetics, environment in ethnic differences in disease
Researchers and clinicians have known for many years that different racial and ethnic populations get diseases at different rates, respond differently to medications, and show very different results on standard clinical tests: “For a whole range of medical tests, whether your physician is told that your lab result is normal or abnormal depends entirely on the race/ethnicity box that you tick on an intake form,” Zaitlen said.
It’s tempting to assume that such health disparities between races and ethnicities all stem from inherited genetic differences, but that’s not necessarily the case. Different racial and ethnic groups also eat different diets, live in neighborhoods with more or less pollution, experience different levels of poverty, and are more or less likely to smoke tobacco, all of which could also impact their health outcomes.
“A lot of our research involves trying to tease apart how much of health differences between populations are genetic and how much are environmental,” Zaitlen said.
The researchers turned to epigenetics to search for answers to these questions because these molecular annotations of the genetic code have a unique position between genetic ancestry and environmental influence. Unlike the rest of the genome, which is only inherited from an individual’s parents (with random mutations here and there), methylation and other epigenetic annotations can be modified based on experience. These modifications influence when and where particular genes are expressed and appear to have significant impacts on disease risk, suggesting explanations for how environmental factors such as maternal smoking during pregnancy can influence a child’s risk of later health problems.
Epigenetic signatures of ethnicity could be biomarkers for shared cultural experiences
In the new study, the team examined methylation signatures in 573 children of self-identified Mexican or Puerto-Rican identity drawn from the GALA II study, a cohort previously developed by Burchard to study environmental and genetic components of asthma risk in Latino children. They identified 916 methylation sites that varied with ethnic identity, but found that only 520 of these differences could be completely explained by genetic ancestry — 109 could be partially explained by ancestry, while 205 could not be explained by ancestry at all.
Overall, the researchers found that about 76 percent of the effect of ethnicity on DNA methylation could be accounted for by controlling for genetic ancestry, suggesting that nearly a quarter of the effect must be due to other, unknown factors. The researchers found that many of these additional methylation sites corresponded to sites that previous studies had shown to be sensitive to environmental and social factors such as maternal smoking, exposure to diesel exhaust, and psychosocial stress. This led the team to hypothesize that a large fraction of their newly disovered epigenetic markers of ethnicity likely reflect biological signatures of environmental, social, or cultural differences between ethnic subgroups.
“This suggests that using epigenetics as a biomarker could give you a lot of information about environmental exposures within particular populations that’s not captured by genetics,” Zaitlen said. “Our next step will be to understand how specific epigenetic signatures are linked to particular environmental exposures, and use those signals to understand patient risk.”
Scientists and clinicians have increasingly tried to move away from simplistic racial and ethnic categories in disease research, the authors say, and — with the rise of precision medicine — in clinical diagnosis and treatment as well. Studies by the Burchard group and others have found that using genetic ancestry rather than ethnic self-identification significantly improves diagnostic accuracy for certain diseases.
But the new data showing that a large fraction of epigenetic signatures of ethnicity reflect something other than ancestry suggests that abandoning the idea of race and ethnicity altogether could sacrifice a lot of valuable information about the drivers of differences in health and disease between different communities.
“Like a standard family history, ethnicity is association with disease for both genetic and environmental reasons,” Zaitlen said. “If your dad or mom had a heart attack, that tells doctors a lot about your risk for a heart attack. Part of that is genetic, but part of it is that your lifestyle is influenced heavily by your parents’ lifestyle. Your ethnic group is like a much bigger family — it’s partly a matter of genetics, but it also reflects the environment of your broader community.”
Joshua M Galanter, Christopher R Gignoux, Sam S Oh, Dara Torgerson, Maria Pino-Yanes, Neeta Thakur, Celeste Eng, Donglei Hu, Scott Huntsman, Harold J Farber, Pedro C Avila, Emerita Brigino-Buenaventura, Michael A LeNoir, Kelly Meade, Denise Serebrisky, William Rodríguez-Cintrón, Rajesh Kumar, Jose R Rodríguez-Santana, Max A Seibold, Luisa N Borrell, Esteban G Burchard, Noah Zaitlen. Differential methylation between ethnic sub-groups reflects the effect of genetic ancestry and environmental exposures. eLife, 2017; 6 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.20532
I know what you want from me—what we all want—which is some small solace after the events of Election Day. My wife Sue Halpern and I have been talking nonstop for days, trying to cope with the emotions. I fear I may not be able to provide that balm, but I do offer these remarks in the spirit of resistance to that which we know is coming. We need to figure out how to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively, and all kinds of darkness at bay.
I am grateful to all those who asked me to deliver this inaugural Jonathan Schell Lecture—grateful most of all because it gave me an excuse for extended and happy recollection of one of the most generous friendships of my early adulthood. I arrived at The New Yorker at the age of 21, two weeks out of college, alone in New York City for the first time. The New Yorker was wonderfully quirky, of course, but one of its less wonderful quirks was that most people didn’t talk to each other very much, and especially to newcomers 50 years their junior. There were exceptions, of course, and the foremost exception was Jonathan. He loved to talk, and we had long colloquies nearly every day, mostly about politics.
Ideas—not abstract ideas, but ideas drawn from the world as it wound around him—fascinated him. He always wanted to dig a layer or two deeper; there was never anything superficial or trendy about his analysis. I understood better what he was up to when I came, at the age of 27, to write The End of Nature. It owes more than a small debt to The Fate of the Earth, which let me feel it was possible and permitted to write about the largest questions in the largest ways.
In the years that followed, having helped push action on his greatest cause—the danger of nuclear weapons—that issue began to seem a little less urgent. That perception, of course, is mistaken: Nuclear weapons remain a constant peril, perhaps more than ever in an increasingly multipolar world. But with the end of the Cold War and the build-down of US and Russian weapon stocks, the question compelled people less feverishly. New perils—climate change perhaps chief among them—emerged. Post-9/11, smaller-bore terrors informed our nightmares. We would have been wise, as the rise of a sinister Vladimir Putin and a sinister and clueless Donald Trump remind us, to pay much sharper attention to this existential issue, but the peace dividend turned out mostly to be a relaxing of emotional vigilance.
However, for the moment, we have not exploded nuclear weapons, notwithstanding Trump’s recent query about what good they are if we don’t use them. Our minds can compass the specter of a few mushroom clouds obliterating all that we know and love; those images have fueled a fitful but real effort to contain the problem, resulting most recently in the agreement with Iran. We have not been able to imagine that the billion tiny explosions of a billion pistons in a billion cylinders every second of every day could wreak the same damage, and hence we’ve done very little to ward off climate change.
We are destroying the earth every bit as thoroughly as Jonathan imagined in the famous first chapter of TheFate of the Earth, just a little more slowly. By burning coal and oil and gas and hence injecting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, we have materially changed its heat-trapping properties; indeed, those man-made greenhouse gases trap the daily heat equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions. That’s enough extra heat that, in the space of a few decades, we have melted most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic—millennia old, meters thick, across a continent-size stretch of ocean that now, in summer, is blue water. (Blue water that absorbs the sun’s incoming rays instead of bouncing them back to space like the white ice it replaced, thus exacerbating the problem even further.) That’s enough heat to warm the tropical oceans to the point where Sue and I watched with our colleagues in the South Pacific as a wave of record-breaking warm water swept across the region this past spring, killing in a matter of weeks vast swaths of coral that had been there since before the beginning of the human experiment. That’s enough heat to seriously disrupt the planet’s hydrological cycles: Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, we’ve seen steady increases in drought in arid areas (and with it calamities like wildfire) and steady, even shocking, increases in downpour and flood in wet areas. It’s been enough to raise the levels of the ocean—and the extra carbon in the atmosphere has also changed the chemistry of that seawater, making it more acidic and beginning to threaten the base of the marine food chain. We are, it bears remembering, an ocean planet, and the world’s oceanographers warn that we are very rapidly turning the seven seas “hot, sour, and breathless.” To the “republic of insects and grass” that Jonathan imagined in the opening of The Fate of the Earth, we can add a new vision: a hypoxic undersea kingdom of jellyfish.
This is not what will happen if something goes wrong, if some maniac pushes the nuclear button, if some officer turns a key in a silo. This is what has already happened, because all of us normal people have turned the keys to our cars and the thermostat dials on our walls. And we’re still in the relatively early days of climate change, having increased the planet’s temperature not much more than 1 degree Celsius. We’re on a trajectory, even after the conclusion of the Paris climate talks last year, to raise Earth’s temperature by 3.5 degrees Celsius—or more, if the feedback loops we are triggering take full hold. If we do that, then we will not be able to maintain a civilization anything like the one we’ve inherited. Our great cities will be underwater; our fields will not produce the food our bodies require; those bodies will not be able to venture outside in many places to do the work of the world. Already, the World Health Organization estimates, increased heat and humidity have cut the labor a human can perform by 10 percent, a number that will approach 30 percent by midcentury. This July and August were the hottest months in the history of human civilization measured globally; in southern Iraq, very near where scholars situate the Garden of Eden, the mercury in cities like Basra hit 129 degrees—among the highest reliably recorded temperatures in history, temperatures so high that human survival becomes difficult.
Against this crisis, we see sporadic action at best. We know that we could be making huge strides. For instance, engineers have managed to cut the cost of solar panels by 80 percent in the last decade, to the point where they are now among the cheapest methods of generating electricity. A Stanford team headed by Mark Jacobson has shown precisely how all 50 states and virtually every foreign nation could make the switch to renewable energy at an affordable cost in the course of a couple of decades. A few nations have shown that he’s correct: Denmark, for instance, now generates almost half of its power from the wind.
In most places, however, the progress has been slow and fitful at best. In the United States, the Obama administration did more than its predecessors, but far less than physics requires. By reducing our use of coal-fired power, it cut carbon-dioxide emissions by perhaps 10 percent. But because it wouldn’t buck the rest of the fossil-fuel industry, the Obama administration basically substituted fracked natural gas for that coal. This was a mistake: The leakage of methane into the atmosphere means that America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions held relatively steady or perhaps even increased. This willingness to cater to the industry is bipartisan, though in the horror of this past election that was easy to overlook. Here’s President Obama four years ago, speaking to an industry group in Oklahoma: “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.” Hillary Clinton opened an entire new wing at the State Department charged with promoting fracking around the world. So much for the establishment, now repudiated.
Trump, of course, has famously insisted that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese and has promised to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. His election win is more than just a speed bump in the road to the future—it’s a ditch, and quite likely a crevasse. Even as we gather tonight, international negotiators in Marrakech, stunned by our elections, are doing their best to salvage something of the Paris Agreement, signed just 11 months ago with much fanfare.
* * *
But the real contest here is not between Democrats and Republicans; it’s between human beings and physics. That’s a difficult negotiation, as physics is not prone to compromise. It also imposes a hard time limit on the bargaining; if we don’t move very, very quickly, then any progress will be pointless. And so the question for this lecture, and really the question for the geological future of the planet, becomes: How do we spur much faster and more decisive action from institutions that wish to go slowly, or perhaps don’t wish to act at all? One understands that politicians prize incremental action—but in this case, winning slowly is the same as losing. The planet is clearly outside its comfort zone; how do we get our political institutions out of theirs?
And it is here that I’d like to turn to one of Jonathan’s later books, one that got less attention than it deserved. The Unconquerable World was published in 2003. In it, Jonathan writes, in his distinctive aphoristic style: “Violence is the method by which the ruthless few can subdue the passive many. Nonviolence is a means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few.” This brings us, I think, to the crux of our moment. Across a wide variety of topics, we see the power of the ruthless few. This is nowhere more evident than in the field of energy, where the ruthless few who lead the fossil-fuel industry have more money at their disposal than any humans in the past. They’ve been willing to deploy this advantage to maintain the status quo, even in the face of clear scientific warnings and now clear scientific proof. They are, for lack of a better word, radicals: If you continue to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere past the point where you’re melting the polar ice caps, then you are engaging in a radicalism unparalleled in human history.
And they’re not doing this unknowingly or out of confusion. Exxon has known all there is to know about climate change for four decades. Its product was carbon, and it had some of the best scientists on earth on its staff; they warned management, in clear and explicit terms, how much and how fast the earth would warm, and management believed them: That’s why, for instance, Exxon’s drilling rigs were built to accommodate the sea-level rise it knew was coming. But Exxon didn’t warn any of the rest of us. Just the opposite: It invested huge sums of money in helping to build an architecture of deceit, denial, and disinformation, which meant humankind wasted a quarter of a century in a ludicrous argument about whether global warming was “real,” a debate that Exxon’s leaders knew was already settled. The company continues to fund politicians who deny climate change and to fight any efforts to hold it accountable. At times, as Steve Coll makes clear in his remarkable book Private Empire, the oil industry has been willing to use explicit violence—those attack dogs in North Dakota have their even more brutal counterparts in distant parts of the planet. More often, the industry has been willing to use the concentrated force of its money. Our largest oil and gas barons, the Koch brothers—two of the richest men on earth, and among the largest leaseholders on Canada’s tar sands—have promised to deploy three-quarters of a billion dollars in this year’s contest. As Jane Mayer put it in a telling phrase, they’ve been able to “weaponize” their money to achieve their ends. So the “ruthless few” are using violence—power in its many forms.
But the other half of that aphorism is hopeful: “Nonviolence is the means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few.” When the history of the 20th century is written, I’m hopeful that historians will conclude that the most important technology developed during those bloody hundred years wasn’t the atom bomb, or the ability to manipulate genes, or even the Internet, but instead the technology of nonviolence. (I use the word “technology” advisedly here.) We had intimations of its power long before: In a sense, the most resounding moment in Western history, Jesus’s crucifixion, is a prototype of nonviolent action, one that launched the most successful movement in history. Nineteenth-century America saw Thoreau begin to think more systematically about civil disobedience as a technique. But it really fell to the 20th century, and Gandhi, to develop it as a coherent strategy, a process greatly furthered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates in this country, and by adherents around the world: Otpor in Eastern Europe, various participants in the Arab Spring, Buddhist monks in Burma, Wangari Maathai’s tree-planters, and so on.
We have done very little systematic study of these techniques. We have no West Point or Sandhurst for the teaching of nonviolence; indeed, it’s fair to say that the governments of the world have spent far more time figuring out how to stamp out such efforts than to promote them. (And given the level of threat they represent to governments, that is perhaps appropriate.) What we know is what we’ve learned by experience, by trial and error.
In my own case over the last decade, that’s meant helping to organize several large-scale campaigns or social movements. Some have used civil disobedience in particular—I circulated the call for arrestees at the start of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrations in 2011, and observers said the resulting two weeks of nonviolent direct action resulted in more arrests than any such demonstration on any issue in many years. Others have focused on large-scale rallies—some in this audience attended the massive climate march in New York in the autumn of 2014, organized in part by 350.org, which was apparently the largest demonstration about anything in this country in a long time. Others have been scattered: The fossil-fuel divestment campaign we launched in 2012 has been active on every continent, incorporated a wide variety of tactics, and has become the largest anticorporate campaign of its kind in history, triggering the full or partial divestment of endowments and portfolios with nearly $5 trillion in assets. These actions have helped spur many more such actions: Keystone represented a heretofore very rare big loss for Big Oil, and its success helped prompt many others to follow suit; now every pipeline, fracking well, coal mine, liquid-natural-gas terminal, and oil train is being fought. As an executive at the American Petroleum Institute said recently—and ruefully—to his industry colleagues, they now face the “Keystone-ization” of all their efforts.
And we have by no means been the only, or even the main, actor in these efforts. For instance, indigenous activists have been at the forefront of the climate fight since its inception, here and around the world, and the current fight over the Dakota Access pipeline is no exception. They and the residents of what are often called “frontline” communities, where the effects of climate change and pollution are most intense, have punched far above their weight in these struggles; they have been the real leaders. These fights will go on. They’ll be much harder in the wake of Trump’s election, but they weren’t easy to begin with, and I confess I see little alternative—even under Obama, the chance of meaningful legislation was thin. So, using Jonathan’s template, I’ll try to offer a few lessons from my own experience over the last decade.
* * *
Lesson one: Unearned suffering is a potent tool. Volunteering for pain is an unlikely event in a pleasure-based society, and hence it gets noticed. Nonviolent direct action is just one tool in the activist tool kit, and it should be used sparingly—like any tool, it can easily get dull, both literally and figuratively. But when it is necessary to underline the moral urgency of a case, the willingness to go to jail can be very powerful, precisely because it goes against the bent of normal life.
It is also difficult for most participants. If you’ve been raised to be law-abiding, it’s hard to stay seated in front of, say, the White House when a cop tells you to move. Onlookers understand that difficulty. I remember Gus Speth being arrested at those initial Keystone demonstrations. He’d done everything possible within the system: co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, chaired the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, ran the entire UN Development Program, been a dean at Yale. But then he concluded that the systems he’d placed such faith in were not coming close to meeting the climate challenge—so, in his 70s, he joined that small initial demonstration. Because his son was a high-powered lawyer, Gus was the only one of us able to get a message out during our stay in jail. What he told the press stuck with me: “I’ve held many important positions in this town,” he said. “But none seem as important as the one I’m in today.” Indeed, his witness pulled many of the nation’s environmental groups off the sidelines; when we got out, he and I wrote a letter to the CEOs of all those powerful green groups, and in return they wrote a letter to the president saying, “There is not an inch of daylight between our position and those of the people protesting on your lawn.” Without Gus’s willingness to suffer the indignity and discomfort of jail, that wouldn’t have happened, and the subsequent history would have been different.
Because it falls so outside our normal search for comfort, security, and advancement, unearned suffering can be a powerful tool. Whether this will be useful against a crueler White House and a nastier and more empowered right wing remains to be seen, but it will be seen. I imagine that the first place it will see really widespread use is not on the environment, but in regard to immigration. If Trump is serious about his plans for mass deportation, he’ll be met with passive resistance of all kinds—or at least he should be. All of us have grown up with that Nazi-era bromide about “First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew…” In this case, there’s no mystery: First they’re coming for the undocumented. It will be a real fight for the soul of our nation, as the people who abstractly backed the idea of a wall with Mexico are forced to look at the faces of the neighbors they intend to toss over it.
Lesson two: These tactics are useful to the degree that they attract large numbers of people to the fight. Those large numbers don’t need to engage in civil disobedience; they just need to engage in the broader battle. If you think about it, numbers are the currency of movements, just as actual cash is the currency of the status quo—at least until such time as the status quo needs to employ the currency of violence. The point of civil disobedience is rarely that it stops some evil by itself; instead, it attracts enough people and hence attention to reach the public at large.
When the Keystone demonstrations began, for instance, no one knew what the pipeline was, and it hadn’t occurred to people to think about climate change in terms of infrastructure. Instead, we thought about it in the terms preferred by politicians, i.e., by thinking about “emissions reductions” far in the future from policies like increased automobile efficiency, which are useful but obviously insufficient. In the early autumn of 2011, as we were beginning the Keystone protests, the National Journal polled its DC “energy insiders,” and 93 percent of them said TransCanada would soon have its permit for the pipeline. But those initial arrests attracted enough people to make it into a national issue. Soon, 15,000 people were surrounding the White House, and then 50,000 were rallying outside its gates, and before long it was on the front pages of newspapers. The information spread, and more importantly the analysis did too: Infrastructure became a recognized point of conflict in the climate fight, because enough people said it was. Politicians were forced to engage on a ground they would rather have avoided.
In much the same way, the divestment movement managed to go from its infancy in 2012 to the stage where, by 2015, the governor of the Bank of England was repeating its main bullet points to the world’s insurance industry in a conference at Lloyd’s of London: The fossil-fuel industry had more carbon in its reserves than we could ever hope to burn, and those reserves posed the financial risk of becoming “stranded assets.” Note that it doesn’t take a majority of people, or anywhere close, to have a significant—even decisive—impact: In an apathetic world, the active involvement of only a few percentage points of the citizenry is sufficient to make a difference. No more than 1 percent of Americans, for instance, ever participated in a civil-rights protest. But it does take a sufficient number to make an impression, whether in the climate movement or the Tea Party.
Lesson three: The real point of civil disobedience and the subsequent movements is less to pass specific legislation than it is to change the zeitgeist. The Occupy movement, for instance, is often faulted for not having produced a long list of actionable demands, but its great achievement was to make, by dint of recognition and repetition, the existing order illegitimate. Once the 99 percent and the 1 percent were seen as categories, our politics began to shift. Bernie Sanders, and to a lesser extent Donald Trump, fed on that energy. That Hillary Clinton was forced to say that she too opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was testimony to the power of the shift in the zeitgeist around inequality. Or take LGBTQ rights: It’s worth remembering that only four years ago, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton still opposed same-sex marriage. That’s difficult to recall now, since at this point you’d think they had jointly invented the concept. But it was skillful organizing for many years that changed less the laws of the land than the zeitgeist of the culture. Yes, some of those battles were fought over particular statutes; but the battles in Hollywood, and at high-school proms, and in a dozen other such venues were as important. Once movements shift the zeitgeist, then legislative victory becomes the mopping-up phase; this one Trump won’t even attempt to turn back.
This is not how political scientists tend to see it—or politicians, for that matter. Speaking to Black Lives Matter activists backstage in the course of the primary campaign, Hillary Clinton laid out her essential philosophy: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.” This is, I think, utterly backward, and it explains much of the intuitive sense among activists of all stripes that Clinton wouldn’t have been a leader. As Monica Reyes, one of the young immigration activists in the Dreamer movement—great organizers who did much to shift public opinion—put it: “You need to change the culture before you can change laws.” Or as that guy Abraham Lincoln once put it: “Public sentiment is everything.”
By forever straddling the middle, centrist politicians delay changes in public sentiment. The viewpoint of the establishment—an appellation that in this case includes everyone from oil companies to presidents—is always the same: We need to be “realistic”; change will come slowly if it comes at all; and so forth. In normal political debates, this is reasonable. Compromise on issues is the way we progress: You want less money in the budget for X, and I want more, and so we meet in the middle and live to fight another day. That’s politics, as distinct from movement politics, which is about changing basic feelings over the great issues of the day. And it’s particularly true in the case of climate change, where political reality, important as it is, comes in a distinct second to reality reality. Chemistry and physics, I repeat, do what they do regardless of our wishes. That’s the difference between political science and science science.
* * *
There are many other points that Jonathan gets at in his book, but there’s one more that bears directly on the current efforts to build a movement around climate change. It comes in his discussion of Hannah Arendt and Mohandas Gandhi. Despite widespread agreement on the sources of power and the possibilities for mobilization, he finds one large difference between the two: Whereas Gandhi saw “spiritual love as the source and inspiration of nonviolent action, Arendt was among those who argued strenuously against introducing such love into the political sphere.” Hers was not an argument against spiritual love, but rather a contention that it mostly belonged in the private sphere, and that “publicity, which is necessary for politics, will coarsen and corrupt it by turning it into a public display, a show.” I will not attempt to flesh out the illuminating arguments on both sides, but I will say that I have changed my mind somewhat over the years on this question, at least as it relates to climate change.
Gandhi, like Thoreau before him, was an ascetic, and people have tended to lump their political and spiritual force together—and, in certain ways, they were very closely linked. Gandhi’s spinning wheel was a powerful symbol, and a powerful reality, in a very poor nation. He emphasized individual action alongside political mobilization, because he believed that Indians needed to awaken a sense of their own agency and strength. This was a necessary step in that movement—but perhaps a trap in our current dilemma. By this I mean that many of the early efforts to fight climate change focused on a kind of personal piety or individual action, reducing one’s impact via lightbulbs or food choices or you name it. And these are useful steps. The house that Sue and I inhabit is covered with solar panels. I turn off lights so assiduously that our daughter, in her Harry Potter days, referred to me as “the Dark Lord.” Often in my early writing, I fixed on such solutions. But in fact, given the pace with which we now know climate change is advancing, they seem not irrelevant but utterly ill-equipped for the task at hand.
Let’s imagine that truly inspired organizing might somehow get 10 percent of the population to become really engaged in this fight. That would be a monumental number: We think 10 percent of Americans participated in some fashion in the first Earth Day in 1970, and that was doubtless the high point of organizing on any topic in my lifetime. If the main contribution of this 10 percent was to reduce its own carbon footprint to zero— itself an impossible task—the total impact on America’s contribution to atmospheric carbon levels would be a 10 percent reduction. Which is helpful, but not very. But that same 10 percent—or even 2 or 3 percent—actually engaged in the work of politics might well be sufficient to produce structural change of the size that would set us on a new course: a price on carbon, a commitment to massive subsidies for renewable energy, a legislative commitment to keep carbon in the ground.
Some people are paralyzed by the piety they think is necessary for involvement. You cannot imagine the anguished and Talmudic discussions I’ve been asked to adjudicate on whether it’s permissible to burn gasoline to attend a climate rally. (In my estimation, it’s not just permissible, it’s very nearly mandatory—the best gas you will burn in the course of a year.) It has also become—and this is much more dangerous—the pet argument of every climate denier that, unless you’re willing to live life in a dark cave, you’re a hypocrite to stand for action on climate change. This attempt to short-circuit people’s desire to act must be rejected. We live in the world we wish to change; some hypocrisy is the price of admission to the fight. In this sense, and this sense only, Gandhi is an unhelpful example, and a bludgeon used to prevent good-hearted people from acting.
In fact, as we confront the blunt reality of a Trump presidency and a GOP Congress, it’s clearer than ever that asceticism is insufficient, and maybe even counterproductive. The only argument that might actually discover a receptive audience in the new Washington is one that says, “We need a rapid build-out of solar and wind power, as much for economic as environmental reasons.” If one wanted to find the mother lode of industrial jobs that Trump has promised, virtually the only possible source is the energy transformation of our society.
I will end by saying that movement-building—the mobilization of large numbers of people, and of deep passion, through the employment of all the tools at a nonviolent activist’s disposal—will continue, though it moves onto very uncertain ground with our new political reality. This work of nonviolent resistance is never easy, and it’s becoming harder. Jonathan’s optimism in The Unconquerable World notwithstanding, more and more countries are moving to prevent real opposition. China and Russia are brutally hard to operate in, and India is reconfiguring its laws to go in the same direction. Environmentalists are now routinely assassinated in Honduras, Brazil, the Philippines. Australia, where mining barons control the government, has passed draconian laws against protest; clearly Trump and his colleagues would like to do the same here, and will doubtless succeed to one extent or another. The savagery of the police response to Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us how close to a full-bore petro-state we are.
And yet the movement builds. I don’t know whether it builds fast enough. Unlike every other challenge we’ve faced, this one comes with a time limit. Martin Luther King would always say, quoting the great Massachusetts abolitionist Theodore Parker, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”—meaning that it may take a while, but we are going to win. By contrast, the arc of the physical universe is short and it bends toward heat. I will not venture to predict if we can, at this point, catch up with physics. Clearly, it has a lot of momentum. It’s a bad sign when your major physical features begin to disappear—that we no longer have the giant ice cap in the Arctic is disconcerting, to say the least. So there’s no guarantee of victory. But I can guarantee that we will fight, in every corner of the earth and with all the nonviolent tools at our disposal. And in so doing, we will discover if these tools are powerful enough to tackle the most disturbing crisis humans have ever faced. We will see if that new technology of the 20th century will serve to solve the greatest dilemma of our new millennium.
Brazil dynamited an indigenous sacred site, the equivalent of Christian “Heaven,” to make way for Teles Pires dam; desecration is devastating to Munduruku culture.
Four dams are being built on the Teles Pires River — a major tributary of the Tapajós River — to provide Brazil with hydropower, and to possibly be a first step toward constructing an industrial waterway to transport soy and other commodities from Mato Grosso state, in the interior, to the Atlantic coast.
Those dams are being built largely without consultation with impacted indigenous people, as required by the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, an agreement which Brazil signed.
A sacred rapid, known as Sete Quedas, the Munduruku “Heaven”, was dynamited in 2013 to build the Teles Pires dam. A cache of sacred artefacts was also seized by the dam construction consortium and the Brazilian state.
The Indians see both events as callous attacks on their sacred sites, and say that these desecrations will result in the destruction of the Munduruku as a people — 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries in the heart of the Amazon.
(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read Mongabay’s series on the Tapajós Basin in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil after January 10, 2017)
The Tapajós River Basin lies at the heart of the Amazon, and at the heart of an exploding controversy: whether to build 40+ large dams, a railway, and highways, turning the Basin into a vast industrialized commodities export corridor; or to curb this development impulse and conserve one of the most biologically and culturally rich regions on the planet.
Those struggling to shape the Basin’s fate hold conflicting opinions, but because the Tapajós is an isolated region, few of these views get aired in the media. Journalist Sue Branford and social scientist Mauricio Torres travelled there recently for Mongabay, and over coming weeks hope to shed some light on the heated debate that will shape the future of the Amazon.
“It is a time of death. The Munduruku will start dying. They will have accidents. Even simple accidents will lead to death. Lightning will strike and kill an Indian. A branch will fall from a tree and kill an Indian. It’s not chance. It’s all because the government interfered with a sacred site,” says Valmira Krixi Biwūn with authority.
Valmira Krixi Munduruku, as she was baptized, is an indigenous Munduruku woman warrior living in the village of Teles Pires beside the river of the same name on the border between the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Pará. A leader and a sage, she speaks with great confidence about a variety of subjects ranging from the old stories of her people, to the plant-based concoctions in which young girls must bathe in order to transform into warriors.
The sacred site she speaks about is a stretch of rapids known as Sete Quedas located on the Teles Pires River. In 2013, the consortium responsible for the construction of a large hydroelectric power station obtained judicial authorization to dynamite the rapids to make way for the Teles Pires dam.
In 2013 the companies involved blew up Sete Quedas, and in so doing also destroyed — in the cosmology of the region’s indigenous people — the equivalent of the Christian “Heaven”, the sacred sanctuary inhabited by spirits after death. Known in as Paribixexe, Sete Quedas is a sacred site for all the Munduruku.
The destruction of the sacred rapids was a lethal blow for the Indians: “The dynamiting of the sacred site is the end of religion and the end of culture. It is the end of the Munduruku people. When they dynamited the waterfall, they dynamited the Mother of the Fish and the Mother of the Animals we hunt. So these fish and these animals will die. All that we are involved with will die. So this is the end of the Munduruku”, says a mournful indigenous elder, Eurico Krixi Munduruku.
The message Valmira Krixi delivers is equally chilling: “We will come to an end, and our spirits too.” It is double annihilation, in life and in death.
In all, today, more than 13,000 Munduruku Indians live in 112 villages, mainly along the upper reaches of the Tapajós River and its tributaries, including the Teles Pires River. This indigenous group once occupied and completely dominated such an extensive Amazonian region that “in colonial Brazil the whole of the Tapajós River Basin was known by the Europeans as Mundurukânia”, explains Bruna Rocha, a lecturer in archaeology at the Federal University of the West of Pará.
The sudden appearance of rubber-tapping across Amazonia during the second half of the 19th century shattered the power of “Mundurukânia,” and deprived the Munduruku of most of their territory. “They just kept fragments in the lower Tapajós and larger areas in the upper reaches of the river, but even so it was only a fraction of what they occupied in the past”, says Rocha.
Now even these fragments are being seriously impacted by the hydroelectric power stations being built around them. Of the more than 40 dams proposed in the Tapajós Basin, four are already under construction or completed on the Teles Pires River. These dams are all key to a proposed industrial waterway that would transport soy from Mato Grosso state, north along the Teles Pires and Tapajós rivers, then east along the Amazon to the coast for export.
The time before
The 90 families in Teles Pires village, which we visited, love talking about the past, a time, they say, when they could roam at will through their immense territory to hunt and harvest from the forest. In part, these nostalgic recollections are mythical in that, for at least two centuries and probably longer, the people have lived in fixed communities. But they continue to collect many products from the forest — seeds, tree bark, fibers, timber, fruit and more; using the materials to build their houses, to feed themselves, to make spears for hunting, to concoct herbal remedies, and so on.
Their territory — the Indigenous Territory of Kayabi, which they share, not always happily, with the Apiaká and Kayabi people — was created in 2004. Bizarrely, the sacred site of Sete Quedas lay just outside its legal limits, an oversight that was to have tragic consequences for the Indians.
Over the centuries, the Munduruku have adapted well to changes in the world around them, changes that intensified after they made contact with white society in the 18th century. On some occasions, the people readily incorporated new technological and social elements into their culture, seizing on their advantages. The British Museum has a “very traditional” Munduruku waistband, probably created in the late 19th century, which utilizes cotton fabric imported from Europe. The Indians clearly realized that cotton fabric was far more resilient than the textiles they made from forest products, and they happily incorporated the cotton into the decorative garment.
Today that custom continues. Almost all young people have mobile phones, and appreciate their usefulness. But at times the Munduruku have found, just as many of us do in our city lives, that modern technology can go wrong, with frustrating results. The Munduruku have, for example, installed an artesian well in Teles Pires village and now have running water in their houses. That advance makes life easier, except when the system breaks down, which is not infrequent. During the four days of our visit, for instance, there was no water, as the pump had quit working.
In similar fashion, their religion has also changed, at least superficially. Franciscan friars have had a mission (Missão Cururu) in the heart of Munduruku territory for over a century, and Catholicism has left its mark. The Munduruku say, for instance, that the creator of the world, the warrior Karosakaybu, fashioned everyone and everything “in his own image”, a direct quote from the Bible.
Even so, the Indians have a strong ethnic identity, which they fiercely protect. When we asked to film them, they said yes, but many insisted on speaking their own language on camera, even though they often could speak Portuguese far better than our translator.
Moreover, their cosmology is rock-solid; every Indian to whom we spoke shared Krixi Biwūn’s belief in the hereafter and the paramount importance of the sacred sites in guaranteeing their life after death. This faith forms the foundation of their cosmology, and is essential to their existence. It is this fundamental belief that has now been blasted — making adaptation almost impossible.
The dams the people didn’t want
National governments are obliged to directly consult with indigenous groups before launching any project that will affect their wellbeing, according to The International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. Brazil is a signatory of this agreement, so how is it possible that indigenous sacred sites could be demolished on the Teles Pires River to make way for Amazon dams?
The answer is clear-cut, according to Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director for International Rivers. After the 2011 approval for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River — a major Amazon tributary —, the government’s next hydroelectric target in Amazonia was on the Teles Pires River. “Four dams are being simultaneously built [there]. Two are close to indigenous people — the Teles Pires and Sāo Manoel. The São Manoel is 300 meters from the federally demarcated border of an indigenous reserve where the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká live,” Millikan told Mongabay. The sacred site of Sete Quedas, left outside the boundary of the indigenous territory, lay in the way of the São Manoel dam.
Unlike the building of the Belo Monte mega-dam, which was extensively covered by the Brazilian and international press, the Teles Pires “projects were ignored”, Millikan says. “This was due to various factors — their geographic isolation, the fact that they were less ‘grandiose’ than Belo Monte, and that there was very little involvement from civil society groups, who generally help threatened [indigenous] groups.”
Even so, the government carried out a form of consultation with the indigenous population and other local inhabitants. On 6 October 2010, it announced in the official gazette that it had received the environmental impact study for the Teles Pires dam from the environmental agency, Ibama, and that the public had 45 days in which to request an audiência pública (public hearing) in which to raise questions about the dam.
A hearing was, in fact, held on 23 November 2010 in the town of Jacareacanga. Although the event was organised in a very formal way, alien to indigenous culture, contributions from 24 people, almost all indigenous, were permitted. According to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), an independent body of federal prosecutors within the Brazilian state, every speaker expressed opposition to the dam. Even so, the project went ahead. Over time, the Munduruku became increasingly reluctant to take part in these consultations, saying that their views were simply ignored.
Although the Munduruku were always opposed to the dams, they were ill prepared for the scale of the damage they have suffered.
Cacique Disma Muõ told us: “The government didn’t inform us. The government always spoke of the good things that would happen. They didn’t tell us about the bad things.” When they protested, the Munduruku were told: “The land belongs to the government, not to the Indians. There is no way the Indians can prevent the dams.”
This is, at best, a half-truth. Although indigenous land belongs to the Brazilian state, the indigenous people have the right to the “exclusive” and “perpetual” use of this land, in accordance with the Brazilian Constitution.
Moreover, the ILO’s Convention 169 says that indigenous groups must be consulted if they will suffer an impact, even if the cause of the impact is located beyond their land. Rodrigo Oliveiraan adviser in Santarém to the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) made this clear in an interview with Mongabay: “As it was evident before the dams were licensed that the Munduruku and other communities would be affected, the Brazilian government had the obligation to consult these groups in a full and informed way in accordance with the ILO’s Convention 169.”
The Brazilian government repeatedly claimed that its public hearings amounted to the “full, informed and prior” consultation required by the ILO, but the MPF challenged this assertion. It sued the Brazilian government, and the federal courts on several occasions stopped work on the dam. However, unfortunately for the Munduruku and other local indigenous groups, each time the MPF won in a lower court, the powerful interests of the energy sector — both within government and outside it — had the decision overturned in a higher court.
This was largely possible because the Workers’ Party government (which ruled from 2003-16) had revived a legal instrument known as Suspensão de Segurança (Suspension of Security), which was instituted and widely used by Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-85). Suspension of Security allows any judicial decision, even when based on sound legal principles, to be reversed in a higher court without further legal argument, using a trump card that simply invokes “national security”, “public order” or the “national economy”.
The Prosecutor Luís de Camões Lima Boaventura told Mongabay: “Figures collected by the MPF show that, just with respect to the hydroelectric dams in the Teles Pires-Tapajós Basin, we were victorious in 80 percent of the actions we took, but all of the rulings in our favor were reversed by suspensions.”
According to Prosecutor Boaventura, the root of the problem is that the Brazilian authorities have always adopted a colonial mentality towards the Amazon: “I would say that Amazonia hasn’t been seen as a territory to be conquered. Rather, it’s been seen as a territory to be plundered. Predation is the norm.”
Instead of democratically engaging the Munduruku, and debating the various options for the future of the Tapajós region, federal authorities imposed the dams, without discussion. The Teles Pires dam was built in record time — 41 months — and is already operating. According to a recent press interview, the São Manoel dam, due to come on stream in May 2018, is also on course to be completed ahead of schedule.
Almost every week now, local indigenous villages feel another impact from the large construction projects. The Indians say that the building of the São Manoel dam made the river dirty, more silted and turbid. Although their claims may be exaggerated, there seems little doubt that aquatic life will suffer serious, long-term harm. This is serious for a people whose diet largely consists of fish.
In November, crisis came in the form of an oil spill on the river, possibly originating at the dam construction site, an event that deprived some villages of drinking water.
“We will have to pay the price”
The destruction of the sacred Sete Quedas rapids was not the only blow inflicted on the Munduruku by the consortium building the Sao Manoel dam. Workers also withdrew 12 funeral urns and archaeological artefacts from a nearby site, a violation of sacred tradition that has done further spiritual harm. The Munduruku cacique, or leader, Disma Mou, who is also a shaman, explains: “We kept arrows, clubs, ceramics, there, all buried under the ground in urns, all sacred. Many were war trophies, placed there when we were at war, travelling from region to region. Our ancestors chose this place to be sacred and now it is being destroyed by the dam.”
Francisco Pugliese, an archaeologist from the University of São Paulo, told Mongabay that he had been horrified by the behavior of the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), the body in charge of the protection of archaeological sites. He said that the institute had broken the law by exempting the hydroelectric company from the obligation to work with the Munduruku to determine the best way of protecting their sacred site. Worse, Iphan had decided that, as the urns and other material were discovered outside the boundary of the indigenous reserve, they were the property of the government and should be sent to a museum.
“Imagine what it’s like for a traditional people to see its ancestors taken to a place with which it has no emotional link or even knows”, he said. “It’s within this perverse logic of dispossession that archaeological research takes place, in the context of the implementation of the dam. It exacerbates the process of expropriation and the destruction of the cultural references of the people and it reinforces the process of genocide of the original inhabitants of the Amazon basin”, he concluded. Mongabay requested an interview with Iphan but was not granted one.
The elder Eurico Krixi Munduruku finds it painful to describe what this sacrilege means for the people: “Those urns should never have been touched. And it’s not the white man who will pay for this. It is us, the living Munduruku, who will have to pay, in the form of accidents, in the form of death…. Our ancestors left them there for us to protect. It was our duty and we have failed. And now we, the Munduruku, will have to pay the price.”
The harm done to the Munduruku psyche by these desecrations hit home in the aftermath of a 2012 federal police operation known as Operação Eldorado, during which an Indian was killed. Krixi Biwun, the sister of the dead man, told us of her brother’s restless spirit: “He went to Sete Quedas because, when people die, that is where our ancestors take them so they can live there. But now Sete Quedas is destroyed and he is suffering.”
“The ethnocide continues”
Is there a way forward for the Munduruku people, a way that the perceived blasphemy done by the consortium and federal government can be reversed? Everyone we talked to in the village is certain that, as long as the urns and other artefacts rest outside the sacred site, one catastrophe will follow another; even small wounds will cause death.
But it is not simply a case of returning the urns to the Indians so they can rebury them. “They can’t give the urns back to us”, explains Krixi Biwun. “We can’t touch them. They have to find a way of getting them returned to a sacred place [without us].”
This seems unlikely to happen. The urns are currently held by the Teles Pires company in the town of Alta Floresta, waiting to be taken to a museum at the request of Iphan. Mongabay asked to see the artefacts but our request was turned down.
Even if the holy relics were eventually returned to a sacred place in one of the rapids along the Teles Pires River, that respite is likely to be short-lived. The next step in the opening up of the region to agribusiness and mining is to turn the Teles Pires into an industrial waterway, transforming it with dams, reservoirs, canals and locks. This will mean the destruction of all the river’s rapids, leaving no sacred sites.
The indefatigable MPF has carried on fighting. In December, it won another court victory, with a judge ruling that the license for the installation of the Teles Pires dam — granted by the environmental agency, Ibama — was invalid, given the failure to consult the Indians.
Once again, however, this court order is likely to be reversed by a higher court using the “Suspension of Security” instrument. Indeed, no judicial decision regarding the dams will likely be respected by the government until the case is judged by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, which will probably take decades. In practical terms, what the Tribunal decides will be irrelevant, for the Teles Pires dam is already operational and the São Manoel dam will come on stream later this year.
The Indians are outraged by the lack of respect with which they are being treated. A statement issued jointly by the Munduruku, Kayabi and Apiaká in 2011, and quoted in the book-length report, Ocekadi, asks: “What would the white man say if we built our villages on the top of his buildings, his holy places and his cemeteries?” It is, the Munduruku say, the equivalent of razing St. Peters in Rome to construct a nuclear power plant, or digging up your grandmother’s grave to build a parking lot.
The researcher, Rosamaria Loures, who has been studying the Munduruku’s opposition to the hydroelectric projects, told Mongabay that their experience reveals one of the weaknesses of Brazilian society: “The Nation-State has established a hierarchy of values based on criteria like class, color and ethnic origin. In this categorization, certain groups ‘count less’ and can be simply crushed,” she explains.
A Munduruku Indian, Marcelo, who we spoke to within an indigenous territory near the town of Juara, expressed the same notion in the graphic terms of someone who experiences discrimination every day of his life:
“The ethnocide continues, in the way people look at us, the way they want us to be like them, subjugating our organizations, the way they tell us that our religion isn’t worth anything, that theirs is what matters, the way they tell us our behavior is wrong. They are obliterating the identity of the Indian as a human being.”
(Leia essa matéria em português no The Intercept Brasil. You can also read Mongabay’s series on the Tapajós Basin in Portuguese at The Intercept Brasil after January 10, 2017)
A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora
Postado em 06/01/2017 16:38
A orca Tilikum, estrela do SeaWorld e protagonista do aclamado documentário “Blackfish”, que denunciou o sofrimento dos animais em cativeiro em atrações do gênero, morreu nesta sexta-feira após sofrer uma infecção bacteriana, anunciou o parque temático da Flórida em um comunicado.
A orca macho de 36 anos sofria de “graves problemas de saúde” e ainda se não pode determinar exatamente a causa da morte, segundo a empresa. Entre outros problemas, seus veterinários detectaram uma infecção bacteriana nos pulmões.
“Tilikum tinha, e ainda tem, um lugar especial no coração da família SeaWorld, assim como nos corações de milhões de pessoas ao redor do mundo que inspirou”, disse Joel Manby, presidente do parque de Orlando, no centro da Flórida.
A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora.
“A vida de Tilikum estará sempre ligada à perda de nossa amiga e colega Dawn Bancheau”, escreveu a empresa no texto publicado em seu site. “Enquanto todos nós sofremos grande tristeza por essa perda, continuamos oferecendo a Tilikum o melhor cuidado possível”.
A morte de Dawn é mencionada no filme de 2013, que ganhou o prêmio Bafta de Melhor Documentário, como um efeito do estresse sofrido por orcas em cativeiro por viver em pequenos tanques e com pouca luz.
A empresa sofreu uma avalanche de críticas após o filme e multiplicaram-se as chamadas para o fechamento desses parques aquáticos.
Finalmente, em março de 2016, SeaWorld anunciou que iria parar a criação de orcas e que sua atual geração desses mamíferos em cativeiro seria a última. A decisão foi aplaudida por organizações de defesa dos animais.
“Tilikum estava perto do fim da expectativa média de vida de baleias orcas do sexo masculino, de acordo com um estudo científico independente”, disse o SeaWorld nesta sexta-feira, relatando ainda que as bactérias que atingiram o animal são encontradas “em hábitats naturais e instalações de zoológicos”.
Com a perda de Tilikum, o SeaWorld tem agora 22 orcas em seus três parques em Orlando, San Antonio (Texas) e San Diego (Califórnia).
No total, foram registrados 750 fenômenos climáticos ou geológicos extremos no ano passado
Postado em 04/01/2017 10:24
O estudo também registra 160 catástrofes na América do Norte, incluindo o furacão Matthew, em outubro, que deixou 550 vítimas no Haiti
Os desastres naturais causaram danos no valor de 175 bilhões de dólares em 2016, um recorde desde 2012, mas foram menos mortíferos que no ano anterior, segundo um estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira pela companhia resseguradora alemã Munich Re.
Destes 175 bilhões de dólares, apenas 50 bilhões estavam assegurados, segundo o estudo, considerado uma referência no setor.
Por outro lado, as catástrofes naturais deixaram 8,7 mil mortos no ano recém-terminado, comparado com os 25,4 mil mortos em 2015, fazendo de 2016 o segundo ano menos mortífero desde 1986, atrás de 2014 e suas 8.050 mortes por desastres naturais.
No total, foram registrados 750 fenômenos climáticos ou geológicos extremos em 2016, muito mais que os 590 casos constatados em média nos últimos dez anos.
A Munich Re destaca que duas catástrofes – vários terremotos no Japão em abril e uma onda de inundações na China em junho e julho – foram as mais caras, provocando respectivamente 31 bilhões e 20 bilhões de dólares em danos.
O estudo também registra 160 catástrofes na América do Norte, incluindo o furacão Matthew, em outubro, que deixou 550 vítimas no Haiti e provocou 10,2 bilhões de dólares em danos em sua passagem.
No Canadá, os incêndios das florestas em Alberta, em maio, provocaram cerca de 4 bilhões de dólares em danos, enquanto os danos causados pelas inundações de agosto no sul dos Estados Unidos custaram 10 bilhões de dólares.
Na Europa, uma série de tempestades no final de maio e início de junho, principalmente na França e na Alemanha, com inundações e cheias de rios comportaram perdas no valor de 6 bilhões de dólares.
Pesquisa correlaciona a extinção de espécies com a origem dos produtos do comércio global
Os orangotangos de Bornéu estão ameaçados pela produção de óleo de palma. JEFTA IMAGES / BARCROFT
5 JAN 2017 – 00:53 CET
Os humanos começam a admitir que somos como um meteorito que vai provocar a nova megaextinção de espécies no planetaTerra. Mas ainda nos falta muita informação sobre o tamanho desse meteorito coletivo e o alcance da devastação que juntos causaremos. Sabemos, por exemplo, que a exploração maciça dos recursos naturais é um dos grandes fatores associados à devastação da biodiversidade, mas são necessários mais dados para conectar esse fenômeno com nosso consumo desmesurado.
Um estudo pioneiro, divulgado nesta quarta-feira, mostra a grande responsabilidade do comércio global na extinção maciça de espécies no mundo, traçando uma clara correlação entre a cesta de compras dos países mais consumidores e as selvagens pressões que massacram os tesouros naturais. O cafezinho que alguém toma nos EUA, por exemplo, está ligado ao desmatamentoda América Central – onde esse café é cultivado –, e esse é o habitat do acuado macaco-aranha, o mais ameaçado do planeta.
“Pelo menos um terço das ameaças à biodiversidade em todo o mundo estão vinculadas à produção para o comércio internacional”, dizem os autores do estudo publicado na Nature Ecology & Evolution. Em seu trabalho, eles mapearam locais do planeta onde há quase 7.000 espécies ameaçadas, estabelecendo sua conexão com a cadeia de consumo nos EUA, China e Japão. Desse modo, pode-se ver facilmente como os animais sob risco em determinados pontos do planeta sofrem com a demanda de bens por parte dos grandes consumidores.
Por exemplo, o lince e dúzias de outras espécies sofrem na península Ibérica pela pressão da produção agrícola que abastece os mercados europeus e norte-americanos. “É digno de menção o importante rastro dos EUA na biodiversidade do sul da Espanha e Portugal, ligado aos impactos sobre uma série de espécies ameaçadas de peixes e aves, já que esses países raramente são percebidos como pontos de ameaça”, afirmam os autores no estudo.
No Brasil, a principal ameaça está no sul, no planalto brasileiro, devido à agropecuária extensiva, e não na Amazônia
“O que este trabalho nos mostra é que os humanos estão assaltando o planeta”, resume David Nogués-Bravo, especialista em macroecologia da Universidade de Copenhague. Nogués-Bravo, que não participou do estudo, diz que os impactos humanos sobre a natureza podem ser representados como um redemoinho que engole a diversidade de seres vivos sobre a Terra. “Esse turbilhão é constituído por três nós: poder, comida e dinheiro. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos do planeta é quase ilimitada, e é o que está provocando a sexta extinção maciça na história da Terra”, denúncia o ecologista.
Para ele, tanto o enfoque como os resultados são muito pertinentes, porque põem em perspectiva as perdas de biodiversidade, principalmente em países tropicais em vias de desenvolvimento, e os fluxos de demanda que se originam nos países mais ricos e industrializados.
“O planeta inteiro se tornou uma fazenda, tudo está a serviço de fornecer cada vez mais bens”, critica Juan Carlos del Olmo, secretário-geral da organização conservacionista WWF na Espanha. “O maior vetor de destruição da biodiversidade é a produção de alimentos numa escala brutal”, aponta. Os autores do estudo relatam, por exemplo, sua surpresa ao comprovar que o principal foco de ameaça aos tesouros naturais do Brasil não está na Amazônia. “Apesar da grande atenção dedicada à selva amazônica, o rastro norte-americano no Brasil é maior no sul, no planalto brasileiro, onde há práticas agropecuárias extensivas”, ressalta o trabalho.
“Os humanos estão assaltando o planeta. A capacidade da nossa espécie de sugar energia e recursos no planeta é quase ilimitada”, resume Nogués-Bravo
“E o rastro ecológico não para de crescer”, acrescenta Del Olmo, “mas reduzir esse rastro não é fácil; não podemos fomentar um consumo responsável se depois vamos jogar fora 25% do que se produz”. Como alterar a influência negativa destes fluxos? “Com este enfoque, do rastro de cima para baixo, examinamos todas as espécies ameaçadas e a atividade econômica em conjunto, razão pela qual pode ser difícil estabelecer vínculos claros entre consumo, comércio e impacto”, admitiu ao EL PAÍS um dos autores do estudo, Keiichiro Kanemoto, da Universidade de Shinshu.
“Precisamos ver de onde importamos e onde estão as espécies ameaçadas. Nosso mapa pode ajudar as empresas a fazerem uma cuidadosa seleção dos seus insumos e assim aliviar os impactos sobre a biodiversidade”, diz Kanemoto. Segundo o pesquisador, se as empresas oferecerem informações em seus produtos sobre as ameaças a espécies nas cadeias de suprimento, os consumidores poderão escolher em seu cotidiano produtos favoráveis à biodiversidade.
Os morangos que afogam o lince
“Esperamos que as empresas comparem nossos mapas e seus lugares de aquisição e então reconsiderem suas cadeias de suprimento, e queremos trabalhar com elas para começar a tomar medidas reais”, afirma Kanemoto. Neste sentido, Del Olmo diz que o trabalho do WWF há bastante tempo vem se voltando para esse foco: fazer com que todos os participantes da cadeia conheçam o impacto sobre a biodiversidade, para que a indústria, os fornecedores e os consumidores evitem os bens que mais causam danos na sua origem. Em outras palavras, que todos estejam conscientes de que o café coloca em risco o macaco-arranha, assim como o óleo de palma (dendê) ameaça o orangotango na Indonésia.
O estudo de Kanemoto e seus colegas ressalta como é inesperada a aparição da Espanha como uma região com grandes problemas de biodiversidade por culpa do consumo fora das suas fronteiras. Apontam especificamente o lince, que reina no Parque Nacional e Natural de Doñana, no sul do país, e que chegou a ser o felino mais ameaçado da Terra, entre outros motivos pela perda de hábitat. “Do ponto de vista da biodiversidade, a Espanha é o Bornéu da Europa. Nas grandes espécies a briga está acontecendo, mas a biodiversidade pequena – anfíbios, aves e peixes – está desaparecendo a uma velocidade brutal”, lamenta Del Olmo.
O diretor do WWF na Espanha cita como exemplo os morangos: a água que dava de beber à marisma de Doñana é atualmente usada nos milhares de hectares de cultivo de morangos. Essa área responde por 60% do cultivo da fruta na Espanha, e metade da água usada vem de poços ilegais, que secam o entorno. “O uso brutal da água e do território, o impacto da agricultura para exportar produtos a todo o mundo, deixa os aquíferos secos. Não notamos, mas o impacto é impressionante”, explica Del Olmo. E acrescenta: “Por isso dizemos às grandes redes varejistas: não comprem de quem usa poços ilegais e está destruindo a biodiversidade. Premiem quem faz direito”.
Novo modelo mostra que esteira oceânica que transporta calor à Europa é mais vulnerável ao aquecimento global do que se imaginava, mas só pararia em séculos não de anos; Brasil seria afetado
Cientistas chineses trabalhando nos EUA trouxeram nesta quarta-feira uma notícia agridoce sobre um dos efeitos mais temidos do aquecimento global. Um modelo climático feito por eles mostra que a corrente oceânica que leva calor dos trópicos à Europa é mais vulnerável do que se imaginava às mudanças do clima, e desligará completamente caso a quantidade de gás carbônico na atmosfera siga aumentando. Por outro lado, esse desligamento ocorreria em séculos, não em anos ou décadas.
Conhecida como circulação termoalina do Atlântico, essa imensa esteira oceânica é um dos principais sistemas de regulação do clima da Terra. Sua face mais conhecida é a Corrente do Golfo, uma corrente quente que migra pela superfície do Atlântico tropical até as imediações do Ártico. No Atlântico Norte, ela fica mais fria e mais salgada (devido à evaporação da água no caminho), afundando e retornando aos trópicos na forma de uma corrente fria submarina. A dissipação de calor dessa corrente é o que mantém a Inglaterra e o norte da Europa com um clima relativamente tépido, mesmo estando em uma latitude elevada.
Desde os anos 1980 os cientistas têm postulado que o aquecimento global, ao derreter o gelo e a neve do Ártico, lançaria grande quantidade de água doce no oceano, diluindo o sal da corrente e impedindo que ela afundasse. O efeito imediato seria a suspensão do transporte da calor para a Europa, que mergulharia numa espécie de era do gelo. Isso já aconteceu há 8.200 anos e resfriou o Velho Continente por dois séculos. Poderia acontecer de novo de forma rápida e causar problemas sérios à civilização, caricaturados no filme-catástrofe O Dia Depois de Amanhã, de 2004.
Observações feitas até aqui, que são esparsas, têm mostrado que justamente desde 2004 esteira oceânica está em sua menor potência nos últimos mil anos, provavelmente por causa do aquecimento global. Alguns cientistas temem que o colapso já tenha começado.
Ocorre que os modelos computacionais que simulam o clima da Terra no futuro, usados pelo IPCC (o painel do clima da ONU), têm falhado sistematicamente em apontar instabilidade no sistema. Por consequência, o desligamento repentino da corrente é considerado pouco provável pelo painel.
Entram em cena Wei Liu, da Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego (hoje na outra costa do país, na Universidade Yale), e colegas. Em estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira no site da revista Science Advances, o grupo aponta que os modelos padecem de um viés: uma distorção faz a corrente parecer artificialmente mais estável do que é de fato.
A origem do problema está longe da Europa, no Atlântico Sul. Essa região do oceano tropical, perto do equador, recebe chuvas constantes na chamada Zona de Convergência Intertropical, o cinturão de tempestades onde massas de ar aquecido dos dois hemisférios se encontram.
Liu e colegas dizem que os modelos do IPCC assumem que há mais água doce oriunda dessas chuvas na corrente do que há de fato. Isso causaria nos modelos uma ilusão de estabilidade – quanto mais água doce no trópico, menor a diferença de salinidade perto do Ártico, portanto, menos suscetível a perturbações a corrente seria. Esse viés, afirma Liu, já havia sido sugerido por outros estudos no passado.
O que o chinês e seu grupo fizeram foi ajustar um dos modelos de acordo com parâmetros de salinidade que eles consideravam mais realistas. Mas não apenas isso: a correção do viés tornou a corrente mais instável e vulnerável ao próprio aquecimento da água do mar – algo que casa melhor com as observações. “O aquecimento reduz a densidade da água e impede a convecção”, disse Liu ao OC. “O método não é perfeito, mas é o melhor que podemos fazer agora para corrigir o viés e fazer uma projeção mais confiável.”
Os pesquisadores usaram o modelo ajustado para estimar o que acontece com a esteira oceânica caso o nível de CO2 na atmosfera duplique – algo que acontecerá por volta de meados do século se medidas radicais de controle de emissões não forem tomadas.
Aqui vem a nota de alívio do estudo: o colapso da corrente ocorre nas simulações apenas 300 anos após a quantidade de CO2 dobrar na atmosfera. Questionado sobre se isso era uma boa notícia, Liu foi cauteloso: “Sim, 300 anos são muita coisa comparado a uma vida humana, mas mudanças notáveis podem ocorrer antes de a circulação colapsar”, disse. “Além disso, nosso resultado é baseado em um modelo e em um cenário simples de aquecimento.” Liu e seus colegas não consideraram, por exemplo, o fator que até agora tem sido invocado para explicar a redução da corrente: o efeito do degelo da Groenlândia. Ao lançar excesso de água doce sobre o oceano no Ártico, o derretimento poderia agravar a situação de uma corrente que já seria impactada pelo aquecimento da superfície.
Um efeito esperado dessa redução na corrente, por exemplo, é uma mudança nos padrões de chuva em várias regiões do planeta. Um dos lugares que seriam afetados é o Brasil. Estudos do grupo do geólogo de Francisco Cruz, da USP, já mostraram que fases de redução da circulação termoalina no passado corresponderam a chuvas torrenciais no Brasil, devido ao deslocamento da Zona de Convergência Intertropical para o sul.
“Precisamos aplicar essa metodologia a mais modelos climáticos e a cenários de aquecimento global mais realistas”, afirmou Liu.
Study confirms steady warming of oceans for past 45 years
January 4, 2017
University of California – Berkeley
Scientists calculated average ocean temperatures from 1999 to 2015, separately using ocean buoys and satellite data, and confirmed the uninterrupted warming trend reported by NOAA in 2015, based on that organization’s recalibration of sea surface temperature recordings from ships and buoys. The new results show that there was no global warming hiatus between 1998 and 2012.
A new UC Berkeley analysis of ocean buoy (green) and satellite data (orange) show that ocean temperatures have increased steadily since 1999, as NOAA concluded in 2015 (red) after adjusting for a cold bias in buoy temperature measurements. NOAA’s earlier assessment (blue) underestimated sea surface temperature changes, falsely suggesting a hiatus in global warming. The lines show the general upward trend in ocean temperatures. Credit: Zeke Hausfather, UC Berkeley
A controversial paper published two years ago that concluded there was no detectable slowdown in ocean warming over the previous 15 years — widely known as the “global warming hiatus” — has now been confirmed using independent data in research led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Berkeley Earth, a non-profit research institute focused on climate change.
The 2015 analysis showed that the modern buoys now used to measure ocean temperatures tend to report slightly cooler temperatures than older ship-based systems, even when measuring the same part of the ocean at the same time. As buoy measurements have replaced ship measurements, this had hidden some of the real-world warming.
After correcting for this “cold bias,” researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded in the journal Science that the oceans have actually warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 2000, nearly twice as fast as earlier estimates of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade. This brought the rate of ocean temperature rise in line with estimates for the previous 30 years, between 1970 and 1999.
This eliminated much of the global warming hiatus, an apparent slowdown in rising surface temperatures between 1998 and 2012. Many scientists, including the International Panel on Climate Change, acknowledged the puzzling hiatus, while those dubious about global warming pointed to it as evidence that climate change is a hoax.
Climate change skeptics attacked the NOAA researchers and a House of Representatives committee subpoenaed the scientists’ emails. NOAA agreed to provide data and respond to any scientific questions but refused to comply with the subpoena, a decision supported by scientists who feared the “chilling effect” of political inquisitions.
The new study, which uses independent data from satellites and robotic floats as well as buoys, concludes that the NOAA results were correct. The paper is published Jan. 4 in the online, open-access journal Science Advances.
“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said lead author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
Long-term climate records
Hausfather said that years ago, mariners measured the ocean temperature by scooping up a bucket of water from the ocean and sticking a thermometer in it. In the 1950s, however, ships began to automatically measure water piped through the engine room, which typically is warm. Nowadays, buoys cover much of the ocean and that data is beginning to supplant ship data. But the buoys report slightly cooler temperatures because they measure water directly from the ocean instead of after a trip through a warm engine room.
NOAA is one of three organizations that keep historical records of ocean temperatures — some going back to the 1850s — widely used by climate modelers. The agency’s paper was an attempt to accurately combine the old ship measurements and the newer buoy data.
Hausfather and colleague Kevin Cowtan of the University of York in the UK extended that study to include the newer satellite and Argo float data in addition to the buoy data.
“Only a small fraction of the ocean measurement data is being used by climate monitoring groups, and they are trying to smush together data from different instruments, which leads to a lot of judgment calls about how you weight one versus the other, and how you adjust for the transition from one to another,” Hausfather said. “So we said, ‘What if we create a temperature record just from the buoys, or just from the satellites, or just from the Argo floats, so there is no mixing and matching of instruments?'”
In each case, using data from only one instrument type — either satellites, buoys or Argo floats — the results matched those of the NOAA group, supporting the case that the oceans warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade over the past two decades, nearly twice the previous estimate. In other words, the upward trend seen in the last half of the 20th century continued through the first 15 years of the 21st: there was no hiatus.
“In the grand scheme of things, the main implication of our study is on the hiatus, which many people have focused on, claiming that global warming has slowed greatly or even stopped,” Hausfather said. “Based on our analysis, a good portion of that apparent slowdown in warming was due to biases in the ship records.”
Correcting other biases in ship records
In the same publication last year, NOAA scientists also accounted for changing shipping routes and measurement techniques. Their correction — giving greater weight to buoy measurements than to ship measurements in warming calculations — is also valid, Hausfather said, and a good way to correct for this second bias, short of throwing out the ship data altogether and relying only on buoys.
Another repository of ocean temperature data, the Hadley Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom, corrected their data for the switch from ships to buoys, but not for this second factor, which means that the Hadley data produce a slightly lower rate of warming than do the NOAA data or the new UC Berkeley study.
“In the last seven years or so, you have buoys warming faster than ships are, independently of the ship offset, which produces a significant cool bias in the Hadley record,” Hausfather said. The new study, he said, argues that the Hadley center should introduce another correction to its data.
“People don’t get much credit for doing studies that replicate or independently validate other people’s work. But, particularly when things become so political, we feel it is really important to show that, if you look at all these other records, it seems these researchers did a good job with their corrections,” Hausfather said.
Co-author Mark Richardson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena added, “Satellites and automated floats are completely independent witnesses of recent ocean warming, and their testimony matches the NOAA results. It looks like the NOAA researchers were right all along.”
Other co-authors of the paper are David C. Clarke, an independent researcher from Montreal, Canada, Peter Jacobs of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth. The research was funded by Berkeley Earth.
Zeke Hausfather, Kevin Cowtan, David C. Clarke, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, Robert Rohde. Assessing recent warming using instrumentally homogeneous sea surface temperature records. Science Advances, 2017; 3 (1): e1601207 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601207
International research team presents findings from frozen ‘climate archive’ of Antarctica
January 5, 2017
University of Bonn
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again.
Iceberg in the southeastern Weddell Sea region. Credit: Photo: Dr. Michael Weber
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again. An international team of scientists with the participation of the University of Bonn is now reporting its findings in the magazine Scientific Reports.
University of Bonn’s climate researcher Michael E. Weber is a member of the study group. He says, “The changes that are currently taking place in a disturbing manner resemble those 14,700 years ago.” At that time, changes in atmospheric-oceanic circulation led to a stratification in the ocean with a cold layer at the surface and a warm layer below. Under such conditions, ice sheets melt more strongly than when the surrounding ocean is thoroughly mixed. This is exactly what is presently happening around the Antarctic.
The main author of the study, the Australian climate researcher Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney, explains the process as follows: “The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface. At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.” It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.
To investigate the climate changes of the past, the scientists are studying drill cores from the eternal ice. Layer by layer, this frozen “climate archive” reveals its secrets to the experts. In previous studies, the scientists had found evidence of eight massive melting events in deep sea sediments around the Antarctic, which occurred at the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. Co-author Dr. Weber from the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn says: “The largest melt occurred 14,700 years ago. During this time the Antarctic contributed to a sea level rise of at least three meters within a few centuries.”
The present discovery is the first direct evidence from the Antarctic continent which confirms the assumed models. The research team used isotopic analyzes of ice cores from the Weddell Sea region, which now flows into the ocean about a quarter of the Antarctic melt.
Through a combination with ice sheet and climate modeling, the isotopic data show that the waters around the Antarctic were heavily layered at the time of the melting events, so that the ice sheets melted at a faster rate. “The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,700 years ago,” says co-author Nick Golledge from the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand.
C. J. Fogwill, C. S. M. Turney, N. R. Golledge, D. M. Etheridge, M. Rubino, D. P. Thornton, A. Baker, J. Woodward, K. Winter, T. D. van Ommen, A. D. Moy, M. A. J. Curran, S. M. Davies, M. E. Weber, M. I. Bird, N. C. Munksgaard, L. Menviel, C. M. Rootes, B. Ellis, H. Millman, J. Vohra, A. Rivera, A. Cooper. Antarctic ice sheet discharge driven by atmosphere-ocean feedbacks at the Last Glacial Termination. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 39979 DOI: 10.1038/srep39979