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Tuesday, May 5

The Train, Part 2 of 2

Atossa Soltana with bona fide Indigenous Person

20th session Conference of the Parties (COP20) and 10th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol - December 1 to 14, 2014 in Lima, Peru
TRANSLATION: Global Glitterati of Carbon Emissions Control

Dr Strangelove struggling with alien hand syndrome (diagnostic apraxia)

From the Flying Rivers Project website

The Flying Rivers project was conceived by Gérard Moss, who undertakes all the active flying and collecting of samples, in addition to securing funding and overall project coordination. Analysis of the samples, interpretation of the data and assessment of the results are in the capable hands of a team of renowned Brazilian scientists, spearheaded by the eminent Prof. Eneas Salati. Back in the 70s, it was Salati who first presented a theory on the correlation between evapotranspiration from the rainforest in the Amazon basin and rainfall in the southern half of the country.

It is a complex issue. The moisture-laden trade winds initially bring humidity off the Atlantic to the mouth of the giant river, and then carry it inland across the continent in an on-going process of rainfall/evapotranspiration/rainfall until coming up against the wall of the Andes. As the Cordillera forces the winds to swerve southwards, they continue carrying the moisture generated by the forest to other regions of the continent.

The first phase of the project was carried out in 2007 and 2008, when the flying river trajectories were monitored and 500 samples of water vapour were collected for analysis by the team at CENA, Piracicaba. 

The big question is, what might happen in the south if the rainforest is destroyed to make way for yet more pasture, soya and sugarcane? If the hydrological cycle stops pumping out such huge volumes of humidity? 

Parts of Latin America are severely parched. The drought is fueling clashes, forcing rationing, decimating crops and affecting travel through the Panama Canal. Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia Navarro reading some of the recent headlines from South America:

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The Worst Drought In The Last 30 Years Ignites 47,000 Forest Fires In Bolivia." "Government Begins Emergency Water Rationing In Venezuela Amid Drought." Here's another one - "Colombia Drought Triggers Clashes, Some Communities Say They Haven't Seen Any Rain For Two Years." And the final one - "Desperately Seeking Solutions To The Worst Drought In Decades In Brazil."

Guatemala has declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing drought, which has caused food shortages and left hundreds of thousands of families at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

Meteorologist Jose Marengo, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, first coined the phrase “flying rivers” to describe these massive volumes of vapour that rise from the rainforest, travel west, and then − blocked by the Andes − turn south.

Satellite images from the Centre for Weather Forecasts and Climate Research of Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE) clearly show that, during January and February this year, the flying rivers failed to arrive, unlike the previous five years.

Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report [published October 30] Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, earth system science center, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.
In the past 20 years, the author notes that the Amazon has lost 763,000 sq km, an area the size of two Germanys. In addition another 1.2m sq km has been estimated as degraded by cutting below the canopy and fire.

As a result, the report notes, the deterioration of the rainforest – through logging, fires and land clearance – has resulted in a decrease in forest transpiration and a lengthening of dry seasons. This might be one of the factors of the severe drought affecting south-east Brazil. São Paulo – the biggest city in South America – is facing its worst water shortages in almost a century. October, which is usually the start of the rainy season, was drier than at any time since 1930, leaving the volume of the Cantareira reservoir system down to 5% of capacity.

“Studies more than 20 years ago predicted what is happening with lowering rainfall. Amazon deforestation is altering climate. It is no longer about models. It is about observation,” said Nobre. “The connection with the event in São Paulo is important because finally people are paying attention.”

Nobre calls for a “war effort” to reverse the damage and secure the global climate and security of future generations. This would involve a ramped-up effort to immediately halt existing deforestation and a major new project to replant trees.

Whether the government listens, however, is another matter. Forest clearance has accelerated under Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, after efforts to protect the Amazon were weakened. Last month, satellite data indicated a 190% surge in deforestation in August and September. 

The influence of the “ruralista” agribusiness lobby in Congress has also grown in recent years, making it harder for the authorities to push through new legislation to demarcate reserves.

“[The government has] taken good action in the past,” says Nobre. "I hope they will listen now”.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Lima, Peru, from COP 20, from the U.N. Climate Change Conference, as we turn right now to Atossa Soltani. This year’s U.N. Climate Change Conference marks the first time the talks have been held in the Amazon. More than—an Amazon country. More than 70 percent of Peru’s national territory is within the Amazon Basin. Yesterday, I spoke to the founder and executive director of Amazon Watch, Atossa Soltani, and asked her about the significance of this U.N. climate summit in Peru.

ATOSSA SOLTANI: I think this COP 20 is important because it’s the first COP ever in an Amazon country. And the Amazon is incredibly important in the climate debate, both because deforestation is a huge source of emissions, but also because the rainforests of the Amazon actually are the rain machine for the planet. They create these flying rivers that basically provide fertile rain to the entire continent and the rest of the world. It’s like the heart of the planet, pumping moisture and vapor. So, when we lose the Amazon, we not only create emissions, but we lose the climate-stabilizing function of the forest.

And we’re reaching a tipping point. We’re actually very close to the tipping point where the hydrological cycle could collapse. In fact, we had a drought in 2010 in the Amazon that generated more emissions, carbon, than all of the annual emissions of the country of India. So, we are in a critical moment where the future of the planet will depend on what happens in the Amazon. 

And we need to challenge our governments, that are actually using the Amazon to generate both huge amounts of electricity from dams, which block the flow of the river and flood forest and cut off the hydrological cycle, and also looking for oil and gas and fossil fuels that we can’t even afford to burn. So this is an important moment to really put the importance of the Amazon on the top of the agenda.

And then you say, "Well, what do we have to do to protect the Amazon?" Well, we have to support indigenous land rights. Indigenous people’s land titles could be about 200 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest. Supporting their life ways, supporting the way that they can live off the land and protect their forests, as the way that they have for thousands of years, is key to our future survival.

From that point forward in the interview Atossa Soltani gives up her struggle with a verbal version of alien hand syndrome and reverts to talking about carbon emissions.  After all, COP summits are about the Kyoto Protocol, which is focused on reducing carbon emissions and manmade greenhouse gases:
Countries that ratify the Kyoto Protocol are assigned maximum carbon emission levels and can participate in carbon credit trading. Emitting more than the assigned limit will result in a penalty for the violating country in the form of a lower emission limit in the following period.

Antonio Nobre's October 30 paper was the talk of the COP20 summit, as if they had a choice given the publicity it received from the Guardian -- and Monga Bay; that's the reason Soltani mentioned it.

But it wasn't "looking for oil and gas and fossil fuels" that decimated vast tracts of the Amazon forest.  It was razing trees to make way for crops for use as biofuel -- so to limit carbon emissions. 

With the Global Glitterati of Carbon Emissions Control cheering on the biofuel plantations, until so much forest was lost in the Amazon and other parts of the world that the glitterati became alarmed this was skyrocketing carbon emissions.

As to Soltani's claim that the Amazon forests "basically provide fertile rain to the entire continent and the rest of the world," I haven't read Nobre's October 30 report, which is in Portuguese, but the Guardian's Jonathan Watts, who did, doesn't discuss the scope of the climate impact of the Amazon's flying rivers in his November 1 report. 

And Nobre, at least in the interview with Watts, is careful to limit his observation about the connection between the drought in São Paulo.and the disappearance of the Amazon's flying rivers in 2014.  (Which didn't seem to have returned in 2015, either.)

Yet the locus of the 2014 drought in Central/South America is striking in that it affected a number of countries in the Amazon Basin or areas of the countries. Here's a map of the basin countries, courtesy Monga Bay.  

The data accompanying the map, published by Monga Bay in (I'd guess) 2009 needs to be revised in light of satellite data published this year on forest fragmentation and recent studies on the present condition of the Amazon's forests, which Nobre mentions in the interview with Watts. But the map in tandem with Monga Bay's (Novermber 3) report on Nobre's paper and the paper itself is a wakeup call if anyone still needs one.

From the Monga Bay report, which includes this graphic and caption:

Nobre says the Amazon keeps southern South America much greener than areas at similar latitudes on other continents. He also notes that the Amazon's moisture cuts hurricane activity along the Brazilian coast. 


In his report, Nobre explains the role big forests like the Amazon play in driving regional weather patterns.

"The forest keeps moist air moving, which brings rain to the interior regions of the continent, thousands of miles distant from the ocean," said Nobre, who is a proponent of the "biotic pump" theory that compares large rainforests to "flying rivers".

"This is due to the innate ability to transfer large volumes of water from the soil to the atmosphere through tree transpiration," Nobre writes, noting that compounds emitted from trees stimulate condensation of water vapor, driving cloud formation and rainfall. This phenomenon reduces atmospheric pressure above forests, pulling moist ocean air deep into interior areas, driving a positive feedback loop that usually ensures regular rainfall in the Amazon and beyond.

However deforestation, degradation, and fire can break the link, disrupting the great moisture pump that delivers moisture to the forest and carries it to other areas, according to Nobre.

"Deforestation can put all of these attributes of the forest at risk. Recognized climate models anticipate varying harmful effects of deforestation on climate, predictions that have been confirmed by observations. Among them are the drastic reduction in transpiration, changes in the dynamics of clouds and rains and prolonged dry season in deforested areas," he states. "Other unanticipated effects, such as smoke and soot damage to the dynamics of rainfall, even in pristine forest areas, are also being observed."

Nobre says there is a danger that continued deforestation and degradation could tip the Amazon biome from tropical rainforests to savanna. Such a cataclysm could undercut the biotic pump, leaving much of South America — including breadbaskets in Southern Brazil and Argentina — much drier. That in turn could put much of the continent's economic activity at risk.

To stave off that scenario, Nobre urges "the massive mobilization of people, resources and strategies" to reverse deforestation and degradation.

"In addition to maintaining Amazonian forest any cost we must confront the liability of accumulated deforestation and begin a comprehensive process of recovering what was destroyed, which in Brazil amounts to an area of 184 million football fields," said Nobre, likening the effort needed to that of fighting a war.

"To address the seriousness of the situation, we need mobilization [on par] with a war effort, but not directed to conflict," he writes. "Only a minority of the society has been and still is directly involved in the destruction of forests. And that minority is pushing the nation toward climate abyss."

CITATION: Antonio Nobre (2014). O Futuro Climático da Amazônia. INPE. 30 October 2014.

And there you have it. The biotic pump theory isn't considered settled science by the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol; the link between 'excess' carbon emissions and 'climate change' is.  

As to Nobre's call to halt deforestation, the ruralistas (Brazilian farmers (of Portugese descent) banded together to battle the draconian land claims made by Brazil's Indigenous Peoples. 

This Inter Press Services report from June 2013 (Resurgence of Indigenous Identity in the Crossfire in Brazil) is a rare English-language window on the struggle between the two sides:
The main objective of the ruralistas is to modify the 1988 constitution, which guarantees indigenous groups the exclusive right to land that they have traditionally lived on, and a large enough area to provide for their “physical and cultural” survival.
In 2012, the rural bloc managed to get the country’s forest code overhauled, to their own benefit and at the expense of the environment.
Other measures that they are demanding, like the participation of the ministries of agriculture and agrarian development, and agricultural research centres, in the process of demarcation of native lands, are aimed at hindering the recognition of new indigenous reserves.
If you are new to the topic I suggest you study the entire IPS report, even though it's clearly weighted to the side of the Amerindians.  But it goes nowhere near asking whether and to what extent the sides are receiving support from outside Brazil.  The closest the report comes to raising the question is in the second sentence in this passage:
The correlation of forces and the government’s strong emphasis on economic development are totally negative for indigenous people.
But in their favour are the constitution, international conventions and international public opinion that defends diversity and native rights.
If foreign agribusiness and governments that import cattle and produce from Brazil have been helping the ruralistas, and the Global Carbon Emissions Control crowd has been helping the Amerindians, this would be fairly typical 21st Century proxy warfare.  

Even without proxies, the struggle when combined with the Brazilian government's development and exporting goals is going make it hard for the all-out effort to stop deforestation that Antonio Nobre recommends.  

The bottom line is that as long as Brazil keeps to its carbon emissions agreement under the Kyoto Protocol, a certain amount of Amazon forest can be converted to pasture.

But what if the biotic pump theory is correct? And what if it indeed the Amazon's flying rivers have a significant impact on rainfall patterns around the world?

In that case the train has already pulled into the station.  It's too late.. 

The Train, Part 1

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