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On Jan. 1, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as the new president of Brazil. A week later, supporters of his opponent, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, stormed Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidential Palace to try to stop the changing of the guard.
But as the more than 1,500 protesters arrested get processed – or prosecuted – by law enforcement and the country fears more violence, another group in the country is quietly thankful for the regime change, namely scientists, and is now changing gears.
That’s because these folks are worried that ranchers, farmers, loggers, and others are turning the Amazon rainforest into a grassy savannah, thereby eliminating a vitally important ecosystem that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and emits massive amounts of oxygen, serving as the proverbial lungs of the planet.
Burning trees and other activity in the Amazon recently caused the region to emit more greenhouse gases than it absorbed in recent years. As Brazilian atmospheric chemist Luciana Vanni Gatti recently told the New York Times, trees and other flora in the Amazon have been “effectively dying more than growing.”
Bolsonaro was a major driver of these changes. During his four years in office, he supported landowners and others who sought to clear and develop the Amazon, sometimes illegally. Deforestation in the Amazon surged 60 percent under his watch. In return, he received the stalwart political backing of those interest groups, explained Mongabay. In his unsuccessful bid for reelection last year, for instance, Bolsonaro won large majorities in localities where deforestation and associated economic activities were most widespread.
Now, however, the victor of the general election, known as “Lula,” is in charge. As Politico reported, Lula has fielded an “Amazon dream team” to roll out a package of reforms to protect the forest. “The world expects Brazil to once again become a leader in tackling the climate crisis and an example of a socially and environmentally responsible country,” Lula said.
Lula served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. He is widely popular among the lower classes but reviled by many Brazilians as corrupt. He spent a year in jail on corruption charges before the country’s top court annulled the conviction.
Lula has pledged to reinforce environmental laws that he says Bolsonaro undermined, halt deforestation in the Amazon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero in electricity production, make it harder to seize land illegally, and convert disused pastures back into forests, wrote the Guardian.
Agriculture is a central pillar of the Brazilian economy, however. While he claims that his reforms won’t harm the sector, farmers and the large share of the Brazilian population who depends on commodities are worried. His policies, along with other left-wing economic measures to reduce poverty and hunger, wrote Al Jazeera, have led investors to question whether he will ramp up public spending and debt that could lead to a financial crisis.
Lula’s task is to convince his people that they can’t ignore one problem in order to solve another.