As Amazon Rainforest Burns, Brazil's Environment Minister to Meet US Group That Denies Climate Crisis at EPA Headquarters

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s environment minister will reportedly meet with a right-wing American advocacy group that denies the climate crisis at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City later this month.

Ricardo Salles, the Brazilian minister, will sit down with representatives from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) on Sept. 19, according to The Guardian, which cited a report published in Portuguese Thursday by Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil’s biggest daily newspaper. The meeting is scheduled just days before the U.N. summit on Sept. 23, which has inspired climate campaigners to plan a global week of action that’s slated to kick off on Sept. 20.

Although the meeting has not been publicly confirmed by Salles nor CEI, the prospect of it still enraged environmentalists who said it showed that Bolsonaro’s government “had no commitment to fighting the climate crisis,” The Guardian reported. As Greenpeace Brazil public policy director Marcio Astrini put it, “This is a government that makes efforts to deny the problems, not to face them.”

As an example of CEI’s messaging on climate, The Guardian pointed to a June article on the group’s website that reads, in part: “Climate change does not endanger the survival of civilization or the habitability of the planet. So-called climate solutions are bureaucratic power grabs and corporate welfare schemes with no detectable climate-related benefits.”

The news of Salles and CEI’s meeting comes as fires continue to ravage parts of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. As Common Dreams has previously reported, “Many of the blazes were deliberately and illegally set by farmers, loggers, and ranchers who, according to critics, have been emboldened by Bolsonaro’s aggressive support for deforestation, which was accelerated rapidly during his time in office.”

Salles, for his part, claimed in July that his country was close to “zero illegal deforestation.” However, The Guardian noted, “satellite data from Brazil’s Space Research Institute calculated a 278 percent increase in deforestation in July. The institute’s director was fired after Bolsonaro described the data as ‘lies.’ Its data showed more than 30,000 fires in the Amazon in August, the highest since 2010.”

The fires in Brazil provoked demonstrations around the globe against the destruction of the Amazon as well as warnings from experts about the long-term consequences of the spike in fires this summer. In late August, Cristiana Paşca Palmer, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, called the fires a sign that “we are moving towards the tipping points that scientists talk about that could produce cascading collapses of natural systems.”

Earlier this week, The Verge reported that it could take centuries for burned areas of the rainforest to fully recover.

A few years after a fire burns through an area of the Amazon, the lush vegetation is often replaced with a dense patch of scrawny trees that take up most of the space. The flames can also kill the seeds of other species, and scientists have observed that many birds tend to stay away. “You walk into a burned area and you notice it’s brighter, it’s hotter, and it just feels drier,” says Jos Barlow, an ecologist at Lancaster University in Lancashire, England. Barlow started working in the Brazilian Amazon in 1998, a time when the smoke and flames of forest fires shut down airports, increased hospitalizations, caused blackouts, and cost the country $5 billion in damages.

Earlier this year, an international team looked at 56 sites spread across 10 countries in the Americas to study how these tropical forests, both burned and unburned, regrow over time. The results of the study suggest that they can recover about 80 percent of the tree species they lost within 20 years. “The thing is that [50] years later you still don’t have a regenerated Amazonian forest,” explains Bruna. Though after half a century, the number of tree species is the same as before, the study concludes, centuries will need to pass until the abundance of those species goes back to normal.

According to Barlow, larger trees that are up to 1,000 years old can die in the years that follow fires because damaged roots and trunks make them more vulnerable to wind and flames may expose them to fatal diseases.

“You’ve taken thousands and thousands of years of carbon accumulation, you’ve vaporized it and you’ve put it into the atmosphere,” Emilio Bruna, a tropical biologist and director of the Florida-Brazil Linkage Institute at the University of Florida, told The Verge. “You’re not going to have an equivalent rainforest for hundreds of years. And that’s hundreds of years we don’t have.”

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