Category Archives: Nature

Animals for export

by Sylvia Estrella*

Arara azul/Blue macaw
Arara azul/Blue macaw

According to the United Nations, animal traffic is the third main illicit activity practiced in the planet, after drugs and weapons traffic. It is a 20-billion-dollar a year business and one tenth of it is in Brazil. Practically all the wild animals trade in the country is illegal and approximately 30% of it is for export.

Birds of exuberant feathers, monkeys and turtles are among the main victims of this commerce. Generally, they are captured in the Northeast of Brazil and brought to the Southeast – mainly to the states of Rio and São Paulo. Then, they are smuggled to neighboring countries by road or waterways.  Finally, they are flown to their final consumers in the developed countries. Frequently, they are hidden in boxes without ventilation and food. In many cases, the tips of their wings are cut or their eyes are blinded, in order to avoid escapes. Thanks to these exhausting trips, around 90% of these animals die before reaching their destination. It is still very profitable: a blue macaw can be sold for 60,000 dollars in the international market.

In Brazil, a convicted animal smuggler may spend from six months to one year in jail  and pay a fine up to 5,500 reais (around 2,900 dollars).

*Sylvia Estrella is a Brazilian journalist and translator specialized in the Environment and also Aviation.

Onça (jaguar), the biggest Brazilian feline


Brazil in numbers

From  useful to futile, numbers that help explaining the country.

  • 43% of adults that live in state capitals are overweight.
  • Those who have access to the internet spent 2.8 days connected in the month of September.
  • 9% of the kids born in 2008 were not registered.
  • 473 million reais ( 256.6 million dollars or 184.5 million euros) were collected by the government of the city of São Paulo thanks to driving and parking tickets. 99% of the Brazilian cities have budgets lower than that.
  • 57% of the inhabitants of the city of São Paulo would like to move away (Is this related to the previous number? Maybe).
  • Brazil is the 88th country in the education ranking produced by Unesco. Paraguay and Bolivia are in better shape.
  • 1 in 5 Brazilians that have a formal job works for the public service.
  • President Lula spent 87 days abroad in 2009 – a personal record.
  • 9 in 10 Brazilians have a cell phone.
  • 500 million reais (271.3 million dollars or 195 million euros) will be spent to fix up Maracanã stadium, in Rio, for the 2014 World Soccer Cup.
  • The Brazilian delegation to the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen last December had 743 members. It was three times bigger than the American delegation.
  • 1819 houses and buildings at Brazilian roadsides have been used for child prostitution. It’s one every 27 kilometers.

Source: recent editions of Veja magazine

Biopirates attack!

by Sylvia Estrella*

Brazilwood exports, as seen by André Thevet, 1575

Only 12 countries are considered mega-biodiverse, that is, they have 70% of all the species of vertebrates, insects and plants known by Science. Brazil is the leader of this ranking. It is estimated that it has around 150,000 described species, or 13% of all the plants and animals known in the planet. But 90% of this potential is still to be identified.

The Amazon is home of most of these biological resources, with more than 2,500 species of trees. It is also the region with most freshwater fish species –  between 1.4 million and 2.4 million, according to the ecologist Thomas Lewinsohn, from Unicamp (Campinas University).

But the abundance of life in the Amazon and in Brazil as a whole is also an Achilles heel. The great majority of these species are unknown to local scientists. Thus, they are vulnerable to the being patented in the international market by  foreign labs, corporations and research institutes that can patent their genetics in the international market. Continue reading Biopirates attack!

Floods in summerland

It happens every single summer, in many cities of South-Southeast Brazil. The rain season literally destroys whole communities, namely those installed on river margins or on steep slopes. Those who cannot afford to move to less risky areas.

Once I interviewed this lady who lived by the Tamanduateí, in São Paulo, a river whose margins are paved in such a way that the overflow has nowhere to go but into people’s lives. She described how her husband carried her into the house when they got married – not because he was romantic, but because the first floor was flooded. Then she showed me how she managed to survive under water – she installed several platforms to keep the phone and the TV out of reach and a pulley to lift the furniture whenever it rained strong. Continue reading Floods in summerland

Half of the Brazilian waste disposed inadequately

Urban waste problem is huge in Brazil – yet, it  is visibly improving.

Almost half of it is disposed inadequately – in river banks, wetlands or bare land. According to Abrelpe (the association of private waste management companies), only 55% of 149.100 tons of waste collected every day in the country are sent to landfills (most of it), recycling, composting or controlled incineration. These numbers don´t cover the trash that is just not collected. The destiny of hospital waste – 210,000 tons of this highly contaminated trash were collected last year – is partically dramatic: a mere 23% is treated adequately.

These statistics may sound very bad, but in fact they reveal an impressive progress. When I began reporting about environmental issues, 25 years ago, quality landfills were extremely rare and there was virtually no recycling in the country.

Today, 26 million people living in 405 Brazilian cities have access to some sort of selective waste collection (in 201 cities, door-to-door). According do Cempre (a non-profit sponsored by packaging industries that promotes recycling in the country), Brazil is the world leader in aluminum cans recycling (96.5% of all)- thanks to the high price of this commodity and the huge amount of extremely poor people that wander around the cities searching for trash to sell to intermediaries, that will then sell them to recyclers. There are estimates that 800,000 Brazilians work as catadores, dragging their carts around most cities. We also recycle steel cans (46.5% of the units disposed of), glass packaging (47%) and paper (43.7%). These numbers seem a little bit too optimistic to me, even if Cempre is considered a good source. After all, the number of cities involved in organized selective collection is still too small, and many citizens (in shanty towns, isolated communities, rural areas) don´t have their waste collected at all. Continue reading Half of the Brazilian waste disposed inadequately

Brazil will pay high price for climate change

Storm over São Paulo/Fabiano (LycoSp)/Flickr

Brazil will lose between US$ 417 billion (in an optimist scenario) and US$ 2 trillion of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per year by 2050 thanks to global warming. This means, in the worst scenario, the GDP might be reduced in 2.3% by the middle of the century. This is one of the scary conclusions of a report just released by several Brazilian universities and the main specialists in climate and agriculture of the country. They worked for two years in a document that evaluates the possible impacts of the raising temperatures and climate instability. “It is like wasting a whole year of growth during the next 40 years”, says the study.

Among their main conclusions:

  • The temperature may rise 8°C (46.4°F) by 2100 in the Amazon region and it may undergo a radical transformation, becoming more like a savanna. The south, the southeast and the east parts of the basin might lose 40% of their forests.
  • The Northeast of the country (including the states of Bahia and Pernambuco) are also very vulnerable. Agriculture and cattle farming will have important losses because of the lack of rains in a region that is already very arid.
  • The hydro power dams – main responsible for the generation of electricity in the country – will be less reliable.
  • Agriculture shouldn’t have major problems in the southern states (including São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande do Sul).
  • Soy, corn and coffee production will have to reduce their cultivated areas (34%, 15% and 18%, respectively), while sugar cane plantations will not decline.
  • When the level of the oceans elevates and the weather gets more violent, the losses along the Brazilian coast should range from US$ 79 billion to US$ 120 billion.

The study stresses that the poorest regions of the country should be the most affected.It also lists a series of measures that could minimize those risks. Among them, incentives to alternative energies and carbon markets; investments in genetically improved plants, adapted to the growing droughts, and in improved irrigation techniques; and coastal management.

Besides the dark conclusions, the study is surprising because of the quality of the organizations involved. From Universidade de São Paulo and Universidade Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp) to the World Bank and a few non-profits, such as the brilliant Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Inpa).  It is the final proof that climate change and the environmental matters really are attracting the attention they deserve.