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Since Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took office, governmental measures to curb illegal fires have shown little impact, as flames and deforestation erase vast swathes of the world’s biggest rainforest.

Most fires in the Amazon are set by land-grabbers and wildcat ranchers, seeking to transform parts of the rainforest into their own lucrative agricultural enterprises. And this August was a particularly bad time for such fires: Preliminary data collected by the National Spatial Research Institute (INPE) show 29,307 fires in the Brazilian Amazon last month.
However, due to a technical issue with the NASA satellite tracking fires, experts say that figure could be even higher. The final tally of fires recorded in August is expected to rise 2% above the August 2019 total, says Albert Setzer, INPE’s senior scientist — which would make this August the worst in 10 years.
The more fires there are, the faster the rainforest is transformed into grasslands for illicit cattle and soy-growing operations. According to research from NGO MapBiomas, which tracks land use in Brazil, 95% of the deforested area in Brazil in 2019 wasn’t authorized. “Most of (the fires) are illegal,” said Tasso Azevedo, a former head of Brazil’s forest service and coordinator of MapBiomas.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon biome reached 1,830 square miles, an area bigger than Rhode Island state, in the period from January to July 2020,. August figures for deforestation are yet to be released.

A tipping point?

As the trend goes on, the Amazon is speeding toward a tipping point, when large areas of the rainforest will no longer be able to produce enough rain to sustain itself, according to Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists and researcher at the University of Sao Paulo.

Once that happens, the rainforest will begin to die, eventually turning into savannah, said Nobre.

The Amazon serves as an “air conditioner” for the planet, scientists say, influencing global temperature and rainfall patterns. And a healthy Amazon also absorbs carbon dioxide, while fires do the opposite, releasing massive quantities of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Brazilian Amazon’s deforestation has accelerated since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, and environmentalists accuse the president of encouraging development on protected lands.

Pressure from international investors and companies this summer pushed the Brazilian President to issue a 120-day moratorium on July 15, banning fires in the Amazon and in the Pantanal, which is the world´s largest wetland area.

However, INPE´s data appears to show that the ban was utterly ignored. From July 15 to the end of August, the fires in Amazon remained at the same level (around 35,000) and almost quadrupled (from 2035 to 7320 fires) in the Pantanal, compared to the same period in 2019.

Brazil also launched Operation Green Brazil 2 in May, which mobilized the Armed Forces to fight deforestation and fires in the Amazon together with the federal environmental agencies and local police forces.
But they too failed to halt the Amazon’s destruction, acknowledged Vice-President Hamilton Mourão, who led the operation. “We are late in the fight against deforestation,” Mourão said in a Sept. 4 press conference, asking for more time to show results.

The last frontier: Amazonas

The Brazilian state of Amazonas is one of the last frontiers where forests remain mostly preserved. But even there, illegal operations of loggers and ranchers are expanding.

Deforestation has grown 209% in Amazonas state since Bolsonaro took office — erasing 844 square miles of forest in less than two years.

Satellite view of forests in southern Amazonas state in July 2019
Satellite view of forests in southern Amazonas state in July 2020, showing cleared tracts annotated in red by MapBiomas.

Unregulated agricultural expansion drives local small farmers and ranchers further into the forest every year. “The lands that are closer to the main roads are more concentrated in the possession of a few big landowners, so landowners with less economic power are pushed further into the forest, whether by economic pressure, political pressure or by the use of violence,” said Rômulo Batista, senior forest campaigner of Greenpeace.

The most degraded areas border two federal highways in the south of Amazonas. In the city of Apuí, near to the junction of both roads, deforestation reached 110 square miles last year — almost twice the deforestation of 2018.

And every time the agricultural frontier is pushed inside the forest, the Amazon gets closer to its tipping point.

Satellite view of forests in Apui in July 2019.
Satellite view of forests in Apui in July 2020 show expanded area of cleared land.

One symptom of the accelerating deforestation is longer dry seasons, Nobre said. This will initially be felt in Brazil and elsewhere in South America, as the Amazon generates a great part of the rains for the rest of the country, and also affects the rains in neighboring Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina.

And even farmers and ranchers will feel the consequences. “This ‘savannah-ization’ of the Amazon will lead to a reduction in rainfall that will affect especially the agricultural sector, which is driving deforestation further. It’s a real shot in the foot,” Batista said.

If the Amazon one day disappeared altogether, Brazil’s rainfall on average would be reduced by up to 25%, predicts one modeling exercise by researchers at Princeton University. Average temperatures would also be expected to rise 2 degrees in Brazil and 0.25 degrees worldwide.
Nobre predicts that the tipping point for when the Amazon can no longer sustain itself lies between 20% and 25% of deforestation. So far, it has lost 17% of its original area, according to INPE.

“It’s hard to say when it’s going to happen, but we are seeing that it is coming faster than we previously thought,” Nobre said.

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US citizen abducted in Niger, State Department says

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“We are aware of a US citizen abducted in Niger. We are providing their family all possible consular assistance,” a State Department spokesman said in a comment to CNN.

A US official tells CNN the individual was working in Niger as a missionary. CNN has not been able to confirm the citizen’s identity.

The governor of the local region where the abduction took place was quoted in various local media and by French media reporting from Niger as saying that six men on motorbikes armed with AK47s came to the man’s property in the village of Massalata, close to the border with Nigeria.

The governor, Abdourahamane Moussa, told these media outlets that after demanding money, the men took the American citizen with them in the direction of the Nigerian border.

The State Department spokesman said that “when a US citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to US citizens in need and to their families. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”

The US embassy in Niamey, Niger, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Pelosi: Covid relief deal could still happen before Election Day

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On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she sent Mnuchin a list of concerns “that we still had about ‘what is the answer?'”

“My understanding is he will be reviewing that over the weekend, and we will have some answers on Monday,” she said Sunday.

Pelosi said she’ll not hold out to see whether Democrats win the White House and the Senate and keep the House after in the Nov. 3 elections to pursue a bill more to Democrats’ liking. Instead, she said she’ll continue working to get a relief bill passed “as soon as possible.”

The speaker went on to say that a relief bill could be passed as soon as this week in the House, but that it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it would go to the Senate floor.

McConnell has largely steered clear of stimulus talks recently and many GOP senators are opposed to the $2 trillion deal being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin. On Tuesday, McConnell softened his stance a bit, saying he would allow the Senate to vote on a Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement — assuming that first Trump agrees to sign it.

Earlier Sunday on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’ve identified those Senate Republicans most likely to vote” for the relief deal to pass. But he said Republicans will not blindly pass the bill without first reading its terms fully.

“We are not Nancy Pelosi. We are not going to vote or opine on a bill and pass it before we have read it,” he said.

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one man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with ‘the family’

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Jeremy Corbyn is elected as the new leader of Labour Party, September 2015: Forde barely hides his contempt for the MPs ‘who put a Marxist on the ballot paper’. | PA Images

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At times searing in his criticism of those he holds responsible for trashing the prospects of the Labour party, Gisela Stuart finds Matt Forde’s new book both entertaining and insightful

Matt Forde’s “Politically Homeless” is like an episode from the Archers’ in the early months of the lockdown. One man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with “the family”. To be fair to Forde, unlike the Archers, he does make you laugh.

We often think of political parties as families, and there is a reason for that. We like some members more than others, every so often we have a big row, but eventually we find a way of rubbing along. And we have secrets; things which we either all know to be true, but we would rather not talk about or which we hope will go away if we ignore them long enough.  Even when things get really bad, we rarely pack our bags and, move in with the family on the other side of the road.  

Matt Forde is as entertaining as he is insightful and like many of us, he wants to get back to the days when Labour was in government, invested in Sure Start centres, schools and hospitals, introduced a national minimum wage and ended boom and bust.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser. The joys and tribulations of by-elections, ministerial visits, and photo calls. Needs must, and if that means dressing up as a chicken and stalking Charles Kennedy, then so be it. He is generous in naming some MPs he’s worked with who genuinely cared about their constituents and even occasionally said “Thank you”. He thought the late Tessa Jowell “made you behave better by her just being there” and he is right.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser

But he is searing in his criticism of the string of events which started with Ed Miliband trashing the achievements of the Blair/Brown governments and culminated with the party electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He barely hides his contempt for the MPs who put a Marxist on the ballot paper. He wonders if those who did so to “broaden the debate” were gutted because they couldn’t find a fascist.

Anyone who is still in doubt about the mountain Labour has to climb only needs to read his chapter on Stoke on Trent. A collection of six towns, represented by three Labour MPs, where the local council was so divided that a grand coalition of Britain’s three biggest political parties could only muster a majority of one against a collection of BNP and independent councillors who were either hard-left ex-Labour or had never been part of any political party.

Corbyn’s Labour Party hoped that by ignoring the stain of antisemitism, which became attached to the party as a whole, it would just somehow go away, which of course it didn’t. But there is an even bigger secret much of today’s Labour Party tries to not talk about. It is the simple fact that the whole point of a political party is to win elections. If you are not in power then you can’t make the changes necessary to help the people you claim to care about.

Jacqui Smith, when she was chief whip, used to remind MPs that the “worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”. Entertaining as opposition might be, it can’t be your purpose.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have a good heart-to-heart with our friends about the state of the party, drown our sorrows with a glass of wine and have a good laugh, but we can give each other Forde’s book as a Christmas present.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston is a Non-Affiliated peer and was Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston 1997-2017

Politically Homeless by Matt Forde is published by Quercus

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