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Renan

Renan Albuquerque Rodrigues, with his Ph.D. thesis on the consequences of the construction of the Balbina dam

The impact of the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the Amazon was the theme for the Ph.D. thesis of Renan Albuquerque Rodrigues, journalist, lecturer, and collaborator of Instituto Amazônia Livre, Celestial Green Ventures’ partner in Brazil.

Rodrigues, a researcher from the Federal University of the Amazonas State, wrote about the impacts of a specific dam, named Balbina, located in the central area of the Brazilian Amazon.

In an interview to our blog,  Rodrigues talked about the main aspects of writing his thesis, the challenges of work on the ground (including contracting malaria!), and the panorama for academic research in the Brazilian Amazon region.

CGV Blog | For how long were you researching the subject?

Renan Albuquerque Rodrigues | I did four years of my Ph.D. Program in Society and Culture in the Amazon. The ethnography research (on the ground) took me two years.

CGV | Why did you choose to study the impacts of this specific hydroelectric plant?

Rodrigues | Balbina is the worst hydroelectric plant in Brazil, and surely one of the top ten worst in the world, if you compare the energy generation with the area flooded in the affected region. The interest in this subject arose from the fact that the current Brazilian government plans to build more than 60 large-scale hydroelectric plants on rivers in the Amazon. This will affect loads of people, and can generate several issues, such as with food supply, habitation and transportation, besides dividing traditional territories in the area. That was actually one of the reasons why we forwarded a copy of the thesis to the Justice Department, to help avoiding the construction of this type of dams.

CGV | What were the main challenges you had to face during your research?

Rodrigues | The main challenge was crossing the borders from Pará State (eastern Amazon) to the central area of the Amazon (closer to the capital of the Amazonas State, Manaus). There are more than 500 kilometres between those areas, in only one leg of the journey. Imagine doing all that by boat, most of the time, and then another part by bus. It took me 2.5 days to travel through the rivers, plus 10 hours by bus, just to reach the dam area. I also contracted malaria, and in other occasion I had to be admitted in hospital with infections in both arms and legs caused by mosquitos’ bites.

CGV | What is the current panorama for scientific production in the Brazilian Amazon area?

Rodrigues |  The LBA (Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in the Amazon), from Inpa (National Institute for Research in the Amazon), increased scientific production related to the Amazon, especially in the fields of land science, agriculture and biology. Up to the 80s, 20% of the studies about the Amazon were conducted by scientists from abroad. Nowadays, there is almost a balance in that number, with more Brazilian researchers. We have been able to see several papers published in the last ten years, in high-quality global journals.

In human areas, however, the scenery is a bit different. Academic research is not as good, and we still have a long way on the search for partnerships – such as the one between Instituto Amazônia Livre and Celestial Green Ventures. The idea is to strengthen bonds between organisations, to encourage the production of sociological studies that will help understanding the impacts of REDD projects, for example.

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As cars are one of the biggest air polluters and greenhouse gas producers, the law appears as an initiative to help compensate the damages caused to by these vehicles to the environment. Photo: The Guardian

The law appears as an initiative to help compensate the damages caused by these vehicles to the environment. Photo: The Guardian

A new law approved in Manaus, capital of the Brazilian State of Amazonas, aims to turn the city greener and less polluted. Local car dealerships will have to plant a tree for every brand new car sold, under the penalty of a fine and other binding measures, as determined by the Law 1730, sanctioned on the 15th May this year by the Mayor Arthur Virgilio Neto.

As cars are one of the biggest air polluters and greenhouse gas producers, the law appears as an initiative to help compensate the damages caused to the environment by these vehicles. The new legislation is expected to come into force within 90 days, while the local City Council studies how it must be correctly executed in relation to inspection, monitoring, fines and other measures.

According to the law, the local City Council will be responsible to map and define the areas to receive the trees, but the car dealerships must cover the expenses with the purchase of the seedlings and the planting. Whoever fails to comply with this legislation may be fined with R$ 39, 800 (around € 15,000). In case of repeated violation, the infractors may pay twice this amount and have their activities suspended.

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Research by the Centre for International Climate & Environmental Research in Oslo, has addressed the conflicting goals of protecting the Amazonian Rainforest and the consumption of agricultural products, leading to more deforestation. They looked to the reasons why these trees are being cut down.

The paradox of some countries both paying for the Amazon Rainforest to be maintained and proving the catalyst for its loss due to increased buying and consumption of agricultural products, which result in detrimental land use change occurring, is now sadly evident.

Lead author, Jonas Karstensen explains that, “Countries are putting more and more pressure on the Brazilian Amazon by consuming agricultural products; and by doing this they are undermining efforts of protecting that same forest. This needs to change. Brazil’s problem is now our global problem.”

They concluded that approximately 30% of deforestation has been a result of trade, in particular the demand for Brazilian soy beans and beef, which dominate the country’s agricultural sector.

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The Awá Indigenous Tribe from the Amazon rainforest is considered one of the most endangered groups in the world, according to Survival International (survivalinternational.org). The tribe caught the world’s attention last year after actor Colin Firth added his recognisable voice to a campaign by Survival International, to help preserve both the tribe and their indigenous culture & traditions.

After numerous generations thriving in areas almost entirely isolated from the outside world, and our own ‘Westernised Society’, they have found a way to live a contented hunter-gatherer lifestyle in harmony with their natural surroundings. Although, now this existence is being threatened by external influences, driven by aggressive and extensive land use change.

The triple threat of logging companies, livestock breeders or ranchers and settlers has taken its toll; and according to the video published by Deutsche Welle in August 2012, which you can see below, they have lost approximately 30% of their state and federal protected land, and may even face extinction, as a result of this cultural encroachment and the use of intimidating pistoleros.

Professor Wolfgang Kapfhammer, an expert in South American Indigenous Cultures, from Marburg University in Germany explains that “ecologically, contrary to popular belief, the Amazon contains relatively little food, which is often sparsely located across large areas. This means that the nomadic Awá tribe require large areas in which to survive.” Due to outside influences, the tribe’s ability to continue this traditional way of life is increasingly under threat.

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Indigenous Solar Observatory. Source: G1/ Musa

Indigenous Solar Observatory. Source: G1/ Musa

A study carried out with different indigenous tribes in the Brazilian Amazon verified that climate changes have affected their astrologic predictions, made in order to determine the best season to plant, harvest, hunt and perform religious rituals. As a part of the native spoken culture, monitoring the stars help them better understand nature and its phenomena. As a result, many of their activities are based on astrological knowledge.

Coordinated by Germano Afonso, Doctor of Astronomy and Celestial Mechanics, and hired by the Foundation for Research Support in the State of Amazonas (Fapeam), the research contrasted the predictions of seven Amazonian ethnicities (Tukano, Tupé, Dessana, Baré, Tuyuka, Baniwa and Tikuna) with the meteorological forecasts for the regions where they live to identify the flaws in their estimates.

“With this analysis we noticed that some phenomena caused by climate change were distorting their predictions, as expected rain came early or was delayed by phenomena, such as El Niño and deforestation”, explained Afonso. The Greenhouse gas effect, environmental pollution and the construction of dams in the middle of the Amazon forest were also pointed out by the expert as key influencing drivers to changing the indigenous calculations.

Source: G1

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Source: G1

Cyanogaster noctivaga, the transparent fish species found in the Negro River. Source: G1

Cyanogaster noctivaga, a transparent fish measuring 2cm in length, was captured at night in different locations of the Negro River, in the vicinity of the Municipality of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, 846 km away from Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian State of Amazonas.

The fish attracted the attention of the researchers by its size and transparency. As reported by Ralf Britz, one of the Biologists in the expedition, when the flashlight hit the body of the fish swimming in the river, it reflected a shiny blue colour.

Source: G1

The animal attracted the attention of the researchers by its size and transparency. Source: G1

In order to register an image of the new discovery, the researchers had to take a special fish pond to the shore of the river as the small fish was considered to be fragile and highly vulnerable to die after even few seconds outside the water.

“The amount of fish species found in the Amazonas River is huge, and there are still many to be discovered. It is important to preserve this biodiversity as the future of the planet is extremely dependent on the human relationship with the environment”, said the Biologist Manoela Marinho.

Source: G1

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Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Day, April 19th. Source: Dialogos Scoialistas

Brazilian Indigenous Peoples’ Day, April 19th. Source: Dialogos Socialistas

Today, Brazil recognises the Brazilian natives. Festivities happen throughout the country, particularly in the states where there are numerous indigenous communities.

In the Amazonas, the state with one of the biggest indigenous populations, the native culture is celebrated in the streets and at schools, where cultural events, sports competitions and engaging educational activities take place.

The celebration date and the festivities seek to stimulate the recognition and the valorisation of the indigenous cultural heritage to the current society and promote the strengthening of the native identity, tradition and customs.

The Brazilian Native Day was created in 1943 by the President Getúlio Vargas, as suggested by the Inter-American Indian Congress, held in Mexico, in April 19th, 1940, where indigenous leaderships of the Americas met for the first time.

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