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August 31, 2012

U.S. CO2 Emissions Drop to Twenty Year Low

Mostly as a result of the inexpensive American natural gas, U.S. CO2 emissions dropped to 1992 levels. We are also driving less. We reached “peak gasoline”in 2006 and from now on will use less. See the chart below.  I wrote about this here, here & here, among other places.

The interesting thing is that the U.S. is now the world leader in reducing emissions w/o those muscular measures called for in Kyoto. We are doing better than everybody else because of market forces. They really do work also in environmentalism.  

This is not really new news, but here probably is the first place you are reading about this. Back when the U.S. was the "word's bigger polluter" we had updates every day.

There was an interesting paragraph in the report of the drop. Bold italic are mine. "Many of the world's leading climate scientists didn't see the drop coming, in large part because it happened as a result of market forces rather than direct government action against carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere." 

Those international experts who claimed that the U.S. "had no plan" just don't understand how planning works. We have the most superb, sublime and subtle planning mechanism in the world - the free market - and we have the we have the worlds most intelligent, involved and imaginative planners too - the American people. That is why we always beat the centralized planners in practice, if not in theory. 

One more thing from the AP article - "How much further the shift from coal to natural gas can go is unclear. Bentek says that power companies plan to retire 175 coal-fired plants over the next five years. That could bring coal's CO2 emissions down to 1980 levels. "

We have achieved in environmentalism much more than I dreamed of when I was a bit of a radical environmentalist in the 1970s. We exceeded all the predictions. If anyone had told me back then of the U.S. in 2012, I would not have believed them. I was similiarly pleasantly surprised by how fast we brought down "acid rain" or closed the "ozone hole". Now we are doing the same with CO2. It is easy to underestimate the imagination and power of freedom. I used to read the writings of the socialists of the early part of the last century. They made bold predictions about how good things could be if we abandoned the free market and went with planning. We have greatly exceeded their slow-moving dreams. We have the best planning system, even if it is too hard for some dreamers to understand.

August 29, 2012

São Paulo: Trees and Training (SESC &SENAC)

SESC pool 

I am back from my time in São Paulo.  I am not telling anything new when I say the city is big, but I think that it is easy to overlook how green it is in many places.  Most of the streets in the old part of the city are shaded by big trees.  There really is not enough room for them, or would not be enough room in an American city.  This is something good and bad about Brazil.  The good part is that there are lots of trees. The negative is that the tree roots pull up sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks are like an obstacle course.  Overall, however, it is worth it to have the trees.

Solar water heaters at SESC in Sao Paulo 

We visited another SESC, this time SESC Belenzinho.  It is housed in a building that used to be a textile factory in a neighborhood that used to be a little degraded. The SESC anchors that area and has improved the neighborhood.   I wrote about SESC here & here. These are like workers clubs. As you can see from the picture up top, there are lots of nice amenities. The picture just above shows the solar water heaters that produce all the hot water used in the facility.  Below shows some of the old neighborhood around SESC.  This was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants, many of whom moved away, some back to Italy. The ownership of the land under the buildings shown is in doubt. SESC wants to buy the land to expand, but it is taking time. This is complicated by squatters.  The people living in the houses are not owners, but once they sit there it is hard to move them out.

old buildings 

We also went to SENAC, which is the training part of the SESC partnership.  It works a lot like a technical school or university.  Tuition is low.  This branch of SENAC is also built in an old factory. This actually makes a very good campus, as you can see below.

Senac Sao Paulo 

They have lots of computer labs and work with businesses. Reminds me in many ways of community colleges int the U.S.  But there really is no exact equivalent, since SENAC is funded by mandatory contributions from businesses but is not government run.   Below one of the computer areas.

SENAC computer 

Below is the campus water tower painted to show the old São Paulo neighborhood.

Old water tower

August 24, 2012

São Paulo Traffic

Sao Paulo river 

It would be possible, in theory at least, to attend four or five outside appointments a day in Brasília.  This would never be possible in São Paulo because of the traffic. During the workday, it is impossible to get from the Consulate to almost anywhere in less than an hour. Worse yet, travel is unreliable. You cannot be sure how much time it will take, so you have to allocate lots more time for every movement. 

Perpetually jammed traffic is a serious impediment to doing business in São Paulo. I have read that it affects businesses and I can see how it affects our operations. I don’t have a solution; nobody does. I think we can mitigate the pernicious effects by planning to concentrate appointments in particular parts of town. This is not always an option, of course. 

Sao Paulo  

I can see how the traffic patterns could create biases.  If I were here, I think I would favor places and people who were easier to access, simply because the cost of serving them is so much lower. I am not sure how bad this would be. After all, we have lots more opportunities for contact than we can satisfy.  Why spend two hours in traffic to accomplish the same things you could do by spending a half hour. It is frightfully expensive to be tied up in traffic.  If you just figure the price of the car and driver at about what it would cost to sit in a taxi, you are looking at around $75 in this alone. Of course, our cars and drivers may cost more.  And we need to use the cars and drivers sometimes to guarantee connections.  I also suppose if we only took taxis it would eventually become a kind of security risk.  But the bigger cost is our time. When you figure in all the direct labor and indirect upkeep costs, I bet an hour in traffic costs the government a lot more than $1000 an hour, significantly more if there are a few people in the car.  

Of course, we have to be in São Paulo and we have to work in São Paulo, but we have to consider the constraints. Because of the traffic, I would guess that it would take five people to do the same work that four might be able to do elsewhere, assuming equal ability and effort.  Of course, São Paulo has the advantage of proximity to lots of university, firms etc.  I am not sure who the advantages and the disadvantage balance out. There are lots of new buildings going up, so evidently many think the balance is on the side of staying.

In São Paulo, you certainly need to plan your logistical day more precisely. I thought about staggered work hours, but there seems to be no time during a reasonable workday that the traffic is significantly lighter.  Of course, that might help with commutes, but would not address the central problem of fighting traffic to get to appointments during the work day.

Speaking of my own temporary São Paulo commute, I did find a better way to get from the hotel to the consulate; it saved me at least twenty minutes and usually around R$15 too. Taxis are allowed drive in the bus lanes along some of the major streets. If you travel along Av Nove de Julho (July 9 Avenue, named for the day in 1932 when the Paulistas rose the “Constitutionalist Revolution” in revolt against Getúlio Vargas) from the hotel, you bypass traffic and get to the consulate faster.  In theory it is a big longer and at slower speed, but in fact it is much better. One of the taxi drivers explained it to me and I explained it other taxi drivers less familiar with the route.  It is good to know a little about where you are going.  

One more taxi story.  You learn a lot talking to taxi drivers.  I was talking to a driver who, even though I explained São Paulo roads to him, recognized that I was a foreigner, tipped off by my outrageous accent.  After he found out that I was American, we went through the usual small talk about roads in America and Brazil and how Brazil has become a much better place.  But he also asked about education.  He was unaware of the Science w/o Borders program and when I explained, he asked if I could help his son, who was in his second year in engineering.  I could not help. I told him that SwB was something Brazilians could be proud about, since it was entirely a Brazilian initiative.  We were trying to help as best we could, I told him, but he could go to his own government.  They were accepting just about everybody who was qualified. He promised to tell his son. He was only a little concerned that his son might be sent to a country not the U.S.  He had great confidence in the U.S.; in others, not so much.  I assured him that our friends in UK, Canada, Australia and others offer excellent opportunities too, but, of course, if you can go to the U.S. that should always be the first choice.  It is good to know that the cab driver has a son in university. I am not sure we would have found that twenty years ago.  He wasn’t sure his son’s English was good enough, but that is another longs & sad story. 

My pictures are just of SP, not the traffic. 

August 18, 2012

Empowerment through Hip-Hope

Hip-Hope dancers 

I didn’t understand the program when it was offered by our colleagues at ECA in Washington but I think I am becoming a believer.  Our goal is to connect the American nation with the Brazilian nation, to have confidence that people will do the right thing when they are connected and that they understand things that government official like us do not.  This was certainly the case with hip-hop.  Everything I knew about hip-hop came from what I saw on TV.

We found seven young hip-hop dancers to participate in an exchange in the U.S.  They will meet American hip-hop dancers to exchange experience and styles. They came in for their visas and pre-departure meeting, so I had a chance to have lunch with them.


They were from Rio, Brasília & Belém. They professed their admiration of American hip-hop and told me that their interest in the music and dancing had made them interested in American society in general.  Although their dancing styles are based on American models, they explained that each hip-hop dancer develops his/her own particular styles and that they have regional “accents.”  Those who really know can tell the difference. Dancers who come from Belém have difference dance accents from those who come from Rio, for example. One reason they thought it would be so useful to travel to the U.S. was to pick up on the varieties of hip-hop in the U.S.  There is a kind of evolutionary synergy, which means that not only do the accents vary over geography, but also over time. Hip-hop is in a perpetual state of development.

Dance is a language I don’t know.  In fact it is a language that I don’t usually even know is speaking.  That is why we need to make the connections with those who know.

I asked the dancers if she could show me what they did and the pictures are from that.  They are a bit blurry, wince they were moving fast.  Somebody asking if I could do something like that. I am sure I could fall to the floor, but I would not quickly be able to jump back up.

August 14, 2012

Land-Grant Universities

Balloons at shopping center in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul 

I had a long talk with the head of public schools in Mato Grosso about universities in the U.S.   He was unaware of the history of land-grant institutions, but impressed when I told him that the Morrill Act was passed as long ago as 1862.  It established the land-grant universities.  The first was Iowa.  All the states have one.  In 1890 the act was extended to create what have become historically black colleges.  IMO the Morrill act was one of most important acts of Congress in American history, although generally unknown.  I attended the land-grant University of Wisconsin but I don’t recall ever really being aware of its history.  

Our great research universities that have contributed so much to our strength in science and innovation are almost all based on land-grants.  Our agriculture was immensely helped.   One reason we can help feed the world is the foresight of this act in 1862.  America would be a very different place w/o this and not as good a place.  I think it is important to recall these important steps in history.  They are too often forgotten and real achievements are taken for granted. 

I compared our land-grant institutions to what Brazil is doing with its Institutes of Science and Technology and with its Science w/o Borders.  We are lucky to be here at this time.  

I suppose that important legislation like the Morrill Act and even the Homestead Act got lost in the horror of the Civil War.  We remember Lincoln for saving the Union, but his legislative achievements beyond that were enough to make him a success.

My picture is a hot air balloon near the shopping center in Campo Grande. 

August 11, 2012

Mato Grosso do Sul & Campo Grande

View of Campo Grando from Hotel 

Mato Grosso do Sul shares a frontier with Paraguay and Bolivia and the population reflects the kinds of influences that shaped the demography before the borders were firmly set, but there has also been lots of immigration, internationally and from other parts of Brazil.  The Youth Ambassadors that I met for pizza talked about their varied descent.  Besides the semi-indigenous mix of the base population, they had ancestors from Japan, Germany, Italy, France and the Arab world. 

CIty View Campo GrandeThe football/soccer teams in Mato Grosso are not very good, so the Mato Grosso fans tend to support better teams from other places and the fan loyalties tell a little about the cultural influences in the state.  The São Paulo team, Corinthians, from just across the border, is one of the most popular.  This is not surprising given the proximity, but also held is high esteem is Grêmio, a team from Porto Alegre.  Grêmio’s popularity reflects the large scale immigration from Rio Grande do Sul.  The Gauchos could trade a small farm in Rio Grande do Sul for a very large one in Mato Grosso do Sul.  It was people who considered themselves frontier people moving to a new frontier.  According to what people told me, some interior cities such as São Gabriel do Oeste are essentially Gaucho cities.

The geography of Mato Grosso do Sul around Campo Grande is reminiscent of the plains of Texas.  It is flat or with long hills and grassy with isolated groves of trees.  As the plane landed, I noticed that the farm fields were enormous and in the geometrical shapes that indicate topography without many natural obstacles.  The climate is like Brasília, cerrado with distinct wet and dry seasons.  It was hot during the day, but got chilly at night.  I opened the window in my hotel room and did not need air conditioning.

Campo Grande is a middle sized city of around 800,000.  It is clean with wide well-maintained streets, mostly arranged in a grid pattern, which spreads out the traffic and makes it easy to get around.  Near my hotel, the streets were named after Brazilian states, which made it easy to remember.  I walked up Alagoas Street to Mato Grosso Avenue.  It was only a couple kilometers from the Park Hotel, where I stayed, to the pizza place where I met the local Youth Ambassadors.  The streets are straight with sidewalks all the way. 

Pizza place in Campo Grande 

I took a taxi back because it was a little late. When I asked the taxi drivers to tell me about the best things in Mato Grosso, the first factor he mentioned were the roads and highways. I suppose that reflected his particular line of work; a guy who drives for a living notices roads, but he seemed to be right concerning the roads in the city.  He assured me that this was also the case for highways in the countryside. He admitted that highways in the state of São Paulo were better, but pointed out that the good highways in São Paulo were toll roads, while those in Mato Grosso were free.  My driver credited the leadership of Campo Grande mayor, now Mato Grosso governor, André Puccinelli.  He also said that Puccinelli was generally a "mestre-de-obras" who built parks and cleared out the favelas, and indeed I didn’t see any favelas in Campo Grande. 

The economy in Mato Grosso and Campo Grande is mostly based on agriculture and the processing businesses associated with that.  Twenty-five years ago, it was almost all cattle, but the state has now diversified into row crops such as soy and corn. There is also a strong forestry sector, mostly based on quick rotation genetically superior eucalyptus used for fiber.  Fibria, one of the world’s largest producers of cellulose, has lots of operations in Mato Grosso do Sul as does JBS Friboi, the world’s largest beef producer. Campo Grande has a big military installation that you see right as you leave the airport.  The bases lie on both sides of the road.  One of our Youth Ambassadors told me that he attended the military school, which he said was an excellent school.  It was good enough to produce a YA in any case.

My pictures show Campo Grande up top.  The bottom picture is the pizza place pizzaria l'aqua in boca where I met the Youth Ambassadors.  The pizza was good  but I didn't like its signature stuffed crust with cheddar cheese.

August 08, 2012

The Marvelous City

Christ statue in RioEspen and I are in Rio de Janeiro. This is the first time for him. I have been here a few times, but never really as a tourist.  So this time we went up to the Corcovada to see Christ the Redeemer, the iconic symbol of Rio. It seems very peaceful and serene in the pictures.  In real life it is teaming with people. 

You have two options. You can take the train or take a car to a parking lot and then take a van to the top.  We took the car-van option.  I think the train might have been a better option.  There was a big line at the place where you get the van too.  I suppose that there is no way to avoid the crowds if you come on a weekend.

It is worth seeing at least once. The statue is as massive as it seems in the photos and the view from the top is spectacular. The day was a little hazy, but it was still good to look out over Rio. Espen commented that the city below us looked like the kind of thing you see in a game like Sim-City.

Sugar Loaf

Rio Scene 

I never yet visited Sugar Loaf, Rio’s iconic hill, so we decided to take the cable to the top.  It costs R$53 per person, worth the trip. The lines were not long. The view from the top was very nice as you can see from the picture above. 

Rain in Rio 

The weather held while we were up on Sugar Loaf but it rained hard soon after we got back to town. The outdoor cafe where we were eating was less pleasant with the rain spraying in. 

Taxi drivers in my experience in Brazil have been honest, but when we wanted to go to tourist places like Sugar Loaf, Corcovada or even the airport, the drivers quoted a "fixed price." I don't know what advice to give. I understood that the prices were too high. I complained, but I cannot help looking like a tourist at the tourist locations. It is important to reiterate that I have not had this problem throughout other parts of Brazil. In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised when cab drivers almost always round the fare down and not tried to get tips. In fact, even in Rio I have had good experience when in town on business. It is evidently just around the tourist places.  

August 07, 2012

Library of the Forest

Library of the Forest 

The guy who runs the library of the forest was an IVLP; we made a good choice. He is clearly a local leader.  The library is more than a collection of books; it is a community center. Kids come to learn about their history and the local environment.  Researchers come to study sciences and history.  They have a theater where they show movies and have presentations.  The library is home to a variety of discussion groups.

Rainforest products 

Rio Branco is a small city where people know each other and Macros is even more connected than most.  It slowed us down when we went to a local restaurant, as he stopped to talk to patrons and people on the street.  This is the kind of place where one person can make a difference. 

I got to thinking about outreach and engagement.  We make an effort to reach out to young audiences on the theory that we can have influence because they have not yet made up their minds about a lot of things.  Does the analogy work for communities?  A place like Acre is young. Lots of things are new, still inchoate, like the school in Nova Eperança I mentioned earlier. The initial condition sets the pattern for the future.  Inputs have bigger influences here than any time.  

August 06, 2012

New Hope

Bus on the road to Nova Esperance 

We stopped off at a school called Nova Eperança or “New Hope” located in the town of the same name.  The school building is only a few months old and it houses kids of all ages.  You can see the village below. It is cute. The picture takes in most of the village, BTW.  The school serves the surrounding rural area. The teachers were enthusiastic to meet us.  I made a few comments referring to Science w/o Borders and the Youth Ambassador program. 

Nova Esperanca 

We had along with us Philippe Storch, one of the 2011 Youth Ambassadors. You see him in the picture below helping perhaps a future Youth Ambassador move a bench, The students were interested in him, since he was a local boy made good.  He told them that any one of them could also become a Youth Ambassador if they studied hard.  This is technically true, but long odds. I suppose that the odds are better in Acre than most other states. We choose at least one Youth Ambassador from each state, so in sparsely populated Acre you have a better chance than in crowded São Paulo with more than 40 million.

Kids helping move benches 

The enthusiasm in the school was palpable. The principal told me that he made a special and public gesture by enrolling his own daughter to show his confidence in the public schools. I didn’t ask and he didn’t say, but I am not sure there are many options nearby anyway.  If you look at the picture of the bus and the bridge, you notice that road is not exactly suitable for lots of traffic.  This is the place at the end of the world.  The kids recited a poem about their school.  It was something we might have seen back in the U.S. in a century ago, a little corny and old fashioned but nice.  The kids and their parents of this little town have seen improvements in their lives and they have learned to expect better. I think they will get it.

August 05, 2012

Better Cows = More Meat with Less Environmental Impact

Cows in field in Acre 

As it turns out, much deforestation is unnecessary and not even profitable in the long run. Just letting your cows wander around with the inferior forage is not the best strategy. Years ago in Acre, there was only one head of cattle for every three hectares of pasture and it took three years to raise a cow for slaughter.  Today there are about two cows for every hectare and cows become steaks and hamburgers after only around eighteen months. If you do the math, you figure out that today ranchers could raise around 12 times the number of cows on the same acreage because of better techniques and better genetic stock. Beyond that, the better genetics of today’s cows means that they are bigger and better than their predecessors.   

The favorite type of cattle in Acre is the  The Nelore or Zebu. This is an off white animal with a hump and a big waddle, with most of its genetic stock originally from India. They generally do not eat them in India; in Brazil they do.  his provided incentives to the Brazilian breeders that don’t exist in India. In fact the Nelore in Brazil is almost a different variety of cow from its Indian forebears. It grows faster and produces better meat faster.  This is a good thing if your goal is to produce meat for sale and it is also easier on the environment, because there is less need for land and other inputs per pound of beef. The Nelore are well adapted to the tropics. They do well in converting poor quality food into good quality beef and require little care. Currently, of the roughly 160 million cows in Brazil, 100 million are Nelore.  Their major vulnerability is that they are almost completely unadapted to cold temperatures. When it gets down around freezing, they literally drop dead where they are standing. I recall seeing that on television in Mato Grosso do Sul when they had a rare cold snap.

When I was in Brazil a quarter century ago the Nelore cattle (which were almost always call Zebu) were just becoming widespread.  People I knew in Rio Grande do Sul said that they were not very good and didn’t produce good meat. (BTW - they still cannot raise them in RGS because of the cold.) Maybe they weren’t and didn’t back then, but they do today. Churrascaria now regularly feature a fatty but tasty cut of meat that comes from that hump. I have to assume that if they are selling the hump at least some of the picante and contra-fillet they are serving also is from the Nelore animals and it at least what I have been eating is good.

August 04, 2012

Silent Witness

Road on the way to Esperance in Acre 

The areas nearest the roads are the most deforested, not surprisingly.  The bucolic pasture landscape is actually fairly attractive but a few lonely trees stand as silent witness to the forest that was lost.  You can see in the pictures what I mean.  The trees are beautiful against the sky, but they are doomed. 

Spaced trees along the road in Acre 

You can tell that they grew in thick forests by their lack of lower branches. They grew in an environment where they had to race to the light way overhead.  This is not where they live today. These are impressive specimens. The trees are around 150 feet high with massive trunks.  Most of them are Brazil nut trees.  You recognize that that Christmas-time favorite that is nearly impossible to crack w/o crushing the nut inside too. There is a law against cutting them, so they remain after everything around them flattened.  The owners of the land are not allowed to cut them even when they are dead and cannot use the wood even if the tree falls down on its own. It is not a very useful law.

The trees often do not survive long without the sheltering forest and they stop producing seeds, since they require a specific type of pollinating bee. It gets to be a complex story.  The bee depends on a type of orchid Coryanthes vasquezii. The orchids produce a scent that attracts small male long-tongued orchid bees. The male bees need that scent to attract females. Without the orchid, the bees do not mate. So no forest means no orchids, which means no bees, which means no seeds, which means no new trees.  It is an example of the complex ecological web.  But the simple ides is that these are not seed trees that could be expected to spawn a future forest. Beyond that, by making these trees economically not valuable, you shut down any economically motivated endeavors to grow and preserve them.

Big old tree in Acre 

It gets even more complex.  Even if there were seeds, there might not be reproduction. The Brazil nuts are housed in a very thick and heavy shell. It would hurt a lot to get hit with one falling from that distance at the top. The shell does not break easily, but rather requires a type of squirrel to bit it open.  These relationships have been building a long time.  It is co-evolution.  Pull out one thing and they others don't work anymore. But let me add even one more permutation.  The baby trees do not grow well in full sunlight. They germinate in the shade and then wait years for an opening, all the while establishing roots systems. A seedling in full sunlight will die.

As I said, the pastures are attractive and if you didn’t know the story, you would think someone had produced a grassy park with some really big and beautiful trees to provide contrast and shade.  It made me sad. We drove out two hours and never passed through an intact forest.  I know the road is not the place to look for these things and I sometimes saw trees in the distance that I think were part of intact forests, but there are lots of former forests within shooting distance of any asphalt.

August 03, 2012

Rubber World

Rubber economy 

It is also probably because it is so far from most of the rest of the country. There was a lot of violence in the forests of Acre a few years ago and there still is some. Most of the conflict was between cattle ranchers and rubber tappers.  Cattle and rubber don’t mix. 

Rubber tappers depend on the forest for survival.  Most of their job consists of walking between widely spaced robber trees, cutting slits in the bark and then collecting the latex.  The trees grow wild and must be widely spaced because of a persistent blight that spreads among trees that are close together.  Rubber in the Amazon used to be a very lucrative business and there were many millions made in the rubber trade until an English adventurer smuggled seeds of the rubber trees to England. The English grew some trees in Kew Gardens and planted them in what was then British Malaya, mostly in Borneo. The climate was similar to the Amazon, but there was a big difference – there was no blight in Malaya, so the Brits were able to plant the trees close together in easily tended rows.  The Brazilian rubber tapper needed to walk all day to tap a few trees.  In Malaya the same work could be done in minutes. There was no way that the Brazilian rubber tappers could compete with the Malayan plantations, so about thirty years after the seeds were smuggled from Brazil, the Brazilian rubber industry collapsed. 

Some people still tapped rubber, mostly because they had no other options, but life was harder. Not that life was ever easy. Even in the boom years, rubber tappers made little money.  They were part of a company system. They worked for a landowner and usually had to buy their necessities on credit in the company store.  They were extended credit there, but prices were high.  After a year of hard work tapping rubber, they usually owed money to the company.  It was impossible for most to get out from under this debt load.  Few of the rubber tappers could even read or write. They lacked to tools to figure out how to improve their conditions, even if it would have been possible.

People were still tapping rubber in the 1970s when there was a push to develop cattle ranching in the Amazon, encouraged by the development dreams of the military government.  Outsiders bought thousands of acres of land for almost nothing.  They often didn’t bother to mark the boundaries. Instead they just flew over the land looking for general features or even just counting the kilometers.  From the height, they could probably see the houses of the rubber tappers, but that was of no consequence since these guys didn’t have title to the land.

In the Amazon in Acre, it takes around 300 hectares to support one rubber tapper. This is because the trees are widely spaced and they cannot be over tapped or they die. Each tapper needs three trails and makes looks alternatively. A cattle ranching doesn’t really need any trees at all. In fact, trees get in the way of ranching. They shade out the grass that the cattle eat.  Furthermore, the new landowners had several incentives to clear the forests beyond the cattle.  For one thing, the wood was valuable. You could more than recover that price of the land by cutting trees and selling timber.  In fact, the timber was essentially free and the only costs involved were those of cutting and moving the product. Also important was land title. Land title was a question. One way you proved that you were the owner was to “improve” the land.  This usually meant clearing off the trees and producing pasture for cattle or fields from crops. So after you bought the land, it was in your best interests to get to work sawing as fast as you could. More likely, you would hire some former rubber tappers to run the chain saws. 

Rubber tappers seemed to be outclassed. Besides their lack of basic education, it was very difficult for them to organize for any kind of cooperative effort.  Their work was solitary and kept them busy and spread out over vast acreages. They were also in competition to sell their latex and often distrustful of each other because of the possibility that they could encroach on each other’s territories. This latter problem was exacerbated by the fact that some were on the payroll of landowners to keep an eye on others to prevent encroachment. They all recognized the threat that deforestation posed to their lifestyles, but didn’t know what to do. 

There is some disagreement about whether or not to call rubber tappers by the term ecologists. They wanted to save the forests, but not for any of abstract reasons. They wanted to save the forest for the practical reason that is where they lived and worked.  On the other hand, you could argue that they were so deeply ecologists that the term was made for them.  The word ecology comes from a Greek work – "οἶκος" – which means household.  Ecology really means the study of our home. For the rubber tappers, the forest was their home on the very basic level.  At first, the rubber tapper leaders rejected the connection with ecologists, but soon learned that their goals coincided with those of the environmentalists and that they could be allies. 

Perhaps the resident of Acre best known in the wider world is Chico Mendez. He was a leader of the rubber tappers.  He tried to organize them, but his initial motivation was not ecology. He was more on the order of a labor organizer trying to organize farm workers.  But in this case, the farm was the forest and the workers wanted to preserve it and thus also preserve their way of life. Chico Mendez was murdered in 1988.  His death was part of a too-common occurrence in the woods, but because of his wider-world reputation, his death was noticed more than the hundreds of others. He became a symbol and a martyr for the cause of forest preservation, so much so that many people outside Brazil - and lots of them inside too - are unaware of his connection with organizing rubber tappers.  His death had meaning that resonated and it proved a catalyst for greater forest protection in Acre and in Brazil.   

Deforestation didn’t stop, but Chico Mendez became a focus for otherwise unfocused efforts to slow it down.  This is one of his legacies, to recognize the value of traditional and overall sustainable forms of use of nature. He broadened the definition. Before Chico Mendez’s death, people like rubber tappers of traditional fishermen or hunters were often not included in the “traditional” category if they were not indigenous people. After, the category of traditional producers began to be applied to people like them too. 

This is not ancient history, although it seems a long time ago. Many of the people who knew and worked with Chico Mendez are still active today. I had breakfast with one of his associates, who wrote a book about Chico Mendez.  It was from him that I got much of the information I used above. 

Today Acre is one of Brazil’s leaders in forest preservation, natural restoration and valuing traditional lifestyles.  Kids learn about the environment as part of their school work.  The State of Acre is trying hard to portray itself as the state that most values the environment. Whether or not this would have happened anyway is an open question, but I think not or at least not as quickly.  You cannot miss the homage to Chico Mendez all around Acre. Defenders of nature have embraced him as a symbol.  It is clear to me that he did with his death help save the forests that he loved. 

There is a kind of coda to this story.  The price of latex was low, which was driving many rubber tappers out of business and encouraging forest clearance. In order to encourage the rubber industry, the Brazilian government opened a condom factory in Xapuri.  They use local latex and the Brazilian government buys all the condoms the place can produce for its public health program. In Portuguese condoms are called "preservatios".  This always causes some embarrassment in Portuguese language classes, since most English speakers think this means some kind of canned products. But it is fitting the preservativos help preserve the forest.  I guess the slogan now is safe sex saves the rainforest.  There is also a similar rubber factory near Manaus, which I wrote about before.

August 02, 2012

Acre and Rio Branco

Rio Branco palace in Acre 

Acre is as far away as you can get and still be in Brazil.  The flight takes about 3 ½ hours from Brasília and there is a one-hour time change.  You cannot get lost at the airport.  There are two gates and the flight I left on at 2:55 am left from both.  There are not many options.  The Gol flight leaves at 2:55am; Tam goes at 2:15.  If you miss that you have to wait twelve hours.  The airport has no self-check in, so you get to wait in the lines.  I was in Rio Branco to participate in visits related to the U.S.-Brazil school principal program and to meet people in general.  We don’t get to Acre very often and people are interested to see us.  I was interviewed by two television stations, the local newspaper and the major radio station.

Acre independenceAcre’s capital, Rio Branco, is medium sized city with about 400,000 inhabitants; this is half the total population of Acre.  There are no very tall buildings. It has a generally open and suburban feel.  The parallel is not perfect, but it reminded me of Montgomery, Alabama in the way it was spread out. I think the reason I thought of Montgomery, however, was the old governor’s residence.  It has that southern feeling.  Look at the picture above and tell me that it doesn’t remind you of the U.S. Deep South.  The people of Acre also have a kind of rebel heritage.  They broke free from Bolivia a little more than a century ago.  The border was finally settled by the Treaty of Petropolis. The great Brazilian diplomat, the Baron of Rio Branco negotiated the agreement, which is how the capital of Acre got its name. The city spreads out over some low hills more or less along the Acre River.  I was there during the dry season, so it is hot but not very humid.  During the wet season it is a bit cooler but more humid. It almost never gets cool.  They told me that occasionally a front moves in from Antarctica and it can get as cold as about 50 degrees F or about 10 C.  This doesn’t happen often.  

On the flight in, I looked out over the forests and fields.  The forest here is semi-deciduous tropical forest, i.e. lots of the trees lose their leaves during the dry season.  Acre is part of the Amazon forest, but it is not covered by rain forests in the true sense, since there is not much rain for much of the year.   It is not an unbroken forest as you notice when you fly over the Amazon going toward Manaus. Especially near the city, there are lots of farm fields with cattle.  They look funny from the height of the airplane as you come in for a landing.  They are mostly off white.  You cannot really make out their shapes but you see clusters of elongated white dots.

Public library 

Little girl reading in public libraryThere are water shortages during the dry season, streams run dry and rivers get low. They turn off fountains and are generally careful to conserve water.  This is different from Brasília, which has a unique relationship with water. Although Brasília has a dry season too, water shortages never develop. I think Lake Paranoá has a lot to do with that.

I stayed in the Inacio Palace Hotel.  It was simple but not bad and they had free Internet.   It is evidently owned by the same guy who owns the Pinheiro Palace Hotel across the street, because you have to go there to get breakfast.  In the same building as the Inacio Palace, however, there is a good churrascaria.

According to what I was told, most of the people living in Acre came from the Northeast of Brazil, especially Ceará, but there is a significant mixture of Arabs of Lebanese extraction and native Indians.  The place used to belong to Bolivia, but they weren’t really using it and lots of Brazilians moved in to tap rubber in the late 19th Century.  Since almost nobody else lived here at the time, even a relatively small influx of Brazilians immigrants was enough to tip the balance and soon Brazilians were the most numerous.  When the Bolivians tried to reassert their authority over Acre, the Brazilian population rose up in armed rebellion, defeated the Bolivians and declared themselves an independent state.  That didn’t last very long. But they tried it again.  This time the Brazilians asserted sovereignty and Acre became a territory of Brazil.  It was not until fifty years later that it became a state.

Election bike 

The 100th Anniversary of Acre independence declaration in August 7, 2012, so if you are reading this on that day, raise a toast.  This period of independence, no matter how brief and inchoate, seems to have shaped Acre’s attitude.  At our meeting, they placed the Acre anthem instead of the Brazilian one and they refer to things that happen “in Brazil” as if there is an important distinction. I was told that was because the people of Acre won their own independence at the cost of their own blood, sweat, toil and tears and only later did the choose to become part of Brazil.

My pictures: Up top is the Governor's palace, now a museum.  That and the picture below made me think the city had an Alabama feel. Below that is the public library. They get a good crowd.  The little girl reading at the library was iconic. The bottom picture is an election program.  They have car, motorcycles and even bikes circulating on the streets with boom boxes with political advertisements and catchy songs. 


August 01, 2012

São Paulo Old & New, plus Batman

Sao Paulo from Igatemi shopping 

Espen wanted to go the new Batman movie, so we went to the IMAX in the JK Iguatami shopping center.  This place opened only last month.  It is full of high-end shopping and places to each. Surrounding the shopping center is the new São Paulo.  Most of the buildings here are only a few years old and they are constantly building more. 

Bike day in Sao Paulo

Traffic wasn’t bad, because it was on a Sunday.  They block off part of the street for bikes. It is a nice touch in this big city that seems particularly unfriendly to bikes in the center, because of the unyielding traffic but also because of the streets with potholes and the enormous hills in the central area.  In the new area, the streets are a bit wider and the topography more bike friendly.

Construction in Sao Paulo near Igatemi Shopping 

The Batman movie was okay. They said it was 4D.  I don’t know what that means.  It was the regular IMAX experience as far as I could tell.  There was a surprising social commentary in the film, IMO.  It seemed to me to be a counter to the idea of class struggle. There were lines in there talking about how firms need to make profits before they can be generous with charity. The bad guy appealed to the resentment of the poor against the rich to help ruin the city and the mobs were like a big occupy Wall Street writ large and of course much nastier. In the end, the police were the good guys who took the city back from the mobs and the city was save, of course with the essentially assistance of the Batman.  Naturally, it is only a movie based on a comic book, but I sure wouldn't live in Gotham. Every few months a super crook shows up to try to destroy the place.

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