Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.
Ian's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Happy Monday. Good to see everyone and got a Quick Take for you as we kick off this week. Thought we would talk today about Brazil. It is the epicenter today for coronavirus. The healthcare system in the country is getting overwhelmed. Over 90% of ICU beds are filled in most of the states in the country. As a consequence, you are triaging healthcare. This is what you remember happened briefly in Northern Italy at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. It's what we feared could happen in New York City, though never quite did. You've got nearing 4,000 deaths a day in Brazil right now, per capita that's worse than anything we've seen in the United States. And yeah, we blame the government. We blame President Bolsonaro.
And you know, in part, this is someone who like former President Trump said, don't worry about this. It's just a little flu, was telling the population that we don't need lockdowns. We don't need quarantines. He didn't want to wear a mask. He didn't like social distancing. And as a consequence, all of that became deeply politicized across the country in Brazil as well. Those governors that engaged in lockdowns were sharply criticized for it. And a lot of people weren't wearing masks. A lot of people didn't take it seriously. Bolsonaro, of course, got COVID himself. He said hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure. He even questioned the vaccine at the beginning, said that it was dangerous, potentially you can't trust the health care companies. He sits tilted on that as his popularity has gone down significantly. And as a consequence, he's more worried about finishing out his term and being able to win a second term late next year with elections.
But all of this has gone very badly in the country. And indeed, as a consequence of all of that, Brazil today is feeling a lot like the United States at the end of last year, massively politically divided with the potential for impeachment efforts against Bolsonaro that would be incredibly divisive. And with a president who could easily lose reelection, but will not accept that outcome and will claim that he has indeed won. Now, last week was a watershed in that regard. You saw six members of the Brazilian cabinet suddenly removed, including the Minister of Defense replaced with a Bolsonaro loyalist and the three heads of the military services very unhappy about that. Threatening to resign, they're fired the next day.
Does this mean that Brazil is heading for a coup or revolution? The answer is no. It's actually similar to the United States in the sense that the senior military leadership in the country is independent and would not support loyalty to Bolsonaro, no matter what. And the judiciary in the country is still largely independent. These institutions are stronger than what you see in most developing countries around the world, but they're not as strong as the United States. And the fact is that if Bolsonaro were to go down the path of "burn it all down" and "these elections are no good," and "this impeachment is completely unacceptable," if that were to occur, you would get members of state police. You would get low-level members of the military that could come out in support, the former military member, Bolsonaro, himself with a lot of former military around him as senior advisors. So the potential for major social unrest and for a lot of violence is greater than what we saw in January 6th in the United States.
Although, the likelihood that Brazilian democracy is suddenly going to fall apart in my view is just as remote as it was in the United States. This is a deeply, deeply problematic leadership. There's an incredibly divided country. Next year's elections are going to be easily as ugly, maybe even worse than last November's in the United States, and are likely to be very severely contested. So, I mean, if Brazil was the largest economy in the US like the United States is, this would be our top risk out there. Because it's just the largest economy in South America, it's a big deal. It deserves to be talking about it, but it's not the top risk globally.
The funny thing is I have not been universally critical of Bolsonaro because on some counts I've been more sympathetic. For example, economically as much as he is a knee jerk, hardly expert reactionary on a bunch of things, he allows his economic team to take the lead on issues that he doesn't know anything about, whether it's pension reform or tax reform or micro economic reform. A lot has actually gotten done in Brazil over the course of the last couple of years. On climate, Bolsonaro is widely criticized for being one of the worst climate skeptics, climate deniers in the world.
And I obviously think that's a horrible thing, especially when you see all this clearcutting happening in the Amazon forest, but I'm sympathetic for a middle income economy, where the wealthy countries in the world suddenly say, why aren't you doing anything to save your environment? When for decades, we were paying no attention to it. We were, of course, emitting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. We had no problem with exploiting global economies, including Brazil, for our own benefit. And Bolsonaro's basically saying, look, if you want us to pay attention to climate, pay us. Now that this matters to you, how about taking some of the equity here and giving it to the average Brazilian. Something that's very popular inside Brazil, that almost any Brazilian leader would be aligned towards.
But when it comes to responding to the worst crisis that we have seen in our lifetimes, Bolsonaro has been the worst leader of any major economy in the world. No, he's not the former Tanzanian president, Tanzanian President Magufuli, who's now dead of COVID. No, he's not Belarusian dictator, Lukashenka, who said, take a sauna, drink some vodka, and you'll be fine. But of the G20 economies, he's the worst. He's the worst by far and Brazil's suffering for it. And I feel really badly about that. And I hope, I hope, I hope vaccine rollout will happen quickly in Brazil, but so far not so fast, not the United States. They don't have the drug companies, they don't have the infrastructure. They aren't able to pay the money for the vaccines, the way the advanced countries have. And so, as a consequence, the Brazilian people are really suffering. So that's a little bit for me this week. Everyone be safe, avoid fewer people. I'll talk to you all real soon.
March was without a doubt the most difficult month for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro since he came to power in 2019. The country's healthcare system collapsed under a surge of Covid-19 cases. He was forced to reshuffle his cabinet and had a falling out with leaders of the military, an institution that has been one of his biggest supporters. And to top it all off, the courts vacated the corruption conviction of Bolsonaro's biggest rival, the popular leftist leader Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, who will probably challenge his re-election in 2022. What comes next? Eurasia Group analysts Filipe Gruppelli Carvalho and Silvio Cascione explain the deepening political crisis that Brazil's controversial president now faces.
Filipe, Silvio, why did Brazil's entire military leadership quit this week?
The heads of the army, navy, and air force resigned on 30 March after Bolsonaro replaced Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva in a cabinet reshuffle. The higher echelon figures in the military have become increasingly concerned about Bolsonaro's attempts to interfere with and politicize the armed forces. Even if Bolsonaro finds more compliant figures than those who have just resigned, he won't be able to assert more political control over the military. He'll likely have more success obtaining the overt support of state police forces, where the rank-and-file are huge supporters of the president.
Why has the pandemic gotten so bad and do people blame Bolsonaro?
COVID claimed 66,000 lives last month in Brazil, overwhelming the nation's hospitals and bringing the pandemic's death toll so far to 320,000. An initial slow roll out of vaccines, a lack of national-level restrictions on activity, and a lax attitude toward the virus among a sizable portion of the population all contributed to the most recent surge. The appearance of a separate, more contagious strain of the virus in Brazil has also been a factor. But for increasing numbers of Brazilians, Bolsonaro is the public face of the healthcare failure. His sneering dismissals of the gravity of the threat and opposition to measures advocated by public health experts and local officials have earned the disapproval of more than half of the public. Still, about one-third approve of the president's response to the pandemic, which has prioritized the narrative that people need to work and that lockdowns only hurt businesses.
What's the outlook for the pandemic given that the vaccination campaign is now gaining momentum?
April will be another difficult month. The intensive care units of hospitals across the country are at full capacity, with waiting lists to get in. But more restrictions on activity in large cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, coupled with a faster vaccine rollout, should begin to ease the strain. Bad as things are in Brazil, the country is well-positioned to ramp up its inoculation campaign, as it has started local production of two vaccines. It is aiming to deliver 25.5 million doses in April and to vaccinate one million people per day (about 0.5 percent of the population). With a large share of elderly people now receiving their second dose, hospital admissions will probably begin to fall in late April or early May, leading to a potential decline in deaths and an eventual fall in case counts as the vaccine rollout reaches wider swaths of the population.
Is Bolsonaro at risk of being impeached?
He is a deeply polarizing figure. The first noises about impeachment came almost immediately after he took office in January 2019. These calls from lawmakers have grown much louder in recent weeks amid the deepening pandemic and rising political tensions. Yet the president is not yet in a position where his job is at risk. Not only does he still have the support of around 30 percent of Brazilians, but most lawmakers, including those in the leftist opposition, feel that the country should focus on dealing with the health crisis rather than plunging everyone into a nasty political battle over impeachment. However, attitudes could shift if the vaccination rollout does not improve the health and economic outlook by May. If the situation of acute crisis drags for a couple of months, the president's approval ratings could fall substantially and his position grows more vulnerable.
How has the reemergence of Lula affected the political environment?
A symbol of the Latin American left, the former Brazilian president is now eligible to run for the office again. This development, coming a little over a year before the 2022 presidential election, has energized the left and polarized politics further. Voter priorities will be the key variable to watch ahead of next year's vote, with the former president potentially polling better than Bolsonaro on issues such as public healthcare and job creation, which are likely to loom large coming out of the pandemic. It could be a very different context from the last electoral cycle, when concerns about establishment corruption helped vault Bolsonaro — a previously obscure far-right lawmaker — into the presidency.Filipe Gruppelli Carvalho is Analyst, Brazil and Silvio Cascione Director, Brazil at Eurasia Group.
What We’re Watching: Military pushback against Bolsonaro, new HK “election” rules, Catalan separatists bicker
Bolsonaro reshuffles, brass revolts: For the first time in Brazil's history, the heads of the army, air force, and navy all resigned at once on Tuesday. The move came in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's decision a day earlier to force the resignation of his defense minister, along with half a dozen other top officials, in a bid to reassert his leadership amid a chorus of criticism over his disastrous handling of the pandemic and soaring COVID deaths. Bolsonaro, a former army captain himself, is famously nostalgic for Brazil's dictatorship, and his armed forces chiefs reportedly took exception to the president's attempts to establish excessive personal influence over the military himself. Bolsonaro is now facing the biggest crisis of his presidency, with his approval rating plummeting and threats of impeachment circulating anew. Meanwhile, the pandemic — which he has repeatedly downplayed in terms ranging from merely smug to dangerously incompetent — is claiming more lives in Brazil daily than anywhere else in the world.
Only Chinese "patriots" can now run in Hong Kong elections: China on Tuesday officially made sweeping changes to Hong Kong's election rules that cut the number of directly-elected lawmakers by nearly half, and require candidates to show that they are "patriotic" if they wish to run. Carrie Lam, Beijing's handpicked leader for Hong Kong, insists that no one will be ruled out for holding any particular political views as long as they swear an oath to Hong Kong's laws (which have been rewritten by China), but opposition leaders aren't exactly convinced. Ahead of elections now scheduled for December, pro-democracy activists will have to decide if they are willing to protest again, which would now mean braving the possibility of terrorism charges under China's 2020 security law.
What We're IgnoringCatalonia's (mis)government: Pro-independence parties in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia failed on Tuesday to reach an agreement to appoint a new government after the February 14 election, raising the specter of a fresh vote if they can't break the deadlock in two months' time. We're ignoring this because the same forces did something quite similar in 2016 and 2018, and both times ended up swearing in a new president at the last moment to avoid a repeat election. The only thing traditional left-wing nationalists, big-tent nationalists and far-left nationalists with a majority of seats in the Catalan parliament have in common nowadays is that they still want to part ways with Spain, even after their October 2017 attempt came up short. The question of independence continues to monopolize the political agenda in Catalonia, sapping attention from other issues such as COVID and the severe economic crisis that the region faces.
Ian Bremmer discusses Hong Kong's election changes, Bolsonaro's latest cabinet reshuffle, and Turkey's economic problems on World In 60 Seconds.
China has overhauled elections in Hong Kong. Now what?
Well, now nobody that would be in the democratic opposition would really want to run for election in Hong Kong because it's just a titular body that serves mainland China. There is no more one state, two systems policy in Hong Kong. The UK, the United States are angry about it. We've put some sanctions on individual leaders, but that's about it. And China increasingly integrates the small Hong Kong economy into the mainland, and it's considered a domestic sovereign issue. Sorry, it kind of sucks if you're from Hong Kong, and there's not much work we can or are going to do about it.
Why did Bolsonaro just replace six of his cabinet ministers?
Well, because his popularity is decreasing, because the economy is in tough shape, because lockdowns are required, given the fact there are more than 3,000 deaths a day happening right now in Brazil. They're the new epicenter of the coronavirus crisis and Bolsonaro's been mishandling it. There is the potential for impeachment against him. He also has elections next year, and former President Lula has been ruled okay to stand for election. He was under house arrest before. This is all bad for Bolsonaro and he's doing everything he can to consolidate power around him. I'd be most concerned, I mean, they got rid of the foreign minister and others, but I'd be most concerned about consolidation of key defense ministers. Because at the end of the day, even though Brazilian institutions are strong, they are not as strong and independent as those in the United States. So tail risk of a true Brazilian political crisis are becoming more likely.
What the heck is the Erdogan doing and what does it mean for Turkey?
Well, this is kind of like in Brazil. It is another leader of a developing market that is truly mismanaging his country. In this case, less of a coronavirus, more about the economics. Bolsonaro on his fourth healthcare minister since the pandemic started, Erdogan on his fourth central bank governor in the last two years. And massive capital flight, inflation, getting difficult for them to handle their fiscal balances. He doesn't want to go to the IMF because the conditionality would be required, be massively unpopular for him domestically. He's getting squeezed really badly. He's trying to make the second-largest opposition party in the country illegal. That's one way to be able to win elections going forward. A lot more pressure on Erdogan going forward too. Am worried about that, watching it pretty carefully.
Those fighting to halt climate change call the Amazon rainforest the "lungs of Earth," and they're frustrated that Brazil's current president has made his country a chain-smoker.
A healthy Amazon is crucial for the global fight against climate change. Human activity is pumping unsustainable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, trapping enough heat to warm the planet in ways that profoundly disrupt the climate. Trees, and the soils they grow in, store carbon that might otherwise reach the atmosphere, but trees that are cut down or burned release more carbon into the air.
That makes rapid deforestation of the Amazon an urgent problem for the entire planet. Clearcutting of trees in the region has been a problem for decades, but the January 2019 inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil, home to more than 60 percent of the remaining Amazon tree cover, has made matters much worse.
Bolsonaro has stripped environmental protection agencies of funding and manpower, which flashes a bright green light to those who want to cut and burn trees to open land for farms and cattle ranches. Bolsonaro's bid to use Brazil's military to police the Amazon has failed, perhaps because the president himself and some of Brazil's army brass may not believe in the mission.
The results speak for themselves. In 2019, more than one-third of all destruction of the world's tropical forests took place inside Brazil alone. The Amazon lost more trees in 2019 than at any point in the previous decade, and then, despite the pandemic, beat that record again in 2020. When confronted with evidence that the number of fires in the Amazon has spiked sharply on his watch, Bolsonaro accused "greenies" –environmental activists — of setting the fires deliberately to "bring problems to Brazil."
Bolsonaro and his supporters in Brazil don't like it when outsiders demand new protections for the Amazon. "OUR SOVEREIGNTY IS NON-NEGOTIABLE," he tweeted last year in response to threats of economic sanctions over the Amazon from then-US presidential candidate Joe Biden.
But outsiders concerned about the climate are increasing their pressure. The EU has warned that failure to protect the rainforest is an important obstacle to completion of a blockbuster trade deal between Europe and Mercosur, a Brazil-dominated South American trade bloc. Institutional investors are pushing too. But Brazil has (so far) been able to resist these pressures, in part because it exports far more to China than to either the US or Europe, and Beijing isn't pushing for change.
That said, economic threats have helped mobilize Brazil's business community. Many companies have promised to cut carbon emissions and to remove products produced via deforestation from their supply chains. An alliance of Brazilian CEOs and scientists has called for investment in sustainable development.
But so far, Bolsonaro has shrugged off external and internal pressure for a change of course, in part, perhaps, because a challenging election campaign next year might depend on the continued support of his political base — including farmers and ranchers in the Amazon, who say that their industry is important for feeding Brazil and maintaining the country's position as an agriculture superpower. In particular, Brazil is now the world's top exporter of soy beans.
Joe Biden hopes a mix of carrots and sticks might help. The new US president has asked his climate envoy John Kerry to lead an international effort to raise $20 billion for the Amazon, though there are plenty of debates to come over how that money should be used. The money won't flow unless deforestation is reduced, but the new US president hopes that engaging, rather than threatening, Bolsonaro can produce a better result.
In the end, the size and density of the Amazon is itself part of the problem. The ground it covers is larger than all of Western Europe, so whatever agreements are forged and promises made, it will never be easy to police Amazon deforestation.
But Ibama, Brazil's civilian environmental protection agency, must be given the resources to try, climate experts warn, because those trees are crucial for all of us.
Brazil's healthcare system is on the verge of collapse: Brazil recorded more than 90,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the country's highest daily caseload since the pandemic began. As the country grapples with the world's second highest death toll, even President Jair Bolsonaro, a COVID skeptic who has rejected masks and refused a vaccine, warned this week that Brazil is entering a "more aggressive phase" of the pandemic. Bolsonaro's refusal to take the virus seriously, and his attempts to stop state officials from enforcing lockdowns to curb the virus' spread, have led to a shambolic and fragmented pandemic response. That, in turn, has allowed the virus more time to mutate, giving rise to a new more contagious variant that is now ravaging the country, experts say. The country's sluggish vaccine rollout has only made things worse. Amid the chaos, Dr. Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, was appointed Brazil's health minister this week, the country's fourth since the pandemic began. Queiroga said that he will need the president to grant him "full autonomy" to bring the country back from the abyss, but many analysts warn that it might be too late: Hospitals are nearing capacity in many states, ICU beds are scarce, and oxygen rationing has been rife, resulting in otherwise preventable deaths. Fiocruz, a Rio-based health institute, recently warned (Portuguese) that the crisis is "the biggest collapse of the hospital and health service in Brazil's history." While Bolsonaro appeared to defy gravity last year and maintain a steady approval rating, polls show that his star is falling: 54 percent of Brazilians now saying his handling of the pandemic has been "bad" or "awful." It doesn't help Bolsonaro's chances of making a comeback that the Supreme Court last week overturned the corruption conviction of popular leftist Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, allowing the former president to run in Brazil's 2022 election.
Anti-Asian crimes in America: Tuesday's shooting spree at massage spas in the US city of Atlanta — which left eight people dead, among them six women of Asian descent — has cast a spotlight on rising crimes against Asian Americans. While the motive that compelled the shooter is still unclear (the police says he told them he was not targeting Asians, but in the past he had expressed anti-Asian views on Facebook), what is undoubtable is that there has a been a massive spike in violence suffered by Asian Americans since the pandemic began a year ago. The numbers are stark: hate crimes — from verbal harassment to violence resulting in death — against Americans of Asian origin increased by nearly 150 percent last year in 16 of the country's largest cities, and the advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate recorded almost 3,800 cases from March 2020 to the end of February 2021. Importantly, these are all self-reported incidents, so the real number could be much higher, particularly among older people who might be fearful of reporting crimes. Experts believe that COVID-19's origin in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and racist statements made by some Republican politicians, have both significantly contributed to the problem (even after the Atlanta shooting, former president Trump referred to COVID as the "China virus" in a public statement). Meanwhile, Asian countries like the Philippines are calling on the US government to do more to protect their nationals and American citizens of Asian origin. President Joe Biden has said that violence against people of Asian descent "must stop", and we're watching to see what actions he -- as well as local governments and communities -- are prepared to take to make that happen.
We all want the best for our kids, but sometimes they grow up too fast and get way out of control.
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