Science is always a potential threat to authoritarian rulers, because it uncovers truths that contradict their lies.
Recently we’ve seen a dramatic example of this conflict in Brazil, where the director of the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has been fired by the country’s new President, Jair Bolsonaro, for releasing data showing a substantial increase in Amazon deforestation.
INPE has been providing the world with measurements of deforestation, based on detailed analysis of satellite photos, for more than 30 years, and has become the standard source for this information. It’s INPE’s data that demonstrated how Brazil dramatically diminished its Amazon deforestation starting in about 2007, reducing it by over 2/3 in half a dozen years and keeping it low for the following decade.
This accomplishment was not only an important contribution to the global fight against climate change as well as a point of pride for all Brazilians. It also had a clear material reward, earning the country over a billion dollars in pay-for-performance rewards for reducing emissions, through Brazil’s climate agreement with Norway.
Yet for President Bolsonaro, INPE’s stellar scientific reputation and contributions to the fight against climate change mean nothing. Case in point: INPE’s most recent data from June and July showed a substantial rise in deforestation, clearly contradicting Bolsonaro’s assertions about the impacts of his Amazon policies. So he fired physicist Ricardo Galvão, INPE’s director, and put a military crony in his place. [Continue reading…]