Brazil’s Fires and Biofuels.

Guest post by Jim Steele

What’s Natural

Brazil’s Fires and Biofuels. Published in the Pacifica Tribune September 11, 2019

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From leaf cutting ants that cultivate fungus gardens to flowers that fool potential pollinating insects into having sex, the magic of rainforest ecology always inspired my love for nature’s creativity. So, it’s no surprise that any and every report of burning rainforests would rally deep concerns across the globe. Nonetheless I am disturbed by dishonest gloom and doom regards recent Amazon fires. NASA reports since 2003 the square kilometers of forest burned each year has dropped by roughly 25 percent. But such good news doesn’t get headlines.

Although the NY Times wrote the fires have no climate connection, meteorologist Eric Holthaus, who writes numerous catastrophic climate articles for Slate and the New York Times, suggested the fires show, “We are in a climate emergency”. As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years, but Holthaus dishonestly tweeted, “The current fires are without precedent in the past 20,000 years.”

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To heighten global hysteria, French president Macron and actor Leonardo deCaprio, tweeted photographs of forest infernos. But those photos were taken 20 years ago. Likewise, Madonna tweeted wildfire photos taken 30 years ago, and others tweeted flaming photos from regions far from the Amazon.

Activist vegetarians denounced meat-eaters for deforestation, arguing forests are burnt to create pastures for cattle. But they failed to mention pastures previously created for grazing without deforestation, are now being usurped by biofuel cultivation. Indirectly, it’s the biofuel fad that has driven cattle grazers to carve out new pastures in the rain forests.

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Left-wing politicos blame the fires on Brazil’s rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro, a climate skeptic. They argue Bolsonaro’s views emboldened land grabbers. But the number of Brazilian fires, and rates of rainforest deforestation were far worse before Bolsonaro, peaking in 2004 under a corrupt leftist Workers Party. It seems every tragedy is just an opportunity to demonize one’s opponents, no matter the facts.

Most 2019 fires have been ignited on land cleared long ago. To clear agricultural stubble or to prevent forests from encroaching on existing farms and pastures, Brazil’s farmers set fires as soon as the dry season begins. According to NASA, Brazil’s “agricultural fire season” traditionally peaks in July and August and ends by early November. To date, there is no data determining the extent of area burnt on existing farms and pastures, versus how much rainforest has actually been lost to fire.

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Between 2000 and 2005 an estimated 45,000 square miles per year of rainforest were lost worldwide as biofuel production ramped. Currently only 2.3% of Brazil’s agricultural lands grow biofuels. But that will increase as governments require fuels blended with increasing percentages of biofuels. Most projections suggest biofuels will dominate 36% of arable lands by 2030. More encroachment on rainforests is likely.

Brazil leads all developing countries in biofuel production. Thus, Brazil is at the center of scientific disputes regards biofuels and deforestation. Brazil is the leader in sugarcane production for biofuels. Sugarcane is typically cultivated on disturbed fields far from rainforests, so, there is no evidence of direct deforestation. But there are definitely indirect impacts. As sugar cane fields expanded throughout southern Brazil, soybeans increasingly grown for biodiesel were pushed northward into central Brazil. In turn, usurped pastures pushed cattle grazers further northwards into rainforests.

Nearly 55 million Brazilians live in poverty. Slash and burn agriculture is often practiced by poor farmers. To achieve a win-win solution for rainforests and humanity, we need more efficient land use. But fields once growing food, are being transformed into fields for biofuels. To make-up for lost food production, pristine lands elsewhere are cleared and burnt for new agriculture.

Still there’s hope. America’s early colonists deforested the land and drained wetlands. Marginal farms deforested 80% of Vermont by 1900. But as more efficient land use evolved, marginal farms were abandoned, and Vermont is now 80% re-forested. Similarly, the UN’s State of the World’s Forests 2018 reports global net loss of forest area continues to slow, from 0.18 percent per year in the 1990s to just

0.08 percent over the last five-year period. If Bolsanaro’s pro-agriculture advocacy generates greater agricultural efficiency, Brazil’s forests should likewise benefit.

Although there have been admirable attempts by the international Amazon Fund to promote sustainable rainforest agriculture, it has not been enough to raise Brazilians out of poverty. Worse, In the name of fighting climate catastrophes, biofuel subsidies and incentives encourage destruction of Brazil’s rainforests and savannahs, while displacing small farms. We must wait and see but having a newly elected skeptical president in Brazil might be a godsend. Better agricultural practices may evolve if Brazil’s government is not blinded by the false promises of biofuels!

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Jim Steele is director emeritus of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus, SFSU and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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38 thoughts on “Brazil’s Fires and Biofuels.

  1. Jim Steele….correction:
    “It seems every tragedy is just an opportunity to demonize one’s opponents lie out their #&$%ing @ss, no matter the facts.

    There, fixed it for ya ! : )

    • In SE Asia palm oil is the cooking fat of choice, and there is a population > 300 million over there, all frying and stir-frying away.

  2. And from the Guardian in a 2017 article, when the left wing government was in control:

    “Brazil’s palm oil expansion dates back to 2010 under the government of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who launched a programme to map areas suitable for oil palm plantations and provide finance for farmers to start growing the crop.

    With projected revenues of more than $90bn by 2021, the global palm oil market is a major income and development opportunity for rural Brazil. A farming family could increase its net income fourfold, the Brazilian government has estimated, by switching from staple crops such as cassava to oil palm.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jun/29/brazil-palm-oil-amazon-rainforest-deforestation-temer-farming-para-cerrado

    Crazy climate hysteria has promoted devastating expansion of palm oil plantations. Yet the left wing wants to blame the newly elected right-wing government Fracking dishonest!

    • Always blame “right winger” Bolsonaro – in power since January 2019. Never blame the darling of the Left, Bolivian president Evo Morales, in power since 2006 and changing the constitution to get a forbidden fourth term. Under his presidency, Bolivia’s rainforest fires are rising dramatically.

    • Thank you Jim Steele – a very good, accurate article.

      The following post describes what the climate scam/smokescreen is really all about.

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/09/05/banning-plastic-straws-fossil-fuels-here-are-seven-standout-moments-from-cnns-climate-town-hall/#comment-2788124

      FYI Ladies and Gentlemen:

      The global warming / climate change scam has NO scientific credibility – this false hypothesis was disproved decades ago by many credible scientific observations, which concluded that climate is NOT highly sensitive to increasing atmospheric CO2.

      So what is really happening? Why have we been bombarded for decades with unscientific propaganda about a false climate crisis?

      My hypothesis is that nobody could be this scientifically wrong, this incredibly stupid, for this long – they must have a covert agenda.

      I continue to assemble evidence of that covert agenda, which is the totalitarian socialist control of Western society and the end of democracy.

      This hypothesis is not at all improbable – more than half the world’s population already live in totalitarian “socialist” dictatorships, which are really more like absolute monarchies / oligarchies.

      The following is just some of my evidence from the USA and the UK – more to follow:

      The extreme-left political agenda was recently revealed by Saikat Chakrabarti, chief of staff for Democratic New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said:

      “CHANGING THE ENTIRE ECONOMY”, The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2019
      https://www.wsj.com/articles/notable-quotable-changing-the-entire-economy-11562970210

      “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal, is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all, … Do you guys think of it as a climate thing? Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing,”

      The same plot is unfolding in Great Britain. Prof Sir Ian Boyd, the government’s chief environment scientist, said the public had little idea of the scale of the challenge from the so-called Net Zero CO2 emissions target.

      “CLIMATE CHANGE: BIG LIFESTYLE CHANGES ‘NEEDED TO CUT EMISSIONS’ – DEFRA CHIEF SCIENTIST”, BBC News, August 29, 2019
      https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49499521
      [excerpts]

      “People must use less transport, eat less red meat and buy fewer clothes if the UK is to virtually halt greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government’s chief environment scientist has warned.

      Sir Ian Boyd has lifted the lid on the reality of the programme. We will all have to accept big lifestyle changes – travel less, eat less, consume less.

      But eventually some form of compulsion or rationing will be necessary, if climate targets are to be met.

      The Science and Technology Select Committee let the cat out of the bag last week, when they officially announced “In the long-term, widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-49425402

      When they ultimately find themselves being told what they can and cannot consume, where they can travel and what foods they are allowed to eat, they will be furious about the way they have been misled.”

      Regards, Allan

  3. I will say the same thing over and over again, Why isn’t this making national news? Why are the truthful scientists, and researchers not being heard by those who’s lives have been ruined by mass lies of the world is about to end?? Polar bear numbers are up, ice in the artic is thick and two research boats have got stuck within the last month, yet its “we are all going to die”.. I am sick and tied of being lie to, but more so of the fact that the truth is being hidden on blogs and a few websites… I was very lucky to find this site, but soo many are not..

    • The greatest volume of fake news is in the omission of facts. They can claim they are not lying by simply withholding the truth.

    • Sunny
      You asked, “Why are the truthful scientists, and researchers not being heard by those who’s lives have been ruined by mass lies of the world is about to end??” Isn’t it obvious? The end justifies any means!

  4. Good reporting, Jim. The immensity of the Amazon Basin rainforest is difficult to imagine. Rainforest? That is another name for jungle, like a triple canopy jungle. The videos I am seeing on TV show fields and scrub lands burning, not jungle. As I commented before, the only jungle I ever saw burn was due to napalm, and I can’t imagine anything less getting jungle to burn.

  5. “Marginal farms deforested 80% of Vermont by 1900. But as more efficient land use evolved, marginal farms were abandoned, and Vermont is now 80% re-forested.”

    Farms were abandoned all over the eastern US because farmers’ kids got educations and factory jobs that allowed them to buy nice houses in the suburbs. When parents died or got too old to maintain their farms, the land reverted back to forest because the kids wanted to leave that life behind.

    • Maybe forests and jungle can make a comeback, but I doubt that the animal and insect life will ever recover….

      • Why would you think that animals and insects will not repopulate an area that is available for living? Where did they come from in the first place? Living organisms are constantly pushing their boundaries to spread their genes. That’s what evolution is all about. Whichever animal is best suited for the particular environment will survive, and they probably will help determine which plant life will survive. Their is no such thing as a “fragile ecosystem”. The are very robust but constantly changing.

      • Don’t worry. Animals and insects (aka animals) are life, yes?
        A characteristic of life is its determination to exploit any and all opportunities to expand, so any “comebacks” will automatically create opportunities for animals to exploit.
        Life is very robust.

  6. Agriculture biofuels are not required at this time in history, specially with subsidy, to compete with fossil fuels. There is currently no shortage of affordable fossil fuels, especially when FF now have a lower price point because of surplus agriculture biofuels and agriculture products have a higher price point because of land demands to grow biofuels such as sugarcane, sugar beet, palm, coconut, soybean and all the other oil seeds. Canada now has a huge surplus of food grade Canola (Rapeseed) that has fewer markets because of trade restrictions by China, and now millions of tons of that crop looks like it will go to Europe for biofuel. Agriculture biofuels should not be subsidized either directly with cash payments, or with conversion of jungle/forest land to agriculture. It doesn’t make any sense when food is a higher and better use, or leaving jungle and forests intact are a higher and better use than short term marginal agriculture.

    I am much more sympathetic to wood waste biofuels which are unsubsidized, which historically was just burnt up in useless gigantic fires in beehive burners in advanced countries and huge piles of smouldering fires in third world countries. Pelletization of wood waste makes a lot of sense. Burning it in Drax doesn’t, when they sit upon good coal deposits. Even dedicated forestry crops that are exclusively grown on non arable agriculture lands for a short term 20 year crop like pulp for toilet paper or wood pellets are much better by orders of magnitude than agriculture biofuels which tend to raise prices for food on an annual basis. Unfortunately, even vast supplies of wood waste that have no other value than as a biofuel get lumped into the evil category the same as converting food to fuel. It is really too bad a lot of people can’t see the distinction between wood fibre biofuel and agriculture biofuel. Perhaps a different word is required for forestry residue that is made into a biofuel to differentiate it from agricultural biofuel so the two are not equated. The utilization of wood waste and purpose grown wood and plant fibre for biofuel is a huge global industry and one that shouldn’t be compared to agriculture biofuels. Having said that, we shouldn’t be converting primal jungles and forests into very low purpose tree plantations for forestry biofuel either.

  7. Haven’t the Brazilians been growing sugarcane for biofuels for decades already? Their use of biofuels predates the climate change hysteria.

  8. “flowers that fool potential pollinating insects into having sex, the magic of rainforest ecology always inspired my love for nature’s creativity.”

    Orchids are well known for convincing insects to attempt sex with the plant. Even orchids that grow in temperate zones misuse insect ardor to help propagate the species.

    Great article Dr. Steele!

  9. Brazil is just behind Qatar in proven oil reserves. But for the war on hydrocarbons Brazil could be become a true energy giant. Imagine producing their own fertilizers, agri-farming, energy for land agriculture, water purification, disposal, recycling even. Maybe even have iPhones.
    After all, energy is life, cheap energy is prosperity. . .
    They could even import bauxite from Australia (where “sustainable” energy is just about to destroy the aluminum industry) and be the beer can producer of the world. Just speculating.

  10. Leaf-cutter ants are a fascinating tropical group that extend far into S Texas in sandy soils. I once owned a property with a large colony. Besides leaves to feed the fungus they also took berries in, we figured it made good wine for the winter. They appeared to be useful to take out exotics, some at least. To get rid of them some once tried gasoline, and a match.

  11. Would love to see the global response if the Brazillian President announced they were burning the forests to construct solar farms and wind turbines to replace their fossil-fuel and nuclear plants.

  12. “To date, there is no data determining the extent of area burnt on existing farms and pastures, versus how much rainforest has actually been lost to fire.”

    So how can you claim –

    “Most 2019 fires have been ignited on land cleared long ago.”?

    “If Bolsanaro’s pro-agriculture advocacy generates greater agricultural efficiency, Brazil’s forests should likewise benefit.”

    For somebody “inspired by rainforest ecology” that “if” seems to be wildly optimistic given Bolsanaro’s antipathy to enviromental concerns.

    • It is easy to claim “Most 2019 fires have been ignited on land cleared long ago.”?

      Every year that’s what farmers do every year and that accounts for the majority of fires

      There is just no data to determine how many of those fire leaked into the rain forest, and how many fires were newly slashed rain forest

  13. From the essay:
    “the UN’s State of the World’s Forests 2018 reports global net loss of forest area continues to slow, from 0.18 percent per year in the 1990s to just 0.08 percent over the last five-year period. ”

    Deliberate reforestation, often on marginal land, seems to be going on over much of the world. If reports from so many places are to be believed, these efforts probably adds up to at least several billion new trees by now. The new forests result in multiple changes to the landscape, increased biodiversity, and most likely local and regional climates. Do you have any idea if the UN’s report includes this growth? Reforestation areas subtracted from demonstrations could give a distorted view of how much forest destruction is taking place.

    • Clearly griff you do n to kn ow what you are talking about. Once again you are just mindlessly sniping.

      Read some real science

      https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190912124825.htm

      The researcher notes, “Fires in the Amazon happen every year during the dry season,” de Oliveira said. “We have agricultural areas, areas that were deforested in the past — but in order to clear the area for the next year, or to make the soil a little bit better for the next year, they set a fire. They claim they’re only setting fire to burn agricultural lands. But sometimes the fire gets out of control, and it plays a part in more deforestation. Fires get out of control in agricultural land and reach the forest and burn the forest. But these fires happen in the Amazon every year, so it’s pretty straightforward.”

  14. Having more closely examined the photo I downloaded from the internet of cattle and burning forests, I suspected the red line in the photo suggested it was photoshopped. I was just contacted by another scientists suggesting the same thing.

    Although it doesn’t affect the issue of biofuels, it is another example of how photoshopped pics can be used. So I warn viewers that the picture is photoshopped and I apologize for using it

  15. TREES
    #TreeMethaneKills #ChopDownAllTrees #ForTheChildren

    Short term (2-3 yrs.) methane is 84x more potent than CO2

    42.7 Tg CH4 annually (Pangala, et al) = 3.6 billion tons CO2 equivalent (convert to ton, multiply x 84)
    (https://www.google.com/search?q=Pangala+Amazon+methane&oq=Pangala+Amazon+methane&aqs=chrome..69i57.4927j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8)

    Amazon uptake = 2.2 billion ton uptake of CO2, annually (NASA, Espirito Santo)

    1.4 billion ton CO2 equivalent net release! The Amazon is a net “polluter” of evil green house gases.

    https://e360.yale.edu/features/scientists-probe-the-surprising-role-of-trees-in-methane-emissions

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