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Brazilian graffiti artist Paulo Ito​ in São Paulo

While capitalist carbon man clings to his position atop the billions of energy slaves constructed over shifting sands of geologic time, the stable weather regime of the Holocene is being pulled right out from under our feet. Governments pray to the gods for rain as the Earth’s glaciers melt away and climate chaos unfolds around us:

…In 2015, the party in power, the Workers’ Party (PT), still thinks the divine will provide for everything, making it rain so that hydroelectric plants can generate power for the people. This is not surprising for a government whose minister of science, technology and innovation believes that global warming is a tool used by imperialism to control the poor countries. For the current Government, any intervention by man in nature seems mysterious and unpredictable in its consequences…

What impresses most in government pronouncements is their view of nature as indomitable and wholly unpredictable. Any measure involving future projections is absolutely absurd and unfeasible for the government, which works in cycles of four years (up to the next election). If hydroelectric plants run out of water, we can only pray for rain to restore the dams to their usual levels. If potable water runs out, only nature can replenish the reservoirs. Like tribesmen for whom any human interference in climate is anathema, every solution proposed by the government is an appeal to fortune and divine grace.

…Brazilian politicians should be wary, however. Divine grace periodically answers the call for rain. And with the gift of rain, periodically Brazilian cities are flooded, hundreds die, and thousands are displaced. Even though that happens anually, without fail, the government floods are absolutely unpredictable, too. Well, what can we do? Let’s pray for rain. But not a lot.

Three primary elements have converged to make the present drought in Brazil the worst in its recorded history, threatening to bring the megacity down:

  • anthropogenic global warming(AGW)
  • rampant deforestation of the Amazon rainforest
  • gross mismanagement of water resources and government corruption

The first factor is planet-wide and beyond the ability of any one state, no matter how powerful, to solve alone. The accelerated warming that is happening twice as fast in the Arctic as any other region is known as Arctic amplification. This runaway warming of the Arctic is a result of the radiative forcing of GHGs, water vapor, and dark aerosol particles combined with increased solar absorption from loss in Arctic albedo. Consequently, the equator-to-pole temperature gradient is being weakened, meridional heat transport is decreasing, and sea levels are rising. These changes are altering the polar jet stream and affecting such things as ocean salinity, currents and oxygen levels. A recent study revealed that within a matter of 100 years, the Earth’s oceans have undergone extensive and abrupt changes in oxygen levels when the ice caps melted in the past. The early phases of a mass extinction level event are taking place right before our eyes, but humans view the world through anthropocentric rose-colored glasses, oblivious to such dangers happening on a time scale of more than a few decades.

Ten years before Jennifer Francis’ work on the effects of climate change to jet stream patterns, scientists had predicted that the loss of Arctic sea ice would warm the oceans and give rise to heated air columns which would act as powerful blocking patterns, altering jet streams and preventing rains from reaching California. The findings of their models are eerily similar to the recent weather phenomenon called the “ridiculously resilient ridge” which has continued to block any significant amount of moisture from reaching California for the past two years. Weather reports from Brazil describe similarly persistent formations of warm air columns:

Similar to last year, a giant dome is now forming over the heartland of Brazil that is blocking moisture out in eerily the same manner as it did a year ago. The reason for this may have little to do with natural occurring weather patterns, but climate change from deforestation from the Amazon, where experts have warned this could be the outcome and that drought could occur with increased frequency. Rather than regular rainfall, the areas directly impacted are getting both extremes with intense drought followed by above average rains and then turning dry again. – Jan 2015

Droughts are persisting in both Brazil and California, as well as many other parts of the world. It has been known for a long time that global warming would result in drought and crop failures, an enormously destabilizing factor to any government. To compound the problem, humans are pumping water from aquifers much faster than natural processes can replenish them. Both El Niño and La Niña weather phenomenon are projected to double in frequency:

…The paradox is that global warming could also increase the intensity of not just hotter-than-usual seasons but also cool or cold episodes that would trigger unusual or extreme weather responses far from the ocean’s cool centre.

So some parts of the world are likely to experience blazing drought, followed by catastrophic floods, while across the ocean, other nations will have torrential rain and then unseasonal drought, every 13 years or so.

Brazil drought as of Dec 2014:


The second factor of deforestation is also planet-wide and its effects are not confined to the area in which it takes place. A recent study indicates that a denuded Amazon will have international ramifications:

The researchers report in the Journal of Climate that an Amazon stripped bare could mean 20 percent less rain for the coastal Northwest and a 50 percent reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water for cities and farms in California. Previous research has shown that deforestation will likely produce dry air over the Amazon. Using high-resolution climate simulations, the researchers are the first to find that the atmosphere’s normal weather-moving mechanics would create a ripple effect that would move that dry air directly over the western United States from December to February…

…”The big point is that Amazon deforestation will not only affect the Amazon — it will not be contained. It will hit the atmosphere and the atmosphere will carry those responses,” Medvigy said.

“It just so happens that one of the locations feeling that response will be one we care about most agriculturally,” he said. “If you change the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, where most of the irrigation for California’s Central Valley comes from, then by this study deforestation of the Amazon could have serious consequences for the food supply of the United States.”…

40% of the Amazon has already been clear-cut or degraded to some degree, putting Brazil’s rainmaker well within the tipping point for irreversible die-off as discussed in the prior blog post. Deforestation of Amazonia will lead to desertification of the major agricultural regions in the south-east of Brazil. Speaking of Brazil’s drought counterpart to the north, alarming news was recently reported that California has lost half of its big trees since 1930. The following GIF image spanning the years 2001 through 2013 illustrates deforestation in Latin America(Brazil/Amazon). It was compiled by me from data at Global Forest Watch. The spreading pink color represents tree cover loss:


And a closer look at Amazon deforestation with NASA landsat imaging:


Brazil’s leading climate scientist, Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, is calling for a wartime effort to restore the Amazon and reverse the drought effects caused by its deforestation which equates to 184 million football fields worth of rainforest. While I’m not optimistic, small miracles have happened in Brazil such as the replanting of Tijuca Forest by hand. Nonetheless, the devastation wrought by man swamps all his restoration efforts. Virtually all of the Atlantic forests that once extended along the entire Brazilian coastline have been cut down since colonists arrived in the 1500s. Humans are wrecking the Earth in myriad ways, and sea level rise will become the ultimate destroyer:

The third factor of gross mismanagement of water resources and government corruption is truly what exacerbated the drought problem for the city of São Paulo. Since the 1970s, there were professors of ecology and hydrology at São Paulo University and in the government who warned of a future water crisis if steps were not taken to conserve and recycle water as well as plan new infrastructure for adequate water supply, as this article reveals. Some suspect that the problem with São Paulo’s water supply really began when Sabesp, the company that manages the city’s water, was partially privatized in the 1990s (i.e. profits over long-term planning). Sabesp is owned 50.3% by the state and the rest by private investors who have made excellent returns over the years. Investments in infrastructure appear to have been sacrificed for shareholder payouts. With the Cantareira system starting to fail in 2012/13, billions of dollars in dividends were still being paid out to shareholders, yet nothing was done to stop the unfolding collapse of São Paulo’s water system. In fact, government and Sabesp officials continued to deny the seriousness of the problem until just recently when they were planning to scrape the bottom of the Cantareira System for the last drop of brown sludge. Is it any surprise that disaster capitalism had a role in this crisis? An article entitled ‘Cantareira: a new word for when politics is put ahead of public interest‘ sheds light on much of the corruption, mismanagement, and privatization of water:

…São Paulo produces 60% of Brasil’s Ethanol, and Agencia Publica attempted to use a freedom of information request to force SabeSP to reveal details of their contracts of supply with the biggest industrial & agricultural companies in the state. SabeSP have so far refused…

…A United Nations report placed the responsibility for the crisis squarely on Sao Paulo state government & SabeSP’s shoulders, a report which Geraldo Alckmin attempted to make them alter, exonerating his administration, a request they refused...

…Geologists have also been studying plans to open up the enormous Guarani Aquifer to exploitation in order to alleviate the crisis. The World Bank already funded research in the late 1990s on the underground system, during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Their contract with Brazil to support this research stipulated that any future use as a water resource had to be privatised, but once that contract expired a decade later, Brazil refused to renew on the same terms…

With no time left to properly prepare for a megacity of 20 million people without water, São Paulo’s plan is to divert a river from another area hit by drought and that will take nearly 2 years to complete. The training for riot control that São Paulo’s military police received from the FBI last year may come in handy for more than just the World Cup.