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Sensemaker: Amazon primed

Sensemaker: Amazon primed

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Joe Biden attacked Trump’s MAGA Republicans as a “threat to America” in a primetime speech.
  • The UK’s former ambassador to Myanmar and her husband were handed a one-year jail term by the military authorities.
  • Nasa’s James Webb space telescope took its first image of a planet outside our solar system. 

Amazon primed

In exactly a month, Brazilians vote. Their choice for president – between the incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and former president  Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – will frame the future of 

  • populism in South America;
  • the biggest economy in the southern hemisphere; and
  • the health of the Amazon rainforest.

The first round is on 2 October. Lula leads in polls by between 13 and 17 percentage points but the gap is shrinking. The electorate is 156 million voters strong, but it’s no exaggeration to say the world’s 7 billion people depend to some degree on their decision. So, no pressure.

Two weeks into the campaign, the frontrunners are pulling no punches. In a live TV debate on Sunday, Lula accused Bolsonaro of destroying the country. Bolsonaro called his opponent a thief and said Lula had presided over the most corrupt government in history – a reference to the Lava Jato corruption scandal that put Lula in prison (his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court last year). 

So far, Bolsonaro’s barbs haven’t stuck: Lula’s poll lead is not insurmountable, but with Bolsonaro’s disastrous record on Covid-19 still fresh in the minds of voters, it’ll take a lot for the current president to claw back many more votes. 

The economy. Brazil’s economic performance will be the clincher: 56 per cent of Brazilian voters say it’ll influence their decision “a lot”. Annual inflation stood at 11 per cent in July and although tax breaks and mammoth cash injections by Bolsonaro’s government have helped take the edge off living costs, they are still hurting. Ordinary Brazilians remember Lula’s presidency, which coincided with the crest of a commodities boom, as a time of plenty; so far it looks like voters are banking on Lula to bring back the good times.

The trees. The fate of the Amazon basin is in voters’ hands: environmental scientists say another Bolsonaro term would spell disaster for the rainforest. During his term, deforestation reached record levels: in the first six months of this year nearly 4,000 square kilometres of forest were felled, faster than at any time in six years. Uncontrolled deforestation is destabilising the health of the forest; any more losses risk setting off a cycle of dieback – the process by which it dries out and ceases to be rainforest – releasing millions tons of carbon dioxide and accelerating climate change. 

The incumbent and the Amazon. Bolsonaro’s policies have been called a “death package” for the rainforest. A slate of bills laid before Congress this year would loosen environmental protections, make it easier to build mines and dams on protected lands, and make it harder to kick illegal loggers and miners off them. It’s unlikely to pass before the election, but if Bolsonaro wins its passage becomes more likely. 

The challenger. Lula has pledged to end illegal mining in the Amazon, and his record on deforestation is better than Bolsonaro’s. His first administration cut illegal logging by more than half between 2004 and 2007 with more use of remote sensing and by blacklisting lax municipalities. In June, researchers at the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment network (PRI) released a paper concluding that a Lula return would leave open “the possibility for net deforestation to stop by the end of the decade”. PRI forecasts require deforestation to end by 2025 to prevent warming above 1.5C. A Lula presidency wouldn’t hit that deadline but would be vastly better than the alternative. 

Bolsonaro has followed the Trump playbook in constructing an alternative reality on Covid and climate. His bid for four more years in power is the sternest test of facts and truth since Trump’s in 2020. Its outcome could be just as fraught.

Must watch: The Boys from Brazil – a new three-part documentary on Bolsonaro and his sons, on BBC 2 from 5 September. Read Matt d’Ancona’s review in this week’s Creative Sensemaker. 


Falling pound
High inflation, low growth and political uncertainty are all weighing on the pound. Sterling is trading at around $1.18, which is close to a record low, and City AM has seen a forecast from Capital Economics that it could be at $1.05 by the middle of next year, and then head on down to parity with the dollar. This forecast is an outlier. Bloomberg says most banks seem to think the pound will still be worth around $1.19 at the end of the year. But Brexiters who said Sterling would bounce back from its instant 20 per cent devaluation after the EU referendum have been proved wrong. As the full impact of separation from the single market comes into focus, those who forecast parity worry that they may have been right. Liz Truss, the UK’s prime minister-in-waiting, has ruled out tax increases and hinted at fiscal stimulus to help with the cost of living. None of that will help the pound.


Chips down
The Biden administration has ordered two big US chip makers to stop selling their most advanced semiconductors to China because of fears they may end up in the hands of “military end users”. We’ve been here before, when Trump banned the export of high-end chips to Huawei without special licences, but the letters sent to Nvidia and AMD by the US Department of Commerce are notable for two reasons: they cover chips that could help China develop speech- and face-recognition technologies, and those chips, those designed in California, and not actually made there. They’re made in Taiwan. The first of these points of interest raises the question of how long the US has been enabling China’s surveillance state. The second makes you wonder about the wisdom of giving China another reason to invade Taiwan. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

US life expectancy 
The US has seen a “historic” fall in life expectancy, particularly for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. The main driver: Covid. But unlike other developed nations that have seen life expectancy inch back to pre-pandemic levels, the US recorded another year of decline in 2021. The average American can now expect to live to 76, down from 79 in 2019. For Native Americans and Alaska Natives, life expectancy has plummeted by 6.6 years, to the average rate for all Americans in 1944. Higher rates of diabetes and obesity among those groups may be a factor but as Dr Ann Bullock, former director of diabetes treatment and prevention at the Indian Health Service agency, tells the NYT: “[Covid] didn’t start these problems – it made everything that much worse”. Other contributing factors to the overall decline included record numbers of unintentional injuries – which include drug overdoses. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Pakistan’s melting glaciers
There are more than 7,200 glaciers in Pakistan, giving the country more glacial ice than anywhere on Earth outside the polar regions. And they are melting. The country’s top meteorologist said Pakistan recorded three times the usual number of glacial lake outbursts this year – when lakes fed by glacial melt burst their dams – following an intense summer heatwave. There have been 16 incidents in the country’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan region in 2022, compared with five or six recorded in previous years. Combined with severe monsoon rainfall, the glacial melt is creating a climate catastrophe that is only just beginning, officials say. Floods across the country have affected more than 30 million people and killed over 1,000 since June. New satellite images released from the European Space Agency appear to confirm the government’s assessment that about a third of the country is underwater. 


Argentina assassination attempt
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina’s vice president, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt last night after a man pointed a gun at her face and tried to pull the trigger, but the weapon jammed, according to reports. Kirchner, a leftist former president and a deeply divisive figure in her country, was returning home from court where she is standing trial on corruption charges. She was unharmed; police said they arrested Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel, 35, a Brazilian man living in Argentina, in connection with the attack. President Alberto Fernández declared a national holiday so Argentines could “defend life and democracy in solidarity with our vice president”. Kirchner was Argentina’s president until 2015 and returned to the political front lines in 2019 on the vice-presidential ticket. Political analysts have speculated she could run for the presidency again next year – if she avoids a jail sentence. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this round, send us ideas and tell us what you think. Email us at sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com

Ella Hill

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jessica Winch and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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