Last year, I wrote about how journalists in developing nations were doing a better job of covering climate change, largely because denial hadn’t really taken root in many of these countries. In particular, I singled out Brazil for praise: According to a study by James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and his colleagues, Brazil’s major papers contained the least climate skepticism in all of the 6 major nations surveyed (U.S., UK, China, France, India, Brazil).
So it is with much dismay that I report to you that, in conjunction with the Rio+20 conference, climate denial is making a strong showing in Brazil. I initially became aware of this troubling development through a Brazilian Facebook correspondent—and received helpful translations of some of the content itself from another Brazilian and Portugese speaker.
In what follows, I’ve also had to rely on Google translate a bit—hardly ideal, but necessary in this instance, as I don’t speak Portugese. While I certainly wouldn’t trust any quotations below to be precise, I do think they give the broad gist of what is being said.
Basically, the high profile denialism achieved liftoff due to the popular comedian Jo Soares, who gave it quite a boost on his widely watched Letterman-like Programa do Jo (The Jo Show, we'll call it). In May, Soares had on the geographer Ricardo Augusto Felicio, for a nearly half-hour denial fest that has gone pretty viral.
Who is Ricardo Augusto Felicio? He’s a professor at the University of Sao Paulo, specializing in the study of Antarctic climate. His faculty webpage says—according to Google translate—that he “Conducts research and serious criticisms of climate variability and its consequences, demystifying the ‘anthropogenic climate change’ and its ideology embedded.” In other words, he seems to be wearing his denial proudly on his sleeve.
Based on the translation that I acquired—which comports nicely with an English language summary, blogged here–Felicio's statements on The Jo Show are pretty stunning. He doesn't just dismiss, outright, the idea of human-caused global warming. He also appeared to cast doubt on the greenhouse effect and the idea that chlorofluorocarbons damage the ozone layer (Nobel Prize winning science, in this case). Other skeptic chestnuts were also aired, such as the idea that the planet has been cooling since 2008.
What is most disturbing, according to my Brazilian correspondent, is that the interview resonated and created a much wider influence. Take, for instance, this article the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo, commenting on the Jo Show skepticism fest, and also suggesting that Felicio is instilling climate skepticism in his students at the University of Sao Paulo.
Meanwhile, the television network known as Band, Brazil’s fourth largest, has also aired a climate denialist broadcast, which appears to be the beginning of a series. Google translate gives this caption: “Earth’s temperature is not increasing, say scholars.”
So much for claiming that Brazil has some sort of exemption from climate denialism among the world’s major countries.
So what should those who want to improve Brazil’s climate debate do? Well, that’s hard to say, because I am not at all rooted in the nation’s discourse.
But first, there is a clear issue of journalistic ethics that needs to be raised. Here in the U.S., I and many others have explained not only why one shouldn’t give science denialist claims such dramatic airings in the media, but moreover, why they don't necessarily even belong in so-called “balanced” reports. Is this argument being made in Brazil as well? I don’t know. I hope so.
Second, there is an issue of science communication. Why is it that Ricardo August Felico is on the Jo Show, rather than scientists representing the mainstream position in Brazil? And what are they doing to rebut this attack on their knowledge? Once again, I don’t know—but I hope that efforts are afoot to improve scientists’ communication skills in Brazil, as they are here in the U.S.
If not—or, if not to the same extent—then perhaps those of us here in the U.S. can help.
The Rio+20 conference seriously underperformed last week, as many feared that it would. I’m not saying an emergence of climate skepticism in Brazil directly influenced that outcome. But it’s just one more development that makes the whole climate issue a little tougher to resolve—and one that, in a country of nearly 200 million people, with the world’s sixth largest economy, ought to greatly disturb us.