Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Lone burnt tree stands in a deforested area near Porto Velho, Rondônia State, in Brazil's Amazon basin in 2019. Photo: Carl De Souza/AFP via Getty Images

Paving a Brazilian highway that runs through the Amazon without environmental studies could lead to massive deforestation and release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, two scientists warn in a letter published in Science Thursday.

State of play: Brazil's administration is facing a rampant COVID-19 pandemic, the probability of its worst recession ever and criminal investigations. Estimates of soaring illegal deforestation has led to a global backlash over not protecting the Amazon.

The backstory: The BR-319, sometimes called "Brazil's worst highway," is a 800 km mostly dirt road from Porto Velho through the Amazon forest to the city of Manaus in the middle.

  • The letter says it traverses 63 official Indigenous areas plus five other areas containing Indigenous communities.
  • The highway was built by the military in 1973 but mostly abandoned in 1988 and is difficult to navigate as less than one-third is paved now. It's been the subject of dispute for decades.
  • While a judicial decision had previously ruled that environmental studies must be carried out before paving the highway, President Jair Bolsonero has started moving forward, according to co-author Lucas Ferrante, a post-graduate student at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA).

Why it matters: These moves will "likely accelerate anthropogenic climate change" and negatively impact Indigenous communities, per the letter, which was co-authored by Philip Martin Fearnside, professor in the Department of Environmental Dynamics at INPA.

  • Planned reconstruction includes many secondary roads, including some the authors consider "illegal," which together are projected to lead to more than 138,000 square kilometers of deforestation by 2100 — an increase of cumulative deforestation of 1,291%, when compared with the area cleared by 2011, Ferrante says.
  • “The historical process of opening roads in the Amazon is marked by intense social conflicts involving squatters, farmers, ranchers, rubber tappers and Indigenous people. If these Indigenous peoples are not consulted about the highway, there is a chance that we will see a genocide here,” Ferrante tells Axios. Already, concerns have risen over exposing Indigenous communities to the coronavirus.

What they're saying: John Miller, a carbon scientist at NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory, says the letter describing the situation is "concerning" and the overall point is true.

  • But he adds further data should be presented behind some of the "grand statements that are not necessarily supported," such as the 1,291% increase from 2011.
"The Amazon holds a lot of carbon both in its trees and in the soil. If you go through processes of deforestation, two things happen."
"One is that the carbon that is locked away and stored in those trees that the ecosystems have been sucking in ... that sometimes literally goes up in smoke. Or, it either decomposes slowly or goes up in a fire. But it returns to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. And, that's certainly not what we need now when we have so much carbon dioxide already coming out of power plants and cars, etc."
"The other thing that happens when you denude a forest is that you lose the future capability for the forest to absorb carbon. So there's really two simultaneous effects that you have through deforestation. And, that's the spirit of their statement."
— John Miller

What's next: Ferrante says they hope to accomplish three steps:

  1. Cancel the paving bidding and suspend maintenance.
  2. Carry out environmental studies requiring an external opinion to avoid approval by pressure from the government.
  3. Ensure consultation of the 68 indigenous areas impacted by the highway, as established by ILO Convention 169.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Sep 17, 2020 - Podcasts

Amazon exec on company Climate Pledge Fund

Amazon on Thursday announced the first companies to receive money from a $2 billion venture capital fund it formed to help combat climate change.

Axios Re:Cap digs into how Amazon hopes the fund will help achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040, and whether the plan is more substance than spin, with Matt Peterson, Amazon's director of new initiatives and corporate development.

Biden to nominate Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary

Photo: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden is preparing to nominate former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as his Treasury Secretary, four people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Yellen, 74, will bring instant economic celebrity to Biden’s team and, if confirmed, she will not only be the first female Treasury Secretary but also the first person to have held all three economic power positions in the federal government: the chair of Council of Economic Advisers, the chair of Federal Reserve and the Treasury Secretary.

2 hours ago - Podcasts

Bob Nelsen on AstraZeneca and his plan to revolutionize biotech

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Monday reported promising efficacy data for their COVID-19 vaccine, which has less stringent storage requirements than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and may be distributed earlier in developing countries.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of vaccine and therapeutics manufacturing with Bob Nelsen, a successful biotech investor who on Monday launched Resilience, a giant new pharma production platform that he believes will prepare America for its next major health challenges.