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The Weekly Anthropocene: November 2, 2022
A Dispatch from the Wild, Weird World of Humanity and its Biosphere
After an incredibly close, tense, violent, and fear-inducing election, Brazil’s vile President Jair Bolsonaro has finally been defeated, with liberal challenger Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (pictured) winning 50.9% of the vote to Bolsonaro’s 49.1% on the final round of the presidential election on October 30th.
This is spectacular news! During his first presidency from 2003 to 2010 (Brazil’s constitution allows presidents more than two terms if they’re nonconsecutive), Lula reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80% due to his strong environmental protection policies, administered by his truly excellent environment minister Marina Silva (see top chart above). By contrast, Bolsonaro has passed over 57 laws weakening environmental protections, tried to dismantle Brazil’s environment agencies and openly urged loggers, miners, and ranchers to defy environmental laws and invade indigenous reserves. Unsurprisingly, deforestation has surged again during his presidency, with an area of forest larger than Belgium lost since 2018.
Lula’s return is wonderful news for the Amazon and the world. A CarbonBrief analysis found that if Lula fully enforces the “Forest Code” environmental laws as he has pledged to do (note that this would not require passing new environmental protection laws, just enforcing the existing ones), Amazon deforestation could be reduced by 89% by 2030! (See chart above).
“Brazil is ready to resume its leading role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all our biomes, especially the Amazon Forest.”-Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
And it’s starting to look hopeful that Brazil can avoid a USA-style anti-democracy insurrection before Lula takes office on January 1, 2023, despite the fact that Bolsonaro has not yet conceded as of the time of writing1 and has repeatedly made false allegations of voter fraud. However, several of Bolsonaro’s closest political allies and international leaders around the world have congratulated Lula on his victory. Prospects look good that at the end of the day, Bolsonaro will be out and Brazil will finally have a president who cares about the rule of law and the protection of the Amazon!
This was probably the most important election of 2022 in terms of its impact on climate and biodiversity, even more critical than the Australian and French general elections and the upcoming US midterms. This writer was really worried for a while, but the good guys won! Now, like Biden, Lula will have the chance to pull his country back to sanity, to Brazil’s national motto of “order and progress,” after four years of senseless vandalism. Truly great news!
Battery manufacturing activity continues to skyrocket in the United States, and is likely to boom still further due to the consistent federal support provided by the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage in August 2022. Various corporations have announced the impending construction of over 24 new battery factories recently, and overall North American lithium-ion battery construction capacity is set to rise sevenfold by 2030 (see chart above). Notably, many of these new factories are in the Midwest: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas are among the star states of what’s starting to be known as the “Battery Belt.” And all the numbers above are just with currently-announced projects: it’s almost certain to escalate much, much further with more announcements in the coming years! Great news.
On October 26th, the Maine Public Utilities Commission approved contracts for a massive new wind farm in the former timberlands of Aroostook County. King Pine Wind Farm is set to cost roughly $1 billion and have a whopping 1,000 MW (1 GW) electricity generation capacity! That’s a large amount: for context, the entire United States had just under 1,150 GW (1,143,757 MW) of total utility-scale electricity generation capacity at the end of 2021. The King Pine Wind Farm is also projected to reduce electricity costs in Maine by more than $100 million over 20 years and help the entire New England grid transition away from natural gas. Great news-this writer is psyched to see this project’s progress!
A new study found that the use of solar and wind energy reduced wholesale energy costs in Texas by $7.8 billion in the first eight months of 2022, and over $27 billion over the last twelve years, as well as substantially reducing emissions!
The European Union has come to a deal to ensure that all new vehicles registered in Europe will be zero-emission by 2035, in effect banning the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered vehicles in the EU by that year. The deal also sets an interim target of requiring the average emissions of all new cars sold to come down 55% by 2030 (with the final target, of course, being 100% by 2035).
This is a heartening expansion of a rising global trend: several EU countries had already implemented bans on new ICE cars by 2035, and California and New York have done so in the United States, with Washington State and Massachusetts set to follow shortly. Many major automakers, like Volkswagen and General Motors, are duly planning to sell only electric vehicles by 2035 or earlier. Excellent news!
A fascinating new study published in Animal Behavior found that buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) enjoy playing with small, mobile wooden balls, in the strongest evidence yet for play behaviors in any insect species. The bumblebees received no training or rewards to incentivize them to do this, simply choosing to play once given access to the small toy balls. The researchers also found that young bumblebees played with the balls more often than adults, and males played more often than females2.
This study is particularly interesting because it’s an expansion into the insect world of a powerful trend: increasing human awareness of varying degrees of animal sentience. For decades, essentially every new advance in ethology (the study of animal behavior) has found something like “[this species of animal] is way more intelligent and complex than we thought, and can do things that only [humans/mammals/vertebrates] were thought to be able to do.” Examples are multitudinous, from Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal’s chimpanzee research to a wide range of elephant cognition research to Irene Pepperburg’s African gray parrot research. Tool use, once thought to be the prerogative of humans only, has now been documented in dozens of species: the Australian black kite even uses fire to hunt. This writer feels that one of the most interesting scientific/cultural advances on the horizon is humanity’s dawning understanding that the world is full of other cognitively complex creatures, with some level of joy, sorrow, and innovative thought. We now know that bumblebees, the size of a finger joint, choose to play ball games! What a fascinating community of life we live among.
Written on Tuesday November 1st: there are rumors that Bolsonaro may concede by the time this newsletter gets sent, which would be great!
A close parallel to observed gender and age-based attitudes towards ball-playing sports among humans, also found in studies of several other vertebrates.