GUEST BLOG: JOÃO HENRIQUE ALVES CERQUEIRA & IGOR VIEIRA
Original can be found in Portuguese at: http://climainfo.org.br/2019/03/28/tres-historias-de-resistencia-em-periodo-de-descrenca/
When society talks about climate change the discussion tends to shift to consideration of places where abrupt impact occurs - assuming that the order of things will be changed in the blink of an eye like cities being swallowed by the ocean. To inspire commotion we speak of unprecedented historical droughts, increased concern over food security, forced migration, extreme floods, civil strife, loss of biodiversity, and many other tragedies in a whole post-apocalyptic Hollywood scene where people vie for their lives, for water, and for gasoline.
It's not to say that these climate scientists are wrong, but what is often not discussed however, is the countless efforts of normal people in every corner of the world to revert and adapt to this process, and with forgiveness to cliché, to make the world a better place.
Here, we bring stories of three Brazilians that our team met on bicycle trips. People from different contexts, regions and within their own distinct lives share the need they have to adapt to the environmental impacts caused by this global crisis - needs that often seem far removed from their individual responsibilities, but that combine to point towards the impact of climate change. These trips began when some friends decided to ride bikes to communities in regions of greater vulnerability to climate change in Brazil. The initial idea was to travel to hear the stories of those who are on the front lines of the impacts of the global climate crisis and to help understand how these people are adapting. Since then, we have pedalled around 500 km in Paraná, São Paulo and the Federal District. Knowing real people, their afflictions, their joys and learning about their struggles and defense of their territory has taught us that we can all move on in the chaos of climate change.
Reforestation on the Dam
Mrs. Edite was doing her accounts, sitting on the porch of her house, surrounded by bills and payment documents. With a somewhat suspicious look, she agreed to tell our team about the years she has spent living on the banks of a dam in the Cantareira system, in Nazaré Paulista, about 40km from the Capital of São Paulo State. The small town, filled with quiet routine, was the focus of the largest water crisis in the country's recent history. The dam's sources are responsible for supplying about 8.8 million people in Brazil with water but by 2014 the reservoirs had reached a level of approximately 2.9% of its original capacity, leading to the collapse of the water supply in the country's most populous state.
The years leading up to the crisis were marked by atypically lower rainfall in the rainy season. This scenario Mrs. Edite remembers well... living on the banks of the dam more than 50 years ago she had never seen a situation as critical as that which had become routine during the months of the crisis.
"It's very sad because we depend on the water from the dam to live, and here, we know first that it will be missing down there in São Paulo."
She looks right at the dam, points to where the water used to flow decades ago and leaves everyone impressed with the distance of the waters retreat, which still remains at low levels even after the end of the crisis. For those who live in this region, the drying wells are the first sign that once again the water supply could collapse. Mrs. Edite also pointed out several tree seedlings stacked in one corner of her yard, she is planting native species on the banks of the dam in her land with her son, who also lives in the area. "We know it's still a simple act, but there needs to be a tree on the bank otherwise this [water crisis] will continue to happen because the government has not done anything." We ended the conversation with Dona Edite laughing at some story of one of her ducks who loves to eat iron nails.
Solar Panels in the Village
Our second destination was the village of Guavira Ty. To get there it was necessary to pedal between huge farms along a dirt road that gives access to this indigenous Guarani land in Pontal do Paraná, a coastal region of Paraná State. Paulo and Sueli were already waiting for our team to have a quick talk at the side of their houses.
The families of the Guarani Mbya people who are there have spent generations migrating among other villages in Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná until they were allowed to settle on their current land for the last 7 years. At that time they were able to build houses and other structures for the community, but they encountered an immense and unresolved problem: the soil. "The land here is sandy and you cannot graze corn and manioc that are grazed in Guarani, so we need to sell handicrafts to bring the food from outside." Although this environmental challenge is hugely limiting, for the Guarani people, the security of being settled on land is more than they could have hoped for in 2019 Brazil. The chickens pass quietly by our meeting, and we felt the climatic difference between the comfort provided by the trees inside the village as opposed to the great desert that marks the journey there.
In a country where most of the greenhouse gas emissions originate from deforestation; indigenous lands are rural commodities. Legitimizing land ownership to indigenous peoples may be an excellent strategy to prevent the advance of external pressures on the forest, in addition to addressing an unresolved historical issue. Unlike most of the cases, Paulo and Sueli say they have not had any conflicts with neighboring landowners or with representatives of the local government since they got there. On the contrary, the state made partnerships with the village and installed solar panels so that the energy used there was totally renewable. "We pray to Nhanderu-Tupã that he continues to take care of us and that he cares ... what we can do is to continue to believe," Paul concludes calmly when asked about the rise to power of far-right politicians (and openly anti-indigenous) in recent years.
Agroecology in the Cerrado
Our team felt uneasy about disrupting Iraíza's work in afternoon. It was weekday and she and her family needed to pack a few hundred vegetables that would then be delivered to various markets the next morning. Still, we accepted her invitation and sat in her home area while she, the leader of the settlement, her father and her brother did not stop working cleaning, weighing and packing those foods. The pedaling was hard going to reach the Settlement of the agrarian reform Little Willian, as it is about 40 km from Brasília in the rural region of Planaltina. The place was named like this because when the families did not own the land, they lived in the area.
One little boy named Willian, two years old at the time, died after drinking water from the source contaminated by agrochemicals. Years later, the settlement looks like a Cerrado oasis in the middle of huge soy monocultures that seem to cover the whole region. But it was not always so, said Iraíza. When they originally arrived, the whole land was a great abandoned pasture and almost nothing grew there. The Cerrado biome has been changed in recent years by an intense process of exploration and much of the original Sertão no longer exists. Despite this, the families there cultivate half of the land in totally agroecological plantations while the other half is subject to monoculture.
"The only thing we want is the right to plant, harvest and sell things - all without using any poison," said the young leader with a tremendous smile of pride on her face.
The choice of agroecology is commonplace for the landless movement who are not only responsible for producing quality food without handling and contamination by pesticides, but also for maintaining satisfactory levels of production despite the increasingly intense environmental oscillations. "Here we feel literally in the skin, we start to work when the sun rises and don't finish until after - we notice that it gets harder each year. There are days that don't allow us to plant with this heat ... if you want to see a happy farmer, they need at least a shower to refresh. At least in agroecology it is very diverse. If you lose something because of the weather another crop will still produce, you have to see my corn as it is beautiful, it's all yellow." The plot reveals that Iraíza tells no lie. Vegetable species mingle with fruit trees, medicinal herbs and spices. Some plants of the Cerrado are also there and all this abundance already supplies many markets in the region. The next objective is to get the tender to produce for school meals. "We want to plant it for the children." Iraíza ends with hope.
These three stories illustrate that when we talk about climate change is all about people. Real people. People who build countries through history. People who are experiencing territorial conflicts and longings, people who carry with them joy, pride, passion and a purpose. Like all of us. These scenarios are alarming, but there is still time. Now is the time to mobilize as a society and to ensure a transition to avoid the worst results of climate change. These stories coexist in this global scenario where governments are delaying necessary action and it is necessary that we be inspired by these people in these ordinary situations who are doing all they can to make transformations they need in their communities without even realising they are positively revolutionising the world.
About the project: Bikes, friends, cellphone cameras and notebooks generated the "Cyclimatics". The project wants to continue running Brazil, and perhaps the world, without emitting carbon into the atmosphere during the process. The project's objective is to learn about the different realities of people who are forced to reinvent their lives as a result of the climate crisis.
UKYCC: UKYCC are keen to expand their content to reach those most directly impacted by climate change. This blog, and others to follow is part of UKYCC's effort to bring the frontlines of climate change to the UK. It should be noted however, that the idea and blog was entirely initiated and completed by João and Igor.