Published on 29 Nov 2009

The most important issue facing mankind

A week in Brazil – an emotional roller coaster of an experience. Life in the shanty favellas is so completely deprived of the mod cons we in the North take for granted yet when people emerge from the side alleys onto the built up streets of Sao Paulo, they are meticulously dressed in beautifully laundered skirts, blouses, jeans and T-shirts.

I visited Vuilmer who has a husband and five of her 11 children living with her in her 10-foot-by-10-foot dank room beneath a muddy Favella path. There’s a loo in an alcove at the back and an oven and basin under the crumbling stairs up to the street.

Amilcare Dalevo’s helicopter, which he pilots himself, lands from his condominium home, on his downtown office block. He’s one of hundreds of executives here who commute by helicopter (there are over 200 helipads in Sao Paulo). I took a flight with him to his suburban condominium.

My sense of direction couldn’t quite locate Vuilmer’s favella shack but the contrast between the Italian-built helicopter, the omnipotent corporate magnate at the controls, and her wretched life below took me to the core of the cavernous ravine that exists between Brazil’s rich and her poor.

It’s here that I have come to understand Brazil’s President Lula’s belief that you cannot combat global climate change without combating global poverty, that the two are inextricably linked. That in a globalised world, you simply cannot have the rich (be they countries or persons) consuming wanton quantities of everything, to the exclusion and pollution of the poor.

I’ll be blogging tomorrow on Lula but for now I have one last observation before our Brazil Week kicks off on Channel 4 News, that as a reporter I have been dispatched all my life to sudden natural disaster, to summits, to wars, and to pestilence, political and physiological.

I have rarely been sent to report so tangible yet abstract a subject as global warming. Being here ahead of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, looking North, is an extraordinary experience.

For Brazil has no border war, no civil war..though it has gangs and numerous killings.

Brazil is booming, rendering the poor slightly less poor and rich even richer, the country has masses of agricultarual land and potential for more.

Its burden in a sense, is the precious Amazon rain forest size of the EU’s territory and preventing the logging, tree clearances, cattle ranching, and soya cropping that threaten to destroy it (18 per cent of it is already gone forever).

Is it news? Of course it is, it is happening and is largely unreported both as a crisis and, in Brazil, as a country.

Coming here I am more convinced than ever, that this is the most important story mankind needs to know. Above war, above swine flu, above the tittle-tattle of celebrity.

We are confronted by an historic choice. If we fail now our own children grandchildren will pay the price and their children may not live their full span to see its eventual consequence.

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30 reader comments

  1. Saltaire Sam says:

    Great blog, Jon. And as usual, you are right on the money.

    I was particularly struck with ‘Brazil is booming, rendering the poor slightly less poor and rich even richer,’

    The capitalist claim of the drip down effect really is a myth. It happens too slowly to make a real difference. We need much more intervention to stop the greedy few percent at the top taking the lion’s share.

    Perhaps instead of thinking of paying our politicians more, we should pay them less – then perhaps they would act.

  2. Ralph says:

    Vuilmer has eleven children? Perhaps this is part of Brazil’s problem. Too many children being born into poor communities.
    China seems to have solved this social problem; a draconian, but necessary solution to moving some way to a better life for all?

    1. Lucas Moraes says:

      Vuilmer’s example shall not be taken as a general rule (it is actually an “out line”). The avarege brazilian family has 2 children now. Ubarnization almost automaticly solve this problem. 40 years ago brazilian families would have 11 children, that’s VERY rare now, especially in the cities, where more than 80% of the population lives.

    2. Saltaire Sam says:

      A bit too close to eugenics for my taste.

      Throughout history poor people have had big families – it seems to be an instinct as well as socially driven by circumstances

      The answer is to do something about poverty. Why should one man fly to work by helicopter while another doesn’t have basic services?

  3. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    You are right. It is not abstract, it is weighty. I will be castigated by fellow bloggers with a charge of fawning, but this is my opinion too and why state the opposite ,simply to be churlish.

    There is no man or women by the power of speech or mind who is going to prevent climate change, however they present themselves.

    The chance is in the effort. This isn’t content blogging .It is the story of The Secret Garden which I read as a child. It is the refusal to read historical battles, it is the refusal to look at violent religious art.
    What it is ,is the longing for that Garden of Eden.

  4. cyberdoyle says:

    As long as this country (UK) keeps importing Brazillian food produced to standards lower than enforced on our farmers and therefore cheaper the Brazillians will keep chopping down more rain forests. Simple.

  5. Trevor Toogood says:

    Once again Jon you have looked at an area so important for the world but ignored by so many, can we hope to see a report on C4 News the only one worth watching? It would be good for people to see these contrasts in the flesh.

  6. Brian O'Malley says:

    Keen writing, Jon. And your observation that “wanton consumption” by those already rich and powerful is at the core, seems clear to me. The core of the planetary despoiling, of the desperate inequities, of the economic meltdown that threatens survival for so many. What will it take for “the rich” to change their behavior? Greed appears to trump morality, when there’s a profit to be made.

  7. adz says:

    I’m currently in Sri Lanka, tiny county infact probably the size of Sao Paulo. War has recently ravaged this country and you can tell by the people’s faces.
    Another poor country where the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor.
    Corrupt politicians and big business magnates rule everywhere on the planet as far as i’m concerned. That is my personal belief.

    The Vatican is a corrupt business and that is for those who gave me thumbs down on my previous comment. Not what they preach, don’t get me wrong. It’s who has and is running the business.
    Freedom of religion is a human right and always must be. It must also be run in a humane way though and I don’t believe the Vatican works that way. The Roman Catholic church probably has more money than the U.S. and Russia put together yet they do very little for the world’s thirsty and starving.
    adzmundo CND

    1. sheilayates4@btinternet.com says:

      It is so easy to point out the inequalities in wealth in a country like Brasil. Does anyone ever make the same comments about the conditions of the homeless in London? Try wandering around Victoria Sation. In Worthing our garden shed was recently occupied by a homeless man because it was the only shelter he could find. It was not an isolated case. In Brasil the rain forest was originally cultivated by indigenous farmers who burnt their own plots of land because it was the only way to increase their fertility as there is rock about one meter below the surface. The plots of land were farmed and burnt in rotation. International interests in Brasil are resposible for much of the logging. Investigate that. I could go on. I just hope you will find something positive to say about this wonderful, vibrant country and its charming, happy, kindly people.
      What will you say about Rio? Will you notice that Copacabana beach is cleaned daily, and that there are lavatories, lockers and showers available at various points along it and other beaches? Wonderful food served in clean conditions, we could learn a lot from Brasil.

  8. Bob says:

    While you’ve been flying around Brazil the wheels have fallen off of the AGW bandwagon.

    The CRU were lying all along.
    You’ll have some catching up to do when you get back.

  9. lucia says:

    Hi John,
    I am Brazilian living in London, great fan of Channel 4 News and I am enjoying a lot your reports focusing on environment and poverty.
    My suggestion is: Instead of Greepeace use native NGO’s sources. You could gather very interesting information from people related to Chico Mendes in Acre, also other group of activists from Para and Amazona’s states. These are areas where environmental problems are related to lands dispute i.e. poverty and social exclusion. Btw, thanks for giving great emphasis on the social abysmal differences, it is a real shame.
    Best luck in your journey hoping you enjoy your trip to Rio – don’t miss to visit “our” Botanic Garden and Tijuca Forest! :-)

  10. Telma says:

    Hi Jon,
    Really enjoyed tonight’s news and your blog as well. I’m Brazilian from Sao Paulo, actually born in the second biggest favela in the city, Paraisopolis, close to where you were I think… Been living in Glasgow for the past 3 years and seeing Brazil on the news here is always a surprise.
    BTW Vuilmer is not really a Brazilian name, did you check the spelling? It’s more likely to be Vilma or something… and favela has only one “L”. If you need a PA I’m Here!!!
    Best wishes
    Telma Montes

  11. S.McDonald says:

    Jon Snow is becoming a joke when he states (as he did just now in the intro on the news) that Brazil is the greenest country in the world…this is the country that is cutting down the world’s biggest rainforest!
    Basing his argument on the ethanol story is not smart because using up huge land area to grow crops (using diesel in farm equipment, don’t forget) for use as raw material for fuel has been shown to be very inefficient. Have you not heard that there is a real risk of a food crisis in the world?
    Channel 4 News needs to remember that its childish obsessions with this increasingly discredited topic will undermine its credibility for years to come. We note that you still refuse to cover the big scandal of the so-called climate scientists who had to fudge their data and attempt to discredit anyone (including other scientists) who disputed their findings.
    “Green vs. Dirty” is so simplistic to be pathetic.
    The problem for you is that you rely upon the masses buying into this propaganda, but you forget that the “man in the street” in Britain is much more sensible than you appreciate.
    Grow up and stop preaching to us!

    1. margaret brandreth- jones says:

      I would have thought rather than postiting an either/or argument or beginning to put it in the mouth of others is simplistic in itself and argument for the sake of argument.

      Firstly if you observe Jon gathering information and opinions from the ‘ man in the street ‘ both in Brazil and Kettering , you must realise that your argument is fatuous.

      Secondly if you imagine large masses of land unculivated and left for scrub you may realise that there is potential for the products of sugar cane to continue in a green way and consider many alternatives which like in the UK can be used in combination with each other.

      A report is not preaching it is simply time allocated in the media to get a message accross and inform viewers what is happening in the world.

      Many other channels are informing viewers of these topical issues simultaneously, so as everest glaciars melt and the poles ice caps melt, C4 is naturally concerned about evidence of deforestation en masse.

  12. Tom Friedrich says:

    Dear Jon
    You mentioned the need and in fact ongoing research on a hi-tech machine that will suck in carbon dioxide and store it underground.
    The machine already exists. It’s called a TREE.
    People are reluctant to plant trees. It takes too long to get a return. The solution is : plant fruit trees. The right tree for the Latitude. Apple trees in Great Britain.;Mango, Avacado in the tropics; Pecan,walnut where they grow best.
    Many varieties will give a good return in only a few years.

    1. Jim Flavin says:

      Hard to believe the amount of publicity that the Carbon Con still gets – accepted now by many – – as u say plant forests – if the Govts have money for Banks – they have money [ ours ] to give to farmers to plant trees . Farmers should be given subsidies to get them over the long wait in forestry .

    2. Ray Turner says:

      Doesn’t have to be a tree. Planting hedges are just as good. Dont replace those fence panels that blew down in the winter storms, plant a Hawthorn hedge instead…!

  13. Jim Flavin says:

    What controls are there over Food Production in Brazil as regards Hygeine – correct use of chemicals etc – these factors are huge in UK – and the cost – same can be said for most EU countries – the cost of keeping a/cs of every move u make on a crop – every item re production – thes e are time / money consuming – but they ensure safe food – the supermarkets should pay growers more – and be prepared to take a little less profit – but will they – NO way – thats the sickness of this extreme Capitalism

  14. Ray Turner says:

    De-forestation and over-population are just as significant as over reliance on fossil-fuels. All three issues need to be tackled, but the world only seems to be focussing on one at the moment.

    Over population is the key really. If that is brought under control, better still reduced, there will be less need to destroy forests and fossil fuel use should eventually stabilise.

    The alternative, if population continues to increase as it has, is another major global conflict as resources become scarcer. Politicians may try to prevent such a conflict, but the laws of nature mean that it is absolutely inevitable if we continue as we are…

  15. Ken Duerden says:

    I swallowed the propaganda about climate change, then I read about the emails leaked from the University of East Anglia. That sparked my interest and so I am reading more on the subject including a very interesting book called ‘The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is The Obsession With `Climate Change` Turning Out To Be The Most Costly Scientific Blunder In History?’. The most disturbing aspect for me is the way those who speak against climate change are subjected to abuse and their opinions rubbished.

    I love Channel 4 News and I simply hate it if I miss an episode. However, its coverage of climate change appears to be very one sided and certainly pro. This really saddens me because I hoped for more. Any news outlet with its own agenda is not worth watching.

    The interview with the sceptic last night was embarrassing. Having Jon interview them with the time delay from Brazil made it a farce. He constantly over talked both men and completely ruined the sceptics input.

    Please be independent channel 4. Please show us both sides of the argument and let the viewer decide.

    1. margaret brandreth- jones says:

      This smacks of an attempt at blackmail. i.e. I won’t watch it if you don’t put more carbon sceptics on.

      I still maintain that if we are to wait for ever ,for any further evidence of global warming either due to greenhouse gas effect , or spatial aggregation and land mass warming it will be too late.

      Arguments and speculation about degrees of warming via either source detract from the main theme.. SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE. FROM ALL ANGLES,. not give the pedants academic standing they desperately desire. We need to regard empirical eveidence ,because if we wait for the inflated egos to write a paper ,which everyone agrees with , then we will all be submerged .

    2. Ken Duerden says:

      I have every right to ask C4 for a balanced report. If only you could find true independent reporting these days the man in the street could make an informed opinion. If there is one thing we can’t stand in this country it is being preached to.
      What is the right thing to do then if I don’t agree with the coverage on C4? Simply switch off? The right thing to do is to let the channel know how you feel otherwise all we will get is what you want to listen to.

  16. mark says:

    Historic choices? No doubt of that, the choices are a) We spend all of our worldwide resources and finance (and curtail the emerging economies from emerging) and possibly reverse mans co2 emissions. 2) We spend all our resources, engineering capabilities etc. on making our populations safer from a natural global change in temperature which will continue regardless ? I am neither an ‘alarmist’ nor a ‘denier’ btw However, I do believe that if we follow a) (which seems likely at this point) then the earth will probably continue as it always has done with temperature cycles (this being the only proof I have seen so far from science)…and humans will be completely unprepared for natural climate change. As a layman, it seems to me that we are following the pied piper and having his dream too. The idea that the Earth is in danger is ludicrous, it has survived many much greater temp. falls & rises in its history. Many various Species have disappeared and arrived during these cycles too. Humans could be the exception to this, maybe, if we concentrate on preparations for global climate change and stop the ‘world wide guilt trip’ which is categorically theoretic!

    1. Ken Duerden says:

      I agree with your thoughts and I vote for option 2 please. I have no objection to funding alternatives to fossil fuels as we can be certain that they are going to run out. Lets devote the time between now and then in getting workable solutions to that problem.

    2. margaret brandreth- jones says:

      No Mark. the earth is Not in danger it will spin much longer than man will inhabit it The magma at the centre of the earth will continue to cool until it becomes moon like.

      It is man who is in danger. Nobody can surely doubt the effects climate change is having on man and the increasing natural disasters, such as sunami.

      We may think, well it won’t happen in my life time , but what about my childrens life span and their childrens and so forth.

      I suppose we could take the attitude, it doesn’t matter once we are dead and perhaps it doesn’t for that might make the way for a more responsible type of animal to inhabit the earth.

    3. Ken Duerden says:

      Margaret, its people using the phrase ‘nobody can deny’ that grates with me as obviously some people do deny, myself included. Its the way anybody who dares to disagree is attacked that’s annoying me. The Guardian today have an article along the lines, are climate change deniers the same as holocaust deniers? Ed Miliband this evening on tv tells us the science is settled, anyone who does not believe in global warming is a flat earther. It would make me laugh if only the idiot was not about to place you me and everyone else in a straight jacket.
      PS. Thanks very much C4, quite a few sceptics on your news now so I am a happy bunny again.

  17. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    Ken we live in a democracy. You have already said what you believe is the right thing and therefore you have the freedom to do it. There aren’t any shoulds. But that applies to all of us as long as we dont step over the line of discussion into abuse of any kind.

    I believe the views were balanced .. you didn’t, and next week in Copenhagen you will probably get your views through because , no one wants to spend money.

    This is why we need to make money first.

  18. margaret brandreth- jones says:

    Yes Ken evidence ie evidence and where you see meltdown and it floods lands submerges Islands, it would seem ridiculous to try and deny that. What many don’t understand is that evidence is not only scraps of data which havn’t been put together to make the full picture adequately pertinent , but rather one aspect in an all encompassing approach . Academics, Scientists, lawyers and others who prepare evidence are usually paid for their results and know waht to emphasise and what to leave out. Research and research methods are not so incontestable.

    Evidence is also what the masses see and hear with their own eyes.

    The dinosaurs continued until they were wiped out.We cannot deny that?

  19. Roberta Boeh says:

    Excellent article, as always. Chanel 4! Eloquently said, Mr. Snow!

    Suppose there is no global warming.
    OK, scientific knowledge is always evolving. So admit it, there is an infinitesimal chance of global warming being a problem. We work together as a world, based on that slight chance. The breadbaskets of the world grow as much food as possible. They sell the food to the rain-forested countries. In return, these countries harvest the forests for the raw products which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Miracles have come out of the forests and still, probably, will. Take the average, mild schizophrenic. Through the ‘miracle’ drugs, he is now able to actually function due to drugs made from rain forest products. To function. That might not sound like a lot. However, even dogs – sheep dogs, bred to herd sheep, want to function to their fullest capacity. How much more would a human being want? We take other steps to lower emissions (eating less meat to reduce livestock – 3 times a week will save you bundles!). Moving to solar and wind power. Then, shocking news: No Global Warming! What do we have? Less poverty, cleaner air, water and food. I like that.

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