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Brazil: Is the Weather Wacky?

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages except when otherwise noted.]

Talking about the weather may be mere elevator chit-chat but, come rain or shine, there is no honest conversation that does not make some reference to the weather. With the recent droughts in the southern region, floods in the southeast region and atypical weather in the Northeast, terms like El Nino, La Nina and convergence zone have made their way into our everyday vocabulary and become the topic of many conversations.

Obviously the online community could not remain silent on the issue. Especially not in the face of Brazil's readying for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20.

But what do Internet users actually think about these recurring ecological disasters and atypical climate changes? Is the conversation a mere reflection of the fact that we now have access to weather occurrences throughout the world and are aware of disasters occurring at micro- and macro-regional levels, or are we indeed in the midst of a worldwide climate change with disastrous consequences?

Storm approaching in Marau, Rio Grande do Sul, 2009. Photo by Mateus Waechter on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Storm approaching in Marau, Rio Grande do Sul, 2009. Photo by Mateus Waechter on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

As reported in an article [en] published on Global Voices in 2009 concerning the effects of heavy rains in Salvador that were mitigated on account of information circulated among the online community, while some claimed that the heavier rains were due to climate changes, João Miguel Lima left a comment claiming that:

Para os climatólogos, ainda não quer dizer que o volume de chuvas seja mudança climática. Seria necessário um intervalo de tempo maior para se perceber um padrão novo para afirmar isso; até agora é uma instabilidade do clima.

For climatologists, the volume of rain does not mean [we face a] climate change. A longer period of time is needed to observe a new pattern and confirm such a claim; right now, [we can say] it is weather instability.

Now that three years have passed, has it been long enough for us to draw more solid conclusions? Some Internet users believe so.

Is the weather in your city wacky?

The question was posed on a Yahoo! Answers forum by a user who triggered an online version of the ever prosaic elevator conversation:

Eu moro em Guarulhos-SP [São Paulo] e o tempo aqui cada vez está mais estranho, uma hora faz calor, outra o tempo fica nublado e friento, e outra chove e depois para de chover e faz bastante calor e depois frio. Tá uma doideira o tempo em Guarulhos, e na sua cidade?

I live in Guarulhos, São Paulo, and the weather is getting stranger and stranger here. One minute it's hot, the next it's cloudy and cold, the next minute it rains, and then it stops raining and gets really hot and then cold again. The weather in Guarulhos is wacky. What about where you live?

The same question has reverberated in many online discussions; and there are few answers to the many questions raised. According to some specialists, climate change is real. A study published by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE according to its Brazilian acronym) in June 2010, for example, points out that floods are occurring with more frequency in the city of São Paulo.

As mudanças no clima (…) indicam aumento de dias com chuvas intensas e mais freqüentes e as projeções de crescimento da população na Região Metropolitana de São Paulo, que deverá dobrar de tamanho nos próximos 20 anos, especialmente nas periferias.

Climate changes… indicate an increase in the number of heavy-rain days and more frequent rains and growth projections for the population of the Greater São Paulo Metropolitan Region, which is expected to double in the next 20 years, especially in the city's outskirts.

Climate changes, combined with urban growth and rural development lacking adequate planning to ensure protection, lead to even greater social and economic consequences in both cities and suburbs.

The site Climate Changes is entirely dedicated to encouraging understanding and information-sharing regarding this phenomenon. In an article published on the site in 2009, the head of the Climate Change and Energy Program for the WWF-Brazil, Carlos Ritti, states that “climate change is the greatest environmental and development challenge of the 21st century.”

Uma série de eventos climáticos muito intensos ocorridos nesta última década já indicava que o clima do planeta está passando por uma transformação significativa.

A series of very intense climatic occurrences in the last decade have already shown that the planet's climate is undergoing notable change.

Nonetheless, between clouds and torrential rains, many people end up not knowing the difference between climate and weather, and they end up not understanding the true dimensions of this phenomenon. According to Gabriel Cabral, in an article written for the site Education World:

O tempo refere-se ao estado momentâneo que ocorre em um determinado local a partir do ar atmosférico que pode ocorrer de maneira lenta ou rápida. Em diferença, o clima refere-se ao conjunto de condições atmosféricas que ocorrem em determinados locais de forma marcante.

Weather refers to the momentary state of atmospheric air in a given locale that occurs either slowly or suddenly. In contrast, climate refers to the set of atmospheric conditions that occur in certain locations in a more remarkable manner.

Rio+20 for change?

Rio+20, the United National Conference on Sustainable Development, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the city also hosted the Earth Summit [en], where the concept of sustainable development was first endorsed, has already included climate change and the worldwide effects of climate change in its agenda. The UN itself already has a Convention on Climate Change [en], most recently held in Durban in November and December 2011.

According to the organization, “the Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change.  It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

Smog in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Pierre-Yves Dansereau on Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Smog in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Pierre-Yves Dansereau on Flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Despite the objectives of Rio+20 including:

um comprometimento político renovado com o desenvolvimento sustentável, avaliar o progresso feito até o momento e as lacunas que ainda existem na implementação dos resultados dos principais encontros sobre desenvolvimento sustentável, além de abordar os novos desafios emergentes,

[a] renewed political commitment to sustainable development, identify[ing] the progress that has been made to-date and the existing gaps in the implementation of the sustainability declarations, [in addition to] address[ing] new emerging challenges,

some specialists have noted that the conference does not have a clear and specific agenda. Marina Silva, the former presidential candidate, stated in an interview granted to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo and published on the site The Echo that the draft published by the organization, containing the zero draft of the Rio+20 outcome document:

é insuficiente. Genérico, não faz uma crítica ao modelo de desenvolvimento atual e dos padrões de produção e consumo. (…) Tudo parece apontar para aquele conhecido roteiro: decepção e paralisia dos governos, enquanto a crise socioambiental só se agrava -foi assim na COP 15, 16, 17…

is deficient. It is generic, does not at all criticize the current development model or the current patterns of production and consumption…. Everything seems to point to the same old script: deception and government paralysis while the socioenvironmental crises only worsens; this was the case with the COP 15, 16, 17…

One need not be a specialist to realize that something is changing and that the repercussions go beyond the confines of the elevator. This is no longer an isolated fact affecting merely one city, but rather a combination of various elements that bring to light the impact of these climate changes. Instead of questions, however, we need to focus on the answers.

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