This summer saw the sudden termination of the head of Brazil’s National Space and Research Institute (INPE) following a clash between science and far right politics with cautionary lessons for democracies facing critical elections in 2019 which will either buttress or turn back the authoritarian nationalist surge personified by Donald J. Trump’s risible presidency.
Respected physicist Ricardo Galvão was summarily fired after presenting satellite evidence indicating Brazil’s Amazon rainforest — along with the Taiga and Congo a primary lung of the Earth — was being deforested at nearly double the rate observable in 2018.
769.1 square kilometers of forest were lost this June alone. An area the size of nearly two football pitches disappears every single minute of every day of the year. Galvão’s research documented a troubling acceleration since Brazil lurched to the far right in October 2018.
The findings were driven by detailed analysis of multi-sourced satellite imagery revealing the actual physical extent of forest retreat, versus the number formally reported by Brazil’s beholden environmental regulator.
In the intolerable routine now painfully familiar in countries afflicted by Trump’s genre of faux “populism,” the former junta Army Captain and alleged mafia scion Jair Bolsonaro simply outright denied the photographic evidence confirmed by multiple independent observations of the forest from orbit.
Celebrated scientists with multi-billion dollar scientific instruments in space are wrong, the angry conservative politician with shameless ties to the very developers implicated is right.
The universally condemned firing came amidst months of mounting aggression against Indigenous communities in the Amazon which has already seen deadly extrajudicial violence by mercenaries and criminal gangs linked to resource and mineral extraction enterprises.
Brazil, with Canada and Russia, is steward to a startling proportion of the world’s forests.
Whether the limitless boreal expanse of the far North or the teeming tropical rainforests of the equator, these countries’ territory drives the health of the atmosphere globally, consuming and scrubbing endless of tons of carbon emitted by industrial humanity. They represent by far the dominant terrestrial repositories of biodiversity on our planet.
While mercifully not yet as cataclysmic in scale as Russia’s unprecedented 2019 summer wildfires, perhaps the largest in recorded history, Canada’s Northern interior is melting, burning, and destabilizing at a rate that is perhaps unique in the world.
Tragic scenes of Canada’s own petroleum capital Fort McMurray, Alberta reduced to ash are but a portend of conditions every available scientific indicator shows will afflict the American West and Canadian North with increasing viciousness in coming decades.
The recent Brazilian furor raises important questions for Canadians and others voting in critical elections culminating with Trump’s increasingly unhinged and racist 2020 re-election campaign. A scorched-Republic quest to retain the baffling criminal immunity high office in America today affords a prolific interdisciplinary recidivist of remarkable hubris and his extended family.
The wages of coded incitement about infestations and invasions — aping virulent white supremacist propaganda of a “great replacement” signaling the end of civilization — are yet again paid in blood on the floor of an El Paso, Texas Wallmart, as in churches, synagogues, temples, schools and too many places across America to meaningfully summarize.
It is true, of course, that Canada’s career politician Tory chief Andy Scheer has never vocally encouraged death squads to murder opponents like his Brasileiro ideological partner. He’s never run a shady corporate empire like Trump. Hell, the guy’s barely ever had private sector work.
Canada’s conservatism is usually a milquetoast, imitator parrot movement blithely plagiarizing whatever was on Ezra Levant or Jordan Peterson’s latest very angry podcast.
Yet when it comes to denying climate science to further unrestrained resource extraction and impunity for developers at the expense of the environment and society, Canada’s conservatives are in fact world leaders.
They’re the undisputed climate denial O.G.
Stephen Harper might be forgiven for having his agent demand a “written by” credit on Bolsonaro’s reckless environmental policies. Nowhere is this truer than in the administrative muzzling of scientists whose publicly-funded work underlines the urgency of global heating and its attendant radical destabilization of the climate at both extremes.
At Harper’s direction, many of Bolsonaro’s tactics were first concept-proven: gagging scientists’ vital public communications, physical destruction of critical study data, legislative reforms granting effective financial and criminal immunity to polluters, connived tax audits and other politically-driven regulatory retaliation against climate activists and open, hand-in-glove collusion between Federal law enforcement, intelligence and the resource sector.
Canada’s systematic subordination of science to politics under Harper was flagged in the New York Times as an uncannily relevant case study once Trump’s corrupt were turned loose to defang and destroy the EPA from the once-proud Agency’s own executive suite.
When the former Canadian PM isn’t jetting off to receive leadership awards from that other paragon of civic integrity Bibi Netanyahu, he’s on Fox News hawking his vacuous book about how conservatism is — actually, somehow, somewhere, I swear — something other than what it is today rage-screaming at the top of its lungs everywhere.
Populism is not a coherent ideology in itself, but a mere tactic.
Existential enemies like socialists and fascists equally evoke “populism” for divergent purposes. For a furthest-left communist, the sacred cause is ostensible solidarity between working people and progress for the wretched of the Earth, while for fascists and ultra-nationalists it is the supremacy of a bedrock nation, of identity, hierarchy, tradition and order.
“Populism” as popularly employed signifies exactly nothing in the age of Trump.
Everywhere in the developed world, and indeed far beyond, the term is increasingly used as a strained euphemism. Whether by center-right establishment pundits who don’t know quite what to say or do about what’s happening to a movement they can no longer control, or by practitioners tactically disguising their ultimate political agenda to placate moderates, it is a perverse shield word, a diversionary slight to avoid sharper, truer appellations.
If Canada elects a Conservative government in October — as, contrary to global media fixation on Trudeau 2.0’s formidable media persona, it very well may — it will immediately revert to and accelerate those policies it engineered. Far from denying this agenda, Scheer bellows it from every pulpit in struggling resource-intensive regions, inflaming debate and dividing the country without offering any constructive plan of his own for the future.
Rather than work and fight for a way, Scheer and his beholden allies scramble for a way out.
His is the unenviable juggling act of being just crazy enough his hardcore supporters won’t bail for white nationalist Tory leadership rival turned rogue far right usurper Maxime “Mad Max” Bernier’s upstart identitarian party — the 70s campus Maoist-sounding People’s Party of Canada, naturally — but not so crazy that Ontario and Québec vote progressive en masse.
It is not enough for Scheer to abolish a modest carbon tax proven to be competitive in multiple jurisdictions, he will also do away with clean fuel standards for all vehicles. His is an agenda for the wholesale dismantling of Federal environmental protection in Canada.
Not far from the public memory is the use of robocalls by the Conservative Party in 2011 to direct an unknown number of identified opposition supporters to false polling locations. The coordinated vote suppression scheme, observed over dozens of local Conservative campaigns using the central SIMS constituency management platform, was IP traced to shadowy Tory commercial entities.
Canadian Tories were way ahead of the curve on cheating, too.
Avant garde data-driven microcasting skirting the boundaries of morality and the law served their ideological soulmates — if certainly not Britain — famously through the Brexit fiasco. It actively abetted and facilitated the rise of Trump’s sick personality cult as the sole moral and intellectual center of gravity of the Republican Party and American conservatism writ large.
However scandalous 2011’s stain on the integrity of Canada’s democratic process, the vote suppression to be deployed by Trump’s Republican allies in advance of 2020 will dwarf even Harper’s unethical legacy. Nor will it be limited to America’s domestic political arena.
Just this week, countless Canadian seniors learned on Facebook through a shareable meme that a re-elected Justin Trudeau will implement Sharia law. Church groups are being told he will ban Christianity and progressive Jews sternly warned he will sell fighter jets — we can’t even requisition our own — to Hezbollah.
Upper middle class families are told the socialist rabble will come to reduce property values, while law-abiding gun owners are whipped into hysteria that common sense gun control means Federal tyranny will surely descend in force at any moment to seize dad’s heirloom .22.
It is a perpetual information war of everyone against everyone. A rage machine designed to win narrow, divisive contests where the progressive majority is apathetic and divided while conservatives are angry and motivated.
Already the numbered egg-bots and locust-like troll swarms, the weaponized misogyny and homophobia, the doxxing and stalking, the data-driven, prejudice-seeking disinformation campaigns so well known to our British and American friends descend upon us in advance of October’s critical national ballot.
Authoritarianism, too, is not a specific belief but a practice. The world’s embattled democracies world must remain vigilant as faux populist deceivers seek to cement their power to institutionalize policies denying science and promising untold disaster in this century.