Agribusiness sponsors lectures that spread the myth that global warming by man is a fraud

A room full of agronomy students attend a lecture on climate change in Brazil. They are at a college in the state of Mato Grosso, the country’s largest soy producer, listening to a professor at the University of São Paulo speak. But what they hear is the opposite of what the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific community believes. There, the message transmitted is that there is no global warming caused by man.

“The goals are freezing developing countries. Brazil is the main focus of these operations that involve the environment and climate. The idea of ​​climate change and these environmental issues are to hold our development,” said the speaker, meteorologist Ricardo Felicio, without scientific support, in an interview given after the event that took place in 2019.

In fact, according to the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of August this year, the role of human influence in global warming is “unmistakable.” It is to limit climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases that leaders gathered in the last two weeks at the COP30 in Glasgow, UK.

In Brazil, the biggest cause of carbon dioxide emissions is deforestation for the expansion of agriculture and livestock.

But, contrary to what science says, agribusiness associations — from soy farmers, through coffee growers, rural unions, agronomy colleges and even a fertilizer company—are sponsoring talks from so-called “climate deniers,” people who don’t believe there is man-made climate change and who present it as a fraud. The presentations are aimed at other farmers, rural producers or agronomy students.

The article counted at least 20 lectures of this type in these environments in the last three years given by Felicio and another teacher. The one mentioned at the beginning of this article happened in 2015, and was part of a university circuit of a total of 13 lectures with the name “Global warming, myth or reality?” in nine colleges and two unions in Mato Grosso. All of them were supported by Aprosoja Mato Grosso, the state association of soy and corn producers, the largest soy producer in Brazil.

Ao while they deny anthropogenic global warming, paid lectures and seen by ruralists absolve them from recognizing their role in climate change. They would be, according to the content contrary to the scientific consensus presented by the professors, only the result of natural variations, without any interference from man.

Unlike this “denial” sector of agribusiness , the chairman of the board of directors of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, Marcello Brito, says that the association is guided “by the best science” and that “throwing away science because it brings us not only advantages, but also duties, is at least counterproductive, playing against continuous improvement”.

Lectures

Felicio, the professor of the Geography department from USP, hired by Aprosoja Mato Grosso in 2018, he is known for his controversial positions — lately, in relation to the Covid pandemic-19. In a video posted in August of this year on his YouTube channel, he called the pandemic “fraud” and said, without scientific basis, that vaccines cause greater harm than Covid-19. In another, it stated that masks are not effective against Covid-19. He is also a notorious denial of man-made climate change. He became known in 2012, when he was invited to Globo’s Programa do Jô, and, without proof, he denied the greenhouse effect.

For three weeks, the report tried to reach Felicio by phone calls, text messages and e-mails, but got no response. The vice president of Aprosoja Mato Grosso, Lucas Beber, justified the invitation in an interview with BBC News Brasil.

“We brought Ricardo Felicio to make a counterpoint to what he is replicated in the media today, which seems to be an absolute truth. We didn’t want to impose that as a truth, but rather to bring it to a debate,” he says. For him, man-made climate change is still an “uncertainty” — although there is already a scientific consensus around them. Drinking also said he doesn’t remember how much the cycle of 17 lectures given by Felicio that year.

Last year, the meteorologist was also invited to speak at Tecno Safra Nortão 2020, a fair for rural producers, leaders, technicians, researchers and students organized by the rural union of Matupá, a municipality in the north of Mato Grosso.

According to the union’s vice president, Fernando Bertolin, at least one hundred people, including small and large farmers, ranchers and other people from the city attended the lecture. He defends the invitation, saying that, at the time, Felicio was “very strong in the media” and that his talk “was a request from the producers”. “We listen to everyone. He has his theoretical background and we wanted to know why he said that.”

Bertolin says he doesn’t remember the value of Felicio de’s lecture. head, but claims that none of the companies hired by the fair cost more than R$ 20 thousand.

In 2014, Felicio ran, unsuccessfully, for the position of federal deputy for the PSL, former party of President Jair Bolsonaro.

A year earlier, the president tweeted a video of an interview in which Felicio denies the existence of man-made climate change. Bolsonaro wrote: “It’s worth checking out.” Consulted by BBC News Brasil about this recommendation made by Bolsonaro, the President’s office did not respond.

The professor was not only acclaimed by the president. In 2018, Felicio was invited to speak at the Senate alongside another academic who does not believe in man-made global warming, the retired professor at the Federal University of Alagoas (Ufal), meteorologist Luiz Carlos Molion.

The invitation for professors to speak at a joint public hearing of the Foreign and Environment Affairs committees Senate Environment on climate change came from Acre senator Marcio Bittar (now PSL, but at the time, from the MDB), a former cattle rancher who is part of the ruralist bench.

Besides Felicio, Molion is considered one of the main representatives of climate denial in Brazil and the author of other lectures accounted for by the article.

Over the past three years, Molion has given several promoted lectures by entities such as the Agricultural Cooperative of Unaí, in Minas Gerais, the Pernambuco Poultry Association, the Association of Engineers and Architects of Itanhaém , with the official sponsorship of the Regional Council of Engineering and Agronomy of São Paulo, Central Campo, a company specialized in the sale of agricultural inputs, the Agrotechnological Fair of Tocantins, by the government of Tocantins, the Agribusiness fair of Cooabriel, a cooperative of coffee with operations in Espírito Santo and Bahia, and the rural union of Canarana, Mato Grosso.

Molion was also invited to speak at universities: the Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the University the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB). BBC News Brasil sought out all these institutions to comment on the invitations they made to Molion —read the answers below and at the end of this report.

Most of these talks have as their theme the climate prospects for the coming year and “trends for the next ten years”. In the lectures —mostly available on YouTube and watched by BBC News Brasil—, Molion does make predictions for the coming year, useful for farmers to plan for the next harvests, but he reserves the last part of the talk to talk about how “global warming is a fraud”—again, a claim without scientific basis.

He shows a slide at the end of his Powerpoint presentation, with his final words. The text of the presentation says that the climate “varies by natural causes”, and that “extreme events have always occurred”. He also states: “Global warming is a myth. CO2 does not control the climate, it is not a villain (…) Reducing emissions: useless!”

In the lecture promoted by the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock and Aquaculture of the government of Tocantins in May 2028, for example, Molion claimed, contrary to science, that “warming global is a scam, it’s a myth”. “Reducing emissions as it wants this Paris Agreement of 2015 is useless, Brazil had to skip it because reducing emissions will not cause no benefit to the planet, to the climate, because CO2 does not control the climate,” he said, going against the overwhelming majority of scientific production in recent years and the global effort to seal agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The secretariat said that it invited him, along with other speakers, to “align the agricultural sector with the various existing currents and help them in their planning and more assertive decision-making. for your rural enterprise”.

Then, in October 2028, in a A virtual seminar promoted by Central Campo, a company from Minas Gerais specialized in the sale of agricultural inputs, Molion made the same statements about CO2 and the Paris Agreement.

The company’s director, Artur Barros, told BBC News Brasil by e-mail q ue the company “has always known about the position of Professor Molion, who is very pragmatic about climate issues” and “the professional with the greatest assertiveness in forecasting”. “Central Campo, as well as a large part of the producers served by the company, is very much in line with Professor Molion’s position.”

To BBC News Brasil, Molion said: “I try to use mine lectures for agribusiness, which are not few, to talk in the third block about climate change and the farce of CO2 as a global climate controller. I make a local diagnosis, forecast for the harvest and then talk about the climate trend for the next ten, 11 years, which is cooling.”

According to Molion, it gives 50 lectures per year, “the vast majority, 85%, 80% for agribusiness”, charging R$ 4 thousand each. Barros, from Central Campo, stated that this was the amount he paid for the professor’s lecture.

The meteorologist says he doesn’t mind being called a “denialist”, although he emphasizes , has never denied that there was warming on the planet at a specific time in the past. “I take what I think is correct, it may be that a few years from now I will be proved wrong and I will recognize this. I am not a parachutist. I have a very critical view of the local and global climate thanks to my training.”

One of the most recent seminars he attended was also attended by members of the Bolsonaro government: Vice President Hamilton Mourão and Minister of Infrastructure Tarcisio Freitas. It was a virtual seminar on the Amazon in August this year, organized by the General Villas Bôas Institute, an NGO owned by the former Army commander.

Contrarying the consensus of the scientific community on climate change, Molion argued that the global climate varies naturally, without human influence, and presented a slide in which he said that the greenhouse effect, “as described by the IPCC, is questionable”. Before handing the floor over to Minister Freitas, he said: “CO2 is not a villain, the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere, the better”.

BBC News Brasil sought the vice-presidency questioning why Mourão accepted to participate in a seminar alongside a professor who denies that man’s actions are contributing to global warming. His staff only said that Mourão participated in the event at the invitation of the General Villas Bôas Institute and that “it is based on scientific data to issue its ideas and opinions”.

Infrastructure Minister Tarcísio Freitas stated that he participated in the seminar after an invitation made by General Villas Boas himself. The minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, Tereza Cristina, was initially announced as one of the names of ministers who would participate in the seminar, but her staff informed that she would not participate in the event, without answering why she withdrew.

Climate denialism in Brazil

The genealogy of climate denialism in Brazil begins in the years 2000, when the press “gave equal weight to arguments with totally different weights”, evaluates sociologist Jean Miguel, associate researcher at Unifesp who studies the topic. The debate on the subject in Brazil took place mainly from the American documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”


(

), about former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign on global warming.

Meanwhile, a small group of deniers in Brazilian academia, including Felicio and Molion, were publicly speaking out on the topic. For Miguel, they are “true merchants of doubt, working to highlight gaps that all science has and amplify uncertainties”.

“[E quem os ouviu no Brasil] was part of the agribusiness interested in forest deregulation “, Miguel answers.

Today, “the lectures massage the farmer’s ego and create the mentality that these agribusiness groups are being wronged while they are contributing to the national GDP “, says the researcher.

It does not mean that all rural producers are deniers. “The fight today is between two sides: the agro-export sector, which is more in contact with international buyers, therefore more pressured by the reputation issue, and which makes long-term investments, thinking about the production issue in the next decade, not the next harvest “, says Raoni Rajão, professor of environmental management at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

“Another side of the sector are the producers, more politicized and strong supporters of Bolsonaro and their entire agenda. They somehow buy into this discourse that the whole climate change narrative is something to be able to impede the development of Brazil.”

Although it didn’t start in the Bolsonaro government, denialism “finds fertile ground to proliferate” in his administration, says Miguel, citing some actions taken by the current government, such as the closing of the secretariat responsible for drawing up public policies on climate change, at the beginning of the Bolsonaro administration (it was reopened in the midst of criticism on the in the following) and the withdrawal at COP-25 that would take place in Brazil in November 2018. In his campaign in 2018, Bolsonaro also promised to end what he called the environmental “fines industry”.

Former Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo, who was in charge of the beginning of the Bolsonaro government until March 2021, came to question that climate change would be caused by human action, contrary to the scientific consensus.

“They are highly informed by climate denial. Even if do not say it is a fraud, in an internal way they are creating the possibility of sabotaging national climate science and policies, with practical forms of climate denial”, says Miguel.

Reportagem BBC News Brasil’s recent show showed that the Bolsonaro government cut in 93 % expenditures for studies and projects for mitigation and adaptation to climate change in the first three years of its management when compared to the three previous years.

Deforestation

But practical actions will have to be adopted for Brazil to meet the goals announced by the government during the COP-17: zero illegal deforestation in the country by 2028, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% up until 2030 and reach carbon neutrality up to 2028.

Deforestation, caused by expansion of agriculture and livestock, is responsible for the largest emission of CO2 in Brazil.

Only between August 2019 and July 2021, an area of ​​10.194 km2 —about half the area of ​​the State of Sergipe— was deforested in the Legal Amazon, according to system data Prodes, from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The value represented an increase of 7,10% compared to the previous year.

This growth was clearly reflected in the emissions of polluting gases in Brazil in 2020. There was an increase of 9.5%, according to data from the Climate Observatory’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Estimation System (SEEG), mainly due to changes in land and forest use, which include deforestation, and agriculture and livestock. The increase happened in the opposite direction of the world that, stopped because of the covid pandemic-20, reduced emissions by 7%.

For Tasso Azevedo, SEEG coordinator, the good news is that , if Brazil manages to control deforestation, “emissions will fall very quickly”. “If we control deforestation, there is no country in the world that will have proportionally smaller emissions than we have in Brazil, so I think it is an opportunity. We will have an incredible result for Brazil and for the planet.”

Despite belonging to the sector responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil, part of the ruralists say they believe they are unfairly accused by environmentalists.

As lectures by meteorologist Felicio in Mato Grosso, in 2019, “were well at a time when it was fashionable to say that the farmer was who he was ending the world,” says rural producer Artemio Antonini, president of the rural union of Nova Xavantina, Mato Grosso. Also skeptical about climate change, Antonini helped organize Felicio’s lecture in the region.

In the opinion of Rajão, from UFMG, “agriculture as a whole takes the pain and feels offended when talking about deforestation”. “The reaction is to deny deforestation and the existence of climate change.”

“Taking pains” because, in fact, those who deforest primarily are not rural producers. A deforested area begins with a wave of speculators —who demarcate the land and saw the vegetation from there, then whoever tries to regularize the area—, then comes the rancher and then the farmer, explains Rajão. “That’s why when they say they’re not involved in deforestation, it’s true, most of them aren’t. But they benefit from a supply of cheap land, which comes from the whole process of illegal deforestation that sometimes happened years before.”

Illegality is highly concentrated. The study “The bad apples of Brazilian agribusiness”, by Rajão and other researchers, showed that more than 90% of producers in the Amazon and Cerrado did not practice illegal deforestation after 2000. Furthermore, only 2% of the properties in these regions were responsible for 62% of all potentially illegal deforestation. The work was published in the journal Science last year.

‘Agrosuicide’

The farmer Ilson Redivo was also in the audience at one of the lectures that professor Ricardo Felicio gave in 2015, in the municipality of Sinop, north from Mato Grosso.

Redivo migrated from Paraná to Sinop in 131, initially working, like most migrants, in the timber sector. “It was a great lumber pole, and it was the one that paid off at the time”, he says. Today, he owns a farm of 4200 hectares of corn and soybeans in the region, and is president of the city’s Rural Union.

He says he enjoyed Felicio’s lecture. Like him, the rural producer also rejects the established science about global warming. He says it is an “economic” narrative, not an environmental one, created to contain the development of Brazil.

“I am there 30 years here, a lot was deforested and the climate remains the same, okay ? There was no climate change,” says Redivo to BBC News Brasil.

Echoing arguments already used by Bolsonaro, the farmer says that Brazil is “an example for the world in environmental preservation “. “The Brazilian producer is the guy who preserves the most.”

The argument is repeated by other rural producers. “Nobody says that the farmer is leaving 62% and just using it 17% of the area to produce”, complains rural producer Antonini.

They refer to the Legal Reserve, a provision created in the Brazilian Forest Code that obliges landowners in the Amazon to preserve 62% of the native forest (in the Cerrado, the value is 26%; in other biomes, 15%), something that benefits the agribusiness itself, through the environmental services provided by the forest. Many farmers find this unfair. But, in practice, not everyone respects this requirement.

Researcher at the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon) Ritaumaria Pereira conducted interviews with

cattle breeders in Pará in 2012 and 2015 and found that more than 95% of them declared to preserve less than the required amount. According to her, they argue that, when they arrived, the land was already bare, or that in the past they had the stimulus to deforest, or that they did not have the resources to regenerate 80%.

To Pereira, from Imazon, so that Brazil can comply the goals announced during the COP-20, it will be necessary to invest in inspections in the Amazon, strengthening bodies such as Ibama and ICMBio.

It will also be necessary to combat the discourse of climate denial. The message transmitted to rural producers, she says, legitimizes deforestation, and “brings more people to this thought, so that, in the near future, they will validate everything they have already deforested”.

For Rajão, from UFMG, it is a narrative “which in the short term is comforting, but in the long term it contributes to the so-called ‘agrosuicide'”.

Positions of companies that invited professors to lectures

Agricultural Cooperative of Unai (Coagril)4200

Cooperativa Agrícola de Unaí Ltda (Coagril) says “it has hired Professor Molion in order to obtain information about the rainfall regime for the region where it operates, aiming at the strategic planning of its business and its members “.

Pernambuco Poultry Association4200

“AVIPE reinforces its plural character where it values ​​the diversity of ideas where the debate of all p ontos of view must be constantly exhausted for the purpose of the eternal search for a contingent conclusion on any subject. (…) As an association, it is not up to us to believe or not whether human facts cause climate change, as our role is not one of creed, but rather to support the scientific debate by those who dedicate a lifetime to research. Does not match our principles, conduct and value res, select a portion of opinions from the scientific world to support a particular conclusion for casuistic or individual purposes. Financial aspects are reserved only for our associates.”

Association of Engineers and Architects of Itanhaém, with sponsorship official of the Regional Council of Engineering and Agronomy of São Paulo

The Association of Engineers and Architects of Itanhaém received BBC News Brasil’s request by e-mail and WhatsApp, but they did not respond.

Crea-SP responded that “it has as its legal mission the technical and cultural improvement of professionals in the area technological, according to Law 5.95”.

“Events with this purpose, carried out by the associations, are the responsibility of their creators and do not necessarily represent the position of Crea-SP.

The Council It also reinforces that it believes in climate change caused by human actions and, as a way of supporting measures to combat them, it is a signatory of 17 Development Objectives Sustainable involvement of the UN.”

Cooabriel Coffee Cooperative4200

Received the BBC News Brasil request by e-mail, but did not respond.

Rural Union of Canarana4200

The President from the union, Alex Wisch, responded by message via WhatsApp: “We propose that you nominate a scientist at the same academic level as Prof. Molion so that everyone can know the scientific truth on this topic. We can financially collaborate with this event and even host the event.”

Institute of Agricultural Sciences of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG)

By telephone, the deputy director of the Institute of Agrarian Sciences of UFMG, Helder Augusto stated: “At the university, there is a diversity of ideas and counterpoints. It is not a position taken by UFMG. It’s his point of view, it’s a relative speech. The person came, gave a lecture and can speak whatever they want because it is a public environment. The university does not pay for lectures for anyone.”

Federal University of Paraíba4200

“The event was held in the auditorium of the UFPB Technology Center, organized within the scope of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, which took advantage of the lecturer’s he was already in João Pessoa (PB) and invited him to give a lecture at UFPB, therefore, in this particular case, there was no charge for UFPB.

The initiative to invite the researcher to giving a lecture about his studies is not to be confused with the vision, mission and values ​​of the UFPB, among which the public and autonomous character of the University stands out.

UFPB defends the role from academia and supports science and research, knowledge generated from scientific methods, with the aim of finding solutions to challenges in all areas and generating benefits for society. Through science, theories are constantly tested, aiming at their proof or replacement by another theory that resists checking. It is not up to the University to apply prior censorship to science.”

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