World Cup Runneth Under. Way Under.

June 2, 2014

Daily Climate:

Although recent rains have brought some relief, many parts of Brazil are in the grip of the most severe drought for years, and temperatures have been unusually high. In many areas, reservoirs at hydro plants – which produce about 70 percent of Brazil’s power – are at record lows.

Sao Paulo state in the southeast, where the World Cup’s opening game will be staged on June 12, is home to more than 43 million people and is the country’s economic powerhouse. But it has been experiencing its worst drought since rainfall records began in 1930.

In order to keep the lights on, the government of President Dilma Rousseff has been desperately upping energy supplies from thermal power stations. But fears persist that blackouts will hit during the World Cup.

Public anger

If that happens, it’s likely to add to the anger felt by many Brazilians about the billions of dollars being spent on facilities for the soccer tournament – and on staging the Olympics next year.

To ward of public discontent, the government has been forced to spend the equivalent of more than $5 billion to subsidize utilities replacing hydropower with more expensive oil, coal and natural gas.

Analysts say consumers will have to pay substantially more for their energy, although price hikes are likely to be delayed until after elections in October. The government has also dismissed the idea of power rationing – for now at least.

While the government worries about power supplies, Brazil’s agriculture sector – which accounts for about 25 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product – is suffering potentially long-lasting drought damage.

Hilton Silveira Pinto is a climate researcher at the Center for Meteorological and Climate Research Applied to Agriculture at the University of Campinas. He told the Bloomberg news service: “This is a taste of what is to come in the future.”

A study co-authored by Pinto warns that large numbers of farmers could be forced to abandon their lands and migrate to more temperate areas as temperatures rise. Coffee growers in the states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais in the south-east have seen their crops fail due to record high temperatures, combined with drought conditions.

In Bahia state and other areas in the north-east of Brazil, farmers have lost crops and large numbers of livestock as the drought has persisted.

The study says projected future warming trends indicate that Brazil’s overall production of soybeans could decline by as much as 24 percent by 2020, with wheat production dropping even further.


Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” It is evident that the Brazilian government’s energy planners dismiss such wisdom, renewing their preposterous dam-driven logic in response to the latest crisis, and imperiling the Amazon’s peoples, rivers, and forests in the process. But the winds of climate change continue to blow, bringing with them crippling drought and disastrous floods that could wash away this house of cards.

As a second year of drastic drought strikes Brazil’s southeast, the government has maxed out its dirty and costly thermoelectric stations to meet a growing energy crunch. Historically low rivers and reservoirs have ground dam turbines to a standstill in a country deeply dependent on hydroelectricity. Indeed, nearly 80% of Brazil’s energy comes from dams that are built on the assumption that rainfall patterns will remain consistent. The mounting and unpredictable ravages of climate change have shattered this thinking.

With power outages wracking the country’s grid this déjà vu scenario is rightfully directing public ire and scrutiny towards the Dilma Rousseff government at a sensitive time this election year. However, while this predicament begs for innovation and vision to lead the country towards diversified, clean, and adaptable energy solutions, Rousseff’s myopic planners insist that the current crisis in the hydroelectric sector demands that the country build more dams! Mr. Einstein must be rolling over.

Meanwhile in the Amazon, where Brazil’s dam building agenda continues to steamroll human rights and ravage the environment, catastrophic floods have blown another hole in the government’s plans. The Santo Antonio and Jirau mega-dams, built on the mighty Madeira River, have the notorious distinction of being the first in a wave of Amazon dams unleashed by the Worker’s Party. Purportedly to boost Brazil’s energy production, these dams are instead exacerbating the Madeira’s worst flooding on record.

With their massive walls of concrete splayed across the river, “Madeira Complex” dams are retaining floodwaters from a river swollen with record rains, backing them into neighboring Bolivia where severe flooding has reportedly killed over 60 people and 90,000 cattle while causing inestimable damage.



6 Responses to “World Cup Runneth Under. Way Under.”

  1. Peter, you obviously left a thought incomplete at the end of the post.

  2. During the years 1997-1999, Bahia looked like a bizarre unbelievable world where nothing green existed — even the cactus turned brown, died, and fell to the ground. All you could see was red dirt and intense blue sky.

    The states of Bahia and Minas Gerais are each 50% larger than California. They are nearly completely deforested — gone is a temperate rain forest that reach hundreds of miles inland.

    The rain season there used to be almost 6 months per year — now they are lucky if they even get three months of rain.

    The rivers, such as are left, have been dammed in so many places that the empty stream beds are used as roads.

    Brazil could use a little of this:

  3. […] 2014/06/02: PSinclair: World Cup Runneth Under. Way Under. […]

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