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Deforestation, demarcation, disinformation

Covering climate change in general, and the impact of deforestation of the Amazon specifically, is a difficult task because the news is rarely good. The measurements themselves are not easy to comprehend—ranging from thousands of square kilometers of deforestation to temperature variations of tenths of a degree—and real advances are few and far between. The urgency of the issue, however, demands that it be addressed.

Large areas of forest like the Amazon absorb greenhouse gases, but they also produce them. Under normal conditions, absorption exceeds emission. The topic is once again in Pesquisa FAPESP’s spotlight, this time due to evidence that the balance has been tipped: the volume of carbon dioxide released by deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in recent years has exceeded the amount removed by trees for photosynthesis. This had already been observed in an area known as the “arc of deforestation” in the east of the Amazon, but now it has also been confirmed in the better-preserved western region. The results of a long and rigorous study carried out by a multi-institutional team are presented in this issue’s cover story.

The demarcation of indigenous lands in the Amazon is recognized as an important means of preserving the biome, in addition to being a constitutional right of Indigenous peoples in Brazil. An important element of this process is the mapping of native peoples in Brazilian territory. Azevedo is a pioneer in Indigenous demography in the country, having been involved in efforts to add questions relating to language and ethnicity to the census in areas that encompass Indigenous lands. She estimates that the national census currently being conducted will identify 400 different peoples. The scientist from UNICAMP’s Population Studies Center spoke to Pesquisa FAPESP about her work on Indigenous education and the difficulties she faced in the 1990s when she observed that the native peoples of the Rio Negro region were undergoing population recovery rather than extinction.

Climate change deniers most commonly claim that the phenomenon does not exist or its severity is overstated. This branch of denialism is the subject of a book that collates 112 descriptive texts on the topic, defined by the organizers (researchers from UERJ and UFPE) as “collective processes that seek to disqualify science, via an organized approach, based on political, economic, or moral interests.” With an emphasis on Brazil but in relation to the global landscape, the sadly relevant book is the subject of a report.

In this world of disinformation, one weapon increasingly being used is deepfakes—images, videos, and audio created by artificial intelligence. Scientists from Brazil and Hong Kong worked in partnership to develop an algorithm that can identify whether faces in images and video have been manipulated and in which areas. Of 112,000 faces tested, malicious tampering was identified in 88% of low-resolution videos and 95% of higher-resolution videos.