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On tragedies, fears and laughter

A significant part of the shocking images of pain and despair shown in the media in the aftermath of the inordinately heavy rains that fell on São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and many other Brazilian cities at the beginning of this year is very closely related – and we are all more than aware of this – to the precarious living conditions of much of the country’s urban population. These living conditions – the extreme risk of which is inherent to how they are inserted into the urban fabric – are exemplified by the slums, tenements, and abandoned buildings and plots of land invaded by squatters. These are all fragile forms of housing that have clamored for efficient public policies for decades. They are spread throughout gigantic areas vulnerable to any unusual meteorological or climatic event. Other reasons for the ad nauseam media exposure of the post-downpour images in the last few months to Brazilian public opinion could be related to excessive use of concrete, the lack of green areas, the difficult circulation of air in cities such as São Paulo, for example, provoked by high-rise buildings located excessively close to each other – in short, a climate change generated by local phenomenon and not necessarily by global warming.

However, it is important to emphasize that the so-called short term extreme events – of which the afore-mentioned downpours are an example – are expected to intensify in the upcoming years, according to experts in this field. Many of these experts are focused not only on acquiring a better understanding of such phenomena but also on providing solid scientific tools to support public policies capable of dealing with the referred phenomena on a new level. This is the context in which the project “Identificação das vulnerabilidades das megacidades brasileiras às mudanças climáticas” is being developed. The vulnerability of Brazilian megacities to climate change is the main topic of this issue’s interesting cover story, which starts on page 16. The article was written by assistant technology editor Dinorah Ereno. The referred project is a broad study conducted under Megacities, an international program carried out within the scope of the Brazilian Network for Research on Climate Changes and the National Science and Technology for Climate Changes Institute, under the coordination of climatologist Carlos Nobre and of the late Daniel Joseph Hogan, a demographer who passed away on April 27. The first result of the project is the map showing areas of vulnerability in the Metropolitan Region of São Paulo, which will be forwarded shortly to government authorities. Among other information, the map identifies the areas with the highest risk of  landslides and flooding at present and provides the forecast for 2030, if no measures are taken in relation to São Paulo’s existing urban expansion model, which includes the occupation of areas lying on the outskirts of the city, among other problems.

In this issue, I would like to briefly highlight the opening article of the science section, prepared by Editor Ricardo Zorzetto. In his article, Zorzetto refers to a study that proposes that the pathway of fear in the brain is not a single path and, based on experiments with animal models, different cell circuits are activated, which depend on the situation that stirs this primary feeling (page 46). The opening article of the humanities section also deserves to be highlighted. In this article, Editor Carlos Haag focuses on recent studies that have shed some light on the logic of repression during Brazil’s dictatorial regime, which held power from 1964 to1985. These studies were prepared based on documents found in the archives of the regime’s police force and include reports prepared by police agents responsible for torturing and sending people to jail (page 80). And, finally, the scientific and technological policy section includes an article by Fabrício Marques, which provides an accurate report on the Paulista Science, Technology and Innovation Conference, held in preparation for the National Conference, scheduled to be held in Brasília from May 26 to May 28.

After several dense and serious topics, I would like to suggest to our readers to read the short story by Vanessa Barbara, on page 96. The story is not only very good – it is also hilarious. As I was reading the story, I was laughing almost as hard as I do when I watch the extraordinary actor Peter Sellers in the film The Party.