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Letter from the editor | 258

The electric alternative

The search for fossil fuel alternatives gained impetus in the 1970s as a result of two global shocks in the oil market. In Brazil, a country that relies largely on hydraulic energy sources, the main result of this search was the development of vehicles powered by ethanol, a biofuel that would go on to become an important Brazilian asset. In recent decades, interest in other energy sources has been driven by a growing concern: global warming.

Electric cars are so efficient that they are presented as an environmentally friendly alternative even when powered with electricity generated by pollutive thermal power stations. But the high cost and low efficiency of their batteries is a problem, as is the supply infrastructure needed to make this option feasible.

This issue’s cover story presents a current overview of electric cars: the different models, the technological challenges, the international landscape, and the perspectives in Brazil. One possibility for Brazil would be to develop a hybrid car that takes advantage of the benefits of electricity without abandoning ethanol and its importance to the automotive industry and the economy. This option would require extensive research and development.

While the aim is to replace polluting cars with non-polluting ones, there are other factors at play, such as urban congestion and the investment needed to build new energy distribution infrastructure. In terms of sustainability, the whole cycle should be taken into account when analyzing technological advances: the raw material, the energy cost and pollutants emitted during its manufacture, its efficiency, and the impacts of its disposal, among other factors. They must also be considered in broader terms, in the context of public policies, such as incentivizing individual transport, as advocated by some groups, or prioritizing public transport, as preferred by others.

These topics are related to the theme of one of the interviews in this issue. Eduardo Brondizio, a radical Brazilian anthropologist living in the United States, is one of the coordinators of a UN panel assessing biodiversity and its contributions to society. The group studies matters that combine environmental and social issues, reconciling anti-poverty policies with conservation policies, for example. One of their objectives is to broaden the discussion on climate change so that fighting against it may be seen as part of a process of change, rather than an end in itself.

This issue features a strong feminine presence, including posthumous recognition for contributions to science by renowned women such as Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to receive the Fields Medal, psychologist Ecléa Bosi, who devoted herself to studying collectivity and memory, and Austrian ethnographer Wanda Hanke, who explored Brazil alone in the 1930s. Recently honored by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), 86-year-old crystallographer Yvonne Mascarenhas spoke to FAPESP about the beginnings of crystallography in Brazil, a discipline that uses x-rays to investigate the structure of molecules.