Journalism from the center of the world

Lethal heat: one day after Ana Clara Benevides died at a Taylor Swift show in Rio de Janeiro, the public waited for her second show, which was postponed. Photo: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

The death of Ana Clara Benevides at a Taylor Swift show laid bare the collective alienation that is leading us to grimmer and grimmer days. The psychology undergraduate left Rondonópolis, to fulfill her dream of seeing the performer’s live show on November 17 in Rio de Janeiro. Ana only saw the first song. During the second she fainted, dying soon after, possibly due to the extreme heat. That night, it felt as if it was nearly 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit), during Brazil’s eighth heat wave of the year. If a young woman dying in a hot nighttime concert is terrifying, the reaction of the authorities, the public, and part of the press is equally terrifying. It shows a dangerous disconnect from reality.

First, the reaction from fans who were told the Saturday show would be postponed because it was forecast to be the hottest day of the year. Of course the organizers should have notified them earlier, but failing to understand that a person may have died because of heat, another thousand fainted, and outcomes on the second night could be even worse, perhaps for these same fans, is frightening. The press was filled with statements that started out: “I know about the climate crisis, but…” No, they don’t know. If they did, they would see that they have already missed much more than a show because of global heating – and they will lose much more, not in a distant future, but tomorrow.

What is happening is not a passing phase, it is life corroding. And it won’t stop unless the young people going to shows start moving, like the urban climate activists inspired by Greta Thunberg and the climate activists in the Indigenous, Quilombola, and traditional communities in the various biomes of the planet. Missing a show is nothing. Failing to see this is a symptom of profound alienation.

Second, the controversy about water bottles. It is obviously fundamental to ensure access to water at any large event and any initiative in this sense is valid. But that is not the what this is about. When someone dies from the heat because of extreme events caused by the combination of El Niño and global heating, this means that we are at a point of collapse that is far beyond whether or not water can be brought into stadiums. Potable water will be increasingly scarce on a planet subject to extreme droughts. Right now, many water sources are contaminated with mercury, agrochemicals, and other agents. And what’s worse: they continue to be contaminated by transnational corporations, by agribusiness, and by legal and illegal mining.

It’s curious how people go on accepting limitations without noticing the degradation of their lives. Our grandparents didn’t buy water to drink or use. We passively began to accept that water had to be treated because the rivers were being contaminated and we ended up paying a price because of this. We then passively allowed water sources to become the property of major corporations, who started to sell us bottled water. Now, when we take reporting trips or trips to do forest training, part of the boat is taken up by water we’ve purchased, because the water in Indigenous villages and traditional communities is contaminated with mercury and agrochemicals. And what’s worse: we let these same river-contaminating corporations become the owners of the sources of clean water.

Extreme event, historic drought: bottled water donations are carried by residents to help make it through the emergency in the state of Amazonas. Photo: Bruno Kelly/Reuters

This is the same logic that makes it possible to sell water at exorbitant prices at event venues. But this logic has a name – capitalism. And capitalism is killing our own and other species. Responding to the collapse of life with “I have to see the show, it’s my dream” is just amazingly stupid, for all of the reasons and because it could be you that dies. It’s also amazingly narcissistic, the result of capitalism’s consumerist indoctrination that is reproduced by many parents and educators. These are generations shaped to believe that their desire is the most important thing in the world and that if you follow the rules, you will be able to fulfill these desires by purchasing more things. More than this: they are shaped by the illusion sold by capitalism that money can resolve everything.

It’s old news, but no, you can’t. Why else do you think that billionaires are trying to go to Mars and super-millionaires are building bunkers to protect themselves from the climate collapse in countries like New Zealand. They are using the billions and millions accumulated through shares in corporations, many of which are destructive, to try to escape the planet they’ve wrecked – or at least to make sure that they are secure and well-provisioned between their bulletproof reinforced walls. This is also an illusion, but in the meantime they continue eating the planet. And of course the first to be affected are those who have already been affected: native populations, black people, the most impoverished, who already live precariously, starting with children.

Climate Central looked at the air temperature on record for the last 12 months (November 1, 2022 to October 31, 2023). The conclusion is scary: we’ve already reached a global temperature increase of 1.32 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-Industrial age (1850-1900). 2023 has already shown the impact of so much heating and everything indicates that, if we continue down this path, we will surpass 2 degrees Celsius in the rosiest of estimates, and are more likely to reach well over 3 degrees by the end of the century.

The series of extreme events in Brazil and across the world is terrifying. Right now, part of Brazil’s South region is under water, while its North is experiencing one of the most severe droughts ever. And we just suffered through the worst of this year’s eight heat waves, precisely the one that may have killed young Ana Clara. Will a climate convulsion be enough to knock people out of their denialist state? Probably not. That’s what we see from the repercussions of the death at the Taylor Swift show.

We just went through years of a pandemic that, while it lasted, changed every habit; but we learned nothing from the experience. In Brazil alone, where the virus found deadly support in the Bolsonaro administration, Covid-19 killed over 700,000 people. Yet we learned nothing. Trained by capitalism in the belief that there will always be a way, most people experienced the pandemic as if it were a passing phase. They explicitly ignored the fact that the era of major pandemics has just begun, because these pandemics are the result of nature’s mass destruction, which, as we know, continues.

Normal – which was only normal for some – will never return. There is also no “new normal.” We are in a climate collapse. Yet people prefer to deny the facts, even when the house is literally falling down on their heads because of a cyclone – or catching fire.

When the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Flávio Dino, takes “measures” to authorize the entry of water into stadiums and forces event organizers to install “hydration islands” with easily accessible drinking water, it’s just a lot of noise with little action. This and much more is expected from a government. Much bigger and more concrete actions to confront global heating, for instance, should be expected.

Pretending that the problem boils down to guaranteeing bottles of water is like the phrase (falsely) attributed to Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. She was told that the people were rebelling because there wasn’t enough bread. And she, having lived her entire life in the bubble of the courts, supposedly said: “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.” Water bottles are the cake in this brutal incident.

Responding to the death of Ana Clara means, firstly, giving a name to the bigger cause, which could have led to her pulmonary hemorrhage and three cardiorespiratory arrests. If the extreme heat is proven to have caused her body to collapse, the name is global heating. Secondly, act. If anyone has yet to notice, it’s worth repeating: governments will not make the necessary public policies without significant pressure from society; congress will not make the necessary public policies without pressure from society. In the case of Brazil, this is possibly the most predatory Congress in the history of the Republic, mostly working for transnational corporations and major landholders. Lula has been placed in a tight check; Marina Silva, who managed the feat of reducing deforestation in the Amazon by 22% in an extremely hostile context, is facing a war inside and outside the government; Congress has passed laws greatly expanding the destruction of nature and its peoples and, therefore, is decisively contributing to global heating.

Intense pressure is needed on rulers and parliamentarians – as well as to rise up against the corporations destroying our home. Other than this, all we can do is wait for the fire to catch us – because it will. Just like it caught young Ana.

One of the biggest enemies of the preservation of life, largely responsible for global heating, is oil. The planet is warming because 200 years ago Europe (starting with England) began using fossil fuels on an industrial scale, which emit greenhouse gasses that cause the temperature to rise. Since the mid-twentieth century, scientists have been warning about the global heating caused by fossil fuels and then made worse by deforestation and the industrial production of meat. Oil corporations then contract lobbyists to deny that this is happening – the same strategy used by the tobacco industry, which despite knowing that cigarettes cause cancer, was able to use money to round up scientists and doctors to lie and say otherwise. And thus the number of deaths climbed exponentially while they infected the movies and TV with glamorous commercials of celebrities with cigarettes in their mouths, profiting like never before.

A study published by Climate Analytics showed that the 25 largest companies producing fossil fuels earned US$ 30 trillion in profits from 1985 to 2018 – and they caused at least US$ 20 trillion in climate damage. As the Climate Observatory showed, if they paid for the damage they caused, these corporations would still have a US$ 10 million profit. While the United Nations Environment Programme reported that fossil fuel production planned by governments worldwide for 2030 exceeds the Paris climate agreement’s target by 110%. This is where today’s governments are at.

What is happening now in Brazil is an example of the new moment in the oil industry. While extreme events are on the rise and are killing people in the country and around the planet, a discourse is being spread that a “gradual, responsible and growing energy transition” (read grindingly slow change with a priority on shareholders’ profits) needs to be made – and all of the blah blah blah that goes with it. One action to do this is to open a new front in oil exploration in the Amazon, the very biome that is closest to the point of no return. Lula, who promised to defend the Amazon, is in favor of this, along with most of his administration.

This is the subject of the in-depth reporting by special reporter Claudia Antunes, one of Brazil’s best journalists, who has spent months trying to understand the subjective relationships between the population and the world of oil as well as between the plans Brazil and other countries have for fossil fuels. With the obsessive dedication that characterizes Claudia’s journalism, with its consistently high rigor in terms of accuracy and regarding complexities, she leads us by the hand down this long journey filled with landmines – and shows us what the plans are now for those who hold the money and government machinery. And they have the worst possible plans.

Fossil fuel on our hands, a planet in collapse: the oil is ours, but at this point, who wants oil? Photos: Antonio Scorza/AFP and João Paulo Guimarães/Greenpeace

The highlight of this edition, this story is mandatory reading for anyone who does not intend to wait for our planet-home to burn so that billionaires and super-millionaires can continue making profits. This will also be at the center of the dispute at the COP-28 meeting, which begins in the shameful petrostate of the United Arab Emirates on November 30.

Taylor Swift wrote on social media that she would be unable to talk about what happened because she felt “overwhelmed by grief.” She has an ethical obligation to be much better than this and use her enormous visibility to talk about the global heating that will kill more and more. And now it may have killed at her show. A public person has a public responsibility. For someone with Taylor Swift’s resonance to fail to fulfill her obligation in the limit-moment we are experiencing is a shame.

For young Ana, there is already no more time. Yet maybe there is still time for most people to stop failing to act in the face of the biggest challenge we’ve ever confronted. It isn’t just Taylor Swift who needs to do her part, but each person who is interested in continuing to live. Without taking a position on ending oil exploration, this conversation can’t even start. The rest is cake.

Fact-checker: Plínio Lopes
Proofreader (Portuguese): Valquíria Della Pozza
Spanish translation:  Meritxell Almarza
English translation: Sarah J. Johnson
Photo Editor: Lela Beltrão
Layout and finishing: Érica Saboya
Editors: Malu Delgado (news and content), Viviane Zandonadi (editorial workflow and copy editing), and Talita Bedinelli (coordination)
Director: Eliane Brum

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