Report by Melina Forêt (Law Student)
From January 12 to 13, 2023, fifteen students from fourteen different majors took part in the Q+ course “The Amazon: Crucial Element for World Climate.” On the first afternoon, Brazilian historian Joao Dias introduced the participants to the history of Brazil. His lecture began with indigenous inhabitants some 20,000 years ago, but focused more intensely on colonial history, beginning around the year 1500 with the Portuguese discovery of Brazil. Economic developments were at the center of the lecture, as Brazil achieved global relevance due to trade in so called brazilwood and later sugar cane. These were accompanied by the enslavement of African people at a scale which far exceeded the North American colonies and later USA. The drastic consequences of colonization for the indigenous population were discussed as well, along with political developments up to the current day, with the influence of the military on politics playing a key role. We learned about advancements such as inflation control and economic stability, as well as social failures such as corruption and crime. This first historic-political section was followed by a Q&A and discussion, based on a selection of readings prepared by the participants. It became evident that the lecture had already raised a high level of interest in the students, as the discussion moved from specific Brazilian issues to more general questions on the relation between ecological and social crisis. Repeatedly, the idea of a socio-ecological transformation of society was brought up.
The next day, biologist and meteorologist Stefan Wolff introduced the students to tropical meteorology and the significance of rain forests for world climate. In a remarkable manner, he managed to make these complex topics accessible even to students without background in natural sciences. Starting with the thesis that the Amazon is the world’s air conditioner, the participants learned about the atmosphere, different climate zones, the significance of the ocean, Earth’s energy circulation, and finally the related tipping points. Stefanie Hildmann, PhD candidate in chemistry and Q+ student, introduced a chemical perspective by explaining the role of aerosols in the atmosphere and their effect on climate change. After this theoretical section, the participants took part in a planning simulation, playing the roles of science, investors, agriculture, environmental and human rights NGOs, as well as indigenous groups. The various interest groups developed goals, arguments, and five year plans, which were debated in the group. The final discussion put a particular focus on including all interest groups, the inclusion of indigenous knowledge and the preservation of indigenous cultures, and social aspects as well as alternative agricultural models. At the end, the students gained insight to the ATTO project, a joint German-Brazilian research project situated at the center of Brazil’s rain forests.
Two highly intense seminar days gave us new insights into Brazilian society and history, as well as its nature and its significance for the entire world. The seminar inspired us to think and perhaps act.