Q&A: Gabriela Sa Pessoa, Brazilian Politics, Human Rights in the Amazon, AI | Massachusetts Institute of Technology News

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Gabriela Sa Pessoa is a journalist passionate about the intersection of human rights and climate change.she came to MIT Washington Post, There she worked from her native Brazil as a news researcher reporting on the Amazon, human rights violations and environmental crimes. Prior to that, she held positions in two of Brazil’s most influential media outlets. Folha de Sao Paulo, covering local and national politics, UOL, There she was assigned to cover the coronavirus and then joined the investigative desk.

Sa Pessoa was awarded the 2023 Elizabeth Neufer Fellowship from the International Women’s Media Foundation. The foundation supports awardees with research opportunities at MIT and further training at MIT. Boston Globe and New York Times. She is currently based at the MIT Center for International Studies. Recently, she sat down to talk about her work at Amazon, recent changes in Brazilian politics, and her experiences at MIT.

question: One of the focuses of your report is human rights and environmental issues in the Amazon. As part of your fellowship, you contributed to a recent editorial. Boston Globe About fighting deforestation in the region. Why is reporting on this topic important?

answer: For many Brazilians, the Amazon is a remote territory, and those living in other parts of the country are not fully aware of all its problems and all its possibilities. This is similar to the US. Like many people here, they do not understand how they relate to the ongoing human rights abuses and rainforest destruction.

But we are all part of the destruction in some way. Because every economic force driving rainforest deforestation has a market, and that market is everywhere, in Brazil and here in the United States. I think it’s part of journalism to show people that. In America, Brazil, etc., we are part of the problem, and as part of the problem, by recognizing the problem, taking an interest in it, and taking action within our power, we can find a solution. should be part of

In the United States, for example, voters can influence policies, such as the current negotiations for financial support to combat deforestation in the Amazon. And as consumers, we can be more conscious of whether the beef we consume is linked to deforestation. Does the wood on construction sites come from the Amazon?

In fact, in Brazil we have turned our backs on the Amazon for a long time. It is our duty to protect it because of climate change. If we don’t address this, it will have serious consequences for our local climate, communities and the world at large. This is a big issue for human rights because our lives depend on them both locally and globally.

question: Before coming to MIT, Washington Post In São Paulo, you contributed to the coverage of the recent presidential election. What changes do you expect to see in the new Lula government?

answer: For climate and environment, the first signs were positive. However, the optimism didn’t last for a semester as the political situation was tough. Mr. Lula said agribusiness is facing growing difficulty in winning a majority in the conservative parliament, where it has enormous power and influence. As we speak, environmental policy is under congressional attack. A House of Representatives committee has just passed a ruling on drowning powers from Environment Minister Marina Silva and the recently established National Indigenous Affairs Ministry led by Sonia Guajajara. Marina and Sonia are both global environmental and human rights advocates and wonder what the impact would be if Congress approved these changes. It is not yet known what impact it will have on efforts to combat deforestation.

Moreover, there are conflicts within the government between environmental activists and those who support mines and large infrastructure projects. State oil company Petrobras is seeking approval to explore and drill for offshore oil reserves at the mouth of the Amazon River. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a definitive report to cease operations as a serious threat to the sensitive environment and indigenous communities in the area. And of course it will be another source of greenhouse gas emissions.​

That said, it is not a negative government. I should also mention the government’s swift response to the Yanomami massacre earlier this year. In January, an independent media organization called Sumauma reported that more than 500 indigenous children from the Yanomami community in the Amazon had died in the past four years. This was a big shock in Brazil and the government reacted quickly. They have dispatched special forces to the region and are now ousting the illegal miners who brought disease and are ultimately responsible for these humanitarian tragedies. Let me be clear, it’s still a problem. it is not resolved. But this is already a good example of positive action.

Combatting deforestation in the Amazon and Cerrado, another biome important to Brazil’s climate regulation, will not be easy. Restructuring of environmental policy is slow and the agencies responsible for enforcement are understaffed. Additionally, environmental crime is becoming more sophisticated and linked to other major criminal gangs in the country. After two consecutive months of increased deforestation in the Amazon, deforestation decreased for the first time in April. These are still preliminary data, and it is still too early to know whether they represent a tipping point and possibly a downward trend in deforestation. Meanwhile, the Cerrado recorded record deforestation in April.

There are problems all over the economy and politics that Lula has to face. In the first week of his new term, on January 8, riots broke out in the capital, Brasilia, by Bolsonaro voters who refused to accept the election results. The event was similar to what Americans saw in the 2021 Capitol storming. He also seems to have brought problems such as mass murders in schools from America. I didn’t see them in Brazil before, but now I see them. I’m interested in how this country deals with these issues, and if the US can also suggest a solution. Here’s what I’m thinking, is there a solution? what are they?

question: What have you learned so far from MIT and its fellowships?

answer: It’s hard to put everything into words! I mostly take courses and attend lectures on pressing human issues such as climate change, artificial intelligence, biosecurity and other existential threats.

I’m learning about all these issues, but I think I’m also learning more about how as a journalist I can incorporate a scientific approach into my work. For example, to be more proactive. Already a rigorous journalist, I am wondering how I can make my method more rigorous and transparent. Being in an academic and scientific environment is such an inspiration.

I also learned a lot about how to cover scientific topics and how technology can provide solutions (and problems). I am learning so much that it will take me some time to digest and fully understand what this period means to me.

question: You mentioned artificial intelligence. Why not take a look at this subject and what you’ve learned?

answer: I had a particularly good semester at MIT. Generative Artificial Intelligence, which has grown in popularity since ChatGPT, has been a hotly debated topic this semester, and I have had the pleasure of attending many classes, seminars, and events on AI here, especially from a policy perspective.

Algorithms have long had an economic, social and public health impact. It worked great, but it was also unfair. Popular systems like ChatGPT have made this technology incredibly popular and accessible to those with no computer knowledge. This is both terrifying and very exciting at the same time. Here, I learned that artificial intelligence, like any technology, needs guardrails. Consider the pharmaceutical and automotive industries, where safety standards must be met before new products can be brought to market. But artificial intelligence is different. Supply chains can be very complex and often opaque. In addition, the speed of development of new resources is so rapid that the ability of policy makers to respond is questioned.

Artificial intelligence is fundamentally changing the world. I am very excited to be here and to see these discussions taking place. After all, I have a future to report. At least I hope so!

question: What are your plans for the future?

answer: After MIT, we will go to New York and work together there. new york times in an internship program. I’m really looking forward to it because it will be a different pace than MIT. I am also doing research on the carbon credit market and would like to continue that project in a reporting or academic setting.

To be honest, I am motivated to continue my studies. I would love to spend more time here at MIT. I would like to get my master’s degree or join a program here. I think I need to learn more from the academic environment, so I will work towards returning to academia. I hope it’s MIT. Because, honestly, it’s the most exciting environment I’ve ever been in, with people from all walks of life and backgrounds. I’m no scientist, but it’s exciting to be with them. If there is a way I can contribute to their research as they contribute to mine, I would love to spend more time here.

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