Q&A: Gabriela Sá Pessoa on Brazilian politics, human rights in the Amazon, and AI | MIT News

Gabriela Sá Pessoa is a journalist passionate in regards to the intersection of human rights and local weather change. She got here to MIT from The Washington Publish, the place she labored from her house nation of Brazil as a information researcher reporting on the Amazon, human rights violations, and environmental crimes. Earlier than that, she held roles at two of probably the most influential media shops in Brazil: Folha de S.Paulo, masking native and nationwide politics, and UOL, the place she was assigned to coronavirus protection and later joined the investigative desk.

Sá Pessoa was awarded the 2023 Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship by the Worldwide Ladies’s Media Basis, which helps its recipient with analysis alternatives at MIT and additional coaching at The Boston Globe and The New York Occasions. She is at the moment based mostly on the MIT Heart for Worldwide Research. Not too long ago, she sat down to speak about her work on the Amazon, latest modifications in Brazilian politics, and her expertise at MIT.

Q: One focus of your reporting is human rights and environmental points within the Amazon. As a part of your fellowship, you contributed to a latest editorial in The Boston Globe on preventing deforestation within the area. Why is reporting on this matter vital?

A: For a lot of Brazilians, the Amazon is a distant and distant territory, and other people residing in different components of the nation aren’t totally conscious of all of its issues and all of its potential. That is much like the USA — like many individuals right here, they do not see how they may very well be associated to the human rights violations and the destruction of the rainforest which can be taking place.

However, we’re all complicit within the destruction in some methods as a result of the financial forces driving the deforestation of the rainforest all have a market, and these markets are all over the place, in Brazil and right here within the U.S. I believe it’s a part of journalism to indicate individuals within the U.S., Brazil, and elsewhere that we’re a part of the issue, and as a part of the issue, we ought to be a part of the answer by being conscious of it, caring about it, and taking actions which can be inside our energy.

Within the U.S., for instance, voters can affect coverage like the present negotiations for monetary help for preventing deforestation within the Amazon. And as customers, we could be extra conscious — is the meat we’re consuming associated to deforestation? Is the timber on our development websites coming from the Amazon?

Reality is, in Brazil, we’ve turned our backs to the Amazon for thus lengthy. It’s our obligation to guard it for the sake of local weather change. If we do not deal with it, there will probably be severe penalties to our native local weather, our native communities, and for the entire world. It is an enormous matter of human rights as a result of our residing depends upon that, each regionally and globally.

Q: Earlier than coming to MIT, you had been at The Washington Publish in São Paulo, the place you contributed to reporting on the latest presidential election. What modifications do you count on to see with the brand new Lula administration?

A: To local weather and surroundings, the primary indicators had been optimistic. However the optimism didn’t final a semester, as politics is imposing itself. Lula is going through rising issue constructing a majority in a conservative Congress, over which agribusiness holds great energy and affect. As we converse, environmental coverage is below Congress’s assault. A committee within the Home has simply handed a ruling drowning energy from the environmental minister, Marina Silva, and from the not too long ago created Nationwide Indigenous Folks Ministry, led by Sonia Guajajara. Each Marina and Sonia are world ecological and human rights champions, and I ponder what the impression could be if Congress ratifies these modifications. It’s nonetheless unclear how it will impression the efforts to battle deforestation.

As well as, there may be an inside dispute within the authorities between environmentalists and people in favor of mining and massive infrastructure tasks. Petrobras, the state-run oil firm, is attempting to get authorization to analysis and drill offshore oil reserves within the mouth of the Amazon River. The federal environmental safety company did a conclusive report suspending the operation, saying it’s essential and threatens the area’s delicate surroundings and indigenous communities. And, in fact, it will be one other supply of greenhouse fuel emissions. ​

That mentioned, it is not a denialist authorities. I ought to point out the fast response from the administration to the Yanomami genocide earlier this 12 months. In January, an impartial media group named Sumaúma reported on the deaths of over 5 hundred indigenous kids from the Yanomami group within the Amazon over the previous 4 years. This was an enormous shock in Brazil, and the administration responded instantly. They despatched job forces to the area and are actually expelling the unlawful miners that had been bringing ailments and had been finally liable for these humanitarian tragedies. To be clear: It’s nonetheless an issue. It isn’t solved. However that is already an excellent instance of optimistic motion.

Preventing deforestation within the Amazon and the Cerrado, one other biome essential to local weather regulation in Brazil, is not going to be straightforward. Rebuilding the environmental coverage will take time, and the businesses liable for enforcement are understaffed. As well as, environmental crime has change into extra refined, connecting with different main felony organizations within the nation. In April, for the primary time, there was a discount in deforestation within the Amazon after two consecutive months of upper numbers. These are nonetheless preliminary knowledge, and it’s nonetheless too early to substantiate whether or not they sign a turning level and will point out an inclination for deforestation to lower. Alternatively, the Cerrado registered document deforestation in April.

There are issues all over the place within the financial system and politics that Lula should face. Within the first week of the brand new time period, on Jan. 8, we noticed an riot in Brasília, the nation’s capital, from Bolsonaro voters who wouldn’t settle for the election outcomes. The occasions resembled what Individuals noticed within the Capitol assaults in 2021. We additionally appear to have imported issues from the USA, like mass killings in faculties. We by no means used to have them in Brazil, however we’re seeing them now. I am curious to see how the nation will tackle these issues and if the U.S. may also encourage options to that. That’s one thing I’m fascinated about, being right here: Are there options right here? What are they?

Q: What have you ever discovered so removed from MIT and your fellowship?

A: It is arduous to place every thing into phrases! I am largely taking programs and attending lectures on urgent points to humanity, like existential threats corresponding to local weather change, synthetic intelligence, biosecurity, and extra.

I’m studying about all these points, but in addition, as a journalist, I believe that I’m studying extra about how I can incorporate the scientific method into my work; for instance, being extra pro-positive. I’m already a rigorous journalist, however I’m fascinated about how I could be extra rigorous and extra clear about my strategies. Being within the tutorial and scientific surroundings is inspiring that means.

I’m additionally studying so much about methods to cowl scientific matters and fascinated about how know-how can supply us options (and issues). I’m studying a lot that I believe I’ll want a while to digest and totally perceive what this era means for me!

Q: You talked about synthetic intelligence. Would you wish to weigh in on this topic and what you may have been studying?

A: It has been a very good semester to be at MIT. Generative synthetic intelligence, which turned extra fashionable after ChatGPT, has been a subject of intense dialogue this semester, and I used to be capable of attend many courses, seminars, and occasions about AI right here, particularly from a coverage perspective.

Algorithms have influenced the financial system, society, and public well being for a few years. It has had nice outcomes, but in addition injustice. Widespread methods like ChatGPT have made this know-how extremely fashionable and accessible, even for these with no laptop data. That is scary and, on the identical time, very thrilling. Right here, I discovered that we want guardrails for synthetic intelligence, identical to different applied sciences. Consider the pharmaceutical or car industries, which have to fulfill security standards earlier than placing a brand new product in the marketplace. However with synthetic intelligence, it should be completely different; provide chains are very advanced and generally not very clear, and the pace at which new assets develop is so quick that it challenges the policymaker’s potential to reply.

Synthetic intelligence is altering the world radically. It is thrilling to have the privilege of being right here and seeing these discussions happen. In spite of everything, I’ve a future to report on. At the very least, I hope so!

Q: What are you engaged on going ahead?

A: After MIT, I’m going to New York, the place I will be working with The New York Occasions of their internship program. I am actually enthusiastic about that as a result of will probably be a distinct tempo from MIT. I’m additionally doing analysis on carbon credit score markets and hope to proceed that mission, both in a reporting or tutorial surroundings. 

Truthfully, I really feel impressed to maintain learning. I’d like to spend extra time right here at MIT. I’d like to do a grasp’s or be a part of any program right here. I’m going to work on coming again to academia as a result of I believe that I have to be taught extra from the tutorial surroundings. I hope that it is at MIT as a result of actually, it is probably the most thrilling surroundings that I’ve ever been in, with all of the individuals right here from completely different fields and completely different backgrounds. I am not a scientist, but it surely’s inspiring to be with them, and if there is a means that I might contribute to their work in a means that they are contributing to my work, I will be thrilled to spend extra time right here.

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