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



Gabriela Sá Pessoa is a journalist passionate concerning the intersection of human rights and local weather change. She got here to MIT from The Washington Submit, the place she labored from her residence 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 essentially 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 presently based mostly on the MIT Middle for Worldwide Research. Just lately, she sat down to speak about her work on the Amazon, current adjustments 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 current editorial in The Boston Globe on combating deforestation within the area. Why is reporting on this subject necessary?

A: For a lot of Brazilians, the Amazon is a distant and distant territory, and other people dwelling in different components of the nation aren’t absolutely conscious of all of its issues and all of its potential. That is just like the USA — like many individuals right here, they do not see how they might 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 in all places, in Brazil and right here within the U.S. I believe it’s a part of journalism to indicate folks 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 assist for combating deforestation within the Amazon. And as customers, we might be extra conscious — is the meat we’re consuming associated to deforestation? Is the timber on our building websites coming from the Amazon?

Fact is, in Brazil, we’ve got turned our backs to the Amazon for thus lengthy. It’s our responsibility to guard it for the sake of local weather change. If we do not handle it, there will probably be critical 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 dwelling relies on that, each regionally and globally.

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

A: To local weather and atmosphere, the primary indicators have been constructive. However the optimism didn’t final a semester, as politics is imposing itself. Lula is going through growing problem constructing a majority in a conservative Congress, over which agribusiness holds large energy and affect. As we communicate, 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 Individuals Ministry, led by Sonia Guajajara. Each Marina and Sonia are international ecological and human rights champions, and I ponder what the influence can be if Congress ratifies these adjustments. It’s nonetheless unclear how it will influence the efforts to battle deforestation.

As well as, there’s an inner dispute within the authorities between environmentalists and people in favor of mining and massive infrastructure tasks. Petrobras, the state-run oil firm, is making an attempt 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 atmosphere and indigenous communities. And, in fact, it will be one other supply of greenhouse fuel emissions. ​

That stated, it is not a denialist authorities. I ought to point out the short response from the administration to the Yanomami genocide earlier this yr. In January, an impartial media group named Sumaúma reported on the deaths of over 5 hundred indigenous youngsters from the Yanomami neighborhood within the Amazon over the previous 4 years. This was an enormous shock in Brazil, and the administration responded instantly. They despatched activity forces to the area and at the moment are expelling the unlawful miners that have been bringing ailments and have been in the end accountable for these humanitarian tragedies. To be clear: It’s nonetheless an issue. It isn’t solved. However that is already a great instance of constructive motion.

Combating deforestation within the Amazon and the Cerrado, one other biome essential to local weather regulation in Brazil, is not going to be simple. Rebuilding the environmental coverage will take time, and the companies accountable for enforcement are understaffed. As well as, environmental crime has grow to be extra refined, connecting with different main prison 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 information, and it’s nonetheless too early to substantiate whether or not they sign a turning level and should point out a bent for deforestation to lower. Alternatively, the Cerrado registered file deforestation in April.

There are issues in all places 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 rebel 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 handle these issues and if the U.S. may encourage options to that. That’s one thing I’m fascinated with, 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 principally taking programs and attending lectures on urgent points to humanity, like existential threats comparable to local weather change, synthetic intelligence, biosecurity, and extra.

I’m studying about all these points, but additionally, 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 with how I might be extra rigorous and extra clear about my strategies. Being within the tutorial and scientific atmosphere is inspiring that method.

I’m additionally studying quite a bit about how you can cowl scientific subjects and fascinated with how expertise can supply us options (and issues). I’m studying a lot that I believe I’ll want a while to digest and absolutely 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 grew to become extra common after ChatGPT, has been a subject of intense dialogue this semester, and I used to be capable of attend many lessons, 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 additionally injustice. Fashionable programs like ChatGPT have made this expertise extremely common and accessible, even for these with no pc data. That is scary and, on the identical time, very thrilling. Right here, I discovered that we’d like guardrails for synthetic intelligence, identical to different applied sciences. Consider the pharmaceutical or vehicle industries, which have to satisfy security standards earlier than placing a brand new product available on the market. However with synthetic intelligence, it may be totally different; provide chains are very advanced and generally not very clear, and the pace at which new sources develop is so quick that it challenges the policymaker’s capability 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 it will likely be a unique tempo from MIT. I’m additionally doing analysis on carbon credit score markets and hope to proceed that undertaking, both in a reporting or tutorial atmosphere. 

Truthfully, I really feel impressed to maintain learning. I might like to spend extra time right here at MIT. I might like to do a grasp’s or be 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 study extra from the tutorial atmosphere. I hope that it is at MIT as a result of actually, it is essentially the most thrilling atmosphere that I’ve ever been in, with all of the folks right here from totally different fields and totally different backgrounds. I am not a scientist, but it surely’s inspiring to be with them, and if there is a method that I might contribute to their work in a method that they are contributing to my work, I will be thrilled to spend extra time right here.