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Climate-change denier given top Brazilian science job

27 Jan 2015
Mixed messages: Aldo Rebelo is Brazil's new science minister

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has named an outspoken climate-change denier as head of the country’s science ministry. Aldo Rebelo – who was previously Brazil’s sports minister and has no scientific background – is a member of the Brazilian Communist Party and was also leader of the lower house of Congress between 2005 and 2007. He replaces Clélio Campolina Diniz, who had only been appointed early last year.

Rebelo’s appointment has caused concern among some researchers in Brazil given his views on climate science. In 2010 he penned an open letter to environmentalist Márcio Santilli declaring that climate change is an “environmental scam”. He also stated that developed nations have a hidden agenda dedicated to halting the industrial development of booming economies such as China, India and Brazil, adding that the curbing of greenhouse-gas emissions is “nothing less, in its geopolitical essence, than the bridgehead of imperialism”.

His positions on climate change are completely out of phase with the Brazilian scientific community
Paulo Artaxo, University of São Paulo

Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist from the University of São Paulo, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo that the nomination of Rebelo is “concerning”. “His positions on climate change are completely out of phase with the Brazilian scientific community,” Artaxo notes. “We are expecting serious problems in several areas, such as the environment, biodiversity, climate change and forest protection.” Other researchers, however, do not seem overly concerned by Rebelo’s stance. “I’d rather wait and see what Rebelo’s next move will be,” climatologist José Marengo of Brazil’s Centre for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts told physicsworld.com. “I wouldn’t make predictions based on something he said five years ago.”

First-rank team

Marengo says that the key for Rebelo will be building a good team within the science ministry. “Currently, many key roles are played by very respected scientists,” he says. “If Rebelo keeps it this way, things can work well.” Indeed, Rebelo has already met the leaders of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science. He has also appointed biochemist Hernan Chaimovich of the University of São Paulo as president of the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. “Rebelo is starting to form a team composed of first-rank scientists, which will be good for Brazilian science, technology and innovation,” says Marengo.

Having a ministry led by someone who knows the political game well might be advantageous
Jean Ometto, National Institute for Space Research

Indeed, some scientists hope that Rebelo – who is known as an excellent negotiator – will put the science ministry in a position that is more relevant politically, which could result in increased investment for science. “Although his past declarations are questionable, he is a skilful and experienced politician,” says Jean Ometto of the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research. “Having a ministry led by someone who knows the political game well might be advantageous.”

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