Severe drought in Brazil reignites debate on summer time

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Updated 1 hour, 56 minutes ago

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Dyane Rodrigues enjoyed strolling along the iconic Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro after a hot summer day. Daylight saving time meant her workday passed faster and ended early enough for her to admire the golden sunset, the 28-year-old said from her fruit stand, a stone’s throw from the edge sea.

That changed in 2019, when Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro abolished the practice of changing the clock. The idea behind daylight saving time was to make the most of the natural light on long summer days, delaying the time when households turn on their lamps by an hour. But the president said daylight saving time no longer made sense because it produced little energy savings and forced Brazilians to move in the dark, and many experts agreed.

But once again, daylight saving time – known here as “daylight saving time” – has come to the fore.

Brazil is in the throes of its worst drought in 91 years, which has raised the specter of electricity rationing. The operator of the hydropower grid is re-examining the extent of the benefits sacrificed by the 2019 change, and federal lawmakers discussed its return this week. The associations linked to the tourism and service industries, feeling the opportunity to boost the evening business, provide their support.

Since its inception in 1931, the summer schedule has divided Brazilians between those who bathe in the morning light and those – like Dyane – who prefer their sunsets. Governments faltered in the decades that followed, adopting it in some years but not in others. From 1985, when the drought caused blackouts and water rationing, the summer timetable was renewed each year by presidential decree. It became essential in 2008.

A decade later, a Senate poll of nearly 13,000 people found them roughly divided, with 55% in favor of ending the summer timetable. Bills proposing the change did not move forward, so Bolsonaro ended the practice by decree. He admitted that he had never been a fan and cited studies showing a negative impact on people’s biological clocks.

People like Dyane were disappointed, but at the time hardly anyone cared about the electricity.

Fast forward two years, and Brazil’s reservoirs are dwindling. In a country where almost two-thirds of electricity comes from hydropower generation, low rainfall has serious consequences. The situation is so bad that Bolsonaro asked Brazilians on September 23 to stop using elevators whenever possible and take “much healthier” cold showers.

“Help us,” Bolsonaro pleaded on his weekly Facebook show.

Reservoir levels in the south-eastern and central-western regions are lower than in 2001, when the country last experienced an electricity crisis; power was rationed for eight months. Since then, the country has installed thermoelectric generating plants as a more expensive back-up power supply, but experts say that was not enough. This week, the governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second most populous state, warned that the power could run out “at any time.”

“The system was not designed to work in a situation like this,” said Roberto Brandão, senior researcher at the Electricity Sector Study Group at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “The only reason we don’t see bigger problems is due to the economic crises of recent years and lower than expected consumption. “

This year’s drought comes at the end of nearly a decade of below-normal rainfall, and some experts have linked the extreme weather to climate change. Deforestation of the Amazon rainforest also reduces evaporation of moisture which then moves over air currents to provide precipitation in the distance.

Bolsonaro’s opponents blamed him for a late response to an issue reported by experts months ago. Others say it’s not a problem that can be resolved year over year, nor by an administration.

“Frankly, the (power) sector is not designed to cope with such bad hydrology,” said Brandão, who forecasts possible rationing this year.

Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque, who said Bolsonaro was told of an impending water crisis in October last year, dismissed the criticism. Brazil introduced a “water scarcity” electricity tariff, increased energy imports from Argentina and Uruguay, accelerated infrastructure projects that can distribute electricity from the northeast in the least affected south, and created a national committee that can quickly reverse regional rules to optimize energy and water consumption.

Earlier this month, Albuquerque asked the network manager to analyze the benefits of restoring daylight saving hours, which his department said it was still reviewing. But on September 17, Albuquerque said “there is no need for the summer schedule to return in 2021.”

According to a 2016 Brazilian study from Mato Grosso State University, daylight saving time existed in 76 countries, including the United States and Europe. Many countries around the world have chosen to abolish it. In 2016, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro reintroduced daylight saving time to save energy, overturning a decree signed by his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The European Parliament carried out a study in 2018 among member countries, in which 84% of people said they were against setting their clocks twice a year.

Ultimately, the decision is up to Bolsonaro. His press service returned questions via email as to whether he was considering a U-turn or when a decision is expected. In July, he reiterated his dislike, saying most Brazilians “oppose it because it changes the body clock.”

But that was before his energy minister called for further studies and before the issue, once again, reached Congress.

Representatives from the restaurant, service and tourism sectors participated in a public hearing this week after sending a letter to Bolsonaro saying they could benefit from daylight saving time. An extra hour of the day would attract welcome business after losses suffered due to pandemic restrictions on business. One of Bolsonaro’s closest allies in the private sector, Luciano Hang, a department store mogul, has also expressed support.

Most of the hearing took place live on the Lower House’s YouTube channel. As representatives of trade associations patiently accompanied lawmakers through their PowerPoint presentations, a handful of Brazilians posted impassioned comments showing the deviation from daylight saving time.

“SUMMER SCHEDULE YESSSSS” wrote one of them. “WE CAN ENJOY THE DAY WITH OUR CHILDREN A LOT MORE #ComeBackSummerHours”

Another user was not convinced:

“NO SUMMER HOURS !!! SUMMER SCHEDULE NEVER AGAIN !!! ”

PA journalist Marcelo Silva de Sousa contributed to this report.


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