Each year, Nature magazine publishes an annual list of 10 scientists making a difference in the world. 2019’s package opens with my double-page portrait of Ricardo Galvao. As Brazil’s top physicist and a national hero who challenged Brazil’s President Bolsonaro, Galvao led the agency that released satellite images showing the Amazon rainforest’s destruction during Bolsonaro’s tenure.
Jeff Tollefson writes in Nature:
Ricardo Galvão nearly passed out when he heard the news and realized he was being targeted by his own president. On 19 July, Brazil’s leader, Jair Bolsonaro, lashed out against a report on deforestation by Galvão’s team at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São Paulo. The group’s analysis had incited the president’s wrath because it found a sharp spike in forest clearing in the Amazon. The president accused the scientists of lying about the data and suggested that Galvão — as head of the institute — might be in cahoots with environmentalists.
Rather than rush to react, Galvão gave himself 12 hours to craft a response. After a nearly sleepless night, he spoke out in defence of INPE scientists. He also accused the president of cowardice and called for a face-to-face meeting — acts that he knew would lead to him losing his job. What he didn’t know was that he would become a hero of sorts, hailed by his scientific colleagues as well as by strangers on the streets. A woman even stopped him on the subway in São Paulo to thank him for standing up to Bolsonaro and helping her to understand why preserving the Amazon matters.