The Amazon rainforest is losing 200,000 acres a day. Soon it will be too late | Kim heacox
SShortly before his 44th birthday, in December 1988, Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes predicted he would not live until Christmas. “At first,” he said, “I thought I was fighting to save the rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize that I am fighting for humanity.
Mendes had received death threats for years. Threats escalated when an aggressive rancher claimed a nearby forest reserve, where he intended to burn and level trees to create pasture for cattle. The breeder hired armed men to roam the Mendes district. Mendes publicly opposed the herder and continued to defend the human rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin, saying Brazil must save the world’s most biodiverse forest. Destroy it, he said, and we, the human race, will eventually destroy ourselves.
Three days before Christmas 1988, Mendes was shot dead by the breeder’s son.
It stunned the world.
The National Council of Rubber Flavors, shaken by the assassination, pleaded for the Amazon to be preserved “for the whole Brazilian nation as part of its identity and self-esteem”. The council added: “This Alliance of Forest Peoples – which brings together Indians, rubber tappers and riparian communities – embraces all efforts to protect and preserve this immense but fragile system of life which involves our forests, our rivers. , our lakes and springs, the source of our wealth and the basis of our cultures and traditions.
Since the Mendes murder, nearly a million square kilometers of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, have been destroyed, mainly in Brazil, but also in Peru and Colombia. , Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. This works out to an average of 200,000 acres per day, or 40 football fields per minute. In Brazil alone, home to the largest expanse of forest, the rate of loss has increased by more than 30%. The Amazon – historically a great carbon absorber, as trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen – now releases more carbon than it stores, adding to our global climate crisis, but rather helps to reduce it.
Deforestation rates declined slightly from 2004 to 2012. But since then they have been on the rise again, especially in the past two years since Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil.
In 2018, as Bolsonaro campaigned as a patriotic man of the people, scientists predicted that once the Amazon lost more than 25% of its tree cover, it would become a drier ecosystem, all because that deforestation alters weather conditions (due to the respiration of trees). , which reduces precipitation. Additionally, as the forest becomes fragmented, areas surrounded by pastures will lose species in a process biogeographers call “ecosystem decay”.
In short, the Amazon is dying. Entire genetic libraries and symphonies of species – trees, birds, reptiles, insects and more, eons in the making, refined by natural selection – are wiped out to make way for cows belching methane.
“Bolsonaro is a strong supporter of agribusiness,” The Washington Post reported before he won the presidency, “and is likely to prioritize profits over preservation. [He] angered at foreign pressure to protect the Amazon rainforest, and he warned international nonprofit groups such as the World Wildlife Fund that he would not tolerate their programs in Brazil. He also spoke out strongly against lands reserved for indigenous tribes.
Writing in Mongabay, a science website, Thais Borges and Sue Branford reported in May 2019 that a “new manifesto from eight of Brazil’s former environment ministers … warns[s] that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental permissions, as well as broad illegal amnesties against deforestation, could cause serious economic damage to Brazil ”.
Robert Walker, a quantitative geographer at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, said that unless something unprecedented happens, he predicts that the world’s largest rainforest will be wiped out. here 2064.
If so, it will have taken a little over a century for local opportunists – armed with chainsaws, bulldozers and ‘land, land, land’ chants – to destroy a 10 million year old tropical forest and made up of some 390 billion trees. Perhaps then, in the hot, brutal, and not too distant future, when historians relate humanity’s destruction of its own home planet, the Amazon murder will rank at the top or near the top. And all the reasons why it had to be done – so pressing at the time – will seem trivial until, dismissed, two root causes remain: ignorance and greed.
Enter Pope Francis, who is not afraid to set a precedent. Along with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Patrick Bartholomew, the three leading Christian leaders of the world recently released “A Common Message for the Protection of Creation”, calling on Christians around the world to “listen to the cry of the earth “. This includes all those, rich and poor, old and young, who must examine their behavior and promise “meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the Earth that God has given us”. The three also implored world leaders who were due to attend the United Nations Climate Conference (Cop 26) in Glasgow, which begins on October 31, to make courageous – and necessary – choices.
If his health permits, Francis will attend the Glasgow conference. Welby also plans to attend. Hopefully, soon after, Francis, who is the first pope in the history of the Americas, would travel to Brazil, the most populous Catholic country in the world. He would travel to the Amazon, bless the forest – what’s left of it – and ask the world to help turn the tide on Brazil’s reckless policies. Perhaps he could deliver a homily on Revelation 7: 3: “Do no harm to the land, sea or trees…” A homily that inspires South Americans to improve their livelihoods while protecting their ancient forest – the lungs of the earth. Finally, Francis could appeal to his church and the richest nations of the world to spend some of their vast wealth to help re-educate, retool and re-employ farmers, ranchers, squatters and businessmen. from the Amazon.
Shortly after being elected Pope in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires took his papal title after Saint Francis of Assisi of Italy, the patron saint of animals and birds, who, like Chico Mendes, died in 44 years old and spoke the truth to power. . Henry David Thoreau, the New England transcendentalist who wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience, also died at age 44 and did the same.
It’s not how much time we have or how much money. That’s what we do with it. “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine,” Thoreau wrote. He added that every time he walked in the woods he came out “taller than the trees”.
Brazil takes its name from a tree, Paubrasilia, given by Portuguese explorers who appreciated it for its red dyes. Known today as pernambuco or Brazilian wood, it is listed as an endangered species, and is carefully planted and managed, and selectively harvested by skilled men who, with machetes hanging from their belts of rope, move through the forest like water, and often bless each tree before cutting the wood which will be carved into exquisite bows for violins, violas and cellos.
It is said that Brazilians, no matter how difficult their circumstances, smile rather than cry because they love life. It is also said that the future of Brazil is the future of the world.
Chico Mendes was right.
Save the Amazon, and we might just save ourselves.
A frequent contributor to The Guardian, Kim Heacox is the author of numerous books, including The Only Kayak, a memoir, and Jimmy Bluefeather, a memoir, both winners of the National Outdoor Book Award. He lives in Alaska