Wednesday, January 26

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 that 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. The threats intensified when an aggressive rancher claimed a nearby forest reserve, where he intended to burn and level trees to create pasture for livestock. The rancher hired armed men to prowl the Mendes neighborhood. Mendes publicly opposed the rancher and continued to advocate for 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 end up destroying ourselves.

Three days before Christmas 1988, Mendes was shot and killed by the rancher’s son.

It shocked the world.

The National Council of Rubber Extractors, reeling from the assassination, called for the Amazon to be preserved “for the entire Brazilian nation as part of its identity and self-esteem.” The council added: “This Alliance of Forest Peoples, which brings together indigenous people, rubber extractors and riverine communities, encompasses all efforts to protect and preserve this immense but fragile system of life that involves our forests, rivers, lakes and springs, the source of our wealth and the basis of our cultures and traditions. “

Since Mendes’ assassination, nearly 1 million square kilometers of the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Texas and New Mexico combined, has been destroyed, primarily in Brazil, but also in Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana. . That works out to an average of about 200,000 acres a day, or 40 football fields a minute. In Brazil alone, home to the largest expanse of forest, the rate of loss has increased by more than 30%. Historically a large carbon absorber, the Amazon as trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, now releases more carbon than it stores, adding to, rather than helping to reduce, our global climate crisis.

Deforestation rates decreased slightly from 2004 to 2012. But since then, they have increased again, especially in the last 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 deforestation changes weather patterns ( because of how trees breathe). , which in turn reduces rainfall. Also, as the forest fragments, areas surrounded by grasslands will lose species in a process that biogeographers call “ecosystem breakdown.”

In short, the Amazon is dying. Entire gene libraries and symphonies of species – trees, birds, reptiles, insects and more, eons in the making, tuned by natural selection – are being scrapped to make room for cows that burp methane.

“Bolsonaro is a powerful supporter of agribusiness,” The Washington Post reported before winning the presidency, “and it is likely to favor profit over preservation. [He] he has become irritated by foreign pressure to safeguard the Amazon rainforest and notified international non-profit groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature that it will not tolerate their agendas in Brazil. He has also spoken out energetically against the lands reserved for indigenous tribes ”.

Writing at Mongabay, a scientific website, Thais Borges and Sue Branford reported in May 2019 that a “new manifesto by eight of Brazil’s former environment ministers … warns[s] that Bolsonaro’s draconian environmental policies, including the weakening of environmental licenses, as well as extensive illegal amnesties against deforestation, could cause great economic damage to Brazil. “

Robert Walker, a quantitative geographer at the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, has said which, unless something unprecedented happens, predicts that the largest rainforest on earth will disappear by 2064.

If so, it took local opportunists, armed with chainsaws, bulldozers, and chants of “land, land, land,” just over a century to destroy a 10-million-year-old rainforest made up of some 390 billion trees. Perhaps then, in the hot, brutal, and not-too-distant future, when historians report humanity’s destruction of their own home planet, the massacre in the Amazon will be located at or near the top. And all the reasons why it had to be done, so urgent at the time, will seem trite until, stripped away, two fundamental causes remain: ignorance and greed.

Enter Pope Francis, who is not afraid to set precedents. Together with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Patrick Bartholomew, the world’s top three Christian leaders recently issued “A Joint Message for the Protection of Creation,” calling on Christians around the world to “hear the cry. from the earth”. This includes everyone, rich and poor, old and young, who must examine their behavior and promise “significant sacrifices for the good of the Earth that God has given us.” The three also implored world leaders scheduled to attend the United Nations Climate Conference (Cop 26) in Glasgow, which begins on October 31, to make courageous and necessary decisions.

If his health permits, Francis will participate in the Glasgow conference. Welby also plans to attend. Hopefully, shortly after, Francis, who is the first Pope in the history of the Americas, would visit Brazil, the most populous Roman Catholic country in the world. He would walk into the Amazon, bless the forest, what’s left of it, and ask the world to help him turn the tide of Brazil’s reckless policies. Perhaps you could give a homily on Revelation 7: 3: “Do not harm the land, the sea or the trees …” One 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 world’s richest nations to spend some of their vast wealth to help re-educate, re-equip, and re-employ Amazon farmers, ranchers, squatters, and entrepreneurs.

Shortly after being elected Pope in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires took his papal title in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi of Italy, the patron saint of animals and birds, who, like Chico Mendes, died at age 44. and spoke truth to power. . Henry David Thoreau, the New England transcendentalist who wrote Walden and Civil Disobedience, also died at 44 and did the same.

It’s not about how much time we have or about money. It’s what we do with it. “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine,” wrote Thoreau. He added that every time he walked through the forest, he came out “higher than the trees.”

Brazil takes its name from a tree, the Paubrasilia, thus given by the Portuguese explorers who appreciated it for its red tints. Known today as Pernambuco or Brazilian stick, it is listed as an endangered species, and is carefully planted, managed, and selectively harvested by skilled men who, with machetes hanging from their rope belts, move through the forest like the water and often bless each tree first. cutting the wood that will be carved into exquisite bows for violins, violas and cellos.

It is said that the people of Brazil, however difficult their situation, will smile instead of cry because they love life. It has also been said that the future of Brazil is the future of the world.

Chico Mendes was right.

Let’s save the Amazon and we could save ourselves.

  • A frequent contributor to The Guardian, Kim Heacox is the author of many books, including The Only Kayak, a memoir, and Jimmy Bluefeather, a memoir, both winners of the National Outdoor Book Award. He lives in alaska

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