Tracing the Implications of Things

            Some lessons to be learned from this story

Brazilian Rain Forest

The rain forest, considered as an ecosystem, reveals a complex, harmonious, interconnected world.  Yet within that system, individual animals and species act instinctively to preserve themselves and their offspring without much thought about the ecosystem or its future.  People who inhabit and use the rain forest have the capability to think about the ecosystem and its future.  Some people — the Yanomami, Kayapó and rubber tappers — choose to live in harmony with the rain forest, living off the land and at the same time preserving it for future generations.  In stark contrast, some exploit and destroy the rain forest environment for personal short-term gain.  The future of the ecosystem is not their concern.

Powerful economic forces underpin this exploitation.  Cattle and soy ranchers, timber and mining companies care about their bottom lines, not the ants, birds and medicinal plants of the rain forest.  Government agencies support these commercial activities through tax and fiscal policies.  Land policies, coupled with population growth, fuel the exploitation.  International financing provides the cash.

Arraigned against these institutional pressures are the indigenous people and rubber tappers.  While the commercial interests are better funded, and politically connected, there are countervailing forces.  First, the indigenous people and rubber tappers organized and fought back, sometimes through violence,  more often through political lobbying.  Chico Mendes lost his life in this struggle.  Second, the struggle has been internationalized.  Local Brazilian groups have received substantial support from international environmental  organizations, as well as from rock stars.  The exchange has educated the international community that the rain forest is a source of subsistence living, not just a haven for an incredible diverse ecosystem.

The globalization of the struggle between preservation and exploitation has produced a backlash within local commercial interests and some government agencies which charge that outside interference is just another form of imperialism.  But just as everything in the rain forest is interconnected, our global environment is interconnected.  What happens in the rain forest reverberates throughout the world.  When rain forest is cleared and burned, for ranching, mining, or hydropower projects, the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere affects the air we all breathe and the likelihood of further damage from global warming.  Like it or not, we are bound together on this planet and we are all vulnerable to assaults on our collective environment.  Whether or not we try to influence how the Brazilian rain forest is managed, we need to get our own emission house in order.  Our emissions, wherever  they are,  contribute to global warming and impact the atmosphere of everybody else, including those living in Brazil.


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