While in D.C. at the AR conference, I had the opportunity to chat with a native Brazilian about the murder of Dorothy Stang, and the situation surrounding the Amazon.
My talk, amongst other things, included her story, and followed the money that paid for her execution back to myself. Since I use money, and once it leaves my hands I have absolutely no control over where it goes, it ends up motivating things that I find objectionable, such as this murder. The quickest money-chain from me to Dorothy's murderers was Home Depot -> Florida mahogany importer -> rancher -> murderers.
I believe my talk may have motivated this essay about how we don't really care what grows the GDP, so long as it grows. That's an interesting point and one I'll try to keep in mind. Now, back to Brazil.
The money that is going to destroy the Amazon is coming mostly from outside of Brazil. Money is sent in to pull out lumber, soy, and beef. The main purchasers include the first world nations, especially Europe and the U.S.A. The process by which the Amazon is being destroyed by us includes a few different aspects.
Years ago, most of the open land in Brazil was used to grow food and raise cattle. There was abundant land in Brazil, and yes, some of the rain forest may have been cleared to provide more land. The problem with cutting the Amazon is that the soil is very, very thin and poor. This sounds to me as counter-intuitive, but apparently the trees absorb all of the nutrients from the forest floor and rapidly incorporate them into their tissues. If an area is clear cut, and the trees removed, little remains in the soil, and it can become quickly depleted and turn to a virtual dessert.
So, some number of years ago, I suspect in the 1970's, Brazil embarked on a mission to grow lots of sugar cane. Now, perhaps at first it was for sugar itself for food, but at some point, the idea that sugar into fuel (ethanol) made financial sense, and an industry was born. Now, the sugar cane fields have overwhelmed the land that was once used for cattle grazing. The ranchers, not to be pushed out of a lucrative business in exporting grass fed beef, saw an opportunity in the Amazon.
Those people that live in the Amazon can live there for free, and they can get a claim to the land if they live in a certain place for a year. Since the trans-Amazon road has cut across the forest, as well as other roads, the number of such individuals has increased, so that along the road, there are many people staking claims.
Now, if such individuals are there harvesting rubber, then they have a great incentive for the forest to remain, so it continues to produce that rubber year after year. But, in come the cattle ranchers, who realize that they can buy the land from the settlers once the land is in the settler's names. Once buying the land, they cut the trees down for new land to graze the cattle. Take a look at this satellite photo to see how the land is cut down up to TWENTY MILES from the road.
The lumber, mahogany and perhaps other, is exported to places including the USA. The land is then used to grow soy or to raise grass fed cattle. The cattle fetches a nice premium when exported because it is free from mad cow disease. Anyone who eats beef is inadvertently also creating demand for this beef, and by extension, the destruction and partitioning of the Amazon.
As the ethanol demand increases, that puts a greater stress on the Amazon as ranchers try to make more grazing land. The land itself is no good after a few years, becoming like sand, so they have to move on to newly cut areas. One way to decrease this demand would be to ban the import of Brazilian beef. That would have to be a global ban, because even one large country, like the USA, China, or India, that kept buying would continue this destructive pattern.
Allegedly, Mr. Bush and the prime minister of the UK floated a trial balloon to see if the international community would be interested in taking over the Amazon to make into a world protected area. Those in Brazil were not very keen on the idea, as for them, the Amazon is viewed as a resource.
One might be led to conclude that it is all Brazil's problem, but that is not really the case at all. No matter how we spend money, the person we give it to, or perhaps the next person who gets it, or some few steps beyond that, is someone who buys beef, and thus creates this demand. On the wood side, the same can be said, even if we don't buy Brazilian mahogany, we buy things from others that might, and clearly, whoever does the buying of the mahogany got paid by someone else.
In a global economic system, the end result is that the behavior of the system itself is the lowest common denominator. If there are those willing to buy products born from destruction, then the system will support that. The destruction of the Amazon is simply one example of how our global economic system, and our global culture, is devouring and destroying Earth.
It is time for us to realize that this destruction must end. It is time for us to stop consuming and start producing things for ourselves. It is time for us to start transitioning towards a sustainable, compassionate, local future.
Amazon Destruction: Why is the rainforest being destroyed in Brazil? – This article goes into more detail on the specifics of the destruction, including the problems of roads, illegal tree cutting, subsistence farming, and the growing and export of soy. I myself eat a lot of soy, so this is yet another way that I am to blame for destroying the Amazon. This also illustrates that "being vegan is not enough". I'm destroying the Amazon, and because of the design of our economic system, we all are.
Outside the Box
What other ways could we save the Amazon? We could stop buying, i.e. stop spending money. We could create laws which made exports from Brazil illegal and/or super high export tariffs. We could militarily take over to protect it. We could have a war over it and force all the settlers out. We could educate the world about it. Some of these ideas would work better than others. We could send in people to protect it. We could pay the Brazilian government to pass laws to protect it. There are a lot of ideas. One thing is clear in my mind, we need to save the Amazon.
Comment by: MarySaunders (Mary Saunders) (Jan-28-2009)
You can use tempeh, garbonzos, and nuts, instead of soy. Another possible problem with soy is that you probably cannot find any free of genetically modified strains. Soy also contains some constituents that are estrogen mimics. There are health reasons not to use dairy products as well, though I am in a prime risk category (cancer survivor), and I have not yet been able to give up all dairy. Thanks for the article.
Aaron Wissner is a teacher, educator, organizer and guest speaker. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, with emphasis on mathematics, science, and education. Mr. Wissner has taught and consulted for sixteen years in public school, in areas ranging from mathematics, science, computers, to leadership and television news production. He is the founder and organizer of the grassroots Local Future Network, a non-profit educational outreach organization dedicated to saving Earth through culture change.