Updated Nov 2005
Over the last decades of the twentieth century there
has been a steadily increasing awareness of the global
significance of the Amazon rainforest. It has been
referred to as "the Lungs of the Earth" and studies
have indicated that it has a direct effect on global
weather patterns. The Amazon basin's vastness actually creates its own weather.
As a bio-diversity resource, it is known to
contain myriad species of plant and animal life.
Estimates suggest that many more have yet to
be discovered, documented and studied.
The Amazon rainforest has been shrinking at
a frightening and accelerating rate for many
years now. Currently 13,000 acres a day (or
8 football fields every minute).
unsustainable farming practices carried out by the ever-growing
indigenous local population.
Some of this has been due to the (now usual
and almost accepted) exploitation of resources
(timber, minerals, etc.) by multinational
corporations (there is an office near you ;-)
Most of it though, has been the direct result of antiquated,
ecologically destructive and totally
In 2000 the Brazilian government attempted to change
the state of play. It planned to introduce legislation
that would open up something like half of the remaining
Amazon rainforest to be felled and converted into
wood-chips and related products.
Fortunately, this move failed …
Brazil, May 18, 2000 (ENS) - Brazil's congressional leaders last night
dropped proposed legislation to increase the
area and rate of Amazon forest destruction.
Faced with the threat of a presidential veto
and widespread opposition from environmentalists,
the draft law was killed before it could come
to the House floor.
On the surface, this result sounds like a
resounding victory for environmentalists (and the
planet). In reality it is delaying the inevitable, for
reasons, which I will shortly attempt to clarify.
The Amazon region spreads across several South American
countries, but the largest part (about 60%) is in
Brazil. The Amazon is a massive resource on many levels
and its true value is beyond any financial estimation.
Many South American countries, including Brazil, are
up to their financial ears in international debt …
and those who lent them the money (that's you, me,
our banks and elected governments, by the way) want
it back, with interest.
Update Nov 2005:
This year saw some of the world's wealthiest nations agree to negate the debt (over a period of years) of some of the world's poorest nations. Though this is a positive and necessary humanitarian move, it remains to be seen if this will effect the Amazon region and its delicate ecology in a positive and/or meaningful way. As the saying goes: "the devil is in the fine print".
So Brazil, like other developing countries in the
world, is faced with the dilemma of needing to exploit
any available resource that would enable it to repay
those debts. While at the same time meeting the basic
survival, health and education requirements of its
rural population, for many of whom the Amazon is both
resource and home.
Can We Help:
There is only ONE solution
to saving the Amazon and it's precious contents.
That solution involves removing the region's
dependence on the Amazon as an *expendable*
If you want to save the Amazon … next time you
shop, consider buying Brazilian (not timber,
paper products or Big Macs though ;-)
Direct Financial Assistance - Make sure the
organization you are donating to is involved
in "On The Ground" programs that educate, train
and equip the people of Brazil (and neighboring
countries) to provide them with realistic alternatives.
Support South American Eco-Tourism, preferably
based in the country you plan to tour. Make
protection of the Amazon region a means of income
for local populations.
Write to your local Congress representative and insist on the removal of trade barriers
and protectionist legislation. It is due to
short sighted and narrow-minded fiscal policies
that the global inequities (leading to the destruction
of many sensitive ecosystems) have been maintained
for so long.
Most of Brazil's rural population has no interest
in the machinations of global eco-politics and international
finance. They just want a life, to feed their family,
and if they are lucky, perhaps educate their children.
They are not eco-terrorists, just ordinary people
trying to survive.
The deadline is approaching, when the rest of the
world will have to show just how much it really
wants to keep the Amazon rainforest … and if it
does, the affluent "West" in particular, will have
to put it's money where it's mouth is. Failure to
act, will see the Amazon nibbled away until the
damage becomes irreversible.
In the five years since this article was first written there have been reports of numerous success stories from environmental groups defending the Amazon and its biodiversity. Sadly, the battle is still ongoing!
Updated November 2005
Information on the Amazon Region
The ecological and political profile of the Amazon region has grown substantially over the last five years, making news and information about this important environment much more accessible. Below are some links that may prove useful for further study and/or review.
Amazon Images, Maps and Media:
Images of the Amazon region and its people can be found at the Amazonia.org web site in the Media section. Note that there are more images available in the Portuguese language version of the web site than in the English version.