The amazon rainforest is an incredibly valuable natural resource not only to the 8 countries it spans across in South America but for the world as a whole. As climate change and global warming become increasingly recognised across the globe by people from all walks of life the importance of the Amazonian rainforest in mitigating the impacts of climate change has too become increasingly recognised. The link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet is undeniably strong, the 1.4 billion acres of rainforests that make up the Amazon contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon which helps stabilise the local and global climate.
Deforestation has become a key issue surrounding the Amazon rainforest, not only does it reduce the efficiency of the rainforests as a carbon sink, it has also become a concern for local and indigenous peoples where land has been taken from them by companies invested in logging and cattle ranching. The forest is important for local populations as they rely on it for agriculture, clothing and medicine. Therefore recent struggles by locals and activists have attempted to equally address the immediate needs of the locals and also the needs of future generations.
However this bright future is darkened by the violence which has become increasingly associated with environmental activism in the Brazilian Amazon, many lives have been threatened and many taken over the last 30 years. The execution of ‘eco-icon’ (Hecht, 2011) Chico Mendes in 1988 for his association with social and environmental justice movements in Acre, Brazil sparked concern and outrage across the globe, bringing environmental degradation, exploitation and corruption onto the world stage. Since 1988 many laws and acts have been implemented to protect the rights of the indigenous communities and to prevent further destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest but such measures have not been effective in eliminating violence.
Dorothy Stang was a Catholic nun and rain forest Activist in Brazil and was killed in 2005 at 73 after she fought to preserve an area of land that ranchers wanted to clear for logging and cattle ranching, the murder was ordered by a rancher after Stang had blocked him from taking land the government gave to local farmers. A similar story is reflected in the case of rainforest activists Jose’ Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santa when they were murdered in 2011 for their involvement in a 15 year campaign against illegal loggers and ranchers who stole the land from the rural poor, land which was given to them by the government and was legally theirs.
These sad stories have made international headlines and measures have been taken to prevent such occurrences but this injustice continues to occur alongside environmental and social activism in the Amazon Rainforest. Even though more measures have been taken to allow for sustainable use of the forest from the drying of Amazon nuts to make oils and soaps to sell, an activity undertaken by da Silva and his wife to wide spread conservation projects, violence and murder are rife. This violence represents the clash between those invested in preservation and those invested in destruction as these different groups value the rainforest in different ways or for different purposes. This conflict of interests has caused many to loose their lives, but shouldn’t life hold the greatest value of all?
Hecht, S. 2011. The new Amazon geographies: insurgent citizenship, “Amazon Nation” and the politics of environmentalisms. Journal of Cultural Geography 28 (1): 203-223.