Yesterday around 10 in the morning I decided to hop on my motorcycle and ride up to Tapuio. I didn’t have another class until late in the evening and I really didn’t like the idea of sitting around in this hot town waiting for the class, so off I went.
Now, Tapuio might not be majestic. It’s not the Andes or anything. Just 2200 to 2600 foot peaks rising up from sea level with a fringe of forest at the top.
But it’s home, and it was home to a much larger share of forest, a greater variety of animals.
Tapuio can be seen easily from Iconha and the highway. All you have to do is look up. And driving home yesterday, that is what I did. I looked up. And I saw two new areas of deforestation. Two huge bare patches of land where the forest has been ripped out to make way for corn and pasture. Just to the left of a huge area ripped out to plant eucalyptus. These two new areas go all the way to the top.
Two new areas of raw, exposed earth. The trees have been ripped out, the plants hoed under. The fragile soil left to bake under the relentless radiation of a merciless sun burning everything this year. We’ve not had a significant rain in two months and the soil is dust, blowing off into the ocean.
Life, anything green or anything that walks and crawls and flies, has been expelled from these areas.
Americans might have a hard time understanding the problem. After all, in the States, you have the idea that you can do what you want with your property, even clearing off all the trees if you want. That’s what you think anyway, even though it isn’t actually the reality even in the States. You can’t drain wetlands, for example. Nor can you purchase land in environmentally sensitive areas and just march in plowing everything under. The EPA will not permit it.
The same thing here. Brazil has some of the strictest environmental laws in the world. On paper. For example, you can’t remove the forest from mountain tops. It should be obvious why. Erosion and loss of biodiversity are just two reasons. Heavy tropical rains on a cleared mountainside loosening fragile tropical soil already baked and powdered by a hot tropical sun and the result is loss of fertile topsoil, landslides, and loss of life. It impoverishes the nation. And all that fragile tropical forest soil ends up in the ocean, killing off everything growing and living there.
There is a myth that those responsible are poor dirt farmers just trying to make a living. Poor people, just trying to eat and contribute to society. We should allow them to destroy and kill in the name of humanity, right?
There are many problems with that scenario, the same one former President Lula used to defend the destruction of the Amazon. First and foremost, it is an absurd apology based on the premise that the civil structure does not provide adequate educational opportunities for people. Something that is just not true. It may be true that primary education isn’t the greatest in this country, not entirely the fault of the government, but Brazil is awash in cursinhos, short vocational courses directed primarily at these very poor people who didn’t have the means (or desire) to study in more traditional venues. These vocational courses stress sustainability, environmental responsibility, how to make money on the farm without destroying the world around you. Artisanal cheese, honey, rural tourism. In other words, the government provides information on non destructive, quite lucrative alternatives to the environmental destruction taking place.
But people have short attention spans, little patience, a lot of skepticism, and a strong belief in good old fashioned destruction. Why try something new when you know a bunch of bananas is going to bring you money now, butterflies and ant eaters be damned.
They perhaps don’t understand (or more likely just don’t care) that their actions now, the money in their pockets now, will dry up in the future after they have destroyed everything.
So they neither study in traditional venues, nor avail themselves of more ecological (and ultimately more lucrative) options. My neighbor’s sons both stopped studying at 14. They didn’t see the value in learning beyond how to plant a banana. They also cannot imagine anybody wanting to come here to see monkeys and ant eaters, pests to them.
But I also want to dispel the myth of the poor dirt farmer just trying to survive. It isn’t true. These people here are not poor, struggling to buy a pair of shoes. They may look the part, a poor appearance is hereditary, but they have made small fortunes by being the first to move in, cut down the trees, and make quick use of the fragile top soil before it washed away. They have nice homes, cable tv, a generous supply of food, trucks, cars, motorcycles, pools, etc. Their constant need to expand their area of production (destruction) is due to the fact that they cannot maintain that level of income on the areas they have already destroyed. Their profit is tied to an ever expanding first-use scenario. Once their current areas are worn out, they move into new. Instead of exploring alternatives, they keep on destroying. It works for them as long as they have land to move into, even if that land is protected by environmental laws. They simply move in, rip out the trees, and go to work. It doesn’t make sense to them that in 30 years, their children and grandchildren will have nothing, that the environment cannot sustain this kind of activity. They aren’t shooting themselves in the foot, their shooting their grandchildren in the foot.
And they are destroying the future for the entire nation. Impoverished areas diminish options for the entire nation, not just for a family or two.
So anyway, I saw the two new areas, swaths of destruction leading up the side of the mountain. I don’t have a camera anymore so I couldn’t take a picture. I’m considering mounting a new campaign, but I worry that I won’t have any support. I worry that I am fighting a losing battle. I worry that I will simply die of frustration, making no difference at all.
I do have dreams. I had hoped Tapuio could become an artist colony, dedicated to the production of beauty and the preservation of the forest. Looks like that isn’t going to happen. Any alternative agricultural practice I suggest is laughed at. I’m the gringo who doesn’t understand. Clearcut, the same resource-wasteful crops, cattle, and pesticides (called medication here), that’s the only way.
My talk of eco-tourism, responsible, limited (no groups trekking through the forest), well done and well maintained, is met with contempt, something meant for other areas, not for these rough people. They’re children of the land, gotta get dirty and rip out a tree to make some money.
I don’t have much in the way of options. I either stay and continue the fight, or I sell out, sell off, and leave. I don’t really want to leave, so I appeal to friends and family: I can’t do this alone. I can’t save Tapuio alone. Please, give me a hand.
I’m linking here a post I wrote back in January. The campaign is over (it failed) so I am not asking for donations. I’m just asking you to read and think. Consider how you might be able to participate. Consider how you might be able to help save Tapuio.
You don’t need to. I’m certainly aware of that. But you can. That’s the beauty of living. You always have the option of helping make the world a better place for everything.
If you permit me a slight paraphrasing of Deuteronomy 30:19: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and all things may live.
Choose to help. Choose life.