When I was a young lad, my family had a house in a nice neighborhood of Brooklyn with a beautiful backyard. It had a garden with roses, and cucumbers, and tomatoes. As time went on though, my siblings and I got older, and my parents reluctantly decided to pave over the backyard, so my siblings and I could use it as a better play area. We lost a beautiful garden, but we gained a more suitable space for our growing family. In a way, Brazil is in the same situation. In a nation that is growing economically, destroying the rainforest just might be a necessity for the Brazilian nation.
I don’t need remind you of the world-renowned beauty, geological diversity, and global necessity of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, or maybe I do need to:
- It is home to many indigenous peoples, some of who still haven’t had contact with the outside world.
- Thousands of species of flora and fauna live only in the Amazon rainforest.
- It is a barrier in the fight against global warming. Without it, worldwide temperatures would rise by two degrees Celsius.
But to be honest with you, when was the last time a tree made you any money? I mean come on, the tree standing there looking pretty is truly a blessing from God, but not all blessings from God have economic value. Brazil is growing rapidly, and the land that’s cleared from the Amazon rainforest gets turned into farmland for cash-crop agriculture, settlements for Brazil’s growing population, or mines to find valuable raw materials. All of these make money, and are contributing to the growth of the Brazil’s middle class, and its rise as one of the world’s top economies.
Having spoken with many Brazilian people about the rainforest, while generalizations are rough, I’ll make one any way, there is a sense that they wished people who aren’t from Brazil would stop bothering them about the Amazon. After all, the United States and the nations of Europe wiped out their pristine, virgin forests, and they became economic giants.
While we vilify, as eco-terrorists, those heads of corporations responsible for cutting down the trees of Brazil, in America, we celebrate the destruction of our wilderness. Most Americans learn the tale of the celebrated mythological giant, Paul Bunyan, who could chop down whole forests with a single swing of his ax. If Paul Bunyan was real and living in Brazil today, Bono and Sting would write dramatic, effeminate, songs, demonizing him.
To be clear, I am not advocating for destruction of the rainforest. I am an environmentalist who composts my kitchen waste and recycles more than a San Francisco hipster. But before we scream about saving this or that, we have to understand people’s mindsets and wallets, and speak in their own language. Environmentalist rhetoric must also have realistic proposals that combine conservation with economic growth and means for sustainable development. Before we stop our neighbor from destroying his garden, let’s offer him some good alternatives.