Amazon leader warns of rainforest destruction threat

By Stephen Brown
January 27, 2009

The ecological destruction of the Amazon region poses a serious threat to the planet, former Brazilian environmental minister Marina Silva has warned in advance of the World Social Forum, a global gathering addressing exploitative globalisation that opens today (27 January 2009).

"There is no way to imagine the planet without the Amazon," Silva said in a speech to the 3rd World Forum on Theology and Liberation, which met in Belem, northeastern Brazil, near the mouth of the Amazon River, from 21 to 25 January.

The WSF said it scheduled its 2009 meeting in Belem to focus on the need to maintain the biodiversity of the Amazon region. Sharing a platform on 24 January with Leonardo Boff, a Brazilian liberation theologian now campaigning on the environmental threat, Silva described the maintenance of the Amazon forests as essential for the sustainability of the earth.

"We are facing an unprecedented crisis. It's not only environmental, it's not only economic, it's a crisis for civilisation," said Silva, a member of the Brazilian Senate for the Para region of which Belem is the capital. "It's not only a matter of losing resources. We didn't use to have the hurricanes we now have in the south of Brazil."

Born in 1958, Silva was one of the initiators in the 1980s of peaceful demonstrations by forest-dwelling rubber tappers against deforestation and the expulsion of forest communities from their traditional holdings in the Amazon region. In 1994 Silva was the first rubber tapper elected to Brazil's federal senate, and the country's youngest senator.

In 2003, she was made environment minister by newly-elected President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and set about reducing deforestation in the Amazon region. She resigned from her post in May 2008 amid reports of disagreements within the government about her environmental policies.

In her speech to the theology forum, Silva defended her record as environment minister, and said she had resigned to ensure that the programme she stood for would continue. She said that after she stepped down, public pressure forced President Lula to say publicly his country's environmental policies would not be changed.

The Amazon region, Silva said, is home to 24 million inhabitants, a large number of them indigenous peoples, and traditionally had systems of belief dedicated to protecting the environment.

"With the destruction of the forest we are likely to destroy this entire way of looking at the world that is essential for humanity," said Silva. She said that 75 per cent of Brazilian carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were a result of deforestation. Still, developing countries accounted for only 20 per cent of global CO2 emissions, she noted.

Silva called for greater global efforts to combat emissions of CO2, which are held responsible for climate changed. She also criticised the "anthropocentric view" that puts human beings at the centre and views natural resources as infinite.

"We have to find another way. I learned from the vision of the theology of liberation and this marked my life profoundly. It is a time to think of new utopias," said Silva, who was brought up a Roman Catholic but later became a member of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination. "Spirituality has a huge contribution to make."

The World Social Forum first took place in 2001 in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, and Silva noted that it had been set up as a counter to the World Economic Forum, a gathering of politicians and business leaders that takes place each year, usually in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.

"Many of the things that we said [in the WSF] have come about," said Silva, referring to the global economic crisis. "The faith in the dogma of autoregulation [of the economy] went down the drain when the state had to step in," she asserted. "Maybe a gesture of humility would be to have a group from Davos to come here and hear what people have been saying for eight years."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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