It is part of the surrounding sierra of Rio de Janeiro, a familiar sight to locals who often head in the other direction, uphill from the beaches for a weekend getaway. While the escape from the cement of the city to see the greenery is always appreciated, the landscape is something I’ve always looked upon with sadness: When the Portuguese encountered the lushest of rolling mountains in 1500, the great Atlantic Forest extended down almost the entire length of what became the Brazilian coast; today, only some 10% of the forest still remains in pockets and in grave danger – as only it could. That is because it has always been along the coast and here in the South-East that the country has developed and where the majority of Brazilians have lived and farmed, in much the same way that the human search for satisfaction has destroyed ecosystems on other continents and at other times in the history of nations.
It is a forest very different and very far from the one that is currently burning, the one that the whole world knows by its name, Amazonia, but it is a forest no less important despite what is today a lamentably small size.
I want you to remember the Atlantic Forest tomorrow, the big day, the opening of the 74th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City, when Brazil will follow suit with its traditional role of opening the Assembly. Do not expect much, because the current president manages to be even more pathetic than the US president. And be careful: at some point during the week, numbers regarding deforestation will be presented, and I am sure there will be an insistence upon rates (compared to other rates at other times) and not absolute numbers. You are to be very careful when considering such figures, because, at this point, rates are often nothing more than a negotiation about how much more is permissible to destroy.
And it is no longer 1500.
It will be one of the most important Assemblies, since the world is gathering with great concern to discuss the sustainable, immediate future of the planet, exactly when there is an ecocide underway.
It is hardly the first ecocide on the planet, and Brazil is not its only stage. I often shiver when thinking about what must have gone through the head of the Easter Islanders in the 1600s when they cut their very last tree, sealing their fate. It is for that reason and others that I am far more pessimistic than my beloved Economist magazine, which seems to think in this week’s issue (dedicated to the topic) that capitalism can manage to save itself with the right incentives. I would love to agree, except that democracy has also been capitalized, rigged, and that is why its sister paper, the Financial Times, is shocking the world today with its headline “Capitalism: time for a rest”.
(The Financial Times!)
In fact, there are capitalist mechanisms that make trees more valuable standing than felled, but there are those acting on behalf of certain business powers that have, conveniently, disregarded any logic in maintaining forests standing – and they are in power.
You just have to follow the money.
That is why I think democracy is the most pressing climate issue. I can’t see how our environmental can be saved without governments for the people by the people, acting in the best interest of a people, and not in the interest of a few people.
Pay attention tomorrow. Pay attention this week. But more importantly, pay attention to your own mind, about what comforts you will be willing to give up and which ones you won’t.
Because when I look out and to a horizon that was once covered with in an emerald carpet, I know the time will come when I might have to give back.