Friday, July 31, 2009



This is going to be fun.

OK, full disclosure: For years I have always hated my dentures which I experience as both uncomfortable and as highly constraining. The joys of taste and the simple pleasure of feeling the sensualities of my tongue roll across my palette are simply not available in a mouth full of plastic. And, besides, the damn contraptions no longer fit well and they've started to hurt. Indeed, I rarely use them at home – they just sit in their container waiting for me to grab them for my entry into the public world of presenting myself. I've been thinking about no longer using them for quite some time.

Two nights ago we performed a Santo Daime healing ritual called Os Chamados – The Calls – which are the healing hymns of Mestre Conselheiro Luiz Mendes. One part of the ritual is that as people line up for their first drink of Daime each receives a randomly-drawn card that indicates some virtue such as "truth" or "justice" or "harmony" – a good concept to contemplation during the ritual.

For example, this one says entendemento -- understanding.


In the spirit of what I had already been thinking about and of getting what I had asked for, the card that was "randomly drawn" for me said – of course! – COMFORT. Well, it didn't take much contemplation to realize that it was only vanity that stood between me and my healing. OK. I got it! One smiles with one's heart and not one's teeth. I decided then and there that my denture days had ended. So be it!

Yesterday was my first toothless venture into the world. I came into town to meet with Dande Tavares who is the World Wildlife Fund representative on Amazon forest issues. My mission was to ask him to be my local "teacher", to introduce me to people and projects of sustainable production and forest preservation. He has generously agreed, which is tremendously important for a newcomer and foreigner such as myself.

Then I prevailed upon him to be my photographer, documenting my toothless reentry into the world.

Popeye Lou
Photo by Dande Tavares

Dande thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

Dande Tavares

You know, as I have mentioned in previously posts, Saturnino likes to deliver a lecture at the conclusion of our healing rituals that says it is a misconception to think that healing involves suffering. Instead, he thanks people for sharing its joys.

It works that way for me. I have often thought, "Well, here I am at 71 years and I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." Now I know. I want to be younger. I don't think that's going to happen in my body – surely not in my teeth – but it sure can happen in my heart and that's what I really want. With faith that one gets what one asks for, I know I will receive it.

PS: Around here they are going to start calling me Popeye Lou which is a word play with Papai Lu (Papa Lou).

Yup, healing can really be fun.

Monday, July 27, 2009


When Gilberto Gil was Brazilian Minister of Culture he liked to call the free software movement a "peer-acy" as a way of saying that the new Internet openness was not a theft but, instead, a new way of working together. In the video above Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva offers one of the most interesting defenses of free software movement.

Thanks to the efforts of Jose Murilo there's now a translation into English of this truly amazing speech. I hope you have 15 minutes to hear it all because it really gives context to what the info revolution means in Brazil and probably throughout the developing world.

Here is the story of the speech to the free software conference which was held recently in Brazil. For more background, there's a very fascinating perspective on the larger movement from Kevin Kelly writing in WIRED magazine.


We had an absolutely marvelous festival of Saint John at Fortaleza. The festivals of St John are thought to be an especially important time for the possibility of personal and collective transformation and thus they are usually great parties.

I have lots of photos which I've been trying to upload for weeks but, somehow, and my Acre Internet connections have not been cooperating. So, without further ado, here are the videos of our Fortaleza festivities.


(A purely personal mental and visual journey.)

It is said that spiritual growth begins with asking and that everyone receives according to their nature. To say, "Give me' -- dai-me in Portuguese -- especially under sacred conditions, is to receive it.

Humility is the Symbol of Nobility

In the practice of the Doctrine of the Santo Daime at Fortaleza the guiding motto is, "humility is the symbol of nobility". Humility and asking are connected.

I've got to confess that it's not always so simple or easy. Indeed, I continue to be challenged to watch what I'm asking for. In a sense, the cleansing power of the Daime is a self-awareness project that keeps putting a mirror in your face. We look. We let go of the unnecessary. We firm up our aspirations. We learn to be humble and careful about what we are asking for.

I think that others are doing something similar. We are all cleaning and polishing and developing. But the target keeps moving toward something better. Here, no one rests for long. There is always a New Horizon.

Although I'm a natural communicator, it's really been challenging living among my Portuguese-speaking spiritual family and friends. Most often I'm overwhelmed by the language gap. That's an important reason for why I keep turning to visual art. With camera and computer I search for ways to express the beauty that I see. It's a good thing that I like to make images as much as I like to talk.

Even better is to have subject matter like this…

Lago Fortaleza

And to have a work station like this…

My Fortaleza Work Station

The other evening I had the rare treat of being visited by a young friend who speaks English. She was interested in "my story" and this gave me the special opportunity to use words, lot's of them! In telling the story I looked through my present Fortaleza lenses to see how I seem to have gotten here.

I reviewed my younger years of endless ambition, of searching for ways to "present" myself. Now it all seems as a successful but rather fraudulent performance of clever image management. It's called "role playing." I remember saying once in a moment of despair, "Why can't I just be a gift as I am? Why can't we all just be gifts? Why must we hide the child within? Why is it so necessary to prove and compete? Isn't a life of love and beauty our true birthright?"

Nice dream, huh? But all of my social training had taught that this was not the way of reality.

My understanding started to change only during my activist years of doing summer-long vigils in the old growth forest of Bald Mountain in Southern Oregon where for the first time I was able to just be myself, bringing together my child-like love for nature, my spiritual urge to serve the Queen of the Forest and my political work of seeking protection for the forest's community of life.

In the forest, the work had been so simple – just be there and then tell the story. One way that I practiced was to hike through those ancient groves of towering Douglas firs and recite endless variations of a simple Navaho prayer:

With beauty before me, I walk.
With beauty behind me, I walk.
With beauty above me, I walk.
With beauty below me, I walk.
With beauty within me, I walk.
With beauty all around me, I walk.

And I would add:

Touch the Earth and Blessed Be

It is lovely, indeed.
It is lovely, indeed.
It is lovely, indeed.
It is lovely, indeed.

In the enchantment of the Ancient Forest of the US Pacific Northwest I learned that the child's dream could be a living reality and that I could share publicly who I am.

I guess that I'm enchanted again here at Fortaleza. Surely, I feel blessed to be in such a pretty place with a community that really values the child inside us all. I have received what I asked for, walking in beauty and telling the story. But now I get to do it not as a lone hermit but as a member of a community.

Needless to say, I am thrilled. There's something about the child-thing that makes me want to walk in beauty, create art and play visually. Sometimes the journey -- in my imagination – is like being carried along by a powerful primal mother.

The Journey

To walk in beauty is not always easy. Sometimes I really have a big struggle but it's a labor of love. In the Santo Daime tradition that's called, "a batalha" – the battle. We say that we drink Daime to work with strength and vigor. The challenge is to stay humble and to maintain a comfortable balance between desire and acceptance. As the great hymn of Padrinho Sebastião says, "I am not God, but I have an aspiration".

At times, it can be a bit like shooting for the stars but "why not?"

Shooting for the Stars

At Fortaleza our story is not so much about exotic spiritual adventures deep in the jungle, but more about how ordinary folks of local Acreano origins and recent arrivals from distant places have been working to expand the living Doctrine of the Santo Daime by performing lots of ceremonies, receiving visitors and building a community. Here, the spiritual teachings unfold in a very down-to-earth context where people hold real jobs, and raise families with the normal aspirations. They also hope to achieve a healthier, more joyous and balanced life in harmony with nature.

Fortunately, we are blessed to be working together with the loving examples of:

Mestre Conselheiro Luiz Mendes

Mestre Conselheiro Luiz Mendes

Madrinha Rizelda

Madrinha Rizelda

Saturnino and Luzirene


And, especially during festivals, a bunch of friends and extended family.

2008 Encounter with Samúma Branca

Festival time in the Santo Daime is very special. The works are intense, serious and highly disciplined. And there are also priceless moments of spontaneous beauty, playfulness and joy. We have been documenting a lot of it.

We are now planning for the next Encounter for the New Horizon (Dec-Jan 2010) which will be biggest festival ever held at Fortaleza, especially honoring the 70th birthday of Mestre Conselheiro Luiz Mendes. There will be 10 days of spiritual works followed by several more days of the feitio rital of making Daime.

I don't really understand how we do such an intense schedule, working hard physically while also doing the inner work of cleansing our consciousness AND manage to have so much fun. For me, it's a mystery.

As Padrinho Alfredo's hymn says,

The Master is the one from Nazareth
The Mystery comes from the Amazon

Indeed, cleansing, love, joy, work, intimacy, light-heartedness, openness and much more flow together in the rituals and life at Fortaleza. There's seriousness AND and incredible sweetness…

Flower of the Waters,
From where you come, where you are going
I will do my cleansing
In my heart is my Father.

The Home of my Father
Is in the heart of the World
Where all the Love exists
And there is a profound secret.

This profound secret
Is in all humanity
If only all knew each other
Here is this Truth

The inner path is personal, unique to each individual. Every person must find his or her own way. (That's a reason why no one is ever encouraged to drink Daime.) Of course, the truth and the light can be found everywhere but I have always loved the forest and that's where I have always looked. Below is an image I took about five years ago in Oregon, looking at an altar piece on the window sill of my cabin in the forest. At that time, before I had moved to Brazil, I was still imagining what living in Brazil might be like.

A Light in the Forest

A picture may be worth a thousand words but it is still not the real thing. All that I can say personally is that I am grateful for this light in the forest. I'm grateful for being able to tell this story. I am grateful for being here with this wonderful family and so many friends.

I got what I asked for.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Bald Mtn Blockade
photo by David Cross

YUP! The stuggle begun nearly 30 years ago by activists in Southern Oregon to save the Ancient Forests from the chainsaws have seen many swings. This is one of the good ones.

Limits on Logging Are Reinstated

Published: July 16, 2009
NY Times

Go to original article.

In a move to protect endangered species, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Thursday that his department had reversed a Bush administration decision to double the amount of logging allowed in and around old-growth forests in western Oregon.

Veering between swipes at “indefensible” moves by the Bush administration and pledges to step up noncontroversial timber sales, Mr. Salazar said in a conference call with reporters that he was reinstating a compromise reached 15 years ago to limit logging with the goal of protecting watersheds, trout and salmon fisheries and endangered birds like the northern spotted owl.

“Today we are taking action to reform the Department of Interior and correct mistakes by correcting legal shortcuts the late administration made at the end of its tenure,” Mr. Salazar said.

The Bush policy, challenged in the courts by environmentalists, would have allowed timber companies to cut up to 502 million board-feet of lumber annually from 2.6 million acres of forests in the region, or about double the amount allowed under the Northwest Forest Plan, which was adopted in 1994 under President Bill Clinton.

In fighting the Bush plan, known as the Western Oregon Plan Revisions — or to its detractors, “Whopper” — environmentalists argued that the department’s Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the forests, had failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service about the logging’s impact on endangered and threatened species.

Environmentalists also took issue with a related decision that narrowed the extent of protected habitat for the spotted owl.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult wildlife agencies about potential consequences of prospective actions.

Kristen Boyles, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice, praised the reversal of the Bush policy on Thursday. “Whopper was not going to be the ticket for Oregon,” she said. “It would have been a sea of stumps, and not what we needed to see in working Oregon forests.”

She added, “This is a big step for the Obama administration to take.”

Still, Mr. Salazar’s decision to reverse that policy during a severe recession was fraught: at 12.1 percent, the unemployment rate in Oregon is among the highest in the country. In Douglas County, where the forestlands involved are located, the unemployment rate is 16.9 percent, in large part because of closings of sawmills and the loss of timber jobs.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, expressed frustration with the reversal. “Oregon is facing double-digit unemployment,” he said in a statement. Opening up logging under the Bush administration’s plan “would have given our timber-dependent communities a real boost.”

But Mr. Salazar said the Obama administration hopes “to move beyond the battles of the past” while reviewing possible updates to the 15-year-old Northwest Forest Plan.

In a question-and-answer post Thursday on its Web site, the Interior Department listed several timber sales it said it was preparing in Oregon that would create at least 200 jobs.

Tom Strickland, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, said in the conference call that such timber sales, now on a fast track, would most likely focus on smaller-diameter trees.

But Ann Forest Burns, a spokeswoman for the American Forest Resource Council, a timber-industry group, questioned that approach. “Just thinning the second growth will not restore the health of these forests and will not be what these communities need,” Ms. Burns said.

Some economists, however, argue that the timber economy in Oregon suffers less from logging restrictions than from the housing downturn and new low-cost competition from logging companies overseas.

Despite the logging limits, spotted owl numbers have continued to decline since the Northwest Forest Plan was put in place in 1994. Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the nonprofit National Center for Conservation Science and Policy and an expert on the species, said competition from its more aggressive cousin, the barred owl, had hampered the spotted owl’s recovery.

“We need to continue to protect the old forest to let these two owl species settle out their differences,” Dr. DellaSala said.


The International Biochar Initiative has a brand new website.

Why should you check it out?

Biochar is an ancient-future soil technology, created by the Amazonian Indians before the Europeans arrived, that has been recently "re-discovered" as a most promising way to address global warming, increase food production, filter water and start the long process of restoring good health to the earth.

I've posted about biochar a lot. Here are a story and sort of a spiritual perspective on how we might be coming into realizing the true treasure of Brazil and of the earth.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Right now, there’s more money to be made cutting tropical forests down than leaving them standing. Environmental policymakers are trying to reverse that equation.

Deforested land

By Rhett Butler

Go to original article.

Until forty years ago, the Surui people spent their days roaming the Brazilian Amazon with bows and arrows, hunting monkeys and wild pigs. Their only contact with the outside world was with the rubber tappers who occasionally ventured through their territory. Then, beginning in the late 1960s, the Brazilian government laid a 2,000-mile highway through the heart of the jungle. Lured by the promise of cheap, fertile land, thousands of poor farmers boarded buses, rickety pickups, and horse-drawn wagons and bore deep into Surui tribal lands. The results were catastrophic. First the tribe was decimated by disease. Then unscrupulous speculators started hawking fraudulent titles to the land, spawning bloody turf wars between the tribe and settlers. Within a few years, the Surui population dwindled from roughly 2,000 to fewer than 200.

Amid the onslaught, neighboring tribes scattered, died off, or sold out to loggers and ranchers. But the bitter suffering and long odds only seemed to sharpen the Suruis’ resolve and fighting instincts. After ten years of struggle, in 1982, the tribe rose up, armed with clubs and poison arrows, and drove the settlers from their land.

Since then, the Surui have been battling to keep new incursions at bay. The tribe has split into four groups, each living in a different corner of their 600,000-acre territory, so they can better guard their turf. They regularly throw chains over logging roads, chase miners out of pits and rivers, and take the government to task for failing to rein in the destruction. So far, their tenacity has paid off: even as development has eaten away at the surrounding landscape, the tribe has managed to preserve their forests and their way of life. Viewed by satellite, their territory is a lone patch of green amid stretches of barren, ocher earth. But the struggle is relentless. In the last decade, the Surui and neighboring tribes have seen eleven tribal elders assassinated. At one point their chief, Almir Surui, was evacuated by helicopter to the United States because of threats to his life.

Behind the brutality is simple economics: in rural Brazil, grinding poverty is the norm, and there is ample money to be made from plundering the forests. Logging alone supports at least thirty timber mills and more than 4,000 jobs in the areas surrounding the Surui territory. This means that, for every trespasser the tribe fends off, thousands more lie in wait. Despite the admonitions of tribal elders, even some members of the Surui tribe have given in and opened their land to loggers in return for cash.

Almir Surui is well aware that, given the forces he’s up against, poison arrows won’t be enough to keep intruders at bay forever. In recent years, the plucky young chief, who wears a traditional feather headdress even when visiting Washington or Rio de Janeiro, has embraced a variety of new tools that would have boggled the minds of his ancestors. The one-room schoolhouse in his village has been outfitted with broadband Internet and computer terminals that run a high-resolution version of Google Earth, which the Surui use to monitor illegal logging. Working with environmental groups, including Forest Trends and the Amazon Conservation Team, the tribe is also exploring ways to tap into global carbon markets. As a first step, they have hired the heavyweight law firm Baker and McKenzie to parse their claim to the carbon dioxide stored in their part of the Amazon, which, like all tropical forests, absorbs large quantities of this heat-trapping gas. They have also begun laying out methods for measuring the carbon stock, most likely through a combination of high-resolution satellites and on-the-ground observation. In the meantime, an anthropologist has been dispatched to explain to the tribe’s rank-and-file what exactly carbon is.

The aim is to get businesses and governments in the developed world to pay the Surui to preserve their forest as part of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The money would go toward a rigorous, independently certified monitoring and enforcement system, as well as toward building schools and health clinics and reforesting the areas of their land that have been ravaged by loggers. The Surui also plan to use some of the funds to set up sustainable industries, such as shade-grown-coffee plantations and small-scale furniture factories, which would allow them—and, eventually, the surrounding communities—to make a living from standing forests, thereby helping to alleviate the poverty that has fed constant assaults on their territory.

The project is part of a bold experiment, called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, which is being piloted in countries around the globe. Though REDD can take many forms, the key idea is that businesses or governments in wealthy countries compensate those in the developing world for preserving their forests, either by paying into a fund or by purchasing credits on carbon markets. Though the concept is not entirely new, it is rapidly gaining traction as the international community comes to grips with the crucial role forests play in regulating greenhouse gases. Not only do our forests absorb and store vast quantities of carbon dioxide in their vegetation through photosynthesis; when they’re destroyed, they also release the gas into the atmosphere. Roughly one-fifth of the world’s carbon emissions stems from deforestation and forest degradation. Scientists warn that without measures to keep forests intact, we will stand no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

REDD is expected to play a key role in the new global climate treaty to take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. Similarly, the landmark Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, which as of this writing is moving through Congress, would allow polluters to offset a portion of their emissions by sinking money into REDD projects. Although support for these proposals is growing in many quarters, they remain deeply controversial. Backers say they could deliver the same benefits as cutting emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks while improving the lives of poor rural people and protecting vital ecosystems and watersheds. Critics counter that the policy will be costly and complicated to monitor and could undermine the transparency, simplicity, and predictability of carbon markets, dealing a critical blow to the global battle against climate change.

T he idea of protecting tropical forests as a way of mitigating climate change is by no means new. During negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol, President Bill Clinton established a system of incentives, including grants and tax credits, to encourage U.S. businesses to voluntarily reduce their carbon output before mandatory caps were set. Polluters could also get credit for "offsetting" emissions by investing in projects to prevent deforestation, with the result that U.S. power companies poured millions of dollars into protecting at-risk forests in Latin America. For instance, the Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, a preserve of nearly four million acres in the Bolivian Amazon, was established in 1997 using $11 million from U.S. energy companies, such as American Electric Power and BP Amoco. The project is administered by the Bolivian government and environmental groups, including the Nature Conservancy, which uses tree counters and satellite data to keep tabs on the health of the forest. So far, it has been a success. Even as logging and agriculture have eaten away at forests elsewhere in Latin America, including those that are nominally protected, Noel Kempff’s ecosystem has remained pristine. It is estimated that more than twenty-five million tons of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided as a result of the project.

But these types of forestry projects were relegated to the sidelines with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the first and only global climate treaty, in December 1997. Though some signatories supported the idea of allowing developing countries to sell credits from forest-preservation projects on the emerging global carbon market, the majority held that large-scale monitoring and verification would be difficult, if not impossible, with existing technical tools. Critics also noted that discrete projects to protect against deforestation couldn’t be counted on to reduce overall carbon emissions, since the loggers and ranchers who chop down the forest for their livelihood could shift their activities to nonprotected areas, a phenomenon known as "leakage." Moreover, they argued, there was no way to guarantee that forests set aside as carbon sinks would continue to store heat-trapping gases in the long term, since drought or fire could cause the foliage in protected areas to die back and release stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Perhaps more importantly, many environmental groups believed that credits from forest-preservation projects could swamp the carbon market, driving down the price of carbon and allowing polluting industries to continue emitting greenhouse gases without consequence. The few environmentalists who expressed support for REDD during the Kyoto talks became mired in bitter shouting matches with their peers. "It was a pretty lonely battle," recalls Tia Nelson, a longtime REDD supporter and the daughter of the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day.

Ultimately, REDD was excluded from Kyoto, though parties to the agreement could earn carbon offsets by funding reforestation projects (or projects to plant new forests where none existed) in the developing world. However, due to technical stumbling blocks, few of these projects got off the ground. In the absence of meaningful incentives to protect or restore forests, development ate away at these lush ecosystems, including millions of acres of primary forests, which are the richest biologically, the most carbon dense, and the hardest to replace. Nowhere was the devastation more evident than in Brazil and Indonesia, two of the countries with the most extensive tropical forest cover. Between 1997 and 2004, Brazil’s deforestation rates increased dramatically, peaking at 10,600 square miles a year, an area the size of Massachusetts. In Indonesia, the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998 ushered in a period of chaos, resulting in unprecedented destruction of forests. Loggers and oil palm plantation developers cleared and burned vast areas, and the damage was worsened by one of the strongest el Niño events on record. When the smoke cleared, more than 25,000 square miles had burned in Indonesian Borneo alone, unleashing upward of two billion tons of carbon. All told, since Kyoto’s exclusion, Brazil and Indonesia have lost more than 160,000 square miles of forest—an area nearly the size of California—with the result that billions of tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere. In fact, due to deforestation these two countries, which have relatively modest industrial emission, rank just right behind the United States and China as the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases.

Faced with this devastation, scientists and environmental groups began working to solve the technical, political, and ideological woes that have prevented the widespread adoption of REDD. In 2005, six leading Brazilian and American researchers published an essay titled "Tropical Deforestation and the Kyoto Protocol" in the journal Climatic Change, which concluded that it would be impossible to curb global warming without protecting forests. The authors proposed solutions to some of the technical problems surrounding REDD. Most critically, they suggested that countries participating in REDD schemes commit to reducing deforestation on a national rather than project level, thus addressing the pressing concern about leakage.

Meanwhile, new guidelines were emerging, among them the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standards and Voluntary Carbon Standards, which laid out rules for ensuring that REDD projects delivered on promised carbon reductions. At the same time, tools for monitoring deforestation, such as GPS and computer mapping, were becoming cheaper and more ubiquitous. New technologies were also surfacing, among them applications for analyzing high-resolution satellite data, which could spot small gaps in the rainforest canopy and pinpoint areas where even a handful of trees had been felled by loggers. Similarly, Lidar, a laser-based remote-sensing technology, could penetrate the dense layers of foliage, allowing researchers to create three-dimensional maps. In addition to making it easier to monitor deforestation, these developments simplified the process of estimating how much carbon forests were storing, something that previously required venturing into the woods on foot and measuring the girth of tree trunks and the depth of the leaf litter.

Another crucial development was the emergence of a negotiation bloc, led by Papua New Guinea. At the time, the tiny island nation was under pressure from the international community to quit felling its tropical forests, but its leaders feared that ferreting out the loggers would devastate its already fragile economy. The dilemma caught the attention of a Columbia University MBA student named Kevin Conrad, who had grown up deep in the Papua New Guinea rainforest. He decided to form an organization to push for a mechanism by which developing countries could be compensated for preserving their forests. Called the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, it came to include more than a dozen tropical countries, among them Costa Rica, a country lauded by the international community for transforming itself from a high deforester to a model of conservation.

The coalition made its public debut in December 2005 at the United Nations Climate Change Convention in Montreal, where Conrad offered a proposal for including REDD in the post-Kyoto climate treaty, partly as a means of encouraging poor countries to contribute to the global fight against climate change. Previously, developing nations had refused to commit to targets for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions because, they argued, it would stifle economic growth—a fact that had emerged as a key sticking point in past negotiations. According to Conrad, the proposal initially met opposition from the United States, which feared that if developing countries committed to robust and meaningful reductions of heat-trapping gases, the U.S. would no longer be able to cite their lack of participation as an excuse not to take action. But the United States eventually backed down, and, to the surprise of many observers, the parties agreed to study the proposal—a first step toward its inclusion in a future climate accord.

Two years later, representatives from more than 180 nations descended on Bali for another UN climate conference, this one focused on hashing out a road map for negotiating a post-Kyoto climate treaty. When, after twelve days, the parties finally reached an agreement, the United States attempted to block its passage. Conrad issued a direct challenge: "We ask for your leadership, but if for some reason you’re not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way." Minutes later the U.S. delegation capitulated, paving the way for the Bali Action Plan, which recognized the critical role tropical forests play in regulating climate and established REDD as a likely component of the post-Kyoto regime. Soon after the meeting, money began pouring into voluntary REDD programs. Norway unveiled its International Climate and Forests Initiative, a plan to commit some $500 million per year to rainforest conservation, while the World Bank announced a $385 million Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) to jumpstart REDD in developing countries, in part by helping them develop the tools and expertise they’ll need to administer the program.

More recently, Britain and Norway put $160 million toward the Congo Basin Forest Fund to finance forest conservation activities in Central Africa. Britain’s Prince Charles has made saving rainforests his signature cause by developing the Prince’s Rainforest Project to bring business and political leaders around to supporting conservation. His efforts culminated in a historic meeting between heads of state, in advance of the G20 summit in April 2009, to discuss rainforest conservation. Developing countries have also gotten involved, including Brazil, which in 2008 announced the formation of a $21 billion fund to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 70 percent within ten years. The project is expected to cut the nation’s carbon emissions by 4.8 billion tons by 2017. (For more information, see Marcelo Leite, "The Brazilian Dilemma.")

Meanwhile, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill includes a REDD component. Specifically, the measure would allow U.S. companies to offset six billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by investing in forest conservation projects between now and 2025.

These developments are part of a surge of support for REDD, which extends even to once-skeptical environmental groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club, and the growing momentum toward its inclusion in the post-Kyoto climate treaty, the final details of which are meant to be hammered out in Copenhagen this December. Stuart Eizenstat, who led the U.S. delegation in Kyoto, summed up the evolving attitudes of many environmentalists and diplomats in testimony before Congress last year, when he said that continuing to exclude tropical forests from the global efforts to fight climate change "makes no sense scientifically, and it makes no sense politically or economically."

D espite this outpouring of enthusiasm, REDD remains controversial. Critics, including some European countries, argue that even with new technologies it will be complicated to monitor. Some environmental groups maintain that allowing polluters to offset their emissions by investing in forestry projects will undermine low-carbon technologies without meaningfully reducing emissions (something REDD supporters say can be avoided by setting strong emissions caps).

There are also deep divisions over how to finance REDD projects. Some countries, most notably Brazil, argue that instead of integrating forest-preservation projects into international carbon markets, wealthy nations should reward developing countries that curb deforestation by paying into funds that the developing countries themselves control. Their reasons have partly to do with sovereignty concerns—Brazil doesn’t fancy international monitors descending on its forests or weighing in on its land-management policies—and partly to do with the belief that allowing forests into carbon markets would let developed nations off the hook when it comes to cutting their own emissions. "Brazil is not interested in giving industrialized countries cheap carbon credits from protecting the Amazon if they are not going to stop building coal-fired power plants," says William Boyd, a professor of law at the University of Colorado who has worked extensively on REDD policy issues. But some REDD advocates hold that a fund-based system will be subject to political whims of donor nations and won’t generate the kind of money needed to reduce deforestation at the scale and pace necessary to meet emission-reduction targets.

Another contentious issue is how to measure a nation’s progress toward curbing deforestation. The most straightforward approach is to compare current or future deforestation rates to historical ones. But this method favors nations with a history of slash and burn, something countries like Costa Rica, which have taken pains to preserve their forests, argue is deeply unfair. This idea is also troubling to the Surui, who fear their REDD project could fail because they’ve kept their forests so pristine. To solve this quandary, some rainforest advocates, including Kevin Conrad, have proposed giving nations with a track record of good stewardship credit for early action. "If we don’t provide incentives for countries that have so far maintained their forests, but otherwise have land suitable for conversion, then those forests are going to fall," Conrad explains. But the idea of giving credit for past successes raises eyebrows among those concerned about the integrity of carbon markets. Similarly, for REDD to work, at least some of the money that is generated will have to go to agents of deforestation, such as commercial logging operations. Otherwise, there is no incentive for them to stop destroying forests. But this idea doesn’t sit well with many environmentalists.

There is also the question of what REDD will mean for the well-being of indigenous people. Despite having occupied lands for years or generations, many forest-dwelling communities still lack formal titles, or even basic rights, to land and resources. Indigenous advocates fear that as REDD makes forests increasingly valuable, even more rights are likely to be wrested from native inhabitants. Groups like the Global Forest Coalition and the World Rainforest Movement paint a nightmare scenario of forced displacement at the hands of carbon speculators. "REDD projects do not help indigenous peoples and forest peoples," says Jihan Gearon of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "In fact they hurt these communities and take away access and rights to forests, traditional territories, and medicines."

REDD’s supporters counter that, if well designed, the mechanism could actually benefit forest dwellers, by providing funding for services such as health care and education as well as by focusing fresh attention on the plight of indigenous people and their territories. "For decades, capitalists, socialists, private companies, governments, and local operators have blasted into tropical communities, razed forests, and moved on with little concern for the fact that they denuded the land," says John O. Niles, a REDD expert with the Tropical Forest Group, a forest policy think tank. "REDD will put a microscope on these issues. I think a UN-driven system of incentives for keeping forests—a system of oversight with some transparency—and the strong voice of critical observers will lead to more positive outcomes more of the time."

Certainly, some voluntary REDD projects have benefited forest dwellers. Among them is the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve, which encompasses 1.4 million acres of rainforest in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, an area that until a few years ago was plagued by illegal logging. Foreign businesses or governments can purchase offset credits on the voluntary carbon market, with funds going toward protecting the reserve’s lush ecosystem, in part by compensating 6,000 Juma families for preserving their forests. Each family is given a monthly stipend and their villages are provided with solar panels, computers, and money for community services, such as schools and clinics. Monitoring is done by satellite. If the forest is damaged or destroyed, the family that owns the land is dropped from the program and their village put on warning. The project is still in the early stages, but if successful it could prevent the release of 190 million tons of carbon between now and 2050.

To some degree, REDD’s effect on forest dwellers will depend on how the policy is structured. Some parties to the UN climate talks have proposed building protections for indigenous people into the REDD program in the post-Kyoto climate treaty. But the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have blocked this provision, a fact that has spawned outrage. Indigenous groups have turned out at UN climate conferences with placards reading, "No Rights, No REDD!"

Given the myriad obstacles, will REDD designers be able to develop a workable framework? Many people involved in REDD discussions think so. "I think the chances are very strong that if we get a climate agreement in Copenhagen REDD will be a part of it," says Tracy Johns of the Woods Hole Research Center, a scientific think tank that has researched REDD extensively. "All of the stakeholders that have been involved in the REDD process in recent years—governments, NGOs, the private sector, indigenous peoples—have done a lot of work and made a lot of progress on the issues and challenges. I think in many ways the REDD negotiation process is more advanced than many of the other lines of negotiation that are under way for Copenhagen."

This is not to say that the parties to the negotiation, and the civil society groups weighing in from the sidelines, are unaware of the challenges. Even REDD’s strongest supporters admit that trying to fulfill all the hopes invested in the policy, while avoiding the possible pitfalls, is a risky proposition. But they support it just the same. "REDD is being asked to do a lot of things—improving governance, promoting sustainable development, and mitigating climate change—but the potential benefits are so great, it’s a chance worth taking," explains Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund. This is because REDD is the only existing mechanism that promises to make preserving living forests more lucrative than cutting them down—and only by accomplishing that feat can we hope to stem the tide of deforestation. Put another way, despite its shortcomings, REDD may be our last, best hope of saving the tropical forests, which are so essential to the future health of our planet.


Note from Lou: As they say in Brazil, "it's complicated." If you want to keep abreast of some of the most solid criticism, Chris Lang is aggregating lots of reports at the