Wednesday, March 31, 2010
President Obama got to bask for a while in the glory of passing the health care bill and his standing in the polls received a welcome recharge but the realities of a complicated world seem to be returning quickly to business-as-usual.
In today’s NY Times, Tom Friedman decries that our Afghanistan policy is being rewarded by the thoroughly corrupt President Karzai proffering an invitation to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to come to Kabul.
And the top story is that, in an early move in the campaign to pass an "enlightened" energy bill, the Administration is proposing to open for the first time vast coastal areas to off-shore oil drilling. The announcement notes that Alaska's ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay will remain off-limits to drilling. Dave Roberts of GRIST tweet-quips: "Glad other parts of the ocean aren't environmentally sensitive!"
[here's a good UPDATE from treehugger]
and... well... does anyone remember this...
Oil, whether foreign or domestic, is not renewable. It's good to recall that candidate Obama promised us change.
Farmer surveys cocoa trees in Peru
Peruvian Farmers Happy to Offset West's Carbon
by Stephen Messenger, Porto Alegre, Brazil on 03.30.10
Peruvian farmers are about to get a windfall--and it's all thanks to the burgeoning carbon offsetting market. Recently, one particular section of Peru was selected to be the site of a reforesting operation to offset CO2 emissions of Nestle Waters France over 6 thousand miles away. But, in age where the appearance of environmental responsibility often supersedes actual responsibility, the bottled water company has enlisted the help of France's most well-known environmentalist to head the tree planting project to show that all is on the level--and he insists that Peruvians won't be the only ones to benefit from it.
According to Globo, the project will be carried out by the carbon management company, The Pure Project, which was founded by Tristan Lecomte. The Frenchman is no stranger to environmental issues or Peru, having established France's best known fair trade brand, Alter Eco, which has worked with Peruvian cocoa farmers in the past.
The large bottled water company produces approximately 115,000 tons of carbon a year, and Lecomte intends to offset the release of the greenhouse gas by planting 350 thousand in Peru and Bolivia each year, at a price tag of about $550,000. Working with the same small farmers that provide cocoa for Alter Eco, Lecomte sees the benefits of the project as being nearly universal.
These farmers are organic, they benefit from fair trade and now they plant these trees so they also fight against global warming They are at the forefront of the fight against climate change, they see the change in the weather and they want to fight against it for themselves and their children.
Most of the trees that will be planted are tropical hardwoods which will help fill in swaths of the Amazon rainforest cleared from slash and burn agriculture. Lecomte's company, The Pure Project, will pay farmers around 30 US cents for each seedling they plant on their land.
Beyond the immediate financial incentive to reforest their land, cocoa farmers will benefit from the planted trees. Cocoa typically grows best in the shade of a forest canopy, and the broad-leafed tropical trees will provide ideal cover. Also, once the trees have reached a certain diameter, farmers will be allowed to harvest them as lumber.
"Apart from reforesting, we're doing business," said one cocoa farmer.
Over the next five years the project intends to plant some 4 million trees, offsetting millions of tons of carbon in the coming decades, all while strengthening the oxygen producing Amazon rainforest--and the livelihoods of the people who live and work within it.
Lecomte is optimistic that other large corporations will learn from this project in Peru.
Multinationals now understand that they have to change their model if they want to be sustainable and small farmers have the key to develop sustainable projects.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Report: Cloud Computing GHG Emissions To Triple by 2020,
by Jaymi Heimbuch
A new report from Greenpeace shows cloud computing GHG emissions are set to triple by 2020. With this year dubbed as the "Year of the Cloud" thanks to the exponential growth of cloud computing devices like e-Readers and of course the launch of the Apple iPad, Greenpeace's report is a sobering reminder that our use of the cloud is not without a price in emissions.
Cloud computing means data centers, and data centers have so far been relatively slow to transition to more efficient methods of operation, despite the constant flow of new ideas on how to make them ultra efficient, including where to place them, how to run the equipment, and how to keep the equipment cool with as little energy as possible. Greenpeaace also points out that as more and more people latch on to devices like the iPad or Kindle that rely on data stored in the cloud, demand for data centers will skyrocket.
The hubbub around Facebook using coal-fired power plants for their new data center is a case in point. With millions of users accessing Facebook every hour, and the massive amount of energy needed to run all those servers to keep the users happy, the use of coal as the source of power is a big deal. Greenpeace's report shows that the IT sector's continued reliance on coal fired power as it grows will mean a big rise in GHG emissions.
In "Make it Green: Cloud Computing and Its Contribution to Climate Change" Greenpeace builds on previous industry research to show that cloud-based computing, which allows devices like the iPad to access online services like social networks and video streaming, has potentially a much larger carbon footprint than previously estimated.
The report finds that at current growth rates, data centers and telecommunication networks, the two key components of the cloud, will will consume about 1.93 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2020, more than triple their current consumption and over half the current electricity consumption of the United States -- or more than France, Germany, Canada and Brazil -- combined.
[UPDATE 30 March: Alex Steffen disagrees.]
[UPDATE 31 March -- Greenpeace responds: Cloud electricity usage is set to triple by 2020 to 1,953 billion kilowatt hours, and that this total, if a country, would currently rank as the 5th largest in electricity usage.
For perspective, this figure is also over half the current electricity consumption of the United States -- or more than France, Germany, Canada and Brazil -- combined. All of this information is in our press release (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/press-center/releases2/does-the-ipad-launch-forecast) and sourced using the CIA World Factbook, 2007 data.]
Greenpeace points out through its report that it is up to the IT industry to take initiative and switch to renewable energy wherever possible, becoming advocates for increased solar, wind and geothermal power plants.
Casey Harrell, Greenpeace International campaigner, states, "IT companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM are now in powerful positions at the local, national, and international levels to influence policies that will allow them to grow responsibly in a way that will decouple their economic growth from rising greenhouse gas emissions."
Of course, while the IT industry seems to be a culprit for increased GHGs, it's actually the very industry that can radically cut our total GHGs. We rely on the IT industry for services like telecommuting which reduces emissions from airlines as people fly to meetings less, or digital versions of documents so that we use fewer trees for books, newspapers, printed work documents and so forth. So by the same token that a growing demand for cloud computing means higher GHGs, it could also spell relief for the environment if the power for the cloud computing comes from renewable resources and is used in the most efficient ways possible. Greenpeace notes that the IT industry could mean a reduction of GHG emissions of 15% by 2020, if utilized properly in industry, buildings, transport and power sectors.
Above, a slideshow of the current favorites of one of my favorite photographers, "el silencio." I think I would have added many more to his choice of 20. But choosing where to stop would be difficult. Check them out at el silencio's photostream at flickr.
Today's NY Times has a very interesting article on the way digital photography and flickr have been elevating the amateur and challenging the professional. Of course, there's an on-going debate about whether excellence is being promoted or vulgarized in the digital age. For some interesting historical context and provocative reflection on this, see David Sasaki's "Pro-Craftsmanship, Anti-Virtuosity.
But now, as I watch the images pass through the window above, there is something pulling me beyond the debate, almost as if the Buddha might be present saying, while pointing toward the moon, "Look at the moon, not at the finger." Beyond and transcending the polarities of amateur/professional or craftsman/virtuoso lies the mystery which is revealed through the likes of the lens and vision of an el silencio. This is the unfathomable but clear presence of art!
Monday, March 29, 2010
A new campaign to gain US Congressional support for payments for avoided deforestation in the tropics is raising a lot of eyebrows.
Jake Schmidt explains why a new advertisement campaign run by the Ohio Corn Growers Association and Avoided Deforestation Partners is stressing the need to protect tropical forests.
Is this just an imperialistic US campaign to prevent tropical countries from profiting in the style that the US did in its own past development scenario? Not really. It seems that the large Brazilian industrial farmers and ranchers are also arriving at the conclusion that uncontrolled deforestation is just not in their interests. In the past year both the soy industry and the beef giants have agreed to moratoriums on production from recently deforested areas.
All of this seems to coincide with the good news that global deforestation has been slowing down. We can only hope that these trends continue once the world has recovered from the recent global recession.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
The Blue Morpho butterfly, quite common in the Amazon and other tropical forests, always seems to arrive as an uncommon experience. Its spectacular size and blazing blue color are simply the kind of appearance that can "stop one's world" and command attention. I have long felt that it has been something of a guide for me, especially in moments of confusion.
Imagine my delight in discovering the Blue Morpho in cyberspace as the centerpiece of a beautiful story by Senator and presidential hopeful Marina Silva.
Looking after the Blue Butterfly
by Marina Silva
(translated with the assistance of Carolina Mendes)
Go to original in Portuguese.
Forests are not statistics. Neither are they the object of negotiations, political disputes, theses, ambitions, weeping. Before all these things, forests are a complex and creative system of life. They have culture, spirituality, economy, infrastructure, peoples, laws, science and technology. This identity is so strong that it remains as a kind of radar rooted in perceptions, in the eyes and feelings, no matter how far you go or the more you learn, know and admire the other things in the world.
I lived in the rubber plantation Bagaço in Acre, until I was 16. I have great respect and care for the forest. One who knows the forest, does not come with an open heart, but with much subtlety. There you find provision, protection and the dangers. And also the mystery, something not fully revealed -- lives and forms, almost imperceptible. The finding, at every moment, of a different vine, a root, a texture, a color, a smell. The discovery of sounds. Even the wind in the treetops composes unique melodies according to the resistance of the trees, the castanheira, the samaúma, the açaí.
During my childhood, the sound I thought the most beautiful was of the period of flowering of castanheiras. The castanheira (Brazilian nut tree) is pollinated by a huge bee, the mangangá. Imagine hundreds of mangangás entering the flowers to get nectar! As the flower is concave, the bees must have a formidable force in their wings, flying back and forth, causing a rough noise, like a powerful engine. One of my earliest memories of the world is of the noise of the mangangás in the crown of the nut tree next to the yard of our house.
Although for many people the forest may seem homogeneous, I always saw it as a place of diversity. I liked paying attention to small things, like ants carrying leaves to the hole. The path of the ants was very clean, it seemed swept. The rubber-tapper path was full of leaves, stumps, roots, and thorns waiting to scratch the bare leg when we passed by. And I thought how great it would be to have a rubber trail as clean as the path of the ants!
Another ant, the tucandeira, has a sting so painful that one cannot even explain it. But there was also a mythical reason to fear it. According to my uncle Pedro Mendes, who lived for a long time with the native people of Alto Madeira, the tucandeiras turned into vines. If a tucandeira died in the top of a tree, its body turned into the plant and its legs turned into the vines. When bitten by a tucandeira, the first thing to do was look for an ambé vine, cut it and drink its water because it was the antidote. I don’t know what it was but it helped to ease the pain.
My uncle taught us things that we deeply believed. He said that if we were lost and saw a blue butterfly, we needed only to follow it as it would lead us to the nearest clearing, and from there we would find a way home. This butterfly is beautiful, huge, almost the size of the hand. I’ve never seen such blue anywhere else. That color, incidentally, is brown. The INPA researchers discovered that the layout of the scales of the wings has an engineering that causes it, in the incidence of light, to become blue.
Then I understood why it took us home. Because it likes landing on fruit like ripe bananas and papayas, already pecked at by the tanager bird. When it feels hungry, it looks for the first clearing where there is a plot of fruit. And nearby, certainly there will be a house. Those are things that seem mere superstition, but there is scientific knowledge associated to it, obtained by the same principle of academic methods: the systematic observation of phenomena.
Before ecology was a branch of knowledge or environmentalism was a movement, the system of the forest had already its rules, its natural "IBAMA" [Brazil’s environmental ministry], its sustainability, through a mythical code that worked as legislation to protect the forest and the forms of life that inhabited it. You could not fish more than necessary, because the mãe d´água [Mother of Water] would sink the canoe. You could not hunt too much because the caboclinho [little spirit] of the woods would beat you. You could not kill a pregnant animal because it would make you panema, or unlucky. And to be lucky again would take such a complicated ritual that it was better to leave the animal alone.
The practice of accessing forest resources, mediated by this mythical code, ended up leading the people to a high degree of balance. Hunting was only done when the dried meat hanging in the flue of the stove was finished. So if one could not hunt too much; there was no meat for sale, it was only for one’s own consumption. Going against this standard meant the caboclinho would punish the offender with a beating with the fire vine with knots. The people caught could not defend themselves because they could not see the entity. They were all scratched and had a fever. Even dogs that hunted unnecessarily, began to leap and yelp of pain. It was the caboclinho disciplining the animal.
The reports were numerous and made me very scared to walk through the woods. The fear was overcome, firstly, by strictly complying to the mythical laws. Moreover, since I was a child I have had tremendous faith and believed that by being fair with nature, God would protect me. And even with all this fear, my sisters and I loved walking through the forest because we had great fun there. For example, making a swing of a very tough vine coming from a tree a hundred feet high. Fishing in streams, collecting fruit, bacuri, abiu, taperebá, ingá, tucumã, cajá, it was all very good.
It was a world of traditional wisdom, social and cultural organization inseparable from the existence of the forest. Then one day came the bulldozers and chainsaws which broke the mythical codes, creating the need for a legal apparatus which - since not within man - requires institutions and mechanisms to have it implemented. It was not by chance that the first major operation made by the federal police to fight deforestation, involving 480 officers in the state of Mato Grosso, was named Operation Curupira.
If we opened today our sensitivity to the values of the forest, then maybe it would be easier to redefine what we mean by quality of life. Who knows, maybe we are missing a large blue butterfly to lead us home, where the fruit of our decisions always await in abundance on the table.
Marina Silva has been a high school history teacher, was the former Minister of Environment and is now a Senator (Green Party) from the Acre and candidate for the Presidency of Brazil . "Looking After the Blue Butterfly" was originally Published on the site of Terra Magazine July 15, 2008.
Be sure to check out the website of the grassroots movement to elect Marina Silva
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
WHAT THE SCIENCE REALLY SAYS
John Cook's Q & A simplified responses to the climate skeptics has become a popular iPhone application. He is interviewed by Andy Revkin at Dotearth
I studied physics at university and majored in astrophysics in my post-grad honors year. After completing my studies, I went into real world (a sorely needed break from academia) and I’ve been working from home for just over a decade now. I’ve never been involved in environmentalism before. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d characterize myself as an environmentalist now. While I got into global warming out of scientific curiosity, my continued interest and all the hours I spend on it are more out of concern for humanity than nature. I’m a Christian and a strong aspect of my faith is social conscience – hating injustice and caring for the poor. As I pored through the research into global warming impacts, I learned that poor and developing countries are those worst affected by global warming. Ironically, these are the countries least able to adapt to climate change.
The other motivation for me is I have a 10-year-old daughter and the latest science tells me she’ll see one to two meters’ sea level rise in her lifetime. This isn’t the rabid predictions of alarmist environmentalists – these are the results from multiple peer-reviewed studies using independent techniques that all arrive at the same answer. With such solid evidence being laid before us, I want to be able to look my daughter (and hopefully grandchildren) in the eye when I’m an old man and although my generation dithered on acting on climate change, at least I tried to change things to the best of my abilities.
Please continue reading the full interview at Dotearth.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Rio de Janeiro - The Green Party candidate for president of Brazil, environmentalist Marina Silva, is seeking the support of filmmaker James Cameron, winner of three Oscars for his film "Avatar," in her bid for the executive office. The two might have the opportunity to meet one another, along with former Vice President Al Gore and biodiversity expert Thomas Lovejoy, at the International Forum on Sustainability, which will be held in the city of Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, on March 27.
In her campaign, Silva is making use of the Internet to engage in dialogue with voters, particularly Brazilian youth, who are generally most receptive to environmental issues. In a recent blog entry, "Avatar and the Invader's Syndrome," Silva discusses what she found to be the personal and national significance of the film. Silva, former environment minister to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, compared the story of the Na'vi on Cameron's Pandora to her upbringing in Acre, Brazil. Silva grew up in the Amazon rainforest, harvesting latex rubber from trees.
"While watching 'Avatar,'" Silva writes on her Web site, "there was a moment in which I found myself reaching out and trying to touch the water that was gleaming on a glossy forest leaf, so fresh and beautiful. The Na'vi warrior was drinking from the leaf the same way I used to do as I walked through the forest where I grew up in Acre."
For Silva, "Avatar" symbolizes more than a confrontation between good and evil; it puts forth "an argument for beauty, for inventiveness, for the survival of ways of life that have the potential to shatter our contemporary hegemonic values ... that regard slavery and the destruction of nature and its inhabitants as normal."
Silva faces a long uphill climb in her David-vs.-Goliath battle for the presidency. She currently trails far behind [Sao Paulo state Governor Jose Serra] and Dilma Roussef, President Lula's current chief of staff and favored candidate.
In her likely meeting with Cameron, Silva, who was illiterate until the age of 14, would like to tell the director that, for her, the moment in the film that really had her in tears was when Hometree was destroyed. The fall of this great tree "gave rise to a spirit of revolt." Silva hopes that this spirit will inspire the youth to defend the planet and its rivers and forests. Silva believes that a passion to defend the environment is particularly vital in Brazil, a nation that possesses 25 percent of the world's potable water and some of the greatest biodiversity on the planet.
Translation: Ryan Croken.
Ryan Croken is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. His essays and book reviews have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Z Magazine and ReligionDispatches.org. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT'S MY LITTLE SYMPHONY
"I AM A JAPANESE SYNTHESIZER" is a Czech oldie-but-goodie from 1994.
PeaceLove tells us about it:
I was recently inspired to check the interwebs for Petr Skoumal's "I am a Japanese Synthesizer," which was a big hit when I was living in Prague back in '94. Not only is it glorious fun, but Skoumal was fifty-six at the time, a most welcome and delightful addition to all the twenty-somethings normally seen on the Czech version of MTV at the time. I was dreaming that U.S. MTV would play this and make this guy a breakout star. Never happened, natch.
Monday, March 22, 2010
When Fiji water launched an ad campaign that made fun of Cleveland tap water, the city of Cleveland ran tests comparing its water to Fiji water. "These tests showed a glass of Fiji water is lower quality, it loses taste tests against Cleveland tap water, and costs thousands of times more. This story is typical of what happens when you bottled tap water against tap water."
The Story of Bottled Water, released on March 22, 2010 (World Water Day) employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.
And... while the developed world wallows in manufactured demand, in the less developed world more people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war, the United Nations said in a report Monday that highlights the need for clean drinking water. The report was released to coincide with World Water Day which is today.
Andrew Revkin lays out what he believes.
Revkin is launching a noble effort to bring vision, reality and necessity to together. I believe that the dialogue is going to be well-worth following. Check out the roll-out at the Dotearth post, "From Wishful Thinking to Real-World Action on Climate."
Sunday, March 21, 2010
In "Plastic Bag" by Ramin Bahrani, a discarded plastic bag (voiced by Werner Herzog) struggling with its immortality ventures through the environmentally barren remains of America as it searches for its maker.
Great Pacific Garbage Patch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This question was recently raised in my home community of Fortaleza where pigs were being raised as one component of a larger program of agricultural production. There was much discussion and various opinions were put forth. In the end, it was decided that it would be hard to align increased pig production with Fortaleza's broader goals of conservation and preservation of nature and the project (which was scheduled to expand) has been stopped. The general area that had been dedicated for pig production will be replanted with native trees and the lake will be developed for recreation.
The Earth Island Institute recently took on the question of the eco-print of meat eating and presented an interesting debate that reaches beyond the black vs white oversimplifications.
[UPDATE: For an illustration of how exaggerated the debate over meat can get see Treehugger's story about Michael Pollan retracting his statement that "A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius."
Money quote is:
Way back in 2005, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the Department of the Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago published a paper that compared the carbon footprint of both a meat-based and a plant-based diet. As Reuters reported:
They found that the difference between an heavy meat-eating diet and a vegan diet was about 2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per person per year. The difference between a Prius and an SUV (they used a Suburban, which gets about the same mileage as a Hummer) was 4.76 tons per year.]
Saturday, March 20, 2010
It began as an in-house training video at Penguin and spread.
Here's the full story from the Penguin blog.
The musicians are postal workers in Ghana stamping cancelation marks on envelopes and parcels.
Equinox solar arc at the equator
The March Equinox moment of balance between light and dark on earth occurs today at 5:32PM.
May the blessings of balance extend beyond the moment and carry us toward a new harmony with the earth, with our gods, with each other and within ourselves.
More about Tsegue Maryam Guebrou from Boing-Boing...
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou is a nun currently living in Jerusalem. She grew up as the daughter of a prominent Ethiopian intellectual, but spent much of her young life in exile, first for schooling, and then again during Mussolini's occupation of Ethiopia's capitol city, Addis Ababa, in 1936. Her musical career was often tragically thwarted by class and gender politics, and when the Emperor himself actually went so far as to personally veto an opportunity for Guèbrou to study abroad in England, she sank into a deep depression before fleeing to a monastery in 1948. Today, she spends up to seven hours a day playing the piano in seclusion and even gave a concert to some lucky ducks in Washington D.C. a few years ago. A compilation of her compositions was re-issued on the consistently great Ethiopiques label. You can read more about her life at the Emahoy Music Foundation.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
As the homages to Glauco Vila Boas pour in from across Brazil and abroad I am moved to share a small story of my first encounter with his wonderful family which took place about two years ago. Being a Damista I had often heard of how this famous cartoonist had opened his heart to all who were seeking healing via the doctrine and sacrament of the Santo Daime. Indeed, Glauco was sometimes described as a "medicine man for troubled young people" opening his heart, his home and sharing the joys of his family with all who came to him.
I experienced this personally as I watched the joy of a young friend who had been touched by Glauco as he brought me to meet him and Raoni and Bia. In this open home next to this open church with its open view of greater São Paulo, I believe that I have never witnessed such a delight in the simple act of making an introduction. Everything seemed elevated and expansive as in the view of the city.
I am told that my young friend is now in deep grief, crying a lot and murmuring "my Padrinho has made his passage." I myself felt something beyond words, like needing to express something. So this post is for the living -- for my friend and the many others who were touched by the gentleness and generosity of the great soul of Glauco -- and it is offered with the hope that Glauco's prayers for the healing of troubled lives may be attained. May God bless us all and especially the family of Glauco in this time of grief.
Here are a few of the many video homages that have appeared at Youtube in the recent days:
And here's a youtube playlist with many of the Santo Daime hymns of Padrinho Glauco.
Friday, March 12, 2010
With great sadness we transmit the report that the much-loved leader of the Santo Daime church Ceu de Maria and his son Raoni were killed this morning during an attempted robbery on their home in Greater São Paulo.
Their music, joy and generous spirit will be missed by all. We send our condolences and prayers to the family and friends.
[Update: O Estado de S. Paulo (in Portuguese) reports that the killings were even more tragic. They evidently occurred as Glauco attempted to dissuade a young man from killing himself. The article also contains links to testimonials from colleagues and examples of the art of Glauco who was a well-known cartoonist. ]
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
On Sunday past, two days after my 72nd birthday, I finally met a model of what I would like to be like when I grow up.
Frei Heitor Turini, is an 84 year old Italian missionary with the Servants of Mary who has been unrelenting in the struggle for the forests and peoples of the Amazônian hinterlands and is well known for his political outspokenness in Acre.
To meet Frei Heitor I traveled to the small city of Sena Madureira northwest of Rio Branco with Foster Brown and Vera Reis who explained that the Friar had only recently returned for a three month visit following a year and a half of receiving medical treatment in Italy for a variety of ailments. They said this might be a last opportunity to visit. Of course, I brought my camera.
When I asked Frei Heitor if I might get some video material to share with my English-speaking friends, he explained that he had learned English long ago in the States during a medical visit but had not spoken it much since a brief stint in the Philippines 20 years ago. He was a bit concerned but I knew that, if the subject were right, language would present no problem…
There’s only one error of language that needs correcting: Frei Heitor says that for 57 months he has been giving his life, his spirit and his dreams night and day for the jungle. Actually, it’s been 57 YEARS. I know that you will join me in praying that he might continue much longer.
Frei Heitor is not only a torrent of words. As the following recollection written by Foster Brown reveals, he is a man of deeds, acting – using the currently popular phrase – in the power of now.
A FEW LESSONS FROM THE FRIAR
by Foster Brown
This past Saturday (01Sep07) I traveled with a Brazilian friend, Cazuza, to Sena Madureira, 140 km NW from Rio Branco, Acre in Brazil's westernmost Amazon. Our mission was to pay back wages to field assistants of Vanessa Sequeira, a Ph.D. student who was murdered a year earlier in the Toco Preto settlement project. The wet season and various other factors had delayed our visit and Saturday was nearly a year to the day after her death. I had felt that this trip would be a pilgrimage of sorts; I didn't realize that it would provide lessons for life.
We went first to the town of Sena Madureira to meet with Friar Heitor Turrini, an 82-year old Italian missionary with the Servants of Mary (Order of Servites). Friar Heitor had arrived in Sena Madureira in 1950, and aside a few stints in the Philippines and China, as well as in hospitals in the US as a patient, he has devoted his life to the poor and to protecting the Amazon. He and Father Paolino Baldassarri have become noted figures in this part of the Amazon for their dedication and outspokenness. The Friar offered to go with us to Toco Preto and pray for Vanessa.
Our departure from Sena was uneventful until we stopped at the house of Amado, a cattle rancher with over 3,000 hectares of pasture. Frei asked us to stop for three little minutes that later became over an hour as Amado and his wife graciously offered us lunch. In return, the Frei gave them a lecture about stopping the destruction of the Amazon. The rancher responded that he had seen the light and had already decided to stop deforestation.
As we left the ranch, Frei Heitor offered us two options – the faster route via the asphalted highway to Toco Preto or the more 'poetic' route. While the Friar tried to disguise his preference, the choice of word poetic was a clear sign, so we continued along the old Sena Madureira-to-Rio Branco road to the settlement at Toco Preto. On the way, we nearly got stuck in ankle-deep layers of dust. Every time we passed someone on foot or on bicycle, the Friar would ask them if they were deforesting and then urge to stop doing so and keep the forest alive.
Around one turn, we came across a secondary forest that had burned on the right side. The fire had jumped the road and had entered 20-30 meters into the secondary forest on the left. Two thin columns of smoke floated above the burned forest, a sign that the fire wasn't completely out. At that point, I was about to lament about uncontrolled burning and drive on, when the Friar asked me to stop because we needed to put out the fire. Before I could get my machete out, the Friar had rolled up his pant legs, grabbed a branch, and was crossing the road. Cazuza and I asked him to wait a few minutes while I used the machete to clear a trail to the smoking dead trunks where the fire lingered.
Once at the trunks, I could see that we needed more tools and returned to my truck and brought a hoe, ax, gloves and protective glasses. Vincenzo, an Italian truck driver who was visiting the Friar and had come with us, was a little bewildered by our actions. The Friar watched him for a few seconds and then decided to give him a lesson in fire fighting. When I asked him what would be the lesson, the Friar responded, “I'm teaching Vicenzo never to burn the forest.” He then proceeded to grab a branch and beat a recalcitrant trunk with red embers into a black mass.
Then we heard a chainsaw start into operation. Friar Heitor decided to talk with the workers and headed off as Cazuza, Vicenzo and I pounded, cut and buried the embers until they stopped emitting a spiral of smoke.
As we finished our work, the Friar returned and asked if we could spare 10 little minutes to talk with the chainsaw gang; he hadn't been able to locate them. He could see from my expression that I didn't think that it was a high priority item when we needed to get to Toco Preto and pay the debts before dark. The Friar, however, knows how to win an argument. He said, “The best honor that we could do for Vanessa would be to stop the deforestation.” I was trumped and we started to drive back on the road.
On the way, we met an old-timer coming up the road, pushing his bike. The Friar waved him over and asked him if he was deforesting. Then he proceeded to ask about the family where the chain saw was operating. He learned that the man of the family was making posts, not clear-cutting. Friar Heitor asked the old man to pass on the message not to deforest or burn and then said that we could proceed to Toco Preto. Relieved, I then drove up the road, heading to Toco Preto where the Friar led a prayer in remembrance of Vanessa in the local church.
In a half-hour, the Friar taught me lessons for a lifetime. Due to his leadership, within twenty minutes we had stopped a fire from penetrating into the forest. I had seen the problem, lamented it, and was about to drive by when the Friar made us stop and follow him. Once on the problem, we had all the means to address it – machetes, hoe and ax. We could probably have extinguished it even if we only had a branch. What I didn't have
initially was the will strong enough to solve the problem even though we had the means to do so. The Friar's message was clear: many of the problems that we face in this world could be solved if we just tried. To recall an old aphorism, most of us would rather curse the darkness than light a candle.
The Friar's second lesson focused on remembering the deeper reasons why we do things. The real reason for this trip was to honor and remember Vanessa; the payments were just a detail. I had become goal-oriented, i.e. wanting to make the payments before nightfall, forgetting that Vanessa had been in harm's way because she wanted to help prevent the destruction of the Amazon. In truth, our stomping on fire embers honored Vanessa's memory more than getting funds to certain persons that day.
The Friar is impatient; he feels that he has only a few years of life left, and the wants to make a difference. He is adamant about stopping the destruction of the Amazon and has been working on a publication called “The Amazon That We Do Not Know” that he hopes will spread the message. [ed note: to date 100,000 copies have be printed, 60,000 in Italian and 40,000 in Portuguese.] But this is just for starters.
Action comes next. I am learning that if there is will to make things happen, then the means also happen. Perhaps, Frei Heitor may be able to guide our action in person but, if not, we know from the lesson of Vanessa the best way to honor his memory.
A little slideshow of our visit with Frei Heitor is below…
Note: the log of petrified wood is from the upper-Purus watershed and is thought to be between 3 and 4 million years old. The present forest – a product of all that evolution -- is ours to protect.
Friday, March 05, 2010
Full disclosure: I consider myself to be a hippie, and proudly so. Nevertheless I think that today's NY Times opinion piece by David Brooks has a lot of insight that is "right on." What David misses is the deeper meaning of the tension between culture and spirit and the wounds inflicted by domestication which trigger much of the pain and dysfunction. As the Eskimos say, "Gifts turn wolves into dogs." But that's another story for another time. For now, Brooks' column is a useful read and a good start. Check it out over the jump.
March 5, 2010
The Wal-Mart Hippies
By DAVID BROOKS
Go to original article
About 40 years ago, a social movement arose to destroy the establishment. The people we loosely call the New Left wanted to take on The Man, return power to the people, upend the elites and lead a revolution.
Today, another social movement has arisen. The people we loosely call the Tea Partiers also want to destroy the establishment. They also want to take on The Man, return power to the people, upend the elites and lead a revolution.
There are many differences between the New Left and the Tea Partiers. One was on the left, the other is on the right. One was bohemian, the other is bourgeois. One was motivated by war, and the other is motivated by runaway federal spending. One went to Woodstock, the other is more likely to go to Wal-Mart.
But the similarities are more striking than the differences. To start with, the Tea Partiers have adopted the tactics of the New Left. They go in for street theater, mass rallies, marches and extreme statements that are designed to shock polite society out of its stupor. This mimicry is no accident. Dick Armey, one of the spokesmen for the Tea Party movement, recently praised the methods of Saul Alinsky, the leading tactician of the New Left.
These days the same people who are buying Alinsky’s book “Rules for Radicals” on Amazon.com are, according to the company’s software, also buying books like “Liberal Fascism,” “Rules for Conservative Radicals,” “Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left,” and “The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party.” Those last two books were written by David Horowitz, who was a leading New Left polemicist in the 1960s and is now a leading polemicist on the right.
But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it.
Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The ’60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks — theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.
Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks.
Because of this assumption, members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low.
Recently a piece in Salon astutely compared Glenn Beck to Abbie Hoffman. In it, Michael Lind pointed out that the conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s built a counter-establishment — a network of think tanks, activist groups, academic associations and political leaders who would form conservative cadres, promoting conservative ideas and policies.
But the Tea Partiers are closer to the New Left. They don’t seek to form a counter-establishment because they don’t believe in establishments or in authority structures. They believe in the spontaneous uprising of participatory democracy. They believe in mass action and the politics of barricades, not in structure and organization. As one activist put it recently on a Tea Party blog: “We reject the idea that the Tea Party Movement is ‘led’ by anyone other than the millions of average citizens who make it up.”
For this reason, both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin — on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization — in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.
That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism. The Tea Partiers will not take over the G.O.P., but it seems as though the ’60s political style will always be with us — first on the left, now the right.
Want more, something deeper perhaps? Check out T.A.Z., THE TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE.