Monday, May 30, 2011


Vovô from Luiz Lafayette Stockler on Vimeo.

Something like that happened to me but I was an adult and should have known better. I didn't heed the call to travel to see him because I was doing something dumb like struggling to finished my tax form before the deadline.

But my vovô -- Grandpa Barney -- lives on. He is the one who taught me to always question authority (including his own). It was one of the greatest gifts of my lifetime.


(hat tip for video to Andrew Sullivan)

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Photo: Jose Claudio Ribeiro's hands.       Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.

[UPDATE 28 May 2001 -- Another activist falls. Adelino Ramos was gunned down in Rondonia on Friday. Bradley Brooks reports "1,150 rural activists have been slain in land conflicts across Brazil in the past 20 years, murders mostly carried out by gunmen hired by loggers, ranchers and farmers to silence those who protest illegal cutting in the forest. Of all those killings, fewer than 100 cases have gone to court. About 80 hired gunmen have been convicted. Only 15 or so of the people who have ordered killings faced charges. And just one of them one is known to be in prison. Impunity rules among the 23 million people spread across the vast Amazon because Brazil's judicial system is weak and corruption among local officials is endemic, activists and federal prosecutors say.Read the full report on killing with impunity.]

Here is Al Jazeera telling it as it was a few days ago in Para.

The Amazon is crying
By Gabriel Elizondo
Thu, 05/26/2011

The family home of Jose Claudio Ribeiro da Silva is a simple, modest 3 bedroom brick building on a dusty side road in Maraba Brazil.

It is fitting for a humble man who told anybody who asked that he preferred to be called simply ‘Ze.’ If you wanted to be formal, ‘Ze Claudio,’ would due.

The house has a small kitchen and a cozy and peaceful backyard with green shrubs providing shade from the sauna-like heat common in this region of Brazil.

Ribeiro did not live here much. He preferred his even simpler home in the Amazon sustainable reserve he ran with his wife, Maria. It is about 40 kilometers from here.

But it’s at his family house, here in Maraba on Wednesday, where I first met Ze and Maria in the cramped living room. Unfortunately, both were in coffins - dead, after being gunned down this week in what police are calling a cold blooded murder likely ordered by Ze's enemies. And Ze had many.

But this was a day of his friends and family.

I was at the house for almost 10 hours on Wednesday. (My video report here)

A steady stream of friends, family, neighbors and other people associated with Ze came by to pass their respects. Many stayed a while. Some all day, sitting on plastic chairs in front of the house. Some stare off to nowhere. What was going through their mind only they know.

It was mostly quiet. There was some crying at times. Lots of hugging. Some just stared at the bodies in the caskets in apparent disbelief. There was no hysterical screaming. These people are Ze’s friends, and they are not a naïve bunch. Most had sunken eyes, weathered skin from years under the sun, and calloused hands from hard work. None wore suit and ties. These we Ze’s people.

Ze loved the forest, so much he used to call the trees his brothers and sisters. He was sickened, he told friends, when 80% of the native forest near his reserve was cut down to 20% in recent years as illegal loggers moved in. Lots of people here feel this way. But few dare do what Ze did. He took pictures on an old digital camera. He filed reports at police stations. He named names.

A relative told me usually nothing came of his denouncements. But it still infuriated powerful people in a region known in Brazil as terra sem lei (land without laws).

So Ze was threatened. He once woke up to spray paint on his house. Another time he came home to find his dog mysteriously dead.

Ze would get anonymous phone calls; “You better shut up, or else.” Then the person hung up.

But Ze didn’t. And wouldn’t. Because, he told friends, he couldn’t. He was the ‘voice of the forest.’

And for that, he famously told an audience at an environmental conference just six months ago, he could get a bullet in his head any day.

On Wednesday, a middle aged man walked up to me outside Ze’s house and without me asking told me: “Ze always said a bullet would get him someday. I never thought that day would actually arrive. Sad.” He then sort of shuffled off, without saying anything more.

Back inside the living room, the two coffins are pushed together. A sign reads: Injustice in the Amazon.

ZE coffin
Photo: People pay their last respect to Jose Claudio Ribeiro and his wife, Maria. Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.

A net is placed over each of their covered bodies, to keep flies off their face.

Only the smallest portions of their faces are exposed. Both Ze and Maria had one of their ears cut off by the gunmen, a sign, police tell me, it was a murder for hire and the gunmen needed proof they killed the intended targets.

One young kid outside told me this: “Five thousand reals. That is the going rate here for killing two environmentalists like Ze and Maria. This was a big one, because both were killed.” Five thousand reals is about $3,000, more or less.

Ze’s 73 year old mother is devastated over his death; too upset to speak.

The Amazon reserve where Ze lived has mostly been abandoned since his death. Many people too scared to go back.

Ze’s sister, Claudelice da Silva, was one of the first to arrive at the remote dirt road where they were gunned down.

“To see my brother thrown on the dirt, full of bullet holes – it was the worst thing you could see in your life. Me and my family are deeply upset. But now we have more thirst for justice.”

I ask her: “Is the fact Ze is dead mean the bad guys have won?”

“No,” she says flatly without hesitation. “This fight continues.”

ZE Sister
Photo: Jose Claudio Ribeiro sister, pictured, was one of the first to arrive on scene of his killing. 
Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera

At just about this moment, a little girl not too far from me hunches over, covers her face with her hands and starts weeping uncontrollably. “Who is that?” I ask. “That is my daughter,” Claudelice says. “Her father is not around anymore, so she considered my brother to be her dad. She is taking it hard.”

About a dozen local environmental activists (‘Ze’s students’ a woman tells me) gather in a circle in the backyard and talk where to go from here. One woman says something to the effect of “fight” and “struggle” and “continue.” But there are no easy answers.

As the late afternoon turned to evening on Wednesday, at one point well over 200 people are crowding the block in front of Ze’s house. Someone from the church brings the pews out to the street so people have a place to sit.

Many are watching a projection screen set up in the street playing videos and showing a slideshow of pictures of Ze and Maria.

At one point, someone sets up a radio on the front porch area to play an audio recording of one of Ze’s talks. There is no video. No matter, they gather around, hanging on every word. Lost on many of them is that Ze’s body is literally only a few feet away.

ZE sign
Photo: Outside the Jose Claudio Ribeiro family home the sign says 'the forest is crying.' Maria Elena Romero/Al Jazeera.

Many people on Wednesday worried aloud that Ze and Maria’s death would go unpunished. On the phone, the state federal prosecutor told me there are over 200 unsolved murders in Para state alone involving ‘rural workers’ (usually code word for environmentalists, in these parts).

I heard 5 words a lot on Wednesday: Chico. Mendes. Dorothy. Stang.
Impunity. If you don’t know, Google it. You can draw your own conclusions.

I didn’t hear one person – not one – utter the words Codigal Florestal.

It is dark now. A couple busloads of MST land rights activists arrive to pay their respects. They, along with about 100 people still remaining, light candles on crosses and place them in the neighborhood. It’s almost 11 pm.

A hand made banner has been sitting out in front of the house all day.

It reads: The forest is crying.

Ze won’t be around anymore to wipe away the tears.

And what was the response in Brasilia? John Collins Rudolf of the NY Times Green Blog reports:

In a grim coincidence, on the same day that Mr. da Silva and his wife were assassinated, the Brazilian Congress voted in favor of a controversial bill loosening the national forest code, a decades-old law containing provisions designed to protect the Amazon rain forest from destruction by loggers, farmers and other commercial interests.

The law would open the door to new deforestation and grant broad amnesty to those guilty of illegal forest clearance, analysts said.

During the debate over the revisions, Jose Sarney Filho, a congressman and former environment minister who opposed the changes to the code, spoke of the activists’ murders in a speech to the assembly. He was greeted by boos from the audience, including fellow deputies.

“I couldn’t believe it. They were booing the news of a murder. It was terrible, but it happened,” said Mr. Adario, the Greenpeace director, who witnessed the speech.

Please continue to use the current letter being transmitted by

The letter, translated from Portuguese, says:

Dear President Dilma,

As a concerned citizen, I ask you to do everything in you power to protect our precious forests, rejecting the current proposal for weakening of the Forest Code. Say no to amnesty for the loggers, to any decrease in APPs [protected areas], and to decentralization of environmental policy.

Please defend the people's interest over private interests and do everything in their power so that no deal can be done until the environmental protections are strengthened rather than weakened.

Friday, May 27, 2011

(and please keep them coming)


We took a beating in the first round in the Chamber of Deputies but the fight continues as the proposed Forest Code moves toward the Senate and then to the desk of President Dilma where she must balance the demands of the Brazil farm bloc against the many international agreements that Brazil has made to dramatically reduce deforestation. In this final stage, the court of international opinion really matters and that is why your letters (from Brazil and abroad) are so important.

Please continue to use the current letter being transmitted by

The letter, translated from Portuguese, says:

Dear President Dilma,

As a concerned citizen, I ask you to do everything in you power to protect our precious forests, rejecting the current proposal for weakening of the Forest Code. Say no to amnesty for the loggers, to any decrease in APPs [protected areas], and to decentralization of environmental policy.

Please defend the people's interest over private interests and do everything in their power so that no deal can be done until the environmental protections are strengthened rather than weakened.


By the way, if you are wondering how, as a non-Brazilian, you can write as a "concerned citizen", please view Carlos Nobre's outstanding presentation about how the condition of the Amazon forest affects global climate patterns. YES, today we are all concerned planetary citizens.

[If you are writing from the States and looking for USA in the drop-down menu, the Portuguese abbreviation is EUA (Estados Unidos America).]

And while on the subject of translations, thanks to Matthew Meyer, a great friend of the forest and of Acre, here is an excellent rendering of the extraordinary letter delivered personally to President Dilma by the TEN past Brazilian Ministers of Environment:

The signatories to this open letter, in exercising the functions of Ministers of State or of Special Secretary of the Environment, had the opportunity and responsibility to promote, within the Federal Government, and for the sake of future generations, targeted measures for the protection of Brazil's environmental heritage, and especially its forests. Despite limited human and financial resources, significant results were obtained thanks to the decisive support provided by society, by each president of the Republic preceding the present in leading the country, and by the National Congress. To mention a few examples: the National Environmental Policy (1981), Article 225 of the Constitution of 1988, the Water Resources Management Law (1997), Crimes and Offenses against the Environment Act (1998), the National System of Protected Areas (2000), the Environmental Information Act (2003), the Public Forest Management Act (2006), the Atlantic Forest Act (2006), the Climate Change Act (2009) and the Solid Waste Management Act (2010).

Before the world awakened to the importance of forests, Brazil was a pioneer in establishing, by law, the need for their conservation, later reaffirmed in the text of the Constitution and subsequent regulations. These measures have ensured the protection and the sustainable use of Brazil’s natural resources, beginning with the 1965 Forest Code. The Code, an inspirational landmark for this reason, has since represented the most important institutional means by which to protect the forests and other forms of native Brazilian vegetation, their associated biodiversity, the water resources that protect them, and the environmental services they perform.

The process of building this legal machinery was transparent, and included the decisive participation of the public at each step of the way. In this sense, it is important to emphasize that CONAMA (the National Environmental Council) already represented an exceptional forum for participatory decision making, anticipating tendencies that would come to characterize public administration in Brazil, and later in other countries. Thanks to this track record of environmental responsibility,Brazil earned the legitimacy to make itself one of the most distinguished participants in international environmental forums, in addition to possessing, today, resources key to its competitive position in the 21st century.

To honor and extend this track record of progress, it is now up to political leaders of this nation to take the next step. In order for Forest Code to fulfill its function of protecting natural resources, a new generation of public policies is urgently needed. Agricultural policy can benefit from the services offered by forests and achieve even more advanced levels of quality, productivity and competitiveness. This process, however, should take place with accountability, transparency, and the meaningful participation of all sectors of society in order to consolidate the gains achieved. Brazilians are justly proud of the many successes and years of work, and therefore such progress should not be exposed to the risk of any abrupt changes, without the necessary preliminary assessment and appropriate discussion. Moreover, we do think it prudent or timely to strip CONAMA of any of its regulatory powers given the the country is governed by the principle of participatory democracy enshrined in our Constitution.

We do not see, therefore, in the proposed changes to the Forest Code adopted by the
Special Committee of the House of Deputies in June 2010, nor in the versions later circulated, consistency with our historical direction, which is marked by advances
in the quest for the consolidation of sustainable development. To the contrary, if either of these versions is passed, we will be going against our own history, to the
detriment of our natural resources.

Nor can we ignore the alert the Brazilian scientific community has recently sent the
nation, along with the repeated testimony of businesspeople, representatives of family farms, of the youth, and of so many sectors of society. Anticipation of the
weakening of the Forest Code was sufficient to revive concerns over resumed deforestation in Amazonia, as data recently released by the INPE unequivocally show.

We can not, either, ignore the call that the Brazilian scientific community has
recently directed to the nation, as well as the successive demonstrations of
entrepreneurs, representatives of family farmers, youth and many other segments of
society. Expectations were enough to weaken the Forest Code to revive worrying trends
of recovery in Amazon deforestation, as shown unequivocally by data recently released
by INPE.

We believe, Madam President and members of Congress, that history has given to our
age, and above all to those who occupy the most important leadership positions in our
country, the duty not only to preserve this precious legacy of environmental protection, but most important, the opportunity to lead a great collective effort so
that Brazil may continue on its path, as a nation that develops itself with social
justice and environmental sustainability.

The global effort to address the climate crisis needs Brazil’s active engagement. The
decision to adopt targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, announced in
Copenhagen, was a daring and paradigmatic challenge which Brazil accepted. Next year,
we will host the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Rio+20, and Brazil
could continue leading by example and inspiring other countries to move forward with
urgency and responsibility that reality imposes on us.

It is because we understand our role in the struggle for a better world for everyone,
and because we carry this historic responsibility, that we feel obliged today to
address our plea to Your Excellence and to the National Congress that measure be taken. Together with a National Forest Policy, the Code must be updated to make
possible the necessary efforts to restore and use the forests, in addition to conserving them. We must support restoration, not get rid of it. The Code can and
must create an incentive structure for this end. CONAMA itself could provide the
opportunity for such topics to be incorporated with the due participation of the states, of civil society, and of the business world. For our part, we put ourselves
at your disposal to collaborate in this process, and we are confident that any
regression in this long and challenging journey will be avoided.

Brasília, May 23, 2011

Carlos Minc (2008‐2010)
Marina Silva (2003‐2008)
José Carlos Carvalho (2002‐2003)
José Sarney Filho (1999‐2002)
Gustavo Krause (1995‐1999)
Henrique Brandão Cavalcant (1994‐1995)
Rubens Ricupero (1993‐1994)
Fernando Coutinho Jorge (1992‐1993)
José Goldemberg (1992)
Paulo Nogueira Neto (1973‐1985)


Wednesday, May 25, 2011


amazon agricultural clearing

The House of Deputies, ignoring the pleas for science-based legislation from Brazil's two largest scientific bodies and its ten last environmental ministers, seriously weakened the naiotional Forest Code by a 410-63 vote. Following recent years of reduced deforestation, it was a bad day for the forest and global warming and a good day for agribusiness and a feared chainsaw massacre. The bill will now go to the Senate and then President Dilma where there are hopes for some damage control.

Here is an excellent report from Richard Black at the BBC

Brazil passes 'retrograde' forest code

They kept us in suspense for longer than an Oscars jury; but now, deputies in Brazil's lower parliamentary house have passed a batch of reforms easing the decades-old Forest Code.

As discussed here a few weeks ago when the long parliamentary discussions began, the code sets down national standards aimed at ensuring the really important bits of the nation's forests are protected from development.

The main force pushing the reforms is Aldo Rebelo, head of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCDoB).

His rationale is that the current code works against small-scale farmers. Regional rivals that compete with Brazil as food exporters are not expected to labour under such a handicap, supporters say.

Among the reforms, restrictions on clearing forests along rivers and on the tops of hills will be eased.

There will also be an amnesty for small-scale landowners who illegally chopped down trees prior to July 2008.

There's a dichotomy over development here that reflects a wider global dilemma.

Sure, farmers can exploit more of their land if they clear hilltops and riverbanks.
Dilma Rousseff President Rousseff was elected as the country's first female leader in November 2010

But what happens if strong rains come? How are the chances increased that water will pour down the newly naked slopes and wash soil away?

If drought comes to the Amazon again, as some climate forecasts suggest it will in ever stronger form, how will the removal of riverbank protection exacerbate water shortages that will affect everyone - farmers included?

Yet Mr Rebelo and agricultural leaders argue that Brazil needs the extra farmland in order to feed its own growing population and preserve an export capability.

The reforms have to pass the Senate before they can come into force, and President Dilma Rousseff has vowed to veto anything with an amnesty in it - so the issue isn't completely resolved.

And the country's environmental leaders are in no doubt which way the decision should go.

A group of 10 former environment ministers has sent a letter to President Dilma and to members of congress urging them to reject the reforms, describing them as a "retrograde step".

With deforestation being the country's largest source of emissions, reversing deforestation is also the only feasible way for it to meet that target”

"Long before the world fully awoke to the importance of its forests, Brazil had taken the pioneering step of formally establishing the need for their conservation in its legislation," they write.

As the Forest Code dates back to 1965, it was something of a pioneering step, certainly for a developing country.

They say the code "has been the single most relevant institutional basis for the protection afforded to forests and all the other forms natural vegetation in Brazil, as well as protecting the biodiversity associated to them, the water resources they protect and the ecological services that they provide.

"Agricultural policy can benefit from the services that the standing forests offer and achieve new and more advanced levels of competitiveness and productivity."

They also point to a conflict between what Brazil says it wants to achieve in the climate change arena - a cut in emissions of more than one-third by 2020 - and reducing protection for forests.

With deforestation being the country's largest source of emissions, reversing deforestation is also the only feasible way for it to meet that target.

Yet just last week came news that Amazon deforestation had increased almost six-fold in just a year - an astonishing rise, and a trend large enough, if it continues, to guarantee the emissions target won't be met.

And the ministers link this to the Forest Code issue.

"The mere expectation that the amendment to the Forest Law and its consequent weakening would be approved set off a disturbing wave of renewed deforestation in the Amazon region, as has been unequivocally demonstrated by data recently released by the Brazilian Space Research Institute (INPE)," they write.

World leader

There is an international dimension to this.

In the run-ups to three successive UN climate conferences now, I've been told: "We won't finalise a comprehensive deal this time, but we might get something on REDD".

REDD - Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation - is envisaged as a scheme that would see rich countries funding poorer ones with significant forest resources, like Brazil, to preserve and enhance them, in the global interest of curbing climate change.

Well, REDD hasn't arrived... and probably can't, realistically, because a number of developing countries have said they won't agree measures unless they form part of a comprehensive global climate treaty - which remains as elusive as ever.

Brazil, like Indonesia, has said it would go further on reducing emissions and deforestation with Western support... which isn't forthcoming, because there's no global deal.

Those are the international politics in brief.

But there are also implications for Brazil itself.

Not only a regional leader now, it's also emerged as a global leader, certainly on the stage of nature protection.

At last year's UN biodiversity summit, no country was more visible, more vocal, more engaged in all the issues under discussion than Brazil.

Criticisms of Western nations coalesce around the notion that if you want to claim environmental leadership, do it with actions rather than words.

The same criticisms will, eventually, be leveled at developing countries that do not protect what they have - especially in the face of advice that protection is in their long-term economic interest.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva speaking at TEDx Amazon in 2010
José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva speaking at TEDx Amazon in 2010

[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter your name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

More from Mongabay
José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, were gunned down last night in an ambush in the city of Nova Ipixuna in the Brazilian state of Pará. Da Silva was known as a community leader and an outspoken critic of deforestation in the region.

Police believe the da Silvas were killed by hired assassins because both victims had an ear cut off, which is a common token for hired gunmen to prove their victims had been slain, according to local police investigator, Marcos Augusto Cruz, who spoke to Al Jazeera. Suspicion immediately fell on illegal loggers linked to the charcoal trade that supplies pig iron smelters in the region.

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, who also went by the nickname 'Ze Claudio', was a vocal critic of illegal logging in Pará, a state in Brazil that is rife with deforestation. He also worked as a community leader of an Amazon reserve that sold sustainably harvested forest products.

Da Silva had received countless death threats and had frequently warned that he could be killed at any time, however he was refused protection by officials.

"I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist," da Silva said in a TED Talks last November, adding "but my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest."

Clara Santos, the niece of the da Silvas, told BBC that the couple had suffered death threats for 14 years. A report compiled by Brazil's Catholic Land Commission, a human rights group, in 2008 listed Da Silva as one of the environmental activists most likely to be assassinated.

The double assassination comes at a fateful time for the Amazon rainforest. Politicians in Brazil are considering changing to its Forest Law, which would allow ranchers and farmers to cut down a higher percentage of forest on their land. A vote may occur today.

Brazilian environmental journalist, Felipe Milanez, has said the assassination of da Silva has created 'another Chico Mendes'. Mendes was a rubber trapper turned Amazon activist whose 1988 assassination catalyzed efforts to save the Amazon.

Da Silva's killing comes six years after Dorothy Stang, an American nun who fought against deforestation, was slain by gunmen hired by a cattle rancher, also in the state of Pará. Her death was met by a sharp crack-down by the Brazilian against illegal forest clearing.

Nearly 20% of the Brazilian Amazon has been destroyed.


Cattle pasture in Amazon
Deforestation for cattle pasture in Amazon - Photo by Rhett Butler

[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter your name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

It is unknown whether the IBAMA raid and the killing of forest defender José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva are related but, with a fierce Forest Code struggle raging in Congress, the general situation is at a flash-point.

It should be noted that the Brazilian government has been very lax in imposing punishment or collecting fines following these headline-grabbing raids. Excellent laws promulgated from Brasilia combined little or no follow-through on the ground is the recipe that created the present mess. For a truly sustainable 21st Century Amazon forest, governments will have to learn how to enforce the laws and farmers will have to learn how to obey them.

Here is the story of the IBAMA raid from Mongabay

Authorities launch stealth operation in Amazon after satellite images reveal deforestation
By Karimeh Moukaddem,
May 24, 2011

Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency busted an illegal logging ring following analysis of satellite imagery, reports Globo.

Illegal loggers managed to clear more than 400 hectares of Amazon rainforest in southeast Pará before authorities spotted the crime using Brazil’s satellite-based deforestation detection system.. Brazil’s environmental enforcement agency, the Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), responded by dispatching agents to surprise deforesters in the act of clearing rainforest.

In its action, IBAMA officers confiscated a tractor used to haul logs and maintain access roads in the rainforest, two trucks used to transport illegally sourced wood, and 200 liters of diesel. The agency fined the owner of the equipment R$2 million ($1.2 million) for environmental crimes. Based on the equipment found, IBAMA believes that the perpetrators planned to high-grade and then clear-cut at least a thousand hectares of primary forest for cattle pasture.

IBAMA caught three men cutting timber, but as is often the case, a more powerful player—a local landholder wanting to illegally expand his property—had hired the men. Luciano Silva, the coordinator of this IBAMA operation, explained that after the forest has been cleared by workers and converted to pasture, large landholders, known as fazendeiros, will often petition the local Environmental Rural Register (CAR) and attempt to legalize their claims to the newly deforested land. Legally, if the connection between the fazendeiro and the workers clearing land can be proven, he can be fined R$5,000 ($3,100) for each hectare of destroyed forest as an accomplice to environmental crime. Such proof is rarely forthcoming, thus those providing the impetus for deforestation are usually not held responsible.

Also, given IBAMA's extremely poor track record of collecting fines—less than one percent between 2005 and 2010 according to Brazil’s Globo news agency—no one may be held accountable for this instance of Amazon rainforest degradation.


José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva

[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter your name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

In the midst of the struggle over the new Forest Code in Congress and the new Ministry of Environment enforcement policy, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva becomes the latest Amazon forest martyr. May his death, like that of Chico Mendes, Sister Dorothy Lang and many others, not be in vain.

Here is the story from The Guardian UK.

Amazon rainforest activist shot dead

José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva fought against illegal loggers and had received death threats but was refused police protection

by Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

Six months after predicting his own murder, a leading rainforest defender has reportedly been gunned down in the Brazilian Amazon. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo, are said to have been killed in an ambush near their home in Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state, about 37 miles from Marabá.

According to a local newspaper, Diário do Pará, the couple had not had police protection despite getting frequent death threats because of their battle against illegal loggers and ranchers.

On Tuesday there were conflicting reports from about whether the killing happened on Monday night or Tuesday morning. A police spokesperson said there were reports of a "double homicide" at the settlement called Maçaranduba 2.

In a speech at a TEDx event in Manaus, in November, Da Silva spoke of his fears that loggers would try to silence him. "I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist. [People] ask me, 'are you afraid?' Yes, I'm a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest."

Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra, who worked with Da Silva in the Amazon, said he had been in a meeting with Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, discussing changes to the forest code when the news broke of Da Silva being killed. "He was convinced he would be killed one day," Smeraldi said. He added that Da Silva had been "very active" in the fight against illegal forest burning and logging. According to Brazilian media reports, Rousseff has asked her chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho, to offer support to the murder investigation.

"We now have another Chico Mendes," said Felipe Milanez, an environmental journalist from São Paulo, referring to the Amazonian rubber-tapper who became an environmental martyr after his murder in 1988. Milanez said that in a recent phone conversation with Da Silva's wife she had suggested the situation was "getting very ugly". Milanez added: "He knew the threats were very real. He was scared."

A 2008 report compiled by Brazilian human rights groups listed Da Silva as one of dozens of Amazon human rights and environmental activists "considered at risk" of assassination.

[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter you name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

We only have a few hours to save our forests from greedy hands of the ruralista deputees in Congress! I just sent a message to President Dilma and party leaders to prevent the horrible House vote that will destroy the Forest Code. Come join, it is important and urgent! Just click here to send the message in English or Portuguese.

With the vote scheduled for today, we must do everything we can to pressure the government and avoid a massive defeat to Brazil's environmental protections.

Please take a few minutes to increase our impact by connecting and / or by sending a personal message to President Dilma and party leaders. We will generate an avalanche of messages asking them to support our future and not private interests, to say no to amnesty for crimes against the environment and oppose the reduction of APP (permanent preservation areas). We will not accept an agreement until the environmental protections are strengthened rather than slaughtered.

Here are the phone numbers and e-mail.

Dilma President (61) 3411-1225 / (61) 3411.1200, (61) 3411.1201
Paulo Teixeira (PT) - (61) 3215-5281
Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB) (61) 3215-5539 dep.henriqueeduardoalves@
Ana Arraes Block (PSB, PTB and PCdoB) (61) 3215-5846
Lincoln Portela (Block PR, PRB, PTdoB, PRTB and others) - (61) 3215-5615
Duarte Nogueira (PSDB) - (61) 3215-5525
Antonio Carlos Magalhães Neto (DEM) - (61) 32158269
Nelso Meurer (PP) - (61) 3215-5916
Giovanni Queiroz (PDT) (61) 3215-5618
Junior mice (PSC) - (61) 3215-5521


[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter you name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

Ten former environment ministers weighed in on Brazil's looming vote on the forest code governing land use in the Amazon rainforest.

In a letter addressed to President Dilma Rousseff and leaders of the National Congress, former ministers Carlos Minc (Brazil's environmental minister from 2008-2010), Silva (2003-2008), José Carlos Carvalho (2002-2003), José Sarney Filho (1999-2002) Gustavo Krause (1995-1999), Henrique Brandao Cavalcanti (1994-1995), Rubens Ricupero (1993-1994), Fernando Jorge Coutinho (1992-1993), Jose Goldemberg (1992) and Paulo Nogueira Neto (1973-1985) asked Brazilian political leaders to delay today's planned vote on changes to the Forest Code. They warn that hasty passage of an amended version of the code could undermine Brazil's progress is reducing its deforestation rate. Data released last week by Brazil's National Space Research Institute showed a big jump in forest clearing over last year.

The letter, written in Portuguese, calls upon Congress and Rousseff to assert a leadership role on social justice and environmental sustainability.

Mongabay has posted the full letter in Portuguese. i


Brazil deputies refuse to vote on proposed forest code

[URGENT: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter. It is in Portuguese for Brazilian officials but you can easily enter you name, email and country. Please help the Brazilian forest defenders NOW.]

In early May, the Brazil Chamber of Deputies refused to vote on a new Forest Code presented at the last minute and debate had to be cancelled. (Photo and story here.) President Dilma was warned by her Foreign Ministry that returning to the old pattern of deforestation would violate international agreements on climate change and biodiversity, and tarnish Brazil's new green image. Today, the agricultural bloc, or "ruralistas", will try again to force the issue and Dilma has threatened to veto any new code that offers aminesty from the fines leveled for past illegal logging.

Here is the latest report from AP.

SAO PAULO - 5/24/11 - AP — Brazilian legislators are pushing to resume debate Tuesday on changes to an environmental law that watchdog groups warn will speed destruction of the Amazon rain forest.

Supporters of the bill, which would loosen restrictions on the amount of forested areas that could be legally cut, are confident it will pass Brazil’s lower house, though a vote on the measure has been delayed three times before. If passed, the measure would go to the Senate.

The Brazilian Amazon is considered by many experts to be the world’s biggest natural defense against global warming, acting as a “sink,” or absorber, of carbon dioxide. At the same time, about 20 percent of the Brazilian rain forest already has been destroyed, and 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions are estimated to come from forest clearing as vegetation burns and felled trees rot.

The government blames deforestation on cattle ranchers and soy farmers who cut down trees to make way for more crop and grazing land.

Brazil’s “Forest Code” law now states that landowners in the Amazon, a vast area the size of western Europe, must maintain standing forest on 80 percent of their property. That percentage drops to 35 percent and even 20 percent in other regions like the Cerrado, a savanna that occupies a fourth of the country’s total area.

The bill introduced last year by Deputy Aldo Rebelo would exempt from these rules small farmers and ranchers who have no more than 990 acres (400 hectares) of land — and would give amnesty from fines to those who illegally felled trees up to July 2008.

It also would halve the strips along rivers that cannot be touched to 50 feet (15 meters) from the river’s edge from the current 100 feet (30 meters) and would allow farmers to use hilltops. Environmentalists say both changes would lead to flooding, silty rivers and erosion.

Environmental groups contend the full package of proposed changes would inflict severe damage on the rain forest.

“It will make the ‘savannization’ cycle, which in some regions has already begun, irreversible, and there will be less rainfall in the Amazon,” said Paulo Adario, coordinator of the environmental group Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign.

Others complain that giving those who have illegally cut down forest an amnesty would set a bad example, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has said she would veto that.

“The proposed amnesty upholds a long tradition in Brazil of legalizing the illegal. People believe they can deforest illegally because sooner or later all will be forgiven,” said Philip Fearnside of the government’s National Institute for Amazon Research.

Brazil’s agricultural industry says the environmental law impedes the nation from meeting its economic potential, noting that Brazil is the world’s No. 2 producer of agricultural products while using just a third of its arable land. It says Brazil could easily surpass the U.S. if its farmers were not shackled from growing.

“We do not have to cut down one single tree. We can increase agricultural output in already deforested areas,” said Assuero Veronez, the confederation’s vice president.

Veronez and other defenders of the proposed changes point to the history of the Amazon’s occupation as a reason for the amnesty.

In the 1970s, Brazil’s military dictatorship pushed farmers to enter the Amazon, offering free land if they would clear trees, all in an effort to speed Brazil’s development.

Brazil’s government in the past decade, however, has stepped up enforcement of environmental laws, which officials credit with reducing destruction.

Satellite images from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research indicated deforestation in the Amazon last year dropped to its slowest pace in 22 years.

Between August 2009 and July 2010, 2,490 square miles (6,450 square kilometers) of forest were lost, a 14 percent drop from the year before, and the least since 1988 when the agency began recording the destruction. It is down from a peak in 2004 when 10,723 square miles (27,772 square kilometers) were felled.

Last week, however, the government announced that 230 square miles (590 square kilometers) of deforestation were recorded in March and April, nearly six times more than in the same period last year.

Monday, May 23, 2011


[note: to see the translation subtitles, start the video and watch for the red CC button at the lower right of the player frame. Clicking on it gives a choice of English, Portuguese or Spanish subtitles.]

Brazilian climate scientist Antonio Donato Nobre explains that there is a river in the sky, a recent discovery that was revealed by the modern technologies of satellite sensing and computer modelling. The result tells an an amazing story of how trees influence both the water cycle of the Amazon Basin and the global climate.

It is a must-view, loaded with fact, feeling and, most importantly, heart. It is an example of how science and spirit working together can change awareness. The heart can feel only what the eyes can see and Nobre's presentation makes that vital connection.



[UPDATE: Please join the new avaaz sign-on letter.]

Climate climate and population increase are creating a global food crisis and both international investors and Brazilian farmers are hoping that more forest land will be converted to agriculture. The problem is that destroying more forest will exacerbate climate change and make the whole situation worse by bringing drought and fire to Amazonia, disrupting the moisture cycle. Truly, the situation is in human hands and, more specifically, in the hands of the Brazilian Government in the struggle over a new Forest Code.

Here is Lester Brown's analysis of the global food crisis re-posted from Foreign Policy. It is a long but essential read. Please go at it.

The New Geopolitics of Food

From the Middle East to Madagascar, high prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. Welcome to the 21st-century food wars.


In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family's dinner table.

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we've seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet's poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute -- and it has -- to revolutions and upheaval.

Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year's harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile -- and a whole lot more contentious -- than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.

Until recently, sudden price surges just didn't matter as much, as they were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe. But now both the causes and consequences are ominously different.

In many ways, this is a resumption of the 2007-2008 food crisis, which subsided not because the world somehow came together to solve its grain crunch once and for all, but because the Great Recession tempered growth in demand even as favorable weather helped farmers produce the largest grain harvest on record. Historically, price spikes tended to be almost exclusively driven by unusual weather -- a monsoon failure in India, a drought in the former Soviet Union, a heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. Such events were always disruptive, but thankfully infrequent. Unfortunately, today's price hikes are driven by trends that are both elevating demand and making it more difficult to increase production: among them, a rapidly expanding population, crop-withering temperature increases, and irrigation wells running dry. Each night, there are 219,000 additional people to feed at the global dinner table.

More alarming still, the world is losing its ability to soften the effect of shortages. In response to previous price surges, the United States, the world's largest grain producer, was effectively able to steer the world away from potential catastrophe. From the mid-20th century until 1995, the United States had either grain surpluses or idle cropland that could be planted to rescue countries in trouble. When the Indian monsoon failed in 1965, for example, President Lyndon Johnson's administration shipped one-fifth of the U.S. wheat crop to India, successfully staving off famine. We can't do that anymore; the safety cushion is gone.

That's why the food crisis of 2011 is for real, and why it may bring with it yet more bread riots cum political revolutions. What if the upheavals that greeted dictators Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a country that imports 90 percent of its grain) are not the end of the story, but the beginning of it? Get ready, farmers and foreign ministers alike, for a new era in which world food scarcity increasingly shapes global politics.

THE DOUBLING OF WORLD grain prices since early 2007 has been driven primarily by two factors: accelerating growth in demand and the increasing difficulty of rapidly expanding production. The result is a world that looks strikingly different from the bountiful global grain economy of the last century. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity? Even at this early stage, we can see at least the broad outlines of the emerging food economy.

On the demand side, farmers now face clear sources of increasing pressure. The first is population growth. Each year the world's farmers must feed 80 million additional people, nearly all of them in developing countries. The world's population has nearly doubled since 1970 and is headed toward 9 billion by midcentury. Some 3 billion people, meanwhile, are also trying to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, and eggs. As more families in China and elsewhere enter the middle class, they expect to eat better. But as global consumption of grain-intensive livestock products climbs, so does the demand for the extra corn and soybeans needed to feed all that livestock. (Grain consumption per person in the United States, for example, is four times that in India, where little grain is converted into animal protein. For now.)

At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it's not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union's goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.

This is not merely a story about the booming demand for food. Everything from falling water tables to eroding soils and the consequences of global warming means that the world's food supply is unlikely to keep up with our collectively growing appetites. Take climate change: The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This relationship was borne out all too dramatically during the 2010 heat wave in Russia, which reduced the country's grain harvest by nearly 40 percent.

While temperatures are rising, water tables are falling as farmers overpump for irrigation. This artificially inflates food production in the short run, creating a food bubble that bursts when aquifers are depleted and pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge. In arid Saudi Arabia, irrigation had surprisingly enabled the country to be self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years; now, wheat production is collapsing because the non-replenishable aquifer the country uses for irrigation is largely depleted. The Saudis soon will be importing all their grain.

Saudi Arabia is only one of some 18 countries with water-based food bubbles. All together, more than half the world's people live in countries where water tables are falling. The politically troubled Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where grain production has peaked and begun to decline because of water shortages, even as populations continue to grow. Grain production is already going down in Syria and Iraq and may soon decline in Yemen. But the largest food bubbles are in India and China. In India, where farmers have drilled some 20 million irrigation wells, water tables are falling and the wells are starting to go dry. The World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China's wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping. How will these countries make up for the inevitable shortfalls when the aquifers are depleted?

Even as we are running our wells dry, we are also mismanaging our soils, creating new deserts. Soil erosion as a result of overplowing and land mismanagement is undermining the productivity of one-third of the world's cropland. How severe is it? Look at satellite images showing two huge new dust bowls: one stretching across northern and western China and western Mongolia; the other across central Africa. Wang Tao, a leading Chinese desert scholar, reports that each year some 1,400 square miles of land in northern China turn to desert. In Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests have shrunk by half or more over the last few decades. North Korea and Haiti are also suffering from heavy soil losses; both countries face famine if they lose international food aid. Civilization can survive the loss of its oil reserves, but it cannot survive the loss of its soil reserves.

Beyond the changes in the environment that make it ever harder to meet human demand, there's an important intangible factor to consider: Over the last half-century or so, we have come to take agricultural progress for granted. Decade after decade, advancing technology underpinned steady gains in raising land productivity. Indeed, world grain yield per acre has tripled since 1950. But now that era is coming to an end in some of the more agriculturally advanced countries, where farmers are already using all available technologies to raise yields. In effect, the farmers have caught up with the scientists. After climbing for a century, rice yield per acre in Japan has not risen at all for 16 years. In China, yields may level off soon. Just those two countries alone account for one-third of the world's rice harvest. Meanwhile, wheat yields have plateaued in Britain, France, and Germany -- Western Europe's three largest wheat producers.

IN THIS ERA OF TIGHTENING world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage, and countries are scrambling to secure their own parochial interests at the expense of the common good.

The first signs of trouble came in 2007, when farmers began having difficulty keeping up with the growth in global demand for grain. Grain and soybean prices started to climb, tripling by mid-2008. In response, many exporting countries tried to control the rise of domestic food prices by restricting exports. Among them were Russia and Argentina, two leading wheat exporters. Vietnam, the No. 2 rice exporter, banned exports entirely for several months in early 2008. So did several other smaller exporters of grain.

With exporting countries restricting exports in 2007 and 2008, importing countries panicked. No longer able to rely on the market to supply the grain they needed, several countries took the novel step of trying to negotiate long-term grain-supply agreements with exporting countries. The Philippines, for instance, negotiated a three-year agreement with Vietnam for 1.5 million tons of rice per year. A delegation of Yemenis traveled to Australia with a similar goal in mind, but had no luck. In a seller's market, exporters were reluctant to make long-term commitments.

Fearing they might not be able to buy needed grain from the market, some of the more affluent countries, led by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and China, took the unusual step in 2008 of buying or leasing land in other countries on which to grow grain for themselves. Most of these land acquisitions are in Africa, where some governments lease cropland for less than $1 per acre per year. Among the principal destinations were Ethiopia and Sudan, countries where millions of people are being sustained with food from the U.N. World Food Program. That the governments of these two countries are willing to sell land to foreign interests when their own people are hungry is a sad commentary on their leadership.

By the end of 2009, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2010 World Bank analysis of these "land grabs" reported that a total of nearly 140 million acres were involved -- an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. Such acquisitions also typically involve water rights, meaning that land grabs potentially affect all downstream countries as well. Any water extracted from the upper Nile River basin to irrigate crops in Ethiopia or Sudan, for instance, will now not reach Egypt, upending the delicate water politics of the Nile by adding new countries with which Egypt must negotiate.

The potential for conflict -- and not just over water -- is high. Many of the land deals have been made in secret, and in most cases, the land involved was already in use by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted about nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little backing to bring their cases to court. Reporter John Vidal, writing in Britain's Observer, quotes Nyikaw Ochalla from Ethiopia's Gambella region: "The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands."

Local hostility toward such land grabs is the rule, not the exception. In 2007, as food prices were starting to rise, China signed an agreement with the Philippines to lease 2.5 million acres of land slated for food crops that would be shipped home. Once word leaked, the public outcry -- much of it from Filipino farmers -- forced Manila to suspend the agreement. A similar uproar rocked Madagascar, where a South Korean firm, Daewoo Logistics, had pursued rights to more than 3 million acres of land. Word of the deal helped stoke a political furor that toppled the government and forced cancellation of the agreement. Indeed, few things are more likely to fuel insurgencies than taking land from people. Agricultural equipment is easily sabotaged. If ripe fields of grain are torched, they burn quickly.

Not only are these deals risky, but foreign investors producing food in a country full of hungry people face another political question of how to get the grain out. Will villagers permit trucks laden with grain headed for port cities to proceed when they themselves may be on the verge of starvation? The potential for political instability in countries where villagers have lost their land and their livelihoods is high. Conflicts could easily develop between investor and host countries.

These acquisitions represent a potential investment in agriculture in developing countries of an estimated $50 billion. But it could take many years to realize any substantial production gains. The public infrastructure for modern market-oriented agriculture does not yet exist in most of Africa. In some countries it will take years just to build the roads and ports needed to bring in agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and to export farm products. Beyond that, modern agriculture requires its own infrastructure: machine sheds, grain-drying equipment, silos, fertilizer storage sheds, fuel storage facilities, equipment repair and maintenance services, well-drilling equipment, irrigation pumps, and energy to power the pumps. Overall, development of the land acquired to date appears to be moving very slowly.

So how much will all this expand world food output? We don't know, but the World Bank analysis indicates that only 37 percent of the projects will be devoted to food crops. Most of the land bought up so far will be used to produce biofuels and other industrial crops.

Even if some of these projects do eventually boost land productivity, who will benefit? If virtually all the inputs -- the farm equipment, the fertilizer, the pesticides, the seeds -- are brought in from abroad and if all the output is shipped out of the country, it will contribute little to the host country's economy. At best, locals may find work as farm laborers, but in highly mechanized operations, the jobs will be few. At worst, impoverished countries like Mozambique and Sudan will be left with less land and water with which to feed their already hungry populations. Thus far the land grabs have contributed more to stirring unrest than to expanding food production.

And this rich country-poor country divide could grow even more pronounced -- and soon. This January, a new stage in the scramble among importing countries to secure food began to unfold when South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, announced that it was creating a new public-private entity that will be responsible for acquiring part of this grain. With an initial office in Chicago, the plan is to bypass the large international trading firms by buying grain directly from U.S. farmers. As the Koreans acquire their own grain elevators, they may well sign multiyear delivery contracts with farmers, agreeing to buy specified quantities of wheat, corn, or soybeans at a fixed price.

Other importers will not stand idly by as South Korea tries to tie up a portion of the U.S. grain harvest even before it gets to market. The enterprising Koreans may soon be joined by China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other leading importers. Although South Korea's initial focus is the United States, far and away the world's largest grain exporter, it may later consider brokering deals with Canada, Australia, Argentina, and other major exporters. This is happening just as China may be on the verge of entering the U.S. market as a potentially massive importer of grain. With China's 1.4 billion increasingly affluent consumers starting to compete with U.S. consumers for the U.S. grain harvest, cheap food, seen by many as an American birthright, may be coming to an end.

No one knows where this intensifying competition for food supplies will go, but the world seems to be moving away from the international cooperation that evolved over several decades following World War II to an every-country-for-itself philosophy. Food nationalism may help secure food supplies for individual affluent countries, but it does little to enhance world food security. Indeed, the low-income countries that host land grabs or import grain will likely see their food situation deteriorate.

AFTER THE CARNAGE of two world wars and the economic missteps that led to the Great Depression, countries joined together in 1945 to create the United Nations, finally realizing that in the modern world we cannot live in isolation, tempting though that might be. The International Monetary Fund was created to help manage the monetary system and promote economic stability and progress. Within the U.N. system, specialized agencies from the World Health Organization to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) play major roles in the world today. All this has fostered international cooperation.

But while the FAO collects and analyzes global agricultural data and provides technical assistance, there is no organized effort to ensure the adequacy of world food supplies. Indeed, most international negotiations on agricultural trade until recently focused on access to markets, with the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina persistently pressing Europe and Japan to open their highly protected agricultural markets. But in the first decade of this century, access to supplies has emerged as the overriding issue as the world transitions from an era of food surpluses to a new politics of food scarcity. At the same time, the U.S. food aid program that once worked to fend off famine wherever it threatened has largely been replaced by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), where the United States is the leading donor. The WFP now has food-assistance operations in some 70 countries and an annual budget of $4 billion. There is little international coordination otherwise. French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- the reigning president of the G-20 -- is proposing to deal with rising food prices by curbing speculation in commodity markets. Useful though this may be, it treats the symptoms of growing food insecurity, not the causes, such as population growth and climate change. The world now needs to focus not only on agricultural policy, but on a structure that integrates it with energy, population, and water policies, each of which directly affects food security.

But that is not happening. Instead, as land and water become scarcer, as the Earth's temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. Land grabbing, water grabbing, and buying grain directly from farmers in exporting countries are now integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.

With grain stocks low and climate volatility increasing, the risks are also increasing. We are now so close to the edge that a breakdown in the food system could come at any time. Consider, for example, what would have happened if the 2010 heat wave that was centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago. In round numbers, the 40 percent drop in Russia's hoped-for harvest of roughly 100 million tons cost the world 40 million tons of grain, but a 40 percent drop in the far larger U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons would have cost 160 million tons. The world's carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) would have dropped to just 52 days of consumption. This level would have been not only the lowest on record, but also well below the 62-day carryover that set the stage for the 2007-2008 tripling of world grain prices.

Then what? There would have been chaos in world grain markets. Grain prices would have climbed off the charts. Some grain-exporting countries, trying to hold down domestic food prices, would have restricted or even banned exports, as they did in 2007 and 2008. The TV news would have been dominated not by the hundreds of fires in the Russian countryside, but by footage of food riots in low-income grain-importing countries and reports of governments falling as hunger spread out of control. Oil-exporting countries that import grain would have been trying to barter oil for grain, and low-income grain importers would have lost out. With governments toppling and confidence in the world grain market shattered, the global economy could have started to unravel.

We may not always be so lucky. At issue now is whether the world can go beyond focusing on the symptoms of the deteriorating food situation and instead attack the underlying causes. If we cannot produce higher crop yields with less water and conserve fertile soils, many agricultural areas will cease to be viable. And this goes far beyond farmers. If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices. If we cannot accelerate the shift to smaller families and stabilize the world population sooner rather than later, the ranks of the hungry will almost certainly continue to expand. The time to act is now -- before the food crisis of 2011 becomes the new normal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Using words to go beyond words.

And, somehow, to go beyond cultures and languages. Today, amazingly, Rumi is the best known and most read poet in America.

(Once again, a bow of gratitude to Avi for sending me another gem to post in this blog.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011



[UPDATE 20 May 2011: The Guardian UK reports, "Brazil forms 'crisis cabinet' following unexpected deforestation surge".]

Events are moving quickly in Brazil's epic battle over a new national Forest Code. The struggle has has reached a critical stage full of both danger and opportunity. Please take action.


[Reuters reportagem em Português]

Sign the international petition to defend Brazil's forests.

If you would rather sign a petition in Portuguese, here is one from avaaz.

The recent monitoring reports of both the government and the environmental NGOs showed prelimary data of a huge surge in deforestation as agribusiness and the ruralist coalition push to deforest and create a new code of amnesty for the forest destroyers. Today's release of frightening new data shows how aggressive the large farmers and agribusiness are. PLEASE ACT NOW.

The Dilma government has been caught between its desire for for rapid economic development and its desire to maintain its green image to the international community where it has pledged to reduce emissions from deforestation and to maintain biodiversity. Additionally, it wants to showcase its "greenness" at the upcoming 2012 "Rio+20" world environment conference. Indeed, on the advice of its Foreign Ministry, the Dilma leadership delayed the recent Forest Code debate (google translation from Portuguese) in Congress in order to revise its position.

The good news it that IBAMA (the national environment protection agency) has just announced a new policy of zero deforestation. The future of the forest hangs between this positive initiative and the reckless campaign of ruralista deforestation. This is the defining moment!

[Update: Here are the latest reports on deforestation and the new IBAMA policy.]

ACT NOW. Sign the petition in English or in Portuguese to defend Brazil's forests.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Mixed Messages

OK, I couldn't resist the title. He's working with vinyl though, so it's not quite a full step in digital ecology.

(The image was sent to me by email with no by-line. I have no idea of the original source.)

Monday, May 16, 2011




BP recently announced that the Brazilian National Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANP) has approved its bid to purchase 10 exploration and production blocks in Brazil from Devon Energy. BP had declared its decision to buy the assets from Devon in March 2010, and had been waiting for the regulatory approvals from ANP since then.

However, the ANP put the deal in Brazil on hold -- admittedly to see how BP contains the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and finally cleared it now seeing BP's response to the world's largest accidental oil spill.

With the Brazilian deepwaters showing a lot of promise in terms of oil and gas reserves, BP's exploration in the area is expected to primarily add to the company's oil production capacity in the years to come.

More from Forbes

I guess the Brazilian regulators decided that that BP had done a good job in the Gulf of Mexico. (Will wonders never cease!) But I keep thinking about those lovely beaches of Rio de Janeiro.


Cosmic Hummingbird
image source:

The Cosmic Humming-bird born of the collision of three galaxies may be the source Padrinho Sebastiao Mota de Melo referenced as the origin the sacred Santo Daime hymns he received and spread to the world.

The collision of three galaxies is producing a rare spectacle 650 million light-years from Earth. The event, of superhuman proportions, generated the image of a cosmic humming-bird, floating serenely against the dark sky.

The galaxy ESO 593-IG 008 was photographed by the instruments of the telescope VLT (Very Large Telescope). The "tail" alone of cosmic bird measures more than 100,000 light years in length, the size of our entire Milky Way.

Here is Padrinho Senastiao's most famous humming-bird hymn:

Oh my God, Oh my God
My God where am I?
Oh my God, Oh my God
I am a humming-bird

Oh my God, Oh my God
My God where are You?
Oh my God, Oh my God
On earth and the seaside

Oh my God, Oh my God
My God of Charity
Oh my God, Oh my God
Give my clarity

Oh my God, Oh my God
My God of the forest
Oh my God, Oh my God
Here nobody talks

Oh my God, Oh my God
My God of love
Oh my God, Oh my God
I finish as a humming-bird

WESAK 2011


Last weekend, at the time of the full moon, the Wesak Festivals around the world celebrated the birth, enlightenment and the passing away of Gautama Buddha. His awakening signaled not only stepping out of the illusion and the path of endless suffering but that there was no need to return to it.


Better to be calm, grounded and mindful of the treasure within.


Friday, May 13, 2011


Preto Velho

Today, 13 May 2011, commemorates the abolition of slavery in Brazil

Nowadays, Pretos Velhos (Old Blacks) -- the spirits of slaves who suffered greatly -- return compassionately to help people with healing and generally to reduce suffering, which they knew all to well. Umbanda is one of the many Afro-Brazilian religions that will be have great parties tonight and tomorrow.

Viva os Pretos Velhos!

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Here is the full action alert from our friends at Amazon Watch:

In just under two weeks at Chevron's annual shareholders meeting, the oil giant's leadership will face tough questions from shareholders, the media, and the public now that the company has finally been found guilty of massive contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Chevron's executives will also have to face the Ecuadorians themselves.
Please watch and share this new video Chevron in Ecuador: A Defining Moment,
powerfully narrated by Peter Coyote:
The communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon have fought tirelessly to demand Chevron take responsibility for its toxic legacy. With a court verdict in their favor, they now need our help to ensure Chevron isn’t able to use its political influence and seemingly endless resources to avoid paying for the cleanup, clean water and healthcare facilities the communities so desperately need.
Next week, three courageous Ecuadorian indigenous and community leaders will travel on behalf of more than 30,000 affected people to New York, Washington DC, and finally to Chevron's backyard in the San Francisco Bay Area to demand the company satisfy the judgment. Amazon Watch and our friends at Rainforest Action Network will be supporting them as we meet with reporters, lawmakers, shareholders, institutional investors, and supporters. Our job is to amplify their voices and continue building support for their effort to bring Chevron to justice, and we need your help.
Stay tuned – these leaders have opened their lives to us, asking us to help share touching personal stories with you through video, on our blog, Twitter and Facebook. They’re eager to keep you posted during every step of the way on their trip across the U.S. through an exciting new feature on Causes.
Together we can achieve justice and reach a historic milestone for corporate accountability that will benefit us all.
For justice in Ecuador,
Han Shan
Coordinator, Clean Up Ecuador Campaign 
P.S. Don't forget to join our Stop Chevron: Defend the Amazon Cause as we bring our campaign to the next level and demand Chevron do the right thing. 

BLU Super Zid

Spreading the message from Beograd, Serbia (above) and around the world.

Matt Stopera compiled 29 more murals from around the world composed by street artist BLU. They are a MUST SEE. Please follow the link.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Activists tell the Brazilian Congress to turn off the chainsaw

[UPDATE II: After 20 hours of fierce debate into early Thursday morning that saw Communist Party leader Aldo Rebelo trying to sneak last minute changes into his proposed law and slandering the husband of Marina Silva as a "timber thief", the session fell into chaos as an allied base group of the government split from the government coalition and enough deputies refused to respond to a quorum call that debate had to be cancelled. It is now scheduled to resume in 10 days. Here's a news report from the NY Times and a backgrounder from WWF.]

[UPDATE I: Tuesday's scheduled vote was delayed until tomorrow as Marina Silva mobilized a coalition of environmentalists into negotiations with the government to demand that the damaging aspects of the revised Forest Code proposed by Communist Party leader Aldo Rebelo be eliminated or that the entire issue be delayed for more scientific studies. Over 50 socio-environmental groups have joined the political mobilization of civil society at this defining moment in the struggle for the future of the Amazon Forest.]
Here is a report from Greenpeace on the some of reasons why they feel that what's going on is so important.

Some assume that the Amazon chainsaws have been quiet for the last few years.

In some ways it’s true: over the last ten years deforestation rates have been falling. Pressure from Greenpeace, our supporters and allies has helped broker deals which prevent companies from destroying the forest for leather, beef or soy.

However, the new protections have left agribusiness restless and now agribusiness has launched a new threat to one of Brazil’s most precious treasures-and one of the earth’s “lungs”- the Amazon.

Now, the Brazilian government is poised to decide the fate of the 80 year old ‘Forest Code,’ a crucial tool in protecting the Amazon over the years. Agribusiness and the Brazilian Rural Caucus see the Forest Code (and the rainforests for that matter) as an obstacle for more profits and they have poured millions into a Koch Brothers-style astroturf campaign to weaken the law and grant amnesty to plantations who have violated the law.

Today, (Tuesday, May 10,2011), the Brazilian House is scheduled to vote on the new changes.

A key destructive proposed change in the Forest Code is granting sweeping amnesty to farms and people that have violated the Forest Code. Just the buzz of amnesty over the last few months has spurred a new wave of illegal deforestation. Environmental criminals are so confident in amnesty being granted that they are turning on the chainsaws and clearing forests that are in their way.

It's understandable why these criminals believe amnesty is coming- at least 27 members of the Brazilian Congress have violated the forest code or own property cited for illegal deforestation. Now these members are writing new laws to clear their names.

Staggering amounts of forest are at stake- experts anticipate 850 Million Hectares- twice the size of California would fell under the new code. These forests would release over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide – 5 times the gargantuan annual rate of the U.S.’s emissions.

Brazil has shown itself to be an example of how rainforest nations are able to turn the tide on deforestation without sacrificing economic growth. Through conservation initiatives, sophisticated monitoring, and engaging the industries driving deforestation Brazil has helped to turn the tide. These proposed changes to the Forest Code would erase decades of progress.

A coalition of Brazilian environmentalists, small farm owners, indigenous groups, and social movements such as Via Campesina and the Landless Movement have joined together to resist these drastic changes -changes that benefit agribusiness at the expense of Brazilian forests, forest communities, endangered species and the world at large.

More from the coalition opposing the Aldo Rebelo Forest Code here.