I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone can say that they are surrounded by greatness, passion and humour at work. But I can. In fact, I am regularly humbled by those around me at Greenpeace.
My closest colleague for the latter half of last year, Paulo Adario, is one of the special ones and today he finally got to shine. The United Nations presented him with the Forest Heroes Award in New York today to recognize his unique and vast contribution to the protection of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.
I just returned from six months in the Amazon Basin where I worked closely with our Amazon Rainforest team in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. It’s a hot place where the people are generous, the fish is spectacular and the Amazon River is brown from all the biodegrading organic matter. The water looks the colour of dark tea but the upshot is that there are no mosquitos.
It’s here I met and worked alongside Paulo, who has been the Amazon Campaign Director since its inception in 1999. Since then, he has built the office in Manaus into a clearinghouse of change-makers and forest defenders. It is an office buzzing with activity. Staff are constantly strategizing on how to achieve ‘zero deforestation’ in the Amazon while Brazil grows as an economic power, ways to motivate the cattle industry to stop expansion, and best ways to support local and indigenous communities creating a meaningful livelihood.
Paulo created all this with Greenpeace. But more than creating the conditions for success, he has been wildly successful at making the Amazon a safer place to be for trees and the biodiversity it relies on.
And like many a long-time Greenpeace staffer, he’s a character. To know him is to love him. He makes an entrance everywhere he goes and is easy to draw a crowd. The reason is simple: he’s a smart likeable storyteller with a real vision for our world. He sees what other don’t, he sees what is called the ‘Art of the Possible’. It is a way of being where he completely understands the challenges, barriers and seeming impossibility of a problem yet isn’t deterred and can see a path through it that will achieve the highest possible outcome for everyone. It’s an easy enough concept to talk about in theory but incredibly difficult in practice. And when someone like Paulo has ‘it’, people gravitate towards him.
The good news is that there are more like him all over the world working for Greenpeace. My Greenpeace work over the past seven years has put brought me to Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, United States, and further. In each place there is more than one ‘Paulo’, the people who work like they have a fire in their belly, understand the ecology, politics and economic trends of the forest-based market at least as well as industry experts, and who make a real difference for forests everywhere. Their names aren’t Paulo but they also know their names aren’t what are important, it’s the forest that matters.
However, it is very nice when someone calls our name and recognizes us for our work. And to have it called at the United Nations General Assembly as a global Forest Hero, well, it’s a good day to be working for our forests and the tiger and jaguars and bears.
The planet’s forests are still in desperate trouble from uncontrolled industrial activity with massive expansions planned all over the world. Deforestation is responsible for up to one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions today so it is a major driver of climate change. Our work is more important and more urgent than it ever has been. Please consider giving to Greenpeace to help us be a strong independent voice for the environment. Donate your money, your time or your voice. It all counts.
Back from Brazil and living in Vancouver, I am now coordinating our Canadian forest campaign to save the Great Bear Rainforest, Boreal Forest, Indonesia’s rainforest and the iconic Clayoquot Sound. At least until the call from another mysterious forest calls my name.