It’s been a week since we arrived in Belem and during that time I’ve learned more about river fish than I would have during a lifetime back in San Francisco. Well, perhaps that’s a bit hard on the Californian fish scene, but you get the idea.
I’ve seen catfish the size of dogs, tiny eel like creatures and big orange ones with red eyes that no one knows the name of (sorry oceans team, I’m sure you do). This morning we headed into the market to buy some supplies for the ship, and we ended up in the loudest fish market I’ve ever been to in my life.
We came back to the Rainbow Warrior for the latest in a series of events that we’re hosting aboard. We all crammed into the conference room to hear the head of the Amazon Campaign, Paulo Adario, present the case for ‘zero deforestation’ in Brazil.
No perhaps I’m more cynical than you, but when someone at Greenpeace first mentioned the phrase ‘zero deforestation’ to me about three years ago I laughed. It sounded like one of those things like world peace, eternal youth or free beer– a nice idea but not something that is ever going to happen in the real world.
Today I feel differently. For a start, I know more about how it would work. It turns out that countries like Brazil or Indonesia already have huge areas of deforested or degraded land which could be used for agriculture. The reason this isn’t happening is that cutting down rainforest trees gives you a tidy profit before you’ve even started raising cattle or growing your palm oil plantation.
But the truth is that both of these countries have more than enough land to allow healthy economic growth without trashing any more natural forests. Most people (including small farmers, scientists and politicians) agree that deforestation is bad for the people and animals who live in these regions, as well as for the climate. So if it’s possible and most people want it, what’s needed to make it actually happen?
Here in Brazil, Greenpeace may have an answer. The team here has gathered over 200,000 signatures for a citizen’s petition on the subject. Under Brazilian law if the number hits 1.4m – 1 percent of Brazilian voters - then Congress must formally consider the proposal and then vote on it, which means lots of public attention, camera flashbulbs and column inches. The polls show a lot of support for forest preservation in Brazil but the people don’t have the cash and political access of the agribusiness lobby. As is so often the case in a modern democracy, politicians hear more from people in suits than in sandals.
The proposal forbids the cutting of forest in Brazil, but allows exceptions for small holders, traditional communities and responsible logging. It’s written in a clear but compelling way, and here on the Rainbow Warrior this week it’s received support from a huge range of organizations from local labour unions and lawyers. Having the ship here in Belem has allowed Greenpeace to host these people and work together on this initiative, which is really helping to build momentum. It’s just one of the things that having a large ship – with a high tech conference room - can offer.
So will it work? Well, the Amazon is under a serious threat right now, because of a coordinated attack on the Forest Code - which is an old law that protects the rainforest. If the ruralistas (the agribusiness guys) get their way this law will be severely weakened, and the final decision now rests with the new president, Dilma Roussef. So in some ways ‘zero deforestation’ seems as remote as ever, but in Brazil things can change quickly.
If Dilma vetoes the bad forest code and Greenpeace manages to force a vote in Congress on this good alternative then things could turn around more quickly than the ship’s periscope after a dollop of marine grease. It would also send a clear signal to other countries like Indonesia that a forest protection is both possible and profitable.
You can help. Use our Brazilian Friend Finder to spread the word, and stay tuned for more fish updates.