January 4th, 2015. In Lima, the United Nations organized in December 2014 the last preparatory meeting for the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris. **There were several references to the Amazonian rainforest and at the margins of the official encounter, there was a Tribunal of Opinion on the Right of Nature that touched upon this topic.**

The climatic problem is quite basic. At the same time that human activities produce more greenhouse gases, the carbon deposits are destroyed, that is the natural places where those gases are absorbed: rainforests and oceans. The result is that the planet cannot fully regenerate and we would already need a planet and a half for nature’s restoration; but we just have one.

**Three big places in the world have important rainforest reserves that regulate regional ecosystems: Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia), Central Africa (Congo), and the Amazonia.** The first has practically disappeared: Malaysia and Indonesia have destroyed more than 80% of its native rainforests for the plantation of African oil palm and eucalypts. In the Congo, wars had stopped timber exploitation and mining but these activities came back in the last 10 years. The Amazonia is passing through a process of degradation. Pope Francis, who is preparing an encyclical on climatic problems, referred to the destruction of the tropical rainforest as a sin.

++++ The geological functions of the Amazonian rainforest

**With 4 million km2 in 9 countries, the Amazonian rainforest stores a total of 109,660 million tons of CO2 [1]; that means 50% of the CO2 present in all tropical forests of the world [2]. A total of 33 million people live in this region and among them there are 400 indigenous groups.**

A research from the Brazilian scientist Antonio Donato Nobre, O Futuro Climático da Amazõnia – Relatorio de Avaliação científica, describes in a striking way the functions of the Amazonian rainforest [3]. He recollected the studies made in Brazil. **The geological history of the Amazonia is quite old. Tens of millions of years had to pass for the rainforest biodiversity** to be formed, turning the rainforest in a //”machine of environmental regulation//” of high complexity. It is a //”green ocean//” in relation to the gaseous ocean of the atmosphere (water, gases, energy) and the blue ocean of the seas, says the author.

**Five are the main functions:**
(1) First, the rainforest keeps the humidity of the air allowing the presence of rain in places far from oceans –thanks to the trees’ transpiration.
(2) Secondly, abundant rains help preserving a clean air.
(3) Third, a beneficial hydrological cycle is maintained even in adverse circumstances; the rainforest absorbs the humid air of oceans inwards thus perpetuating rain in any circumstance.
(4) The fourth function is the long-distance transportation of water through the rivers, which stops desertification –especially in the East side of the mountain range.
(5) Finally, the rainforest avoids extreme climatic phenomena thanks to its density, which simultaneously prevents tempests fed by water steam. That is why we need to defend this exceptional natural treasure.

++++ Rainforest degradation

The effects of current degradation the Amazonian rainforest are already visible: reduction of transpiration, modification of rains, and extension of the dry season. In 2013 only in Brazil there was a deforestation of 763,000 km2, three times the state of São Paulo, 21 times Belgium or 184 million of football fields.

**It is estimated that a reduction of 40% of the rainforest would mean the beginning of a process of transition into a savannah. Currently around 20% has been destroyed and other 20% is seriously affected.** According to a declaration made by the FAO during the international day of the rainforest in March 2014, if the change keeps going in 40 years there will not be any Amazonian rainforest but a savannah with some forests. For this reason the author of the research asks for a radical reversion, estimating that the challenge can still be accomplished. He proposes a restoration of the destroyed rainforest, a diffusion of knowledge to nourish public opinion, and urgent decisions coming from political leaders.

But what can we actually confirm? All the countries that have in their territory part of the Amazonian rainforest have //”good reasons//” to use it. In neoliberal countries we find the idea of exploiting natural resources in order to contribute to capital accumulation. In //”progressive//” countries the arguments are different: natural resources need to be extracted in order to promote agricultural exports and finance social policies. In social democratic systems the political discourse contains a mix of these two arguments. But, whichever the discourse, the result is the same.

**West of the Amazonia, oil extraction advances towards the rainforest.** It is enough to visit a region like the Colombian Putumayo to observe the huge damages of just the phase of exploration. Humberto Calderón Berti, the president of VETRA, a Canadian oil company, affirmed in 2014 that despite the difficulties (low oil prices, opposition from the people, insurgent activities), //”we won’t leave the Amazons, since it is an ocean of oil that goes from the top of La Macarena and passes through Ecuador and Peru.//” Currently the company extracts 23,000 daily barrels in the Colombian region of Putumayo [4].

**In Venezuela** new deposits are waiting to be exploited to contribute to, among other things, the policy of solidarity of the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America). In Ecuador the prophetic project of Yasuní is abandoned as a result of lacking international support, the pressure of local interests, and oil frontier expansion. In Peru and Bolivia, the oil and gas wells multiply. Wastes continue contaminating water sources and soils everywhere due to negligence –as is the case of Chevron (old TEXACO) in Ecuador–, to accidents in the extraction or transport of oil or simply because clean technologies are too expensive.

Let’s see some concrete examples. **In Ecuador, TEXACO sent more than 16,000 million gallons of contaminated water to Amazonian rivers** [5]. 30 years after the company left the country, around 1,000 waste pools are still filtering oil in the soil. In 1993 30,000 Ecuadorians affected by this phenomenon presented a court claim in New York. It is a bigger catastrophe than the ocean oil spills during the last years.

**In Loretto, Peru, the total oil spill equaled 2,637,000 barrels (353,000 tons). In 1979 287,000 tons were spilled (ten times more than the catastrophe of Exxon Valdez).** There were irreversible damages that take centuries for repairing. Heavy metals like cadmium, arsenic, and lead went 322 times over the maximum limit allowed. State of emergency was declared: 100 communities (more than 20,000 people) were affected and there were sanitary (cancers, genetic mutations, aborts) and socio-cultural consequences [6]. Also in Peru in 2009, thousands of people manifested in Bagua against the extractive projects that destroyed the forests and rivers that existed in the Curva del Diablo; the manifestations left 53 dead and 200 wounded. Two other companies [7] have been granted 658,879.677 acres in concession.

Westwards, the mines consume big spaces of the rainforest. **In the state of Para, northern Brazil, the company Vale has been granted a concession of more than 600,000 acres where copper and gold mining add to iron extraction.** This has transformed big surfaces in lunar landscapes. Mining is also present in some regions of the West and the Center. In Peru’s Condor mountain range, the Canadian company Afrodita cut off part of the park Ichigkat Muja and destined it to mining activities. In the Ecuadorian side, the lack of environmental precaution and impact assessment has generated conflicts between the mine Condor-Mirador and indigenous communities.

From the South, soy and palm monoculture plantations crawl up in big rectangles that, seen from a plane, look like big open wounds in the landscape. The Brazilian code of forests explains in its introduction that the country wants to favor //”modern agriculture//” (i.e. industrial agriculture). //”King soy//” is the ruler of the Matro Grosso state.

Hydroelectric dams occupy mainly the middle area of the Amazonian rainforest thus flooding tens of thousands of forest land acres. In Brazil, the project of the Madeira River in the Rondonia state forced 10,000 people to abandon their homes [9]. The hydroelectric Belo Monte on the river Xingú, flooded 500km2 and affected 40,000 families (no previous consultation was made) [10]. The Balbina dam has produced 23,750 tons of CO2 and 140,000 tons of methane just during the first three years of existence [11].

Despite governmental measures, illegal and legal exploitation of wood is still very aggressive. Accidental or caused fires destroy big spaces of the rainforest. Also public works like highways, pipelines, railways, and fluvial transportation contribute to ecological destruction.

**In the middle of the environmental problematic we find millions of people being affected by the transformation of their lifestyle, the expulsion of their ancestral lands, the colonization of their territories, and the criminalization of their protests.** The indigenous groups that don’t accept the separation between nature and culture are the best agents of conservation of rainforest life but also the first victims when it is exploited. Numerous animal and vegetal species also pay the price of the //”progress of civilization.//”

++++ The forgetting of the official discourse

In the official discourses we don’t hear about the costs of these policies –that is, the millions of tons of CO2 sent to the atmosphere; about the use of the extracted minerals: gold that usually ends up in banks’ safes in order to maintain the financial system and fabricate weapons; or about the products of industrial agriculture: soy used to feed the cattle, which produces more greenhouse gases than transportation. The North is the main responsible of this but the reproduction of the same model of production and consumption has equal consequences; and this is not mainly a moral or political problem, but a mathematical one.

+++++ What are the solutions?

Evidently it is not about turning the Amazonia in a zoological garden or transforming indigenous groups in museum artifacts. It is about adopting a holistic vision of the situation that doesn’t segment reality. A vision that goes beyond the logics of economic growth and that doesn’t forget the environmental and social factors; a vision that stops pursuing short term future-obliterating policies. All of this can be traduced into very concrete measures.

**For Latin American countries it is not about losing their sovereignty or letting world powers impose regulations based on their interests. It is about political leaders getting together and adopting positive measures for the recovery of the Amazonian rainforest along with the affected and concerned groups. The USAN (Union of South American Nations) could be the place where institutional collaboration can help to fulfill this urgent task.**

The crisis that is affecting the region –due to the low prices of oil and other commodities– can be a good occasion to mobilize some initiatives. Those countries that do it will pass to history as visionaries.

+++++ Notes
* François Houtart is a professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (IAEN), Ecuador.
[1] Red Amazónica de Información Socio-ambiental Georreferenciada (RAISG), 2014.
[2] Andrés Jaramillo, El Comercio, 05.12.14.
[3] Published by Articulación Regional Amazónica, São Paulo, October 2014.
[4] Nohora Caledón, www.portofolio.col
[5] Dr. Rodrigo Pérez Pallares (Texaco representative), Vistazo, 05.03.07.
[6] Information from the Sarah Kerremans’ report for the Nature Rights Tribunal, Lima, December 2014.
[7] Maurel and Prom-Pacific Rubiales Energy.
[8] Wikipaedia, Itaipu

+++++ Source:
* Sin Permiso: **[http://www.sinpermiso.info/textos/index.php?id=7615 Visit the link here]**