“This jungle, this Amazon basin, in its present form, is vital to all of us.”
– Sir Peter Blake
Sitting here in a plastic chair on the deck of Seamaster, I am surrounded by trees and plants, wildlife, abundant clean water and clean air.
Here in the Amazon Basin are probably more natural resources than any other single part of the world – at the moment!
We are anchored off a 3km long golden sand beach; the river is a clear blue-green and the warm easterly breeze is strong enough to keep the temperatures very pleasant – particularly as it carries the soft scents of the jungle to windward.
There is a fishing family with their house amongst the palms at the top of the beach – their bongo tied to a couple of wooden stakes on the edge of the river, the nets drying in the sun. But this river is a big river and extends as far as the eye can see.
The sun rises soon after 5am and sets around 5:30 pm. It regulates everyone’s day.
A walk along the sand spit with the wind picking up the waves on the windward side shows a contrast with the calm in the lea. The water is deep very close to this idyllic shore.
Some of our crew have just been swimming with the pink river dolphin – shy at first, but we hope this will be the first encounter of many. They are creatures of another time – trapped in the Amazon when the Andes rose and blocked the original outlet to the Pacific Ocean. They have not had much need to adapt further since.
There is a very real sense of peace – a timeless peace – although we know that history says otherwise.
Since leaving Belem 9 days ago, we have been amazed by the beauty of the river scenery, by the friendliness of these shy people, by the life in the water, and even though we have yet to encounter it first hand, by the life that we know we will see on the edge of the jungle, particularly after Manaus.
The Amazon has evolved over a long time – too long for us to comprehend.
As with the rest of the world, mainly before “we knew better”, forests and jungles were cut down – to provide space to grow crops and for fuel, and because the trees were a readily available cash crop.
Now, roads have been forged through the many wilderness areas of our planet, opening up large tracts to easy access for forestry and mining – but also the spread of disease.
And of course there is oil and gas to be found in some of the most remote parts of the world – from the Antarctic to the Arctic. This oil and gas (and coal) is a huge store of carbon. They are fossil fuels formed many millennia ago, but stored in the ground – until now!
Here in the Amazon, the balance of life in the jungle – life that has developed and adapted over millions of years – is being upset. Man is to blame.
And fossil fuels and timber and mining are not the only easily available products that the jungle has to offer – ready for man to “exploit”.
Most of the bigger animals here are already gone – or nearly so. Many others are following the same fate. The world market for endangered species, be it jaguar pelts or boa constrictor skins or live parrots – is increasing.
Making a quick dollar is generally the motive behind the deforestation, the mining, the stripping, the cutting down, the shooting, capturing – and so on.
In reading the above I am inclined to think “Is this for real – can I really write such things and believe they are so?“
They are so! And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
But because what happens to a forest, a jungle, an ice shelf, a whale, a jaguar in the jungle, life in the sea, in a river doesn’t really have an immediate impact on us on a daily basis – because it doesn’t effect us – we chose perhaps not to care enough.
Sitting here looking at the beauty surrounding me, please excuse me if I seem confused.
The world is a much faster place than ever before – but not here in this bay, where the way of life is close to how it was hundreds of years ago.
If much of the Amazon jungle is cut down – for profit – and mined and farmed, I bet the people who live here, who depend on the jungle for their livelihood, will receive little in return.
This jungle, this Amazon basin, in its present form, is vital to all of us.
For every 5 breaths that you take, the oxygen for one of those breaths comes from here.
1/5th of the world’s oxygen is produced by the plant life in the Amazon.
The jungle regulates climate, smoothes out water flows after heavy rain, and contains more biodiversity – plants, animals, insects, birds – all life – than any other one place on this planet.
To cut it down for a short term financial gain will be foolhardy in the extreme.
But there is a plan afoot to do just that – the official, government sponsored, “Advance Brazil” plan will involve the loss of 40% of all of the jungle – if it ever goes ahead.
To cut down any forest just “because it is there” will have a similar disastrous effect.
Living, growing things (plants and animals in all forms) are not just here for man to do with as he wants. Believe me, the flow-on effect of many of these actions will be huge.
Cut down the jungle or forests and water quality drops away – the natural filtering process disappears. Erosion sets in. The climate changes. Desertification begins.
Today, more than 5 million people around the world every year die from lack of suitable water.
Keep taking from nature the way we are, be it from the forests or from life in the sea, then the not-so-long-term effects will be catastrophic.
The acceleration of global warming due to loss of carbon sinks (i.e. deforestation) combined with the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) doesn’t bare thinking about. It is happening, at a faster and faster rate.
The latest scientific evidence shows that the Amazon could all be gone within 20 years – a similar time zone for the complete stripping of all of the commercial stock of fish in the oceans of the world.
The loss of the fish will mean starvation for many; the loss of the jungle will affect everyone – it won’t differentiate whether you live in comfort in the USA, or in a grass house in Africa – you will feel the consequences of the massive increase in global warming.
All because some people want to make a quick dollar rather than appropriately view the long term situation.
Scare mongering – Not At All.
There are many agencies endeavouring to alert the world, influence governments, form pressure groups – to try and halt the destruction of all that surrounds us, but of which most of us are unaware, because it doesn’t effect us much in our daily lives – at present!
There are also those, however, who have recognised the need, the vital and immediate need, to forge ahead with the development of alternatives to fossil fuels. Of course there will be global companies opposed to these alternatives, as they will eventually affect their “bottom line”, their shareholders’ return.
But unless we all realise that we are all shareholders in this planet of ours, and we all deserve a say, then watch out.
Fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) could be replaced very quickly by fuels that do not increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Hydrogen power, solar, wind, water and wave power are all available – right now – to run this planet into the future in a sustainable way – which is not what we have right now.
Imagine all the vehicles in the world running on hydrogen – no “emissions”, no pollution – just clean clear energy. This is not a dream. This is happening. But it needs help.
The massive infrastructure is not yet in place – the “filling stations”, the distribution, the manufacturing plants.
Shouldn’t our governments be spending as much on new fuel development for the preservation of the environment of the world as they spend on military might? Because the effect of leaving our policies as they are right now will be as bad as another global war, possibly more so.
The environmental problems that apply to each and every one of us are not going away.
The situation is not improving.
There are many more people in the world each day.
There is more waste.
There is a greater need for good clean water, cheap sources of power – for everyone, not just those sitting comfortably in developed countries who feel they can take advantage of those in developing countries.
Right now we are here in the Amazon.
By actually being here makes us appreciate how vital it is to the whole world.
It encourages us to examine all priorities.
And if Brazil can’t afford to keep it the way it is, then maybe the rest of the world, especially the developed world, should think about buying it – to preserve it as a vital life-giving park for all time.
Lose the Amazon, we lose our soul!
In 1854, the “Great White Chief” in Washington made an offer for a large area of Indian land and promised a “reservation” for the Indian people.
Chief Seattle’s reply has been described as the most beautiful and profound statement on the environment ever made.
“This Earth is Precious”
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?
Every part of the earth is sacred to my people.
Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.
The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it is the mother of the red man.
We are a part of the earth and it is part of us.
The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.
The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man – all belong to the same family.
So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves.
He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider your offer to buy our land.
But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.
This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors.
If we sell you land, you must remember it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people.
The water’s murmur is the voice of my father’s father.
The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our canoes, and feed our children. If we sell you our land, you must remember, and teach your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.
We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs.
The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on.
He leaves his father’s graves behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the earth from his children, and he does not care.
His father’s grave, and his children’s birthright, are forgotten. He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads.
His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.
I do not know. Our ways are different from your ways.
The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man.
But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand.
There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect’s wings.
But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand.
The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?
I am a red man and do not understand.
The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a midday rain, or scented with the pinon pine.
The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath.
The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.
But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also receives his last sigh.
And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow’s flowers.
So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept, I will make one condition: The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.
I am a savage and I do not understand any other way.
I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.
I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.
What is man without beasts? If all beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of spirit.
For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.
Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit on the ground, they spit upon themselves.
This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.
All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.
Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.
We may be brothers after all.
We shall see.
One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – our God is the same God.
You may think that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white.
This earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed, and you will one day suffocate in your own waste.
But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man.
The destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when all the buffalo are slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires.
Where is the thicket? Gone.
Where is the eagle? Gone.
The end of living and the beginning of survival.
It seems that nothing much has changed between then and now.
It’s worth thinking about.
All the best from all of the Seamaster crew.
Photo credit: Don Robertson