OPINION: Indigenous people are the vital link in the fight to protect our planet

by Bunny McDiarmid | Greenpeace International
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 15:10 GMT

Indigenous men from the Pataxo tribe are seen during a protest against the proposal by Brazil's President to transfer the responsibility of health care services from the federal level to municipal governments, in Brasilia, Brazil March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The future of western civilization lies in the hands of indigenous forest guardians, because the fight against global warming is the biggest challenge of our time

Bunny McDiarmid is the Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

Since the new Brazilian government came to power under President Bolsonaro, commitments to dismantle the rights of indigenous people have accelerated.

These harsh promises and painful acts have gone hand in hand with violent invasions of indigenous lands and indigenous leaders met with death threats and violence - often alongside deforestation.

This week, thousands of indigenous people from all over Brazil are taking a stand and gathering in Brazil's capital Brasília.

They are meeting to show their solidarity, coming together to collectively defend their human rights and demand changes to the political decisions and government plans that threaten their survival.

We should all stand with the indigenous people of Brazil and condemn the violence against them as unacceptable.

We should all support them as they seek recognition of their land rights, and as they resist forest destruction and the aggressive dismantling of their culture and way of life.

Instead, the deeper connection indigenous people have with their lands - their forests, their home - is something that should be protected and celebrated. It’s something for us to understand and aspire to, because it’s a connection western civilisation seems to have lost.  

This lack of connection has driven a developmental mind-set that is undermining the life support systems we ourselves depend on to survive. We have become disconnected from nature; whether we work to protect it or destroy it, whether we ignore it or love it, we don’t understand that we and nature are one and that our fates are intimately connected.

Western civilisation, or the dominant model of 'development', will dam a river, cut the trees to give way to pasture and crops, and kill the land for mining without stopping to realise that we are only harming ourselves.

For indigenous people, the forest doesn’t mean economic value - it means life.

As a result, indigenous communities lived sustainably in the Amazon rainforest for millennia without bleeding it dry.

Now, in a cruel twist, the future of western civilization lies also in the hands of these indigenous forest guardians, because the fight against global warming is the biggest challenge of our time.

Climate change is already affecting us all. If we don’t act immediately the impacts are only going to intensify.

Will we limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees, or are we facing ecological breakdown?

If we don’t win this race, we’re looking at the collapse of civilization as we know it and a destruction of our natural world that could threaten our very survival. One of the easiest and cheapest natural solutions to mitigate climate change lies with the world's forests and those that live to protect it.

We need to recognise that everything is connected, and that unravelling one-part impacts another. If we let our forests thrive, they not only remove carbon from the atmosphere, they also continue to be a home to the millions of species that make our planet liveable.

The Amazon rainforest stores between 80 and 120 billion tonnes of carbon and in turn produces clean air and is involved in the crucial water cycle that controls regional rainfall patterns - rainfall that is key for agricultural production in Brazil and beyond.

Yet, at this critical moment in time for our climate and our planet, conflicts over access to land are on the rise within the Amazon.

Deforestation is increasing. Governments, companies and consumers are not acting collectively or fast enough to reduce deforestation to zero or to fight the forest degradation happening on a daily basis in all regions of the rainforest.

The creeping expansion of industrial agricultural production, cattle farming and infrastructure projects threaten indigenous people, forests and all of us, because we’re all intrinsically connected.

The issues of climate change, indigenous rights, social justice and land use - issues that for so long were in siloes - are deeply intertwined.

Western civilization is finally understanding what indigenous people have always known: that protecting the forest and the natural world, and managing it sustainably, means protecting our climate and life itself.

The Guardians of the Forest meetings in Brasília this week to stand strong against forest destruction, deserve our global solidarity.

Climate change is quickly becoming humanity’s biggest test. We should all stand together to protect our common future - because they too are standing for us.