Elenira Mendes: it’s not just about trees

Tonight we’re hosting the Chico Mendes Legacy discussion at the RSA. Before he was murdered, Chico told Elenira that if he were killed, she was to take on his work. Which is quite a burden to carry, because as a girl, she witnessed her father’s death at the hands of thugs hired by local landowners. But she did go on to found the Instituto Chico Mendes to keep her father’s ideas alive, and she’ll be here tonight to talk about her father’s legacy.

I interviewed her last week for the main RSA Arts & Ecology website. The great thing about Chico Mendes’ work is that it wasn’t principally about saving the rainforest at all. It was about creating a decent existence for the forest dwellers of the Amazon, the rubber tappers like Mendes and his family, who were being pushed off their land by agribusiness, and murdered if they objected.  It was about people. Mendes was visionary enough to know that preserving the rainforest was crucial to preserve the local economy. 

One of the reasons why most people don’t give two hoots about environmentalism is that a lot of people in the environmental movment don’t get this. They see people as the problem, not the solution. It’s one of the reasons why so little environmentalism has much traction. Yet.

Elenira Mendes made a point along these lines.

 Unfortunately not
all who defend the environment today are focussed on these populations
[the forest dwellers].
There is much talk about saving the forest, but people forget that
there is human life in it. There are communities and human populations
living in the forest that need support, need better living conditions.
Environmental organizations need to remember it is not a big only a big
forest with many trees and animals. It is populated. It has traditional
populations, such as indigenous people, those who live and work on the
river banks, and the rubber tappers and small producers that need
support, incentives and investment. If we create the conditions for
these populations to continue in there areas, automatically, the forest
will be preserved. 

Read more here.

(For that matter, enviroment doesn’t just mean the rainforest either.)

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