Chico Mendes

PEN American Center – Weather Report: What Can We Do?

When: Thursday, April 29

Where: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, 83rd Street and Fifth Avenue, New York City

What time: 8–9:30 p.m.

With Jostein Gaarder, James Hansen, Frederic Hauge, Bjørn Lomborg, Bill McKibben, Andrew Revkin, and Cynthia Rosenzweig; moderated by Robert Silvers

Tickets: $25/$20 PEN Members/The Metropolitan Museum of Art Members and New York Review of Books subscribers; or (212) 868-4444. For Member discount code, please contact Lara Tobin at or (212) 334-1660 ext. 126.

“What Can We Do?” brings together on one panel some of the premier scientists and writers from the U.S. and Scandinavia: Frederic Hauge, founder and director of the international environmental organization the Bellona Foundation; Bjørn Lomborg, an Adjunct Professor at Copenhagen Business School and author of the controversial The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World and Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming; Jostein Gaarder, author of the internationally-acclaimed novel Sophie’s World and creator of the Sophie Prize; Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, and numerous other books; James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climatologists and author of Storms of My Grandchildren; and author and environment journalist Andrew Revkin, whose biography of Chico Mendes, formed the basis of the feature film The Burning Season. Cynthia Rosenzweig is co-chair of the New York City Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the mayor advising the city on adaptation for its critical infrastructure. The New York Review of Books editor, Robert Silvers will guide the discussion about how we can turn back the tides of global warming.

For more information: PEN American Center – Weather Report: What Can We Do?.

Chico Mendes Legacy Lecture 13.01.09

On 13 January 2009 RSA Arts & Ecology teamed up with the Young Vic and People’s Palace Projects to present a lively encounter programmed to coincide with Amazonia, the theatre’s latest extraordinary production inspired by the life and legacy of world-famous environmental activist, Chico Mendes, who was assassinated because of his political views in December 1988.
Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Projects

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.)

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog

Chico Mendes

Photo:taken by Alexandre Severo of a 2006 protest by the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil in a shanty town named after Chico Mendes in São Lourenço da Mata, Brazil, following threats of eviction by the landowning company. .

If you’ve been visiting the main site, you may have seen the item on the discussion we’ve got coming up on 15th January: The Chico Mendes Legacy. It’s free, but places are limited, so book early. See here for details of how to attend. Chico Mendes’ daughter Elenira Mendes, who witnessed his father’s assassination by political opponents twenty years ago, will be talking about the importance of her father’s achievements. Also on the panel will be composer Jonathan Dove, Greenpeace’s Charlie Kronick, designer and all-round provocateur Vivienne Westwood and director Paul Heritage of the Young Vic/People’s Palace Projects.

Chico Mendes is often sainted as “a rainforest campaigner”, which, yes, he was, but that label confuses what that Chico Mendes legacy is. Mendes came from a family of rubber tappers; he started work tapping trees himself at the age of nine. When, in the 1970s, the big ranch landowners from south of the Amazon started forcing rubber tappers off the land to chop down the forest, murdering families and burning out villages, he initiated the fightback. His ability to inspire and organise was extraordinary. Facing landowners who didn’t much care if the tappers who had worked forest rubber trees for generations died in the clearances, he responded with peaceful activism. His famous “empates” were groups of people who would gather in such numbers whenever the chainsaws arrived and surround the hired workers until they were forced to retreat.

As a result of a mass march on Brasilia, the government agreed in 1985 to create a series of rubber reserves in the rainforest. These were no-go areas for the deforesters, kept for those who maintained a living from the trees. This has become the model for how to preserve rainforest in Brazil – through creating sustainable communities who work with the local environment rather than destory it.

I suspect the lesson of why Mendes’ movement had such force and popular appeal is that it wasn’t just an “eco” movement. It was above all a popular attempt to maintain a standard of living for tens of thousands of people, and that movement figured out a great sustainable development model.

At the moment road to COP15 is paved with good intentions but from what has been happening recently in Brussels and Poznan the green movement is being regarded as just one special interest group among many rather than an unstoppable popular clamour. Green politics are still regarded as the preserve of the Prius-driving veg box buyers. ( Where There’s A Protest There’s Probably A ‘Posh Kid’.)

Of course the other thing is there’s nothing like the threat of bulldozers, chainsaws and guns to unite a popular movement. Climate change doesn’t have such a tangible enemy.

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology Blog

How Amazonia came to London this Christmas

Two years ago, RSA Arts and Ecology began supporting a multi-disciplinary collaboration with the Young Vic. Inspired by the work of the unionist and conservationist Chico Mendes, Amazônia began with a journey by the Young Vic’s artistic director to Brazil. It reaches a celebratory climax this winter with a magnificent children’s show at the Young Vic by Colin Teevan and Paul Heritage. Amazonia’s producer, Debra Hauer talks us through the extraordinary history of the project.