Message of the Day: Environment, Human Rights, Disease, Hunger, Economic Opportunity, War, Population, Personal Growth

The Amazon Has Seen Our Future, The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2020


Our original intention for the last post on October 2 had been to focus on another issue. But when the leader of the most powerful nation on earth contracted the disease that has been ravaging the planet and remains an out of control pandemic starting its next phase as science predicted if not properly controlled by necessary and consistent policies, then all bets were off.

For now on the above subject, we’ll just note that more than ever, reality imitates science-fiction, and science-fiction imitates reality, in an exponential cycle that requires new descriptors which we will not pursue at this time.

Meanwhile, as all things are connected, all the pandemices of every kind on earth continue to spiral out of control.

So here’s the issue we had planned to post October 2.

On that day, The New York Times posted another of its finest extensive reports (which with certainly was lost in the maelstrom of the unforseen news that day referenced above) in a three part series of connected opinion pieces, The Amazon Has Seen Our Future.

Intellectually, emotionally and visually, it’s a mesmerizing and bracing series. An update on the state of the planet.

We’ve written often of the Amazon and all the related issues–which means all the issues that will determine the “whether or not” of life on earth. Enviroment, human rights, hunger, disease, economic opportunity, war, population and the personal growth to see the connections and take action.

“Today the people of the Amazon Are Living through the most extreme versions of our planet’s most urgent problems”, the subtext of the introduction to the series observes. “We asked a dozen experts on and from the region to tell us what’s going on, and to imagine a better future.”

Today is Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the US.

Two years ago on the same day, we posted The End Of Civilization As We Knew It, Part Ten, which focused on the Amazon and the same inter-related issues The Times series does now two years later.

Here’s an excerpt from the opening:

“Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same. If they want to return as much of the landscape as possible to its 1491 state, they will have to find it within themselves to create the world’s largest garden.” – Charles C. Mann, 1491, The Atlantic Magazine, March 2002

As we have noted throughout our reflections, sometimes we have to look back in order to look forward, much less to see clearly where we are.

Today is Columbus Day in the US, a federal holiday set on the second Monday of October, and a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.

It is a controversial holiday, for good reason. Many states and cities observe it as a “Day of Observance” or “Recognition” and a number of states and cities observe it as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” …

This week, we go back to the creation moment when a connected world was born, and all that has flowed from it. When Western civilization was influenced at least as much by the indigenous civilizations it encountered and colonized as the other way around.

Terrible and amazing things have happened ever since 1492. Everything changed then. Most people don’t truly understand this. Or the context of indigenous civilizations going back thousands of years. Or the relationship since to virtually every aspect of Western civilization.

Most importantly, 1492 was the year that we became one world.

There are countless reasons to wish it had never happened. Conversely, it was always inevitably going to, one way or another, and in the evolution of our species, aspects of it were going to be awful, one way or another. No excuses, but terrible reality, until we are citizens of the planet as one species, with basic needs, rights, rules and responsibilities for all with global governance.

It is quite possible that the population of indigenous peoples who created advanced civilizations disconnected from the rest of the world was larger than the population of Europe in 1492. Their relationship to the environment was complex and as with all people in response to their basic needs. As it was, they may well have, through their ingenuity, created the Amazon in no small part, the linchpin on the planet to a significant extent upon which every breath we take depends.

The food crops that Europeans and much of the world came to depend on were developed by indigenous peoples.

The fate of indigenous peoples in the Americas was sealed the moment Columbus landed. The huge majority were not killed by European weapons but by disease, pandemics perhaps historically unequaled. The Europeans apparently had little to no idea what was happening in the main at first–one person or animal could start the process that destroyed populations over time after the initial European incursion moved on (the paths of disease, years between Eurpoean incursions and places they occured helped engender the myth of wilderness)–and had every reason to want large populations of indigenous peoples to survive to be used as labor (although had the huge majority survived, it is quite possible that even with their weaponry, Europeans would have been overwhelmed and their weapons technology adopted–in which case history may have taken a very different course.) Because of the decimation of indigenous populations, Europeans looked to Africa for slave labor in the Americas.

Make no mistake about it, Europeans were more than willing to consciously commit genocide and did, along with every imaginable crime against humanity. Their interest was their own security, wealth and power (although to remind of the connectedness of all things, some were themselves virtual serfs or were fleeing tyranny, persecution and deprivation). In the US as throughout the Americas, the original sin was not slavery (although that was the abominable crime that tore the US apart from the start for many reasons). The first sin, the first great crime, was committed against indigenous peoples.

But the situation was far more complex as it unfolded over half a millennium than was, or still is, understood by many. The degree of the tragedy is minimized by not acknowledging the size of the populations and civilizations destroyed. And the lack of understanding as to the contributions made by indigenous peoples that in many ways were more advanced than Europeans, and that ended up benefiting Europeans and the whole world, adds to the degradation and racism endured by indigenous peoples. The cruelest irony and greatest tribute may be that humanity and all life on earth may owe our future survival in significant measure to them.

We covered at length the history, past and present, associated with the Amazon and all the issues related to it. We warned at length about what it appeared was about to happen, specifically in Brazil.

The worst predictions, by us and by others, related to the worst of what has been happening globally, have tragically been realized. The Times series reads like a follow-up and even more extensive deep dive into the issues we covered then. And it touches on other issues we have covered before and since.

Including, on top of it all, the pandemic.

Again and again, reality tries to force our eyes open, and will, until they do, individually and collectively, or until they all close in species ending events.

Homero Aridjis is a Mexican poet, novelist and environmental activist.

Here is his poem, Discreation, in Three Poets on the Amazon, part of The Times series:

Anger is a brief madness, Horace

Amazonia turned into the biggest bonfire in the world.

The Alps and the Andes were converted into chasms.

The seas and the eyes that looked upon them evaporated.

On the tree of life, the bird that sang the four hundred

voices of blue faded into the flames.

Of all creatures, human eyes had the deepest pits.

Suddenly, it was night on earth.

A searing silence came over all.

The most orphaned of beings was the son of man.

Old as the moon was the baby’s face.

Eons dissolved into instants.

Somewhere, at some moment

a deranged Godzilla and a maddened Batman

pitched nuclear strikes at one another.

All of it was brief.

The Apocalypse shall be the work of man, not of God.

And here is an excerpt from the first piece in the series, Captain Chain Saw’s Delusion, by

Amid political strife and smoke visible from space, the future of the Amazon has rarely been so hazy. Environmentalists see a vanishing rainforest of global consequence. Indigenous leaders see an ancestral home still being exploited by settlers after 500 years of genocidal violence. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, sees valuable acreage wasted by “cave men” and Marxists.

Sixty percent of the world’s largest tropical forest lies within Brazil’s borders, and since 2006 I’ve traveled thousands of miles in the Amazon, witnessing how the river and its people have experienced a century’s worth of ecological and cultural change in a generation. For a few weeks last year, record-setting fires in the region focused the world’s attention with an intensity reminiscent of the Save the Rainforest campaigns of the 1980s, but this year, the land is burning during a pandemic that has interrupted travel, stymied environmental protection efforts, and emboldened miners, loggers and ranchers to encroach on Indigenous land with impunity.

A fire in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, in Mato Grosso, Brazil, in September.
A fire in the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, in Mato Grosso, Brazil, in September.Credit…Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

This spring, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles was caught on video urging Mr. Bolsonaro to use the distraction of the coronavirus as cover to loosen environmental regulations. “We need to make an effort here during this period of calm in terms of press coverage because people are only talking about Covid,” he said, as mass graves were being dug for coronavirus victims in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas State.

Mr. Bolsonaro, who just last month blamed the wildfires on “peasants and Indians,” embodies the brutal history of the Amazon. “Captain Chain Saw,” as he has smugly nicknamed himself, spent his formative years as an Army paratrooper, idolizing the generals and autocrats of the United States-supported dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

During Brazil’s “Economic Miracle” of the 1970s, the military president Emílio Médici proclaimed the Amazon “a land without men for men without land,” suggesting that its undeveloped wilderness and unsettled tribes were at once the cause of — and the solution to — Brazil’s woes. “We must start up the Amazon clock,” he wrote in 1971, urging Brazil to make up for lost time by carving the 3,400-mile Transamazônica highway through the heart of the forest. Brazilians from the drought-stricken northeast could start new lives along the highway, solving “the Indian problem” along the way.

For migrants who heeded Mr. Médici’s call, the road to salvation ended in starvation. The rich topsoil of their freshly cleared plots washed away in torrential rains. Most were forced to abandon their dreams, but not before countless tribes were massacred, ravaged by disease, or forcibly relocated, sometimes minutes before bulldozers arrived.

The Transamazônica highway under construction near Altamira, Brazil, in 1971.
The Transamazônica highway under construction near Altamira, Brazil, in 1971.Credit…Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
A road in Pará State, Brazil. During corn and soy harvests, thousands of trucks traverse this area each day.
A road in Pará State, Brazil. During corn and soy harvests, thousands of trucks traverse this area each day.Credit…Leo Correa/Associated Press

Decades later, thousands of roads, rumbling with logging trucks and cattle trailers, fishbone into the rainforest off the spine of the Transamazônica and highways like it. Along the delicate Amazon watershed — responsible for more than 15 percent of the planet’s river discharge into oceans — gas pipelines and hydroelectric dams pump energy for cities around Brazil. Industrial farms ship billions of dollars of beef and soy to a hungry world. Manaus hosts multinational manufacturers like Harley Davidson and Samsung alongside biotech laboratories and universities that are beacons of rainforest research.

Thirty million people live within the Amazon basin — more than the populations of the five Nordic countries combined. They include Indigenous peoples, migrants from throughout Brazil, and immigrants from around the world. Yet Mr. Bolsonaro would have you believe that the Amazon is an untamed jungle. His calls for new roads, dams, mines and ranches paint a false choice — save Brazilians, or save the rainforest — that ignores the fact that Brazil has been aggressively developing the Amazon since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

As the planet warms over the next decades, the Amazon will become a cradle of human discovery or an ecological crime scene. The question for the 21st century is not how to extract more raw materials from the forest, but how to empower its people to live sustainably in the forest, the way Indigenous Brazilians did before Europeans committed genocide on the continent. …

Capitalists and environmentalists alike might want to resist it, but the future has already come to the Brazilian rainforest — and it looks much like the past: chaotic, unjust and unsustainable.

In cities like Manaus, elites bask in sunset river views from high-rise condominiums and eat sushi in air-conditioned shopping malls. A rising middle class of mostly non-Indigenous Brazilians enjoy food truck festivals, Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments and craft breweries. During the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, I watched throngs of international soccer fans flood Ubers and Airbnbs.

Life in Manaus.
Life in Manaus.Credit…Bruno Kelly/Reuters
Arena da Amazônia, a soccer stadium, in Manaus.
Arena da Amazônia, a soccer stadium, in Manaus.Credit…Felipe Dana/Associated Press

But while luxuries have boomed, essential services like public transportation, safety and health care are shoddy to nonexistent. Overcrowded prisons routinely spasm with horrific riots while government officials negotiate with crime bosses for votes from their neighborhoods. Residents lack water, sanitation and electricity. Urban neighborhoods are dominated by drug traffickers and rogue police officers, while tribes in the interior are menaced by wildcat miners, drillers and loggers. They leave in their wake mercury, spilled oil, tree stumps, survivors of violence and sexual assault, and pathogens like influenza that are every bit as novel there as the coronavirus. …

The myth of the untouched rainforest has endured because it is easy for consumers to imagine. It’s easier to raise funds against bulldozers toppling old-growth forests than it is to support itinerant farmers who burn pastures to graze their bony cattle. It’s easier to order forest code-certified furniture on Amazon than it is to question how Amazon rainforest hardwood ended up on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. It’s easier to condemn industrial meatpackers than it is to understand how China’s rising middle class — and the U.S. trade war — feed demand for Amazon beef and soy. It’s easier to root for a chief with a headdress and a bow than it is to rally around Indigenous leaders with dirt bikes, cellphones and shotguns.

Development blunders — from colonial model towns to the rubber boom to the Transamazônica to the Belo Monte — show how, despite the challenges of living in the rainforest, or perhaps even because of them, this breathtaking place inspires big dreams. And big dreams are exactly what the Amazon needs.

The Pacajá River in Pará State.
The Pacajá River in Pará State.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

One lesson from 2020 is that, in moments of crisis, politically impossible ideas can become possible overnight. Covid-19 spurred telemedicine, distance learning and universal basic income from the fringes to the mainstream. Global support for the Black Lives Matter movement awakened millions of people to see history — and the future — in a new light. Apocalyptic wildfires on America’s West Coast are burning in tandem with agricultural fires in the Amazon, showing how our climate future is intertwined across hemispheres.

. . .

It is a moniker of how all-encompassing and anchored in basic values this series on the Amazon is that in another piece in part one, the issue of child sexual abuse is covered. The Times has covered this worst of global pandemics in scope and horror in historic Sunday cover stories last September, November and December that we have reported on at length, here, here and here.

On March 5 this year, our commentary began with an update on the exploding Covid-19 pandemic, and then focussed on the covergence with the ongoing child abuse pandemic, specifically sexual abuse, as The Times had just further reported on in two-parts on their Daily podcast. Here’s an excerpt:

Tragically, our greatest fears expressed in the post on the global danger of pandemics from February 5 this year have come more and more true.

We noted at the time that the first discovered case of Coronavirus–Covid-19–in the US, was here in Seattle, where we live.

Little did we know that only weeks later, we would be living at the epicenter of the outbreak in the US, where the great majority of cases and deaths have occurred so far.

It spreads daily elsewhere.

From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, Coronavirus is here.

Living in this initial epicenter in the US, is a humbling experience. Life is changing radically here by the day, or by the hour.

Hopefully, the worst of what we know, or don’t know, will not occur. Hopefully, after bringing tragedy for too many, this experience will bring us closer to desperately needed change, here and around the world, as we outlined in our February 5 post, and in all the inter-related issues our work has focused on from the start.

Today, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, addressed a media briefing on Covid-19. …

We are concerned that in some countries the level of political commitment and the actions that demonstrate that commitment do not match the level of the threat we all face. 

This is not a drill. 

This is not the time to give up. 

This is not a time for excuses. 

This is a time for pulling out all the stops.

The degree to which this call is being heeded varies vastly, in different nations and by different governments, and within different nations and different governments.

We will of course revisit this issue as it unfolds–what our experience has been and will be, and what the experience of all humanity has been and will be in this global outbreak.

Today, however, we have a different issue to revisit.

In 2016, the World Health Organization announced “1 in 2 children aged 2-17 years suffered violence in the past year”.

This remains an active ongoing statistic on the WHO site.

Half of all children, as we’ve said often.

And this doesn’t even include newborns and one-year-olds.

From WHO:

Violence against children includes all forms of violence against people under 18 years old. For infants and younger children, violence mainly involves child maltreatment (i.e. physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect) at the hands of parents and other authority figures. Boys and girls are at equal risk of physical and emotional abuse and neglect, and girls are at greater risk of sexual abuse. As children reach adolescence, peer violence and intimate partner violence, in addition to child maltreatment, become highly prevalent.

Violence against children can be prevented. Preventing and responding to violence against children requires that efforts systematically address risk and protective factors at all four interrelated levels of risk (individual, relationship, community, society).

Imagine the media worldwide covering every day as the top headline, the Director General of the World Health Organization saying:

More than half of all children in the world, from birth to 18, are being sexually abused, physically abused and abused in other ways, starting with infants and young children at the hands of their parents, and then other authority figures. 

Then imagine ongoing stories, pictures as appropriate and updates, several times a day.


We are calling on every country to act with speed, scale and clear-minded determination.

This is not a drill. 

This is not the time to give up. 

This is not a time for excuses. 

This is a time for pulling out all the stops.

Pause here.

Imagine that actually happening. …

Two weeks ago, two days in a row, in two parts, The Daily podcast by The New York Times, A Criminal Underworld of Child Abuse, featured Michael H. Keller, an investigative reporter at The Times, and Gabriel J.X. Dance, an investigations editor for The Times.

Keller and Dance were the reporters on the unprecedented three dominant front-page articles in the Sunday Times, along with Nellie Bowles on the third article, from September through December, on child sexual abuse and the internet, starting with infants. This itself is human violence at its most unimaginable, but the level of accompanying torture revealed in the articles (which we have also covered before from other reports) is equally unfathomable.

We posted pieces on all three articles, herehere and here, which included links to our other pieces on the issue going back over a year before.

We don’t know how to overstate what we keep saying can’t be overstated.

The sexual abuse and other abuse of children is the single worst and most critical issue facing us as a species. Nurturing and protecting our children, especially during the early years, has more impact on the brain and development than anything else. As we’ve said over and over, a species that won’t protect its children won’t protect anything in the end, and won’t survive.

No One Is Stopping the Child Sex Abusers.

Here’s an excerpt:

A girl holds a sign saying “Indigenous women resist” during a protest in São Paulo on International Women’s Day in 2018.

PÁRA STATE, Brazil —It’s been nearly five years since J.S. de Brito began a legal battle to protect his daughter, who was sexually abused when she was only 2, and to prosecute the man he suspects committed the crime — the child’s maternal grandfather. Despite medical evidence confirming that the child was molested, the case has stalled. The justice system in this region of the Brazilian Amazon has allowed the possible abuser to continue to have almost daily contact with his victim.

Mr. Brito, who is 38, lives here in Pará State, in Breves — a town of 100,000 people, battered by poverty and unemployment. He shares custody of his daughter, a result of an extramarital affair, with her mother. Though for months he suspected that his daughter was being abused, he didn’t take legal action until January 2016, when the child complained during a bath of “pain in private parts.”

“The little girl had returned from her mother’s house that morning,” Mr. Brito said, explaining that the mother lived with her own father and that a 6-year-old cousin also spent a lot of time at the house.

He took his daughter to a hospital so she could be examined, he said, and doctors confirmed his worst fears: She had suffered vaginal and anal penetration (probably with a finger). According to court documents, the child said her cousin had abused her. Mr. Brito, however, suspects that the grandfather, whom he says might have a drinking problem, was also likely involved. He argues that his daughter had previously shown signs that she was afraid of both her cousin and grandfather.

Mr. Brito asked social services to revoke the mother’s custody, at least temporarily, to prevent the little girl from being abused again. He also reported the case to the police. But nothing came of it. The police interviewed both parents. According to court documents, the mother said the abuse occurred when the child was with Mr. Brito, not while she was with her. When I reached out to her, she said she and her daughter were victims of a “plot to separate them,” but had no further comment.

Mr. Brito also said he asked that social services place the child in a shelter for abused children. But he was told there that there was no space available. He was told that, as there was no evidence that the abuse was committed in the mother’s home, it was better for the child to remain there.

Court documents show that the police never spoke with the grandfather. What’s more, he worked as a receptionist at the police station where the witnesses gave their statements. Without further investigation, the detective on the case concluded that the young cousin was the only abuser. The Pará State prosecutor’s office in Breves subsequently asked that the case be dismissed, arguing that a 6-year-old child could not be tried.

Mr. Brito hired a private lawyer and appealed to the federal authorities to keep the case open, and he asked that the police investigate the grandfather. In April 2019 a judge agreed and gave the police a month to work on the case. But it has since stalled again. …

The abuse of minors in Brazil is not limited to the Amazon. In São Paulo, the most developed city in the country, 84 births were registered to girls between the ages of 10 and 14 over just three months this year. In August, the pregnancy of a 10-year-old girl in Espírito Santo shocked the country. For four years she had been raped repeatedly by her uncle. The hospital that she was admitted to refused to terminate the pregnancy, even though the little girl’s life was in danger. In the end a judge intervened, and she was transferred to a hospital in another state where the procedure was done.

But in the Amazon, perpetrators’ impunity and victims’ insecurity are more acute than in other areas. The region is home to some of the lowest human development indexes in the country. …

Poverty and unemployment plague Breves, at the mouth of the Amazon River, in Pará State.
Poverty and unemployment plague Breves, at the mouth of the Amazon River, in Pará State.Credit…Tarso Sarraf/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In rural areas outside Breves, sexual exploitation is believed to be rampant. Locals living in backwoods hamlets told me that poor families force their daughters, some as young as 5, to sell themselves to the crews of passing merchant ships and barges transporting soy, wood and minerals through the waterways. The girls perform sex acts in exchange for food or for a piddling amount of money, less than $3.

Experts argue that deeply ingrained cultural dynamics are crucial to understand the widespread practices of incest and pedophilia that were described by European and local travelers to the Amazon in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that continue to this day in the region. “This problem reveals the persistence of a patriarchal society and the inheritance of slavery, in the sense that the child’s body is devoid of rights,” explained Prof. Ygor Olinto of the Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of the State of Amazonas, who studies the slavery and child trafficking in the Amazon in the 19th century. …

Official data shows that 73 percent of the time, the abuse of children occurs at the home of the victim or perpetrator, and that 40 percent of cases involve parents or stepparents. …

“The pandemic is having a great impact,” Henriqueta Cavalcante, a Catholic nun and an activist against sexual exploitation in the Amazon told me. “Victims are isolated and without the opportunity of attending schools, where abused children often break with their silence.” She said she has received death threats for denouncing child abuses committed by powerful politicians.

“Here in Pará,” she told me, “the culture of machismo is entrenched. I remember the case of an 80-year-old man who said that his daughters had been ‘his’ before anyone else. He said he was too old to also have his way with his great-granddaughters.” Sister Cavalcante, who regularly brings cases to police detectives, state prosecutors and judges in Pará, admits that all too often, she is frustrated with the outcome. Though Brazilian law considers it a crime to have sexual relations, ostensibly consensual or not, with anyone under 14, crimes go unpunished or languish for years in courts.

Dozens of social workers from Pará, who requested anonymity because they were afraid of reprisals, as well as directors of orphanages — told me that policemen, prosecutors and judges are the ones failing to effectively prosecute these crimes, either because of negligence, corruption or simply indifference rooted in machismo. The police detectives and members of the Public Ministry I interviewed in the region blamed their failure to address sex crimes on a structural lack of personnel to investigate. They argued that, in a country with high murder rates, the investigation of homicides takes most of their time and resources.

President Jair Bolsonaro has done nothing to fight the problem. He has a well-known record of misogynistic and sexist language: He described the conception of his daughter as “a moment of weakness,” and when he was a federal lawmaker, he said to a congresswoman that she did not deserve to be raped by him. Comments like these only empower abusers and criminals in a country that has one of the highest rates of femicide in the worldand which, in 2018, registered more than 66,000 rapes, the highest rate in a decade, with four girls under the age of 13 raped every hour. Experts also accuse him of underfunding or dismantling social programs that offer some protection to victims. …

Not long ago, the country showed that the rule of law was able to tame another curse — corruption — and hold the powerful accountable. Now it must defend its most vulnerable.

. . .

The above is just a slice of the issues covered in this critical and immersive series, in writing, photography and graphic interaction.

Truly, don’t miss it–with Leer en español and Ler em português versions as well as English.

The Amazon Has Seen Our Future.