Text excerpted from the book: PROTECTING THE PLANET-Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change (ISBN 978-1-63388-225-6)
Budd Titlow & Mariah Tinger
On December 22, 1988, a tragic event occurred deep in the Brazilian countryside that had a stark effect on worldwide natural resource conservation in general and today’s Climate Change situation in particular. On that day, Chico Mendes—a Brazilian rubber tapper, known as a seringueiro, and land rights leader—became world famous when he was gunned down outside his own home by the son of a local rancher. During the shooting, two Brazilian policemen—who were assigned to protect Mendes from death threats—sat playing cards at the kitchen table inside his home. Ironically, just the week before on his 44th birthday, Mendes had ominously predicted that he would not live to see Christmas Day.
The problem was that the local ranchers and others who benefited from wholesale clear-cutting of Brazilian rainforests viewed Mendes as the enemy. His life inside the Brazilian rainforest had been fairly typical. He first went to work as a seringueiro when he was only nine years old and did not attend school. The rubber plantation owners did not want their workers to be able to read and write because this knowledge might expose them as the exploitative employers they were.
Even without the benefit of an education, Mendes had a strong sense of what was right coursing through his blood. Although Mendes and his colleagues were a tiny, marginalized minority, their efforts brought them to power in parts of Brazil’s Amazon during the 1980’s. He helped organize the local rubber tappers into a union and developed a technique called an empate—which amounted to blockading rubber tree tracts from ranchers and farmers who wanted to clear the land.
Mendes also pioneered the world’s first tropical forest conservation initiative that was advanced by the forest natives themselves. In the process, he established the world’s first extractive preserves that protected forested areas that were inhabited and managed by local communities. In 1987, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) flew Mendes to Washington, DC in an attempt to convince the World Bank and the US Congress to support creation of more extractive reserves.
Prophetically, Mendes’ death proved to be a turning point in the war to save the Amazon rainforest. Now 40 percent—a total 58 million acres—is set aside for protection. Today, the Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade), a body under the jurisdiction of the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, is named in his honor. Mendes won several other awards for his work including the United Nations Program Global 500 Roll of Honor Award in 1987 and the NWF’s National Conservation Achievement Award in1988.
Also the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve (CMER) was created in the area where he lived. The Chico Mendes Reserve has electricity and schools and many students have graduated from university. Some seringueiros now have motorbikes and cars and are employed as forest guides. Trees are sustainably harvested in the CMER, and there is an eco-lodge. Building on this model, 68 other extractive reserves have been established in the Brazilian Amazon, covering more than 33,000,000 acres.
Author’s bio:For the past 50 years, professional ecologist and conservationist Budd Titlow has used his pen and camera to capture the awe and wonders of our natural world. His goal has always been to inspire others to both appreciate and enjoy what he sees. Now he has one main question: Can we save humankind’s place — within nature’s beauty — before it’s too late? Budd’s two latest books are dedicated to answering this perplexing dilemma. PROTECTING THE PLANET: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change, a non-fiction book, examines whether we still have the environmental heroes among us — harking back to such past heroes as Audubon, Hemenway, Muir, Douglas, Leopold, Brower, Carson, and Meadows — needed to accomplish this goal. Next, using fact-filled and entertaining story-telling, his latest book — COMING FULL CIRCLE: A Sweeping Saga of Conservation Stewardship Across America — provides the answers we all seek and need.Having published five books, more than 500 photo-essays, and 5,000 photographs, Budd Titlow lives with his music educator wife, Debby, in San Diego, California.