The death of the forest is the end of our people

Yanomami adult and child The Yanonami, one of Brazil's 240 indigenous peoples (Wikimedia/Cmacauley (CC BY-SA 3.0)) (© Wikimedia/Cmacauley (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Brazilian indigenous peoples are currently locked in a fight for survival: Big Business is pushing to scrap the constitutional protection of their ancestral territories and clear even more rainforest for soy monocultures, cattle, hydropower and mining. Tell the Brazilian government to get its priorities right.

Call to action

To: the Brazilian government and members of the upper and lower chambers of Congress

Brazilian indigenous peoples are locked in a fight for survival. Scrap the pending legislation that would permit the plunder of their ancestral territories.

Read letter

Brazilian rainforest dwellers are standing up against a proposed constitutional amendment, PEC 215. Brazil’s Congress is also due to vote on a new mining law.

Both bills would allow the Brazilian legislative branch to roll back government protection of land in the name of “relevant public interest”. This would clear the way for massive dam-building, industrial agriculture and mining projects on indigenous land while effectively blocking the creation of new protected areas.

The government is responsible for the designation of protected areas and indigenous territories. But since the elections in late 2014, the influence of lobbyists for the agricultural, mining and energy industries has increased, and with it, wholesale destruction is looming for the environment of the Amazon region. Large parts of Brazil are already suffering a catastrophic water shortage. Rainfall is also declining along the Amazon. The water supply of millions of people is in jeopardy.

Scientists see a direct connection between the deforestation of the Amazon region and the current drought. Forests play an immensely important role as a water reservoir and in regulating the climate.

Brazilian indigenous peoples successfully blocked this legislation in the past: In April 2013, hundreds of indigenous protesters occupied the Congress building in Brasilia. Further indigenous protests prevented a congressional debate in December 2014, prompting promises at the time to drop PEC 215.

Now, only months later, the undead proposal has reappeared on the agenda.

Please sign our petition calling on the Brazilian government to scrap PEC 215 once and for all.

Back­ground

In 2012, the Brazilian Congress voted to amend the Forest Act (Código Florestal). Since then, ecologically sensitive areas such as riparian zones along streams and rivers and steep slopes may be cleared to make way for agriculture and cattle ranching.

Forests store vast amounts of rainfall and regulate the water levels of rivers. Without protective vegetation, rainwater runs off rapidly, allowing the soil to dry out.

Forests are also responsible for generating rainfall: Around three quarters of the precipitation in the Amazon region is the result of evaporation from vegetation, while humid air streaming in from the Atlantic Ocean only accounts for around one quarter.

Recent studies show that the remaining intact Amazon rainforest is changing: trees are growing more slowly and increasing numbers are dying off according to an international team of researchers in the journal Nature. The reasons for this are not clear. The researchers cite droughts in 2005 and 2010 as well as higher temperatures as possible causes. Over a period of nearly 30 years, the researchers studied the development of trees in 321 areas distributed throughout the Amazon region. A total of nearly 200,000 trees were surveyed; dying trees and new growth was also recorded.

More and more rainforest and other ecosystems are being destroyed by the timber industry, for settlements, and especially for farming. The largest consumer of water by far is industrial agriculture: its vast monocultures of soy (25 million hectares), sugar cane (10 million hectares) and orange groves (3 million hectares) account for three quarters of all water consumption.

Brazil is the world’s second-largest ethanol producer after the United States, so huge amounts of water also go to irrigate fuel crops. 

The situation in Brazil is becoming critical and hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets to protest the government’s policies, yet Brazilian politicians continue to line their own pockets. The state-owned oil company Petrobras is alleged to have paid an estimated $180 million in kickbacks into the coffers of PT, the ruling party of President Dilma Rousseff. And that is just the tip of the iceberg: more than 50 politicians from five parties are currently under investigation. The total amount of bribes to have changed hands is estimated to be more than $3 billion.

Meanwhile, Brazilian politicians have responded to the water shortage by publicly praying for rain. They also want to build new reservoirs, while others dream of tapping the Amazon by building canals and pipelines to transport water thousands of kilometers to the cities and factory farms of the south.

A Lei da Áuga (The Law of the Water) has been showing in Brazilian movie theaters since late March. The documentary highlights the importance of forests for the preservation of water resources in Brazil. It also explores the impact of the amended Forests Act on ecosystems and the lives of forest dwellers.

More information:

Website of the Brazilian Congress on the proposed amendment PEC 215 (in Portuguese)

Nature, March 18, 2015: Long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink

Information on the documentary A Lei da Áuga (in Portuguese)

A Lei da Água trailer

Letter

To: the Brazilian government and members of the upper and lower chambers of Congress

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please reject the proposed constitutional amendment PEC 215 and the new mining bill. If passed, this legislation would exacerbate land conflicts, accelerate the destruction of the rainforest and worsen Brazil’s water shortage.

The recognition of indigenous land and conservation of forests are crucial to Brazil’s future. Do not sacrifice the ancestral territories of the indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforest for short-term economic gain. Thank you.

Sincerely,

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