Category Archives: Deforestation

5,800-year-old tree (the Amazon’s oldest) cut down by illegal loggers trespassing on protected tribal land

A 5,800-year-old tree has been cut down by loggers illegally encroaching into the Matsés Indigenous Reserve, an area where logging is illegal but potentially holds huge reserves of oil and gas below ground.

Amazon's oldest tree chopped down by loggers

The logging firms claim it was an accident and they didn’t realise either where they were or how old the tree was. The giant Samauma tree is over 5,800 years old and 40 meters high.

The Matsés tribe called it “The Mother Tree”, so long has it been a fixture in the lives of them and their ancestors. No punishment has been given to the logging company involved, suggesting the local authorities may not be on nature’s side or that of the native people.

Within 20 years the speed at which the rainforest is being cut down in the Amazon has more than tripled, at 100 acres destroyed every minute, with most of the lost forest becoming pasture for cattle or to grow soy.

Protecting nature’s always pretty down the list in terms of priorities when war and famine are rife around the world, but this is still probably one of the ugliest man-made issues we’re committing on earth right now, and it’s one that could be solved fairly easily with the right controls and guidance.

Remember, the Amazon is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, which shows how vicious, lawless and powerful the logging firms are around there.

If you’re coming to see England in Belo Horizonte, make sure you visit the nearby Inhotim Art Gallery

If you only do one thing during your visit to the 2014 Brazil World Cup in Belo Horizonte, visit Inhotim Art Gallery.

Fruit of the Palmeira-barriguda tree.
Fruit of the Palmeira-barriguda tree.

It’s about a two-hour drive out of the city (it’s only 70km away but traffic takes care of the rest) but it’s definitely worth it. The art gallery/botanical gardens is built within the huge grounds of the former English mining magnate Senor Tim (pronounced “In-yo-cheem” in old Brazilian, hence the name).

The surrounding mountains around Inhotim.
The surrounding mountains around Inhotim.

Dotted around Inhotim are modern art installations of glass, mirror, water, brick and sound buried deep in lush Brazilian forest. It’s a really beautiful place to walk around on a sunny day.

Multi-coloured walls in Inhotim by Helio Oiticica

This huge tree-hugger truck sits forever tipping over in a glass dome structure in the middle of the jungle.

Brazilian tree-hugger truck  tipping over inside a glass dome at Inhotim, Minas Gerais

Paths lead through thousands of different types of flowers and trees as you look for each of the hidden installations.

A tree held up by four others.
A tree held up by four others.

The art installations are really, really cool. Photography inside the galleries is banned but I managed to snap the Cildo Meireles installation below.

Looks like the moon's surface.
Looks like the moon’s surface.

Another installation has you walking across broken glass (you’re wearing shoes).

The Dr. Seuss-style Paxiuba tree, which looks as if it's dancing on its roots.
The Dr. Seuss-style Paxiuba tree, which looks as if it’s dancing on its roots.

A spectacular sound installation called The Murder of Crows has you sat facing fifty different speakers in a dark warehouse as a girl recounts a dream beginning in the warehouse and moving through jungle to a beach.

There are 5,000 types of flowers at Inhotim, including this blue tiger-print flower.
There are 5,000 types of flowers at Inhotim, including this one with blue tiger-print petals.

Another has you in a pitch-black room as a strobe-light illuminates a fountain, making the water look like molten glass.  In another you enter a room with a mirror, but you can’t see your reflection. You can literally step through the mirror, as crazy as that sounds.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s a really cool place.

A few tips: wear a good pair of walking shoes, tickets are 30 reais to enter and the best place to eat is the Oiticica self-service restaurant (where they weigh your plate; it’ll cost about 40 reais for a really nice meal and a drink).

Interview with Brazil’s “Chainsaw Queen” politician, who wants to loosen laws to chop down more trees in Brazil

Brazilian politician Kátia Abreu leads agricultural lobbying in loosening controls on Amazon deforestation. She wants to make Brazil a powerhouse in the exportation of soy products, a plan which will require deforestation to take place, unless it can be carefully controlled in areas like Minas Gerais’ Triângulo Mineiro.

Here are the highlights from her interview with The Guardian about a country in which more environmental activists are murdered than anywhere else in the world.

Running for president is not a plan – it is fate. Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement. It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role.”

“We have all the essential elements: abundant water, advanced technology and plenty of land for production. Based on this, we can become number one without cutting down trees.”

She alleges environmentalists, indigenous groups and landless peasants are working for foreign interests. “I don’t have concrete proof of this but I get a very strong impression that this is the case.”

“Forty years ago, the average Brazilian spent 50% of his or her income on food. Now the proportion is about 18%.”

“For many years, environmentalism reached an extreme pitch and we in the agribusiness sector were treated like criminals. Now, our agribusiness sector can influence the choice of kings and queens in Brazil. In the past, we only exercised economic influence. Now we also have political power.”

Most chillingly, Abreu said:

“We cannot rest on our laurels. There are many things holding back progress – the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more. But even with these problems we keep producing high levels of productivity. Imagine how high it might be without those obstacles.”

Amazon Rainforest in Brazil the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists

According to Global Witness, the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil remains the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists. Of 908 environmental activists killed in 35 countries since 2002, 448 were murdered in one country alone: Brazil.

And the murder rate is increasing; from 51 in 2002 to 147 in 2012. In most cases the killers are out free, with only 10 convictions out of 908 dead.

In Brazil, most activists are protesting issues related to natural resources and land-rights, and most victims are indigenous people and minorities.

Barbara Ruiz of the United Nations Environment Programme believes intimidation, violence and criminality are also common against activists. In one example, villagers protesting a mega-project that would cut through their land and destroy their livelihoods were “accused of terrorism for speaking against state security forces who had tried to  expel them from the area.”

Last year Spanish biologist Gonzalo Alonso Hernández, who clashed regularly with illegal loggers and ranchers, was executed in Rio de Janeiro. 

José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife were murdered by masked gunmen after denouncing illegal logging in the Brazilian state of Para. José had one of his ears ripped off as proof of his execution. Two men were imprisoned, but the farm-owner accused of paying for the killings was acquitted. The farm-owner had purchased land on which three indigenous families lived and da Silva was campaigning to keep them there. 

Deforestation of the Amazon has become a battleground for activists and paramilitary groups. Deforestation increased in 2013 by 28 per cent after a consecutive four-year decline, and environmentalists blame a relaxation of laws that once protected the jungle. According to Global Witness, the regions most affected by deforestation in the Amazon now have the highest recorded violence against activists.