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Genocide and the decimation of the rainforests of the Amazon Basin in Brazil could prove to be the work of a single man, Jair Bolsonaro, the newly elected president of Brazil. In fact, he has said as much.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly voiced his contempt for the indigenous groups of the Amazon, and has promised the captains of industry that he will allow the Amazon to be logged to loggers' hearts' content, and large scale farming projects.

In Brazil alone, it is believed that there are roughly 100 tribes that have never had contact with outsiders. It is mind-boggling that any group of people continues to live to this very day in a way that has been little changed for tens of thousands of years.

I say that, in part, due to personal experience. More specifically, in 1978, I was graced with the incredible opportunity to actually camp with a tiny tribe of nomadic Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert. I was traveling with a buddy who was a doctoral candidate in anthropology, and for days we drove across the Kalahari in search of a group of hunters and gatherers. When one of our trackers assured us we were in close proximity to the group, he hopped off the back of the Land Rover, and after about 45 minutes he appeared on the horizon with about a half-dozen Bushmen, small in stature, naked except for a small piece of leather stretching from slightly below their waists to the uppermost part of their legs, carrying hand-hewn bows and arrows and spears.

I can honestly say that up to that point in time in my life, I had never witnessed anything so astonishing, and in the years since only a few incidents, events and/or experiences have even come close. When one not only realizes that the San Bushmen or Basarwa are purported to be the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years, but also one of the oldest peoples in the world, one can begin to appreciate what an amazing experience that was. It was as close to walking back in time as I've ever experienced.

Now I fully realize that perhaps other than anthropologists and certain humanists, many, if not most, may not share such sentiments. Indeed, some readers may be thinking: "So what? How does that impact my life and that of my family?"

I appreciate that, but if one cares even one iota about the potential fate of their children, grandchildren and/or great-grandchildren, they should continue reading.

On a more pragmatic level, such individuals have a rich and invaluable knowledge of the flora and fauna in the Amazon basin. Scientists believe that such knowledge could, in fact, prove to be lifesaving. And not simply for individuals, as important as that is, but for masses of people across the globe.

As Fiona Watson, director of research and advocacy at Survival International, points out about the indigenous groups in Brazil, "Their hunter-gatherer lifestyles require vast and acute botanical and zoological knowledge. With this unique understanding of sustainable living, they protect some of the largest and most biodiverse forests on Earth."

The Amazon is the home of an estimated 80,000 plants that scientists believe may have significant medicinal properties. In other words, no one knows how many new medicines might derive from such natural riches. Be that as it may, to date it is thought that less than one percent of tropical plants have been analyzed for their medicinal properties.

The Amazon actually helps stabilize the climate. Tellingly, rainforests, which scientists have referred to as the lungs of the planet, absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Remarkably, it is estimated the Amazon's forests hold around 86 billion tons of carbon, which is, it is estimated, more than a third of all carbon stored by tropical forests worldwide.

The rainforests also contribute to rainfall all across the globe in that vast quantities of the water that evaporates from the millions of trees therein end up as rain. With ever-increasing climate change and the uptick in major droughts and famines across the globe, the destruction of the rainforests is nothing short of suicide or homicide or ethnocide, depending upon how one views the situation.

The Brazilian rainforests are also potential sources of food, food that may be able to contribute to offsetting the massive and deadly results of major famines.

All of this will spiral down the proverbial drain should the world allow one fool currently in power, Bolsonaro, to decimate the indigenous tribes and the Amazon Basin in Brazil, which he has threatened to do. Not only does it matter because of all of the above, but due to the fact that the Amazon Basin contains the world's largest rainforest, which constitutes over 60 percent of the world's remaining forests, more than half of which is in Brazil.

I care deeply about the fate and plight of the indigenous groups just because they are people. I also care about them in that they constitute some of the most fascinating groups of people on earth.

Likewise, I care deeply about the plight and fate of the Amazon. Not only is it one of the natural wonders of the world, but it is a living, breathing and invaluable barrier to even greater climate change, not to mention, an incalculably valuable pharmacy for all of humanity.

I greatly care. Do you?


Samuel Totten is a scholar of genocide studies and humanitarian. For the past decade and a half he has conducted research and delivered food in most desperate straits in the war-torn Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

Editorial on 01/10/2019

Print Headline: Amazon in peril


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  • GeorgeWashington
    January 10, 2019 at 9:08 a.m.

    To answer your question: no. Precisely no one in Arkansas cares about this non-issue. I was surprised and a little disappointed not to see a call to “Save the Whales” in this column, too.

    But I think the bigger story here is the Democrat-Gazette’s journalistic seppuku. It’s inspiring, in a way, to watch this clear-eyed stride into bankruptcy and irrelevance. Can any bleeding heart fanatic with a MacBook and a pulse get published by this newspaper? Where exactly is the Samuel Totten - Richard Mason - Michael Dougan constituency in this state? Does the paper employ even one out-of-the-closet Trump supporter in a state where over 60% voted for him?

    With every radical left-wing column, Sunday same-sex marriage photo gallery, and editorial musing from “Open Borders Paul” Greenberg, this paper loses subscribers and circulation. And they just can’t figure out why. Must be new technology, or something - anything - other than losing touch with the working people in this state.

    I guess in some cases, you can’t fix stupid.

    January 10, 2019 at 9:36 a.m.

    Somebody's easily triggered.

  • Jfish
    January 10, 2019 at 9:55 a.m.

    Excellent column, but as GW pointed out above, most do not care about future generations and the environment. Keep up the good work ADG, diverse opinions are a good thing.