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SOS From Brazil’s Amazon Fire Protesters: ‘We Need The World’s Help Right Now’

 August 27, 2019 at 10:48 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Smoke from the burning Amazon rain forest is so intense that NASA says it's being tracked by astronauts on the International Space Station. The number of fires in the region is the highest since 2010. Many are blaming the political leaders of Brazil for encouraging farmers to clear more of the rainforest. But hundreds of thousands of acres of the Amazon rainforest have been set ablaze for the last 20 or 30 years. One organization working to preserve the area is based here in San Diego. Joining me is Matt Clark, CEO of Nature and Culture International. And Matt, welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:36 Thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here. Speaker 1: 00:38 Now, some in the press have referred to the fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest in apocalyptic terms. Now, others say, what's now burning is not primary rainforest, but has already cleared land adjacent to it. So what is your take on the scale of what's happening in Brazil? Speaker 2: 00:56 Um, I think there's truth in both of those statements. I think that what is happening in Brazil is very alarming. Um, particularly the recent uptick, uptick of deforestation, which is about 50% higher than it was, uh, for the same period, uh, last year. And so it's, I think there's truth to both of those statements, but I think that this is something that we should take very seriously. Speaker 1: 01:19 What do we know about the causes of these fires? These fires, Speaker 2: 01:23 ours are, are manmade, uh, and they reflect farmers, ranchers clearing land for crops in their cattle. And some of these are fires that are set on existing agricultural lands that are for weed control and things like that. Um, and as we know, being a Californians, uh, fires can quickly get out of control. So even if they're set on, on existing agricultural lands, they can encroach into primary forest and burn primary forest. And then in other cases, this is, these are fires that are set, that are clearing new lands, uh, to put into agriculture and cattle ranching. Almost a hundred percent of these fires are manmade. Speaker 1: 02:05 Can you remind us about what the Amazon rain forest actually is? How big is it? What does it made up of? Speaker 2: 02:11 The Amazon rain forest is a, uh, an ecosystem that is about the size of the continental United States. My don't have the, the exact acreage in front of me, but about the size of the United States and about 400 billion trees. So we're talking at about an immense, immense forest that is large enough that it actually generate and affects climate patterns, uh, across the world that generates cloud cover and ocean currents that affect us in literally affect us in San Diego. California Speaker 1: 02:49 is some have described the rain forest as the lungs of the world, but others have countered and said, that's not really the case. What does that really mean? How much truth is there to that, uh, that [inaudible] Speaker 2: 03:05 produces an estimated 20% of the planet's oxygen through the transpiration of its trees. Um, and so I think that that's a fairly accurate statement. Um, and you know, think about that. Your breathing, I'm breathing right now. We rely on from the moment we're born to the minute we die, every 20 seconds, uh, oxygen, which is being produced, uh, at a massive level by this ecosystem. So I think that that's not hyperbole to say that it is the lungs in the planet. Speaker 1: 03:40 Some environmentalist's on the ground in the Amazon region. Say that? Yes, indeed. The Amazon rainforest produces a great deal of oxygen, oxygen, but it also uses a great deal of oxygen. So is there really that much that we get from the rainforest in terms of oxygen? Speaker 2: 03:57 Not only does it produce oxygen, but it purifies the era that we breathe. So it provides purification services. Um, and then if you want to expand into other realms, it provides, uh, I think 20% of the world's fresh water is in the Amazon basin's rivers. So in hugely important for freshwater resources, hugely important it, um, uh, stocks billions and billions of tons of carbon. Um, and so hugely important as a mitigating factor for climate change. I already alluded to the fact that that it generates world, um, climatic patterns. And so I think focusing overly on the oxygen production I think misses our larger point, that it provides many other services that are important, not just for south Americans, but literally are important for, um, for Californians, for San Diego, ones that affect us directly. Um, so I don't want to get too hung up on the, on the oxygen, uh, part of it, which is clearly important. As I said, there are a lot of other values that the Amazon provides. Speaker 1: 05:11 The Amazon rainforest is also been called the world's pharmacy. So what medicines have come from that rainforest? Speaker 2: 05:18 Um, so the, the first comes to mind is the bark of the Cinchona tree, um, which is an anti-malarial which is saved thousands of lives, um, over the last a century. Another example, uh, is currere, which is a rain forest aero poison, but is used to derivatives of that are used in modern surgery and the anesthetics that are used in modern surgery. Speaker 1: 05:42 Now your organization, nature and Culture International, which is based here in del Mar, has been running since about 1996. And what has your organization been doing to help preserve the Amazon ecosystem? Our mission is to conserve nature, Speaker 2: 05:58 so to conserve rain for us and other, uh, irreplaceable ecosystems, primarily in South America. Also in Mexico, we help to legally designate new protected areas. So putting new lands into conserved status and then help to create the structures so that those protected areas are effectively managed. And so the, that could be something like ensuring sustainable financing for the management of a park, um, ensuring the monitoring systems to, to prevent additional deforestation, provide capacity and training to local peoples to be effective managers, effective park guards. And in the last 22 years we have conserved 20 million acres. It would be an area from, from San Diego, almost to Phoenix, and then north south and area from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Speaker 1: 06:53 And what do you see as a way to resolve what's going on in the Amazon rainforest? Now lots of people are calling on the political leaders in Brazil to do something. What do you see as the answer? Speaker 2: 07:04 I certainly think that that part of the solution, so Brazil in the mid two thousands did a really remarkable job of reducing deforestation and so it can be done. I think that I would like people to take away that this is not an intractable problem. Um, but it will require political will and it will require international support that will require policies of greater enforcement monitoring processes to support, um, indigenous peoples in managing their lands as they have for hundreds of years. And then I think there are the things such as, um, supply chains for soy products for cattle that commit to, um, zero deforestation, I think would be very positive. Uh, and then I think there are things that, uh, that individuals can do, educate themselves about the issues, make small behavioral changes. Speaker 1: 08:00 I've been speaking with Matt Clark, he's CEO of nature and culture international and Matt, thank you very much. Speaker 2: 08:07 Thank you, Maureen. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the opportunity. Speaker 3: 08:16 [inaudible] Speaker 1: 08:17 [inaudible] [inaudible].

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Protesters took to the streets across Brazil this weekend to voice outrage over the fires burning through the Amazon.
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