The Antonino Foundation

Where are all the trees?

Photo of deforestation 

Looking at photos like these, most of us feel a sense of outrage, despair or violation. Clear-cutting a forest and leaving it ravaged and exposed is the closest thing to ecocide you can get. It's not just the trees, it's everything: birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, even water. all gone, evaporated into thin air.

I did it

In my bedroom, I have a beautiful old Korean scholar's desk made of persimmon wood. I love it for its soft, warm colors and the sensual curves of its heartwood patterns. I could have gone to Ikea and bought some chipboard covered in plastic. Not nice, I know.

We all of us live this torn-between existence. We like fine objects, we like natural things, and wood gives us a huge sense of comfort. Without wood, there would be no history of man. Wood made man. And in a world increasingly frightening for its overwhelming impersonality: skyscrapers, conglomerates and monopolies, mass production and irrelevance of the individual, we try to fight the machine by a semblance of "ecological" rebellion, and make it worse.

Natural objects, precisely, must be taken from the natural world...

Amazonian river

So if we want this...

The last batch of sawnwood from the peat forest in Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Deforestation for oil palm plantation

.. and not this, it will demand a change of ownership.

The first thing, is owning personal responsibility. Yes, it may be tenuous, but if not "me", then who?

A typical weakness we humans have is the "someone ought to do something about it" mentality, that "someone else" is responsible for the mess we're in, never us, never me... Most of the countries we Westerners live in have razed their entire forests for farming, cooking, housing, furniture, landscaping, heat, ships, matches, paper and growth, are now shouting “Save the Amazon” and telling impoverished villagers in third-world countries not to do the same.

If I were poor, living on the edge of the Amazon, with 7 kids to feed and counting, I don’t think my concerns would be the same. I’d saw it down, sell the logs, farm for a couple of years then move on. It really is that simple.

And so, in theory, it really should be that simple to do the opposite.

If we want the Amazon (or forest systems such as Indo-Burma, New Caledonia, Sundaland, Philippines, Atlantic Forest, Mountains of Southwest China, California Floristic Province, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Madagascar & Indian Ocean Islands, Eastern Afromontane…) to survive, we must do something.

We (the rich) must own it.

Buy the Amazon

The second thing is land ownership.

When we first started talking about creating a museum, we included the idea of redirecting a proportion of our earnings back to Brazil. The original idea for was rather vague: for Antonino, to provide kids with access to the sort of things he never had; for me, to help young girls and boys get away from the trap of prostitution, both noble causes but, as I said before, vague, and with no real personal push from either of us.

It came to us recently, something we both feel strongly about: the Amazon.

The idea is simplicity itself: buy it, bit by bit.

For now, however, it's on the back burner till we get the museum running. If anyone has suggestions or comments to make - legal structure, management board, observers, field staff, statuses defining ownership and purpose, etc. -  please do.

Obviously, we're not the first to have thought of this, which is good news. The point is not to be “the first” or acquire any particular status but to be part of the planetary movement of caretaking and self-protection. The land will not “belong” to us (although who it will belong to will have to be clarified - help needed here) but to everyone wanting to see an Amazon survive and thrive into our children’s centuries. I say “an” Amazon because part is gone and it’s hard to imagine, today, its coming back. With dynasties so powerful they own farms (former jungle) the size of European countries, that have been tried and convicted of slavery at least 8 times without it having the slightest effect, with photos of them sitting beside the future queen of Sweden, it’s hard to imagine them generously relinquishing the land they “negotiated”. But who knows.

As an example, below is a Google Earth map of Rondônia, Brazil. The bald areas and comb-like lines are farms and access roads. Below is a map of Indigenous Territories, land owned by native Indians under complicated Brazilian laws. Essentially, virtually all the non-indigenous territory has been cut down for farms. This represents about one half of 237,576 km², i.e. 29,353,153 acres, and equivalent to the entire land mass of Belgium, Denmark and Holland put together (or Pennsylvania for the US).

View Deforestation in Rondônia, Brazil in a larger map

Map of Indigenous Territories in Rondonia, Brazil

Map of Indigenous Territories in Rondonia, Brazil

For information, Ted Turner owns (and seems to manage responsibly) some two million acres of personal and ranch land in North America and, stepping out of my competence zone here, seems to have made his money from media. Since the media was purchased by large numbers of ordinary people like you and me, surely we could short-cut the mogul and put money into re-acquiring Brazilian farmland and allowing/encouraging it to return to forest?

To get an idea of what we're thinking of, watch this video:

This is a first draft, still thinking out loud, in a sense. There are huge issues to be overcome: what to do with the "de-landed" persons, who will care-take (perhaps the same?), who will detangle the Brazilian land-ownership rights, etc. I don't know. But I do know that there are people who can. So we'll find them.

Another alternative, and one I find quite elegant is this: instead of telling other people what to do, why not put our own house in order first?

Consider this:

  • France has a land mass of 551,695 km², of which 169,000 km², or 31% is forest
  • Brazil has a land mass of 8,514,877, of which 5,173,276 km², or 61% is forest

So which country is more guilty of sacrificing its forests for agriculture and/or logging?

Maybe the place to start is at home, because if we can't demonstrate it can be done here (and read this very telling article about Ecuador), why should anyone believe it could - or should - be done there?

Please comment, precisely because this is not the sort of thing that can happen alone.

 

 

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