Amazonia: neither wild, nor long, nor granary of the world

The Pan-Amazon Synod to be held next October in Rome demands better knowledge regarding the Amazon ecosystem. Myths must be dispelled.

First myth: the indigenous people as savage and genuinely natural and, because of that, in perfect harmony with nature. He would regulate himself by non-cultural, natural criteria. He would be in a kind of biological nap before nature, in a perfect passive adaptation to nature’s rhythms and logic.

This greening of indigenous people is the result of the urban worldview, fatigued by excessive mechanization and artificiality of life.

What we can say is that Amazon indigenous people are humans such as any other human being and, as such, they are always in interaction with the environment. Research confirms ever more the interaction game between indigenous people and nature. They mutually condition each other. Relations are not “natural” but rather cultural, such as ours, in an intricate web of reciprocities. Perhaps indigenous people have something singular that differentiates them from modern man: they feel and see nature as part of their society and culture, as an extension of their personal and social body. Thus, it is not a mute and neutral object, as it is for the modern men. Nature speaks and the indigenous people understand its voice and message. Nature belongs to society and society belongs to nature. They are always mutually adjusting and in the process of reciprocate adaptation. Therefore, they are better integrated than us. We have much to learn from the relation they have with nature.

Second myth: Amazonia is the lung of the world. Specialists say that Amazonian rainforest is at a climax state. That is, it is at an optimal state of life, in a dynamic equilibrium where everything is used and so all evens out. Thus, energy fixed by plants through interactions with the food chain is fully used. Oxygen released during the day by leafs photosynthesis is consumed by night by the own plants and other living organisms. That is why Amazonia is not the lung of the world.

However, it works as a great filter of carbon dioxide. In the photosynthesis process a large quantity of carbon is absorbed. Carbon dioxide is the main cause of greenhouse effect that warms the earth (in the last 100 years warmth rose 25%). If one day Amazonia were totally deforested, nearly 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year would be released into the atmosphere. There would be a mass mortality of living organisms.

Third myth: Amazonia as the world’s breadbasket. So it was thought by the first explorers such as von Humboldt and Bonpland and Brazilian planers when the military were in power (1964-1983). It is not. Research has shown that “the jungle lives of itself” and largely “for itself” (cf. Baum, V., Das Ökosystem der tropischen Regeswälder, Giessen, 1986, 39). It is lush but with soil poor in humus. It seems a paradox. The great expert on Amazonas Harald Sioli made it clear: “jungle really grows over the ground and not from the ground” (A Amazônia, Vozes 1985, 60). He explains it: the ground is only the physical support of an intricate web of roots. Plants intertwine through the roots and mutually support each other at the base. A huge rhythmic and balanced equilibrium is formed. The entire rainforest moves and dances. Thus, when one is torn down, it takes with her several others.

The jungle maintains its exuberant character because there is a closed chain of nutrients. There are decomposing materials on the ground, vegetal layer of leaves, fruits, small roots, excrements of wild animals, enriched by the water dripping from the leaves and the water draining from the trunks. It is not the soil what nourishes the trees. The trees nourish the soil. These two types of water wash and drag the droppings of arboreal animals and animals from larger species such as birds, macaques, coatis, sloths and others as well as myriad of insects that have their habitats on treetops. There is also a large variety of fungi and countless micro-organisms that together with the nutrients replenish the roots. Through the roots, foodstuff goes to the plants, guaranteeing the ecstatic exuberance of Amazon Hyleia. But it is a closed system with a complex and fragile equilibrium. Any small detour can bring disastrous consequences. Humus usually is only 30-40 cm wide. With torrential rains is dragged out. Soon sand emerges. Amazonia without the rainforest can turn into a large savannah or even a desert. That is why Amazonia could never be the world’s breadbasket, put it will continue to be the temple of the largest biodiversity.

Shelton H. Davis, expert on Amazonia, expressed in 1978 what can be applied to 2019: “At this time, a silent war is being waged against aboriginal peoples, innocent farmers, and Amazonian rainforest ecosystem” (Victims of the miracle, Saar 1978, 2002). Until 1968 the rainforest was practically intact. Since then, with the introduction of large hydro electrical projects and agribusiness and today with the anti-environmentalism of Bolsonaro’s government, the brutalization and devastation of Amazonia continues.

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