Deforestation and climate change are destabilizing the Amazon — the world’s largest rainforest, which is home to one in ten known species. Estimates of where an Amazon tipping point could lie range from 40% deforestation to just 20% forest-cover loss8. About 17% has been lost since 1970. The rate of deforestation varies with changes in policy. Finding the tipping point requires models that include deforestation and climate change as interacting drivers, and that incorporate fire and climate feedbacks as interacting tipping mechanisms across scales.
No Brasil, 70% das emissões vêm de agricultura e, principalmente, de mudanças dos usos da terra, perda de vegetação natural, principalmente na Floresta Amazônica. Precisamos da transição do uso da terra nos países tropicais. Na América da Norte, Japão e China, a agricultura produz cada vez mais usando cada vez menos área. Na América Latina, África e Ásia a expansão da fronteira agrícola é baseada em commodities, principalmente carne, grãos e óleo de palma, caso da Indonésia. A área de agricultura e pecuária dos países tropicais é enorme e de produtividade muito baixa.
“Pelo Brasil afora se tem a idéia apressada e simplista de que o fenômeno da fome no Nordeste é produto exclusivo da irregularidade e inclemência de seu clima. De que tudo é causado pelas secas que periodicamente desorganizam a economia da região. Nada mais longe da verdade. Nem todo o Nordeste é seco, nem a seca é tudo, mesmo nas áreas do sertão. Há tempos que nos batemos para demonstrar, para incutir na consciência nacional o fato de que a seca não é o principal fator da pobreza ou da fome nordestinas. Que é apenas um fator de agravamento agudo desta situação cujas causas são outras. São causas mais ligadas ao arcabouço social do que aos acidentes naturais, ás condições ou bases físicas da região.”
– Josué de Castro, no livro “Geografia da Fome”. 8ª ed., Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2008.
The ecology notebook from 1865/1866, 220 pages in the present text, was finished before the publication of the first volume of Capital in 1867. As a result of Marx’s reading of Liebig, he added some strong statements on capitalist agriculture. He wrote, for instance, that the “union of agriculture and industry” under capitalism led to greater urbanization which concentrated “the historical motive power of society” but, at the same time, “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth. … Capitalist production therefore only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker.” (Marx, 1976, 637-638)
These examples suggest a twist on “You are what you eat.” More accurately, you are what your ancestors ate. There is tremendous variation in what foods humans can thrive on, depending on genetic inheritance. Traditional diets today include the vegetarian regimen of India’s Jains, the meat-intensive fare of Inuit, and the fish-heavy diet of Malaysia’s Bajau people. The Nochmani of the Nicobar Islands off the coast of India get by on protein from insects. “What makes us human is our ability to find a meal in virtually any environment,” says the Tsimane study co-leader Leonard.
Studies suggest that indigenous groups get into trouble when they abandon their traditional diets and active lifestyles for Western living. Diabetes was virtually unknown, for instance, among the Maya of Central America until the 1950s. As they’ve switched to a Western diet high in sugars, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Siberian nomads such as the Evenk reindeer herders and the Yakut ate diets heavy in meat, yet they had almost no heart disease until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many settled in towns and began eating market foods. Today about half the Yakut living in villages are overweight, and almost a third have hypertension, says Leonard. And Tsimane people who eat market foods are more prone to diabetes than those who still rely on hunting and gathering.
The complexity of this whole world syndrome can be overwhelming, yet to evade the complexity by taking the system apart to treat the problems one at a time can produce disasters. The great failings of scientifi c technology have come from posing problems in too small a way. Agricultural scientists who proposed the Green Revolution without taking pest evolution and insect ecology into account, and therefore expected that pesti-cides would control pests, have been surprised that pest problems increased with spraying. Similarly, antibiotics create new pathogens, economic development creates hunger, and fl ood control promotes fl oods. Problems have to be solved in their rich complexity; the study of complexity itself becomes an urgent practical as well as theoretical problem.These interests inform my political work: within the Left, my task has been to argue that our relations with the rest of nature cannot be separated from a global struggle for human liberation, while within the ecology movement my task had been to challenge the “harmony of nature” idealism of early environmentalism and to insist on identifying the social relations that led to the present dysfunction. On the other hand, my politics have determined my scientifi c ethics. I believe that all theories which promote, justify, or tolerate injustice are wrong.
As an undergraduate at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture, I had been taught that the prime agricultural problem of the United States was the disposal of the farm surplus. But as a farmer in a poor region of Puerto Rico, I saw the signifi cance of agri-culture for people’s lives. That experience introduced me to the realities of poverty as it undermines health, shortens lives, closes options, and stultifi es personal growth, and to the specifi c forms that sexism takes among the rural poor. Direct labor organizing on the coffee plantations was combined with study. Rosario and I wrote the agrarian program of the Puerto Rican Communist Party, in which we combined rather amateurish economic and social analysis with some fi rst insights into ecological production methods, diversifi ca-tion, conservation, and cooperatives.I fi rst went to Cuba in 1964 to help develop their population genetics and get a look at the Cuban revolution. Over the years I became involved in the ongoing Cuban struggle for ecological agriculture and an ecological pathway of economic development that was just, egalitarian, and sustainable. Progressivist thinking, so powerful in the socialist tradi-tion, expected that developing countries had to catch up with advanced countries along the single pathway of modernization. It dismissed critics of the high-tech pathway of industrial agriculture as “idealists,” urban sentimentalists nostalgic for a bucolic rural golden age that never really existed. But there was another view: that each society creates its own ways of relating to the rest of nature, its own pattern of land use, its own appro-priate technology, its own criteria of effi ciency. This discussion raged in Cuba in the seventies, and by the eighties the ecological model had basically won, although imple-mentation was still a long process. The Special Period, that time of economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the materials for high tech became unavailable, allowed ecologists by conviction to recruit the ecologists by necessity. This was possible only because the ecologists by conviction had prepared the way.