Arquivo da tag: Diálogo entre conhecimentos tradicionais e ciência

Custodians of Knowledge: 5 Reasons Indigenous Peoples Hold the Key to Our Planet’s Future (Global Citizen)

Original article

Indigenous communities protect more than 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2 of the Global Goals, Indigenous voices are crucial to ensuring that a future free of famine is created by 2030. | IFAD

By Camille May

February 14, 2023

As stewards of the earth, the 476 million Indigenous Peoples living across more than 90 countries have an essential role to play in our world’s future. Generations of traditional knowledge, cultural responsibility, and sustainable land management have proven how critical Indigenous voices are to both protecting our planet and solving the global food crisis.

Yet for decades, Indigenous communities and activists have called for urgent action on climate change and food security — calls that have largely gone ignored. As protectors of more than 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity, their leadership and consultation hold the key to a resilient and sustainable future.

And two things are clear — Indigenous voices must be heard, and their recommendations must be taken seriously.

That’s why, in 2011, the Indigenous Peoples Forum (IPFI) was launched by the UN agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), to ensure an in-person, open dialogue existed between communities at the heart of climate change and development agencies on the front lines. The 2023 Indigenous Peoples Forum runs from Feb. 9-13, and is bringing together Indigenous leaders to discuss food security, climate action, traditional knowledge, and more.

Indigenous communities come face to face with climate change every day — one of the reasons why it’s important that they have the opportunity to shape the future of climate action and inform adaptation measures beyond their communities.

Despite contributing the least to climate emissions, Indigenous Peoples are among the communities suffering most from its impacts, which threaten food security, livelihoods, and millennia of culture. Here are five key reasons it’s essential to make sure Indigenous voices are present at every climate discussion.

1. Custodians of Knowledge

From unusual weather patterns to land management and sustenance farming, Indigenous Peoples have spent millennia accumulating knowledge about their environment. This place-based knowledge can help us predict and adapt to accelerated climate change on a global scale, because protecting and conserving ecosystems and nature is about preserving the diversity of human cultures.

Just 6% of the global population is Indigenous. Still, they speak more than 4,000 languages, including unique words and concepts to describe how they interact with the natural environment that demonstrate a respectful, symbiotic relationship.

Triệu Thị Tàn, a traditional healer from the Dao-Que Lam community who lives in the village of Phien Phang in Northern Vietnam, used traditional knowledge to help save her daughter’s life during pregnancy using a recipe passed on by her grandmother.

Like generations before her, she collects and cultivates medicinal plants in the complex forest-based ecosystems near her home, using ancestral knowledge to grow medical plants that only survive where their original habitats are intact.

2. Life-Saving Food Systems

The climate crisis is driving up rates of hunger worldwide. Today, the realities of globalized networks and years of compounding crises, like war and COVID-19, have uncovered the weaknesses in the global food system. From 2019 to 2022 alone, the number of malnourished people grew by as many as 150 million.

One of the best solutions is to build resilient food systems at the community level, with Indigenous knowledge serving as both beneficiaries and drivers of the answers we need to curb hunger.

The food systems of Indigenous Peoples’ have traditionally provided healthy diets anchored in sustainable livelihood practices. One of the main goals of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has always been to place small-scale farmers and other rural people at the heart of work to transform food systems, fostering action-orientated and sustainable solutions for food systems around the world.

This includes IFAD’s investment in Slow Foods — a program that’s dedicated to enhancing “local value chains for traditional foods” and which operates across 86 countries, helping Indigenous farmers sustain traditional crops and farming practices while protecting biodiversity and species at risk of extinction. Farmers are then encouraged to scale production to sell on the national commercial market, like cities and wholesale producers.

Smallholder farmers, who are already facing drought and extreme weather events, will continue to face the biggest future impacts of climate change. Programs like Slow Foods help preserve generational farming that could inform sustainability agriculture for the future, promote nutrition security worldwide, and generate income at the community level.

3. Protecting Biodiversity

Biological diversity, or biodiversity for short, is the variety of all living things, as well as how these species interact with each other. These interactions can either lead to species extinction or the creation of new ones, a natural process that exists in harmony with the sustainable practices championed by Indigenous communities.

Of the world’s remaining biodiversity, a massive 80% is located in the lands of Indigenous Peoples, who use sustainable farming methods and land management practices that help protect this biodiversity. Preserving biodiversity and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions across the world is crucial to tackling the climate crisis.

Centuries of deforestation, the expansion of agricultural land, the hunting of wildlife, as well as the more recent additions of fossil fuels, and the impacts of climate change have put Indigenous communities and our planet at risk.

That’s why this year’s Indigenous Peoples Forum is convening under the theme “Indigenous Peoples’ climate leadership: community-based solutions to enhance resilience and biodiversity” in support of Indigenous Peoples and their role in protecting diversity, “one harvest at a time.

In the Peruvian Amazon, employment opportunities in gas exploration have drawn many Indigenous communities to jobs in the field. But when strict COVID-19 laws in 2020 forced mining work sites to close, many Indigenous families returned to farming on their traditional lands as a means of survival, using knowledge and conservation-based agricultural practices that protected their livelihoods and the environment. 

4. Safeguarding Conservation and Wildlife

While the exact amount isn’t known, it’s estimated that 50-65% of the world’s land is held by Indigenous Peoples and other communities, serving up to 2.5 billion Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who depend on that land for their livelihoods and well-being.

Almost two-thirds of that land is considered “essentially natural,” — an internationally recognized legal term to describe how Indigenous communities live in harmony with nature and the essential role they play in its conservation. In 2022, this was recognized at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Canada when 190 countries signed onto the “30 x 30′ Agenda” calling for the protection of 30% of the world’s land and sea biodiversity while recognizing the role of Indigenous communities play as “stewards of nature.”

As one example, the Indigenous community of the Manobo people in the Philippines has protected their homeland, Pangasinan Island, through cultivation and land care practices for centuries, writes Vox. Centuries of “intuitive” cultivation have contributed to an island abundant in wildlife, allocating specific hunting seasons and dedicated areas for farming.

5. Climate Action of the Future

In many regions of the world, Indigenous communities are our last line of defense against climate change. Collectively they manage more than 24% of the world’s carbon stored in tropical forests and biomass, keeping heat trapping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. In the Amazon rainforest alone, home to more that 400 Indigenous tribes, almost 200 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide are stored on protected areas at risk from deforestation and commercial agriculture.

Within decades, millions of animals and plants will be at risk of extinction due to a decline in biodiversity worldwide at rates never witnessed in human history. Our climate is changing, and its effects are felt in all aspects of life, including food security, gender equality, political stability, and peace. Indigenous Peoples hold the key to developing future solutions, thanks in part to open forums like the The Indigenous Peoples’ Forum at IFAD, which draw on the wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and leadership their communities provide.

That’s because Indigenous Peoples are responding to climate change right now, through sustainable methods they have practiced for centuries.

Driven by the impacts of the war against Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change, the world faces the largest food crisis in modern history. Indigenous knowledge will play an important role in preventing future food crises and solving the current one. Through community-based action and national and international advocacy, they’re generating practical adaptation initiatives, and solutions for our future.

O que não indígenas deveriam aprender com os povos originários para impedir a queda do céu? (Brasil De Fato)

Retomando terras e roças tradicionais, Guaranis apontam caminhos para mudar a rota de devastação do planeta

Gabriela Moncau

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |

22 de Maio de 2022 às 15:25

Segundo a plataforma Agro é Fogo, só no ano passado 37 mil famílias foram afetadas pelo uso do fogo como arma para os conflitos no campo
Segundo a plataforma Agro é Fogo, só no ano passado 37 mil famílias foram afetadas pelo uso do fogo como arma para os conflitos no campo – Carl de Souza / AFP

“Gente do céu… Esse pessoal branco tem que parar. Ficam passando veneno, destruindo tudo. O dia que acabar a natureza, os seres humanos vão se acabar também. Parece que os brancos são cegos. Parece que são surdos”. 

Leila Rocha toma chimarrão olhando o rio todas as manhãs. Com 59 anos de idade, a liderança Guarani Ñandeva do município de Japorã, no Mato Grosso do Sul (quase fronteira com o Paraguai), diz ter de suportar ver, a cada dia, o mato desaparecer e as águas do rio diminuírem.  

Foi ali, na Terra Indígena (TI) Yvy Katu, que Leila cresceu. Ela se lembra quando, aos 8 anos, sua comunidade foi expulsa, encaminhada “na marra” pela Funai para uma reserva “apertada” e viu sua terra ser tomada por fazendeiros. Na ocasião, ela prometeu ao pai que voltaria. Décadas depois, cumpriu.  

Leila faz parte do Conselho da Aty Guasu (Grande Assembleia Kaiowá e Guarani) e da Kuñangue Aty Guasu (Grande Assembleia das Mulehres Kaiowá e Guarani). Participou da retomada da TI Yvy Katu em 2003 e, depois de serem despejados, esteve também na outra retomada, feita em 2013. Ali vive desde então. Mas a terra – que está demarcada e com a homologação pendente – não é mais a mesma. Está no meio de um estado tomado pela pecuária, por plantações de cana, milho e soja transgênica. 

Segundo o MapBiomas, só as plantações de soja ocupam 36 milhões de hectares no Brasil, o equivalente a 4,3% do território nacional. É uma área maior do que países como a Itália ou o Vietnã.  

Pouco menos que a metade (42%) dessa monocultura está na região do Cerrado, onde Leila vive. Entre 1985 e 2020, a soja se expandiu 464% no bioma.  

Um ser que produz seu próprio fim 

O veneno no rio mencionado por Leila vem da pulverização de agrotóxicos do agronegócio que, de tão sistemáticas no Mato Grosso do Sul, foram definidas como “agressões químicas” pelo procurador Marco Antônio Delfino, do Ministério Público Federal, em denúncias que levou adiante contra a prática.  

O Cerrado é também uma das regiões do país que ganhou destaque no relatório do Painel Intergovernamental de Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) da ONU, divulgado em abril. Se houver o aumento previsto da temperatura média da Terra de 4ºC a 5ºC, a previsão é que as chuvas nessa área do Brasil reduzam em 20%. 

:: Novo relatório do IPCC destaca que mundo teria aumento de 3,2ºC com políticas climáticas atuais ::

Ainda segundo o relatório da ONU, feito a partir de cerca de 18 mil publicações científicas, se o planeta não reduzir quase pela metade as emissões de gases do efeito estufa até 2030, uma catástrofe global será inevitável. 

E o Brasil vem dando sua contribuição para que o planeta avance rapidamente nesse rumo. Dados da ONG Global Forest Watch divulgados no fim de abril apontam que o país foi responsável por 40% do desmatamento mundial em 2021.  

No livro A queda do céu, o xamã e líder Yanomami Davi Kopenawa descreve que “os brancos não pensam muito adiante no futuro. Estão sempre preocupados demais com as coisas do momento”.  

“A floresta está viva. Só vai morrer se os brancos insistirem em destruí-la”, profetiza Kopenawa: “Então morreremos, um atrás do outro, tanto os brancos quanto nós. Todos os xamãs vão acabar morrendo. Quando não houver mais nenhum deles vivo para sustentar o céu, ele vai desabar”.  

Kopenawa explica que escreveu aquelas palavras em coautoria com o antropólogo Bruce Albert para que os brancos as compreendam e possam dizer “os Yanomami são diferentes de nós, (…) o pensamento deles segue caminhos outros que o da mercadoria”. 

“Ruralista bebe água também”  

E a mercadoria, diz Leila Rocha – com um tom de voz calmo, quase destoante com aquele que se esperaria de alguém que há tanto tempo tem de explicar o óbvio -, é inútil se a vida não puder existir. 

“As pessoas não entendem a luta dos indígenas. Pensam que é por causa da terra. Não é isso. A gente luta pela natureza, pelo rio, pelos remédios tradicionais, para que as árvores possam ficar no lugar em que elas estão”, elenca. “A natureza também sente dor, igual o ser humano”, diz. 

“É difícil colocar isso na cabeça das pessoas brancas. Quando você diz, parece que a pessoa entende tudo. Mas na verdade não entende né? Só pensa em destruir, passar o trator, queimar a beira do rio. Mas nós seres humanos precisamos dessa água. Nunca vamos viver sem água”, afirma Leila Rocha. 

“Os ruralistas, fazendeiros, são devoradores da natureza. E não conseguem pensar que estão matando a própria vida deles. Se um dia a água acabar, nós seres humanos não sobrevivemos. Mesmo ruralista com toda a riqueza que tem. Ruralista bebe água também”, ressalta.   

Retomadas de terra e de roças tradicionais 

Mas enquanto uns insistem em destruir a natureza, outros se esforçam para salvá-la. Depois de décadas vivendo em duas aldeias de 26 hectares cada, os Guarani Mbya da TI Tenondé Porã, localizada na região de Parelheiros, zona sul de São Paulo, começaram, desde 2013, um processo de retomada de suas terras. 

:: Retomadas em todo o país: indígenas ocupam suas terras ancestrais, ainda que sob ataque ::

Atualmente são 14 aldeias. Seis delas – Nhamandu Mirῖ, Yporã,  Ikatu Mirῖ, Takua Ju Mirĩ, Ka’aguy Hovy e Kuaray Oua – foram retomadas de 2020 para cá.  

A dispersão por um território mais amplo permitiu que, nos últimos anos, os indígenas retomassem também aspectos do nhandereko, o modo de viver Guarani. Uma parte desse conjunto de práticas e conhecimentos é a agricultura tradicional, antes impossibilitada pela falta de espaço.  

Em 2020, 35% da população da Terra Indígena Tenondé Porã estava envolvida nos trabalhos das roças tradicionais / Clarisse Jaxuka

Segundo levantamento do Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI) em seis das aldeias, em 2020 já havia 80 roças indígenas, cultivando 190 variedades agrícolas. Entre elas, diferentes espécies de milho, mandioca, batata, feijão, abóbora e banana.  

As roças foram desenvolvidas a partir do uso de sementes trocadas e também guardadas como tesouro pelos anciãos e anciãs Guarani, os xeramoĩ e as xejariy

Juxuka Mirῖ, chamada de Clarisse em português, trabalha na roça da aldeia Kalipety (retomada em 2013) e é também coordenadora da Comissão Guarani Yvyrupa (CGY).  

“Temos vários tipos de batata: roxa, branca, amarela. E milhos também. Tem preto, vermelho, branquinho, amarelo, colorido. A gente conseguiu resgatar os milhos de antigamente. Eu estou muito feliz. Quando eu era criança era bem difícil ver esse milho”, conta Jaxuka, que atualmente tem 37 anos. “Às vezes eu penso… Tem alguns mais velhos que já não estão mais junto conosco, que lutaram tanto para ver isso… Sabe?” 

“O mundo não acaba, mas a gente acaba” 

Jaxuka tem uma lembrança de, aos 12 anos, ouvir pela primeira vez os xeramoĩ’ kuery, os mais velhos, falando sobre a importância da manutenção das práticas e saberes indígenas para impedir que a ganância capitalista destrua a vida humana.  

“Isso se fala desde antigamente. Não só juruá [não indígenas] né, mas mesmo nós Guarani: se não soubermos cuidar da natureza, das nossas rezas, se a gente começar a esquecer dos nossos, das nossas línguas…”, diz Jaxuka: “O mundo não acaba. Mas a gente acaba”.  

“Hoje em dia esse mundo está louco mesmo. A natureza vive, a natureza chora, a natureza grita – e ninguém ouve mais”, resume Leila Rocha. “Eu espero que um dia os brancos entendam que os indígenas são guardiões. A gente não luta só pela terra. A gente luta por todos nós”. 

Edição: Raquel Setz

Watchers of the earth (AEON)

Indigenous peoples around the world tell myths which contain warning signs for natural disasters. Scientists are now listening.

Watchers of the earth | Aeon

Native knowledge. A Moken woman stares out to sea. Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket/Getty

Carrie Arnold is a freelance science writer, whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Scientific American and Slate, among others. Her latest book is Decoding Anorexia (2012). She lives in Virginia.

Edited by Pam Weintraub

Shortly before 8am on 26 December 2004, the cicadas fell silent and the ground shook in dismay. The Moken, an isolated tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, knew that the Laboon, the ‘wave that eats people’, had stirred from his ocean lair. The Moken also knew what was next: a towering wall of water washing over their island, cleansing it of all that was evil and impure. To heed the Laboon’s warning signs, elders told their children, run to high ground.

The tiny Andaman and Nicobar Islands were directly in the path of the tsunami generated by the magnitude 9.1 earthquake off the coast of Sumatra. Final totals put the islands’ death toll at 1,879, with another 5,600 people missing. When relief workers finally came ashore, however, they realised that the death toll was skewed. The islanders who had heard the stories about the Laboon or similar mythological figures survived the tsunami essentially unscathed. Most of the casualties occurred in the southern Nicobar Islands. Part of the reason was the area’s geography, which generated a higher wave. But also at the root was the lack of a legacy; many residents in the city of Port Blair were outsiders, leaving them with no indigenous tsunami warning system to guide them to higher ground.

Humanity has always courted disaster. We have lived, died and even thrived alongside vengeful volcanoes and merciless waves. Some disasters arrive without warning, leaving survival to luck. Often, however, there is a small window of time giving people a chance to escape. Learning how to crack open this window can be difficult when a given catastrophe strikes once every few generations. So humans passed down stories through the ages that helped cultures to cope when disaster inevitably struck. These stories were fodder for anthropologists and social scientists, but in the past decade, geologists have begun to pay more attention to how indigenous peoples understood, and prepared for, disaster. These stories, which couched myth in metaphor, could ultimately help scientists prepare for cataclysms to come.

Anyone who has spent time around small children gets used to the question ‘why?’ Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why does thunder make such a loud noise? A friend’s mother told us that thunder was God going bowling in the sky. Nature need not be scary and unpredictable, even if it was controlled by forces we could neither see nor understand.

The human penchant for stories and meaning is nothing new. Myths and legends provide entertainment, but they also transmit knowledge of how to behave and how the world works. Breaking the code of these stories, however, takes skill. Tales of gods gone bowling during summer downpours seems nonsensical on the surface, but know a little about the sudden thunderclaps and the clatter of bowling pins as they’re struck by a ball, and the story makes sense.

In 1968, Dorothy Vitaliano, a geologist at Indiana University, pioneered the study of cultural myths that told of real geological events. Ancient Sanskrit tales told of entire cities that sunk beneath the waves with all the hallmarks of a tsunami. Plato’s story of the utopian Atlantis, destroyed by the gods in a wreckage of fire, might have referred to a volcano that partially destroyed the Greek island of Thera more than 3,500 years ago.

this story wasn’t simply a saga of angry gods but a geological record of an ancient eruption

Vitaliano published her work in a folklore journal, not a scientific one. It would take another geologist, Patrick Nunn of the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, to bring the field more fully into the physical sciences. Nunn’s work in the paradisiacal South Pacific gave him the opportunity to immerse himself in the islands’ traditional cultures. A group on Fiji regaled him with a story of Tanovo, the ancient chief of the Fijian island of Ono. One day, Tanovo ran across his main rival, the chief of the volcano Nabukelevu. To intimidate Tanovo, the volcano chief made Nabukelevu rise up and belch gas and burning rock into the air. Tanovo responded by weaving massive baskets to remove the mountain, dropping the debris in the ocean to create new islands. To Nunn, this story wasn’t simply a saga of angry gods but a geological record of an ancient eruption. Pressure from magma can make a volcano expand in size before the release of gas and ash. Geologists knew that small islands around Fiji were the result of volcanic rubble, but Nunn was the first geologist to hear these stories and read between the lines.

The problem was that the best geological evidence Nunn could find dated the last eruption of Nabukelevu to 50,000 years in the past, long before any humans inhabited Fiji. Nunn wrote off the tale as merely a fanciful story, and it would have remained that way if not for a new road being built near the volcano. When construction workers dug out the roadbed, they discovered pottery fragments mixed in a three-foot layer of ash. Further analysis revealed that the fragments were 3,000 years old, dating to 1,000 years after humans first arrived on Fiji.

These stories, in synch with archaeological finds, provided evidence of ‘geological events we don’t have access to any other way. There are not many examples of wholly invented myths – ancient humans were not like modern fiction writers. The point of these stories was to pass knowledge along,’ Nunn explained.

Brian McAdoo, a tsunami scientist at Yale-NUS in Singapore, began his career plumbing the depths of the ocean in high-tech submersibles to understand the earthquakes that triggered tsunamis. In 1998, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, triggering a tsunami estimated to have killed more than 2,000 on the island. The quake was comparatively gentle for such a deadly tsunami, which led McAdoo to begin looking at the social and cultural factors that made some geological disasters deadlier than others. His research introduced him to local tribes who told him traditional stories about earthquakes and tsunamis from the past.

‘A lot of the people we talked to said that their grandmothers would tell these stories about how their grandmothers survived a tsunami,’ McAdoo said.

As McAdoo was delving into the mysteries of Fijian stories in the southwestern Pacific, other scientists were using a similar strategy to study seismic events in the Pacific Northwest. Brian Atwater, an employee of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the 1970s and ’80s, was tasked with mapping the earthquake risks across Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. To do that, Atwater needed information about previous earthquakes that had struck the area. Written records dated back only about 200 years, so Atwater, now at the University of Washington in Seattle, initially relied on information that he could glean from the soil and rocks.

His work sent him into areas where native peoples had lived for thousands of years, and they told the government scientist their own myths about gods who walked the earth, stomping their feet and making the ground shake, as well as giant waves that swept over the land shortly thereafter.

In 2007, Atwater identified a massive earthquake that spawned an equally massive tsunami, decimating villages and forever altering the landscape of the Pacific Northwest. When his team dated the debris from the earthquake, he discovered it had occurred around the year 1700.

‘It was a horrible thing – the burial of a house and no doubt its occupants. It’s a really sobering experience to sift through those artefacts’

When Japanese seismologists heard of this date, they immediately contacted Atwater about a rogue tsunami that no one could explain. The Japanese, of course, were long familiar with tsunamis, having coined the word. They knew that the wall of water always followed an earthquake, and people living along the coast had learned to seek higher ground when they felt the ground start to shake. Yet in the 12th year of the Genroku era, or 1700 CE, a tsunami had hurtled itself into Japan’s eastern shore, but without an accompanying earthquake.

Modern seismologists guessed that the tsunami must have been spawned by an earthquake on the other side of the Pacific, but they couldn’t be any more specific. Atwater’s work gave them the missing information: in the Cascades, the Juan de Fuca plate dives beneath the North American plate, but it doesn’t move smoothly. The rocks get stuck, and tension builds. When the stress becomes too high, the fault ruptures and the plates move – a process that humans describe as an earthquake. Based on the precise recordings of the Japanese tsunami, the researchers provided a much more precise date for the earthquake that devastated the Pacific Northwest. Sometime around 9pm on Tuesday, 26 January 1700, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit as the plates violently released the stress pent up in the rocks.

‘It was a horrible thing to contemplate – the burial of a house and no doubt its occupants, as well as so many other parts of their lives. It’s a really sobering experience to sift through those artefacts,’ Atwater said.

Linking traditional Native American stories to historic records of a Japanese tsunami was considered an exception, not the start of a fruitful geological collaboration. It seemed that McAdoo, Nunn and Atwater’s explorations would be confined to the fringes of geology.

Then the 2004 tsunami struck.

A century before, a tsunami had slammed into the Indonesian island of Simeulue, killing hundreds and leaving even more homeless. The event was seared into the memory of those who survived, determined to pass their hard-earned wisdom along to their children. Their instructions were devastatingly simple: if the water recedes after an earthquake, run immediately to high ground. They didn’t invoke gods or the supernatural, but these types of warnings likely formed the kernel of later myths and traditional stories, Nunn says. During the tsunami of 2004, their efficacy was clear. On Simeulue, with a population of more than 80,000, only seven people died. Before the roar of the waves drowned out human voices, the island was filled with shouts of ‘Smong! Smong! Smong!’, the local word for a tsunami.

Such stories regularly cropped up in the weeks and months following the tsunami. Residents of remote villages knew exactly what to do and survived with relatively few casualties. As the stories gained in popularity, the idea that they had valid geological merit began to grow.

‘The 2004 tsunami completely changed how science looked at disasters. There were more conversations between social scientists, natural scientists, and engineers, which led to more insights on how and why these disasters happened,’ McAdoo said.

Most recently, a paper in Science published in August 2016 revealed geological evidence for a massive ancient flood in China that had long been rumoured to have spurred the formation of the country’s first imperial dynasty. Around 4,000 years ago, the stories go, an ‘Emperor Yu’ rose to power based on his ability to drain lowlands of flood. No one knew whether Emperor Yu was a real person or whether the floodwaters he tamed actually existed.

Yet studying the landslides in the Jishi Gorge that dammed the Yellow River high in the Tibetan plateau, a team of Chinese scientists gathered archaeological and geological evidence to demonstrate that the dams failed right around the time that China’s first dynasty emerged. The failure rerouted the Yellow River, a dynamic that could lead to persistent flooding downstream. The researchers also found evidence of large-scale drainage projects in the Yellow River delta that popped up not long after the Jishi Gorge landslides.

My personal suburban legends left me intimately familiar with what to do if I ever saw a funnel cloud

The destructive power of natural disasters hasn’t diminished in the thousands of years during which these stories were told and retold. And humanity now faces an even greater catastrophe in the form of climate change. Unlike floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, the devastation from global warming isn’t sudden and violent. It has been creeping up on us for decades, but that doesn’t mean it will be any less deadly. To fight these changes, humanity needs a new set of tales.

On Fiji, 25-year-old Betty Barkha is traversing her homeland to gather stories of how locals are responding to increased cyclones and flooding caused by our changing climate. These stories might not have the nail-biting drama of oral epics filled with supernatural forces, but they can connect with readers and listeners in ways that dry data from government agencies can’t.

Most humans don’t spend their evenings swapping stories around a campfire, but we haven’t lost our penchant for myth. The same summer storms caused by gods gone bowling could also generate tornadoes. As a child in the Midwest, I knew all the signs: a sky that looked like pea soup, wind that had the angry roar of an oncoming train, and the plaintive wail of a warning siren. A few years before I was born, a tornado had ripped through my town, leaving a path of debris less than a quarter mile from my home. Decades later, stories are still told of how a gas station was levelled on one side of the street but a building diagonally across was untouched. My personal suburban legends left me intimately familiar with what to do if I ever saw a funnel cloud.

Whether the disaster is earthquake, volcano or ocean wave, modern responses will likely involve cutting-edge science, but chances are we’ll also be spinning stories for aeons to come.

13 April 2017

Marcelo Leite: Virada Psicodélica – Artigo aponta injustiça psicodélica contra saber indígena (Folha de S.Paulo)

Marcelo Leite

7 de março de 2022

A cena tem algo de surreal: pesquisador europeu com o corpo tomado por grafismos indígenas tem na cabeça um gorro com dezenas de eletrodos para eletroencefalografia (EEG). Um membro do povo Huni Kuin sopra rapé na narina do branco, que traz nas costas mochila com aparelhos portáteis para registrar suas ondas cerebrais.

A Expedition Neuron aconteceu em abril de 2019, em Santa Rosa do Purus (AC). No programa, uma tentativa de diminuir o fosso entre saberes tradicionais sobre uso da ayahuasca e a consagração do chá pelo chamado renascimento psicodélico para a ciência.

O resultado mais palpável da iniciativa, até aqui, apareceu num controverso texto sobre ética, e não dados, de pesquisa.

O título do artigo no periódico Transcultural Psychiatry prometia: “Superando Injustiças Epistêmicas no Estudo Biomédico da Ayahuasca – No Rumo de Regulamentação Ética e Sustentável”. Desde a publicação, em 6 de janeiro, o texto gerou mais calor que luz –mesmo porque tem sido criticado fora das vistas do público, não às claras.

Os autores Eduardo Ekman Schenberg, do Instituto Phaneros, e Konstantin Gerber, da PUC-SP, questionam a autoridade da ciência com base na dificuldade de empregar placebo em experimentos com psicodélicos, na ênfase dada a aspectos moleculares e no mal avaliado peso do contexto (setting) para a segurança do uso, quesito em que cientistas teriam muito a aprender com indígenas.

Entre os alvos das críticas figuram pesquisas empreendidas na última década pelos grupos de Jaime Hallak na USP de Ribeirão Preto e de Dráulio de Araújo no Instituto do Cérebro da UFRN, em particular sobre efeito da ayahuasca na depressão. Procurados, cientistas e colaboradores desses grupos não responderam ou preferiram não se pronunciar.

O potencial antidepressivo da dimetiltriptamina (DMT), principal composto psicoativo do chá, está no foco também de pesquisadores de outros países. Mas outras substâncias psicodélicas, como MDMA e psilocibina, estão mais próximas de obter reconhecimento de reguladores como medicamentos psiquiátricos.

Dado o efeito óbvio de substâncias como a ayahuasca na mente e no comportamento da pessoa, argumentam Schenberg e Gerber, o sistema duplo-cego (padrão ouro de ensaios biomédicos) ficaria inviabilizado: tanto o voluntário quanto o experimentador quase sempre sabem se o primeiro tomou um composto ativo ou não. Isso aniquilaria o valor supremo atribuído a estudos desse tipo no campo psicodélico e na biomedicina em geral.

Outro ponto criticado por eles está na descontextualização e no reducionismo de experimentos realizados em hospitais ou laboratórios, com o paciente cercado de aparelhos e submetido a doses fixadas em miligramas por quilo de peso. A precisão é ilusória, afirmam, com base no erro de um artigo que cita concentração de 0,8 mg/ml de DMT e depois fala em 0,08 mg/ml.

A sanitização cultural do setting, por seu lado, faria pouco caso dos elementos contextuais (floresta, cânticos, cosmologia, rapé, danças, xamãs) que para povos como os Huni Kuin são indissociáveis do que a ayahuasca tem a oferecer e ensinar. Ao ignorá-los, cientistas estariam desprezando tudo o que os indígenas sabem sobre uso seguro e coletivo da substância.

Mais ainda, estariam ao mesmo tempo se apropriando e desrespeitando esse conhecimento tradicional. Uma atitude mais ética de pesquisadores implicaria reconhecer essa contribuição, desenvolver protocolos de pesquisa com participação indígena, registrar coautoria em publicações científicas, reconhecer propriedade intelectual e repartir eventuais lucros com tratamentos e patentes.

“A complementaridade entre antropologia, psicanálise e psiquiatria é um dos desafios da etnopsiquiatria”, escrevem Schenberg e Gerber. “A iniciativa de levar ciência biomédica à floresta pode ser criticada como uma tentativa de medicalizar o xamanismo, mas também pode constituir uma possibilidade de diálogo intercultural centrado na inovação e na resolução de ‘redes de problemas’.”

“É particularmente notável que a biomedicina se aventure agora em conceitos como ‘conexão’ e ‘identificação com a natureza’ [nature-relatedness] como efeito de psicodélicos, mais uma vez, portanto, se aproximando de conclusões epistêmicas derivadas de práticas xamânicas. O desafio final seria, assim, entender a relação entre bem-estar da comunidade e ecologia e como isso pode ser traduzido num conceito ocidental de saúde integrada.”

As reações dos poucos a criticar abertamente o texto e suas ideias grandiosas podem ser resumidas num velho dito maldoso da academia: há coisas boas e novas no artigo, mas as coisas boas não são novas e as coisas novas não são boas. Levar EEG para a floresta do Acre, por exemplo, não resolveria todos os problemas.

Schenberg é o elo de ligação entre o artigo na Transcultural Psychiatry e a Expedition Neuron, pois integrou a incursão ao Acre em 2019 e colabora nesse estudo de EEG com o pesquisador Tomas Palenicek, do Instituto Nacional de Saúde Mental da República Checa. Eis um vídeo de apresentação, em inglês:

“Estamos engajados, Konstantin e eu, em projeto inovador com os Huni Kuin e pesquisadores europeus, buscando construir uma parceria epistemicamente justa, há mais de três anos”, respondeu Schenberg quando questionado sobre o cumprimento, pelo estudo com EEG, das exigências éticas apresentadas no artigo.

Na apresentação da Expedition Neuron, ele afirma: “Nessa primeira expedição curta e exploratória [de 2019], confirmamos que há interesse mútuo de cientistas e uma cultura indígena tradicional da Amazônia em explorar conjuntamente a natureza da consciência e como sua cura tradicional funciona, incluindo –pela primeira vez– registros de atividade cerebral num cenário que muitos considerariam demasiado desafiador tecnicamente”.

“Consideramos de supremo valor investigar conjuntamente como os rituais e medicinas dos Huni Kuin afetam a cognição humana, as emoções e os vínculos de grupo e analisar a base neural desses estados alterados de consciência, incluindo possivelmente experiências místicas na floresta.”

Schenberg e seus colaboradores planejam nova expedição aos Huni Kuin para promover registros de EEG múltiplos e simultâneos com até sete indígenas durante cerimônias com ayahuasca. A ideia é testar a “possibilidade muito intrigante” de sincronia entre cérebros:

“Interpretada pelos Huni Kuin e outros povos ameríndios como um tipo de portal para o mundo espiritual, a ayahuasca é conhecida por fortalecer intensa e rapidamente vínculos comunitários e sentimentos de empatia e proximidade com os outros.”

Os propósitos de Schenberg e Gerber não convenceram a antropóloga brasileira Bia Labate, diretora do Instituto Chacruna em São Francisco (EUA). “Indígenas não parecem ter sido consultados para a produção do texto, não há vozes nativas, não são coautores, e não temos propostas específicas do que seria uma pesquisa verdadeiramente interétnica e intercultural.”

Para a antropóloga, ainda que a Expedition Neuron tenha conseguido autorização para a pesquisa, algo positivo, não configura “epistemologia alternativa à abordagem cientificista e etnocêntrica”. Uma pesquisa interétnica, em sua maneira de ver, implicaria promover uma etnografia que levasse a sério a noção indígena de que plantas são espíritos, têm agência própria, e que o mundo natural também é cultural, tem subjetividade, intencionalidade.

“Todos sabemos que a bebida ayahuasca não é a mesma coisa que ayahuasca freeze dried [liofilizada]; que o contexto importa; que os rituais e coletivos que participam fazem diferença. Coisas iguais ou análogas já haviam sido apontadas pela literatura antropológica, cujas referências foram deixadas de lado pelos autores.”

Labate também discorda de que os estudos com ayahuasca no Brasil negligenciem o reconhecimento de quem chegou antes a ela: “Do ponto de vista global, é justamente uma marca e um diferencial da pesquisa científica brasileira o fato de que houve, sim, diálogo com participantes das religiões ayahuasqueiras. Estes também são sujeitos legítimos de pesquisa, e não apenas os povos originários”.

Schenberg e Palenicek participaram em 2020 de um encontro com outra antropóloga, a franco-colombiana Emilia Sanabria, líder no projeto Encontros de Cura, do Conselho Nacional de Pesquisa Científica da França (CNRS). Ao lado do indígena Leopardo Yawa Bane, o trio debateu o estudo com EEG no painel virtual “Levando o Laboratório até a Ayahuasca”, da Conferência Interdisciplinar sobre Pesquisa Psicodélica (ICPR). Há vídeo disponível, em inglês:

Sanabria, que fala português e conhece os Huni Kuin, chegou a ser convidada por Schenberg para integrar a expedição, mas declinou, por avaliar que não se resolveria a “incomensurabilidade epistemológica” entre o pensamento indígena e o que a biomedicina quer provar. Entende que a discussão proposta na Transcultural Psychiatry é importante, apesar de complexa e não exatamente nova.

Em entrevista ao blog, afirmou que o artigo parece reinventar a roda, ao desconsiderar um longo debate sobre a assimilação de plantas e práticas tradicionais (como a medicina chinesa) pela ciência ocidental: “Não citam a reflexão anterior. É bom que ponham a discussão na mesa, mas há bibliografia de mais de um século”.

A antropóloga declarou ver problema na postura do artigo, ao apresentar-se como salvador dos nativos. “Não tem interlocutor indígena citado como autor”, pondera, corroborando a crítica de Labate, como se os povos originários precisassem ser representados por não índios. “A gente te dá um espacinho aqui no nosso mundo.”

A questão central de uma colaboração respeitosa, para Sanabria, é haver prioridade e utilidade no estudo também para os Huni Kuin, e não só para os cientistas.

Ao apresentar esse questionamento no painel, recebeu respostas genéricas de Schenberg e Palenicek, não direta e concretamente benéficas para os Huni Kuin –por exemplo, que a ciência pode ajudar na rejeição de patentes sobre ayahuasca.

Na visão da antropóloga, “é linda a ideia de levar o laboratório para condições naturalistas”, mas não fica claro como aquela maquinaria toda se enquadraria na lógica indígena. No fundo, trata-se de um argumento simétrico ao brandido pelos autores do artigo contra a pesquisa psicodélica em ambiente hospitalar: num caso se descontextualiza a experiência psicodélica total, socializada; no outro, é a descontextualização tecnológica que viaja e invade a aldeia.

Sanabria vê um dilema quase insolúvel, para povos indígenas, na pactuação de protocolos de pesquisa com a renascida ciência psicodélica. O que em 2014 parecia para muitos uma nova maneira de fazer ciência, com outros referenciais de avaliação e prova, sofreu uma “virada capitalista” desde 2018 e terminou dominado pela lógica bioquímica e de propriedade intelectual.

“Os povos indígenas não podem cair fora porque perdem seus direitos. Mas também não podem entrar [nessa lógica], porque aí perdem sua perspectiva identitária.”

“Molecularizar na floresta ou no laboratório dá no mesmo”, diz Sanabria. “Não vejo como reparação de qualquer injustiça epistêmica. Não vejo diferença radical entre essa pesquisa e o estudo da Fernanda [Palhano-Fontes]”, referindo-se à crítica “agressiva” de Schenberg e Gerber ao teste clínico de ayahuasca para depressão no Instituto do Cérebro da UFRN, extensiva aos trabalhos da USP de Ribeirão Preto.

A dupla destacou, por exemplo, o fato de autores do estudo da UFRN indicarem no artigo de 2019 que 4 dos 29 voluntários no experimento ficaram pelo menos uma semana internados no Hospital Universitário Onofre Lopes, em Natal. Lançaram, com isso, a suspeita de que a segurança na administração de ayahuasca tivesse sido inadequadamente tratada.

“Nenhum desses estudos tentou formalmente comparar a segurança no ambiente de laboratório com qualquer um dos contextos culturais em que ayahuasca é comumente usada”, pontificaram Schenberg e Gerber. “Porém, segundo nosso melhor conhecimento, nunca se relatou que 14% das pessoas participantes de um ritual de ayahuasca tenham requerido uma semana de hospitalização.”

O motivo de internação, contudo, foi trivial: pacientes portadores de depressão resistente a medicamentos convencionais, eles já estavam hospitalizados devido à gravidade de seu transtorno mental e permaneceram internados após a intervenção. Ou seja, a internação não teve a ver com terem tomado ayahuasca.

Este blog também questionou Schenberg sobre o possível exagero em pinçar um erro que poderia ser de digitação (0,8 mg/ml ou 0,08 mg/ml), no artigo de 2015 da USP de Ribeirão, como flagrante de imprecisão que poria em dúvida a superioridade epistêmica da biomedicina psicodélica.

“Se dessem mais atenção aos relatos dos voluntários/pacientes, talvez tivessem se percebido do fato”, retorquiu o pesquisador do Instituto Phaneros. “Além da injustiça epistêmica com os indígenas, existe a injustiça epistêmica com os voluntários/pacientes, que também discutimos brevemente no artigo.”

Schenberg tem vários trabalhos publicados que se encaixariam no paradigma biomédico agora em sua mira. Seria seu artigo com Gerber uma autocrítica sobre a atividade pregressa?

“Sempre fui crítico de certas limitações biomédicas e foi somente com muito esforço que consegui fazer meu pós-doc sem, por exemplo, usar um grupo placebo, apesar de a maioria dos colegas insistirem que assim eu deveria fazer, caso contrário ‘não seria científico’…”.

“No fundo, o argumento é circular, usando a biomedicina como critério último para dar respostas à crítica à biomedicina”, contesta Bia Labate. “O texto não resolve o que se propõe a resolver, mas aprofunda o gap [desvão] entre epistemologias originárias e biomédicas ao advogar por novas maneiras de produzir biomedicina a partir de critérios de validação… biomédicos.”

Ethnobotanist Mark Plotkin: Indigenous knowledge serves as a ‘connective tissue’ between nature and human well-being (Mongabay)

by Rhett A. Butler on 31 January 2022

  • As a best-selling author, the co-founder of the award-winning Amazon Conservation Team, and an acclaimed public speaker, Mark Plotkin is one of the world’s most prominent rainforest ethnobotanists and conservationists.
  • His experiences in Amazonian communities led Plotkin, along with Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigal, to establish the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) in 1995. ACT took a distinctly different approach than most Western conservation groups at the time: It placed Indigenous communities at the center of its strategy.
  • ACT’s approach has since been widely adopted by other organizations, and its philosophy as a whole is now more relevant than ever as the conservation sector wrestles with its colonial roots.
  • Plotkin spoke of his work, trends in conservation, and a range of other topics in a January 2022 interview with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

As a best-selling author, the co-founder of the award-winning Amazon Conservation Team, and an acclaimed public speaker, Mark Plotkin is one of the world’s most prominent rainforest ethnobotanists and conservationists. Plotkin has worked closely with Indigenous communities–including traditional healers or shamans–since the 1980s, first as an academic, then as a member of a large conservation organization.

His experiences in Amazonian communities led Plotkin, along with Costa Rican conservationist Liliana Madrigal, to establish the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) in 1995. ACT took a distinctly different approach than most Western conservation groups at the time: It placed Indigenous communities at the center of its strategy, working in deep and sustained partnerships with Indigenous elders and leaders to strengthen recognition of their rights through a combination of traditional knowledge and mapping technologies. These efforts have resulted in vast swathes of Indigenous territories across rainforests in Colombia, Suriname, and Brazil securing better protection, both functionally and legally. They have also helped elevate the public’s consciousness about the value and importance of traditional Indigenous knowledge.

Mark Plotkin with Captain Kapai (middle) and Captain Aretina, members of the Tiriyo tribe.
Mark Plotkin with Captain Kapai (middle) and Captain Aretina, members of the Tiriyo tribe.

ACT’s approach has since been widely adopted by other organizations, and its philosophy as a whole is now more relevant than ever as the conservation sector wrestles with its colonial roots and the associated issues around discrimination, inclusion, and representation. Put another way, ACT’s longtime model has gone from being seen as fringe to being mainstream.

Plotkin welcomes these developments, but cautions that it will take more than lip-service and money to drive meaningful shifts in how conservation groups work with Indigenous communities.

“Claiming you are going to do something difficult and then carrying it out successfully are not the same thing,” Plotkin told Mongabay during a January 2022 interview. “In my experience, partnering effectively with tribal colleagues and communities does not happen on a western timeline and is certainly not expedited by simply throwing lots of money at the process.”

Jonathan, head of the indigenous park guard program for Kwamalasamutu, on patrol in the Amazon rainforest.
An Indigenous park guard on patrol near Kwamalasamutu, Suriname in the Amazon rainforest. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler

Plotkin has been working to broaden public interest in Indigenous cultures and knowledge through a variety of platforms, from books to speeches to films, as a way to create a stronger constituency for Indigenous-led conservation. Last year he launched a podcast, “Plants of the Gods: Hallucinogens, Healing, Culture and Conservation”, to reach new audiences with this message.

Plotkin says that the podcast’s emphasis on medicinal plants, especially hallucinogenic plants, serves a purpose.

“I believe that hallucinogens and shamanism represent some of the most important ‘connective tissue’ between tropical nature and human well-being,” Plotkin told Mongabay.

Mark Plotkin podcasting. Photo credit: Mark Plotkin
Mark Plotkin podcasting. Photo credit: Mark Plotkin

As with his books, Plotkin leverages his storytelling abilities to engage his audience. These skills, he says, are critical to maximizing your effectiveness, whether that’s as a conservationist or something else.

“I have spent much of my career working with Indigenous peoples where… storytelling represents an essential craft,” he said. 

“Our industrialized society and our educational system have long undervalued the importance of telling an effective story. Whether you are a prosecutor trying to convince a jury, or a fundraiser trying to convince a donor, or a conservationist trying to convince a government official, you must be able to convey the information in a clear and compelling manner.”

Plotkin spoke of his work, trends in conservation, and a range of other topics in a January 2022 exchange with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.

Mark Plotkin conversing with Yaloeefuh, a Trio shaman. Plotkin has worked with  Yaloeefuh since 1984. Image credit: Amazon Conservation Team
Mark Plotkin conversing with Yaloeefuh, a Trio shaman. Plotkin has worked with Yaloeefuh since 1984. Image credit: Amazon Conservation Team


Mongabay: You launched a very popular podcast last year. As a biologist and a successful author, what moved you to start podcasting?

Mark Plotkin: When I was a kid, there were only three channels of television, meaning an important message that appeared on any one of these channels would be seen by tens of millions of people. Such is no longer the case. If you want to disseminate a message widely, you have to work in a variety of media. I launched “Plants of the Gods: Hallucinogens, Healing, Culture and Conservation” with the intent of reaching a new and broad audience beyond just the folks who visit the Amazon Conservation Team website or have read my books.

Mongabay: Why the focus on hallucinogens and shamanism?

Mark Plotkin: First and foremost, because I am an ethnobotanist, and these are topics that I have found endlessly fascinating since I first wandered into a night school class taught my mentor Richard Schultes, the so-called “Father of Ethnobotany,” in September of 1974.

Secondly, because I believe that hallucinogens and shamanism represent some of the most important “connective tissue” between tropical nature and human well-being.

Mark Plotkin with Akoi, Sikiyana medicine man. Photo credit: ACT
Mark Plotkin with Akoi, Sikiyana medicine man. Photo credit: ACT

Thirdly, because of timing: Every week brings more news about how tropical hallucinogens like psilocybin and ayahuasca (both covered in episodes of “Plants of the Gods”) offer new hope in the treatment—and, sometimes, the cure—of intractable mental ailments ranging from depression to addiction.

Mongabay: Is this why ayahuasca tourism seems so out of control in places like Peru?

Mark Plotkin: This question brings to mind more than one cliché: “It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.” “When God wants to punish you, she answers your prayers.” “When it rains, it pours.”

Look, every biologist as far back as Linnaeus noted the expertise of Indigenous peoples regarding use of local flora and fauna. And most ethnobiologists as far back as Schultes in the late 1930s observed that these cultures used these species to heal in ways we could not understand, that – in the cases of hallucinogenic plants and fungi – shamans were employing psychoactive plants and fungi as biological scalpels to diagnose, analyze, treat and sometimes cure ailments that our own physicians or psychiatrists could not.

It therefore comes as no surprise that people whose medical, spiritual and/or emotional needs are not being met by western medicine or organized religion are traveling to places like Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon to be treated by “indigenous shamans” – some of whom are not Indigenous and many of whom are not shamans.

Sunrise over the Amazon rainforest
Sunrise over the Amazon rainforest. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

The combination of remote areas, linguistic challenges, emotionally unstable people, altered states and money is a combustible one, and resulted in many problems and some fatalities. In my pal Michael Pollan’s book, “How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence,” he makes a compelling case as to how and why emotionally fragile people are the ones most at risk in these ceremonies purchased via websites.

Of course, there is a win-win scenario here in which shamanism remains an honored profession, Indigenous people are compensated fairly for their healing knowledge and practices, the rainforest is better protected and cherished, and sick people are cured. Yet achieving these goals have proven more difficult than many had anticipated.

Mongabay: Which brings to mind my next question: The Amazon Conservation Team has put Indigenous communities at the center of its work since inception. Now the conservation sector as a whole is putting much more emphasis on the role Indigenous peoples play in achieving conservation and climate objectives. In your view, what has driven this shift?

Mark Plotkin: It is all too easy to say that the only news that is coming out of the environment in general – and the rainforest in particular – is bad. That people in general and large conservation organizations are now realizing the central role local societies must be empowered to assume is highly encouraging. That the Indigenous peoples themselves are pointing out that they are the best stewards of their ancestral ecosystems is likewise long overdue and to be celebrated.

Nonetheless, claiming you are going to do something difficult and then carrying it out successfully are not the same thing. In my experience, partnering effectively with tribal colleagues and communities does not happen on a western timeline and is certainly not expedited by simply throwing lots of money at the process. For example, for almost four decades, I have been working with the great shaman Amasina – who has been interviewed by Mongabay – and he is still showing me new treatments. Trying to learn information like this in a hurry would have failed.

Amasina in 1982. Photo credit: Mark Plotkin.
Amasina in 1982. Photo credit: Mark Plotkin.
Mark Plotkin with Amasina in Suriname. Photo credit: ACT
Mark Plotkin with Amasina in Suriname. Photo credit: ACT

Another personal example: about five years ago, I was invited (as an observer) to attend a gathering of Indigenous leaders in northeastern Brazil. On the first afternoon, I was approached by Captain Aretina of the Tiriyo people. He said, “I have not seen you in over 30 years. You were my father’s friend. When I heard you were going to be here, I traveled five days from my village to attend. May I give you a hug?” And we embraced, warmly and tearfully.

You cannot create this type of bond when you land at a small rainforest airstrip, tell the pilot to wait for you, have a brief meeting with the village chief, offer him lots of money and then get back on the plane and fly off.

Mongabay: The Amazon Conservation Team’s work in Colombia has significantly expanded over the past decade. What is the impact you’re most proud about in Colombia?

Mark Plotkin: The Amazon Conservation Team just celebrated its 25th Anniversary and Colombia was our first program and remains our largest. The accomplishments there are legion: Gaining title to more than two million acres (an area larger than Yellowstone) for the Indigenous peoples themselves, creation of the first Indigenous women’s reserve (“Mamakunapa”) in the northwest Amazon (with the assistance of my friend Tim Ferriss), and helping craft and pass legislation to protect uncontacted tribes and their ancestral rainforests.

One of the most meaningful achievements for me personally involves the expansion of Chiribiquete National Park where Schultes worked and collected. So stunned was he by this spectacular landscape after he first visited in 1943 that he began lobbying to have the region declared a protected area as soon as he returned to the capital city of Bogotá. In close collaboration with Colombian colleagues in both academia and government, this first came to fruition in 1989.

During the past decade, under the leadership of Northwest Amazon Program Director Carolina Gil and ACT co-founder Liliana Madrigal, we have partnered with local Colombians, (including Indigenous colleagues), to expand Chiribiquete to become the largest rainforest protect area in the Amazon (if not the world). At more than 17,000 square miles, it is twice the size of Massachusetts and protects a multitude of flora and fauna, the worlds’ largest assemblage of Indigenous painting, and at least three uncontacted tribes.

Meseta de Pyramides, Chiribiquete, Colombia. Photo credit: Mark Plotkin

Mongabay: And what about beyond Colombia?

Of course, there are other signature projects elsewhere. In the northeast Amazon, we have successfully partnered with local Indigenous peoples to help them bring no fewer than five non-timber products to market, with more in the pipeline. As far as I know, our Indigenous Ranger Program in the same region is the one of the first and longest running programs of this type in lowland South America. And our Shamans and Apprentices Program – facilitating the transfer of intragenerational healing wisdom within the tribe has been similarly effective.

And mapping: We are extremely proud of the fact that ACT – under the leadership of our ace cartographer Brian Hettler – has partnered with over 90 Indigenous groups to train them to map their own lands.

Furthermore, we have created highly innovative “Story Maps” for a variety of purposes. My two favorites are “The Life and Times of Richard Schultes” and “Lands of Freedom focusing on the oral history and history of the Matawai Maroons of Suriname, a landmark in documenting the African American diaspora.

Mongabay: Returning to the subject of Colombia, despite relatively progressive policies around Indigenous rights and conservation, Colombia’s deforestation rate has been climbing. What do you see as the key elements to reversing this trend?

Mark Plotkin: Apparently, the Presidents of both Colombia and Costa Rica were hailed as heroes at the recent COP meetings, based largely on programs and projects largely enacted by predecessors.

Tree cover loss and primary forest loss in Colombia from 2002 to 2020 according to data from Hansen et al 2021.
Tree cover loss and primary forest loss in Colombia from 2002 to 2020 according to data from Hansen et al 2021.

We need both the carrot and the stick to move forward in the sense that positive moves need to be celebrated while destructive moves are punished by economic responses, not just in the tropics but here in the industrialized world as well.

The concentration of wealth also needs to be called out: That more and more of the world’s wealth is the hands of the few, especially those few who have little connection to nature, bodes ill for the future. It is encouraging to see more billionaires writing checks for progressive causes but — with some very noteworthy exceptions — they are not giving their support to the most effective grassroots organizations, despite a lot of blather about “impact investing.”

The bottom line: We need to more effectively celebrate or criticize politicians and businesspeople for their actions. We also need to make sure much more training, opportunity and support are reaching communities at the grassroots level. And we need to do what we can to reorient our society and our economy to stop glorifying profits at all costs and promoting short-term gratification planning, thinking and operations which is fouling our global nest at an ever more frantic pace.

Mongabay: Beyond what you’ve mentioned so far, what do you see as the biggest gaps in the conservation sector? What is holding conservation back from having greater impact?

Mark Plotkin: One need is better analysis: What is the cost of pouring mercury into the Amazon in terms of human suffering and increased cancers? Of course, presenting the cost-benefit equation alone as a simple solution is far too reductionist. Throughout the course of human prehistory (e.g., the overhunting and extinction of animals as varied as the American mammoth and the Steller’s sea cow) and history (deforestation of the Mediterranean countries, DDT as a pesticide, voting against one’s economic self-interest, etc.), people have always carried out self-destructive practices.

Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.
Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Yet better explanation of costs and benefits, better elucidation of the spiritual components of environmental stewardship and better prosecution of environmental destroyers would bode well for the future. Many environmentalists forget: It was evangelicals who spoke in support of and fought to protect the Endangered Species Act when it was threatened in the 1980s. Better bridge-building in our ever more politically polarized world in the U.S. could conceivably bring many benefits.

Mongabay: Do you think the pandemic will teach us anything about how to do conservation better?

Mark Plotkin: I penned an editorial for the Los Angeles Review of Books, titled “Conservation and Coronavirus,” that described the link between the rise of the novel coronavirus and the abuse of nature in general and the wildlife trade in particular, and asserted that the best way to head off the next pandemic was to reset and rethink much of the unethical and needlessly cruel exploitation of Mother Nature, from deforestation to cramming animals into fetid cages. Many, many others have spoken to the same issues. Time will tell if there were lessons learned from the pandemic. In the short term, I am not seeing the changes necessary.

Mongabay: You’re the author of several acclaimed books, have appeared in numerous documentaries, and host a successful podcast. What would you tell younger colleagues about the importance of storytelling?

Mark Plotkin: I start with two advantages. First, I hail from New Orleans, where good storytelling is a highly celebrated practice. Not only is it a city where many great writers and storytellers were born, but even some of our most celebrated authors who weren’t raised there, like Twain and Faulkner, had their careers and abilities turbocharged by spending time in New Orleans. I have also spent much of the past four decades working with traditional storytellers in Indigenous cultures where being able to make a point through a tale well told is of paramount importance.

Secondly, I have spent much of my career working with Indigenous peoples where (once again) storytelling represents an essential craft.

The single best book I have every read about learning how to tell a story – whether it is while sitting around a campfire in the wilderness or composing a script for Netflix – is “The Writer’s Journey,” by Chris Vogler. The author explains Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” through the prism of Hollywood films and explains why and how “The Wizard of Oz,” “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” are the same basic story. Every storyteller should read this book!

Mark Plotkin with Amasina and other medicine men. Photo credit: ACT
Mark Plotkin with Amasina and other medicine men. Photo credit: ACT

Finally, I would say that our industrialized society and our educational system have long undervalued the importance of telling an effective story. Whether you are a prosecutor trying to convince a jury, or a fundraiser trying to convince a donor, or a conservationist trying to convince a government official, you must be able to convey the information in a clear and compelling manner.

Mongabay: What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in conservation?

Mark Plotkin: It is very easy for everyone – not just young people – to be discouraged by the global environmental situation: deforestation, wildfires, pollution, climate change, etc. – the list is long and seemingly endless. However, nothing is worse than doing nothing because you can’t do everything.

Monumental change IS possible, although you do not often see it featured in the media. Just look at Mongabay: even with the all the heartbreaking stories, there are always accounts of new ideas, initiatives, and successes. I concluded my most recent book as follows: “When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, people habitually threw litter out their car windows, smoked cigarettes in offices and on airplanes, shunned seatbelts and assumed the Berlin Wall would never come down. With enough changed minds come changed policies and realities.”

Rainforest creek in the Colombian Amazon. Image by Rhett A. Butler.

So to modify a much quoted aphorism: be and create the change to want to see. The shamans with whom I have had the honor and privilege to learn from for almost four decades insist on the interconnectedness of all things, be it deforestation or racism or elephant poaching or poverty or climate change. I certainly believe the world needs more ethnobotanists and other boundary walkers who can straddle different cultures and belief systems, but I also know that we need more lawyers and politicians and spiritual leaders and politicians and artists and businesspeople to join the cause. Environmental justice and stewardship are way too important to be left solely to environmentalists!