“In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a ‘culture of waste’ and an extractivist mentality prevail” — from “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” the preparatory document of the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazon Region.
Bishop Eugenio Coter, Bolivian coordinator of the Pan-Amazonian Church Network which is involved with the synod preparations, recently spoke in St. Louis about the need for ecological conversion, as Pope Francis explained in his groundbreaking encyclical on the topic. Bishop Coter noted that the concern is especially being articulated worldwide by young people who fear for the future. This awareness and an urgency to act needs to spread throughout the world, not just in the Amazon region.
The synod document points out that the Amazon Basin encompasses one of the planet’s largest reserves of biodiversity — 30 to 50 percent of the world’s flora and fauna and 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. It includes more than a third of the planet’s forests.
Through the years, the people of the Amazon Basin survived on the land and forest, watching over the rivers and the land, just as the land cares for them. The synod document explains that the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests. Logging, agricultural toxins, oil spills, mining and other activities have contaminated the water and created social inequities. Many indigenous people are moving from their native lands to the cities.
Just one example comes from Thomas E. Lovejoy, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, and Carlos Nobre, a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and Senior Fellow of World Resources Institute Brazil. Writing a year ago in Science Advances, their analysis shows that deforestation, climate change and widespread use of fire indicate a tipping point for the Amazon system to flip to non-forest ecosystems.
This destruction of nature with little regard for it and the indigenous people must be stopped. And it’s not just limited to the Amazon. It applies here in the United States as well.
“The dominant culture of consumerism and waste turns the planet into one giant landfill. The pope denounces this model of development as faceless, suffocating and motherless, and as obsessed only with material good and the idols of money and power,” the synod document states.
The papal encyclical, “Laudato si’ (On Care for Our Common Home)” invites people to an ecological conversion that implies a new way of life. This conversion means freeing ourselves from the obsession with consumerism. “Ecological conversion means embracing the mystically interconnected and interdependent nature of all creation,” the synod document states, echoing the themes of the encyclical. “This is something that Western cultures can, and perhaps should, learn from traditional Amazonian cultures and from other places and communities on the planet.”
The indigenous people of the Amazon have much to teach us. We are called to to listen to them, to our own conversion and to speak for them.