Safeguarding Amazonia: Our Generation's Defining Story

Monday, May 9, 2022

On May 5-6, 2022, the Brazil LAB hosted the conference Amazonian Leapfrogging: Tackling the Climate Crisis and Social Inequality with Nature-Based Solutions, which brought to campus programs and scholars who care deeply about safeguarding Amazonia. The event was organized together with the High Meadows Environmental Institute, the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and the Amazônia 2030 initiative (co-sponsored by the Program in Latin American Studies and the University Center for Human Values).

The home of hundreds of Indigenous groups, Amazonia has more species of animals and plants than any other ecosystem, and it is a major carbon sink that remains under threat. Without the conservation of the Amazon, chances to fulfill the Paris Agreement commitments are greatly imperiled.

Since 2019, when we hosted the first Amazonian Leapfrogging conference, the situation in the Brazilian Amazon further degraded. Under an authoritarian government, we have witnessed an accelerated march of extractivism and illegality in the rainforest and extreme violence against Indigenous peoples amid generalized poor living standards. 

Brazil LAB director João Biehl noted in his opening remarks that “the past three years have also been marked by an unprecedented push to put Amazonia—the forest, its peoples, biodiversity and environmental services—at the center of the creative mobilization of scientists, Indigenous and environmental activists, policymakers, business innovators and social entrepreneurs, and especially young people.” Some of these very best hearts and minds participated in the conference, sharing their knowledge on how climate change is already impacting the region. They presented alternative evidence and probed ways of fusing conservation and socioeconomic development for an Amazonian Leapfrogging.

“We should remember that we cannot save nature unless we save people protecting it,” the young Indigenous Txai Suruí powerfully noted at the start of the conference. Txai Suruí was very moved by her meeting on Wednesday, May 4, with Princeton’s Indigenous and Native American students and opened her remarks expressing her “solidarity with the Indigenous nations who come from this place.”

As Txai Suruí spoke, the question “Where are the Yanomami?” was projected on the conference screen. Hers was an urgent call to find a threatened Amazonian Indigenous community that had recently vanished and to hold accountable the Brazilian state and the illegal invaders of their lands. This call was echoed by the Indigenous leader Juma Xipaya, also present at the conference, who time and again stated that “we, Indigenous peoples, are protecting the forests with our own bodies.”

Conference participants affirmed their solidarity with the struggles of Indigenous peoples and their call for protection, rights, and wellbeing. As Txai Suruí noted: “Everyone must understand the importance of the forests and of Indigenous peoples in attaining climate justice and for the future of our planet. We need genuine concrete action in order to keep on fighting for all of our lives.”

Portrait of Amazonian Leapfrogging conference participants

Photo: David Dooley/Fotobuddy.

On the conference’s second day, invited participants presented environmental, social scientific and policy research developed through the Amazônia 2030 initiative. Pairing Brazilian and Princeton scholars, the sessions were structured around key themes: Curbing Amazonian Deforestation; Biodiversity and Forest Restoration; Fighting Poverty and Violence; Scaling Up Amazonian Bioeconomies; Designing Infrastructures and Harnessing Investments for a Flourishing Amazonia; and the Future of the Rainforest in the Ballot Box.

Princeton’s service to humanity passes through the safeguarding of the Amazon—a critical nexus in the fight for the planet’s green shift.