Safeguarding Amazonia

Amazonia is the world’s largest and most diverse tropical forest and the ancestral home of millions of indigenous peoples. Brazil contains about sixty percent of the rainforest. Threatened by deforestation, illegal activities, and fires, the Brazilian Amazon is a massive carbon sink that is fast approaching a tipping point (in the past fifty years, close to 20 percent of the rainforest has already been lost). Further degradation will have disastrous consequences for forest peoples, biodiversity, rainfall and agriculture, and global climate change. 

Amazonia on fire by Araquém Alcântara

Amazonia on fire. Courtesy of Araquém Alcântara.

Since its inception, the Brazil LAB has promoted novel research collaborations aimed at safeguarding the Amazon for Brazil and the planet. We created our first research hub in dialogue with the pioneering work of the Brazilian scientist and policy-maker José Goldemberg, who explored Brazil’s capacities for large-scale technological innovations that could circumvent inefficient and environmentally damaging paths. Working together with Princeton’s innovative scientific community, we developed the concept of Amazonian Leapfrogging and in Fall 2019 convened an international conference to set an ambitious research agenda for a thriving Amazonia. The conference generated creative partnerships and endeavors that combine science, social science, advocacy and policy-making, and alternative story-telling. 

The LAB’s Safeguarding Amazonia hub works closely with the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) and is also collaborating with key Brazilians organizations (such as MapBiomas, Amazônia 2030, Imazon, Igarapé, and Serrapilheira), in projects related to  biodiversity, reforestation, and Amazonian socip-economic development. 

MapBiomas map

Map of the Amazonian region land use. Courtesy of MapBiomas.

We are currently expanding the LAB’s partnership with the MapBiomas network, led by environmentalist Tasso Azevedo. Relying on satellite imagery, cloud computing, and machine learning, MapBiomas is producing big data on land use and land cover change in Brazil and devising strategies to bring evidence to bear on environmental policy. Together, we are opening a new area of study, focusing on land use change, alteration in waterways, and fire scars in rainforest belts in South America, Africa, and Asia. Through the MapBiomas Global initiative, we seek to transfer of MapBiomas’ cutting-edge methodology to the Congo rainforest and basin and integrate it into various Princeton environmental related research and teaching.  Our annual Wintersession Workshop Safeguarding Amazonia brings undergraduate and graduate students and members of the larger Princeton community into the MapBiomas Global initiative.

In the long run, the Safeguarding Amazonia hub seeks to make pivotal intellectual and policy-making contributions for stakeholders to better estimate levels of emission and capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions (GHG); to address sustainable land use challenges; and to increase the capacity to fight deforestation and forest degradation and to conserve planetary biodiversity. Drawing from this original big data and mapping enterprise, scholars will be able to produce new and integrated scientific knowledge.

Indigenous girl with a monkey by Araquem Alcantara

Courtesy of Araquém Alcântara.

We are very excited with  the new initiative on Planetary Health and Indigenous Ecologies of Knowledges that Princeton Global Scholar Carlos Fausto is piloting in collaboration with João Biehl and other scholars affiliated with the Department of Anthropology, HMEI, and Princeton’s Indigenous Studies Initiative. For the last fifteen thousand years, Amazonian indigenous peoples have been creating their own original civilizational forms in close relationship with the rainforest, which is both the producer and the outcome of these living forms. Understanding these co-evolving systems of human-nature interactions (historically and in the present) is crucial for the survival of the Amazon. There will be no future if this millennial on-the-ground knowledge does not become part of our efforts to solve the current environmental crisis. Through archaeological, ecological and ethnographic studies, and with the active participation of indigenous peoples, this venture connects Amazonian ecologies of knowledges with new ways of mapping, visualizing and narrating a possible future for the forest’s biocultural diversity. The initiative takes the lead from Brazilian indigenous peoples and their leaders, such as Ailton Krenak, who urges us to “abandon anthropocentrism” and “stop selling out our tomorrow.” Instead, we shall harness indigenous ecological knowledges that can counter our civilization’s modus operandi that “suppresses diversity and negates the plurality of forms of life and existence.”