Today, the Amazon Rainforest is a very different place than it was when the Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana first navigated through its river in 1542. The forest has been around for 55 million years on the South American continent (e. g. Maslin et al. 2005) but through decades of deforestation, climate change, agriculture, and population growth, the Amazon Rainforest is facing a point of destruction. In Brazil, at the rate of deforestation of 20,000 km2/ year, the entire Legal Amazonia of Brazil will be gone in 200 years (e. g. Andersen et al. 2007).
If we continue to overuse and abuse the Amazon, we are going to lose a natural wonder that not only inhabits a vast majority of biodiversity and natural resource, but also a global climate stabilizer. We all have stakes in this global tragedy, but there are arguments over the best mean to conserve the Amazon Rainforest. In this paper, I will argue that best ethical means to conserve and protect the rainforests is through the development of the Indigenous people of the Amazon based on an ethics of Consequentialism, Utilitarianism, and an ethics of duty.
In this paper, I will attempt to use ethical theories as support for developing the indigenous people of the Amazon in order to conserve the rainforests along with examples of present projects which have proven successful in this type of development. When it comes to the conservation of the Amazon, it makes sense that the people who must play a great role in this project is the people who have lived in these forest since the arrival of the first humans to the Americas 16,000 to 20,000 years ago (Bonatto and Salzano 1996).
The people of the Amazon have relied on the forest for food, medicine, and resources for thousands of years before the colonization by Europeans in the 1500’s. The natives of the Amazons revere the forests and the animals it contains. If any group of people is more qualified to play a major part in the conservation of the Amazon, it is the people of the forest. But in this Westernized world, the natives are often taken advantage of by CEO’s and corporations who want to take their land in order to create farms or use them as a means of cheap labor.
Even some of the ecotourism programs in the Amazons that are suppose to benefit the natives do not fully compensate them and keep them in poverty. Some of the natives do not have the same concept of land ownership or monetary profit as we do in our societies. The exploitations of the indigenous people have kept them in poverty and have decimated the forests. This is why it is important that we develop the indigenous people of the Amazon so as to better combat the injustices of those exploitations through the means of better educations, better health systems, land ownership, and law education.
Ethics are used as reasoned justification to support good character and right actions. Different ethical theories are used to justify different topics as ethical or unethical. One of the types of ethical theories is Consequentialism which I will use as support for the development of indigenous people as a means for forest conservation. According to consequentialism, morality is based on the consequences of the actions. If we continue to ignore the dangers to the Amazon rainforest and continue to exploit the natives of the forests, the consequences of our actions will be dramatic climate change, loss of biodiversity, among other consequences.
The type of consequentialism that better explains this support of development is an ethic of Utilitarianism. According to Utilitarianism, actions are done for the interests of all. If we try to conserve the Amazon without conserving and strengthening the cultures and lives of the indigenous population, then we are excluding the interests of some and probably will not achieve total conservation. The knowledge that the indigenous people have to offer to us about the Amazon is invaluable to conserve the forests, and without putting their interests in mind, then it will be lost.
Another theory of ethics that would support the development of indigenous people in the Amazon is an ethic of duty, more specifically and ethic of care. As noted before, who is better suited at conserving the rainforest than the people that have been living on and off the Amazon for thousands of years. These people care about this rainforest so are duty obligated to care for it. Moreover, living in the forests for thousands of years, navigating through its trees and hunting its animals have given them certain sets of skills and competence in the region that we do not have.
But this ethic of care is not only narrowed to the indigenous people of the Amazon, but also to the world that is trying to conserve The Amazon and the climate. We have an ethic of care to our environment and the preservation of the rainforests in order to preserve our environment. So, by caring for the indigenous population of the Amazon, we form a sort of social contract with the natives in which we care and help in their development and they in turn conserve the Amazon.
In this we are able to form a fiduciary obligation in which we trusts the other party to have our benefits in goal, creating a more collaborative world. As a case study, I will be using the Archur people of Southern Ecuador as an example of successful collaboration between indigenous people and the private sector in sustaining development in both the Archur and the forest they inhabit. The Archur have formed an ecotourism project along with the private sector to create Kapawi, an ecolodge that hosts tourists and provides tours of the forests by the natives themselves.
This project, instead of putting ownership into private hands, leases the land to the Archur with long-term autonomous management by the Archur as the goal. The Archur are able to gain monetary gain from the guests they host and the private sector provides the Archur with the knowledge to sustain the project. Kapawi does not produce as much monetary gain as other projects such as oil drilling or cattle ranching would produce, but its goal is based on sustainability instead of profit.
This, more than anything, shows an ethic of utilitarianism as the interests of all parties are acknowledged. Kapawi allows for the Archur to preserve its culture. If Kapawi was not established, the Archur would have had to find other means of income through cattle ranching or farming. This would have led to deforestation to make land to produce cattle or agriculture. By giving the Archur Kapawi as a means of income, they will be able to preserve not only their culture, but also the forests that they live in and the animals they live alongside with.
In conclusion, imagine a world where the place of the greatest amount of biodiversity any of us have ever seen disappeared due to inability to sustain and conserve our resources and to care for our own kind. We all know that the consequences of losing the Amazon is too great so we must make it our priority to conserve it, but we must do it in collaboration with the indigenous populations in order to maximize our chances of reversing deforestation and climate change.
Developing indigenous populations does not just serve the practical reasoning of conserving our Amazon, but it also serves an ethical one. We do not just have to show an ethical obligation to these people just so they can serve a purpose for us, but we also have an ethical obligation to care for these people just as they have cared for our forests throughout the years. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught. ” — Baba Dioum