- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Greens vs. the impoverished inhabitants

The only way to understand the forces at play in the battle between the environmental movement and the timber companies that harvest lumber in the Amazon Rainforest is to witness life there, even if only for a brief time.

To hear the cries of international environmental groups, this land of soaring temperatures and swarming insects is a paradise being systematically destroyed by the ravages of man.

My own experience took me deep into this massive jungle, whereupon my brow and clothes became drenched in sweat within minutes. Insects began feasting on my flesh with reckless abandon. Mosquitoes, gnats, chiggers, and assorted creatures swarmed upon me. Soon, the red ants started their mission. They're the hostile, flesh-munching ones.

Before long, I was watching a logger's chainsaw blade cut into the trunk of a 140-foot high piquia tree, and my thoughts drifted off to Julia “Butterfly” Hill.

Miss Hill, you may recall, was the young woman who lived in a California Redwood for a couple of years to protest logging operations. She affectionately named the tree “Luna,” and said when a tree is cut, she feels it “as surely as if the chainsaw was going through me.”

As I reflected on her wisdom, I felt a sharp pain. Was she right? Was I feeling the piquia's pain? No, just an opportunistic red ant cutting into my flesh.

Meanwhile, the towering piquia came crashing to the jungle floor in an ear piercing crackle. I looked around. No one seemed upset. I briefly pondered whether these men, like Julia and others believe, were indeed evil; whether they were destroying this paradise. Had they any soul at all?

I then remembered that only nutcakes live in trees feeling the pain of plants, and my ponderings ceased.

The Amazon, for all the green-group hype, is roughly 90 percent intact more so if you account for natural regeneration, the process by which the forest regrows itself. The Amazon is nearly as big as the continental United States and is one of the most intact forests on the planet, despite the alarmist rhetoric of the greens.

These are the people who seek to disrupt and end the operations of companies like Precious Woods Amazon, which practices sustainable logging here.

Pepper Stebbins, the sales manager, explained that Precious Woods engages in logging with minimal environmental impact and promotes regeneration of the forest. After all, if the forest goes away, the company goes out of business.

We then drove to Itacoatiara, a town of about 60,000 at the mouth of the Amazon River. It is a town littered with makeshift shacks, some with table and chairs set up to serve a drink or a snack a homage to bootstrap capitalism. The town has little industry, save for nearby logging operations, and unemployment hovers between 80 and 90 percent.

Those lucky enough to have jobs in the timber industry cannot leave their homes unattended for even a single night, lest roving gangs of teen-age thieves break in. Leave for a weeklong vacation and it's virtually assured nothing will be left in your home.

There is no hot water in Itacoatiara. Three smoke-belching diesel generators provide intermittent electricity. Telephone service is prone to interference. Trash is dumped into open fields and left for the more unfortunate residents to join the birds, rodents and stray dogs and cats to rummage through. Adequate health care is a three-hour car ride away.

Despite the lack of industry, high unemployment, rampant crime, and the pollution that so often accompanies poverty, international environmentalists oppose projects that would bring jobs and infrastructure to the area. This opposition comes in spite of the fact that many who oppose such development have never witnessed life among the people who live here.

What choice are the greens giving those they've never met? Dire poverty and misery for humans in the name of preserving a forest that, by all rational accounts, is not endangered?

The greens claim the moral high ground in opposing development, but as one Brazilian noted, millions of dollars will be spent researching a monkey no one has heard of, but not one dime will be spent to ease human suffering.

Jayni Chase, wife of actor Chevy Chase and head of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, justifies opposition to infrastructure projects in Brazil because she's “trying to think long-term, not just feed your child tomorrow. We're trying to think long-term.”

Maybe Mrs. Chase and the other greens should move to Itacoatiara with their children and stay there until they figure out a way for man and nature to coexist. Or at least until they get tired of listening to their kids complain about starving.

While driving out of the town, I saw smoke rise from the charred remains of tree stumps that were being cleared for agriculture, and another sharp pain welled inside of me. The pained spirit of Luna? Another red ant?

No, it appeared the previous night's tambaqui fish dinner did not agree with me.

Marc Morano is a senior staff writer for CNSNews.com who recently returned from an investigative visit to the Amazon Rainforest.

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