I’d like to thank all those involved in selecting me, for the honor this award carries.
I’d also like to thank some special people who have helped me in my long journey here in Acre and on this planet.
Chico Mendes, who I met and exchanged ideas with only two weeks before his death – enough time to understand that he had a different way of seeing the world, or as we say in academia, that he provoked a paradigm shift. He perceived that the fight for human rights is intertwined with the health of our planet.
The second person I wish to thank is Leonardo Boff, who managed to combine a biogeochemical vision of the earth, which I studied for my PhD, with spirituality, something not normally treated by science.
The third person who reinforced this message was Friar Heitor Turrini, who for 50 years worked as a missionary in Sena Madureira, in defense of the poor and of the forest. He taught me that God is in everything, and that trees have souls and they can smile. Even though he is now in Italy, he continues to worry about Amazonia and always asks me: “Foster, are you looking after the poor and the forest?”
Right now I am helping a Peruvian priest – René Salizar – who coordinates a group within the MAP Initiative (Madre de Dios -Peru, Acre-Brazil and Pando- Bolivia). When I speak about the Mini-MAP on Human Rights, he always corrects me – “Human and Environmental Rights” – because he also cannot see a distinction between human beings and the planet.
It was through this Mini-MAP on Human and Environmental Rights that I also came to know a young Haitian, Esdras Hector. Esdras showed me the beauty of solidarity when I saw him, after working for several months in Rio Branco as a mason’s helper, go back to Brasileia, Acre, to teach ‘survival’ Portuguese to more than 100 of his fellow countrymen.
Unfortunately at this time on Planet Earth we are on a path to unsustainability. One simple indication of this is the change in composition of the atmosphere. During my life the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas that helps control the temperature and energy balance of the Earth – rose more than 20% due to human influence. We now have 392 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere and this increase is accelerating to 2 ppm per year. This is a clear sign that we are on an unsustainable course to changing the climate that civilization has lived with for the past centuries.
We are already seeing the effects of this increase with the intensification of the water cycle, promoting more intense rainstorms and droughts that are ever more severe. The people most vulnerable to these changes are generally the poor and the ecosystems most vulnerable are forests.
The continuation of current trends promises future grief for humanity and for Planet Earth. Chico Mendes had another vision that Leonardo Boff contemplated in his profound reflections, that we can live in harmony among ourselves and with nature. Marina Silva [former rubber tapper, Brazilian Senator, Minister of the Environment, and 2010 presidential candidate] continues to be a unique inspiration to disseminate this vision. The example of her life gives us strength and faith to overcome barriers that separate people from each other and from nature.
To address Friar Turrini’s question, about whether we are looking after the poor and the forest, means that we have to change course. One of the steps on this new course is to stop altering the composition of the atmosphere. A second step is to undo the degradation that we have already caused, restoring the Earth. This change demands scientific understanding, but something else more important: the conviction that our survival and well being are intimately linked to the health of our planet. The actions derived from science and this conviction need to happen in thousands of places on this planet.
So I ask you to work together so that one of those places may be here in Acre.
I’d like to finish with a few lines from the Earth Charter1:
“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise… We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.”
We can be instruments of this process individually, but more importantly, as a united society.
Irving Foster Brown
December 15, 2012, Rio Branco, Acre, Brazil
This speech was delivered at the award ceremony in Acre, Brazil, by Foster’s wife, Dr. Vera Lucia Reis, due to his absence for a family matter.
The speech was also read on the floor of the Brazilian Senate on December 17, 2012, by Senator Aníbal Diniz: http://www.senado.gov.br/atividade/pronunciamento/detTexto.asp?t=396692