On December 15, 2012, Tião Viana, the governor of the State of Acre, Brazil, awarded the National/International Chico Mendes Forest Citizenry Prize to Dr. Irving Foster Brown, a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. The award ceremony was held at the Rio Branco (Acre, Brazil) Palace, on the birthday of the late Chico Mendes, the famed rubber tapper movement leader.
Declaring the prize a synthesis of responsibility for the future, Governor Viana said that it symbolizes the need “to respect and preserve life in the broadest possible terms, of all living beings in the ecosystem” for future generations.
Chico Mendes was an environmentalist and champion of human rights for Brazilian peasants and indigenous peoples. He was assassinated in 1988. At the presentation, his son, Sandino Mendes, said that the prize affirms that his father’s fight was not in vain. “There are others who think the same way he did – people fighting for the same things,” said Mendes. “My father never imagined that he’d become a national hero.”
The interim president of the Acre senate, Anibal Dinz, said that it was an honor to participate in an award ceremony that recognizes actions that promote sustainability and environmental preservation. “Chico Mendes was a pivotal figure in our lives. From Chico we got our concept of the world, of government, and through his battles we were inspired to begin our project, which is a project of sustainability,” said Dinz.
Dr. Brown was unable to attend the award ceremony. In his absence, his wife, Dr. Vera Reis, accepted the award and delivered his speech. Dr. Brown was grateful for the recognition, but reinforced the fact that society has to evolve to the point where protection of natural treasures is the norm. He pointed out that every year the planet suffers more from degradation, a fact that is reflected in climate change and how it interferes directly with the lives of every living being. “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 – has been elevated by more than 20% by human influence.”
Quoting from the Earth Charter upon closing, he said, “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. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. 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.” He added that his work is a continuation of a small part of that in which Chico Mendes believed.
Irving Foster Brown holds a Ph.D. in geochemistry from Northwestern University. His work revolves around the dynamics of land use and forestry, education and management of natural resources, and global change. He is a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and a researcher at the Botanical Park and Zoo at the Federal University of Acre. He is the current science coordinator of MAP (Madre-de-dios-Peru, Acre-Brazil, and Pando-Bolivia) of the Woods Hole Research Center and the Federal University of Acre, whose work in sustainable development of the tri-national frontier is widely recognized.
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