“The forest is alive. It can only die if the whites continue destroying it. If they do, rivers will disappear under the earth, the soil will crumble, the trees will wither, and the stones will melt in the heat. A desiccated earth will become empty and silent. The Xapiri spirits who came down from the mountains to play on their mirrors will flee far away. Their fathers, the shamans, will no longer be able to call them and to make them dance to protect us. They will be unable to push back the smoke of the epidemics that are devouring us. They will no longer be able to contain the evil spirits that will turn the forest into chaos. We will die one after the other, the white as much as us. All the shamans will finish by dying out. If none of them survive to hold on to it, the sky will fall.” —Davi Kopenawa Yanomami Shaman
Davi Kopenawa is a messenger for our time.
PUBLISHED: THE HILL: Changing America by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor | Originally published on March 24, 2021
It is a most vital and perhaps the most urgent singular Indigenous voice Davi Kopenawa brings to the outside world in his book “The Falling Sky” published in 2010: it is the conscience of the rainforest itself unlike anything we have witnessed this century. It embodies the mind of the Amazon and narrates the journey into the rarefied, inner landscape of the shamanic world. Davi, called the Dalai Lama of the Rainforest, speaks words composed of myth, of thunder and lightning and spirit beings honored since time immemorial, whose chorus is dwindling in light of what remains of the largest rainforest on Earth. Narrated by a Yanomami shaman it is a revelation of an Indigenous people facing the onslaught of the dominant society felling and desecrating their forest home.
Davi wants white people and foreigners of the world to know what is happening to the forest and his people the Yanomami of southern Venezuela and Northern Brazil, a tribe of about 35,000, and what will ultimately happen to us all if the life force of the Amazon is lost.
About 30 years ago, miners killed 16 of their tribe, including a baby in Haximu village. Five miners were guilty of genocide. More recently miners from northern Brazil were confronted by two Yanomami, who died in the encounter. 2019 finally launched the global campaign to expel 20,000 gold miners who are illegally prospecting on Yanomami land. The future of the Yanomami may very well rest on how this epic struggle is resolved.
Thomas Lovejoy, who has been teaching climate change biology for 30 years and introduced the term biological diversity, along with other ecologists have long warned that mining, palm plantations, and cattle could destroy the hydrological cycle of the Amazon. Some even believe the time is now to monetize the forest in a green economy, which includes aquaculture, medical and plant knowledge and a resources base that actually looks to make the Amazon invaluable for the future. The time is now to put a price on what can renewably be cultivated from biodiversity’s “greatest showroom” the “living library” of the Amazon according to Lovejoy.
The Swiss firm Re estimates that half of the global GDP of $42 trillion depends on resilient biodiversity. Robert Costanza, an ecological economist, says the ecosystem yearly yields a return of 100 to 1. Some like Timothy Weiskel, formerly at the Harvard Divinity School, are outraged by the notion of affixing a price tag or cost benefit analysis to ecosystems. But Costanza believes it is a way of seeing nature in a pragmatic way, by putting numbers on the overall destruction and loss that results in biospheric damage. Acting on this will be the hard part but perhaps a key way to persuade policymakers to see the actual cost of exploitation. Planetary accounting writ very large.
Costanza notes that the biosphere can yearly be valued at 33 trillion dollars not as mere commodity but in terms of renewable value. The value for humanity and life on Earth may seem counterintuitive, because it is ultimately priceless, but if one attaches a monetary value to the resource base of let’s say a forest, then it becomes more tangible. One of the challenges we face is to calculate the metrics of what ecosystems are worth in monetary terms. It would be mandated by government in everything from bond markets to investment banking so that nature, our life support system, is included in the decision-making financial system. So far nature has been left out of the economic balance sheet. If humanity wishes to survive, some say, we can no longer allow this separation.