June 11th, 2012, Dartmouth, MA – The current disagreements over utilization of land in the Amazon region boils down to a foundational socio-environmental issue of failure to recognize the land as an anthropogenic landscape. There are many diverse groups of people living in the region, and therefore, many social actors whom have different views of the land. These different views are demonstrated in areas of deforestation and preservation, however, the extent of how much power and say each group truly has in terms of environmental issues is displayed by these areas as well.
It is apparent that for the past 40 years, spontaneous state-led development has lead to hasty deforestation by means large-scale industries, such as mining, as well as large-scale farms associated with global market production of soy. This exhibits how social actors with the most influence of power in environmental matters have been the elite, where wealthy farmers and exogenous industries have facilitated the mass deforestation of the Amazon. With the elite having weighted say in governmental policies overseeing environmentally destructive action, it is clear that impunity has lead to a culture of corruption in the Amazon. In broad terms, impunity allows for the elite to be excused from the law, which leads to the invested interest in keeping the law enforcement from becoming too powerful and widespread.
The social actors whom have less of a voice in Amazonian environmental matters, include everyone else, being quilombos, whom are descendants of escaped slaves, squatters, coboclos, small scale farmers, grileisos/ land grabbers, sem terras, whom are landless miners, and indigenous peoples. Each group listed has a different view of the landscape, however, the group that identifies most with the environment includes the indigenous. Natives to the Amazon have descendants with roots dating back to nearly 11,000 years ago, proven by cave paintings intact on Serra da Lua and at Caverna da Itatupaoca in Monte Alegre, PA, Brazil. These first inhabitants helped create the bio diverse ecosystem that makes up the Amazon by cultivating the original infertile soil to sustain themselves, leading to human selection of plant species. With this history, it is evident that humans have in part made this environment. Understanding this concept means identifying the Amazon as an anthropogenic landscape and mentally destructing the wall between nature and culture.
The implications of neglecting this historical background when shaping ones view of the landscape, in terms of preservation and development, is directly prevalent in the current environmental debates over the Amazon region. The economic-minded elite, whom only account for human needs and neglect the environment, shape the scale of development by facilitating deforestation and spontaneous development. The implications of leaving either the considerations of nature or culture out of environmental debates results an extremely ill balanced Amazon. If both are equally considered, however, by modeling how indigenous view the landscape, then more sensible solutions about balancing preservation and development can arise. Environmental policies in the Amazon must be recognized as a socio-environmental matter, one that equally accounts for the two most important foundations of the region, humans and nature.