With approximately 8 million km² of territory, the Pan Amazon crosses nine countries and is home to nearly half of the planet’s tropical forests and the world’s largest hydrographic network. It contains the largest carbon reserves and coexists with one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. It is also home to one of the world’s greatest ethno-cultural diversities, with more than 250 indigenous communities speaking more than 180 different languages. The so-called “land of superlatives” is an immense GHG sink and, in the context of a global climate emergency, it is essential that this carbon is not released into the atmosphere so that global temperatures do not rise further.
To a large extent, the conservation of the Amazon depends on a set of public policies that need to be inclusive, equitable, and assertive in the goal of achieving sustainable development in the region. That is why the Brazilian elections of 2022 may be decisive for the future of the region and the planet. “This might be the most important election in the world because what happens in Brazil this year is going to dictate what is going to happen for the rest of time for the human race. If the Amazon goes, we all go”, warned British climate activist Tiana Jacout.
Currently working with the Mother Earth Delegation of United Original Nations, “which aims to gather all the tribes globally to bring their wisdom into the forefront of the climate crisis fight”, Jacout previously worked with the Extinction Rebellion UK, a socio-political movement that encourages collective action for the socio-environmental agenda. In an interview to Amazoniar team, Jacout spoke about the vital importance of the Amazon for the planet, how the current lack of policies to protect it and its peoples affects Brazil’s reputation internationally, and what people from other countries could do for its conservation.
Check out the interview:
How did you get involved with the climate justice agenda?
I got involved with it because I was born on this planet at this time. I don’t think you can be alive right now and not be informed about what’s happening. If you want to do something about it, you either try and gain some political power or you become an activist. So I became an activist and helped start the Extinction Rebellion in the UK and it is now all over the world. I really struggled with the Western concept of climate change: although it was very science-based, which is great, it was just about CO2 emissions and the recognition of our relationship with the planet is also a very important part. I mean the change within our own minds and the recognition of the importance of indigenous peoples, who have been around for so much longer than the Western world, especially in the Amazon – they were there for thousands of years and it flourished. So the indigenous voice is really important in this fight on a global scale. So I started to work for an organization called the Mother Earth Delegation of United Original Nations, which is trying to gather all the tribes globally and bring their wisdom into the forefront of this fight.
You’ve worked in the Amazonian territory, too. What was this experience about?
I was invited down because of Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who is one of the leaders of the Yanomami community. They had a vision that three children were going to help shift things and Greta Thunberg was one of them. So they saw what was happening in Europe at the time, and the Extinction Rebellion was exploding along with the Fridays for Future, so adults and kids were simultaneously coming up around this issue. And so they invited us to come to the Amazon and see what was really happening. So me and a couple of the Extinction Rebellion youth representatives, together with three girls from Fridays for Future, we all went to the Amazon, to the Kayapo region, with chiefs from all over and quilombolas. It was an extraordinary meeting just before the pandemic.
What are you most proud of having done in or for the Amazon?
I’m quite proud of throwing up paint balloons at the Brazilian Embassy in London. We did a big action outside the Brazilian Embassy, linked with the red road where all the Amazonian indigenous were protesting. They went to Brasilia to protest and we protested outside the Brazilian Embassy in allyship with that. When you start working that way and start understanding the fights happening all around the world – and it’s all the same fight – and we can begin to be in solidarity with each other, I think that’s when things start really shifting and moving.
Throughout these years working on the climate agenda, what was your greatest learning and what would you like to pass on to the world?
We seem to be in what I call a convergence of crises. We have a crisis of violence against women, a crisis of destroying the planet, we have wars, racism… They are all converging, none of these fights are separate. If you follow them all back, there is a root, which is the story that we began to tell ourselves: that story has gone global and it is capitalism. That story is about money before all other things. When you place that before everything – life, humanity, all other beings on this planet – you get what we have now. So we need to change this story in our minds, our hearts and our communities on a global level. We’ve been telling ourselves a story that this planet was made for us and it wasn’t. If we look at the world like we own it, then we dominate it. We can change that story by understanding that everything else is older than us and is our teachers.
The Amazon has been a major issue in the world. What is your perspective on what is currently happening in the territory?
For me, it was very interesting to go to Brazil because I went straight to the Amazon and there are the people who have been living there for thousands of years and the young activists who joined the fight and are a big part of it. So everyone in there loved the Amazon: all you have to do is walk into the forest and you fall in love with it. And then, when I flew to São Paulo, I met all these amazing young and brilliant Brazilians who had never been to the Amazon. It feels like there is a disconnection between modern Brazil and the ancient forest. If you don’t experience it, if you don’t have a connection with it, it’s hard to understand this fight. The systems that we’ve built, like the countries and borders, were created for power and for resources. So the country only sees the Amazon as a resource of wealth, not as a living and breathing being filled with people who have lived there forever. We have to look outside the borders and dismantle these borders.
In my fantasy, I see a free Amazon, where the countries just accept that it’s untouchable. But we’re never going to get to that point unless the people of that country start to think that way. And we’re stuck in this system of a dual-party democracy, where we have to vote for one or another, even if we don’t agree with either. I’ve always said we had a big election in England where we had a similar situation. We had the very hard right and the very socialist left. I didn’t agree entirely with the person who was very socialist, but he was going to help the world a lot more than the other one. If it’s midnight, pouring rain and you need to get home, if a bus comes along, even if it’s not going completely to your house but at least getting you closer, get on the bus.
From your experience, what is the current image of Brazil overseas in terms of environment and human rights?
I have to separate that because I live in a little bubble of activists and we see the Amazon like the beating heart and lungs of this planet. But outside of my bubble, people ignore it. They know it exists, they know it’s amazing. I think that there’s some idea that it’s so vast that they don’t understand how much is being taken from the forest. You can say that people are devastating the equivalent to a football pitch every minute, but that’s too big for people to comprehend. When they look on the global map and see it as a giant green chunk, they’re like “oh, we’ll never run out of that”. And they don’t understand that the whole world used to look like that. So I think people get shown these vast shots of unending rainforest and they don’t understand how close we are to this tipping point, in which it just becomes a desert. They are more concerned about whether they can pay the gas bill next week.
We have a terrible leader as well right now and I think that especially anyone under the age of 35 does not understand this massive gap between us and the baby boomers, who are so worried about their safety to the point that they don’t see the danger outside of their little world. We grew up with a much wider lens globally and connected, so we can see beyond our world and just think they’re insane.
What could people from other countries and regions do to support the protection of the Amazon and the climate justice agenda?
Boycott every single company that is part of the destruction of the Amazon and stop consuming their products. We live in a true democracy. If we take capitalism as it is, every single penny that you spend, you are saying: “I want that to still stay in the world”. So if you buy from a company that is deforesting or disrespecting the local communities, you are saying you are fine with that. Every single person on the planet can be a part of changing the system.
I know it’s difficult because we are a generation less well off than our parents. This is the first time in human history that a generation is poorer than the last one. So it’s very difficult to make conscious decisions around where we are spending money because we are just trying to survive. But try to think about what you actually need and what brings you joy. I’m all about de-growth, I believe we just need less stuff. Let’s repurpose, reuse, recycle. Let’s get together in our communities and get organized, share things. Although all these things seem small, when we push them out onto a global scale, we can create a revolution.
Despite the current chaotic scenario, do you believe it is possible to achieve sustainable development?
I am hopeful about the future. I was stuck in fear for a really long time and it led me into activism and “get it done now”. And I realized that I was using the same methods [as those I oppose]: even though we were nonviolent, we were doing that very outwardly and pushy. I don’t think that’s going to work. You cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. So you can’t fight violence with violence, you can’t fight patriarchy with patriarchy. If we look at what’s happening now, what is the opposite of that? It’s community interdependence, women and indigenous as leaders… We have to flip the story completely, and when we can do that, I think things will shift.
Isn’t it amazing what the pandemic has shown us that overnight we can change our societies? We know we can do what we thought we couldn’t. This pandemic taught us that if we decide to really shift things and get together, we can make it. And I think that’s the biggest hope that has come out of these past two years. Every choice we make needs to be very conscious on this planet. When we know that all our decisions ripple out into the globe, everything we do, say, every choice we make is going as part of an “interwoven tapestry”, and every single person is important to this story
What message would you like to pass on to the next politicians of Brazil?
For the government representatives: the choices that you make today will affect the rest of the world forever. If you can take that responsibility with love and compassion and hold it in a way that makes you stronger and more available to the best version of yourself, then you go down in history as the ones who turned this around.
And to young people and civil society overall?
My message to young Brazilians is: where we are right now in the world and the current situation in the Amazon, that’s your responsibility to do something. This might be the most important election in the world because what happens in Brazil this year is going to dictate what is going to happen for the rest of time for the human race. If the Amazon goes, we all go – and this is big and terrifying. I would highly recommend going into that grief because otherwise you will just avoid it and switch off because it’s too much. Find people to hold you, go through that grief and come out the other end of it clear like an arrow, because you’re the ones that you’ve been waiting for. There’s no one that’s going to come and save you.
We have to save ourselves.
It’s not just going to vote – it’s about getting organized. If we don’t want the current system, we need to make a new one and that means rolling up our sleeves and shifting it in our local areas. We need to create a different world together, we need to take the power back, get organized in our communities.
Amazoniar is an initiative of IPAM (Amazon Environmental Research Institute) to promote a global dialogue about Amazon and its importance for Brazil’s relationships with the world. In its fourth cycle, Amazoniar will promote a series of interviews with young Brazilians and foreigners who inspire the mobilization for climate justice, especially in the Amazon. In May and June, these interviews will be published every week, in full, on the IPAM website. Sign up for the newsletter to receive the next interviews!