Authors: John W. Reid and Thomas J. Lovejoy
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company, 2020, 302 pages.
The clear and present danger of human-induced climate catastrophe makes John W. Reid and Thomas Lovejoy’s Ever Green, a book that commands attention. It benefits from the collaboration of two exceptional authors. Reid is an environmental economist. Lovejoy, who died in December, had served for over a half century as the foremost intellectual champion of the lungs of our planet, the Amazon rainforest. He is the founder of the field of climate change biology.
Reid influenced Lovejoy with economic arguments for forest conservation. Ever Green includes accounts of their battles in the “excellent subterranean cafeteria” of the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Here they were able to demonstrate the folly of a $129 million World Bank loan to pave a road through the Amazonian rainforest near Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, with “a few calculations on the back of a napkin.”
Lovejoy began his campaign to save the Amazon with the American chapter of the World Wildlife Fund. The circumstances were difficult, for Brazil was a military dictatorship. At this time precious little had been excluded from economic exploitation within the Amazon basin. Xingu National Park had been established a few years before the military seized power in 1961 as a homeland for displaced native peoples. The authors note that Brazil’s subsequent democratization helped create a situation where “Overall protection of the Amazon” had reached “46 percent as of 2021.”
The authors note the positive impact of Brazil’s current constitution, which was drafted in 1988 after the end of military rule. It has provisions that amount to a “a revolutionary upgrade in Indigenous territorial control.” This has secured the protection of 300 million acres of the Amazon rainforest. “A revolutionary upgrade in Indigenous territorial control”
Reid and Lovejoy challenge what they view as a “common misconception…that the big reserves in remote places around the world” are only “paper parks.” They stress that damage to forests is far less in protected areas than in areas legally open to deforestation.
Lovejoy and Reid highlight the negative impacts on the Amazon of Brazil’s current President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a former military officer and apologist for dictatorship. They conclude that when he “took power on January 1, 2019, he declared an all out offensive on the Amazon.” He “set out to loosen environmental licenses, shrink protected areas, cut new roads into the forest, and allow agribusiness to rent indigenous people’s forests and turn them into soybean fields.” The authors praise the response of the government of Germany to Bolsonaro’s pillage. It cut off $100 million annually of payments to Brazil through the Amazon Fund, which had previously backed Brazil’s serious conservation efforts.
The authors demonstrate how now “the most intact forest in the world” straddles Alaska and northern Canada. Its importance is boosted by the fact that encroachments on this bastion of the wild are much slower and minor in scale than in other woodlands of the world. They use an English translation of a word of the Kaska Dene nation to describe this ecosystem, which is “densely spruced.”
Lovejoy and Reid commend Canada for a little-known strategy to increase protected areas, which since 2018 has been led by the Indigenous Circle of Elders. It seeks to increase protected areas through a strategy known as Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. (IPCA).
So far, the biggest success in IPCA planning has been around Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The Edehzhie IPCA on the northwestern side of the Great Slave Lake protects “3.5 million acres of woods and water inhabited by bison, caribou, tundra swans and white-footed geese.” It is in the process of being designated as a national wildlife refuge. On the south-eastern side of the lake is the Thaidene Nene IPCA, which is designated as a National Park Reserve. Both IPCAs are protected from any mineral development or staking.
In the battle to save the world’s largest forests, the book Ever Green, the last literary testament of Thomas E. Lovejoy, is an important weapon. Let us hope that it will be well read and its lessons applied.*
Reviewed by John Bacher, an environmentalist in St. Catharines, Ontario