Thursday, April 10
The Chico Vive Conference was held in Washington DC between April 4-6, and it aimed at bringing together grassroots activists, NGOs, students, engaged scholars, applied scientists, policy makers, journalists and others to discuss the development of the global grassroots environmental movement in the 25 years since environmental activist Chico Mendes’s death. Chico Mendes was a Brazilian rubber tapper from Acre State who struggled for the recognition of traditional communities’ rights to land and resources, as well as for the protection of the Amazon rainforest. He argued that it was possible to bring economic development and conservation together, as long as forest peoples were freed from the exploitation of patrons and had State support to remain in their traditionally occupied lands. He inspired the idea of sustainable development, both in theory and in practice. As a result of his struggle, he was murdered in December 1988. As a member of the Extreme Citizen Science research group, I had the opportunity to attend the Conference and to run a workshop about ExCiteS developments on the final day.
On the first day the grassroots environmental activists from many parts of the world (Indonesia, Cambodia, Philipines, Australia, Ecuador, Peru – to mention a few) presented themselves and we heard the talk by the keynote speaker, Marina Silva, who is Brazil’s former Environment Minister and Chico Mendes’ companion and friend. It was a very inspiring speech, in which she talked about Chico Mendes’s life and legacy, as well as about the idea of sustainability. According to her, we are facing a “global crisis of civilisation”, as our social, political, economic, environmental and ethical structures are shaken. Change is possible and necessary, and it can be done through a new emerging form of activism, which results from individual protagonism and mobilisation enhanced by the power of contemporary social media and new technologies.
On the second day it was the time for the grassroots community representatives bring their experiences to the public. They presented the environmental impacts their territories are suffering due to the extractive industries and energy sectors, and their concerns related to the threats they face on the ground when claiming for the implementation of their cultural and land rights. On the same day, John Knox – UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment, spoke about the recent realisation by human rights agencies on the need to address environmental defenders as human rights defenders, as people cannot fully enjoy human rights without a healthy and sound environment. There was also a panel on Chico Mendes life, narrated by his close friends, family and partners, and a couple of presentations by two of the most renowned scientists on the Brazilian Amazon deforestation: Steve Schwartzman and Philip Fearnside.
During the third and last day, Arielle Kilroy, from Sierra Club, Andrew Miller, from Amazon Watch, and I, ran the New Technologies workshop. The workshop was a success, with a very qualified group of attendees, including Philip Fearnside, the Xavante indigenous leader, Hiparidi Top’tiro, the anthropologist Laura Graham, and the journalist Scott Wallace. Participants had the opportunity to learn about ExCiteS tools and methodologies, and to try out Sapelli data collector on the smartphones.The afternoon was dedicated to movies about community environmental struggles around the world, including Toxic Amazon and A Fierce Green Fire.