We often hear the people speak of the ocean being one of the great frontiers facing buccaneering adventurers until some mad lunatic launches himself into space in the name of future exploration. All these projects and madcap missions by governments and billionaires seem to be, mostly, out of a genuine curiosity and a desire to improve life back on earth – that is usually the justification but where is the immediate benefit being seen? Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk may see where the average Joe cannot and for all we know – they may have incredible plans to improve life for humans but as a species, we have not even fully discovered our own people. Over 100 uncontacted groups remain across world, and it leaves one pondering, if we have indeed, overextended ourselves.
The gulf between Bezos Blue Origin project and the 40 uncontacted tribes left in the Amazon rainforest itself, is arguably the biggest gap in human understanding we will likely ever see and with the number of those tribes slowly vanishing due to disease, exploitation, and lack of legal protection. This may be our final chance to preserve a crucial element of human genealogy and culture, but preservation seems blinded by curiosity when it comes to what we can do about those remaining civilisations.
Nobody wants to be the enemy of progress, but the damage is being done, as governments send drones and planes across the canopy, that is already representative of a ‘rustling of the feathers’ for want of a better phrase. Understandably, the threat from illegal logging, drug traffickers and steamrolling swathes of rainforest land for soya is a much greater threat – but the pressure facing these uncontacted peoples is coming from the good and bad guys, they cannot distinguish the motives.
If it really is an inevitable road until we discover every single last tribe, there must be more practical international law to protect these people and a contingency plan in place, for those that do emerge from the forest. Brazil’s FUNAI department, who aim to protect and monitor uncontacted groups set a 42-mile exclusion zone around one member of an uncontacted tribe who had his entire village murdered in early 1996. Peru’s president back in 2007 said uncontacted people were created by environmentalists to oppose oil exploration and the government in Papua New Guinea forbids journalists specifically from entering the forests yet lack a legal enforcement agency. There is a total lack of protection – maybe ignorance is indeed bliss, and the economic costs outweigh the drawbacks of encountering, contacting, and killing these people and their cultures.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has failed, there is no question about it and after 14 years, a uniform reaction to emerging tribes or protecting them is dead in the water. Colombia often patrols their indigenous reserves using the military, but this kind of protection depends on the ‘government of hour’ attitudes towards uncontacted peoples – damage control is in full force.
On the matter of satisfying selfish curiosity, I garner no hatred towards Jeff Bezos mission to moon and beyond but when you name your company after something “exotic and different” be sure to pay reverence to it. A couple of years back this idea was gaining some steam, people really thought Jeff Bezos’s might want to buy the Amazon rainforest but considering the current management of the ecosystem and its remaining people, mass privatisation of forest protection might be a palpable idea.
When you consider the immediacy of Brazilian legislation PL/490, which would effectively end all restrictions on economic activity in the Amazon, private intervention might be a better incentive for those in the Brazilian parliament to grease up their palms, rather than rubbing shoulders with illicit industries and agri-business. Historically, privatisation has been looked down upon by those in the environmental sector, but Amazon brings something that environmental protection agencies can often not – capital, infrastructure, and mass employment.
It is bewildering to those outside of Brazil; why they would put up with rainforest destruction, but it is simply because feeding mouths is more important, finding work is more important and being environmentally conscious is often a privilege for many.
An uncontacted people thousands of miles away in the rainforest is simply not on the minds of the 200 million Brazilians when they wake up. What privatisation can bring is organised tourism, better patrols, and less pressure on the government to give into the forces of exploitative corporate interests because the population is already being supported financially.
Amazon itself has their own issues with tax and Bezos is certainly wrapped up in his own pursuits but this is a call for consideration, a plea to reconsider the whole debate – will private interests step in where public bodies clearly cannot? That is not an easy issue to tackle but is it possible with a vision? Of course, it is, just look at how one man sent himself into space on his own dime.
It does look a dire situation for the remaining tribes in the Amazon and beyond, but often, there is a slight masochism in the wider environmental movement – it is now cool to care but to see what is possible beyond the traditional boundaries of protection is clearly not, fundamentally environmentalism must look for a new ally rather than remain an island in a sea of competing capital.