Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Who do you think is responsible for the forest fires that are occurring in the Amazon? Don't you think that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is directly or indirectly responsible for the fires in the Amazon rainforest?
Dr. Kerry Bowman: Bolsonaro is directly responsible for the increase in these fires without question. He has worked with pride to erode enforcement of Brazil’s environmental protections. He has also rallied for industries that want greater access to protected areas of the Amazon, sought to weaken the land rights of Indigenous people and eroded efforts to combat illegal logging, ranching and mining. Both the president and his administration have spoken out against taking forest protection measures and have strongly supported the commercialization of the Amazon territory. Even Bolsonaro’s Minister of the Environment, defends this policy. Yet the assault on the Amazon pre-dates Bolsonaro by a lot. The subjugation and murder of indigenous people began at the time of European contact. In more recent time the Brazilian military dictatorship of 1964-1985 seized 6 million hectares of land from indigenous populations, in part to construct the Trans-Amazonian highway. Subsequent presidents have manipulated and compromised the protection of the Amazon and its people. For example former president Dilma Rousseff, allowed amnesty for those responsible for illegal deforestation and reduced the number of Amazon protected areas.
Brazilian President Bolsonaro is linked to multinationals and large landowners who have an interest in growing soybeans. Don't you think that Bolsonaro and his criminal business associates should be held accountable for their actions before the courts?
Indeed he should be held responsible and hopefully he will. Democratic institutions are relatively young in Brazil yet there are courageous and motivated Brazilians fighting for justice. For example the assault on indigenous people and land is in direct violation with the Brazilian constitution. Throughout the world the concept of environmental crime needs to be developed, codified and enforced. Internationally there is also a way forward. Considering Bolsonaro does not acknowledge climate change or honour indigenous rights, the solution is trade based. Consumer boycotts on a small scale have begun and need to rapidly expand. These boycotts must be tied to multinational corporations that are complicit as well.
At the same time as the Amazonian forest, the earth's lung, is burning, the forests of Central Africa are also burning, as well as in Indonesia. Is that a coincidence? In your opinion, who are responsible?
The politics and specifics vary from region to region yet they are all clear sign of a lack of respect for life and a pursuit of short term economic goals. Not viewing the destruction of non-human life as a significant moral issue comes at a great price. Much of the destruction of the Amazon, the Congo and the tropical forests of Asia are closely tied to multinational companies and international trade. Therefore we all have a responsibility to inform ourselves and make decisions about trade and purchase. Yet nowhere is the language of contempt for environment and vulnerable people so virulent as Brazilian leadership. I also work in Central Africa with far less infrastructure, capital and economic opportunity and the heads of state are enormously more open to environmental protection and commitments to minimizing climate change.
You are a distinguished scientist and researcher and you protect several endangered animal species. How do you explain the extinction of these species?
The Amazon forest is the greatest expression of life on Earth, it has a complex and intricate web of interdependence that we are only beginning to grasp. The Earth itself can be viewed as an ecosystem and the Amazon is an integral part of that system. Beyond oxygen the Amazon pumps a massive amount of moisture into the atmosphere on a scale we can barely understand. These “sky rivers” are critical to life far beyond the Amazon basin. Species that are endangered and forms of life that have never been studied or even identified are being destroyed in these fires and land clearing. We aren’t even able to fully comprehend how much is being lost and what the implications are. Unfortunately many of us do not see killing beyond human life as a truly moral question. For me, seeing the dead, burned carcasses of endangered species was profoundly traumatic.
Is not the capitalist consumption model responsible for the decay of our planet?
It is indeed. The great question becomes “is capitalism ever compatible with environmental well being”. In the long run environment degradation and climate change may well turn out to be the most violent and destructive aspect of capitalism. Adapting to a low-growth economy may be the only way forward; endless growth being replaced by shifting growth. There is also an emerging awareness in the world of medicine that all efforts at improvements in human health will be defeated unless we consider planetary health, defined as the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends.
The life‐carrying capacity of this planet is a fixed reality we must respect.
In your opinion, are not the multinationals and large industrial groups responsible for large-scale pollution? Why are they not accountable for their crimes? Why do not states take action against the major polluters of our planet?
Environmental crime is a term coming into more and more prominence. As mentioned, laws need to change so corporations can be held responsible. Consumers also need to hold corporations to their responsibilities. Recently 230 global investors have issued a strongly worded statement warning hundreds of unnamed companies to either meet their commodities supply chain deforestation commitments or risk economic consequences.
You are very involved in the issue of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and also the Amerindians of North America, who are all fighting for their survival. Where are the human rights - whose the establishment and the mass media are constantly force-feeding us - with regard to those populations that just want to live in dignity in their natural environment?
With the exception of most of Europe many countries are struggling to come to terms with their own dark histories of violence, subjugation and the genocidal nature of their national histories with indigenous people. Yet the violence and murder the indigenous of the Amazon are facing is going on right now and we are doing next to nothing about it. How sincere can any of us be in our historical reconciliation with indigenous people if we do not stand with the indigenous of the Amazon?
Many activists in the cause of the Amazon Indians were murdered by death squads in the most complete silence of the mass media. In your opinion, why this silence on these political murders and who are its instigators?
Violence against indigenous people in the Amazon is rapidly escalating. With Bolsonaro making inflammatory remarks about indigenous people and refusing to respect the Brazilian constitutional rights of the indigenous, a climate is created where this is seen as justified. There is a great deal of illegal activity and organized crime in many of the Amazon regions, including the drug trade, illegal gold mining, and deforestation. These groups in turn create their own militias, sometimes with support from others outside of these groups. The indigenous are seen as a barrier to profit as they occupy land that can be exploited. It is shocking to see how little international attention these murders receive.
Do you not think that life on our planet is doomed to die in the medium or long term, and what are the urgent measures to be taken to counter this announced disaster, particularly with global warming?
There are growing environmental horrors and the effects of climate change are now palpable. Clearly we are presently on a course of destruction. Yet as we are now seeing, there are signs of uprising. Climate strikes are growing. The environmental implication of consumerism is increasingly being linked to the purchase choices we make. This is only the beginning of a powerful social movement and struggle and ethics is at the core of it. The people doing the most environmental damage are the least vulnerable to its effects as they are cushioned by money. The even tougher ethical argument is that of intergenerational ethics. This responsibility to future generations must stay central and be nurtured in all of our actions and deliberations.
Many islands are disappearing as a result of global warming, leading to a new form of immigration, namely climate immigration. Do you not think that States may be overwhelmed by this phenomenon?
Indeed, there is a new form of threat to the state and world order and that is climate and environment. There is no question that climate change has already been and will increasingly be, a powerful threat multiplier within many geopolitical struggles. Climate refugees will certainly rise markedly in number. We now run the risk of much of the progress, although unequal, made with human health and wellbeing will be eroded.
Economists often say if you don't have growth, the system will collapse. Although economics in some form is necessary to society, when you ask an economist about the moral underpinnings of economics or even what is the purpose of an economy, he stumble. There is really no economic reason, beyond a generation or two, to factor in the wellbeing of people that don't yet exist. This is why economic modeling alone is so dangerous. Climate change is now the challenge of our time and we must rise to it.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Dr. Kerry Bowman?
Kerry Bowman, PhD, is a Canadian bioethicist and conservationist. Born in Montreal and now based in Toronto, he is a frequent public speaker both nationally and internationally. He is best known for his wide-ranging work in the areas of bioethics and environmental protection.
In the field of clinical ethics, Dr. Bowman specializes in end-of-life decision-making and cross-cultural healthcare delivery, as well as genetics, genomics, cloning-animal ethics and ethical questions in emerging medical technologies. He has been consulted on these topics in countries such as Iran, the People’s Republic of China and South Africa.
Dr. Bowman is clinical ethicist for Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and holds an academic appointment with The University of Toronto in Family and Community Medicine. He also serves with The University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics and The University of Toronto Centre for Environment. Dr Bowman is an ethics consultant to The Jane Goodall Institute and the founding president of The Canadian Ape Alliance. This organization manages and supervises projects in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where Dr. Bowman established the Kahuzi-Biega Environmental School in 2003, an initiative designed to provide to young students the opportunity to acquire a basic education and an understanding of their role in environmental and wildlife conservation.
Dr. Bowman has traveled extensively to study in the field. Kerry Bowman's role as an ethicist feeds into her wildlife conservation work, which focuses primarily on great apes, as well as the relationship between human cultures and conservation initiatives. Dr. Bowman has worked in the field with each of the four great ape species in Indonesia and Central Africa. He has observed the Sumatran rhino (Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, 1981), the Bactrian camel (Gashun Gobi desert, West China, 2012), the Java rhino (Ujung Kulon National Park, Java, Indonesia, 2013), as well as several big cat species, including the snow leopard (Hemis, Ladak region, India, 2015).
He has appeared in various documentaries such as "Bushmeat" in 2002 on Discovery Channel, which describes the illegal bush meat trade in the Congo Basin, as well as " The Ghosts of Lomako " in Nature of Things in 2003, dedicated to a study in Congo on the endangered Bonobo monkey, and finally in "Gorilla Doctors" in Nature of Things in 2014 dedicated to the protection of mountain gorillas in the DRC and Rwanda.
Dr. Bowman has recently turned his attention to the relationship between the protection of indigenous land and its environmental/climatic benefits. This work has brought him into the range of some of the world's last remaining isolated and uncontacted indigenous communities. Although never seeking to make contact, he is one of the few Canadian researchers to have actually seen uncontacted people, and has spent time with indigenous groups of the western Amazon, including those only just recently contacted by the outside world. His work has included remote regions of Papua New Guinea, as well as into the eastern Congo’s Ituri rainforest, where he cohabited among the Mbuti pygmies.
Since 2010, Bowman has joined a number of international delegations to North Korea (DPRK) that focused on environmental improvement and youth environmental education in relation to environmentally improved agricultural and environmental practice.
Dr. Kerry Bowman has served with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as author with the fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4) in 2007 and as a contributing author and expert reviewer with GEO-5 in 2012. He was also involved in Global Environment Outlook 6, examining the connection between human health and the environment.
Published in American Herald Tribune October 09, 2019: https://ahtribune.com/interview/3558-kerry-bowman.html