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Juliet Eilperin talks to Brazil's Marina Silva about climate change

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By Juliet Eilperin
Sunday, November 22, 2009

When international climate negotiators convene next month in Copenhagen, Brazilian politician Marina Silva will serve as the conference's unofficial philosopher-activist. A native Amazonian who grew up in a community of rubber-tappers, Silva worked with murdered Amazonian activist Chico Mendes, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996 and served as Brazil's minister of the environment under President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva from 2002 to 2008. She spoke with Washington Post environment reporter Juliet Eilperin during a recent visit to Washington; Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund translated from the Portuguese. Excerpts:

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What inspired you to do environmental work?

It was a combination of things. First, the sensibility I gained from living with the forest, from being born there and taking my sustenance from it until I was 16 years old. Second was my contact with liberation theology, with people like Chico Mendes, a connection that raised social and political consciousness about the actions of the Amazonian rubber-tappers and Indians who were being driven out of their lands because the old rubber estates were being sold into cattle ranches. These encounters made me become engaged with the struggle in defense of the forest. Later, I discovered that this was about "the environment" and the protection of ecosystems. It was an ethical commitment that these natural resources could not be simply destroyed.

How does your Amazon upbringing affect the way you see the issues at stake?

Without doubt, the experience of living in one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of the world has affected how I see the world. I see two time frames: forest time and city time. Forest time is slower; things have to be more fully processed; information takes a long time to get there, so people didn't have access to new information. When a new idea arrived, you thought about it, elaborated on it, talked about it for a long time. So this way of thinking, reflecting on and developing ideas, helps me have a sense of the preservation of things, to not make rushed decisions.

In your view, how is the international community responding to climate change?

We are already extremely close, in terms of the maximum of what is permissible in emissions. It's an effort that both developing and developed countries have to make. What has been agreed to so far in the meetings leading up to Copenhagen is not terribly promising. Society has to reflect this kind of urgency to leaders, and leaders need to assume responsibility for taking on the issue, not only in terms of present interests but in terms of future interests.

What they would like to do, or what they would feel comfortable to do with the short-term time horizons of their mandates, is not enough.


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