“I say I am from the Brazilian rainforest,” said da Costa, a Rotary Peace Fellow at Duke University, who spoke at Augusta State University’s University Hall on April 26.
His tie to the Brazilian rainforest is important to da Costa because of his plan to return there after his American studies and foster peaceful economic relationships.
Before talking about his master’s degree studies at Duke University and the Rotary Peace Fellow program, da Costa provided background on the rainforest and the current situation in that part of the world.
The Brazilian rainforest, he said, is important not just to Brazil but also to the world’s ecosystem.
It provides 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and 20 billion tons of water vapor daily, which is important to the atmosphere.
Though it is home to plants and animals only found in that part of the globe, it’s also home to about 24 million people, including 180 indigenous groups who’ve lived off the rainforest for many generations.
“They know how to use its resources in sustainable ways. They protect the rainforest,” he said.
In recent years, however, more than 20 percent of the rainforest has been lost forever, he said.
Every 15 minutes, a piece of land equivalent to two football fields is lost through deforestation.
There’s a pattern to it. Someone purchases the land and cuts down the trees.
Next, the land is sold to cattle farmers, and after several years it’s not viable to keep cattle there.
Then it is once again sold for farmland. And in a few years, its usefulness as farmland has been depleted.
“The rainforest feeds off itself,” explained da Costa.
In the natural cycle, leaves fall and decompose in the soil. With this natural cycle broken, the soil cannot replenish itself. When it rains, the dirt washes away.
These lands are then used to develop infrastructure. One of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world is under construction in a deforested part of Brazil.
Violence also has broken out in the regions where deforestation has occurred.
“In the last 10 years, there have been over 500 indigenous leaders and environmental activists murdered,” he said. “That’s an average of 50 per year, four per month and an average of one per week.”
As a descendant of one of the indigenous groups in the area, da Costa wants to find a peaceful way for development to occur. He believes a lack of inclusion of indigenous people in the decision-making process is one of the problems.
Da Costa has worked in Brazil as an economist for the Pará State Chamber of Commerce and as a professor in the program of International Relations at UNAMA-Amazônia University. When he completes his master’s degree in international development policy at Duke University through the Rotary Peace Fellowship, he plans to return to Brazil and work with a ”private consulting firm, international NGO (nongovernment organization) or multilateral organization that works towards the promotion of sustainable development policies in the Amazon and around the world,” according to a news release through Rotary International.
His visit to ASU was sponsored by the ASU Rotaract Club, Rotary International’s organization for adults between the ages of 18 and 30.
Besides bringing awareness to the problems within the Brazilian rainforest, another reason for the visit was to raise awareness of the scholarship opportunities available through Rotary International, according to Pam Lightsey, ASU’s Rotaract adviser.