• SiC

Thoughts of a former SiC member who used her privilege to dive into the world of climate activism

Bianca Gonçalves, 28 years old



My decision to go to the Amazon came overnight. My destiny became different and after analysing the current government, I woke up one day and thought, “I will go while it still stands.”. The situation on our planet has never been more urgent and as a certain 17-year-old girl says, “No one is too small to make a difference.”[1]

My story with the climate started when I was around 12. I decided to put stickers around my house to remind my family that we should turn off the lights when they are not in use, that we should stop buying plastic water bottles and that we should recycle. I stopped eating meat when I was 15, volunteered for Greenpeace alongside other NGOS, and started my work for SiC in 2016. For almost 3 years, I immersed myself in sustainability both in a theoretical and a European way. In fact, being a Brazilian in Europe gave me an array of opportunities that I only realized were privileges when I went back to Brazil. In Brazil, you can sustainability can be applied in conservation, it is not impossible. What is impossible is bringing sustainability into your normal life. So, after a while you start to wonder:

What do you do when your own government promotes the demolition and extinction of the country's nature and history?[2]

Consequently, I felt a compulsion to challenge that wave, and to begin a different path into to sustainability: a political one.

So that is why I am here, as a Brazilian, writing to you about why you should join the rebellion: about why you should not feel small about your actions.


28 years ago, in 1992, 11 years before Greta Thunberg was born, Severn Cullis Suzuki (12 years old) was at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, fighting for the children’s future. She, along with other girls from ECO (The Environmental Children's Organization), asked the leaders present to declare that there was a climate emergency. “Tell the truth, [3]"” she said. This became one of the mottos of Extinction Rebellion, born in 2019, 27 years after Severn took the stage and declared: "If you don't know how to fix it, stop breaking it”.

I wonder, how many other 14 years old must we meet before we change our thoughts and start acting?

They say that in difficult times the world is renewed by exceptional souls. They come and go when necessary, like reincarnation. Lhamo Thondup, Gandhi, Jane Goodall, Malala, Mandela ... they are all warrior souls; wise, pure, beautiful. Sometimes you don’t even know but suddenly, in a blink, you’re surrounded by those souls - this is how I feel when I am in the Amazon.

The Amazon’s current situation

Figure 1- Juma Lake, expedition 2018

The Amazon: the centre of the world. Centre, yes. And not the lung, as it is sometimes called. If it is to be an organ, then it is the whole body. It's mine, it's yours, it's ours, it's from Brazil and it's from the World. The World is much more than plants and animals: she is people. She's Caboclo, she's Indigenous, she is Dona Odila, she is Dodi, she is Raoni, she is Henrique. She houses pure and starry souls that purify you. There you just need to open up. Everything arrives in its time. It is like if you were in a bubble of beautiful and simple energies. This allows you to understand that the Amazon is not just trees and ore. And yet all of that has been dying: contaminated and acidified rivers, less fish, fewer trees, less drinking water, many Indigenous murders, diminishing population - more mining, more corruption and less permission to speak and be free.

What does it take for us to understand that everything is connected? Actions there, will be felt here. Your actions here, will, for sure, be felt over there.

If our house is burning, our attitude is to run to mitigate the damage. However, this is not a figurative situation like the picture Greta Thunberg paints in her speeches[4]. Our house is indeed burning- intensely. On the 19th of August 2019 at 3 pm, the day became night in São Paulo[5]. The city remained inside of a cloud of smoke for several hours, a direct cause of the very dense and widespread fires that were raging for several days in Acre, Rondônia, and Bolivia. This compelled me pack my bags and go to the Amazon for the first time. I decided to go to Alter-do-Chão, stay a few days in an Airbnb in the city and then venture into riverside communities to help in whatever ways I could. Without knowing it, I ended up renting a room where the Alter fire brigade was created[6]. During those days, my host and his companions spent almost every day trying to put out the fires in the area. I saw them preparing, I saw them waiting for the instructions of the professional firemen, I saw them coming back covered in black smoke, I saw them crying, and I saw them laughing, and finally dancing when it rained on the last day. These are volunteers that give their lives to protect Brazil's most beautiful treasure: the forests and its inhabitants.

The Amazon trees exists because of those inhabitants; a population that always took care of nature. In exchange, they only ask for respect. However, this incredibly knowledgeable population cannot protect itself. Their speeches, their fight, their paths are limited and usually met with negative consequences. They are a costume in February’s carnival and they are killed in September’s winter. It is dangerous to fight the economic greed of the government over the Amazon: yet some people still battle.

Figure 2 – 5th March of the Indigenous Peoples of Amazonas - A mobilization that brought together 1,100 indigenous people in Manaus, coming from different areas of the state of Amazonas, on December 2019.

Last November, the volunteers of the fire brigade were held for 3 days in prison because one of them spoke out in a newspaper about the criminal winter fires[7]. Consequently, because they went to the media, they were accused of starting the fires without any proof. Meanwhile, as the police were trying to find (nonexistent) proof, they were physically and psychologically tortured in prison and their families were threatened. This is how it works in Brazil: under the curtains of Leonardo Di Caprio being accused by the government[8] of silly things in the media, they attack small-scale NGOs and activists.

This year the Amazon is already burning far more than last year, and deforestation rose 34.5% in the 12-months through July when compared to the same period a year ago [9]. With Bolsonaro allowing commercial mining on Indigenous land, sanctioning new laws[10], reversing existing protection laws and closing his eyes to violations and crimes[11], everything will soon be burned. And now, we are additionally battling the pandemic situation, where the peoples most affected are the isolated Indigenous ones. The government is devouring the forest and nobody is doing anything. IBAMA[12] has no more power, FUNAI[13] is completely dismantled[14] and only focused in Catholicizing the Indigenous communities. The little we had has been taken away. We need to act as a society, and as individuals, to prevent the forest from being destroyed. We should not just talk about these problems when everything is on fire, or when there are dead Indigenous people, dead rivers, or dead activists.

This is only one part of the world and only one of many forests.

What can you do?

The forest allowed me to see how as an individual person, you can indeed change everything. It takes courage to be that person, but if you do not obey your nature, you’ll end up feeling unfulfilled. I understood that risk, not as a choice but as a gift. Perhaps a fate. I understood that we should think more with our hearts and feel more with our brains. Fight, and don’t feel small - you are doing a lot. It's time to stop globalizing and start amazonizing the world. And when I say Amazon, I mean every forest and its population around the world. The forests, their trees and their people are the hope.

So, what could you do more than recycling your gloves and thinking twice about what cleaning product you are going to use for a treatment?

The truth is that the world and the internet are full of changes you could acquire in your life - from eating less meat, to the using eco-friendly products. The information is out there and easy to access. However, there are many more things you can do with your money and time that you probably don’t think about. I’ll talk briefly about three of them.

The first and probably easiest to perform by all: boycott products that come from destructive sources. We are all aware about the palm oil situation and the advice is: go for Fair Trade solutions. Most of the deforested areas are linked to big companies, and we all know who they are: BlackRock, JPMorgan Chase, Santander, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Cargill, JBS and Mafrig and others [15]. Their products are sold by retailers like Leclerc, Stop Shop, Walmart and Costco. The most recent situation was the one from Oatly AB that has sold 10% of its stake values to a group led by private-equity giant Blackstone Group Inc. who is driving forces behind the Amazon deforestation. Boycott is simply achievable by going to local farmer markets, for example.

Figure 3- Highway constructed by Blackstone that is crossing the amazon rainforest and with that invading and destroying protected areas - [16] .


The second is voluntourism: “a type of holiday in which you work as a volunteer (= without being paid) to help people in the places you visit”[17]. Easy and fulfilling. In short, you can change your way of travelling by exploring the world through cultures rather than spaces and hotels and help the communities of these areas to survive. I understood the importance of this when I travelled to Chapada dos Veadeiros, by being aware and supporting local communities with my money, instead of going to big travel companies. Whilst there I made sure that our guide was an Indigenous Quilombola born and raised in Goias, and by talking to him, I realised how precious that choice was. How much wisdom they have, how much power, and how much light they can transmit when guiding us. After that, all of my holidays were dedicated to voluntourism and, ironically, in every single one of them[18] I felt that voluntourism was about the fulfilment of the volunteers more so than what was brought to the communities we visited.

Figure 4- Photos taken during the voluntourism with Iris Social in the RESEX (Reserva Extrativista), Pará, dec 2019. a)) children running after the bus; b) a Pajé teaching us some of her medicinal knowledge; c,d) plantation and management of agroforestry – CEFA (Centro Experimental, Floresta Ativa)

We all know how hard it can be to fight in these countries and areas. It is dangerous and freedom is relative. Therefore, aside from donating, the second thing you can do is join the revolution and volunteer with and activist group. Whether it’s Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement, Engajamundo, or Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future. The point is that activism comes in many forms: you can either put your body in the street to nonviolently disrupt business and demand the change you want your government to have, or help the movements backstage.

It’s worth taking some time to think about which actions will allow you to have the biggest positive impact with your unique capacities and constraints. I can tell you, it is worth it and extremely important. From a place of privilege, these organisations use their advantage to speak up and fight for those who can’t. They help those who have always protected our earth but have their hands tied today. They give their faces to causes happening on the other side of the ocean. They ask the governments for actions and changes, and they give vision to situations that have been hidden. They manifest, they scream, they dance, they sing, they civically disobey. And they do it because today, 28 years after Severn, the girl I mentioned in the beginning of this text, has asked for the truth nicely, nothing has changed. We keep destroying what we still don’t know how to fix.

Figure 5- During an action by Extinction Rebellion at the Festival of Lights, Amsterdam 2020

[1] THUNBERG, Greta, 2019, No one is too small to make a diference, UK, Penguin Books. [2] SANDY, Matt, The Amazon is completly lawless: The rainforest After Bolsonaro’s first year” The New York times, Dec. 5, 2019 available in : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/05/world/americas/amazon-fires-bolsonaro-photos.html [3-09-2020] Ernesto Londoño and Letícia Casado, Under Pressure, Brazil’s Bolsonaro Forced to Fight Deforestation , The New York times, Aug. 28, 2020 available in: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/americas/Brazil-amazon-deforestation-bolsonaro.html [3-09-2020] [3] Martin, P.H, 1997, "If You Don't Know How to Fix it, Please Stop Breaking it!" The Precautionary Principle and Climate Change. Foundations of Science 2, 263–292, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009619720589 [4] The Guardian, 'Our house is on fire': Greta Thunberg, 16, urges leaders to act on climate Jan 25 2019 available in https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/25/our-house-is-on-fire-greta-thunberg16-urges-leaders-to-act-on-climate [5] Kris Bramwell, Kris, 2019, Brazil fires prompt 'prayers' for Amazon rainforest, BBC News, available in https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending49406519 [18-03-2020, 19:39] [6] http://brigadadealter.ga/ [7] Alter do Chão: charge without evidence is attack on the Constitution, in WWF, Nov 2019, available in: https://www.wwf.org.br/?74264/Alter-do-Chao-charge-without-evidence-is-attack-on-the-Constitution OLIVEIRA, Joana, Militar que depôs contra brigadistas de Alter do Chão diz que o fez ‘em tom de brincadeira’, in El Pais, dec 2019, available in: https://brasil.elpais.com/brasil/2019-12-26/militar-que-depos-contra-brigadistas-de-alter-do-chao-diz-que-o-fez-em-tom-de-brincadeira.html [8] PHILLIPS, Tom, Brazil’s president claims DiCaprio paid for Amazon fires, Nov, 2019, available in: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/29/brazils-president-claims-dicaprio-paid-for-amazon-fires [9] “Deforestation rose 34.5% in the 12-months through July, compared to the same period a year ago. Forest clearances did fall in July, the first decline in 15 months, a point emphasized by Bolsonaro. Experts say that fires are not a natural phenomenon in the rainforest but are usually man-made in order to clear deforested land for pasture.” In SPRING, Jake, MARCELLO, Maria Carolina, Brazil's Bolsonaro calls surging Amazon fires a 'lie', Reuters, August 2020, available in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-environment-fires/brazils-bolsonaro-calls-surging-amazon-fires-a-lie-idUSKCN2572WB Deforestation rose 34.5% in the 12-months through July, compared to the same period a year ago. Forest clearances did fall in July, the first decline in 15 months, a point emphasized by Bolsonaro. [10] SAVARESE, Mauricio, Brazil’s new president makes it harder to define indigenous lands, The Associated Press Posted January 2, 2019, available in: https://globalnews.ca/news/4808295/jair-bolsonaro-funai-indigenous-farm-brazil/ [11] “ “This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers,” he said” in SPRING, Jake, MARCELLO, Maria Carolina, Brazil's Bolsonaro calls surging Amazon fires a 'lie', Reuters, August 2020, available in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-environment-fires/brazils-bolsonaro-calls-surging-amazon-fires-a-lie-idUSKCN2572WB [12] Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente E Dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) [13] FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, is the Brazilian government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples. FUNAI is responsible for mapping out and protecting lands traditionally inhabited and used by these communities. [14] COWIE, Sam, Brazil’s uncontacted tribes face 'genocide' under Bolsonaro, experts warn, The Gardian, Oct 2019, available in https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/07/brazil-bolsonaro-tribes-genocide-expert-warning [15] RECINOS, Ada, Global NGOs: Dirty Dozen Companies Driving Deforestation Must Act Now to Stop the Burning of the World's Forests, Groups call for the immediate suspension of all business and financing with traders active in the Brazilian Amazon, Amazon Watch, AUGUST 30, 2019, available in: https://amazonwatch.org/news/2019/0830-dirty-dozen-companies-driving-deforestation-must-act-now-to-stop-the-burning LAPPE, Anna, Follow the Money to the Amazon, Who is profiting from the development that led to these fires?, The Atlantic, SEPTEMBER 4, 2019, available in: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/09/follow-money-amazon/597319/ [16] Image from The Intercept: https://theintercept.com/2019/08/27/amazon-rainforest-fire-blackstone/ [17] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/voluntourism [18] In Brazil you can find many of those that work in the forest with river side communities or indigenes: Saúde e Alegria, Iris Social, Turiarte, Iguana turismos, etc.

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Sustainability in Conservation is an online network providing resources and information about environmentally responsible practices  in art conservation and related fields. Within a practice that produces so much waste, we hope to inspire collaboration and awareness to make cultural heritage a more sustainable profession. 

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