National Geographic: I bought a Rainforest – Charlie Hamilton James

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to see a National Geographic Live presentation by Charlie Hamilton James in Seattle, WA. Charlie, whom I had met before in Lima last year, is a photojournalist, film-maker, TV presenter, and Conservationist from the UK.

Charlie Hamilton James in Manu National Park – Photo: National Geographic

Charlie Hamilton James in Manu National Park – Photo: National Geographic

During the presentation he explored the theme ‘I bought a Rainforest’ relating a very interesting succession of acts that happen after he bought a piece of land next to Manu National Park in order to shield the park from illegal loggers. 

To his surprise, Charlie found that his land was being used as an illegal coca plantation, and as path to illegally log the Park. Charlie, determined to solve the problem tried to kick the invaders away –the same people he bought the land from-, without success.

In an attempt to understand how people live in the Amazon Rainforest, and try to see the world from their perspective –factorizing the western ideology of who is good and who is bad- Charlie spent the next 6 months living with illegal gold miners, loggers, and ranchers. What he learnt is that they are only normal people with normal problems trying to make a living. In Charlie’s own words: “They’re people in extreme poverty, living in top of an enormous resource that is the Amazon Rainforest, which we expect them not to touch”. And how do ‘we’ have any moral ground to make such demand, when most of the developed world has over-logged, and over-exploited their natural resources.

Illegal Mining in Peru – Photo: Mongobay

Illegal Mining in Peru – Photo: Mongobay

The four extractive activities that harm the Amazon Rainforest the most, are: cocaine production, Illegal mining (gold), Logging (Hard-woods), and clear-cutting for Cattle Ranching.

What I am trying to explain in this blog is to generate consciousness about who the end consumer of those products are. I am not trying to justify what the people are doing to the Amazon Rainforests, because I don’t, but it is important to notice that the people working illegally there are not consuming cocaine, buying gold jewelry, eating beef every day, and having mahogany tables.

Clear-cutting in Peru for Cattle Ranching – Photo: Mongobay

Clear-cutting in Peru for Cattle Ranching – Photo: Mongobay

 We can make our little difference by eating less meat, not buying hard-wood, tracing the gold we are buying, and obviously not consuming cocaine. We are the ones generating the demand for the products that destroy the Amazon Rainforest, if we can minimize it, we would amortize the damage while Private and Governmental Institutions create alternatives and jobs that both generate a better income, and protect the rainforest.