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Hero of the Week

Chico Mendes

Written by Lucy Jones

Launching Earth’s Drrrruuuu(drum roll) rrrrrapp… Environmentalist Hero of the Week! I’m going to be honest I’m not entirely sure how this is going to pan out, dosage salve possible winners may range from vegan cake bakers, brave mavericks to the downright wackos, but if we think a person (or pet) has done something admirable and courageous for the environment we shall award them this esteemed title.


Last month was marked by the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Francisco Alves ‘Chico’ Mendes, a committed campaigner against the deforestation of the Amazon and a pioneer of sustainable harvesting.
He was born in 1944 in Acre State in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest to a long lineage of rubber tappers. At a young age he continued the family tradition of extracting the latex from trees for the manufacture of natural rubber.

As rubber trees are native to Brazil, this harmonious practice is relatively harmless to the rainforest and allows for a good renewable source of wood. However during the 1960′s the price of rubber dropped massively and many communities such as Chico’s were forced to sell their land. The highest bidders were cattle ranchers who intended to burn vast areas of forest to make way for more the more profitable endeavor of farming cattle.

However Chico and other forest activists struck back and fought to prevent the burning and logging of land by forming an assault on the clearing process and persuading workers to stop. In many cases they triumphed.

Chico went on to become an official Union leader and ardently sought to teach communities about deforestation and of the industries that pose a threat to their own livelihoods. He particularly advocated the concept of forest reserves that would be run by native communities for the cultivation of renewable natural resources such as rubber and Brazil nuts.

His fervor and determination to protect the land from logging posed such a threat that in 1998 he was shot dead by ranchers. Since his death, over 20 reserves designed in keeping with his original intention are in existence. Chico Mendes legacy is an inspiration to not only environmental activists but to all who seek to preserve humanity in the face of corruption and opportunistic greed.

Deforestation remains a serious global ecological problem. The earth’s biosphere stability is dependant on forests with a high density of trees to extract carbon dioxide and other nastiness from the air. But with an estimated 13 million hectares of the world’s forests being destroyed yearly, the rate at which we are headed towards a global tipping point is hurtling at a frightening speed.


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