I am so happy to be back in my hometown of Sao Paulo, Brazil, a concrete jungle of 20 million people. It’s hot, crowded and chaotic, yet I love it. But this is not like the times I come home on vacation. This time is special. Last night I had the privilege of hearing CI’s vice chairman, Harrison Ford, give a speech about how my country is positioned to lead the world into a more sustainable future.
“From the Mata Atlantica [Atlantic Forest], which provides fresh water for Brazil’s great cities, to the magnificent Amazon rainforest with its role of providing fresh air and a balanced climate for the entire Earth, nowhere is it more evident that humanity needs nature,” Ford said to an audience of hundreds of the most prominent local businessmen, policymakers and CI supporters. “Our health, our security, our economies, our fundamental well-being rely on the gifts that nature gives us.”
This is the first time CI has held a major fundraising event outside the United States. We chose Brazil because it is emblematic of our global efforts to show that development must go hand in hand with conservation. I like how our vice president for the Americas, Fabio Scarano, puts it: “If we can’t get it right here, it will be hard to get it right anywhere else.”
Brazil has abundant sun and fresh water, vast wilderness areas and an incredible variety of animals found nowhere else. If countries were measured by their natural beauty, Brazil would win Miss Universe.
At the same time, our economy is vibrant, having recently jumped ahead of the U.K. to become the sixth-largest in the world. In the past five years alone, about half the country’s population living in poverty was brought into the middle class. As our economy grows, so does our demand for water, food and energy, which often translates into forest being cleared for roads, agricultures and mega dams.
Brazil’s current problems are a symbol of what’s happening across the world today. Globally, we are faced with a challenge: How can we grow without destroying the natural ecosystems that gives us vital benefits for our economies and our people?
To answer questions like this, CI announced the launch of our new Americas Center of Sustainability at the same event. This center aims to create and synthesize the best science available to demonstrate that natural capital — the benefits and services that nature provides to people — is the foundation of human well-being and socioeconomic development.
“Tonight we are launching this center to use science as the basis for a dialogue between different sectors of society,” said Scarano. “Brazil must be a leader and embrace the sustainability idea for the rest of the planet.”
After I got back to the hotel, I found myself thinking about where I would like to go for my next vacation. And I thought about the beaches of Sao Paulo, where the ocean meets the beautiful, lush green Atlantic Forest, which now has only a very small portion of its original vegetation left.
My family and I used to camp on those beaches every summer when I was growing up. I played on the sand and found little crabs and fish in the water. I went to bed with the sound of the ocean and woke up with the smell of fresh grass. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. But it’s quickly disappearing.
I truly hope that Brazil will be successful at putting nature at the center of our poverty alleviation and economic development policies. To do so would not only prove to the rest of the world that it’s possible — and essential — but it would ensure that the natural treasures that I grew up exploring will be around for a long time to come.
Patricia Yakabe Malentaqui is CI’s senior media manager.