A couple of weeks ago, John Reid, Nia Tero’s Senior Economist, and I were talking about his trajectory. One of the things that I didn’t know was that John majored in English and Spanish, and then found his path to the environmental conservation world by working as a freelance journalist and volunteering in an environmental education project in the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. These experiences led him to specialize in environmental economics. After a couple of years of working on biodiversity conservation projects, he founded Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF), an organization established in 1998 to train environmentalists on economy. Back then his goal was to provide tools to environmentalists, so they could have the strategic vision on how to save nature by understanding human incentives.
After leaving CSF in 2016, he and his wife spent four months in the Amazon and Patagonia. One of the realizations that John had during the trip was that Indigenous lands are vast and remain healthy due to the deep relationship of Indigenous Peoples to the natural world. In 2018, John joined Nia Tero, and since then he has been advancing Nia Tero´s work related to securing the lands and rights of Indigenous Peoples that have decided to remain isolated from the rest of us.
I was curious about John’s experience writing the book, and want to share an excerpt of our conversation together.
John, how has your work at Nia Tero influenced the book?
It had a huge influence. Before coming to Nia Tero, I had little interaction with Indigenous Peoples. Being at Nia Tero, and being in contact with our Indigenous partners, gave me a window into different ways of understanding the world. Indigenous Peoples have different ways of perceiving the non-human parts of the world. They have an obligation to the non-human world and to their places.
For me, it was very helpful to be able to dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and re-examine my training and understanding of economics in light of what I was learning. Also, at Nia Tero, each one of my colleagues has their own wealth of experience. Each is working on supporting Indigenous guardianship in their own way.
When getting Nia Tero started, we discussed what our principles were and what our guiding criteria were for how to work and with whom to work and whom to support. That was all learning that I was getting in time to apply to the book.
How was the collaboration with Thomas E. Lovejoy?
One thing I learned at Nia Tero is the role of elders. The people I work with in the Javari Valley Indigenous Land talk of elders as their libraries. They have official structures and bodies, and there are the elders who are respected. That is something missing in the modern fast-paced society we live in. People that are not qualified as elder can be ambitious and might think they know everything. The role Tom played for me was that of an elder.
I was born in 1964, and Tom arrived to Brazil for the first time in 1965. Thus, Tom had been involved in conservation for the entirety of my life. Because of his prominence and diplomatic skills, he was involved in the arc of time of forest conservation coming to the attention of people worldwide. He knew the origins of things. He knew who was part of the conversation, who created what, what the politics were like, and the dynamics. We were able to write the book with awareness of that history. Working with someone who knew the origin of things and had a sense of the big picture was great.
Also, my passions will flare about a couple of things, such as missionaries contributing to loss of Indigenous Peoples’ identity and culture, or the lip services to sustainability on the part of development banks. Tom was there to moderate those passions. He would remind me that including tirades and angry statements in the book might not serve the book’s purpose. He reminded me that we can deliver the same message with more subtle language and at the end of the day come out with a more powerful statement than if we follow passions alone.
What would you like readers to remember after reading the book?
One thing to remember is that the world is still a beautiful place. Another is that there are people that are determined to keep it that way. The third is that there is something that everyone can do to help. I say that last part, as if you live in a house, and eat and move around – you have choices to make that will impact the forest.
Everything we do that has climate impact, impacts forests. This is very dramatic in the boreal forest, where warming is happening faster than in other regions. If you drive less, drive a smaller car, your car doesn’t use gas, you make choices about what you eat and about your housing situation – you have an impact on whether the next gold mine will be established in New Guinea or the Amazon. What you do as consumer matters, both to our global climate and to the forests and resources in specific locations. We can’t all live like barefoot monks and give up our material existence, but I am convinced that at least in middle class and wealthy societies, there are things people can do better.
Again, the world is a beautiful place. People should go out and enjoy not only the remote forests, but those that are nearby. I grew up in a fragmented ecosystem, but there were public lands close to where I lived. That is where I became an environmentalist and decided what I would do with my life.
Love for the place around you is connected to bigger love for planet as your home.
Want to know more? Read Ever Green: Saving Big Forests to Save the Planet by John Reid and Thomas E. Lovejoy!