"Five minutes to midnight" for Amazon, bishop warns

German-born Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu in Brazil's Amazon basin has warned that unchecked forest clearing threatens to turn the region into "a huge sugar cane field" for ethanol production.

Saying "it's five minutes to midnight" for the Amazon, Bishop Krautler of Xingu in Para state made an impassioned plea for all the countries of the world to join forces to stop the destruction of the rain forest, Catholic News reports.

Speaking at a press conference, the bishop said that when he arrived in the area 42 years ago, "the Amazon was more or less intact and now it is threatened with destruction."

Clearing and burning the rain forest to plant soy and sugar cane "will be a fatal blow for the Amazon," he said. "If things continue as they are, in another 30 years the Amazon will not exist anymore."

Destruction of the rain forest has accelerated since the 1970s with the construction of highways that have given ranchers, loggers and miners access to untouched land.

Environmental issues have been high on the Brazilian Catholic Church's agenda in recent years, and many pastoral workers, including Bishop Krautler, have received death threats for their advocacy.

Several, like US Sr Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, have been killed. Bishop Krautler's plea to save the rain forest came less than a week after a rancher was sentenced to 30 years in prison for hiring gunmen to kill Sr Dorothy in 2005.

The rain forest is home to indigenous peoples, rubber tappers and settlers who moved there in the 1970s "in search of a place where they could plant and harvest and make a living with their families," Bishop Krautler said.

Defense of the Amazon "is not only defense of the flora and fauna," he said. "From the standpoint of creation theology, when we defend the Amazon, we are defending the home of future generations. We are defending creation as a whole."

Observers have said that the newest threat to the region is the widespread planting of sugar cane to produce ethanol. Brazil is already a leading producer of ethanol, and President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said he wants to increase production and help African countries follow Brazil's example. US President George W Bush and da Silva signed an agreement to promote ethanol production in March.

Bishop Krautler said, "We may as well chant a requiem for the Amazon if we don't take a stand against this threat."

He warned that Brazil runs the risk of "becoming a huge sugar cane field because of ethanol."

"We have to rethink the concept of development" with models that are sustainable and not focused only on economic gain.

'Five minutes to midnight' – Brazilian prelate pleads to stop rain forest's imminent destruction (Catholic Online, 22/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Amazon Rainforest (Wikipedia)

Latin America "continent of hope", Benedict believes (CathNews, 14/5/07)
Green pope says save Amazon (14/5/07)
Five face trial in Brazil for nun's murder (CathNews, 31/7/05)
American nun assassinated in Brazil (CathNews, 14/2/05)

23 May 2007