Extractive Industries and the Amazon

The Importance of the Amazon

Map of the Amazon

The Amazon stretches across more than two million square miles of South America, contains 10% of all biomass on earth, 20% of the world's flowing water, and a third of all know terrestrial plant, animal, and insect species.

The Amazon is home to more than 30 million people, 1.6 million of these people are indigenous and they belong to 400 different indigenous groups. Some are isolated tribes who choose to avoid contact with the outside world. Over thousands of years, the indigenous populations of the Amazon has managed, protected, and enriched the rainforest while being a fully integrated part of it.

Since the 1950s, the Amazon rainforest has entirely lost 18% of its original forest cover, and up to 50% of the forest has been partially destroyed. This is mainly due to oil and gas production, mining and logging, and the need for more space to practice agriculture and cattle ranching. 

The Impacts of Extractive Industries
Throughout the Amazon, indigenous and local communities are being threatened and displaced by extractive industries, like logging, oil, gas, and dam projects, as well as by large-scale infrastructure developments, like roads, electrical interconnections, and commercial ports. 

Indigenous people have historically gained little from large-scale resource development on their traditional lands, and have suffered from its negative impacts on their environment, cultures, economies, and societies.

Often times, they are not consulted by their home governments and the operating companies before a project begins and they have very few avenues for stopping the projects. 

Not only do extractive projects threaten indigenous communities, they also contribute to climate change through the increased production of fossil fuels, deforestation, and environmental degradation. At the same time, extractive industries decrease the ability of vulnerable communities to respond to the impacts of climate change. 

Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region
In the face of growing development and globalization, indigenous and campesino communities in the Amazon region face many threats to their people, environment and way of life. The Church plays an important role in accompanying and standing in solidarity with these communities as they work to gain respect for their territories and rights. 
The upcoming Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region to be held in October 2019 will help the Church examine and reimagine its way of being present in the Amazon. The theme of this Synod is, “The Amazon: New paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As part of the pre-synod council, REPAM has a key role in supporting the Synod process.
The significance of this Pan-Amazonian Synod extends beyond the Amazon region and has implications for the whole Church and all people concerned about the future of our planet. We hear and see the suffering due to an extractive model of development in many parts of the world including the Congo Basin, the biological corridor of Central America, the tropical forest of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani water system. This Pan-Amazonian Synod asks each of us to consider, “How can we move away from an economy of exclusion and help answer the call in Laudato Si’ to build an integral ecology?”

To learn more about the Synod, please watch this video.

What is REPAM?​
REPAM is a Latin American Catholic church, transnational network created to respond to the challenges facing the people of the Amazon and their natural environment. It began in 2014, in Brazil as a project of the nine Churches of the Amazon region under the umbrella of the Latin American Bishops Conference. 


The Spiritual Foundations of REPAM
The call to protect the environment and the vulnerable comes from the deepest parts of our faith. In Laudato Si’, which moved the Catholic Church to the heart of the fight for environmental justice, Pope Francis calls us to care for our common home.

He specifically lifts up the Amazon, which he calls the “richly biodiverse lungs of our planet,” as crucial to “the entire earth and for the future of humanity.” He laments “global economic interests which under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations,” in the Amazon. Laudato Si’ calls all human beings to respect God’s creation, and highlights how our abuse of creation harms the poor the most. 

More than anything, Laudato Si’ is a call to action: “Our goal is not to amass information, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”

While each of us can do small things to change our consumption habits, Pope Francis calls us to something greater when he asks us to join in shared responsibility for the common good. 

Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries 
This article is made possible by the Inter-religious Working Group on Extractive Industries. The working group is a Washington, DC based coalition of faith, human rights, and environmental organizations concerned about the negative impact of extractive industries on creation, which includes both the human and the natural world. The Columban Center is a member.

For more information on this subject, please read the Missionary Society of St. Columban's statement on extractive industries.