A kid I grew up with in Ecuador has taken a very different path than I did. He returned to the Cofan people among whom he was raised, married into the tribe, and over the years developed first a tourist industry, then an eco-tourism business employing Cofans, and now he and his people manage government ecological reserve lands for the government, and train game wardens for the government. He is appealing to multinational companies and foreign governments who have a high carbon footprint, asking them to "buy carbon credit" from the Cofans, to help fund the maintenance of these forests which they guard and on which they live. They have achieved "zero deforestation," at a price of only a dollar a hectar per year. (A hectar is 10,000 square meters and is the equivalent of about two and a half acres.)
Frankly, I think Randy's idea is brilliant. He has placed a positive economic value on the forest as it is, intact, and developed a way to commercialize it precisely for its pristine quality. He says his "product" is the forest, undamaged. And who would know how to do that better than the Indian people who for generations have lived in and from that very forest? Genius.
The very fact that it works indicates to me that perhaps the values in our western society are changing. We no longer value a piece of nature for its parts, but are slowly coming to value it for the whole that it is. We will find ways to commercialize (that it, assign economic value to) anything we value, from gold to swamp buggy races. Randy Borman stands at the cusp of how to put the ecological resources of the planet in the running for economic value. It's finally worth it to keep it whole where it can continue to provide oxygen for us to breathe and clean water for us to drink, and a zillion species of everything that haven't been cataloged yet that perhaps might contain substances whose chemical make-up can cure some of today's challenges, things like cancer and obesity and autism and who-knows-what else. (Maybe there's even a cure for stupid, but now I'm really reaching.)
What does this mean for us? In South Texas the cattle industry is taking second place to trophy whitetail deer hunting, and even more lucrative now: quail hunting. Granted, this is hunting for the rich only, at $2000 a weekend, but it restructures the value of the land. The other spin-off is that feedlots are more and more becoming the nurseries for the beef we eat, with their un-natural diet and living quarters for the livestock that require medical intervention to work in the form of antibiotics, growth hormones and other things, not to mention a third of the earth's green-house gasses emitted as methane!
What we need instead is what Randy has captured. There are people who know how to live with the land as well as on it. They are increasingly gaining a voice in public policy, but how about instead if they gained a voice in the economy? There is no need to return to a "pristine" state, such a thing is something of a myth anyway. We can begin to learn to live with the land as it is now. It will take a rethinking of how we look at the land, as a whole and not as the sum of its parts, as a resource as it is, not as a source of resources. That will take a systemic approach--modern ecological science is trying to do that now, and that is good. But ecologists try to piece the picture together from its parts. How about if we start with the whole? A spiritual understanding of the land starts with the whole and works to the parts. That's what Randy has done. That's what we must do. That's what the Church has to do if we are to be faithful to the Creator from whom we have received this, our island home.