BINGOs and Environmental Protection: Science in the Global South

https://i1.wp.com/img.timeinc.net/time/reports/environment/heroes/images/roosmalen.jpg
Roosmalen: martyrdom of a monkey man. The naturalized Tupi and former public servant is a controversially accused misappropriator of public funds and smuggling facilitator (r.). His son (not shown) is president of the Amazon Conservation Team.

I was wondering whatever became of the case of the international NGOs that came under official suspicion here in Brazil in recent years. Suspicion of being up to no good stuff like allegedly drawing blood from Indians under false pretenses and selling it off to biotech laboratories abroad.

Larry Rohter and Fox News and the like have joined forces to depict the Brazilian government as “paranoid” about such matters, for example — and as Stalinist persecutors of honest scientific researchers.

A nation whose blin, useless, Byzantine, obstructionist — and endemically and intractably corrupt — bureaucracy is impeding the Baconian advancement of human learning by those morally and technically fit to achieve it.

Whether that is true or not — it sinks of folklore — in any event, the reporting sent back pra inglês ver certainly does require boiling before consumption, I tend to find. It has been dumbed down considerably. See

The congress here in Brazil is about to launch an investigative commission into NGO and PPP governance in general, which ought to be extremely interesting.

Lus Nassif posted this note back in August. Reader Benedito Domingues had written in, saying:

Prezado Nassif, no período em que foi anunciado a medida provisória que dividia o IBAMA: no ex-ibama, vulgo subdiretoria da MME/EPE/ANEL, e o Instituto Chico Mendes (o CHICO MENDES TREMEU NO CAIXÃO), disse que o interesse estava no caminho do dinheiro. Veja abaixo a descrição do artigo publicado Science que reflete meus argumentos.

Dear Nassif, at the time the provisional measure [interim executive order] was announced that would divide IBAMA [the Brazilian EPA, sort of] into the MME/EPE/ANEL and the Chico Mendes Institute (Chico is rolling over in his grave), you said the interesting thing was following the money. Look at how this article published in Science, which reflects my arguments on the issue, deals with that.

That would be:

“Globalization of Conservation: A View from the South,” J. P. Rodríguez, A. B. Taber, P. Daszak, R. Sukumar, C. Valladares-Padua, S. Padua, L. F. Aguirre, R. A. Medellín, M. Acosta, A. A. Aguirre, C Bonacic, P. Bordino, J. Bruschini, D. Buchori, S. González, T. Mathew, M. Méndez, L. Mugica, L. F. Pacheco, A. P. Dobson, and M. Pearl, Science 10 August 2007: 755-756.

The précis of the story from Science was authored by Gustavo Faleiros and Andreia Fanzeres, and the source of this précis is … well, read on:

Um artigo publicado na mais recente edição da revista Science, o semanário científico mais influente do mundo, está causando um pequeno terremoto na cena em que atuam as organizações não-governamentais ambientalistas. sEntitulado “A Globalização da Conservação” e assinado por pesquisadores de diversas nacionalidades reunidos na Wildlife Trust Alliance, o texto sustenta que as grandes ONGs internacionais – Bingos (Big International Non Governamental Organizatios), na sigla em inglês – têm estratégias falhas na proteção do meio ambiente e prejudicam a atuação de pequenas instituições de países em desenvolvimento.

An article published in the most recent (August 2007) edition of Science, the most influential scientific weekly in the world, is causing a minor earthquake among environmental NGOs. Headlined “The Globalization of Conservation,” and signed by researchers of various nationalities from the Wildlife Trust Alliance, the article argues that Big International NGOS (BINGOs) promote failed strategies to protect the environment and are impeding the operation of small institutions in developing nations.

Os pesquisadores buscam demonstrar que a forma de atuação de organizações como Conservation Internacional (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) e World Wildlife Fund (WWF) se assemelha a de grandes empresas multinacionais. Isso se dá através da criação de programas genéricos, que servem como marcas para a obtenção de recursos financeiros. O texto cita as campanhas ‘Hot Spots’ da CI e ‘200 Ecoregions’ da WWF como casos extremamente bem sucedidos na arrecadação de fundos, mas não tão efetivos na conservação da biodiversidade. Houve um incremento de 40% a 100% nos orçamentos destas ONGs nos Estados Unidos entre 1998 e 2005, e na opinião dos autores, os conceitos ambientais utilizados não resguardam os ecossistemas em perigo.

The researchers seek to show that the way in which organizations like Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund operate is similar to that of multinational corporations. This comes about through the creation of generi programs that serve as brand names under which to obtain funding. The article cites CI’s “Hot Spots” campaign and the WWF’s “200 Ecoregions” campaign as examples of extremely successful fundraising efforts that have not been so effective at conserving biodiversity. There was an increase of 40% to 100% in the budgets of this NGOs in the United States between 1998 and 2005, and in the opinion of the authors, the environmental concepts they use do not succeed in preserving at-risk ecosystems.

“Embora estas marcas sejam derivadas das ciências da conservação, elas são vulneráveis à crítica científica. Por exemplo, planos previamente concebidos que miram áreas fixas para conservação (Hot Spots e Ecoregions) são insuficientes para lidar com ameaças repentinas como doenças ou espécies invasoras, a alteração do leque de espécies graças ao aquecimento global, ou a dinâmica espacial de ecossistemas marinhos”, descreve o artigo.

“Those these brands are derived from conservation sciences, they are vulnerable to criticism on scientific grounds. For example, previously conceived plans aimed a fixed areas for conservations (Hot Spots and Ecoregions) are insufficient to deal with sudden threats such as diseases or invading outside species, or alterations in the species composition of a region due to global warming, or the spatial dynamic of marine ecosystems,” the article says.

A presidente do Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (IPÊ), Suzana Pádua, é uma das autoras do artigo na Science e explica que há algum tempo existe um sentimento entre pesquisadores de que as Bingos, com a grande quantidade de dinheiro que têm, ditam os rumos da conservação em todo mundo, mas não acertam o foco onde a biodiversidade está mais necessitada. Para aumentar a eficiência das ações de proteção aos ecossistemas, Suzana observa que a Wildlife Trust Alliance defende que as pequenas organizações locais tenham mais voz. Segundo ela, ONGs de menor porte que dependem unicamente de parcerias e recursos das grandes “perdem identidade.” “Estamos propondo um exercício para que trabalhemos com respeito e cooperação de fato”, diz a presidente do IPÊ.

A co-author of the article from the Brazilian Institute of Ecological Studies, Suzana Pádua, exaplains that there has existed a feeling among researchers for some time now that BINGOs, with the vast quantities of money they have, dictate the course of conservation around the world, but do succeed in focusing on biodiversity where the need is greatest. To increase the efficiency of environmental protection programs, Suzana observes, the Wildlife Trust Alliance argues that small local organizations should have a greater voice. According to her, smaller NGOs that depend entirely on partnerships and funding from the BINGOs “lose their identify.” “We are proposing an exercise in respect and cooperation in fact,” she said.

O ponto-chave de “Globalização da conservação” parece ser a questão de que ao mesmo tempo em que os recursos das Bingos não param de crescer, a verba oficial de governos e organismos multilateriais para a proteção da biodiversidade caiu 50% na última década. É a partir deste desequilíbrio que as grandes ONGs passam a comandar as políticas domésticas de meio ambiente. Uma das consequências, sustenta o artigo, é uma estrutura de decisões de cima para baixo que não considera o conhecimento de instituições e especialistas locais. “Organizações pequenas e localmente focadas, trabalhando na linha de frente da perda da biodiversidade são frequentemente as mais eficazes”, ponderam os autores.

The key point of the Science article seems to be that, even as the resources of these BINGOs continue to grow, the budget of governments and multilateral organizations have shrunk by 50% in the last decade. It is due to this disequilibrium that the big NGOs began to dominate domestic environmental policies. One consequence of this, the article maintains, is that a top-down decision-making structure that does not take into account the knowledge offered by local institutions and experts.

I happen to know someone who did PR for one of these NGOs. When the local chapter dared to disagree with the home office back on K Street, everyone was summarily sacked and people brought in who would be more compliant. It was astonishing. The kind of thing that gives NGOs a bad name, really.

“Small, locally-focused organizations working on the front lines of vanishing biodiversity are frequently the most effective,” the authors claim.

Outra consequência negativa da influência das Bingos, aponta Suzana, é a deficiência na preparação de profissionais locais em práticas de conservação. Um dado no artigo revela que dos 3,2 bilhões de dólares aplicados entre 1990 e 1997 na proteção de ecossistemas na América Latina, apenas 4% foram destinados à “capacitação”. “Hoje, só 30% dos artigos científicos sobre biodiversidade na Amazônia são escritos por brasileiros. Nós estamos fazendo parcerias, mas o conhecimento está ficando no primeiro mundo”, reclama a ambientalista.

Another negative consequence of the influence of BINGOs, Suzana says, is the lack of training for local professionals in conservation work. The article states that of the $3.2 billion invested between 1990 and 1997 in the protection of Latin American ecosystems, only 4% were destined for “training.” Today, only 30% of the scientific articles on biodiversity in the Amazon are written by Brazilians. We are entering into partnerships, but the knowledge is being acquired by the First World,” she complains.

There is a similar rationale for encouraging the development of local technology, such as development of open-source government software: Training up local nerds to fill present and future local needs.

Fewer than 5 percent of Brazilians have college degrees, I was just looking at that chart, where was that? In the U.S. and Canada, it approaches 40%.

A reader named João protests:

Olha, se é para piratear texto do Eco — http://www.oeco.com.br — faça o favor de pelo menos citar a fonte, OK?

Hey, if you are going to pirate an article from Eco — http://www.oeco.com.br — at least do us the favor of citing the source, OK?

Nassif responds.

Não tem pirataria nem biopirataria. Tem um leitor que enviou um comentário com um artigo mencionando o autor, mas não a fonte.

There’s no piracy here — or biopiracy, either. A reader sent in the article, citing the author but not the source.

The defenders of intellectual dishonesty are themselves dishonest!

Uma observação bem educada da sua parte, com o endereço do artigo do site, teria dado muito melhor resultado: o endereço do site seria divulgado da mesma maneira, e você não prejudicaria sua imagem com comentário agressivo e gratuito.

A polite observation on your part, providing the URL of the article, would have gotten better results: The URL would still get published, and you would not wind up damaging your reputation with an aggressive and gratuitious comment.

Ah, yes, but which of the 900 gazillion Brazilians named João do we take to task for this rudeness?

I think the Benedito Domingues cited is this environmental engineer from São Paulo.

The image “https://i0.wp.com/i113.photobucket.com/albums/n216/cbrayton/HOW_TO_LOOT.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
“The Lula government has stolen billions”: Anonymous political blogger cribs the “The Simpsons go to Rio” episode, in which they sleepy-eyed Argentine pimps teach tango and the lambada at the local escola de samba.

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