Brazil’s ‘Green City’ a model for rest of Amazon
Just three years ago, the manmade fires here were so fierce smoke would blot out the Amazon sky, turning the days dark. Towering rainforest trees exploded in flames, their canopies cleared to let pasture grow for cattle.
The ash that snowed down onto this jungle town was shin-deep. Dirty layers hid red-hot timber chunks, glowing coals that burned the bare feet of children walking through the cinder drifts.
Paragominas was losing forest faster than nearly any other place in the Amazon.
Today, the town has risen from those ashes to become a pioneering “Green City,” a model of sustainability with a new economic approach that has seen illegal deforestation virtually halted. Experts say the metamorphosis is the best hope for showing the 25 million people who live in the Amazon that the forest is worth more alive than dead.
The transformation came after Brazil cracked down on 36 counties responsible for the worst deforestation in the Amazon. A resulting economic embargo left the town with two options. It could fight against change, or it could embrace a new path and promote development with minimal harm to the environment.
Mayor Adnan Demachki is the unlikely environmental warrior driving the change, a plump 46-year-old bespectacled lawyer who grew up here, and was mayor when his town was one of the worst deforesters.
“Our city was on the government’s ‘black list,’” Demachki said. “There was no way out other than the new path we had chosen.”
His “Green City” plan aims to halt all illegal deforestation through a mix of enforcement, the creation of the Amazon’s only local environmental police force, and promotion of an economy that doesn’t rely on clearing jungle. Instead, the focus is on sustainable development — using managed forestry for a wood industry, and introducing modern farming techniques to increase production while using less land.