Miriam Leitao at PostGlobal

Miriam Leitao

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miriam Leitao is a reporter and columnist for O Globo and Radio CBN in Brazil. She is also a commentator on Globo TV Network and runs her own blog, www.miriamleitao.com, hosted at Globo online at www.oglobo.com.br. She was awarded Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 2005. Close.

Miriam Leitao

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Miriam Leitao is a reporter and columnist for O Globo and Radio CBN in Brazil. more »

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A Farewell to Isolation

The Current Discussion:PostGlobal celebrates its second birthday this week. Is there a growing global agenda -- that is, an agenda of issues being discussed that affects the world rather than individual countries? Or are local concerns still paramount?

The answer is yes, to both questions: Yes, there is a growing global agenda, and yes, there are local concerns in each country. That is the complexity of our era. Globalization, amazing new possibilities for communication, and intense capital flows have increased the ties between countries, but each nation still has its own challenges, realities, and priorities.

Let me give a Brazilian example. Some days ago, a governmental agency released some aerial photos of an unknown Indian tribe. The scene of a group of painted men with bows and arrows was unbelievable and the pictures were posted and printed everywhere. They are Brazilians, but they don’t know it. They are part of the global agenda, but they don’t know it. They have never had a contact with what we call modern civilization. However, our destiny is part of their destiny. They have been able to preserve their isolation and culture until now, because the Amazon is so vast and 80% of its rainforest area is still preserved. We have here several – maybe 40 – ethnic groups in the same situation: separate from all contact with the modern way of life.

How to deal with them? Should we contact them? What is the best public policy in this case? Should we keep a respectable distance or should we force rapid contact? It’s a Brazilian choice. However, the more Brazil succeeds in its efforts to preserve the rainforest, the more they could be there, isolated. In the past, contact between new tribes and so-called civilization was pervasive, and has failed in allowing them a safe choice about their future. If we succeed in our effort to preserve the rainforest we will also contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If we cannot stop deforestation, it will be terrible news for us, for them, and for the world.

My point is: there is no longer such a thing as an isolated community. Even our isolated, painted-black-and-red men have no idea of the extent to which they are linked to other human communities.

The world agenda is overloaded with concerns about the supply and price of food. It’s a problem in Brazil, India, China, U.S. Agflation is a new word for this unexpected global urgency. Some world leaders are eagerly looking for a scapegoat, and it’s easy to pin guilt on biofuel. Brazil began producing bioenergy in the 1980s. Since then Brazilian food production and productivity have been increasing annually. Now, more than 40% of car fuel is produced from sugar cane. The production of ethanol is increasing and so are other crops. Over the last 15 years Brazilian grain harvest has increased by 125%, but cultivated land area has grown only 27%. There is no competition, here, between food production and bioenergy. But this concern about the shortage of food has been used as argument to support the idea that we must tolerate some level of deforestation to enlarge food production. In fact, that’s a false choice: Brazil has a lot of land available to harvest. It doesn’t need to invade the forest. The world food crisis has been a pretext to legitimate illegal deforestation.

If the food crisis spreads everywhere, if international prices remain so high, if Brazilians don’t know how to reconcile environmental protection and food production, the first victim will be the Amazon rainforest. In this case, our unknown, isolated Indians will get news about our failure. They will be informed in the worst possible way.

There are many other examples of this connection between the growing global agenda and the growing local agenda. Look at Kiribati Island. People who have lived on this tiny Pacific Ocean island for generation now face the extreme decision: leave their country or die. Their agenda is to organize a massive migration. The world agenda is to find a way to avoid new events like this.

In terms of the economy, each country has experienced at different levels the world turmoil that has its epicenter in the U.S. economy. The rising risk of stagflation in the U.S. and skyrocketing oil prices are global problems, but each country faces a different impact of the crisis due to local specificities. Globalization has multiplied the ties between the countries and the challenge now is to protect local economies from American troubles.

Let’s look at a good example far from climate change or economy. Racism is an old problem surging anew in some countries. What might be the effect on the world’s black children of Barack Obama’s success? His story of success is saying to all of them: “Yes, you can”. The fight for less unequal societies will be fought in local fields, but a strong impulse now is being sent from America.

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