Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photographer and co-founder of nonprofit Instituto Terra, which works to restore the country’s Atlantic forest. The project was initially launched on his parents’ cattle ranch in eastern Brazil; Salgado used his photographs to raise funding for a seedling nursery, laboratory, and training center, which allowed the project to plant about 300 different species of native trees and to restore 2,000 natural springs. In 2022–23, it launched “Empresa Amiga,” a program that will raise funds from nearly a dozen corporate partners for forest and water basin restoration.
What is the single most important action you think the public, or a specific company or government, needs to take in the next year to advance the climate agenda?
There is only one way to move the climate agenda forward in the world, at personal, company and state level, and that is to plant trees. There is no machine on the planet capable of sequestering carbon dioxide. Only trees can do this through photosynthesis. By planting trees we will solve the planetary carbon problem and, more importantly, we will rehabilitate local biodiversity. In the last 40 years, Germany has lost 70% of its biodiversity. What’s more, by planting forests we also restore water sources by retaining humidity in the soil. That’s the primordial action I would advise: planting trees.
What sustainability effort do you hope will gain popularity with the general public this year, and why?
We should focus on the integration of the world of land, rural landowners, Indigenous and peasant communities into the global debate on ecology. The rural world is not integrated into this debate, which is 95% dominated by the urban sector. And urban people don’t know the land and the planet. If we have to plant forests, we won’t do it in the cities, but in the countryside.
Where should climate activism go in the next year?
Climate activism should focus on a reorientation of carbon credits. We have to separate what carbon is recovered in industries by reducing carbon emissions, and the real carbon sequestration that comes from planting forests. Organizations around the world have to fight for there to be a sufficient financial return for rural landowners to have an alternative use for their land between livestock, agriculture, and forestry. Otherwise, they will never plant forests. We must fight for a real carbon fund for planting trees.
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