Steve O. Taylor is an independent filmmaker and the writer/director of the Green Heart trilogy of documentaries about the world’s big tropical forests and the people and species who rely on them. He is currently preparing a new film project on elephant poaching and the ivory trade. In today’s guest blog for EIA, Steve discusses the making of his Green Heart films.
I had originally come to the West African nation of Sierra Leone to work on a documentary to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
While filming Bunce Island’s slave fort, I became aware that in 1837 this British dominion had been forbidden to continue to export slaves and was legally closed; as an alternative, its owners switched to the exploitation of a new resource, the tropical hardwoods once found in abundance along this particular coastline of Africa.
Bunce Island was finally abandoned after these coastal hardwoods became exhausted, ending 160 years of notorious colonial trade and commerce.
Rainforests are home to more than 80 per cent of all species on our planet yet we continue to trash this biodiverse resource without understanding the catastrophic impact on our very survival as a potentially intelligent species.
Despite first coming to Africa’s rainforests to document the slave trade, during my journeys I met a microbiologist at a conference who suggested: “Why not film the entire planet’s equatorial rainforests?”
I was exhausted and somewhat taken aback but also excited by the prospect of going global and filming an holistic vision of our planet’s rainforests.
The rainforests of Southeast Asia are the most depleted, the forests of Latin America are being erased in order to plant soya and cattle ranches and former forested regions of Southeast Asia are being converted into vast and endless genetically engineered monoculture palm oil plantations.
Our planet’s last remaining frontier rainforest wilderness is a region of potentially fabulous wealth, a territory of vast mineral and timber resources. These equatorial rainforests contain an astonishing and complex biodiversity and the terminal loss of this fragile biosphere will be a catastrophic and an irreplaceable loss.
While visiting the Amazon in Peru, I was to encounter discontent indigenous Indian communities enraged by contracts signed in Lima with multinational oil giants eager to acquire oil and gas reserves.
In Brazil, I was to travel across the states of Mato Grosso Norte, Rhondonia and Amazonas and here in Latin America’s largest nation one could hardly fail to notice the brash and vibrant economy relentlessly driving forward and erasing the Amazon forests in order to make way for dams and new farms of soya and cattle ranches. The governor of Mato Grosso, Do Sul Senhor Amagi, is also the largest soya and cattle rancher in the country, while the largest grain producer on the planet is giant US corporation Cargil International, a name I’d encounter throughout Brazil’s Amazon.
Brazil’s economic growth is a major factor in this nation’s destruction of its once endless rainforests and its rapidly disappearing indigenous communities.
From Latin America I was to travel to Borneo, the planet’s third largest island shared by the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia; this island represents the most depleted of all the three equatorial forests blocks and a recent UN report has predicted that in the next 20 years 98 per cent of Borneo rainforests will have been lost forever.
The timber corporations of Malaysia have systematically erased this island’s forests at an astonishing rate, and traveling across Borneo one can witness vast estates of palm oil.
With the rapid economic development of India and China, palm oil is in greater demand than ever and giant international corporations such as Wilmar, based on the Singapore stock exchange, are now seeking new territories in which to acquire new palm oil estates.
Both Sumatra and Borneo now offer only limited forest territories and timber production in this part of Southeast Asia is in terminal decline.
The corporate giants responsible for the destruction of Borneo’s forests are now actively mining and clearing the rainforests of Papua, while in other territory’s such as them Solomon Islands rainforests have all been virtually obliterated. With the Pacific rim and Southeast Asia’s rainforests rapidly shrinking, giant corporations are now actively turning their attention to the timber and mineral resources of Africa’s Congo basin and other rainforest nations such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Central Africa and Cameroon.
Giants such as IFL are presently clearing the forest reserves of the Gabon while agricultural corporations such as Wilmar International from Southeast Asia are eagerly seeking vast new territories on which to plant millions of hectares of palm oil.
Without doubt the greatest prize of all will be the very heart of Africa, the Congo Basin situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a vast region containing huge mineral reserves and millions of hectares of equatorial rainforests. Within these forests are to be found a stunning array of perhaps the most diverse biodiversity anywhere on our planet.
During my travels across the Congo basin, I was to encounter gorillas, forest elephants, bonobos, crocodiles and hippos; the region contains more than 1,339 species of birds, many of which are unique and found only here. On journeys along forest tracks, I marveled at the sight of thousands of butterflies appearing as a colorful mirage of white, turquoise, yellow and red, glittering and hovering deep in the glorious wilderness.
Here in the DRC, I met members of the Batwa Pygmies and learnt about how the outside world is beginning to encroach. One can only suspect that these rainforest regions will in time become more accessible to an ever-growing global population with a hungry appetite for new mineral resources, timber and palm oil.
My journeys ultimately brought to mind just how fragile the rainforest truly are. In order to sustain future global population growth, the demand for resources is set to rocket – but as a species, we have already arrived at a critical junction in the ongoing unsustainable demands we have made upon our planet’s fragile and irreplaceable biodiverse rainforests.
Steve O. Taylor
• To learn more about Steve’s work and to purchase the Green Heart films, click here.