Related National Standards
Grade Level: 7-12
Estimated Time: Two to three class periods
The Amazon rainforest contains many resources that humans need and want. Rubber, collected in liquid latex form from rubber trees, is one of them. In the rainforests of Brazil, people depend on rubber tapping for their livelihood. At the same time, cattle ranchers wish to clear the land for their cattle herds to graze. They must cut down the trees to do this. Thus, rubber tappers and cattle ranchers disagree over who has the rights to the trees and land. This issue is complicated by the fact that many rubber tappers are members of indigenous Amazon tribes, while many cattle ranchers are foreigners or represent foreign corporations. A Brazilian rubber tapper named Chico Mendes organized his fellow workers into the National Council of Rubber Tappers to protest the cutting of the trees by the cattle ranchers. Through his efforts, the union was able to obtain Brazilian government support for the creation of "extractive reserves" within the seven state areas of Brazil. The extractive reserves save small areas of the land for sustainable use, like rubber tapping. Although Mendes was murdered in 1988, his former coworkers and activists worldwide continue his efforts.
- Students will be able to locate the area of Acre, Brazil on a map.
- Students will be able to identify rubber as a Brazilian rainforest product and explain how it is harvested.
- Students will be able to explain who Chico Mendes was and why his actions are important to preservation of parts of the Brazilian Amazon.
- Students will compose a hypothetical news report about the life and work of Chico Mendes as it might have been read on television 10 years ago, and in 1998 on the anniversary of his death.
- Everyone knows the rainforest is disappearing, but how fast? Ask students to estimate how many acres per minute are being eliminated from the earth's surface. Have them write down their guesses on a small piece of paper. Read out all the estimates and list them on the blackboard or a a transparency. Award a small token to the student who is closest to the correct figure (In 1999, 64 acres/minute according to the Rainforest Action Network). Compare 64 acres to the area of the school grounds or a local park for relevance.
- Play the video clip from "Journey To Amazonia." Instruct students to make note of the kinds of animals and plants they see that are featured as inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest.
Episode Three, "The Big Top" 43:36: The segment shows a large number of the Amazon's plants and animals that have been featured throughout the rest of the program. It ends with. "Great natural assets deserve great efforts to protect them."
- Have students share their observations. Inform them that we get many products from the rainforest, like food, building materials and medicines, from the many plant species like the ones in the video. One important product of the rainforest is rubber; particularly the rainforest in Brazil.
- Students should work with a partner to a) locate Brazil on a map b) make list of all the things they use that are made with latex or rubber.
- Ask students how they think rubber is made. Then show pictures or explain that the most basic latex for making rubber comes from making a scratch in the bark of a rubber tree several times a week. The liquid latex runs from the scar and then the rubber tapper collects it a cup propped against the trunk with a Y shaped twig to hold it in place. The rubber tapper collects it in large quantities and sells it in return for food or goods.
- Inform students that in the rainforest of Brazil, there was a very famous rubber tapper named Chico Mendes. He made a great effort and paid a great price to save the natural assets of the forest (like the ones featured in the video) in Brazil that his people depended on for their survival (rubber trees). Students read, "Remembering Chico Mendes." Note the additional links to biographical information and other essays at the end of the article.
- Questions for large group discussion:
- Why was it important for Chico Mendes to protest the way that cattle ranchers used the forest land?
- What did he achieve and how did he protest?
- What does the word "sustainable" mean? Which use of the rainforest (the rubber tappers or cattle ranchers) is an example of sustainable use of land? Why?
- How do you think the cattle ranchers feel about the "extractive resources"? Why?
- What happened to Chico Mendes? Do you think his efforts were worthwhile?
- Who are the major players in this disagreement over the land? (Perhaps make a concept web on the board of cattle ranchers, indigenous peoples, and others like consumers who buy the products produced by the cattle ranchers.) Are we as Americans involved in situations like this in the rainforest without really knowing we are? Why or why not?
- Have students pretend that they are news reporters writing a one page report about the life and achievements of Amazon activist Chico Mendes. The report may have been read at the time of his death or last year during the events planned on the 10th anniversary of his death. Encourage them to include aspects of the large group discussion in their paper. They must also evaluate whether they think his efforts were in vain or not, and be able to support their answer with facts they learned through research. Good sites to visit include:
Have students hand in their lists of things they use that contain rubber, assess students on their participation in the discussion, and on the incorporation of that discussion in their one page report on Chico Mendes.
Have different students lead or pose the discussion questions.
Ask students to pick their favorite fast food restaurant or other restaurant establishment and find out where there obtain the majority of their beef products.
Instruct students to prepare a current events update (short oral report) for any of the following: extractive reserves in Brazil or any other country, sustainable development, or the current leadership and activities of the National Council of Rubber Tappers.
View 1994 movie "The Burning Season" based on the life of Chico Mendes.
Compare Chico Mendes to leaders of other human rights, political, or environmental movements in countries around the world. What similarities exist? Are there movements or ideals for which students would risk their lives?
Related National Standards
- Revkin, Andrew. The Burning Season. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1990.
- National Wildlife Federation. "Ranger Rick's Nature Scope: Tropical Treasures". 1989 Pgs. 48-59.
This lesson addresses the following national content standards found at http://www.mcrel.org:
- Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
- Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface
- Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
- Understands how physical systems affect human systems
- Understands global development and environmental issues