Friday, September 2, 2011

Peace Scholar taking lessons of Smokies back to Brazil’s Amazon rainforest

Aug 29, 2011
Source: Oak Ridger

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — The first Rotary Peace Fellow from Brazil's Amazon rainforest is in Knoxville learning how collaborative efforts help preserve U.S. national parks, he told members of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge recently.

It's one lesson he hopes to take back to the Amazon rainforest after he earns a master's degree in international development policies from Duke University. Duke is one of six universities in the world that hosts a Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution.

Eduardo da Costa, native of Brazil, is an economist, professor of international relations at the University of Amazon and environmental activist. Currently, he has a summer internship with the Knoxville regional office of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The Rotary Foundation and a Stanback fellowship from Duke are funding his internship.

Another lesson he has learned from the NPCA's Emily Jones, his supervisor, is that national parks are more than a showcase of beautiful scenery, plants and wildlife. They also preserve the story of the country's heritage, such as how East Tennessee mountain folks lived in the early 20th century, as demonstrated at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Such preservation requires educational programs to inform the public about the story being told at each national park.

"The government of Brazil plans to reduce the area of seven national parks in the Amazon rainforest to make way for the construction of six large-scale hydroelectric dams," he told the Rotarians.

Such a disruption in the landscape, he added, will displace the native people and flood many square miles of territory that host rainforest species, including trees that absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

"One thing I will take away from my summer internship in Knoxville is insight into how to mobilize universities, research organizations, the private sector and nonprofits in the Amazon to collaboratively design educational programs to raise awareness of the importance of preserving Brazil's national parks," da Costa said.

"The second thing I will try to replicate in Brazil is what I have seen in East Tennessee: collaboration among the private sector, the nonprofit sector and government to address challenges related to national parks."

For the Smokies, collaboration among state and federal agencies, NPCA and the Tennessee Valley Authority should result in a significant reduction in air pollution from coal-fired power plants by 2018. Reduced air pollution will increase visibility in the Smokies by as much as 60 miles on many days.

Da Costa explained that for Rotary International, peace means more than absence of war. It also means absence of conflict, which can be caused by lack of food, clean water, education or environmental sustainability (da Costa's interest).

Jack Bailey, a Rotary Club of Oak Ridge past president who will become district governor of Rotary District 6780 in 2013-14, said that any Oak Ridger interested in applying for a Peace Fellowship to support pursuit of a master's degree in Australia, England, Argentina, Japan or Sweden should call the club's president, Nancy Stanley, at (865) 483-1400.

Da Costa's grandfather, an illiterate grower and seller of bananas, sent da Costa's father to the city to get an education when he was 12. His father earned a bachelor's degree but had to reject a graduate fellowship to study economics in France because he could not speak French.

Da Costa became fluent in English because his father insisted that his three children learn a foreign language, in addition to Portuguese, the language of Brazil.

His fluency paid off. Da Costa was asked to be an interpreter for Bob Scott, the chairman of Rotary International's polio eradication committee, when Scott attended a conference in da Costa's hometown. Scott was so impressed with da Costa's commitment to service that he urged him to apply for a Rotary Peace Fellowship.

As a result, Da Costa has achieved a first of which his family and country can be proud.

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