The Amazon Rainforest as Topic of Intercultural Communication

The long-stable world order of the last half of the twentieth century has enduringly changed in the wake of the end of the Cold War and the resulting division of states into first, second and third worlds. Taking its place is a multipolar and multiculturally oriented order shaped by an increasingly dense network of economic, ecological, political and other subsystems. This development has an effect on the international relations between states and societies as well as repercussions for their internal structures. Moreover, the shift is taking place under the constant monitoring and observation of the public sphere, as it is disseminated through the media, be they classical print media, the mass media, or new digital media.

With this development into a global society, risk scenarios have shifted from ideological conflicts and cultural differences to the threat of ecological disaster brought about by climate change. Thus the threat to rainforests and the outcomes that would result from their loss have become important topics, in particular—as the world’s largest intact rainforest area—the Amazon rainforest.

Worldwide disaster scenarios, which are more and more often discussed in the sciences and the daily press, are another candidate for the reconfiguration of global systems, linked to the unequal access to resources. Environmental problems that were debated domestically in the 1960s and 1970s have now become subjects of global media consumption: disturbing images of desertification; the dying of forests; droughts; and floods. Environmental problems seem to attain an international profile from dissemination through mass media (see F. Kohout, 1999, p. 17). People, regardless of their class or nationality, are confronted at the global level with the fact that human actions and the all too careless use of resources come at a high price. Environmental catastrophes, such as the 2006 tsunami, the drought in the Amazon rainforest in 2006 and 2007, or the 2008 cyclone in Burma have become familiar images.

Political ecology attempts to provide an account for human influence on environmental change. Physical geographical measurements serve as the basic sources for data, approached via questions from the social sciences and social geography. Political ecology begins from the assumption that social and economic traits as well as cultural perspectives define a society’s attitude toward nature as well as the impact of human actions on nature. A political ecological explanation does not start from a natural, deterministic limit to sustainability but rather from a socially conditioned scarcity of resources that becomes apparent particularly in relation to resource extraction. What is meant here are, for example, the norms that regulate the access, use, and distribution of resources (Krings, T., 2001, p. 93-94). The attitude toward the tropical rainforests can be mentioned here as a good example, in which it becomes obvious that ecological changes at the regional or national level have consequences for the transnational level.

Problem-solving at the global level is difficult to facilitate because of the complex independence that the constituent actors hold to one another, the more so as the current discussions take place above all between unequal nations and their disparate interests: Mayer-Tasch speaks of an “incomparable order of magnitude” [unvergleichlichen Größenordnung] in relation to the consideration of the resulting political challenges. Ultimately it is nothing less than ecological balance and the survival or the form of human life that is at stake.

The discussions are shaped by both old and newly emerging North-South conflicts between industrialized and so-called developing countries. Charges of “eco-imperialism” are increasingly common against countries of the North, because the protection of nature hampers the Southern states, whose development is dependent on the export of raw materials. The industrialized nations for their part are accused of prioritizing environmental protection above the interests of the economics and development policies of Third World nations.

The discussions are concerned with more than solely a socio-economic or ecological dimension. The link between ecological change and security policy is not new but it is nevertheless a topical link. This link becomes apparent in observing climate change outcomes. Hardly a day goes by in which the topic does not show up in the media or in designs for environmental policy.

This study examines discourse concerning the Amazon rainforest, i.e., how the discourse is implemented in the media in various domains such as politics (e.g., environmental politics, security policy, domestic policy, economic policy, foreign policy), culture, economics, and law; and in intercultural comparison between Germany and Brazil.

Term of Project: July 2008-Ongoing

Project Members:
Prof. Michael Hanke (Institut für Interkulturelle Kommunikation)
Eva Riempp, Certified Geographer (Geography)
Cooperation with the Geocycles Project "Strategien zur Nutzung der Ressource Regenwald in den Staaten des Bergland von Guyana: Venezuela, Brasilien, Guyana, Suriname und Französisch Guyana."
[Strategies for Using Rainforest Resources in Guyana’s Highland States: Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana]

Further Cooperation Partners:
Prof. em. Manfred Nitsch: Institute for Latin American Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Research specialization: Compative Literature / Latin American Political Economy)
Prof. Oliver Fahle: Faculty of Media, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar (Junior Professor, History and Theory of Visual Media)
Prof. Vinicius Andrade Pereira: Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Research specialization: Media)
Prof. Irene Machado: Pontifícia Universidade Católica, São Paulo, Brazil (Research specialization: Semiotics)