Sao Paulo is one of the great cities of the world. Located in southeastern Brazil, this sprawling metropolis is the most populous city in the country — second in all of the Americas. The state of Sao Paulo is the wealthiest in Brazil and uses its power to influence the nation’s trade, commerce, finance and foreign relations. With all of its wealth and power, however, the city is decaying. A prolonged drought (or “hydric collapse,” according to officials) and dengue fever are paralyzing the city.
Dengue is often a problem in Brazil, especially during the Southeast’s rainy months of January and February. The virus is transported from host to host via mosquitoes. Though usually a product of natural phenomena, this year’s outbreak is a result of state decree.
To combat the drought, utilities are reducing water supply to force conservation. This denies water to millions of people, often for days at a time. As a consequence, the people of Sao Paulo, powerless to fight this action, hoard water in buckets and other containers — perfect breeding grounds for mosquitos.
Drought seems odd considering the city’s surrounding ecology. Sao Paulo lies in the natural boundaries of the Brazilian Highlands. Ancient basaltic lava flows first molded the region, while erosion produces nutrient rich volcanic soil. As a result, these lands were once host to lush forest, an array of biomes, incredible biodiversity and 12% of the world’s freshwater reserves.
The economics of growth have not treated the region well, however. Though blessed with natural splendor, sprawl continues to invade the forest, so much so that only 7.3% of the original landscape remains. It is this plunder that brought about the current crisis. Healthy forests hold rainwater during dry periods and produce humidity that fuels precipitation.
Sao Paulo is heavily industrialized and mechanized, however, and the financial sector demands sprawl. The city is heavily managed by zoning restrictions, creating spaces of capital, places of poverty and state enclosure. Social classes are integrated spatially, but infrastructure such as walls and security technologies isolate the wealthy and enforce social stratification. Urban planning revolves around capital. Sao Paulo is a top-down city ever pushing into the landscape. Its demand for resources is great.
As bad as the current situation is, though, the forest offers redemption. It is amazing what natural systems can teach us. When we consider natural systems, we see the simple turn to the complex in a great bottom up diversification of life. The wild functions under the fixed laws of nature. It is competition in a world of scarcity, mutualism among species of different kingdoms, cooperation among the three great domains of life and selection pressures that order the natural world. Looking to the complex order of the forest, a world free of archism is revealed.
So let’s study the forest, then look back to civilization. Let’s craft the commons and a society worthy of wilderness.
Common institutions, free of the limitations and restrictions of growth for growths sake, will allow democratic markets to develop. Democratic markets are liberated of politicians who continually fail the populace. From the natural rules of scarcity, a grand conservationist ethic will emerge. No longer will there be islands of forest in a vast sea of capitalist industrialism, but just the opposite. The forest will be part of the city and vast wilderness areas will rarely, if ever, be occupied by our bodies. Pristine forests will be full of water.
This is radical freedom, the nature of liberty — true, self organized, sustainable progress.