Grateful Dead/Rainforest Press Conference 9/14/88 at the United Nations

Randy Hayes, director, Rainforest Action Network
Jason Clay, director, Cultural Survival
Peter Bahouth, chairman, Greenpeace
Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead
Bob Weir, Grateful Dead
Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead
Dr. Noel Brown, UN Environment Program

Brown: The tropical forests are being lost at the rate of eleven million hectares a year, or 50 acres a minute - a problem that not only threatens genetic diversity, but human survival in these rainforests. Moreover, the problem is likely to be compounded by the fact that by the year 2000 there will be a fuel wood deficit of some 900 million cubic meters. As a result of that, people are likely to put greater pressure on the forests.

Then there is the growing recognition of the problem of global warming - the fact that the forests are natural sinks, and if we destroy them then we will lose one of the principal laboratories for the transformation of CO2 into oxygen. There is a tropical forest action plan which involves government and non-governmental organizations, but we need to rally and mobilize public support. We need all sectors of society to become involved. And that is why this initiative of the Grateful Dead - to place their art in the service of the environment, in the service of the rainforest, and ultimately in the service of life - is so important to us at the United Nations. We welcome them, and we look forward to working with them in the future. Congratulations, gentlemen, and thank you very much.

Garcia: The thing that makes it newsworthy from our point of view is that we've never really called on our fans, the Deadheads, to align themselves one way or another as far as any particular cause is concerned, because of a basic paranoia about leading someone. We don't want to be the leaders, and we don't want to serve unconscious fascism.

Power is a scary thing. When you feel that you are close to it, you want to make sure that it isn't used for misleading. So all this time we've avoided making any statements about politics, about alignments of any sort. This is even true of the notion of giving, and things like that - mercy.

But this is, we feel, an issue that is strong enough and life-threatening enough that inside of the world of human games, where people regularly torture each other and overthrow countries, and there's a lot of murder and hate, there's the larger question of global survival and everything else. We want to see the world survive to play those games, even if they're atrocious. So the sense of this is, "Let's take a break in the stuff that we normally do and address the world's survival," and hopefully we'll include our own in there.

The reason that we've gotten involved with Greenpeace and Randy and Jason is because these are direct-action groups. They work the way we do: they work directly into the problem, with as few levels of bureaucratic stuff between them and the thing they're trying to accomplish. We hope that we can empower our own audience with a sense of being able to do something directly and actually having an effect that's visible in some way. We hope to continue this as an ongoing process and to be able to report regularly what is happening, what we've done, and whether or not any of this stuff has been efficacious. That's essentially what it's about. Guys?

Weir: I'll follow that by saying that we're here to announce our awareness of the problem and to address it as best we can. We're just learning at this point. We're learning from our colleagues over here and from various other sources. But this much we know: it's not really an esthetic issue - it's more an issue of survival that we're facing here. It's a problem we can and must address if we're to have a planet that's capable of supporting life. We have to address the economic issues that cause the destruction of rainforests, or they're going to go away, and other things are going to go away as well - including, probably, life on this planet. So in order to give ourselves a chance to work out the other problems, we have to have a future in which to work things out.

Hart: I'd just like to reiterate what Bob said. This is a whole Earth problem. This is not just our problem - this is the world's problem, and the world should take care of itself. Half of the indigenous species on this planet are located in the rainforests. It would be a foolish chance to take, and especially for the children. We can just do so much in our lifetime, but what about the kids? That's what this is all about, and that's one of the reasons we think we could do something that would matter. And with our music - and with your help - we can move a little air.

Hayes: At the Rainforest Action Network we've been working for about two years to organize a grassroots activist network to sound the alarm on this rainforest crisis. We do that through education, demonstrations, banner hangings, civil disobedience... We're prepared to get arrested and we're prepared to put our life on the line if that's what it takes to get the job done.

We work with a worldwide network of activists. In the industrial north we're working with people in Japan, Europe and here in the United States; in the tropics we're working with people in the Amazon, in Africa, in Southeast Asia. Our priority is simply to speak the truth about this problem and the nature of the true roots of the causes. There's one thing we need to be clear about, and that's that the rainforest destroyers are not simply the overpopulating third-worlders. The destruction starts here at home with our overconsumption of tropical hardwoods - teaks and mahoganies; rainforest beef for our fast-food hamburgers.

Our tax dollars, through foreign aid, through USAID and the World Bank, have financed some of the most destructive highways and massive dams and resettlement projects. We have to ask the question: who builds the bulldozers, and whose hand is really on the chainsaw? It's you and I, but it's also Chase Manhattan, it's Citicorp, it's Bank of America, it's the US government, and it's the World Bank.

The problem starts here at home, and the philosophy of the Rainforest Action Network is "Physician, heal thyself." We've got a lot of work to do here in the United States to save the rainforest. Rainforest destruction is a life-and-death issue. When I was in Malaysia, they asked for help in fighting the timber industry from destroying their forest and destroying their lives. When I was in Brazil, the Amazonian leaders asked for help in stopping US tax dollars from financing projects that destroy the forest and destroy their lives.

We're here today to appeal to people who share our concern, who share our outrage, and who share our desire to reverse these patterns of destruction. The overconsumption, the industrial system of the planet, is challenging this planet's life support systems. And it's not just the rainforests' life - but it's our lives. The truth is, you are all going to die if the rainforest dies. The truth is that our foreign aid investment is a form of false generosity that's coming back to haunt us through the greenhouse effect and the destruction of rainforest diversity.

I believe that if we're silent, then we're guilty of crimes against the Earth. I also believe that if we act now we're going to be able to save the rainforest. We're really the last generation that's going to have a chance to save the rainforest. Projections are that by the year 2050 they'll be gone. That's less than one person's life span. I'm really thankful to the Grateful Dead for helping us bring this message out to millions of more people who haven't yet heard it.

Jason Clay: Tribal people are the traditional inhabitants of the world's most fragile land areas: tropical rainforests. They've lived in these areas for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They know how to use the rainforests and yet sustain them. They've been called the once and future resource managers.

Today, forest-dwelling tribal people are disappearing even faster than the forests themselves. One group per year in Brazil since 1900 has been lost entirely. But we're not talking about history today - we're talking about the present, too. In the last six months in Brazil, fifty thousand gold miners have rushed into one area where ten thousand tribal people live. As a result, violence that has taken place, more than one Indian per day has died from direct shootings, killings of some sort, and probably four or five times that many have died from diseases each day.

Tribal people know more about rainforests than all western scientists put together. We must work together with them to sustain the rainforests and to determine how we might use them without letting them be destroyed. Our own future probably lies in the rainforest - not just their survival, but learning how to use what they have to offer us. Tribal people are the key.

Bahouth: I want to stress how happy I am and how thankful I am for the fact that the Grateful Dead have been involved in this project. I really want to say to everyone how important their approach to this whole project has been.

The project probably started about a year ago, mostly with Randy and some of the members of the band, and Jason and I came in a bit later. But I want to stress that the band has been very conscientious about their approach to this project and to this problem, in the sense that they have not tried to simplify the problem; they have not tried to Madison-Avenue it; they've not tried to speak on the issues when they felt that they weren't competent enough scientifically or with their background to speak to the issue. They've tried to bring in three different groups, and I personally appreciate that because the three of us have gotten so much work done just up to this point in this project. So my thanks to the Grateful Dead. We really appreciate it. The money is going to be put to a good cause, and we hope this event continues for years and years until we resolve the problem....

I'm very happy they picked the rainforest, because it touches on so many different concerns. A few square miles of rainforest contain as much species diversity as the entire United States. I'm happy because it touches on the concern of weather and the greenhouse. It's important because it touches on cultural and indigenous people issues, and because it touches on the basic concept of sharing of information. We all know that the rainforest is important to all of us, and one of the problems we're facing right now is some of the unilateral and bilateral developmental banks right now do not share information on their projects. And that's a very important key to it as well. Thank you.

Q: The money that's going to be raised - how will that be used? Will that go to the UN environmental program, or divided between the groups? Will it go for information programs?

Clay: Cultural Survival, which will receive 25% of the net funds raised at the concert, will spend about half of that sum on resource projects with indigenous peoples - projects that they design and they run themselves. Projects that help these groups who live in rainforests around the world sustain those rainforests, yet earn the kinds of cash that they need in the modern world. The rest of the funds will be spent on research on crisis and chronic problems in rainforests as they affect tribal people, and on public information campaigns and allowing indigenous groups to travel back and forth and see what some of the success stories are that other groups are experimenting with.

Bahouth: Specifically, Greenpeace is working on the export of pesticides to third world countries, and the export of other toxics. We also have a multilateral developmental bank project which is looking at some of the most heinous projects being funded by the unilateral banks, and trying to force scoping sessions or informational sessions to try to be able to get people involved in the process of deciding which projects get funded, or which projects - more importantly - should not get funded.

Hayes: The proceeds of the concert will be divided into four parts, with each of the three groups getting one of the parts. The fourth part will be for the band, to finance future events. For the Rainforest Action Network, we will use the money to launch a US tropical timber campaign, and also to build a grassroots network here in the United States of rainforest action groups all over the country.

Brown: None of the funds will come to the United Nations Environment Program or any other part of the UN system. We are, after all, an intergovernmental organization. We have now targeted some eight billion dollars for 55 countries under the Tropical Forest Action Plan. But we welcome the fact that the nongovernmental community can mobilize resources for direct action, and anything the United Nations can do to support this, we will do it.

Weir: This is going to be an ongoing effort on our behalves. What we hope to do is attract a great deal of support throughout the artistic community. Insofar as we're going to be ongoing in this effort, we will be able to publish, as the years go by, our successes and failures, where the money has gone, and specifically how the issue has been addressed. So you'll be able to see what our progress is.

Q: I'd like to ask Jerry what concrete steps you would suggest to right-minded, like-minded people who want to help the rainforest? Should they withhold tax dollars that go to these vicious projects which you've describe? Should they boycott teakwood?

Garcia: Yeah, all of the above. The thing that we discovered going into this is, Yeah, sure, we'd love to do anything we can to help the rainforest, oh, yeah - with all the best intentions, blundering into a situation which turns out to be incredibly complex, with all sorts of levels... where somebody's paying to clear ground in order to grow illegal drugs... It goes on and on. It never ends. The levels of convoluted weirdness about the whole rainforest thing. It has to do with money, of course - that's what it's really about. What you have to do, if you care about this, is what we had to do: plunge into this information and find out what you can. The more you can know about it, the more you can find some way to be actively involved and have some effect. I don't think it's simply a matter of throwing money at it - it isn't that kind of thing. It isn't so direct. It's tricky.

Q: I'm wondering what type of follow-up activity the Grateful Dead will be involved in other than concerts...

Garcia: Well, that's what we can do, y'know.

Weir: We can attract attention and raise money.

Garcia: We can continue to point a finger at this problem, and as things get to be more clear, or things start to happen that look like they're changing the trend, we can talk about those, try to reinforce them. It's a learning process, and like any process you have to start somewhere. Here's what we can do. We can play a concert. We can raise some money. We can work with these groups here. That much we found out by just putting in the time and the energy and doing it.

It's not that hard for the Grateful Dead to sell out a concert in New York City, so it isn't just that, it's all the backup. 'Cause we want to know that this is going to work out right. We want to follow up on it, we want to see what happened to the money, and whether this is gonna actually do anything. Is this the right way to proceed, or what? We're finding out. This is a first step in an effort to find out whether this can work.

Weir: We are committed in the long run.

Garcia: We've chosen these groups because we like that direct-action thing. That's like what we do at home. We have a foundation of our own that does things at home, but they're aimed at the street. We don't like a lot of stuff between us and the work.

Q: What about the lyrics of your songs? Throwing Stones...

Garcia (to Weir): See, you never should have written that song. Our one political song!

Weir: It's not political! It's apolitical!

Garcia: Jeez! He's got one now that's much more offensive. [laughter]

Q: There's a song called Throwing Stones. Does that have anything to do with your environmental consciousness?

Weir: Not really. That's just barely articulated rage at the way things are going in general.

Garcia: This is just the beginning of our series of gripes, y'know.

Weir: We've written nothing new to address this specific issue. That's not really the way we'd want to do it. We're actually addressing this issue in specific concrete terms rather than throwing poetry at it.

Garcia: What we do for a living is provide a way out of all this stuff. What we do for a living is provide an alternative, another reality that doesn't have these kind of problems in it, necessarily. But as people, as inhabitants of Earth... This is what we're doing, as inhabitants of Earth - not necessarily as members of the Grateful Dead.

Q: Why now? What motivated you personally?

Garcia: It's taken this long to decide.

Weir: It's taken this long to become aware of the problem, and the fact that we personally are threatened. And you, too.

Q: Who brought it to the band? Whose idea?

Garcia: Bob. He found it on his doorstep.

Weir: I don't know exactly how I got attracted to it, but I ran into Peter and Randy at a gathering, and Mickey was also there. I've been concerned with environmental issues for a long time, but it just sort of fell together all in one neat little package. Also, the overwhelming concern with which we're dealing became real clear and apparent to me kind of suddenly about a year ago.

Q: Have you visited any rainforests?

Weir: Yeah, but...

Garcia: Only the easy ones.

Weir: Not a lot of people who are going to be affected by the rainforest are ever going to have a chance to visit it. Nonetheless, you are affected by it.

Garcia: It's the appalling statistics that get to you, finally. Fifty years,they're gone. That's it. Boom.

Hart: Just to think that the rainforest is far away is not what you should be thinking. The rainforest is right at your door - I mean, the effect of it.

Weir: The weather is here.

Garcia: Yeah, we're living in that already. This stuff is already happening.

Hart: It's a hard thing to address when it's three thousand, five thousand miles away.

Garcia: Somebody has to do something. In fact, it seems pathetic that it has to be us.

Weir: We're not paid to do this, you know.

Garcia: This is not our regular work.

Weir: It's not my field.

Garcia: It's not my field, yeah.

Hart: It is now.

Weir: If there are newer statistics, we probably don't want to know them.

Brown: Twenty football fields a minute.

Garcia: Twenty football fields a minute. That's graphic.

Hayes: US citizens also need to be aware that the United States has tropical rainforests. It's not just a distant problem. We have rainforests in Hawaii, in Puerto Rico, in the Virgin Islands, and our trust territories in the Pacific, so it's a problem we need to directly address.

Brown: The Panama Canal requires 55 million gallons of fresh water per ship for the canal to operate successfully. That water is generated by a watershed outside the zone, nourished by rainforests. Those forests are threatened. Unless we can protect them, the canal is in serious danger. We can't use the salt water from the Pacific... [it] would create some ecological disturbances that would only compound the problem. So very vital interests are at stake here, not to mention the fact that the rainforests are indeed the lungs of the world.

Hart: I had a very interesting conversation with my son, who'll be six, a couple of weeks ago. He likes Wendy's hamburgers, and we know that the rainforests are being cleared to grow beef. He's a reasonable sort, and I told him that all these animals are in this forest, and they're going to be destroyed, and what do you think about that? Would you give up a Wendy's hamburger for that? I was really moved. He said, "No, Dad, I would give up that burger. I wouldn't want that burger. I would rather see all those little creatures roaming around." He was concerned about that. So I think we can reach the little guys, too. I don't think it's just our concern as a group. If the little guys can get it - it's their world, it's their future, and they should have a chance to make it or break it as well.

Hayes: We know so little about the tropical rainforest. We probably know more about the moon than we know about tropical rainforest. Most of the scientific research in the rainforest has been done at the forest floor level, and yet most of the ecological activity happens up in the canopy. Only recently, using mountain climbing techniques and ropes and equipment, have they been able to string themselves up into the canopy and begin to study it. We know very little about the rainforest. There's a lot to be discovered.

Brown: The data we have is that about 3% of all the species in the forest have been documented. It would take about 25,000 professional lifetimes to give us a picture of what we're destroying. One an hour.

Hayes: We need to start a massive grassroots campaign... to get people - particularly in the industrial north, in Japan and Europe and the United States, involved in this issue. Certainly the medical angle is important. 70% of the plants shown to have anti-cancer properties occur only in tropical rainforest, so the cure for cancer may be there - and many other diseases as well. Right now 25% of our medicines in the local pharmacy were developed from plants that only occur in tropical rainforests. This is critical to the future of humanity.

Bahouth: As a matter of fact, Randy, probably the cure for AIDS will come from the rainforest if they don't destroy it.

Hayes: There are plants that they are now looking at in the Australian rainforest regions that seem to show promise.

Hayes: You need to understand that a tropical rainforest is a non-renewable resource. It's like mining gold out of the earth. You can't regrow another crop. You can never replant, with the original genetic diversity, the kinds of medicines that occur out there, and other products that are valuable to the people who live there and to the rest of the planet. It's a non-renewable resource.

Garcia: The point is that nobody knows. Things like the weather are so subtle, and what effect the rainforest has on any of that stuff - oxygen, all the things that you hear about, the big scares - it's not known. But as long as it's not known, it's not a good idea to rip them up and tear them down, you know what I mean?

Hart: You can't take the chance... There's an economic climate for destruction down there in Brazil. We have to reverse this; there's a need to reverse this. We have to find alternative ways of developing these forest that doesn't destroy them - that conserves them. We have to come up with some of these answers. We're trying to probe around and find which way to go.

Q: I understand that Japan is one of the largest consumers of wood out of the rainforest. Have you considered going to Japan and trying to work with the kids there to put pressure on their own government?

Weir: If we go to Japan we'll do something within our sphere of influence.

Hayes: Japan is the world's largest importer of tropical timber. Particularly in Southeast Asia, that's the major cause of the destruction of the rainforests. The United States, however, is second. There's a beginning movement in Japan to counteract their voracious appetite for tropical timber, and this fall they will launch the Japan Tropical Timber Campaign. Recently, the Japan Tropical Forest Action Network was formed, and that's a consortium of 15 environmental groups in Japan. I think it would be great for the band to go over and do a benefit there. Then you're getting into the mouth of the financial dragon. I'm sorry, United States, we're number two now to Japan in terms of financing global destruction.

??: Within the last few years, Japan has become the financial center of the world. The people who are investing in mining in Brazilian rainforest areas are Japanese companies. They're buying shares in Brazilian mining companies, and it's Brazilian companies that are doing the dirty work. But this is the kind of connections we need to make, to figure out where exactly to put pressure on. And Japan is certainly the place at this point in time.

Hart: But I wonder if the Japanese people really know what's happening. Maybe the companies that are doing this... but the people - if they knew what was really going on... Really, this is about awareness, consciousness, and to develop an understanding by sharing information. Real facts, which we're getting here. I think that everybody has a consciousness, even the people who run these corporations, and if they really knew what was happening - maybe they aren't aware, totally, all of them. Maybe there are some of them that are - maybe there are some bad guys - but I don't think they're all bad guys, so pointing the finger at Japan or the United States is not what this is all about, really. It's about the destruction or the forest, and we have to be real ingenious and creative in coming to grips with this. This is a monstrous problem.

(These pre-recorded messages were shown on the video screens at Madison Square Garden during the benefit)

Lesh: My major concern, then, is the irreparable loss of the diversity of species that exists in the rainforest, as well as the loss of the knowledge that occurs when the local tribes are either removed from their habitat or destroyed completely. It's been said that when an Amazon medicine man dies, it's like burning down a library. Please help us to stop that.

Kreutzmann: I get this opportunity to talk about something that's really bothering me. It's about the loss of trees in our world. And particularly, we might think about trees where you live. I know the Deadheads get to live every place, and I think that's wonderful and I admire you for that. But all those trees that you're going to go see, or visit or drive by, might not be there some day. Matter of fact,where I live, in northern California, in Mendocino, they're doing their darndest to denude the land, the forest. We're losing trees that have been growing for 2000 years. I'm not sure I agree that just because those people own the property they have the right to take the trees, and to take the oxygen source from our lungs, basically. We're talking about saving each other, and one thing I'd like would be some real support, some interest from the fans, from you folks, from Deadheads - and help us with this cause. 'Cause you know the Grateful Dead is not a band to get into causes. We've never... pushed any political candidate. But now we're talking about Mother Earth.

Mydland: I think it's very important that we talk about the fact that this is for our kids. It's not necessarily for us, it's for future generations. We're talking about maybe losing cures for cancer; air, water; we're talking about losing life on earth, really, the way we know it.

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