Roger W. Mustalish. PhD, is the president of The ACEER foundation-The Amazon Center for Environmental Research and Education, in correspondence with West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Mustalish graduated with a Ph.D. in botanical medicine, and was a professor at West Chester University and the dean of health sciences until he recently retired last year. Roger is an incredible force in preserving the Amazon and we are thrilled to support his work with ACEER here at RainTees. He has inspired us in many ways, and so we were thrilled to interview Roger recently about his current projects and work with National Geographic.
RT: How did you begin your work with the ACEER foundation?
Roger: It was 1993 and I was dean of health sciences at West Chester University…it was an interim appointment that the University president wanted to make permanent. I said I’d sign the papers when I returned from my first visit to the Amazon rainforest and a place there called the Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research (ACEER). I was really not prepared for the personal, emotional impact of that first trip…meeting a shaman, visiting rural villages, the forest itself. When I got back home I really struggled to process the experience and finally concluded I wanted to go back into the faculty to work for rainforest conservation. So I went into the President’s office and resigned my dean position. Later that year I was in Atlanta to give a professional paper. Realizing that the ACEER Foundation’s US headquarters was 2 hours away in Birmingham, AL, I rented a car…drove there unannounced…walked into the office and explained my experience in the rainforest and the impact it had on me. This eventually led to a board appointment and in 1996 I was voted in as President. The rest is history.
RT: What are some accomplishments of the ACEER foundation?
Roger: One of my synchronistic moments with ACEER included connecting with the National Geographic Society who has supported ACEER with over $2 million…and collaborating with the Organization for Tropical Studies in producing training programs in the rainforest for Latin American graduate students.
RT: Why is it important to continue to preserve the Amazon?
Roger: Despite the progress made by large and small conservation groups and individual rainforest countries like Peru to protect the forest, it is being seriously fragmented and degraded. For every 1-acre being saved, 2 are being permanently destroyed. Such degradation will eventually so fragment the forest that its basic capacity to function as in intact natural system will end. This will impact climate, rainfall patterns, local/global economies, and biodiversity. Currently 1/3 of ALL species on earth live in the Amazon and most of them live in the treetops. Destroy the trees…you drive these organisms to extinction. What would the world look like and how would it function if 1/3 of all species went extinct and major planetary mechanisms ceased or were significantly impaired. That’s what’s really at stake here.
RT: What can we do to help?
Roger: It’s not going to be solved just by conservationists, or just by politicians, or by laws, or by creating national parks, etc. Only when we as a species begin to value large natural systems kept intact and fully functioning will the forest be saved. That means a rethinking of economics, land use practices, government policies, etc. It’s daunting but necessary and doable. A way to look at the fragmentation going on and its impact on the forest is to consider an automobile. A car will take you anywhere you want to go if you keep fuel in it, change the oil, keep the tires pressurized, and perform routine maintenance. It is a whole, intact system. It you started to dismantle this car…to fragment it…you could get away with some of this and still the car would perform, i.e. removing the back seat, or the trunk, or even the roof. But, if you continue with this dismantling by taking tires off, or removing key parts of the engine, you’ll go no where…the system will be too fragmented to function properly and you’re stuck. Today, the forest is being fragmented. We haven’t gotten yet to the tipping point, but we are headed there. Fragment the system too much and rainfall, biodiversity, river flows, soil fertility, and more will be so impaired that the natural system will no longer be able to function. We’ll be in deep trouble at this point.
For more information on the ACEER foundation, please visit: http://www.wcupa.edu/aceer/
Credited Picture: Victor Zambrano, an environmental conservationist left, sharing raw cocoa with Roger in Puerto Maldonado, Peru. Credit: The ACEER foundation
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