BLOG: What can we learn about sustainability from the indigenous people of the Amazon?

As part of Groundwork’s Local Action, Global Impact campaign, Kickstart Trainee Radya Syed reflects on what she learned from visiting the Amazon and how it relates to her local community in Birmingham. 

A few years ago, I had the chance to visit to Guainia, Colombia, as part of my geography degree and briefly experienced a life away from consumerist cultural norms that people living in the global north are exposed to. The indigenous people of the Amazon live in perfect harmony with the natural environment. The main sources of transport were boats and bicycles, and food was sourced locally from the abundant forest along the Inirida river. Houses were built from local resources with structures that are functional and allow residents to utilise the plentiful sunlight available throughout the day without relying on electricity.  

Living among people who nurture the natural environment and do not rely on over-consumption made me believe that a shift in our consumer habits is critical to mitigate climate change. As individuals, it is important to consider how our everyday habits contribute to global emissions and how to reduce our carbon footprint. As communities, we can increase our impact by acting together and make it easier for people to make sustainable choices. While our lives are profoundly different to the lives of indigenous people in the global south, there are lessons to be learnt about nurturing nature and living sustainably. These lessons should be taught to communities to help them understand the wider impacts of climate change and the action that can be taken towards a greener future which could help to mitigate climate change.  


View from our campsite in the Colombian Highlands – Cerros de Mavecure, Guainia.


Although our experiences of nature in the UK are fundamentally different to the experiences of indigenous people, we can appreciate its value in our everyday lives. Since the onset of the pandemic, many people have felt a closer connection with nature for recreation and other purposes. Access to good quality green spaces in urban areas can significantly improve the health of the local community, while improving conditions within the microclimate and increasing biodiversity. The integration of green spaces into urban grey spaces could provide better temperature conditions for the local community and allow people to feel closer to nature. Although it is evident that green spaces have plenty benefits for the environment and local communities, not everyone can reap these benefits. Groundwork’s Out of Bounds report highlights unequal access to nature and the associated health risks.  

As a young person living in Birmingham, I would like to see more awareness of climate change and environmental problems faced in our local communities. A lack of understanding of climate-related threats leads to continued contribution to carbon emissions and environmental degradation. There are also opportunities to demonstrate that reducing emissions can improve our lives. The Green Doctor programme has successfully helped thousands of people to reduce their carbon footprint, reduce bills and stay warm. Making energy saving advice widely available can further help reduce our collective carbon emissions, while showing people that small measures can benefit them as well as our environment. 

A greater appreciation for nature can encourage the local community to protect and enhance local green spaces. A community effort is required to bring about positive changes and encourage local authorities to prioritise tackling climate change. Although we are a long way from living in complete harmony with nature, we can work collectively to tackle climate change and protect our planet for future generations. A major shift in our perspectives on the natural environment is needed to save our planet, but my experience of visiting the Amazon has convinced me that this is possible. 

Blog by:  Radya Syed, Policy and Research Trainee, Groundwork UK