Saturday, May 22, 2010

From the Gulf to the Amazon: The Environment & You (Part I)

by Sandy Prisant
While you read this, I sit here. Waiting for the Oil.  The oil that will  shred the very thin economic base of my depressed state, like single-ply toilet paper. turns out it doesn't even matter if the oil actually gets here. The ill-informed, fickle tourists of our great nation are panicking--and cancelling--already.

Apologies, but I can't resist Pogo's over-used line:"We have met the enemy and he is us."

What does that mean?  It means what in God's name are we doing?  To ourselves?  Our planet?  Our self-interest?  Once, elf-interest was merely a euphemism for greed. Now it's been elevated to a political doctrine.  And it's winning. Hands down.

There is a significant school of political thought which unabashedly argues that the Only
real reason for a nation to exist is the furtherance of its own, superficial self-interests. That's not academic babble. It's Real Politik.  Let's see how it's working...

For openers, it explains why the UN is doomed to permanent joke status; why the Copenhagen Environmental Summit was slightly less coherent than Times Square on New Year's Eve; and why--despite knowing (KNOWING) Gulf oil drilling could NOT provide energy independence, we collectively said, "What the Hell; drill baby, drill." (aka The Sarah Palin Doomsday Energy Policy).

Well, the Gulf of Mexico may be gone for our lifetime, but not to worry--cynicism and our past blunders aside, there'll be more environmental challenges in the weeks ahead. Why, just last month the mythic Amazon Jungle was given Hollywood status--the very lungs of the world, just when we're putting most of the oil we don't spill in the sea, up, up in the air.   Surely we can get this one right.

Can we?  It's been my privilege to visit this colossal wonder and to meet its people and I want you to know this may be tricky.  Because as much as we all want to hate BP, it turns out if you're honest and ethical and moral, doing right by the existing environment and native cultures is actually hard work.

For some, eco-culture wars are a no-brainer.  Black and White.  We outsiders are all BP. Natives are good guys who want to be left alone. It seems obvious. From a distance.

But in real life, the Arara tribe of central Brazil and the Hurarani indians and the Kaiapo Nation, one of the Amazon's most respected, sometimes don't stand still and play to passive stereotype--not when the government wanted to throw up a dam in the name of progress and block the Amazon's Xingu River. None of these guys may have an I Phone, but somehow they were hip enough to learn of the blockbuster "Avatar" and shrewdly got a potential dam-stopper in Producer James Cameron. He is now the natives' white knight.

Setting foot in the Amazon for the first time, Cameron promptly declared to more than 70 indigenous people, some holding spears and bows and arrows:
"The snake kills by squeezing very slowly. This is how the civilized world slowly, slowly pushes into the forest and takes away the world that used to be."  

Mr Cameron's equation seems fair enough: Development = BP.  No Development = Julie Andrews.

But if you delve a layer down, into this most crucial of eco-systems, you begin to see that the clash of cultures and oil drilling (Texaco started in this jungle in 1993) and Hollywood is way more complicated than Mary Poppins could ever imagine.

In Part II, we'll meet Oscar a true native son of the Amazon and a man of the jungle, like the natives who met Mr Cameron.  A tracker by trade, Oscar can spot an endangered 4-inch bird at 300 meters with his bare eye.  His village reverently named him "Great Owl".

A dignified young man with straight black hair down his back and a cool, steady gaze, Oscar speaks no English, but sounds just a little bit like an autoworker from Michigan.

"Jobs," Oscar says.  "We need more jobs. And more American volunteers building improvements in our villages."

Why is a native speaking this way?  Because unlike Hollywood, he knows there will be more change in the Amazon, in the Age of Self-Interest.  Even if Big Oil encroaches no further than it has.

The real questions are: can self-interest be tempered? Is there such a thing as change that preserves native culture, traditions, life---the tangibles and intangibles that define the distinct heritage of these already dwindling Amazon tribes?

The real questions are:  will the future just be about the money and man's ambition and $5 foot-longs?  Remember, this jungle provides more of the world's oxygen than any continent you're now standing on.  Will we flatten it?  Will we send it the way of the Gulf of Mexico?

The answer:  The jury is still out.  Stay turned for Part II.

No comments:

Post a Comment