Having lived in a swamp (our Nation’s Capital), near a swamp (New Orleans), a desert (western region of the Dominican Republic), and a microclimate of rain, rain, a little bit of sun, and rain (Portland), I appreciate how one’s environment has tremendous influence on mind, body and spirit. As we rise in the morning, we are greeted by sunshine, fog, drizzle, downpour or snowfall. Sometimes, we “know” what type of weather to expect. However, typically it’s a complete surprise, and sets the stage for our day (my apologies to the science of meteorology, but I don’t believe in you anymore).
Most of us live don’t live in the jungle. Indeed, my connection to the jungle theses days is watching episodes of Curious George with my son. But a lot of men and women actually do live on wild, overgrown lands dense and tropical and crowded with life. What is a lot? I was stunned to learn that about 50,000,000 people live in the world’s rainforests. Unlike my urban and suburban neighbors, these people depend on the land for food and shelter in an exceptional and meaningful way. The environment determines what they eat that day, and where they source their food. They are born and they die on these lands, and in between, they live.
Yesterday, I noticed there was a flurry of action on Facebook as the heartbreaking image of a weeping indigenous chief was posted as a response to the mega dam that is being built in the Amazonian rainforest. I did a little research. The Kayapó of Brazil, a tribe of 8,000 native people, live south of the Amazon basin along the Rio Xingu. Last June, a decision was made by the Brazilian government to proceed in the development of the Belo Monte dam. It will be the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world and generate tremendous amounts of energy. Consequently, some 20,000-40,000 indigenous people, among them the Kayapó, will be displaced due to flooding while over 400,000 hectares of Brazilian rainforest will remain permanently under water.
For just a moment this morning, I stood outside on my deck and looked around. What if a decision was made by political leadership that my neighborhood, a community comprised of some 7,000 people (very close to the numbers of the Kayapó), would be flooded for a development project? Where is my choice in whether or not I wished to relocate my family?
I realize the comparison is ludicrous. And I know I haven’t discussed the other side of the story… the national and international need for energy and industry is paramount. The company in charge of the dam promises to compensate and resettle the people who will lose their land. And environmental impact studies were conducted to ensure the most positive outcomes for all parties involved.
But there is money to be earned, and indeed, fortunes. Eletrobas, the biggest company of the electric power sector in Latin America, controls multiple subsidiaries whose executive leadership enjoy great wealth and power. Despite years of negotiation, Chief Raoni of the Kayapó didn’t ever stand a chance.
Put yourself and your family in the place of the people who live on these lands. What would you do? What do you think?