The Wrong Amazon is Burning

The first time I flew from Lima to Pucallpa, Peru it was early morning and I had the privilege of watching the sun break over the mountains as I flew east.

I was twenty when I took my first flight on an airplane, and I remember sitting transfixed as the plane gained altitude and the whole expansive patchwork of America’s east coast spilled out before me. I’ve never lost that love of looking out windows of airplanes. I refuse to let that simple miracle of the modern world become just another mundane marvel I ignore. So when I fly I sit by the window and I watch the world the whole time, and in all my years of window watching, I’ve never seen a sight more lovely than the Amazon jungle from above.

In that early morning with the sun breaking over the mountains I watched the forest breathe. Even from 15,000 feet there was no question that La Amazonia was alive. Great pockets of moisture hung over the forests and the rivers. The forest sucked in the moisture of the skies and held it to the Earth before exhaling it back out. It was no mystery how La Amazonia became known as the lungs of the planet.

In the last week alone more than 9,000 new fires have spread in the Amazon. Some of this burning is natural, all of it is worsened by global warming, and some of it was probably started by those who wish to profit from the clearing of the Amazon.

Satellite data captured on August 13 shows fires in the Amazon creating a dome of smoke over South America. Supplied: Santiago Gasso

Every time I have been to the Amazon I have walked away with more than I went with. I have eaten her fruits, drank her medicine, visited with her people. My experiences there have changed me permanently, for the better.

The forest is Abuela, grandmother, she is the source of our energy and our life on this planet.

And we are burning her, right now, as you read this. She is burning so that we can consume soy beans, and cattle, and palm oil.

I don’t know what the call to action here is. I don’t know what to do. But I do know that if we lose the Amazon, whether we are even worthy to live on this planet becomes the question.

My students often ask me what to do about the state of our world, and I try to give them answers without sharing my cynicism or despair. I usually tell people to go read the essay “Dark Ecology”, then Derrick Jensen, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, and Thoreau…Then I tell them that all of that is just what white Americans have to say and that to understand Nature they need to go hear what the natives of these lands have to say.

Capitalism teaches us that it is okay to murder that which gives us life. It is a suicidal ideology and it is time for capitalism to end.

Climate Change is real, and we see it rising like the Great Beast all over the world. If we don’t change our ways, nature will change them for us. She will blink and humankind’s hubris will become nothing more than dust on her shores.

But as we go, we will take with us billions of other creatures, causing a great collapse in the planet’s diversity. Nature isn’t worried. She’s been through at least five great extinctions before.

Abuela will quietly go back to work to do what Abuelas do — she will set about to amend the damage her descendants cause.

She will whistle as she works.

The great garden of the Amazon will grow back. Order will be restored. Nature will be fine; we are the ones who should be worried.

Living the dream in the last days of the Empire.

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