EarthRx is a biweekly column that highlights the people, organizations and discoveries solving today’s most pressing environmental and public health problems. Although the landscape is complex, many of these solutions are surprisingly simple and rely only on tapping into the power of community, ingenuity, natural abundance and good ole love to save the day.
The U.S. discovered at Standing Rock that giant energy corporations hell-bent on exploitation can be stopped in their tracks when we gather together and stare down the machine. But down here in the Amazon rainforest, where I have been based as a writer for years, that good fight is a daily routine. Indigenous people are always on the front line of environmental destruction simply because they live on that line. Now that we have formally entered the era of a true Grinch presidency, environmental activism in the U.S. also needs to step up the game and become a way of life.
A couple of days before Christmas this year, the indigenous Achuar Federation released a statement through the non-profit Amazon Watch that banned GeoPark, a Chilean oil corporation, from entering their lands in the Peruvian Amazon. This is the fourth or fifth time since the 1990s that they’ve taken the stance because Block 64, an oil concession created by the Peruvian government that contains an estimated 40 million barrels of oil, overlaps their ancestral territory. Oil companies have pursued that light crude like vultures after a meal. The good news is that the Achaur Federation have beaten them back every time.
It’s a similar story across the Amazon. In 2014, the Munduruku Tribe occupied and auto-demarcated their land in defiance of the Brazilian government’s construction of the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, which would have flooded their homes and the surrounding rainforest. After two years of struggle and direct resistance, the tribe now celebrates victory as the government finally canceled the project, admitting that it would have disastrous consequences on indigenous Amazonian communities and the environment.
As scientists warn that exploitation is pushing the world’s most biodiverse eco-system past the point of no return, these small victories are the only thing keeping the Amazon from full-on destruction. The indigenous have been on the front line for 500 years, standing on this rock of a planet, and despite massive losses, they have held it down. It’s time we joined them.
Oil dependence is a vicious cycle. Just 20 miles from my hometown of San Francisco, the poster child of environmentally conscious America, lies the Richmond Chevron oil refinery. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of Amazonian oil is processed there on a daily basis, sometimes catching fire and blacking the East Bay sky. The surrounding communities of El Sobrante and North Richmond, which are primarily made up of people of color, suffer from some of the highest asthma and cancer rates in the country. This is also the front line.
In fact, it’s all connected. Chevron is also responsible for dumping billions of gallons of oil and toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, seriously damaging local indigenous communities and destroying the rainforest for miles around. But Chevron still denies responsibility, despite the fact that an Ecuadorian court has ordered them to pay more than $9 billion in damages. The whole world has become the front line.
As the Grinch stocks his administration with oil executives and anti-environmentalists, it’s obvious that for those of us who care about the planet that the next four years are going to be a test beyond anything this country has ever seen. Donations to environmental organizations — from the National Audubon Society to the Sierra Club — are already shooting through the roof and breaking records in anticipation of the coming assault on Mother Nature.
But it’s going to take more than just sitting at home writing checks to check the advance of this beast. We all know that. Fortunately, as the Grinch was stealing the White House just in time for Christmas, Standing Rock was showing the world just how powerful the Whos down in Whoville really are.
Standing Rock was successful because it was an indigenous movement. The oil company made the mistake of trying to build an oil pipeline that crossed ancestral lands of the Sioux Tribe. Lands they still occupied. But when the nation got behind the Sioux, including thousands of veterans from across the U.S. who showed up to back them up, the Army Corp of Engineers knew it had to throw in the towel. We stood on that rock, and we stopped the machine.
In the months and years to come, we must make Standing Rock an everyday event, just as the inhabitants of the mighty Amazon do. We must stand on Standing Rock wherever we are, just as they stand their ground against tremendous odds. Because they have to. We must make the front line the ground beneath our feet. Because it is.
There are many things we can do, starting with shutting down the oil dependency cycle here at home. It’s a crying shame that the Richmond Chevron refinery exists at all, a crime against both the Amazon rainforest and our neighbors who have to live in its toxic shadow. Those of us who are residents of highly progressive areas of the country need to work at a local level to wean our own communities off cars, drying up demand for oil at its source. As Buckminister Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Like the Munduruku, the Achaur and the brave Lakota and Dakota Sioux who put the call out here at home, we must claim the ground that we stand on instead of waste our energy fighting far off battles in Washington. We must stand on our home turf. Everywhere is Standing Rock.
We must Stand on Standing Rock no matter what we are doing, by what we buy, how we travel, where we eat and how we do our jobs. Lawyers must stand on their law books, teachers on their lessons and creators on their art. As a writer, I must stand on Standing Rock with my words. I must tell the truth, even when it’s scary to do so. The entire earth is the frontline — Let’s stand on this rock.
_Images: _Projeto Luz e Vida, Flickr, CC-BY
Ocean Malandra is a frequent contributor to Paste who divides his time between Northern California and South America. He is the author of Paradise Now, forthcoming from Param Media.