It’s the last day of winter and despite the last few days seeming more like midsummer, today is cool and foggy. There’s a chance of rain, much needed rain.
It’s kind of odd to say we need the rain after all the rain over the winter. It rained for weeks. Literally. In fact, it has been a very wet year. But this is the tropics. And the land has been laid bare. Two weeks of sun (hell, one week of sun) and the land turns hard and dry. Without the trees to protect the soil from the sun, the water in the soil burns out. Without the trees to protect the soil, any rain that might happen to fall just washes away.
Here in Tapuio people clear out the trees (they call it cleaning up the brush) to plant primarily bananas. They swear water sprouts from the ground wherever you plant bananas. They swear their grandfathers planted bananas here and never had any problems. They swear climate change is all a lie and their One True God™ will let nothing happen to them.
This area was once rich in water. It literally sprouted from the ground. It still does, in a few places, but nothing like it used to. Some of the springs have gone dry. Most have decreased their flow considerably. As they clear more land to plant more bananas, the land gets drier and harder. And still, they swear water flows like never before. In a sense, they are right. It seems water has a harder time penetrating this sun hardened soil or the impermeable mats of banana roots. So it flows away down the mountain.
The other day, as I went down the mountain, I saw the neighboring landowner was irrigating his bananas, sucking water down from the springs to spray out over his fields of bananas. So much for water springing from the ground wherever you plant them.
The law here is strict, enforcement is lax, and stupidity is rampant. There are limits where you can plant relative to a spring. There are limits on what you can plant near springs. They have planted bananas quite literally on top of the spring that provides my water, with the blessings of the agency charged with protecting the environment.
I have a lawyer and have filed a complaint regarding the legality, or illegality, of the actions in the area of the spring. The grower has even invaded my property, planting bananas behind my second house, and this is part of my complaint. I began the process in November of 2019 and apart from IDAF finally showing up in February to investigate (despite an illegal road, cut trees, and bananas planted literally on top of the spring, they found nothing wrong), nothing has happened yet. I’ve tried to be patient. I mean, 2020 hasn’t been exactly easy. We suffered massive catastrophic flooding in January and the pandemic hit in March, shutting down most activities and proceedings (but not deforestation).
It’s now September and still no progress. I recently asked my lawyer for any updates and received the reply there are none.
I wonder if maybe she has little time to spend on this case. She is a public defender, after all.
Today, I woke up to the sound of cutting on three fronts. Trees coming down, bananas going in, brush being “cleaned out”. As the world literally burns, destruction continues as normal.
Obviously, the world needs new models of agriculture, new models of consumption. Education is key. But it isn’t enough. It is too easily undermined or redirected. When you have professors at respected universities stating you could cut down all the trees in the Amazon and it wouldn’t affect the climate (as one has done here), you realize relying on education to generate awareness and change isn’t enough.
There need to be legal consequences. That means a functioning judiciary. That means access to lawyers willing to take on these kinds of cases.
I must confess, I have been fishing for legal support. I routinely send emails to Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and others with more money than they know what to do with, to see if they could part with some of it (for them it would be pocket change) in order to help out here, maybe pay for a lawyer. So far, I’ve not had any responses. But I haven’t given up.
Sometimes everything seems hopeless. I know I’ll never be able to stop the destruction. I feel completely helpless watching the land destroyed, the water dry up, animals die. I worry what will happen to my own house, the water I use. Will I have enough? Will I be forced to sell and move? (Whenever I talk to people about Tapuio, that is ALWAYS the recommendation.) Will I even be able to sell?
Most of Tapuio has suffered perhaps irreversible damage in the past few years. The springs are drying up. Bananas and pasture and coffee and even eucalyptus are all expanding. Animals are disappearing. And as I like to point out, Tapuio is pretty typical of the ways societies relate to the environment. What happens here is pretty much the same as what happens in Indonesia and China and Spain. And we see the results of this damage everywhere.
Education isn’t enough. Change must also be encouraged.
Any lawyers out there want to help out here? I’ve been told Ask and ye shall receive. I’m asking….
I know it sounds impossible and impossibly depressing. But there are moments of joy. A few years ago I planted mulungu, a kind of small tree with brilliant red flowers native to the area but long ago eliminated. I planted many seeds and gave out the seedlings to friends, saving one for myself. Even though it’s not really planted in the right spot, it is now over ten feet tall and its bright red flowers opened up for the first time today.
Perhaps the destruction isn’t irreversible!