Last night I slept on the slopes to Tungurahua, a highly active volcano in Ecuador. I felt the earth shiver, heard her rumble, and smelled her smoke. I was very conscious that this earth of ours, our home – what the local Quichua people refer to as Pachamama – is truly a Living Earth.
A few days earlier I had travelled down the Avenue of Volcanoes, also in Ecuador, and had passed by another mountain, one that is barren, scarred with gullies, and ravaged by erosion. I remembered the time when a group of US agronomists had been paid by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to visit the people who farmed the slopes of this other mountain.
These US “agricultural experts” convinced the local Quichua people to change their planting techniques. Instead of growing the 20 varieties of potatoes, alternating different varieties each year, as their ancestors had done for centuries, they were encouraged – some might say coerced through promises of more aid – to plant just four varieties. According to the USAID specialists these were the four varieties that were the most efficient and nutritious.
Less than two years later a terrible blight hit the entire potato crop. All the plants died. The livelihood of the farmers was destroyed. The mountain itself was laid bare. It became a wasteland. The farmers and their children were forced to sell themselves for less than living wages to operators of sweat shops and flower-growing green houses that exported their products to markets in the United States.
This is one of the many true and tragic stories I have witnessed – stories that highlight the devastation that follows in the wake of an economic system that I and other economists call the Death Economy. There are hundreds of similar tales, throughout Latin America, Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and yes in the United States also.
Tunguragua is a symbol. Our Living Earth is waking up and sending us a message.
Some years ago I led a Dream Change trip with people from the United States, very much like the one I am leading now for Dream Change’s sister organization the Pachamama Alliance, to the site of this destroyed mountain. One of the members of our group asked a Quichua shaman lady, “How do we save the earth?”
“Save the earth!” The Shaman laughed. “Don’t be so egotistical. We don’t threaten Pachamama. We threaten ourselves and many other life forms that we love. But if we disappear, so what? We will be just another failed experiment, similar to the dinosaurs. Something else will come along to replace us. We are like so many fleas; if we get to be too much of a nuisance Pachamama will shake us off.” She looked around and gave us a gentle smile. “The good news is, Pachamama is warning us. She’s twitching.” The Shaman pointed at a nearby mountain. “The glacier that used to cover that peak is gone. Around the world, I understand, the glaciers are all melting. The oceans are rising. Pachamama is twitching, sending the fleas a strong message. She’s giving us the opportunity to listen. And to change.”
So, as I was falling asleep on the slopes of Tungurahua, I thought about the floods, the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the tornedoes, the droughts and the fires; I thought about how our Living Earth is speaking to us, everywhere. She is indeed sending us a message. Let’s take it to heart. Let’s embrace the opportunity to listen. Let’s take actions and change!
You can learn about specific actions you can take in my book, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.