Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Snows of Guatemala

It is snowing today in Guatemala. Thick flakes of ash fall from the sky. All around us are fires as the jungle burns. It is a vicious cycle. Poor people in search of land cut down the forest to feed their families. But bronze-age farming techniques are hard on the land. Within a few years the thin topsoil washes away and another piece of forest will burn.

The good news is that there is widespread recognition that something must be done. The newspapers in Guatemala are full of stories about the threat to the environment. Many state and local governments now have environmental departments which are trying to protect the remaining forests. There are numerous agencies and conservation groups working to protect the environment.

The bad news is that the demographics are so awful. The population of Guatemala is set to double in the next twenty five years. According to the national newspaper nearly 65% of the country has been deforested already. In a country where 60% of people are subsistence farmers it isn’t hard to figure out what will happen when the population doubles. The forests will be washed away by an ocean of people.

In Guatemala, as in the rest of the world, one of the best ways to protect the environment is to address social problems. When people are educated and healthy they have fewer children. When farmers have access to modern technologies and farming techniques they can be more productive. And when people no longer need to worry about where their next meal comes from they can start to think about what type of world they want to live in.

Nobody would choose to live in a world where there are no Jaguars in the wild. We all want a world where people are healthy and educated and in balance with their environments. But there is little time to act. We are entering an age of consequences, where the actions we are taking can no longer be undone. If we are going to do something, we must do it now. In twenty years, it will be too late.

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