If you haven’t been living in a cave, you have heard that Greenpeace stenciled a message at the Nazca Lines, one of the world’s most historic cultural sites, last week.
After unfurling canvass saying “TIME FOR CHANGE! The Future Is Renewable” in yellow at an ancient, sacred petroglyph depicting a hummingbird, Greenpeace made sure to scrawl their traditional logo below the message, ensuring that there could be no mistaking its authors. (To be clear: there was damage done at the site through inadvertent movement of the dark rocks that make up the crust of the desert by the activists walking out to put down the fabric.)
When an outcry emerged from Peru’s national government, Greenpeace immediately apologized, stating that their message had been misunderstood. It’s hard to say “misunderstood” when it looks like somebody gave 4Chan the keys to the warehouse.
Their spokesperson explained, “Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca lines. We are deeply sorry for this.
“Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.”
Defacing a sacred site that marks deep historical and cultural importance to the country is typically not something that comes across as hopeful and full of possibilities. In fact, it seems like Greenpeace trying to grab attention for all the wrong reasons in an effort worthy of PETA’s “insult and offend everyone, and see what happens” media philosophy.
Even further, the message, “the future is renewable,” written next to a site carved by Indigenous peoples may have intended to present a kind of “primitivist,” “anti-civ” message, but it also sends a mixed message by putting an off-color stamp on modern systems of industrial renewable energy that are often environmentally destructive (also here, here, and here). While renewable energy can be done in a way that is not destructive and that shares power, as theIWW’s Climate Caucus has exposed, Greenpeace does not seem particularly captivated by those discussions.
Recall when Greenpeace praised Apple this April for switching to renewables, apparently insensitive to Apple’s ongoing exploitation of sweatshop labor and destructive rare earths mining—then consider that rare earths are an important material for industrial renewable energy. They also tipped their hat to Facebook and Google for the same thing, ignoring completely the immense environmental and human rights problems of both groups, such as supporting the Keystone XL, having questionable ties to the NSA (also here) and promoting misogynyand transphobia.
Greenpeace’s enthusiastic embracing of Silicon Valley, perhaps the leading den of libertarian capitalist accumulation in the world, suggests that their mark on a World Heritage Site, which looks more like a “TENANT PARKING ONLY” stencil on a parking garage floor than a protest sign, represents a smug and belittling towards Indigenous peoples by a group so out of touch with the nature of its cause that it had no qualms flying international program director Pascal Husting into Amsterdam from Luxembourg several times a month.
It appears that what Greenpeace’s major snafu projects to the world is an overcoming or transformation of Indigenous identity through modern “green energy.” This might seem smart to Mr. Husting while on a commuter flight to Amsterdam, but for Indigenous peoples who are calling for greater respect for tradition, cultural understanding, and close-to-the-earth ways of life, it is supremely disrespectful.
Solidarity does not mean parachuting in to a global climate summit in the Global South, and marking up ancestral sites with the logo of an international NGO. It means working with people to further alternative networks of justice and resilience. That also doesn’t mean looking to a future of windmills made from copper mined from cyanide-leach, open-pit mines. And perhaps this is the greatest problem with Greenpeace’s message—the point of the crisis.
Environmentalism that favors “renewable energy” made from non-renewable practices is a huge the problem for and in the mostly-white environmental movement. Just like Greenpeace’s support for Silicon Valley, their support for renewables doesn’t appreciate the displacement of Indigenous peoples caused by the devastation from the mining of copper and rare earths, or the pollution from manufacturing solar cells.
Rather than boosting renewables and techno-fixes of the cyber-world, Greenpeace ought to return to what they do best: the grassroots solidarity work with Indigenous peoples and small farmers that have brought about great results.
If anything, the big failure of Greenpeace’s message is that it has given the mainstream media a way of driving a wedge between local organizers and the institutional international movement, which is often comprised of alienating and hierarchical NGOs. Greenpeace has done much good, and Peru’s own record should show that there is clearly more to this case than Greenpeace-bashing presented in the mainstream media.
Since massacring Indigenous people in the Amazon in 2009, Peru has taken up a fully extractionist agenda comprised of industrial impunity and the assassination of environmentalists. The specter of newspapers supported and financed by the same people doing the mining that is putting false solutions to climate change on the map and in the conference room growing indignant about a cultural site that Greenpeace got to deface before they were able to dig a copper mine into it is laughable.
At the same time, we should all care about these sites in a very real way, and that means solidarity with people all over the world. For this type of solidarity, see the below message of the Cumbre de los Pueblos; what they demand and what they need are the real things that people of the Global North should heed before becoming involved in the just struggle for a better world.
Pronouncement of the Cumbre de los Pueblos
WE WORK TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM, DEFEND OUR TERRITORIES, LIFE AND MOTHER EARTH, AND CONSTRUCT ´BUEN VIVIR´*
Translated from Original document by Lynda Sullivan, Celendín / Center for Research on Globalization
From 23rd to 25th October social leaders, men and women, rural and urban ronderos*, environmental defense fronts, representatives of indigenous communities, peasant organizations, activists and authorities from across the country gathered together in Celendin to analyze the impacts of extractive capitalism and climate change in our territories and to strengthen our resistance and proposals in the face of these threats.
We consider that climate change is the most visible demonstration of the violence and damage generated by the extractive, patriarchal, capitalist model that has assaulted Mother Earth, violating in a systematic way our individual and collective rights, generating social inequalities and enormous discriminations, jeopardizing the future of humanity and aggravating the risks to our health. Therefore, the only viable answer to climate change is to change the core of this system.
In Peru, betraying its promises, the government of Ollanta Humala is deepening its policies of robbing our territories, promoting exploitation of our common goods and natural resources without limits, and deepening the criminalization of the protest and repression. The latest reforms proposed in Minister Castilla’s anti-environmental mega-package dismantle the little environmental regulation and territorial protection that had managed to advance in the country.
In the face of this, we set forth:
The urgent need to strengthen and encourage ´buen vivir´ for our communities in Peru, by means of strengthening sustainable production, local economies, and associations as alternatives to extractivism, in addition to the care of common goods, in order to face up to climate change and to forge a truly fair and democratic society. For this it is necessary to continue defending Mother Earth, our territories and our right to health so that we, the communities, be the ones that decide our destiny, and so that we can recover the harmony between the economy, society and nature. For this, we stand firm in our definite rejection of the extractive and hydroelectric projects that expand in a chaotic and violent manner in our territories.
It is essential to reform our political system and laws which currently back this economic model. One of the hardest and most difficult manifestations of this model is the criminalization of the protest and the repression by the state-owned forces put at the service of the companies, which has cost the lives of dozens of people and has permitted the judicial harassment of hundreds of social leaders and the imprisoning of many of them, as has occurred with our Awajun and Wampis brothers who defended the Amazon and the communities who defend our water. It is time to recover our democracy, so that our rights as communities and citizens are respected.
Even though we recognize the advances of our struggles, in terms of proposals, collective decisions and, in territories like Cajamarca, forging legitimate political representation, we also recognize that there is still much to do to strengthen our organizations at a local, regional and national level. For this we believe it is important to advance in strategies of articulation between our struggles, so that our local resistances and the self-determination of our territories, may join forces to transform the country.
For this we agree:
OUR DEMANDS of the STATE:
We propose the strengthening of processes of decentralization to tackle the concentration of power and the political and economic decisions made by the ´elite´. We will work for the re-foundation of the politics of the country and for the surging of a new institutionalism of the state, decolonizing and breaking down the manifestations of patriarchy in all social, political and cultural connections, seeking harmony with Mother Earth and between communities.
PERU, I LOVE YOU, THAT’S WHY I DEFEND YOU!
*Buen Viver: roughly translated as ´Living Well´
*ronderos: autonomous social justice organization – Rondas Campesinos (Peasant Rounds) and now includes Rondas Urbanos (Urban Rounds)
*Baguazo: referring to the events which occurred in Bagua in 2009
*Land-Use Planning Order: Ordenamiento Territorial
*Platform of Land-Use Planning: Plataforma de Ordenamiento Territorial