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Photo by Ryan Kost, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Nature’s Landlord

The world was never ours to own, let alone exploit. Even though we’ve built permanent homes, the world is more like an apartment, the Pachamama is the landlord, and we’re the negligent tenants. Instead of paying our water bills, we continue to dry out the rivers carelessly. We can’t even seem to turn the heater off, burning fossil fuels and never looking towards alternative resources. The rent has been due for centuries, and we still haven’t paid it back. Simply put, the Pachamama has had it up to here, and when I say here, I mean the severe levels of greenhouse gases destroying our atmosphere.
In the Andean cosmovision, the spirit of the Pachamama, caretaker of earth and time, includes the notion of ayni, or reciprocity, to keep us humans in check and remind us that we don’t own the Earth. Through ayni, we are urged to share everything as the objects that we claim to possess came through the use of nature, which we don’t own. Thus, when looking at climate change, it seems as if we’ve been ignoring ayni through our exploitation of nature.

Our group has had several conversations about climate change during our time here. Specifically, we talked about how we can’t pass the two degrees Celsius mark, or the point of no return, even though we technically already have. We learned about how even recycling centers produce pollution when processing recycled materials. Miracles are needed to take out excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Nearly any individual action taken is too small because large corporations are truly the ones doing the most damage.

Essentially, all my reactions to all this information have been more or less pessimistic. It’s hard to imagine any tangible solution when some of us are out here looking out for technological miracles and the rest of us believe being eco-friendly will harm their profitability or don’t even consider climate change to be an issue at all. What’s worse is countries like Bolivia are being the hardest hit, so the people worrying about the profits in countries like the United States don’t see the effects of their actions. However, in the midst of all this pessimism, I have noticed the people in those hardest hit areas continue being optimistic when trying to combat the environmental issues they face.

Mano a Mano, the organization where I volunteer, has a completely sustainable farm. From their dry bathroom to their greenhouses made from mud brick, everything used, planted, or fed on that farm, comes from that farm itself. Regardless of reaching full-functioning sustainability and stability, they remain open to the ideas of some of the passionate volunteers from Brazil and Bolivia studying agroecology, agriculture in the context of the resources and the environment being used. Using all resources, agroecology can be considered a new technology that uses traditions and works in harmony with nature to become sustainable.

This year, many agroecological projects have multiplied, and, fortunately for me, my somewhat pessimistic mind has been able to learn methods that I or anyone can actually implement. I have worked on several vertical farming projects, using 3-liter Coke bottles cut in ways that will allow plants to grow sideways. I’ve helped cut plastic bottles for use in creating an irrigation system. We used a plastic barrel with a perforated tube in the middle for worms to be put in. Around the tube is dirt, and the holes cut in the barrel allow for even more plants to grow sideways. I even assisted in using buckets for vermiculture composting, which only utilizes plastic buckets, a certain type of worm, and organic material thrown away to produce compost. Maintaining it is as easy as taking worms from one bucket putting them into another — if that’s even needed. These ideas are so concrete and easily implemented that our own group is beginning to do so in our program house. Of course, anyone who doubts the use of plastic bottles to combat climate change in an impactful way has a valid point. But are your plastic bottles better off being dumped into a landfill and polluting nearby rivers or even being recycled to a recycling center that potentially contributes to air pollution? Probably not.

I know there is still a desperate need for some miracle technology, but I also think it’s a waste of time to just wait around. We owe it to the Pachamama and nature to start paying our rent in whatever way we can. It’s easy to forget, but the earth was here before us, and will continue to flourish even after the Pachamama evicts us.