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Frank Coughlin: The Humility of Love: A Lesson from Chiapas

By Frank Coughlin, Deep Green Resistance New York
Humility. An important word you rarely hear in our culture anymore. Our culture seems to be going in the opposite direction, everything with a superlative. Everything bigger, faster, better, stronger. Everything new, shiny, pretty, expensive. But never humble. “Dude, love that car. It’s so humble.” Yeah, you never hear that.

Politically on the left, in the “fight” as we call it, we’re just as guilty. We have a tendency towards ego, self-righteousness, hyper-individualism. We want our movements to be better, stronger, bigger. We want the big social “pop-off”, the “sexy” revolution, perhaps our face on the next generation’s t-shirts. But we never ask for humility. As we near what most scientists predict to be “climate catastrophe”, I’ve been thinking a lot about humility. I recently was able to travel to Chiapas, Mexico to learn about the Zapatista movement. I was there for a month, working with various groups in a human rights capacity. While I was there to provide some type of service, I left with a profound respect for a true revolutionary humility. This essay is not designed to be a complete history of the Zapatista movement, but perhaps it can provide some context.

The Zapatistas are an indigenous movement based in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico. The name is derived from Emiliano Zapata, who led the Liberation Army of the South during the Mexican Revolution, which lasted approximately from 1910-1920. Zapata’s main rallying cry was “land and liberty”, exemplifying the sentiments of the many indigenous populations who supported and formed his army. The modern-day Zapatistas declare themselves the ideological heirs to these struggles, again representing many indigenous struggles in southern Mexico. While the Zapatistas became public in 1994, as their name implies, their struggle is the culmination of decades of struggle. Many of the mestizos (non-indigenous) organizers came from the revolutionary student struggles of the 60s and 70s in Mexico’s larger cities. In 1983, many of these organizers, along with their indigenous counterparts, who represented decades of indigenous organizing in the jungles of Mexico, formed the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

From 1983 to their dramatic declaration of war against the Mexican government in 1994, the EZLN formed and trained a secret army under the cover of the Lacandon Jungle. After a decade of organizing and training in the context of extreme poverty, an army of indigenous peasants, led by a mix of mestizos and indigenous leaders, surprised the world by storming five major towns in Chiapas. They chose the early morning hours of January 1st, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The connection with NAFTA was intentional because the destructive neoliberal policies inherent in the agreement were viewed as a death sentence to indigenous livelihoods. They used old guns, machetes, and sticks to take over government buildings, release prisoners from the San Cristobal jail, and make their first announcement, The First Declaration from the Lacandon Jungle. With most wearing the now signature pasamontañas over their faces, they declared war on the Mexican government, saying:

We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first against slavery, then during the War of Independence against Spain led by insurgents, then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism, then to promulgate our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil, and later the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz denied us the just application of the Reform laws and the people rebelled and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged, poor men just like us. We have been denied the most elemental preparation so they can use us as cannon fodder and pillage the wealth of our country. They don’t care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health care, no food nor education. Nor are we able to freely and democratically elect our political representatives, nor is there independence from foreigners, nor is there peace nor justice for ourselves and our children.

But today, we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

We, the men and women, full and free, are conscious that the war that we have declared is our last resort, but also a just one. The dictators are applying an undeclared genocidal war against our people for many years. Therefore we ask for your participation, your decision to support this plan that struggles for work, land, housing, food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace. We declare that we will not stop fighting until the basic demands of our people have been met by forming a government of our country that is free and democratic.

Very true to the words of Zapata, that it is “better to die on your feet than live on your knees”, the EZLN fighters engaged in a self-described suicide against the Mexican government. As Subcommandante Marcos, now known as Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, the public face of the EZLN, stated, “If I am living on borrowed time, it is because we thought that we would go to the world above on the first of January. When I arrived at the second day, and the following, it was all extra.”1

What followed was a war of government repression. The quiet mountain towns of Chiapas were flooded with advanced military equipment and troops. A twelve-day battle ensued, with rebel retreats and civilian massacres, finally ending with a cease-fire. Following this “peace agreement”, the EZLN no longer offensively attacked, but refused to lay down their arms. The government engaged in raids, attacks on civilian populations, and initiated a paramilitary war. Formal peace accords, known as the San Andres Accords, were signed between the government and the EZLN leadership in February of 1996. They addressed some of the root causes of the rebellion, such as indigenous autonomy and legal protections for indigenous rights. While signed in 1996, the agreements did not make it to the Mexican congress until 2000. There they were gutted, removing key principles as signed by the EZLN, such as the right of indigenous autonomy. Much has been written on the history of the EZLN after the failure of the peace accords, including the march to Mexico City, as well as the EZLN’s attempts at fostering a larger social movement force. The EZLN released their “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle”, which highlights their call to the Mexican and international populations to work to ”find agreement between those of us who are simple and humble and, together, we will organize all over the country and reach agreement in our struggles, which are alone right now, separated from each other, and we will find something like a program that has what we all want, and a plan for how we are going to achieve the realization of that program…”

In 2003, the EZLN released a statement that began the process of radically restructuring the Zapatista communities with the development of autonomous municipalities, called caracoles (conch shell). The name caracole was picked because as Marcos once explained, the conch shell was used to “summon the community” as well as an “aid to hear the most distant words”. The caracoles and their respective “councils of good government” (as opposed to the “bad government” of Mexico) were designed to organize the rebel municipalities as well as to push forward the original mandate of indigenous autonomy. With the failure of the San Andres accords, the Zapatistas openly decided that they would follow the word of the accords that they had signed, regardless of the Mexican government’s policy. In line with their mandate to “lead by obeying”, the EZLN, the armed aspect of the Zapatistas, separated themselves from the work of the civil society and abdicated control of the Zapatista movement to the caracoles.

The objective was “to create — with, by, and for the communities — organizations of resistance that are at once connected, coordinated and self-governing, which enable them to improve their capacity to make a different world possible. At the same time, the project postulates that, as far as possible, the communities and the peoples should immediately put into practice the alternative life that they seek, in order to gain experience. They should not wait until they have more power to do this. “What has occurred in the past decade is that the Zapatistas have put the original demand for indigenous autonomy into practice by creating autonomous governments, health systems, economic systems, and educational systems. In doing so, they have stayed true to the ideals of “leading from below” and a rejection of the ideal to overtake state power. They have “constructed a world in which they have realized their own vision of freedom and autonomy, and continue to fight for a world in which other worlds are possible.”

Their fight is very much alive today, more than twenty years after its first public appearance. My recent visit was to the Oventik caracole, located in the Zona Alta region. Myself and three others were sent as human rights observers with El Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas (Fray Bartolome de Las Casa Human Rights Center) to the small community of Huitepec, immediately north of the mountain town of San Cristobal de Las Casas. Here the community is placed in charge of protecting the large Zapatista reserve of Huitepec from loggers, poachers, and government forces. As observers, our task was to accompany the Zapatista families on their daily walks through the 100+ acre reserve, keep track of any intrusions on the autonomous land, and document any infractions. We lived in a simple house, with a fire to cook on and wood panels for sleeping. There was no running water, minimal electricity, and no forms of electronic communication, even with the close proximity to the town of San Cristobal.

Through these eyes we learned of the daily struggle of the Zapatistas. The community consisted of eight Zapatista families. Originally fifteen families, many of them had left Zapatismo to suffer against poverty with the “bad” government. The families who stayed as Zapatistas were indigenous to the area, having struggled to protect the land long before the Zapatista’s uprising in 1994. The families lived in poverty, dividing their time between protecting the reserve, growing flowers for sale in San Cristobal, and working their rented fields two hours away. Their days started with the sunrise and often ended long after the sun had set. Their hands were strong and their walk through the mountains fast, evidence of a lifetime of hard labor. They told us of life before the uprising, coming to Zapatismo, their struggles with inner council decisions, and their hopes for the future.

We bombarded them with questions, testing the theories of the Zapatistas we had read in books and working to understand the structure of their autonomy. Most spoke Spanish fluently, but outside of our conversations, they spoke their indigenous language. Often times, long questions were answered with a pause and then a “Si!,” only to find out later that much had been lost in translation. The Zapatistas taught us to recognize medicinal plants on our walks, how to cut firewood, helped our dying cooking fires, and shared tea and sweet bread with us. For much of our time together we sat in silence, staring at the fire, each unsure of what to say to people from such different cultures. We, the foreigners, sat in silence in the reserve, lost in our thoughts, struggling to understand the lessons in front of us.

Fortunately, there was little work to be done in our role as human rights observers. As the families stated, most of the repressive tactics of the “bad” government in that area have been rare in recent years. Paramilitary and military forces still affect Zapatista communities, as evidenced by the assassination of José Luis López, known as “Galeano” to the community, a prominent teacher in the caracole of La Realidad in May of 2014. In addition, a week prior to our arrival, paramilitary forces had forcibly displaced 72 Zapatista families from the San Manuel community.

As I look back on my experience, I am forced to place it in the context of what we on the left are doing here in the US and I think back to the humility of the experience. The backdrop of the experience was always in the context of the severe poverty the community struggled against. The families cleaned their ripped clothes as best they could, walked for hours in the jungle in plastic, tired shoes, and spoke of their struggle to place food in their stomachs. They told us of the newborn who had died a few weeks prior to our arrival. They softly commented on the lack of rain in their fields, which meant that no crops had grown. When asked what they would do, they shrugged their shoulders, stared off into the horizon, and quietly said “I don’t know.”

One of the elders (names intentionally left out for security reasons) told us of what he felt for the future. He told us that little by little, more and more Zapatistas are asking the EZLN to take up arms again. He felt they were at a similar social situation as they were in 1993, prior to the uprising. And then he said something that truly humbled me. He said, “we love this land, and if we’re going to die anyway, it would be better to die fighting.” His face was filled with a distant look, touched by sadness, but also of determination. And then there was silence. No theories, no Che t-shirts, no rhyming slogans. No quotes, no chest thumping, no sectarianism. Just the honesty of someone who has nothing left to lose and everything to gain. In that moment, I was gifted the glimpse of the true humility of revolutionary thought. Here was a man who has struggled to survive his entire life. He fights in the way he knows how. He has a simple house and wears the same tucked in dirty dress shirt. He works in the fields as well as the communal government. He knows that the fight he and his community face are against massive transnational corporations who wish to extract the precious resources underneath his ancestral land. He knows that they will hire the government, paramilitary forces, and the police to intimidate and coerce him into submission, likely killing him and his family if he refuses. He lives in an area of the world that has been described as one of the most affected by climate change. And because of this climate change, a force that he did not cause, his children will not have food for the winter. He does not talk of Facebook posts, of petitioning politicians, of symbolic protests. There is no mention of hashtags, things going “viral”, “working with the police”, buying organic, fad diets, or identity politics. There are no self-congratulatory emails after symbolic protests. He doesn’t say anything about “being the change,” “finding himself,” or engaging in a never-ending debate on the use of violence versus non-violence. He simply states “we are part of this land and we will die to protect it,” and then continues walking.

I find myself thinking about that community as I re-enter the world of activism here in New York City. We are bombarded with the temptations of an insane and immoral culture of consumption. As I write this, young black men are being assassinated by police officers, inequality is at an all-time high, the newspapers are filled with “Fashion Week” events, and people are camping out in front of the Apple store for their new Iphones. On the left, communities are organizing around every type of campaign, with a growing focus on climate change. While there is some great grassroots work being done, even in the insanity of New York City, I can’t help but see the lack of humility that exists in our progressive communities. I include myself in this critique, and write as a member of the Left.

Our conversations are dominated with rhetoric and sectarianism. We talk in the language of books and posts, not in material experiences. We speak of “developing” the third world, as though our complicity in a globally destructive system of capitalism is somehow as invisible as we would like to believe. We use our politically correct language and speak of our “individual oppression”. We wait for perfection, for the “revolution”, wearing our “radical” clothes, speaking our “radical” talk in our “radical” spaces that are devoid of any connection to the material world. And at the end of the day, the destruction around us, the destruction that we are complicit in, continues. Something that has embedded itself in my thoughts this past year is exemplified by two quotes.

One is a quote by Che Guevara, in which he says, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” The second is a lyric by the group “The Last Poets”, where they proclaim, “Speak not of revolution until you are willing to eat rats to survive, come the Revolution.” Quite different ideas, and yet, as I return to the craziness of New York City, I see how similar they are. Revolution is a term often thrown about without a clear definition. Some people see revolution in the context of an armed uprising of oppressed peoples, others, like the CEOs of Chevrolet, see revolution in terms of their new car line. Others see a “revolution of ideas” transforming the world. For the Zapatistas, it is based in the “radical” idea that the poor of the world should be allowed to live, and to live in a way that fits their needs. They fight for their right to healthy food, clean water, and a life in commune with their land. It is an ideal filled with love, but a specific love of their land, of themselves, and of their larger community. They fight for their land not based in some abstract rejection of destruction of beautiful places, but from a sense of connectedness. They are part of the land they live on, and to allow its destruction is to concede their destruction. They have shown that they are willing to sacrifice, be it the little comforts of life they have, their liberty, or their life itself.

We here in the Left in the US talk about the issues of the world ad nauseum. We pontificate from afar on theories of oppression, revolutionary histories, and daily incidences of state violence. We speak of climate change as something in the future. But so often we are removed from the materiality of the oppression. Climate change is not something in the future, but rather it is something that is killing 1,000 children per day, roughly 400,000 people per year. Scientists are now saying that the species extinction rate is 1,000 times the natural background extinction rate, with some estimates at 200 species a day, because of climate change. Black men are being killed at a rate of one every 28 hours in the US. One in three women globally will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. There are more global slaves than ever in human history, with the average cost of a slave being $90. It is estimated that there is dioxin, one of the most horrific chemicals we have created and a known carcinogen, in every mother’s breast milk. We read about “solidarity” with the oppressed and work for “justice”. We speak of “loving the land” and wanting to “protect” nature. But how can we say we “love” these people/places/things when the actions we take to protect them have been proven to be wholly ineffective and stand no chance of achieving our stated goals?

We are told to focus on small lifestyle reforms, petitioning politicians who have shown that they do not listen to us, and relying on a regulatory system that is fundamentally corrupt. We are bombarded with baseless utopian visions of a “sustainable world”, complete with solar panels, wind turbines, abundance, and peace. But these are false visions, meant to distract us. Our entire world infrastructure is based in an extractive, destructive process, without which our first world way of life is entirely impossible. Everything from the global wars, increasing poverty, the police state, and climate change are built around this foundational injustice. These injustices are inherent and are not “reformable”. If it were our child being slaughtered to mine the rare earth minerals necessary for our technology, would we perhaps have a different view of our smartphone? If our land were being irradiated by runoff from solar panel factories, would we think differently about green energy? If our brother was murdered by a police officer to protect a system of racial oppression, would we be OK with just posting articles on Facebook about police brutality? If paramilitaries were going to murder our family to gain access to timber, would we engage in discussions on the justifications for pacifism?

In the face of the horrific statistics of our dying planet, we need a radically different tactic. We need a radical humility. As an example, just to temper the slaughter of the 400,000 human beings being killed by climate change would require a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That means no more industrial food production, no more travel, no more development of green energy, no electricity, no internet, no police state, and I’m sorry to say, no fucking iPhone 6. Tell me how our movements even touch on the reality of our current situation? I think that for the majority of the Left in the “developed world”, if we truly had love as our foundation, our actions would have much more humility.

For me, this is what Che is speaking to. Those who truly want to change the world need to base their reality in a reality of love. It is love, with all its beauty and romanticism, but also with its inherent responsibility, that powers those who are willing to sacrifice. With that love comes a loss of self and the beginning of humility. Most of us here in the global north who fight for global justice must learn this humility. We, as a whole, are more privileged than any other population has ever been in human history. History has shown that we will not give up this privilege. We will not “eat rats” voluntarily, no matter how radical we may think we are. These things can only be taken from us. If we truly want a world of justice, we must understand this fact and accept the humility to forget ourselves.

The Zapatistas, like almost all indigenous movements, have at the base of their revolution a love of the land. By losing themselves into the larger struggle of the land, they allow the land to teach them how to struggle. But their fight is not our fight. They demand us to return to our cultures and fight. Because what will ultimately kill the Zapatistas will not be the Mexican government. It will be the Mexican government, hired by transnational corporations coming from the US and Canada, who will build dams, extract mineral resources, and create “free-trade zones” so that we can continue to enjoy our material comforts. Until we lose our identity-based politics, and allow ourselves to learn from those who are being oppressed by our lifestyle, we will never achieve the justice we think we desire. Author Drew Dellinger writes in a poem entitled “Angels and Ancestors”: “I pray to be a conduit. An angel once told me, ‘The only way to walk through fire…become fire.’”

If we work for justice, let us embrace this humility and allow ourselves to be led by those who know. Let us become fire. And perhaps in that way, we will be ready to eat rats.

Mexico: Researcher Raises Alert About Environmental Dangers of Wind Farms

Many Thanks to Truthout for permission to reprint this article.

By Renata Bessi, Santiago Navarro F. and Translated by Britt Munro and Sarah Farr, Truthout 

September 17, 2014

2014 917 wind 6bThe wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm are located on land that used to be cultivated. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The Tehuantepec Isthmus, a southern region of Mexico that includes the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz, holds the highest concentration of wind farms in Latin America. The Isthmus, measuring a mere 200 kilometers between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, is the third narrowest strip of land on the continent, following Nicaragua and the Panama Canal. A total of 28 wind farms have been planned for construction, 15 of which have already been completed.

The region is ideal for the construction of wind farms since high wind speeds are constant throughout the year. “The southern Andes converge at the Tehuantepec Isthmus, creating a kind of tunnel effect the same width as the land strip. This ensures that the winds gain great strength and reach a high velocity,” explains Patricia Mora, a research professor in coastal ecology and fisheries science at the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Comprehensive Regional Development, Oaxaca Unit (CIIDIR Oaxaca), at the National Institute of Technology.

An environmental impact study conducted by the URS Corporation Mexico at the request of Natural Gas Fenosa, which was used to justify the construction of the Biino Hioxo park in Juchitan de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, concluded that the development of a wind farm “in this area of the state of Oaxaca is a clear example of sustainable development” and that “the project is environmentally viable as it utilizes renewable resources and does not generate significant environmental impacts.”

But while environmental impact reports tend to support the construction of these wind farm parks, local communities and environmentalists are raising concerns that local flora and fauna are being affected. The cases of the Barra Santa Theresa in Alvaro Obregon and San Vicente Beach in Juchitán de Zaragoza are of particular interest. “This is the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as ‘ecotones.’ What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger,” Mora said.

2014 917 wind 1Cattle and other livestock are raised close to the wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In a detailed interview, the biologist explained what the environmental impact reports omit: the real impacts on the flora and fauna of the Tehuantepec Isthmus. These negative impacts extend not only throughout Mexico, but also into the ecosystems of Central America.

Mora even casts doubts about the way in which these environmental studies are conducted. “Generally there are ‘agreements’ behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper.”

In the following interview, Mora discusses the realities of the wind farms’ impacts – and how environmental impact studies are often manipulated to serve the interests of corporations.

Truthout: What could be the large-scale impacts on the flora and fauna in the TehuantepecIsthmus ecological corridor, principally in the Barra Santa Theresa, San Vicente Beach and La Ventosa?

The impacts will be seen on two time scales. First, the direct impact. When a project is installed, the first step is to “dismantle” the area, a process through which all surrounding vegetation is eliminated. This means the destruction of plants and sessilities – organisms that do not have stems or supporting mechanisms – and the slow displacement over time of reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, arachnids, fungi, etc.

Generally we perceive the macro scale only, that is to say, the large animals, without considering the small and even microscopic organisms. But the most harm occurs in the micro scale. Often these organisms are not even identified, yet curiously, they are the organisms that in reality keep the ecosystems alive and balanced. In many of Mexico’s ecosystems, we are only recently cataloguing the full diversity of species. This process depends on the availability of researchers, funding and the accessibility of the zone. This is why there are still many endemic and native species that are recognized as endangered on national and even international lists.

After the construction is finalized, the indirect impact continues in the sense that ecosystems are altered and fragmented. As a result, there is a larger probability of their disappearance, due to changes in the climate and the use of soil.

What is the importance of the ecosystems in this region?

They are considered extremely fragile. As a result of their location in semiarid zones where the water cycle is vital, these ecosystems act as retainers of humidity and their disappearance drastically changes the humidity of the soil. When vegetation disappears, these ecosystems are converted into completely uninhabited deserts and solar radiation changes the dynamic of the soil, prohibiting the growth of new vegetation.

The relationship between humans and the environment is changing – we no longer have respect for the land and this contributes to a greater deterioration. Almost nobody considers this effect. The land is no longer perceived as our provider. It has been converted into a commodity.

In particular, I would like to point out the case of the Barra Santa Teresa and San Vicente Beach, as here we find ourselves at the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as “ecotones.” What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger.

Mexico’s coastal zones are extremely abundant and rich in diversity. Not only are there terrestrial organisms, but also aquatic organisms. In these zones we speak of thousands of species, many of which are not evident at first glance.

A dramatic example is the millions of viruses found in the world’s oceans. Generally, we think of viruses as bad things and we associate them with sickness, but this is a great falsehood. Viruses, like bacteria, are responsible for life on earth and for the richness and diversity of that life. In short, we need them to maintain life on this planet.

In coastal zones we find mangrove ecosystems, coastal dunes, and supra and infra littoral zones. We can make the claim that coastal vegetation plays a vital role in the humidity of these coastal zones. When this vegetation disappears, these ecosystems become deserts – inert and without life. Erosion creates havoc on the coastal border, encouraging the extinction of coastal lagoons and increasing the salinity of the soil, rendering it useless for agriculture.

Climate change will also lead to the disappearance of vegetation, removing natural barriers against air currents, tropical storms and cyclones. The life cycles of many species will be truncated. For example, reptiles require certain temperatures in order to create equal numbers of male and female offspring and to incubate that offspring. Since they cannot regulate their own body temperature, they depend on the temperature of their surrounding environment.

Mangroves act as refuges for aquatic species. In fact, the Laguna Superior is one of the most important sanctuaries in Mexico for terrestrial species. It forms part of the Mesoamerican corridor, through which thousands of birds from hundreds of different species pass. The lagoons are wetland refuges, providing resting places and food for these birds. If the mangroves disappear, the birds will lose this important resting place, which could contribute to their extinction. Bats would also be affected by changes in light and sound.

Wind turbines create a magnetic field. Could the magnetic fields produced by wind turbines have consequences for microorganisms found in the soil or for humans?

There is abundant information about the harm caused by the sound waves produced by wind turbines. These sound waves are not perceptible to the human ear, which makes them all the more dangerous. They are also low frequency sound waves and act upon the pineal and nervous systems, causing anxiety, depression (there is a study from the United States that found an elevated suicide rate in regions with wind farms), migraines, dizziness and vomiting, among other symptoms. Western science has given very little weight to electromagnetic and sound waves. In contrast, Eastern science, which gives greater importance to the flow of energy through the body, links the origin of many illnesses to the pollution we generate through the emission of human-made energy flows. The harm caused by this pollution has only recently begun to be accepted.

2014 917 wind 5During times of harvest and planting, the farmers live in cabins close to the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

There are also consequences for other living beings. Many animals, such as bats, orient themselves through the use of sound frequencies. Among marine animals, fish are another example – they guide themselves using the electromagnetic frequencies that pass through their bodies. Other animals also use similar mechanisms and it is difficult to gauge the full effect that the disruption of these frequencies might have.

I had the opportunity to personally observe an example of this problem at an aquarium in Mazatlán, Mexico. The aquarium’s sharks were swimming erratically, crashing into the glass, and refusing to eat. It turned out that the aquarium had recently repaired the shark tank using different iron screws than the previous screws. When the aquarium removed these new screws, the sharks’ behavior returned to normal. The material of the new screws had created a different magnetic field. A few simple screws.

Some animal species are positively phototropic, meaning that they are attracted by light. For example, one can commonly observe insects near streetlights at night or near computer screens in dark rooms. Some fishing techniques even take advantage of this trait, which is found in shrimp and other species. The migration patterns of some species are related to the moon cycle. The coastal wind farm projects that illuminate the night interfere with the cycles, causing an unusual number of animal and insect deaths, which can be observed on nearby beaches.

One would assume that these companies should conduct environmental impact studies related to their projects. Do companies conduct such studies? What are the parameters of these studies? What do they contemplate? Who does follow-up?

What happens is absolute corruption. I have to admit that generally there are “agreements” behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper. Unfortunately, consultants sometimes take advantage of high unemployment and hire inexperienced people or unemployed career professionals without proper titles. Sometimes the consultants even coerce them into modifying the data.

Research centers, pressured by a lack of funding, accept these studies. It is well known that scientists recognized by CONACYT (National Counsel on Science and Technology) accept gifts from these companies, given that they need money to buy equipment for their laboratories and to fill their pocketbooks to maintain their lifestyles. This is the extent of the corruption. Upon reviewing these studies, it is clear that the findings are trash, sometimes even directly copied from other sources online. These studies tend to focus on the “benefits of the project” and do not include rigorous analysis.

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) does follow-up to the studies, but everything can be negotiated. The bureaucrats have the last word.

What would be the effects on the ecosystem, including the local communities, if a native animal species were to migrate to another space or disappear as a result of the wind farm project?

The majority of species have specific habitational niches. There are very few pioneering species that are capable of inhabiting new environments. The acclimation of each species depends on its life cycle and its adaptability. To give a concrete example, marine turtles always return to the same beach where they were born. If that beach were to disappear, they would have nowhere to return. Mangroves could be similarly affected since they are located in intertidal zones. Changes to the surf’s intensity, the depth of the water or the water’s salinity could cause them to disappear.

Many of these communities depend on fishing and agriculture, not only in economic terms but also culturally. What effects could these mega projects, with such a large number of wind turbines, have on communities?

The inhabitants would have to leave behind their traditional activities. Migration and misery would be their future. You can see how this has happened in other areas of the country. They would lose their culture and a lifestyle that has a deep respect for nature. For example, in the northwest coastal region of the country, the arrival of these projects has displaced the fishing communities and farmers. Today, many of these people and their children have migrated. In the worst cases, they have joined the drug trafficking business.

What is known about the first of these projects – Pilot Project La Ventosa – in terms of environmental impact? What have been the benefits and consequences of the project?

Very little is known about that project. Actually, environmental impact studies about it used to go unnoticed or were not conducted.

It is also unclear what the benefits have been – the statistics are not clear. To the contrary, the fact that communities have begun to organize against these projects reflects the discontent and the negligible benefit.

2014 917 wind 3(Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The only benefit has been for the companies. The carbon credits they have received have allowed them to avoid taxes and have permitted them to continue polluting. Companies have seen spectacular earnings through the use of these carbon credits in stock exchanges. In summary, the only benefits have been for the transnational companies. There has been a high cost to the environment, which continues to be damaged by climate change. In fact, this damage is worse than what had been previously estimated, as the most recent findings by the United Nations show.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission