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Green Or Gone

The Unacceptable Environmental Cost Of Colombia's Endless War

After the FARC intercepted a convoy of trucks transporting crude oil in Colombia's state of Putumayo, in July 2014.
After the FARC intercepted a convoy of trucks transporting crude oil in Colombia's state of Putumayo, in July 2014.

-Editorial-

BOGOTÁ — Colombia's more than half-century old civil war has been, if nothing else, an environmental calamity.

Besides causing tens of thousands of deaths and forcing millions from their homes, the protracted fighting between state forces, left-wing guerrilla forces and right-wing gangs has led to massive amounts of crude oil being poured into the country's rivers, streams and wetlands.

Data released by the oil industry suggests that over the past 30 years, some 4 million barrels of crude have been dumped in Colombia. That's 10 times the amount the infamous Exxon Valdez tanker released off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

Unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster, considered the second worst oil spill in history, the crude dumped in Colombia wasn't a single catastrophe, but something that has been repeated, little by little, over decades. The spills, furthermore, involve narrow waterways of the tropical rainforest, an environment that is arguably more vulnerable than the vast ocean.

The environmental impact of this senseless conflict should make us reflect as a society. Oil pouring into rivers and wetlands and their surrounding ecosystems, and the massive fish and animal deaths this provokes, is bad enough. More appalling still are incidents like the one that took place June 22, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) attacked the Transandino pipeline, causing a massive spill into the Mira river, near Ecuador's frontier, that impacts the livelihoods of natives living in this area and on water supplies to local towns.

The FARC say they have instructed their men not to touch waterways? Poppycock. Words can barely convey one's outrage at the attack. Nevertheless, overall reactions have been less intense than they should be. As often happens, outrage is tempered by a relative lack of information. People are also prone to being misled toward a political agenda instead of focusing on the harm done to nature and people.

Enormous efforts are being made right now to clean up the the Mira. But only so much can really be done in these cases. People don't like to admit it, but the effects of such disasters will be felt far into the future.

One cannot accept our national heritage being exposed this way, in line with tactical needs. When we hear people speak of taking nature out of the conflict, the intention is not to make the conflict more humane or "ecological," but to simply put an end to this military rationale. Because this conflict is not just leaving a legacy of deforestation across millions of hectares. It is also killing rivers and tributaries.

How many decades or centuries will it take for rivers like Mira or Catatumbo to recover their ecological attributes and be safe again for local inhabitants? No doubt the social and environmental effects of this conflict will long outlast the war.

The FARC"s political clumsiness and utter contempt for the fragility of the social and natural environments, which the pope has already described as inseparable, is blatant. Again, words can barely express one's anger.

All we can really hope for now that the peace talks currently underway in Havana, Cuba can progress regardless. Because only peace can stop the continuous destruction and mitigate its effects, at least where the harm can be undone.

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Ideas

Joshimath, The Sinking Indian City Has Also Become A Hotbed Of Government Censorship

The Indian authorities' decision to hide factual reports on the land subsidence in Joshimath only furthers a sense of paranoia.

Photo of people standing next to a cracked road in Joshimath, India

Cracked road in Joshimath

@IndianCongressO via Twitter
Rohan Banerjee*

MUMBAI — Midway through the movie Don’t Look Up (2021), the outspoken PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) is bundled into a car, a bag over her head. The White House, we are told, wants her “off the grid”. She is taken to a warehouse – the sort of place where CIA and FBI agents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in Hollywood movies – and charged with violating national security secrets.

The Hobson’s choice offered to her is to either face prosecution or suspend “all public media appearances and incendiary language relating to Comet Dibiasky”, an interstellar object on a collision course with earth. Exasperated, she acquiesces to the gag order.

Don’t Look Upis a satirical take on the collective apathy towards climate change; only, the slow burn of fossil fuel is replaced by the more imminent threat of a comet crashing into our planet. As a couple of scientists try to warn humanity about its potential extinction, they discover a media, an administration, and indeed, a society that is not just unwilling to face the truth but would even deny it.

This premise and the caricatured characters border on the farcical, with plot devices designed to produce absurd scenarios that would be inconceivable in the real world we inhabit. After all, would any government dealing with a natural disaster, issue an edict prohibiting researchers and scientists from talking about the event? Surely not. Right?

On January 11, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), one of the centers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), issued a preliminary report on the land subsidence issue occurring in Joshimath, the mountainside city in the Himalayas.

The word ‘subsidence’ entered the public lexicon at the turn of the year as disturbing images of cracked roads and tilted buildings began to emanate from Joshimath.

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