Colombia and the environment

Image of three young arhuacos in the Sierra.

As we approach a new year, I’m reminded once again that the future is always rooted in the past.

A string of serendipitous events has resulted in each of us being wherever it is we find ourselves at this moment in time. I’m in Colombia, having come here from California two years ago at the invitation of the indigenous Elders of la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta – the Mamos.  They have asked me to live with them, learn from them, and write a book with them – one that will share their environmental and spiritual message with the world.

I’ve learned much in two years. The Mamos have shared their profound wisdom and understanding with me. Still, I often find myself with more questions than answers. Today, as we prepare to move forward to 2014, I’m asking myself still more questions about the future of our planet and our environment, about our future and the future of the water and the plants and the animals and birds I enjoy all around me every day.

Today, however, I am not with the indigenous Elders, but instead with future spiritual Elders – three Arhuaco teenagers who are sharing with me their profound wisdom and asking equally profound questions of their own.

A couple of examples: “Why is there violence in the world?” and “Does your President Obama understand that the Earth is his Mother – la Madre Tierra?”  Heavy.

My own questions today are specifically about the environmental future of Colombia. The Mamos of la Sierra believe that they are living in the heart of the world, and that what happens here mirrors what is happening throughout the planet.

In so many ways that is profoundly accurate, and these three future leaders of Colombia understand this – in their hearts, in their minds, at the core of their being.

Colombia is one of the world’s great natural resources. From snowy white peaks to brilliant coral reefs it has an extraordinary array of biological diversity, climates, cultures and people. Roughly ten percent of all the Earth’s living species are found here, and Colombia ranks number one in the world in terms of bird, amphibian and butterfly species. Colombia has more vertebrate species than any other country on the planet.

We have a diversity of people as well. More than 90 different indigenous communities live in Colombia, including the Kogi and Arhuaco, descendants of the Tayrona, who have lived culturally unchanged in la Sierra since before the Spanish conquest.

We live in a tropical paradise with a perfect climate and abundant water, an Eden-like environment where plants and animals and people thrive.

But can it last?

With man-made pressures on the air and water and land, our climate and natural environments are changing. Climate Change has emerged as the defining challenge of our generation. While no single country has created today’s environmental problems and no single country can solve them alone, it may be worthwhile to look at Colombia’s past, present and future for guidance in ensuring our planet´s survival as we move forward toward an uncertain future.

Recently the Yale University Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked Colombia in the Top Ten Most ‘Green’ Countries in the World. Additionally, a newly-released United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report placed the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at the top of their list of the World’s Most Irreplaceable Places, terrestrial areas that are truly irreplaceable, vital for the preservation of mammals, birds, and amphibians – in short, vital to the earth’s ecosystem

Colombia is also blessed with still another valuable natural resource: its indigenous peoples who have been caring for the planet since the dawn of history. The indigenous peoples of la Sierra, for example, consider themselves to be the heart of the world, the living compassionate and caring heart of the organic planet, and believe it is their job to maintain the ecological balance of our earth mother.

By extension, they also believe it is your and my evolutionary calling to do the same – to strive to become the compassionate and caring Heart of the World ourselves.

What I have learned in two years is that we should all be listening to the message of Colombia’s original peoples if we would seek the keys to creating a sustainable future for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. Colombia’s political leaders, in particular, would do well to listen to what our Elders have to teach us about the fundamental natural laws and environmental relationships that are critical to responding to the challenges facing us in the future.

In future articles in The City Paper I will share the most critical environmental issues facing Colombia – and the world – and will suggest ways that you and I and our global leaders can – and must – respond.

I am convinced that the keys to unlocking the solutions to the very real challenges facing the planet will not be found among the sciences nor in politics, but rather in the collective spiritual and environmental wisdom of the world’s indigenous peoples, handed down from generations of Elders to new generations of young leaders. Our future is literally in the palms of their hands.

*About this author: John Lundin is an environmental activist and writer. He is the author of THE NEW MANDALA – Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, written in collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and is currently writing a spiritual and environmental novel with the Mamos of la Sierra Nevada.




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