This year has been a momentous one for many reasons – the Women’s March held in January became the single largest protest in recent history, Bob Dylan was the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, etc. Did you know, though, that this May thirteen indigenous peoples of the Maranhao state of Brazil were hospitalized – some with their hands and feet hacked off by machetes? Had you read in the news that, at the beginning of the year, a Mexican indigenous leader was murdered in his village for opposing illegal logging activities? (*1) I’ll venture a guess and say that you probably weren’t aware that those tragedies transpired. I say this because I – who consider myself a relatively up-to-speed environmental advocate – was completely oblivious to them. Unfortunately, though, the nature of these occurrences is more common, and much less covered, than one may care to admit.
You may be wondering, at a time when news cycles are consistently dominated by tragic stories of gun violence, school shootings, terrorist attacks, and similar atrocities, why should we go looking for more stories of brutality and murder to telecast to the world? The answer, in my opinion, is that many of these underreported stories are more relevant to our wellbeings and our futures than we may comprehend.
Last year was the most deadly for environmentalists throughout the planet, according to a study by the group Global Witness.(*2) While, in 2016, 200 wildlife rangers, activists, and indigenous leaders were killed while defending the environment, this year we are well on track to surpass that number. Though many of these murders and acts of violence happen in very remote areas of the planet, a large factor in the near media blackout can be attributed to the special interests involved. If large corporations, the farming and logging industries and even governments want to bury stories of this nature, one can expect them to remain buried.
The reason for bringing this distressing situation to light is not solely to depress the reader. Instead, I urge you to think about the far-reaching repercussions of these acts of violence and brutality. What do they mean for you the consumer, the activist, the global citizen? As stated by Arantxa Cedillo for the Human Rights Watch, “the primary victims of environmental harm are often impoverished and marginalized communities with limited opportunity to meaningfully participate in decision-making and public debate on environmental issues, and have little access to independent courts to achieve accountability and redress.” (*3) We are the ones who have a political voice, and the power to influence corporate interests with our spending dollars. If we take it upon ourselves to be attentive to the danger that those who most ardently defend our natural environment are placed in, maybe we’ll finally break the tragic upward trend we’ve seen over the past decade.