On the 45-hour journey home from Goa to Eugene, I have some time to reflect on all that we have seen and done this week with colleagues from around the world. The ever-accelerating pace of environmental destruction in the South, driven largely by consumption patterns in the North, is keeping my colleagues busy. At the meeting, Belizean attorneys advised Ghanaian, Ugandan, and Kenyan attorneys about the coming wave of offshore oil drilling. Indian colleagues helped their counterparts in other parts of Asia strategize about beating back coal-fired power plants and mines that threaten terrestrial ecosystems and access to clean water. We all shared notes about building strong organizations and recruiting and training the next generation of advocates, to keep this vital work going.
One morning before the workday began, we hiked together up to a viewpoint overlooking the Western Ghats, the mountain range that runs along this southwest coast of India. The Western Ghats are a biodiversity hotspot: home to 139 species of mammals, over 500 species of birds, and over 5000 species of plants. As we admired the view and celebrated the morning, the resident naturalist at our retreat center brought us back to another reality, saying hundreds of dams are planned for this area, as is the world’s largest nuclear power generation plant.
Chimgee Dashdorg, a friend and colleague from Mongolia, reached for the sky and said: High places like this in Mongolia are sacred because we draw energy from the sky. We all follow her lead – with the knowledge that, for these battles we are fighting, we need energy. We draw energy from each other, and from the natural world, as we move into our workday.
A few years ago, an Indian friend in Eugene introduced me to the poetry of Rabinindrath Tagore, the Indian poet laureate. As we worked together in Goa, I was reminded of these words by Tagore:
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”
The work of the members of the ELAW network is like that bird, singing out of commitment to preserving the integrity of the natural world, and each individual that lives in, depends upon, and appreciates that world. Some of the challenges that we face are grim – a growing human population on a warming planet with fewer and more polluted resources. But our work is protecting pieces of the fabric of biodiversity while we at the same time do the slower work of systemic reform.
And gathering once a year to share strategies, build the network, and even to draw energy from a mountaintop, rejuvenates us. In spite of the long journey, I find myself excited to get back to work. Thanks to our Indian hosts for grounding us in that place, and facilitating our work together!