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Preserving The World For The Future By Destroying The Past: The Saga of Greenpeace and the Nazca Lines

Photo courtesy of Paul Wiliams:
Greenpeace’s mission is to ensure that the Earth and its beautiful diversity survive—without nuclear destruction, climate change, commercial overfishing, deforestation, or genetic engineering disrupting the health of the planet and its myriad creatures. They’re a non-profit focused on what we’re doing in the present, and how it will impact the future.

But a recent stunt has shown that they’re willing to entirely disregard the past—and go against their own anti-destruction creed in order to spread their message.

In early December, an officially sanctioned group of Greenpeace activists hiked out into the prohibited zone around one of Peru’s most famous archaeological sites: the Nazca lines. Greenpeace filmed themselves on the ground and photographed the results from the air as they set up a huge banner of letters spelling out the message: “Time for change! The future is renewable —Greenpeace.” But unfortunately the sign’s setting among the ancient geoglyphs of the Nazca lines is not renewable. And thanks to Greenpeace, is now potentially damaged for the future.

The 1500- to 2000-year-old Nazca lines are a fragile giant set of abstract and animal designs carved into the multi-colored sands of the Nazca desert. They’re only 10 to 30 centimeters deep and would never have survived over the centuries if heavy rainfall or human foot traffic was common in the arid, inhospitable region. Because of their fragility, few are ever allowed out near the Nazca lines—and the handful of presidential, royal, and archaeological visitors that have ever been granted access are also given special coverings for their shoes and instructions on how to behave whilst walking nearby. Most tourists view the Nazca Lines UNESCO World Heritage Site from above via plane tours.

And it was that aerial viewpoint that Greenpeace wanted to capitalize on in order to spread its ill-fated and ironic message that particular weekend. Peru’s capital happened to be hosting a series of United Nations climate talks. And a section of Greenpeace International wanted to take advantage of the global attention to promote its own message through an ill-thought out plan that has irreparably damaged a world cultural heritage site and Greenpeace’s own reputation.

The apparently accidental act of vandalism caused international outrage, especially among archaeologists, conservation groups, and local government agencies in South America. Greenpeace International issued several apologies, and uninvolved sub-sections of Greenpeace’s vast multi-national community continue to express regret over the mishandled promotional shenanigan. Peru is requesting Greenpeace International release the names of the activists involved so they can be properly prosecuted for their act of vandalism. Greenpeace has agreed to cooperate with the investigation. The world is currently waiting with bated breath to see how Greenpeace and Peru will handle the situation going forward. But the damage to the archaeological site and to Greenpeace runs deeper and is already done.

Though Greenpeace has done significant good on behalf of the world over the decades since its inception, naysayers are always looking for ways to drag environmentalist organizations down. And now the anti-environmentalists profiting from the industries opposed by Greenpeace have a solid international scandal to complain about. One of which looks so bad on paper (or via drone), that it’s quickly spiraling into a series of bad press for environmentalist groups at large.

There have long been allegations that first world environmental groups treat foreign nations as colonial subjects. Regardless of their intentions, Greenpeace’s disregard for Peruvian local permissions and cultural prohibitions by visiting the Nazca lines smacks of imperial and disregardful attitudes towards sovereign nations and peoples. Getting folks interested in protecting a healthy global future is a commendable goal, but not when it’s done with disregard for world heritage and national groups already on the side of environmentalists, like Peru.

For an international non-profit intent on preserving the world for the future— this action does not bode well for the reception of future community campaigns, especially those within walking distance of cultural heritage sites.

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