The future is renewable – the past is not

For the past 20 years or so, I have repeatedly been impressed by spectacular actions which Greenpeace has used to draw attention to global environmental problems such as nuclear waste and the pollution of the atmosphere and the oceans. These actions themselves did not change the world, they did not solve the problems – but they made it impossible to ignore them. You simply clould not look the other way anymore. With actions on the grounds of nuclear power stations they showed how vulnerable this allegedly save technology is.

Now, Greenpeace has tried to draw the world’s attention by yet another stunt. But this time, they chose to perform it within a World Heritage site: the Nazca geoglyphs. They put up large yellow letters reading “Time for change! The future is renewable. Greenpeace”, and they did so right next to one of the most famous geogyphs, the hummingbird.

No matter how careful they were when they walked to that site, when they layed the letters and when they removed them again – walking on the fragile desert surface does leave traces. Who do they think they are to believe that they may go where nobody else is allowed to go? Who do they think they are to appropriate a World Heritage site for their purposes? Couldn’t they have at least placed their letters at a save distance from any geoglyphs? Yes, Greenpeace has apologised by now. But I don’t think it can be left at that.

I have previously written about damages to geoglyphs outsite of the area protected as World Heritage. Looking at both the action by Greenpeace activists and the much more severe impact of offroad vehicles, I see two parallels between the incidences. One is the ease of access to extremely fragile archaoelogical sites. One can simply walk or drive into the desert, and it is impossible to effectively protect such large areas by installing physical barriers. The other parallel is ignorance. Both the organisers of the Dakar rally and the Greenpeace activists have been igorant towards the heritage they affected.

For Greenpeace, this is a confession of failure: The world’s most well-known environmental organisation ignores and damages archaoelogcial heritage in a very fragile environment. The message the Greenpeace activists wanted to convey was “The future is renewable“. This may be right. But, as damage to archaological sites is generally irreversible, they have to realise: The past is not renewable.