|Introduction to Summer Plenty Bulletin
by Peter Schweitzer
June 26, 2001
Dear Friends of Plenty,
Being in Belize again after over a years absence, reminded me that, in many ways, it is a more advanced country than the U.S. Its citizens are more environmentally friendly and are better stewards of their natural resources. Pavement is a much smaller percentage of the countrys topography, most of the country is still in its natural state, the government is not promoting nuclear power as an ecological alternative energy source and although Belize retains the death penalty, no one has been executed since 1985.
Belize has its problems. Some are being foisted on it by outsiders like the Canadian power company, Fortis, Inc. that wants to build a hydroelectric dam on the Macal River in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. Their immediate partners in this controversial project are BEL (Belize Electricity Limited), Belizes power monopoly, and the Government of Belize. The dam, opposed by every major environmental and conservation organization in Belize, Canada and the US, would destroy the breeding habitat of the endangered Scarlet Macaw and wreak havoc on one of the most biologically rich and diverse areas of Belize. It would also flood several unexplored ancient Mayan sites. Its the old battle between the push for "progress" and "development" and the human urge to protect wilderness areas. The government argues that the opposition is mostly coming from organizations in countries that have already sacrificed much of their wilderness on the altar of development and now they want to "keep Belize from getting ahead." Like nuclear power, the Chalillo Dam, as its called, has little to recommend it. It doesnt appear to be very economical. Cheaper electricity is available from Mexico, and it will only have an active life of 50 years. The only apparent beneficiaries would be Fortis, BEL, the Belize Government and an assortment of wealthy investors. In a country where nature tourism is becoming the biggest contributor to GNP, the destruction of a biological incubator like the Macal River floodplain doesnt make much sense.
Still Belize, puts the US to shame in the protection of nature department. When I was in Toledo this last time, the Belize Zoo was sponsoring a Toledo District-wide school science fair that was held in the cavernous sheet metal "sports complex" next to the Punta Gorda airstrip. There must have been thirty or more schools with exhibits in there, and every exhibit was about the environment and how important it is to people and animals that the environment be kept clean and healthy. Most of the exhibits were three dimensional models showing villages and farming, forest and coasthow all these were connectedhow pollution from pesticides adversely affects marine life, for instance. I walked around and talked to the students stationed at their displays. These 10 to 15 year-old and younger school kids were amazingly articulate and environmentally hip. (Way ahead of their government and politicians and I would have to suppose way ahead of most American kids of their age.) It just stands to reason that if you live in a house with a roof made of woven cahune leaves and a floor made of packed dirt in the middle of the rainforest, you have a clearer view of the natural world than those of us whose view is blocked by steel and glass and the glare of our TVs and computer monitors. I thought it timely that the young people of Toledo were becoming immersed in information about ecology and biodiversity just as our environmental education project, "Birding for Biodiversity" with the Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA) is getting underway in some of the same communities where the schools are located.
I was also extremely impressed by the level of activity and engagement of our Plenty Belize staff and the half dozen volunteers lending a hand with a number of projects. Just as wed hoped, having full-time staff on the ground in Belize has made a huge difference in what we are able to accomplish. The network of volunteers in the states working on behalf of Toledo is also expanding, from the couple in New Mexico who is collecting medical supplies to the school children in Newton, Massachusetts who are donating proceeds from a recycling project to the TEA and the Audubon groups donating books and binoculars to the birding project. It is these kinds of local efforts that help change the face of America in the eyes of the world from a scary, greedy, missile-brandishing polluter to a generous, benevolent neighbor with a conscience.
Thanks so much for being with us, wherever you are.