A Story That Effects Us All
There is a very clear link between high-priority news and ideas and how long those ideas remain on the table for conversation. Perhaps the longest-lasting focal point of our generation is climate change, and for good reason. On a global level, we know that climate change is one of the most pressing concerns that we are facing. As it literally one of the factors that will determine whether or not our species survives, the problem is addressed from a scale ranger from neighbors discussing their feelings about it to entire nations having a dialogue. Within the framework of climate change, most people understand that fossil fuels and the industrial meat industry are chief contributors to this problem. They have been researched, verified, and shared with the public in a way that is now beginning to positively impact the choices people make.
The Amazon Rainforest is of overwhelming importance in the maintenance of our planet’s livable climate, yet is being burned, deforested, and plundered for gold in an illegal industry that account not only for its destruction, but huge amounts of CO2 pollution. This problem is on a scale of importance with other known contributors to climate change, yet has received little attention in the media. This relatively unexplored subject is the backdrop for River of Gold, a recent documentary created by the Amazon Aid Foundation.
The film opens with a beautiful watercolor animation exploring the dynamic relationship between species in the Amazon Rainforest, a complex and interdependent web. The film points out that “Of the earth’s 10 million species of plants animals and insects, almost one third live here” and that the Amazon Rainforest is a collection of trees so vast that it literally affects climate on a global scale.
So with this backdrop of critical importance to all life on the planet that the Amazon Rainforest plays, the documentary delves into the world of illegal gold mining, an industry worth more than the combined value of illegal drug trafficking. The film follows a crew of journalists and activists as they explore this issue.
The film follows the crew into Peru as they explore some of these mining sites. We see very quickly that through very hard, 24-hour laboring, huge swaths of the rainforest are burned or deforested, making it possible to dig enormous mining pits. The film sheds and objective light on the facts of this matter: 500+ year-old parcels of Amazon Rainforest are destroyed, pits are dug, and sediment is chipped away and mixed with mercury, a known, toxic element to access the gold. Equally troubling to the destruction of the rainforest for a short-term economic gain is the burning and release of mercury into the air and water supply. The full implications on human and animal health of exposure to mercury are not fully understood, but it disproportionately affects children in the area.
As the documentary progresses, we learn more about the smash-and-grab towns that have cropped up to take advantage of this industry that bear a resemblance the towns that resulted from the 1850’s gold rush in the United States. A town is erects as an area is pillaged, and then the destruction moves onward.
The crux of documentary is the conflict between humans short-term considerations in destroying this priceless ecosystem that literally keeps us alive. However, the creators of River of Gold are not naive to the realities of human action. If there is a need for survival, or the survival of your offspring, and a need to put food on the table, one can hardly be blamed for taking selfish action and making some long-term sacrifices to stay alive now.
River of Gold is a hugely important film for people all over the world to understand. We have no way of tracing where the gold in our jewelry comes from, and in our own way, we may be endorsing the destruction of the rainforest indirectly. Gold plays a critical role in many economies, and understanding the relationship it has to environmental degradation and climate change is crucial. It’s a wake-up call to us all that even in issues that we don’t, on the surface, appear to be players in, we all have a part to play.
As legislation begins to pass and awareness grows around this issue, there is a clear path toward saving the Amazon, and saving ourselves in the process. But the first step is education. For more information on the environmental and cultural issues surrounding the Amazon Rainforest, visit our friends at the Amazon Aid Foundation.