For the past few days, the world seems to have become suddenly and collectively disturbed upon seeing footage and photographs of “the lungs of the earth” on fire, the Amazon Rainforest. We are donating money, posting on social media, and thinking about eating less beef and soy, but ultimately feeling very powerless.
Will we still be talking about it next week?
The news cycle moves so quickly, we can barely keep up.
For the past two years, I have been creating a body of artwork about a different endangered landscape.
This landscape is in Nebraska, the midwest of the United States. It is in a Red state. A state where 59% of people voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election of 2016. Many Americans have never spent time in Nebraska but assume it is flat and empty, with only endless fields of corn. Surprisingly, in the southeastern corner of the state lies an inland salt marsh. There, water nearly as salty as the ocean comes up through the ground, creating an incredible, unique and critical habitat. Developments are encroaching on all sides of it, gradually squeezing it to the point where today there is just a tiny fraction of marsh land left.
Scrolling through heartbreaking pictures of giant trees ablaze, I wonder how different these two places are. In many ways, they couldn’t be more opposite. The Amazon Rainforest stretches over a billion acres. The salt marsh is less than 1,000 acres. The Amazon is dense with trees — there are 16,000 different species of them. The salt marsh has only a few trees — it is the Great Plains after all. But these two places have more in common that one might see at first glance. They are both threatened by industrial agriculture. They are both sacred Indigenous land. They both contain endangered species. To the dismay of many and financial gain for few, they are both continuing to be destroyed. Protections for endangered species are being weakened by the Trump administration. The Nebraska Supreme Court just announced after a ten year battle that they will build an oil pipeline through our state. Despite passionate outcry, against the wishes of landowners, their constituents and Indigenous Nebraskans.
The intentional and human-made destruction of the Amazon seems to prioritize the same few people. These ecological stories, like so many others, are ones of destruction, exploitation, greed, and ignorance. The issue is not just about the Amazon or salt marshes but how we view the role of protecting irreplaceable land. To love these places is heartbreaking; we love something that is being erased. Despite their inherent wisdom — their biological diversity — their futures are liminal. If we are to save critical habitat, we must place it in a new context. Rather than viewing landscape as purely recreational or profitable, we must form a new awareness — one based in upon the poetic and personal.