The Heart of the World

I recently had the pleasure to meet Los Mamos de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at an environmental philanthropy forum in Miami sponsored by Poder, a Latin American business magazine.

The Mamos are known as the “Elder Brothers” of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Colombia – an area they call “the Heart of the World.” The health of their mountains, they believe, reflects the health of our planet. I agree.

The Sierra Nevada are the world’s tallest coastal mountain range. They rise from the temperate Caribbean coast into snow-capped mountains almost 20,000 feet high that feed 35 watersheds. These watersheds support the area’s 1.5 million residents, the nearby farming plains, and the region’s 50,000 indigenous people.

Once you get above around 10,000 feet, 100 percent of the reptiles and amphibians can be found nowhere else in the world but in the Sierra. The mountains boast well over 3,000 different species of plants, and play host to the migratory birds traveling between South America and the US and Canada. They are home to people speaking a language found nowhere else in the world.

But as the Mamos will tell you, the “Heart of the World” is changing. And rapidly.

Snowcaps are shrinking. Rivers and streams are drying up. Biodiversity is declining. The soil is eroding. And the birds are flying elsewhere.  This is happening in the heart of the world and, I’m sad to say, spreading throughout the earth’s biosystems.

The story of the Mamos, and of global warming changing their way of life, is not the last chapter in an anthropology book, but the first chapter in the book of all of us. Climate change will get us all if we don’t act fast, and act strongly.

The United States, with 5 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for 25 percent of the world’s global warming pollution. So for those of us in the U.S. and in big cities throughout Latin America, our job is to adopt the policies and practices that will solve the global climate crisis. Energy efficiency. Renewable energy. Market transformation. And to do all of this in a big way.

Some say wait. But as the Elder Brothers will tell you, the planet is not waiting.

Some say it’s too expensive. The truth is, it’s too expensive to keep wasting energy and using dirty energy.

The longer we wait, the dirtier the air and water, the more costly the switch to clean energy. The longer we wait, the more we’ll lose of human history. The more we’ll lose of our culture and the natural world around us. And, as the Elders will tell you, the more we’ll lose of our heart.