A day after I had visited a rainforest for the first time
I read that the Amazon has reached its tipping point
it was on Twitter, and I grappled with the fuzzy words before me
until I pulled on my glasses.
But it was true:
the lungs of planet earth
can no longer be saved
I put down my phone
And grieved this.
I grieved the greed of late-stage capitalism
And the bulldozing of a lush ecosystem for cattle farming
I grieved all the species that have succumbed
I grieved my own carbon footprint
and the distance between my reality and that of the Amazon
and how a trillion-dollar company is named after a rainforest
I had just explored El Yunque rainforest in Puetro Rico,
which produces 210 billion gallons of water a year
which swells with the fecund heat of life
which is bursting with biodiversity
which itself has traces of late-stage capitalism
groups of 100 tourists
trekking over its risen roots and clay floor
on an “authentic” adventure
(that millions do each year)
that I had just participated in
screaming and jumping off rocky cliffs
and rope swings
sunscreen and bug spray in waterfalls
with a tour guide who may or may not
support the sentiment of “go home gringo”
which I saw spray-painted on walls
But it’s also the late-stage capitalism I’ve seen in other places:
the glittering eye sore of a Carnival Cruise Ship
grotesque in its lavish abundance
pulling off the coast of Old San Juan at dusk
as I sat on the beach and squinted to see stars
or Burger King and Walmart sprinkled over the country
or when the tour guides at Laguna Grande, repentant,
informed us that the water level of the bay was dangerously low
In fact—it had never been this low
in its entire history, and that many corals would perish as a result.
But we still ran our hands in the water and splashed under a tarp
to see the bioluminescent algae,
because, well, that’s what we paid for.
I hate that I’m a part of it
I hate it and yet I continue to participate
I hate this paradox.
My first night in San Juan I pointed and scolded
a statue of Columbus in Plaza Colón,
demanding: “Why is he here?!”
when he is the OG symbol of colonialism
Columbus arrived on Porto Rico
and the native Taínos stood naked and shameless before him,
which maybe was the first step in this
process of globalization that makes us sacrifice rainforests
for McDonald’s cheeseburgers.
But I was also in the plaza, so…
Go home, gringo?
We are all guilty in our own way.
this world was tipping long before our incarnation
we flail around seeking solid ground the way Columbus did in 1492
because we’re busy worrying about our credit scores and 401Ks and mortgages
or if we’re going to get cancer or heart disease or a promotion
or be able to afford the next iPhone or trade in our car for something better
because that’s what capitalism wants us to worry about
hoping for a week of vacation once a year
so we can sip fruity cocktails and forget
the damage we have caused
But why worry at all?
what does any of it matter as earth degenerates before us—
when the goddamn Amazon has already reached its tipping point?
Why do we write poems and book flights and eat all the fast food
when our planet’s fate is sealed?
What’s your tipping point?
I’m asking because I don’t really know what mine is.
Does this gringo just stay home?
Will I stop traveling for the sake of nature?
Will I forgo seeing the world in order to save it?
I can kneel down and pray:
“Father, forgive us, for we know… not what… we… do???”
We do know.
We’ve known for a while, right?
And we can say:
“we know exactly what we are doing,
and yet we fail to change.”