This is an update to last week’s story about Greenpeace’s irresponsible stunt on the Nazca Lines site in Peru. The Nazca Lines are a collection of giant, rudimentary drawings of shapes and animals meticulously drawn into a windless, rainless plateau in a Peru desert thousands of years ago. The entirety of the area is covered in reddish-brown rock with a lighter soil underneath them. The pictures were created, for what reason archaeologists aren’t sure, by simply removing the upper layer of rocks and revealing the white soil beneath. The lines of the drawings amount to only several inches deep and are therefore pretty delicate. Scientists, as you’ll see in this video, wear special shoes when visiting the site, on which very few people are allowed to tread.
Greenpeace did not bother with such precautions. The Peruvian government is said to be charging Greenpeace activists with damaging the site, but it was unclear until now exactly how much impact they might have had. PBS Newshour inquired and got this footage from the Ministry of Culture in Peru. The relevant part starts about a minute in after some throat-clearing about UN environmental agreements:
The high-profile mistake has caused some infighting among environmentalists, many of whom are dismayed according to ThinkProgress reporting, but not dismayed enough to speak out against an organization they’d like to preserve for…carelessly destroying the environment and cultural heritage sites in the future, I guess? Some of them hope Greenpeace will add something to its bylaws about not criminally destroying sacred sites with its activism. Good for Greg Laden for being public about his anger:
Along with riling the Peruvian government (which has pledged to file criminal charges against the offending activists) and damaging the site, the situation has drawn a rift between environmentalists.
Greg Laden, an outspoken climate hawk, biological anthropologist, and archaeologist who studies historical sites like the Nazca lines, has seen it personally. “There are people that have contacted me privately and publicly who are allies in climate discussion who think we should not react too strongly because they want to preserve Greenpeace as a legitimate organization,” he said. “I don’t think they understand the significance of the situation.”
Laden himself has come out strongly against Greenpeace’s action. As an archaeologist, he emphasizes the importance of the geoglyphs, and his outrage over their disrespect — by an environmental conservation organization, no less.
“I’m an archaeologist, and this is a World Heritage Site,” he said. “I see the same thing as when a bunch of kids drive into the desert, find a grave, dig up artifacts, and sell them … They exploited the patrimony of the site for absolutely no reason.”
His outrage is shared by most, though in private, most environmental advocates — including many within Greenpeace USA — are shell-shocked. They are heartbroken at the damage to the Nazca Lines, humiliated about the fallout, and plagued with debilitating disbelief that the situation was allowed to occur. They want to know who the responsible parties were within Greenpeace International, and they want to remind people of all the good that Greenpeace has done for the climate and environment in the past.
And most everyone agrees on one thing: A simple apology is not going to be enough.