Without going into too much detail, my internship at Green Visions has me compiling a massive sustainability report to improve their social responsibility and environmental performance. It is a major undertaking to say the least, but the process is underway and going well so far. Today I raised a question about illegal logging in Sutjeska National Park on the border with Montenegro. It is apparently a 20 million dollar per year operation by which the last primeval forest in Europe is being ransacked and the wood is being exported to producers who sell hardwood goods back to Bosnians at several thousand times the price paid for the trees as raw material. This is obviously a serious sustainability issue for BiH, but especially so for the tourism industry and companies like Green Visions. If the park is getting eaten away from the outer edges, and more and more tourists are hearing about this park and wanting to visit for a true wilderness experience, there is an obvious endgame there. A couple patches of trees remain, tourists walk clear cuts with hungry chainsaws growling in the background, and eventually countless sustainable tourism dollars end up somewhere else, driving some other nation’s development.
When I asked what we as a company can do about this, and received an unsatisfactory answer, I naturally pushed harder. I said, “Well can’t we start a national education campaign? Once the people know how important this forest is and why it must be protected, surely we can change things!” The response I got was the most profound thing I’ve heard since arriving here, and there has been no shortage of profundity lately…
My colleague said in an almost offended tone, “People here just went through war. War! We all lost love ones, we lived without basic subsistence items for years, my family is still missing, our country is divided. Look around Ben, look around… People have food now, they have mobile phones, they have water and bread and medicine. People think this is good because all they can remember is massacre.”
I was blown away. My perspective was backwards entirely. I thought how obvious is this after the United States lost its forests to logging, its rivers to industrial pollutants, its soil to monoculture, and so on and so on and so on and so on. I was taking a top down approach, a very ignorant approach it turns out. Even though I left the environmental field to pursue development because i recognized this very obvious fact that hungry sick people at war don’t really have enough energy or cohesiveness to give a shit about the trees, although they know perfectly well what will happen when they are gone. It really took hearing it in those words, first hand, to make it mean anything to me.
Perspective is everything I guess. I get disheartened when I see bottles and cigarette butts floating down the river in the middle of the city. I think how easy to just sort this out. The people here don’t see it like that. They see life as infinitely upgraded from the last chapter, and that is more than enough for right now.
Maybe Bosnia needs an eco-warrior like me to fight a battle it is too fatigued to fight. Maybe I am a pretentious American chump who thinks he has all the answers. Maybe something in between.
Either way, my perspective has been expanded, I can see that I was backwards in my approach, and I am incredibly thankful that I have six more weeks to work on these problems from this new angle.