“We have three Amazon rivers here,” says the man, a politician, as I have coffee with him in the square at Café do Pina in the center of Manaus. “One above the ground, one below the ground, and one in the air.” Everyone has heard of the first one, the mighty Amazon River itself. Then there’s a second stream, called Hamza, which runs parallel to the Amazon four thousand meters underground and is estimated to be just as long. Above in the atmosphere, the ‘flying rivers’ transport water vapor that has been ‘sweated out’ by the trees in the rainforest of the Amazon region to the center and southeast of Brazil and the north of Argentina.
Climate Control Center of a Strange, Wild Planet
In the mid-nineties, I swapped my editor’s chair at the Dutch music magazine OOR for a hammock in the Brazilian Amazon. I survived aggressive bees, drunken indigenous people, the anti-malaria drug Lariam, and the river itself. I met the American photographer John Sevigny, a passionate Latin American nomad with a camera. Sevigny introduced me to Justin Sullivan of the British band New Model Army, and different worlds came together.
I watched the movie Between Dog And Wolf – The New Model Army Story, directed by Matt Reid, and saw the story of a generation of young people who grew up in Bradford, England. They resisted social inequality during the Reagan-Thatcher era of the eighties with music, art, and poetry, against the “capitalism of the desire structure,” which is one of the main drivers of climate change.
Between Dog And Wolf – The New Model Army Story is a film about the people in and around a band, their friends, and many loyal fans. There were successes, but also setbacks. Drummer Rob Heaton died in 2004 from pancreatic cancer, in 2010 there was the sudden death of manager Tommy Tee, and on Christmas Eve 2011, a fire destroyed the New Model Army studio in Bradford, including the archive and all equipment. In 2013, the band rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the past with the groundbreaking album Between Dog And Wolf. A year later, Between Wine And Blood followed.
“I live on an angry planet,” Justin Sullivan sings on Between Wine And Blood. The video displays a barrage of horror and violence, wars, slaughterhouses, and natural disasters. It shows the destruction of man, animal, and nature, with blood almost literally splattering from the screen. And then, in the end, there’s Shiva, the Hindu god symbolizing an endless cycle of destruction and creation, smiling in silent meditation.
I live on an angry planet, amidst the crowds and the endless noise
In the debris of the broken families and the cracks in the grand designs
And all the angry gods are back, gathering strength as the continents collide
“It’s a depressing song,” Justin Sullivan responded when I asked him about Angry Planet. “We tried to connect the human species, which is becoming increasingly angry, demanding, and dissatisfied with itself, to nature and the planet. Nature on this planet is violent; they kill each other, they die. One life replaces another. In our society, each of us, ourselves and our loved ones, eventually faces the inevitable and violent cycle of life.”
They say that we’re all kings and queens in the new world except for those who aren’t
They say we can follow our dreams to the very top of the tree except for those who can’t
They say that the meek shall inherit the earth except that they shan’t
One Strange Rock
At the end of March 2018, National Geographic launched the television series One Strange Rock. This series, presented by the American actor Will Smith, recounts the origin of our planet in ten episodes using breathtaking visual techniques. Various astronauts are featured, and they are the only people who have left the ‘rock’ for a certain period. One Strange Rock is about a strange and vulnerable planet that, against all odds, comes to life… and continues to live.
Besides being strange, One Strange Rock is also an Angry Planet: wild and merciless. More than five billion species that once lived on Earth have since become extinct, which amounts to 99 percent of all species. Only 1 percent remains to observe and learn from. Should we let nature take its course, or are we accelerating the extinction process? One thing is certain: “We live on an angry planet.”
In the first episode of the National Geographic documentary series One Strange Rock, the Amazon is immediately highlighted as a vital climate control center of the world. We see how ‘flying rivers’ form above the forest, which is crucial for the rainfall there and elsewhere. The myth of the ‘lung of the Earth’ is debunked – the story of the origin of our oxygen is slightly different, but no less fascinating.
However, the Amazon is under serious threat. This not only endangers the planet but possibly our continued existence as well. The tropical rainforest is being deforested on a large scale and is going up in flames. Small farmers are threatened and driven off their land, while indigenous peoples are poisoned and killed. Is it still possible to stop this destruction? And what are the consequences of the Amazon’s destruction for the local population and the climate, both there and here?
To be continued…