I had not forgotten the rain forests or the incredible plants and animals that live here. Or the people – the Achuar and Shuar. They are with me every day – as I jog, walk and meditate in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, near my Washington home. Yet being here again, sleeping in an Achuar home, palm-leaf thatching above my head, rising to the sounds of the jungle, and listening to the wisdom of the shamans has re-awakened in me a new sense of both urgency and hope.
These people, these plants and animals live on the frontier. Physically, it is not unlike the frontiers of history. But it is also a frontier never before experienced by human beings. It is the frontier of an awakening consciousness.
This small country that lies at the centre of the earth, right on the Equator, is a microcosm for our entire planet. It is both blessed and cursed with an abundance of resources. Judged by modern economics, the most important of these is oil. When I first came here as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1968, oil was touted as the saviour that would catapult Ecuador out of poverty and into the type of society we all thought we were creating for ourselves back then – a socially just and environmentally sustainable one (the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission was established in 1965 and the first Earth Day was in 1970!). Instead, oil has resulted in immeasurable ecological damage, social disruption, political intrigue (including assassinations and coups), overwhelming debt, and an economy that is radically skewed to favour the rich.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately that is the story of modern “development” – what I defined in Hoodwinked as a new economic agenda that emerged in the 1970s and has oppressed us ever since: Predatory capitalism. As expressed by the economist Milton Friedman, its sole goal is to maximise corporate profits, regardless of the social and environmental costs. It is a form of insanity that has created a world where less than 5 per cent of us (who live in the US) consume almost 30 per cent of the planet’s resources while half the world is on the verge of starving, or actually dying of starvation. Worse still: of that 5 per cent about .0000035 per cent control more assets than 50 per cent of the rest. It is a total failure, not a model that can be replicated in China, India, Africa, or Latin America.
But there is another story. It is a story that is unfolding in Ecuador. The story of changing consciousness. The indigenous people here tell us that “the world is as you dream it” and that our dream of extreme material wealth has become a nightmare. It’s time to recognise that oil is not the most valuable resource. Our forests, our rivers, lakes, and oceans, our air, our plants and animals – the gifts of nature – are the true resources that sustain our lives and our souls. It is time to dream a new dream. And to take actions that materialise this new dream.
Ecuador’s courageous president, Rafael Correa, honours the dream of the people of the forests. He was the driving force behind the first constitution in history to assure inalienable rights for nature. He renegotiated contracts with Big Oil to guarantee that his people would gain a reasonable share of oil profits. He is determined to transform his country into a model that can be replicated, one that will gift our grandchildren with a sustainable, just, and peaceful world.
As I and other members of The Pachamama Alliance sat in council with Achuar leaders and shamans we heard time and again that although Rafael Correa is president of their country and a man who holds a PhD in economics from the University of Illinois, he is also a person who walks a tightrope. Having been an economic hit man I know exactly what they mean. The pressure exerted by the corporatocracy on our leaders – whether in Quito or Washington DC – is daunting. President Zelaya of Hondurous was overthrown in a coup in 2009 because he took a stand against the exploitation of human and natural resources by Dole, Chiquita, Russell Athletics, and other multinationals. President Correa himself survived an attempted coup in 2010. President Obama watched the head of the IMF (and candidate for president of France) brought down by the accusation of a NYC hotel chambermaid. Chiefs of State are vulnerable today, not just to bullets and plane crashes; the threat of character assassination by rumour and innuendo is a potent reality.
The Achuar, like indigenous people around the world, told us that we – you and I, not our leaders – must be the agents of change. We must stand behind the Correas and Obamas. We must support them. And we must act. If we want change, we must dream a new dream and then we must take actions every day to manifest it and to inspire our leaders to do the right thing.
I sat in a dugout canoe on the Capahuari River near the border between Ecuador and Peru. Thousands of miles of rain forest stretched out around me. I was truly on the frontier. I thought about the determination of Daniel Boone and other frontier people to conquer the wilderness and create a safer, more comfortable life for their offspring. And about how that dream became a nightmare addiction to the extreme materialism that now pushes us to the brink of disaster.
Suddenly a pair of pink dolphins surfaced. They frolicked in the water near the canoe. I thought about how these saltwater mammals had adjusted to the fresh waters of this river that is a very long way from the ocean. And then I thought about the new frontier. The frontier of our awakening consciousness.
As I watched those dolphins I had no doubt that we will succeed. We will dream a new dream and come together to manifest it. It will take energy, perseverance, and discipline. And it will take a bit of dolphin-style frolicking.
This amazing jungle, the most biologically perse place on our planet, the indigenous people who live here, the plants and animals and the courageous president of Ecuador are crafting the new story. And it is also being crafted by so many – the Occupy Movement, Arab Spring, other Latin American and African leaders who are standing strong to defend their lands and cultures, the bloggers, the millions of postings on FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, and the multifarious evolving voices of social networking.
The fact that you are reading this means that you are part of the awakening. Welcome to the frontier.
John Perkins’ books on economics and geo-politics have sold more than 1 million copies, spent many months on the New York Times and other bestseller lists, and are published in over 30 languages. He was chief economist of an international consulting firm and has advised heads of state and Fortune 500 CEOs and currently lectures at universities and business conferences around the world.
A version of this article first appeared on DailyCloudt.com.