On Sledding in the Amazon

Written by Rane Cortez on . Posted in Act, Learn

Editor’s Note: This is the second entry of a new monthly column here on Planet Change by The Nature Conservancy’s Rane Cortez. A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rane (pronounced “rainy”) is located in the Conservancy’s Belem office in Brazil where she is working with partners and local communities to advance forest conservation projects that fight carbon pollution while maintaining sustainable livelihoods for local people.

The other day I was trying to decide whether or not I should go sledding. While this may not sound like a momentous or difficult decision, please remember that it’s July and I live in the Amazon. Nevertheless, the opportunity to cavort on a snow-covered hill presented itself to me in the form of a traveling expo called Adventures in Snow that set itself up in a nearby mall.

Adventures in Snow was a big indoor sledding hill that purported to offer cheap thrills to all the good people of Belem who were suffering through the heat of the dry season. As a native of Minnesota, I was drawn to the idea of reliving a bit of my childhood while also showing these Amazonians a thing or two about proper sledding techniques. However, the thought of supporting a business that was surely wasting massive amounts of energy (and thereby contributing to climate change) in keeping snow cold in the tropics was making me feel guilty.

Hence, I was faced with a classic conundrum: to sled or not to sled in the Amazon?

This inner debate caused me to reflect on a broader question: Does caring about climate change have to make my life a drag? Do I have to give up on all sorts of fun, yet energy-intensive activities, like taking weekend getaways with the girls and eating imported fruit and sledding in the tropics?

While this question is surely not as important as the more often debated question of whether or not climate change itself will make our lives a drag, I do feel like there are a good number of people out there who don’t want to care about our planet because doing so implies a certain amount of sacrifice. And, I have to admit, I can sympathize with that point of view. After all, climate change is complicated and scary, and a lot of times it’s not very clear what we, as individuals and communities, can do to help. Also, sometimes the threats can seem so large that it’s easy to think that whatever small contribution we can make won’t make a difference.

So as I mulled over my Big Sledding Decision, I started to think about how the way I lived my life was contributing to the fight against climate change (or not). I sat down with a piece of paper and divided it into three columns (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to rate my habits in terms of their impacts on the Earth. The result was mixed. I certainly fly too much; I am, perhaps, a bit too quick to turn on the air conditioner; and I am sure that I could make more sustainable food choices if I put more thought into it. On the flip side, I walk to work, I don’t own a car, I use reusable grocery bags, and I plant a bunch of trees in Guatemala every year. So I wasn’t doing too badly, but there was certainly room for improvement.

As I looked at the bad and the ugly columns, I realized that there were actually a lot of fairly painless fixes that I could do to make my life more sustainable. For example, I could certainly eat more local fruits and vegetables (which abound in the Amazon) and cut down on eating meat. I could cool off on the weekends by drinking some coconut water in the shade of the main square rather than hanging out in the air conditioning. And, in addition to using reusable grocery bags, I could reuse the annoying plastic bags that they force me to put my produce in. Just sitting down and writing out the list made me realize that I don’t need a complete life overhaul to reduce my impact on the planet; I just needed to put more thought into how I was going about my daily activities and seek out ways to do them better. It has kind of become like a game now, with me competing (against myself) to see what I else I could do to be more sustainable.

In the end, I couldn’t stay away from the draw of the sledding hill, and I went over to check it out. It turns out there was nothing to worry about – the “snow” was not super cooled through a huge energy expensive process, but was actually made out of some rather disgusting white sticky sludge. They made me don a helmet to slowly skid down this fake hill – a far cry from the joyful plunges I experienced in Minnesota winters. I guess there is no replacement for real snow.

And making sure real snow can still be found long into the future, is one further motivation for me to keep making the changes I can to help the fight against climate change.

Rane Cortez is a forest carbon development adviser at The Nature Conservancy.

Photo by: Olivario Cortez (Rane at the Adventures in Snow hill in Brazil)


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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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