To the Dream of a Better World
2023, Senior, Creative Writing
Climate Hero: Arassari Pataxó
Child, let me tell you a story.
Yes, I know. Stories are about as common as birds’ calls these days. But they are still important, child. In my day, they said that we told stories of the past so that we would not repeat that history. There were many things wrong in the World Before, but I think that’s one thing they got right.
Yes, the World Before. Isn’t that what all you children are always curious about? Come, sit, and entertain an old woman’s folly for a while. I promise this story will be worth your time.
Back in the World Before, most people had forgotten how to speak to the birds and the trees and the sky. They communicated with radio waves and electrical lines laid into the seafloor and strange things called “satellites” that floated in the sky higher than clouds. When you have a large hunk of metal in space, relaying thousands upon millions of bits of information per second, what use do you have for the little melodies of birds as they flit between the treetops?
That’s what the people in the World Before thought, child. They believed that they had innovated their way beyond nature through the Industrial Revolution and the creation of a thing called the “Internet,” and they believed that their stainless metal machines and gleaming copper cables would suffice to take the place of the earth and water and sky. They believed, perhaps, that there was no longer any need to protect our great Mother Nature in a time of aeroplanes and soot-covered industrial factories, where every single thing that a person could want could be purchased through a short automobile drive to a chain store.
Of course, we all know now that humanity in the World Before was terribly, fatally foolish. Their wanton ignorance of the state of the natural world around them led to a catastrophe. Countless ecosystems collapsed as entire rainforests were cut down and endangered animals were killed by the thousands for the sake of money and sport. The oceans warmed until sea creatures, unable to survive their too-hot environments, died and washed up on shores in droves of thousands. The air itself became poisoned with smoke and chemicals and things they called “greenhouse gases,” produced by their industrial factories and their gasoline-powered automobiles. Humanity knew that their world was slowly dying – they even had a name for it, “climate change.” Yet, they continued destroying the world they lived in, lulled into a daze by the comfort of having everything they wanted at their fingertips.
I’m sure they have taught you in school about how the catastrophe of the World Before came to an end. I’m sure you know names such as “Greta Thunberg” and “David Attenborough.” But they were not the only ones to fight for our dying planet. Climate change was a difficult enemy, child. There was no monster to hunt and slay – not even any weapons to slay such a monster with. The only enemy to fight was that of misinformation and ignorance, and the greatest weapon that our heroes had were their words. But of course, this is the same old story they tell all of you.
Now, let me tell you a new story, child.
There once was a man who could talk with the birds. His name was Arassari Pataxó. Yes, child. Pataxó, just like the name of our home. Do you know what it means, child? It is the sound of waves crashing onshore. Our lifestyle has always been inextricably linked with the forest and the sea, and the name of our tribe is simply a representation of that. The rest of the World Before had long since forgotten that Nature, our mother, brought us life long ago. But the Pataxó tribe never forgot, child. We never will.
Arassari Pataxó had never forgotten, either, and when the threat of climate change came to his tribe, when rising sea levels threatened to drown his ancestral home, he stood against the tsunami and held his head high. He fought against the catastrophe of climate change in the only way he could, in the way all our heroes have: through his voice.
There is something you will one day understand, child: as forest peoples, art is our voice. We will wear the same clothes our ancestors crafted, and every clever stitch will speak for our culture. The paintings on our walls have stayed the same throughout generations, and they will speak of our lifestyle here for generations to come. Arassari Pataxó understood this very well. He traveled the world, speaking to thousands, and when his words would fail to convince the most cynical, he would show them his art. He sold his voice in handmade crafts, and with every piece of art that left Arassari Pataxó’s hands, he sent with it a wish: that the buyer would take with them the voice of the forest peoples, and understand the need to preserve the world that brings us life.
Arassari Pataxó told the story of the forest peoples to the greater world. He allowed people to see the plight of his tribe, when they were blinded by the easy ignorance that comes with always having enough. He made people realize that one day, they may find themselves in need of the natural world around them, just as the Pataxó tribe did. He told them to fight back against the catastrophe of climate change, because even the efforts of a single person could stop the world from dying for just one more day.
And there was something else Arassari Pataxó did. He told people to come visit his tribe, to see the effects of climate change for themselves. To see the encroaching sea creeping into the vibrant lifestyle of his tribe. And he told them all to plant a tree at the end of their stay. Because every tree would be a tiny difference, compounding day by day until it could truly help hold back the impending catastrophe.
I suppose the story is becoming familiar to you now, child.
Arassari Pataxó was not the only hero responsible for saving the world, as you likely know. There were thousands of others who worked to finally vanquish the enemy of climate change, who used their voices to preserve the world, who screamed out truths even when they went ignored. Each of those heroes have their own story, but this is the story of our tribe, our home.
Once, our home was on the verge of being flooded by the rising oceans, just another casualty to the slow hot death of our planet. And now we are here, child. People come to visit our tribe still, and they still plant a tree when they leave, even if the forest has recuperated. They tell us of the world outside. Corporations have changed their methods of operation, producing their wares in symbiosis with the environment. Governments have passed new policies, limiting the number of automobiles and pollutant-spewing factories that can exist on their land. Soon, child, climate change will become a thing of the past, and our tribe will finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Arassari Pataxó would never have dreamed of the change he made, nor would any of those sung and unsung heroes who fought for their home, their planet. He is long gone now, but his legacy remains in our home, in our people. We will continue to use our voices to protect the forest, to protect the sea – and we will continue to make art so that our story can be read by all.
One day, there may be another catastrophe just like the climate change that nearly brought down the World Before. There will always be those who forget that it is not only nature who has a need for humanity, but us who also have a need for nature. But I think that we needn’t worry at all. There will always be another hero, too, just like Arassari Pataxó; like the thousands of others who fought and won.
Who knows? Perhaps it will be you. One day, some other old grandmother like me may tell the story of you, child.
Now, go run off and play with the boys. You’ve spent long enough entertaining an old woman’s folly.
When I first heard what this year’s Contest theme was, I immediately thought of Arassari Pataxó, an activist from Brazil who had come to speak at my school a few months prior. I have always thought that one of the most effective forms of activism is spreading awareness through education. It is easy to ignore the effects of climate change when they are not directly affecting our lives, but activists such as Pataxó remind us that the natural world is something that we all depend on. I especially admired Pataxó’s work because of the emphasis he placed on art. Art is a visual reminder that we need to enact change. Given that the goal of this year’s Contest was to spread positivity, I decided to imagine a world in which the catastrophe of climate change had already been averted. As I was writing, I realized that Pataxó himself would not have been able to single-handedly avert the climate crisis - nor would any other climate activist, no matter how impactful their work is - so I decided to focus on a smaller impact: the one Pataxó would have on his tribe. I specifically chose to tell my story like a fable or oral legend because I thought that Pataxó’s hypothetical story would not be all too different from a typical fable about a hero saving his city. With the voices of thousands pushing for reform, we can find our way past climate change and into the future I described: one where we live in synergy with our planet instead of destroying it.