Illustration by Zach Stewart

Jeff Bezos and the very temporary president are proud of not being each other. But in some terrible ways they are pretty much the same. For progressives and the the non-progressives, it might help to see that. Like an object too bright and obvious to stare at, you have to look to the side and see how their most banal decisions destroy things crucial to the lives of you, me and our children.

You probably haven’t heard of the Liesbeek or Canning rivers, both unremarkable streams unless it rains really hard. One wanders off the slopes of Table Mountain and drains an unremarkable handful of miles later into the Atlantic just above the Cape of Good Hope. The Canning flows north off the Brooks Range and marks the western boundary of the Alaska National Wilderness Reserve before spreading into a wide delta at the Arctic. Both have the unfortunate fate of flowing over land that Mr Bezos and Trump would like to upgrade, from pristine to something more economic. Trump’s rushing to sell off the rights to drill before he returns to civilian life. The Canning seems like a good place to look for oil to fuel all the trucks. Mr Bezos wants to run out of the distribution center he wants built on the banks of the Liesbeek.  (details here)

Of course, neither of the men have ever heard of either river. But people they employ to please them have and are not likely to suggest the slightest inconvenience to their whims or wishes.

The ancient Caribou herd by the Canning will die making way for that oil. If they could vote, Mr. Trump would have lost Alaska’s electoral votes along with all the others he’s still gobsmacked about. And if the ancestors of the Khoi who hold that Liesbeek sacred had credit cards, they would certainly be cancelling their Amazon Prime accounts. This isn’t a rational battle about high stakes or about economically essential pillars of the global economy, or even their family businesses. This isn’t even as sophisticated as weighing the trade-offs of solar, wind and nuclear so they can claim to be “green.” This isn’t weighing anything at all for any reason at all, actually. It’s lazy, not mean; banal carelessness. This happens when the people who serve people like Bezos and Trump think nobody who matters is looking. And in the minds of those who think they can do anything, who else matters?

Illustration by Zach Stewart

I’ve rafted the Canning, seen some of its caribou, Musk Ox and Grizzly. And I’ve seen rusting oil barrels left from before President Carter protected it 40 years ago (another reason to love my old boss). I suspect that nobody really wants the oil up there anymore so it will probably flow on, just as the caribou seem likely to outlive we foolish humans. The Liesbeek is another matter because it flows among the city neighborhoods of Cape Town where Amazon is busy. I know about it first because Craig Stewart brought the Liesbeek river into the heart of our book on Generative Leadership: Releasing Life in a Turbulent World. An environmental biologist and pastor, Craig helped the river teach us about how life is contained and then released in the most amazing ways. The Liesbeek had basically been turned, in days when this was the de rigueur thing to do, into a canalized concrete pipe to stop flooding. In recent years “friends of the Liesbeek” wanted the natural river back which seemed like making an egg out of an omelet. But they discovered that life will find its own life with even a tiny bit of help. The riverine biologists artfully and thoughtfully blew just a few holes into the bottom of the concrete. The life in the flow in the soil beneath the river leaped at the chance. Over some seasons, the river found itself becoming a river again and the life that depends on a river is returning.

Until Amazon felt the need for a distribution center in Cape Town and partnered with a developer to do so on a crucial and historically important wetland. Doesn’t sound much like Mr Bezos’ public claim to support climate action, does it? The local wise ones of South Africa are trying again to poke some holes in the concrete channels that protect Mr Bezos from inconvenient implications of actions taken to please him. Even a brief glance would tell him how entirely unnecessary and destructive this bit of permanent decision-making would be. When camping on the Canning, we were careful to not poop within a couple hundred feet of the river. Leave no trace even when quite inconvenient! Concrete crap is way worse.

Everything is connected. The water of the Canning and Liesbeek mingle over time in the great salt sea that wraps us all and, indeed, flows through our veins. We humans are connected, too, and are capable of mattering. The Leading Causes of Life Fellows in South Africa alerted the scattered Fellows elsewhere, which is why I’m typing this. I knew about the Canning only because another LCL Fellow, Kevin Barnett, invited me into his raft. Yet another LCL Fellow, Laura Chanchien Parajón gave her life to AMOS, which is literally hip deep in the destruction underway in Nicaragua and Honduras from two hurricanes in two weeks—unthinkable and unprecedented. Nobody’s fault, of course. But sometimes you can see the outcome from an endless chain of unreflecting and lazy decisions.

Don’t lament. And be done with the metaphors:

  1. If you are an Amazon Prime member, send a note to the customer complaint desk. Cite the website and this blog. Ask for a response and note that you are considering cancelling your membership.
  2. Leslie London, an LCL Fellow, is managing a petition drive. Sign it here.
  3. Contact your senator, Blue, Red or Purple. Ask them to ask on your behalf why there is such urgency to sell the leases in the Alaskan Wilderness. You know why, but make them say it.
  4. Send money to AMOS, the ministry that will be slogging through the Nicaraguan mud from now until we get the planet back in equilibrium. They need money now. Give Here.
Illustration by Zach Stewart

Finally, go walk by the no-big-deal stream you love. You don’t take the time to save things you don’t love, so nurture your love. TC and I love to walk along Salem Creek which has spots the Cherokee would recognize as well as places where people like Bezos have paved right up to the banks. Nurture your love and hope. Battles like these are won all the time and are only hopeless when the people who know better give up without working up a sweat. That’s what matters. That’s who matters.

Published by


Professor, Faith and the Health of the Public, Wake Forest University School of Divinity. NC Certified Beekeeper Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders, Religion and the Heath of the Public, Speak Life and God and the People. God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Secretary Stakeholder Health. Founder, Leading Causes of Life Initiative

One thought on “Flow”

Leave a Reply