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Pedrógão Grande

Memory. What will we remember of the weekend of 17th and 18th June 2017 in a year’s time, in two years’ time, in ten years, in other words in the summer of 2027? What will we change in our lives during that period; and do we want to do so in view of the ghastly pictures and the many deaths in the forest fires? Because, previously, it was only the forests, the animals, nature that went up in smoke every year – and they of course have no voice. Nature has no lobby. Next question? Next topic? However, the key question is, are we prepared to change anything fundamental in our lives? To do so, we would have to have the awareness that we have committed serious errors, and be able to admit these errors to ourselves, now, today; with complete frankness, openly and without bias, with no taboos. Do we want to do so? Or are we just going to scratch the surface, as always?

I start the day after with the photos of the burnt-out cars, a sheet over a burnt person lying on the road. Death is all around. I can’t get the images out of my head. We must get to the bottom of these fires, give these deaths a deeper meaning. Or not? Or do we just want to sweep what has happened under the carpet, as usual?

We have gone wrong. Do we want to admit to ourselves that much of the path we have travelled since 1974 was the wrong path? If we were heading in a direction that was wrong up to 1974 – how do we know that the path since 1974 has been the right one? Everything starts with money, doesn’t it? Or is it greed and fear that leave us disoriented and insensitive to the correct path? All of us want to be happy, and yet we’re so unhappy, especially now when so many of us have lost almost everything, their lives, the natural surroundings, everything around us is burnt. And it will keep burning!

It’s water that gives us life. Without water, we would all be lost. The few who survived in the village of Nodeirinho say the same. The eleven villagers who died in the fire had no water, and only the ones who were able to keep wet in a water tank survived the fire. If we know only too well that water is the elixir of our lives, why don’t we subordinate everything else to this element? Why do we cultivate eucalyptus when we know that eucalyptus draws the water away from us and turns it into oil, which burns so well? Because we are too cowardly to stand up to the multinational Navigator/Portucel/Soporcel/Semapa and sell ourselves to them for a few euros? We have known for years that eucalyptus is the ideal fire accelerant and simply adds fuel to any forest fire. I’m not yet at the end of my story.

We also know that our rural home, our house, farm and land, provide us with protection if we manage it correctly and sustainably, if we love our earth. If you treat something well, you get something good in return. If you cook with gas, you must know that a gas bottle can explode in a fire. Why don’t we plant more cork oaks and trees that are environmentally-friendly for this country, why don’t we build more water tanks and harness the winter rainfall so that we have enough in the summer?

People who know that we humans are the stupidest creatures on the planet, in other words people who are aware of their own stupidity and powerlessness, of their mistakes and their forgetfulness, have taken the first step in the right direction along this path. We are a grain of sand in the machinery of space, and the fact that we exist, this marvel called a human being, is something that we should celebrate, cautiously, thoughtfully and modestly. In a good way. We should do a lot of things better than previously in the coming ten years. Only then will it make sense to weep over the dead of Pedrógão Grande, only then will it make sense to still keep their memory alive in ten years’ time. Only then will the deep sadness that brings me to tears have a deeper significance.

The eucalyptus must go, far away from inhabited villages, far away from water sources and water courses, and the state must tax every eucalyptus tree, so that the fire brigades can be better equipped. Eucalyptus must become as expensive as the damage caused by the forest fires, best of all, so expensive so that it is hardly worth cultivating it. And then it will also make sense to finally recycle wastepaper in a big way.

We know that we don’t live in a sustainable way. Most people don’t even know how to spell the word, let alone the meaning of sustainability. But we know that, with wind speeds of more than 30 kilometres an hour, with humidity of less than 30% and with temperatures of over 30 degrees, it is almost impossible to stop forest fires. We know that we should not burn any more fossil fuels, in general: no oil, no gas, and no coal, and should use no more plastic. Human-induced climate change is dictating our future living conditions on our planet Earth. There are not only too many of us, there are also too many of us who do not lead sustainable lives. And we have to learn to understand that all of us are just guests here for a short period, and that other generations will follow us.

Mindfulness for our nearest and dearest, and for our environment, needs practice. That starts with children at home, and at school too. Do we learn it there? We will never stop learning what it means to act, to live, to BE, in an altruistic way – and not just to HAVE more and more, because we are greedy and subordinate everything else to money. Forest fires in Portugal won’t stop from one day to the next. But perhaps our elected politicians have understood that they must now act as well. They must tackle eucalyptus as an issue. They must introduce environmental education as a subject at school. They must themselves become role models, if they want to be taken seriously.

So, how do we want to live?

About the author

Uwe Heitkamp, 53 years old, started working after university in daily newspapers and from 1984 on in public tv broadcasting companies such as WDR (Collogne), NDR (Hamburg), SDR (Stuttgart/Baden-Baden) in the ARD (first programme), wrote several books and directed the cinema movie about the anti nuclear movement in Germany in 1986 (Wackersdorf). After emigration in 1990 he founded 1995 the trilingual weekly printed newspaper “Algarve123” and later the online edition www.algarve123.com. Heitkamp lives for 25 year in Monchique, Portugal. He loves mountain hiking and swimming in streams and lakes, writes and tells stories of success from people and their sustainable relationship between ecology and economy. His actual film “Revolutionary Roads” tells the 60 minute story of a long walk crossing Portugal. 10 rural people paint a picture of their lives in the hills of the serra and the hinterland. The film captures profound impressions of natural beauty and human life. Along which path is the future of Portugal to be found? (subscribe to ECO123 und watch the documentary in the Mediatec)

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