It’s early and the beach of Bahia, Brazil, is peaceful. The Atlantic Ocean comes up the beach, towards the palms with whoppers of coconuts in their crowns. Many tourists come here, especially from nearby Salvador; thatched umbrellas and chairs are ready. The fact that it nevertheless feels so calm, so unaffected, is due to the space above the dunes. No hotel to be seen anywhere. And with that, the sea still seems all its own.
They are there, the hotels, it’s bursting with them. But they are legally prohibited from being visible from the beach. In other words: there should be no light source. The reason for this is hidden under small white posts in the sand with the inscription ‘Projeto Tamar’ and a picture of a swimming turtle.
I witness a traditional ceremony led by an Amazonian Indian. Drums, songs, herbs and a lot of incense take the participants to a higher atmosphere. ‘For us there is no distinction between man and nature,’ says the man from the indigenous tribe. “This ceremony helps us experience that unity.”
It is probably no coincidence that where (remnants of) indigenous peoples live, nature is gaining more and more rights. New Zealand recognized the rights of a national park, a river and a mountain. In Colombia, Ecuador and Canada, pieces of nature are an independent legal entity. A month ago, the Spanish Mar Menor lagoon became the first European territory to have its own rights as a legal entity. The coastal lake suffers heavily from pollution from intensive livestock farming. From now on, a lawsuit can be brought against polluters in the name of Mar Manor.
It is significant for our classification that companies have been able to be independent legal entities for a very long time. The Dutch VOC and WIC were the first equity-financed companies in the world, and thus the forerunner of the limited liability company that has legal personality. These colonial companies traveled the world in pursuit of trade and profit – here in Bahia, the WIC had a sugar colony in the early 17th century. This brought about an order of things in which nature is at best a means of production, often an obstacle. Jungles were cleared for cane sugar. Indigenous people saw in amazement how settlers appropriated land. The Amazon Indian: ‘How can a person think that he can own land? There’s so much other life there too.’ The past few years under Bolsonaro were for the indigenous people as if the colonial had returned.
Nearly four hundred years later, we are hitting the limits of that colonial value system: pollution of air, water and soil, the mass extinction of animal and plant species, dangerous climate change. It is fascinating that in 2020 in Europe more deaths were caused by air pollution than by covid-19. But because of covid, the entire economy was shut down.
The white posts in the sand of Bahia mark the spot where a sea turtle laid her eggs. That sea turtle is not doing well. Oceans are polluted with toxins and plastic that the turtles eat because they see a jellyfish in them. In addition, many baby turtles that hatch never reach the sea. They go by the light of the moon. If there is another bright light, they crawl there. The journey to a hotel proves fatal.
And so no new hotels have been allowed to be built on the beach of Bahia for a few years now. The result is the beautiful, intact row of dunes and forests that bring happiness to the Bahians and their tourists. With which the white pole stands for a parable that tells how people are also better off by protecting nature.