Wheaton Alumni Magazine: Sustainability: Lessons from Latin America

My latest in Wheaton's Alumni Magazine, the Faculty Voice column:

When I tell people that I’m an anthropologist, an image of Indiana Jones, fedora-clad and bullwhip in hand, is often the first picture that comes to mind. Though I’ve never raided a lost ark or escaped a snake pit, I have seen the stunning Iguazú waterfalls depicted in the fourth film of the series. And I’ve heard stories that rival Hollywood drama from locals adept at debating energy politics.

As a cultural anthropologist, I research how people live in the world today. The core lesson I’ve learned is the importance of seeing through someone else’s eyes, not merely because we value diversity, but because it’s there we find wisdom.

I study renewable energy in Latin America, a topic I find more engrossing now than when I began my research in 2007. Yet, had I not heeded the input of an ordinary Paraguayan, I would have missed that path.

Confession: the first time I visited Itaipú Dam (the Brazilian-Paraguayan hydroelectric plant that I research), I was underwhelmed. Even though it’s the largest dam in the entire world (capable of powering 33 percent of California’s annual energy usage), Iguazú, the Argentine-Brazilian cataracts where water pounds rock so powerfully that the mist rises like smoke, eclipsed my present view of Itaipú’s concrete wall and placid reservoir.  

Then, one Paraguayan to my right murmured, “Paraguay used to have waterfalls like Iguazú.” He took my look of surprise as an invitation to continue. “But they were destroyed for that,” he added with a meaningful nod at Itaipú Dam....

For the rest of the piece, see the interactive version of the Wheaton Alumni Magazine.

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