Tracy K. Lorenz / EarthTalk


The Pyramid

There’s a show on the Discovery Channel called “Destination Unknown” where the host, Josh Gates, goes out looking for treasure and if there’s one constant thread in the show it’s that he never, ever, discovers anything.

Last week he was in the jungle in Mexico looking for some pyramids and I had a flashback ...

Back in 2001 the company I worked for was contacted about building a welcome center for the Altun Ha pyramid in Belize. The pyramid, or the pyramid complex, had been discovered back in the seventies and they had dug out enough that they figured they could sell some t-shirts, so a visitor center was in order. What they should have concentrated on was finding a way to get tourists there in the first place. So I was dispatched to Belize to check out the logistics.

Ya know how in movies it shows an old school bus with some chicken crates strapped to the roof and the bus is driving up a mountain inches away from a cliff and certain death?  I dreamed that the bus I was on was that movie bus. The bus I was on was from maybe WWII, had no air conditioning, a questionable transmission, and a driver with nothing to lose.
See that “air conditioning” part (above)? Iit would have come in handy, the jungles of Central America can get a little steamy in June.  And by “steamy” I mean imagine having a bathroom hand dryer blowing in your face for three hours.

So we get as far as the bus can go and then it’s footpaths through a jungle where everything from snakes to spiders to plants is hell-bent on killing you.  Here’s a tip: if you see fruit laying on the ground don’t go near it because that’s where the snakes hang out. They wait for the capybara to come eat the fruit and then they eat the capybara.

Once we made it to the actual job-site it was quite impressive. There was one giant pyramid and a bunch of smaller buildings all of which where covered by jungle growth for centuries until the whole place was dug out by hand. I would have liked to have been there for those job interviews. “We need that pyramid dug out, it’s a thousand degrees and the place is crawling with Fer-de-lance. We’ll pay you a dollar a day.” “Sounds good to me.”

Apparently the Mayans who once occupied Altun Ha were big sports fans, the pyramid had a bunch of stairs running up the front and at the bottom of the stairs was a lacrosse field.  If your team lost they took the losing players, tied them up like individual balls, and rolled them down the stairs. Let’s see Kaepernik kneel before that game. The King: “Who’s that guy kneeling over there?  Send him up here for a second.”

But my most memorable moment (other than losing my footing and almost falling off the back of the pyramid) was I noticed that the lacrosse field, which was much larger than a football field, was covered with equally spaced 1” holes. It looked like when they aerate the greens on a golf course except the holes were much bigger. I asked a local what the holes were for and he said “Those are tarantula holes.”  I poured a little of my Gatorade into a hole and sure enough a tarantula came flying out at me. The guy said “Don’t worry, they only come out at night.” I can only imagine what it looked like at night when 10,000 tarantulas exited their holes to go hunt.

The guys that worked o- site lived in these little, and I mean little, huts on the perimeter of the excavation site; the places looked like where they put Cool Hand Luke as punishment except Cool Hand Look didn’t have to deal with 10,000 night spiders.

All I know is I was glad to get back to my sporadically air-conditioned bungalow alive. I can’t even think about what those workers had to face on a daily basis, I was just glad I wasn’t one of them and that may have been my single greatest ... discovery.

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From the Editors of E - The Environmental Magaine

What is ecocide?

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of suicide, homicide and genocide, but what is ecocide?

-- Leslie P., Carrboro, NC

While the concept of “ecocide” may be new to many of us, the practice of willfully destroying large areas of the natural environment has been around about as long as humans — although we got a lot better at it using the machinery we developed during the industrial revolution. Bioethicist Arthur Galston first started batting the term around in the 1970s to describe intentional widespread ecological destruction, especially as it pertained to ruining inhabited environments so people couldn’t live there anymore.

One classic example of ecocide in modern history is American troops’ widespread application of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. It was used to clear some 12,000 square miles of tropical rainforest to enable flushing out the “enemy,” despite the toll on civilians and the environment. There are also plenty of present-day examples, including: mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia whereby miners blast through hundreds of feet of earth to access thin seams of coal; the “fracking” for oil and gas across wide swaths of Canada’s Alberta tar sands that has so far destroyed thousands of square miles of boreal forest and peat bogs while releasing hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; the dumping of crude oil and toxic waste into Ecuador’s Amazon by oil companies too focused on profits to do the right thing about waste removal; and deep sea mining whereby the use of heavy machinery to ply veins of precious metals from the seabed is ruining marine ecosystems we still know little about.

In recent years Scottish activist Polly Higgins championed the cause of getting the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent judicial body created by the United Nations in 1998, to recognize ecocide as a “crime against peace” in the eyes of international law. Her work focused on getting the ICC to add ecocide as the fifth prosecutable “core international crime” (along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression). Sadly, Higgins succumbed to cancer at age 50 in April 2019, but her efforts to institutionalize ecocide as a major international crime lives on with other activists.

“Destroying the planet is currently permitted,” says Jojo Mehta of the non-profit Stop Ecocide. “That is how ecosystems are being destroyed every day by dangerous industrial activity, exacerbating the climate emergency and destroying our forests, our soils, our rivers and the lands that we love.”

Mehta points out that any of the 122 member states of the ICC can formally suggest adding ecocide as a major international crime. Stop Ecocide is working with small Pacific island nations which are already “feeling the sharp end of climate change” to urge ICC to finally adopt ecocide as another crime it prosecutes.

“Serious harm to the Earth is preventable,” urges Mehta. “When government ministers can no longer issue permits for it, when insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it, the harm will stop.”

CONTACTS: Arthur Galston’s “An Accidental Plant Biologist”; International Criminal Court (ICC),; Stop Ecocide,  EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at To donate, visit Send questions to:


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