Meghan Houlihan is the renewable energy program director for the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, based in Greenfield, Mass. She periodically abandons her desk job to work as a web editor aboard Greenpeace vessels.

Monday, 2 Feb 2004

PUERTO AISEN, Chile

Back in bucolic little Vermont — my homeland — I wouldn’t need an alarm clock to wake me at 6:00 in the morning. But I’m in Chile, I’m reminded, as my eyes struggle to open just in time to see Chilean people only slightly younger than I am returning from a night of revelry. The window of my cabana reveals the sun just beginning to peek out from behind the mountains, and I have a long day ahead.

A view of Meghan’s hotel in Puerto Aisen.

Before I explain how I came to be here, down in spectacular Puerto Aisen in Patagonia, I should, by way of introduction, describe a soccer game held several nights ago. A contingent of about 20 Greenpeace people came here early last week to get acquainted with the local community and begin dialogue about the Alumysa project, a series of hydroelectric dams and an aluminum plant proposed for this area. Brainchild of Noranda, a Canadian company that has left a trail of environmental destruction around the world, Alumysa would result in the flooding of more than 24,700 acres of ancient forest. The Alumysa smelter would produce approximately 1.5 million tons of gaseous and solid waste each year, including fluorides, cyanide, and arsenic. But as in many other parts of Chile, the economy here is quite poor, and the promise of jobs is difficult to resist.

So my Greenpeace colleagues, after meeting various community members and holding some soft demonstrations to generate discussion about Alumysa, found themselves challenged to a game of soccer by the local police. Now, Chileans take their soccer very seriously, and the young, energetic Greenpeace volunteers were no different. With great excitement they accepted, and the teams met one fateful evening for a mighty battle.

It was clear from the start that we were in deep trouble. The professional stripes of the police team uniforms stood in stark contrast to the grubby T-shirts donned by the Greenpeace contingent. The police team moved with the precision of a hawk approaching its prey, communicating in that unspoken way characteristic of longstanding relationships — and expert players. The Greenpeace team, tireless, enthusiastic, and with the grace of a dog wearing a blindfold, held its own, scoring five goals, despite the fact that the police team had brought in a professional goalie (“foul!” we cried). The final score? Five to 30, a defeat of epic proportions.

The lesson? Some losses are okay.

So now we await the arrival of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise at Chacabuco, a nearby port, where we will begin a tour to draw attention to the plight of Chile’s ancient forests. By this evening, I will be situated on the ship, where I will maintain a website to communicate to the public about our tour, and, of course, to keep you informed about other lessons learned during the week ahead.