South America is a continent of extremes. Home to the world’s highest waterfall (Angel Falls), driest desert (Atacama), largest rainforest (Amazon), greatest river (Amazon), and longest mountain range (Andes), the continent faces some big environmental and educational challenges. These include deforestation, urban air pollution, educational inequalities between rural and urban communities and between socioeconomic classes, and natural resource exploitation and depletion through such activities as mining, upon which many South American countries rely heavily for income.
Amid these challenges, however, are bright spots as well, with many grassroots efforts emerging to preserve both local natural environments and the cultures and languages of a great spectrum of indigenous groups, including the largest number of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world who live secluded within the dense jungles of the Amazon. There are also great strides being made to employ alternative technologies such as solar and hydroelectric power, drawing on the solar capacity in the Atacama Desert, for example, and the amazing water resources in such regions as the Amazon basin.
The Earthducation team is unable to travel to every country within South America. However, we believe that the communities we will visit in Peru and Chile will offer good insight into educational and environmental issues that are being faced throughout the continent.
In Peru, the team will visit an impoverished community on the outskirts of Lima that is using innovative technologies to supply freshwater for communal and farming needs. Though rainfall is scarce in this region, with annual precipitation comprising only about half an inch (1.5 centimeters), thick fog is a common occurrence from June through about November. This fog offers a novel opportunity for water collection. Using special nets, residents can collect hundreds of gallons of water a day literally from the air around them. The cost to set up and employ such nets is relatively low, providing a viable means for low-income communities to attain the freshwater that is vital to sustain life in any environment.
From the urban center of Lima, the team will journey into the Amazon basin, visiting indigenous communities in the Pullcapa region. These communities sit isolated within the dense rainforest that borders the great Amazon River. To reach them, the team will need to travel by motorized canoe and trek through dense jungle. The stories they collect from these communities should provide some unique perspectives on education and sustainability. How is formal education viewed and managed here? And how are the burgeoning tourism, mining, and petroleum industries impacting life for the indigenous people of these regions, as these industries make their way deeper into once-unexplored regions?
The Amazon is home to the largest number of uncontacted tribes anywhere in the world. As the modern world steadily encroaches upon the land of some of these tribes, buried deep in the rainforest, what responsibilities do we hold toward respecting the rights of such people to live in anonymity and privacy, not to mention to refrain from damaging the natural environment upon which they rely to sustain life? Contact with the outside world not only threatens the culture and livelihood of such communities, it in fact threatens their very survival. For example, the introduction of diseases unknown to these communities, though these diseases may be common and unthreatening to the outside world, can in fact entirely wipe out a community in a short space of time.
From the dense and very wet landscape of the Amazon basin, the Earthducation team will travel to Chile, visiting both the driest spot on Earth, the Atacama Desert, and the very remote and sparsely populated Patagonia region. They will first journey to San Pedro de Atacama, where they’ll learn about challenges faced by communities living within this desert land, regions of which have not seen rainfall within over 400 years. While in the Atacama, the team will visit a school, overnight with a local family, and explore some of the environmental wonders that are found within this otherworldly landscape.
The team’s visit to Patagonia will take them into a vastly different environment from the Atacama, a remote wilderness made up of sweeping grasslands and towering mountains. While in Patagonia, the team will capture the magnificent beauty of Torres del Paines National Park, as they speak with locals about educational and environmental issues that face the isolated communities in this region. They’ll also talk with the gauchos who herd sheep and cattle in the plains that border the parkland.
The Earthducation team will be learning and sharing information from these diverse regions across Peru and Chile as they meet with schools and teachers, indigenous communities and leaders, environmental organizations, and a diverse array of individuals from many walks of life. We hope you’ll join us live between October 20 and November 6 as the team shares their experiences here online.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA
- Six of the 17 so-called mega-diverse countries are found in South America: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, & Venezuela.
- South America has nearly 26% of the world’s renewable sources of freshwater.
- South America contains more than 40% of the world’s plant and animal species, in an area smaller than 15% of the Earth’s land surface.
- Argentina’s Patagonia has one of the highest wind energy potentials on Earth.
- More than 20% of Earth’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest, earning it the nickname the “Lungs of the Planet”
In South America you will find the world’s:
- Largest river by volume & the second-longest: Amazon
- Largest rainforest: Amazon (which represents 54% of the total rainforests left on Earth)
- Longest mountain range: Andes
- Largest commercially navigable lake: Lake Titicaca (shared by Bolivia & Peru)
- Largest salt lake: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
- Driest place: Atacama Desert, Chile
- Highest capital city: La Paz, Bolivia
- Highest point in the Western Hemisphere: Mount Aconcagua (6,960.8 m or 22,837.3 ft) in Mendoza province, Argentina
- Lowest point in the Western Hemisphere: Laguna del Carbon (105 m or 344 ft below sea level) in Santa Cruz province, Argentina
- Highest waterfall: Angel Falls, Venezuela
- Southernmost inhabited community: Puerto Toro, Chile