THE LAND OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING – ENERGY AND COLONIAL FOOTPRINTby Daniela Medina Poch
Territory is life itself and life is not to be sold, it is to be loved and defended. Territory is the place to dream our future with dignity!
— Francia Márquez, environmental activist 
How are Germany and the Wayuu community in Northern South America interdependent? What is the Source of our everyday Resources, and in what ways is acknowledgment of these Sources an essential step in stopping the vertical relationship of exploitation between territories and communities? If colonization imposed a singular worldview, then listening could be a way to unveil a plurality of voices.
The association of noise and power has never really been broken in the human imagination, argues R. Murray Schafer in his book The Soundscape, our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. “In earlier times, all natural events were explained as miracles.”  Loud noises, such as the sound of thunder, evoked fear and respect back to the earliest times, seeming to be the expression of divine power. In the Modern era and beyond this fear and respect was transferred from natural sounds (thunder, volcano, storm) to the sounds created by industrial machinery, signifying a power shift. In a similar way, it can be argued that colonialism was the imposition of a monotonal and singular vocal structure which silenced the diversity of voices previously there. As Schafer mentions, “Linguistic accuracy is not merely a matter of lexicography. We perceive only what we can name. In a man-dominated world, when the name of a thing dies, it is dismissed from society, and its very existence may be imperiled.”
Every living being exists because all other living beings exist. Through euphonies and cacophonies of complex interconnections, life reverberates and echoes throughout the planet. There are connections that are more visible and easily imagined than others. The Amazon Rainforest may be so diverse because it nourishes itself from sand that travels on the wind from the Sahara Desert across the Atlantic Ocean. At the same time, the northernmost peak of South America is affected by Germany’s energy consumption – why is that?
A possible starting point to answer this question might be by tracing Resources back to their Sources. A Source is where components originate; it is usually active, and its existence is often entangled within a complex environmental network. On the contrary, a Resource is understood as a means – an asset that functions efficiently. Resources are often extracted and manipulated and obey market regulation. The difference between a Source and a Resource lies in human intervention – humans transform Sources into Resources, adapting them to the demand of the market. Resources are therefore often understood in numbers. Through the transformation and numeric abstraction of Resources we often forget the Sources they spring from, and the workflow that lies behind them.
In a similar process of abstraction, in the neoliberal world we live in, the infrastructures and technologies that surround us have become deeply adopted by and adapted to our lifestyles, to the point of appearing ubiquitous – in effect, a background noise we have learned to ignore. From within these frameworks, we are unable to distinguish the apparatus that lies behind them, not only on a technical level but also in regard to the models they pursue and sustain. An equivalent on a smaller scale might be the energy that is powering this computer right now.
Where does our electricity come from?
The three major categories of energy for electricity generation are fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), nuclear energy, and renewable energy Sources. Most electricity is generated with steam turbines using fossil fuels, nuclear, biomass, geothermal, and solar thermal energy. 
A TERRITORY FULL OF AURAL CONTRASTS
In the northern part of the South American continent lies the Guajira Peninsula, an extensive desert right on the Caribbean coast which is home to the largest aboriginal community in both Colombia and Venezuela. Originally a nomadic tribe, having migrated 3,000 years ago from the Amazon Rainforest and Antilles to the desert, the Wayúu and Afrowayúu have since preserved this territory as a communitary space.
La Guajira is filled with aural contrasts: In the background, the wind as a means of circulation, flowing with diverse speeds and intensities, roaring stereophonically across the territory. The wind shapes the paths of the sand and sculpts the sand dunes that give texture to the landscape. There are some places where the wind does not fluctuate, and that quietness and stillness corresponds with a funeral ritual, a celebration of life and death in the Wayúu community, at Cabo de la Vela. Along the coast, next to the infinite kilometers of sand and wind, almost as a surprise, a mass of salty water appears, caressing the coast. Waves rock incessantly, receding, absorbing, and exploding repeatedly – always different, but at the same time constant, mini cyclical explosions, which despite their impotence generate tranquility by repetition, or at least the illusion of repetition.
Throughout the desert, there are Wayúu and Afrowayúu settlements or rancherias built from Trupillo tree and Yotojoro, the heart of a dried cactus.  Inside these rancherias, a hammock or chinchorro always hangs. Goats bleat, while women of the community weave colorful mochilas (saddlebags) and dresses – the needle traversing colorful threads, knotting, pulling, accompanied by some chit-chat. I wonder if those colors are a way to dialogue with the dry desert.
During their daily work, shepherds from these communities use aerophone instruments, in which the air vibrates mainly inside a tube. Sawawa, Wootoroi, Maasi, Wa’wai, Kasha, Tropa are all blown instruments, blown in reciprocal dialogue with the wind. Such instruments are used to lead the animals, while also serving as a means of sound expression for the shepherd.  The language of the Wayúu is Wayuunaiki.  The consonants are long, and the accent generally falls on the second syllable of the word. In rituals or celebrations – marking the first menstrual cycle of a Wayúu woman, for example – when a request for a dream or the healing of some disease is made, the Kasha – a bi-membranophone percussion instrument – is played. A type of drum made of pine or ceiba with a twisted goat hide at its ends, the instrument also leads the Yonna Kasha dance, two members of the community chasing each other, while extending their colorful dresses to the windy desert.
Nearby, one can hear the struggling engines of jeeps, with their considerable tires and traction, come from urban centers to the desert. From within these vehicles one can hear vallenato music ringing through the stereos – rhythms and melodies from the urban region of la Guajira that involve the accordion, the guacharaca, the maracas and the box. In fact, some say that it was German settlers who, in the mid 19th century, brought the accordion to the municipality of Riohacha.  The vallenata box was an afro-colombian addition that, along with the guacharaca – an instrument from the aboriginal communities, gives vallenato its particular sound.
Colonial division of territories affected the Wayúu and Afrowayúu communities, because they came to belong to two nation states: Colombia and Venezuela. While some borders have been shut down, despite geopolitical divisions, the communities strive for the preservation of this territory as a borderless living being with its own memory.
The Wayúu and Afrowayúu understand themselves as a tribe of about 56 families. The grandmother is the leader of the community – the Piaachi – and the person in charge of healing. The grandmother of the community is a self-taught healer who has dreamed of her role and the way to carry it out. She has a special channel of communication through which she can express what the territory needs and its goals.
According to the Wayúu worldview, the world was created by a romance between the Rain and the Earth; to make the Earth happy, the Rain chanted, and as it yodeled, Thunder and Lightning roared and released energy that allowed life to emerge: first the flora, then the fauna, and finally, humans. 
Despite this myth, since 2010 there has been no more energy-producing thunder or lightning, nor have there been raindrops chanting, as a result of which, in 2014 the territory was declared a region in crisis. “The Macuira, our territory, is not good for walking anymore, nor for growing crops or nourishing our animals. We are all thirsty and slowly malnourished. We are burning,” the Piaachi said in a recent interview. 
MACHINERY REVERBERATIONS – A CACOPHONY OF MINERALS
In the midst of these conditions, Cerrejón, one of the largest open coal mines in the world, was founded.
The landscape changes from a palette of light orange, blue and green, to a vast, concave surface – a human valley of grey and black patches, in combination with heavy machinery. Backhoes carve the earth. Machinery reverberates, digging and extracting. A cacophony of minerals: industrial metal – a transformed mineral – and crashing and crumbling layers of earth in search of coal, an untransformed mineral. The operation is so big that no human noises surpass the acoustic presence and dominance of machinery. Huge wheels dig into the ground, crushing anything small. The sound of extraction is like that of something being forced out and, through this removal, immediately becoming something else. These incessant vibrations have dominated the landscape from 1976 until the present day.
Cerrejón was both a promise of employment and “development” and a tool to bring attention to the zone. Nevertheless, it has turned out to be one of the main sources of problems for both the region and the community. Being mostly owned by foreign companies (BHP, Anglo American and Glencore), 98% of what Cerrejón yields is exported with only 10% of total sales remaining as profit for the state.  On top of that, due to the centralized system of royalties as well as regional mismanagement, the community rarely receives any profit.
Beyond a disproportionate economic relationship, Cerrejón has had severe implications for the local Wayúu communities, depriving them of basic necessities and prioritizing the project’s economic ambitions over the life of the community. Cerrejón has caused numerous cases of involuntary resettlement, affecting the community’s traditional lifestyle and subjecting them to conditions imposed by the management company. Moreover, deep excavation and mining has caused severely unhealthy air pollution; due to inadequate consultation processes, the air is full of particles of coal which have already affected the health of newborn babies and also disrupted the balance of the aquifers across the whole zone. “Among the evidence submitted to the UN are photos of skin diseases and evidence of respiratory conditions in Wayúu children,”  says a recent note published by the London Telegraph. On top of that, official sources affirm the mine has financed illegal military groups during civil conflicts. “During this country-wide conflict the communities in the mining regions Cesar and in La Guajira suffered greatly. The role of mining companies during this period is subject to controversial allegations related to displacement and collaboration with paramilitary.” 
The existence of an open coal mine in the desert is highly paradoxical and problematic: open coal mines require double the amount of water that closed coal mines do. Due to this structural conundrum, Cerrejón has privatized the Rancheria River, the main water Source in the desert. Furthermore, it has purposely dried out several of the streams that divert from the riverbed in order to extract coal from beneath them. In 2019 and 2020, after alerts from the community and deeper research carried out by the Universidad Nacional and United Nations, the Constitutional Court twice sued the company for causing life-threatening pollution and human rights violations. Today, Cerrejón is still operating, with a license to extract coal until 2034.
WHEN WILL WATER BE MORE VALUABLE THAN COAL?
To ask when water will have a higher value than coal is to ask when our collective survival will have a higher value than the accumulation of profit by a few. “While Wayúu children don’t have a single drop of drinkable water, Cerrejón spends 17,000,000 L of water daily to extract coal, an economic activity which disproportionately benefits multinationals. With the 4700 members of the community whose life has perished due to the unbearable conditions, it seems as if the state is allowing an indigenous genocide. Is the life of these children less valuable than a gram of coal from these multinationals?”  Telesur asked in a report three years ago.
Despite efforts to penalize multinationals and compensate the affected communities, the mechanisms of compensation fail to acknowledge the complexity of the effects and consequences over a longer timeframe – not only environmental, but social, cultural and symbolic. As Arturo Escobar says, “the process of deterritorialization not only includes the dispossession of a population, but also the process of removing the territory from the population – the population is transformed.”  Are there economic measures that account for this involuntary transformation?
What keeps Cerrejón in existence is the fact that, even with the penalties, their business is still highly profitable, which underlines the disproportionate value given to commercial interests. How to quantify the cultural and symbolic value of a river to an aboriginal community? Such values are hard to quantify, and most of the time they are not even recognized. But what if we were to devise a real accountability that includes social, cultural and environmental effects in both the immediate and the longer term? As Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez suggests, “By exploiting their natural Resources, and hence by durably damaging their environment, industrialized countries owe a huge debt to countries of the South. This ecological debt is much bigger than the financial debt the South supposedly owes the North. Taking it into account would completely transform the way we think about the global economy.” 
A NEOCOLONIAL DISTORTION OF ETHICS
Between Berlin’s abundant Spree river and Köpenicker Straße stands the Heizkraftwerk, a combined heat and power plant in the Mitte district. Despite the fact that energy company Vattenfall’s Heizkraftwerk is visually so imposing – an industrial castle with two large chimneys and red lights that dominates the landscape of the Spree, its aural presence is barely perceptible. This absence of sound from such a large facility brings to mind an industrial deafness and the invisible trail that runs from Sources to commodities. The industrial processing of energy remains concealed within the headquarters of the factory, but what is commonly heard instead of industrial noises is the vibrations of the energy the plant produces, in the form of electronic music floating from nearby venues Kraftwerk and Tresor. Electronic music is one of the first outcomes we can reclaim from such energy conversion.
The power plant belongs to the Swedish energy group Vattenfall Europe Wärme, which belongs to a German sub-group, responsible for the operation of the plant. Vattenfall is the electric utility for the German states of Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and Saxony. The sixth largest consumer of energy in the world, Germany imports more than half of its energy. Nonetheless, the country claims it is on its way towards being “the world’s first major renewable energy economy”  and has a reputation for low carbon emissions. These details notwithstanding, Vattenfall has taken the commercial decision to do business in Colombia. “Colombian coal is attractive for Vattenfall both from a commercial and technical perspective and enables us to maintain a diversified sourcing portfolio”  states the company on its official website, establishing its position towards the situation at Cerrejón. The official Cerrejón website affirms that “We generate social, environmental, economic and individual value for the Guajira region and Colombia.”
In the land where thunder and lightning created life, there is not even water anymore. All this energy is now in the Global North.
Reviewing the national environmental indexes which makes countries such as Germany, Norway or Canada so proud, in relation to the Resources they import and the containers of waste they export, suggests that these indexes are part of a neocolonial strategy of the distortion of ethics. What is the use of green certificates if they only include the domestic activities and ignore the respective importation of resources and exportation of waste? Green certificates should not be a national award, but should include a real account of the quality of energy produced and consumed on a planetary scale.
WHEN WILL WE STOP PRETENDING THE PLANET IS NOT OUR COMMON TERRITORY?
When will we overcome the fiction of value determined by the market, in which a barrel of oil reached negative values in April of this year  but its extraction affected the ground, water, air, flora and fauna of its Source? When will we understand that we need each other for our planetary survival, and that environmental sustainability cannot happen at the expense of the lives of others? If Western concerns about climate change don’t go hand in hand with a deep process of decolonialization, it’s a one-sided struggle, incomplete and probably ineffective.
We have modern problems for which there are no modern solutions.
— Boaventura de Sousa Santos 
Not until we embrace a borderless notion of territory which takes into account the specifics of local communities and also embraces interrelation can we attempt to really transform the notion of nature as solely a resource to extract, a direction aligned with the probability of human extinction. Borderless planetary awareness is not universalist, nor does it intend to standardize or reduce the complexities of communities. Instead, it puts in place horizontal exchange dynamics based on such particularities. Borderless planetary awareness acknowledges that making the Guajira a place that cannot support life and losing the Wayúu community as a consequence, like other communities devastated by resource extraction, is not only a national failure, but a planetary failure.
Tracing Resources to their Sources acknowledges the living beings that are part of our planetary equilibrium. Tracing Resources to their Sources can contribute to a planetary society which is not based on production and consumption – a society in which we humans are also seen not as mere Resources, or a work force, but as Sources in our own right. If Resources have value as transformed Sources, let us claim back the value of Sources.
For some aboriginal communities, underground minerals such as coal, oil and gold resonate as Sources themselves – ritual Sources which, through their existence in specific places underneath the ground, trigger processes of rooting and consequent care for the territory.  Sources to be worshiped.
If colonization was an imposition of a homogenizing voice, and a consequent silencing of the rest, decolonization must be centered on listening. Only through deep listening can we begin to perceive the contingent composition of sounds and allow other worldviews to emerge. Perhaps it is time to listen – listen to Sources.
*This text was first published in the Digital and Printed Publication of Border Listening / Escucha Liminal. Edited by Alejandra Cárdenas. Radical Sounds Latin America. Berlin, Germany. October 2020.
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Cerrejón Main Page. https://www.cerrejon.com/
Coronado Espitia, Sebastian. 2017. “Las Huellas del Cerrejón – Documental explotación de carbón mina El Cerrejón - La Guajira Colombia.” 10 July 2017.
Cultural, Colombia. INSTRUMENTOS MUSICALES WAYUU. concepto de instrumentos wayuu. https://sites.google.com/site/instrumentosmusicaleswayuu/home/concepto-de-instrumentos-wayuu
EIA. 2019. “Electricity explained.” Electricity in the United States is produced (generated) with diverse energy sources and technologies. Last modified March 2020. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/electricity-in-the-us.php#:~:text=The%20three%20major%20categories%20of,geothermal%2C%20and%20solar%20thermal%20energy.
Escobar, Arturo. 2018. Otro Posible es Posible. Caminando hacia las transiciones desde Abya Yala/Afro/Latino-América. Bogotá: Ediciones desde abajo
Gatten, Emma. 2020. “British lawyers launch UN bid to halt Colombian mine operations.” The Telegraph.17 June 2020. British lawyers launch UN bid to halt Colombian mine operations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9WQjhhrYBo
Hoyos, Lorena. 2017. “Colombia: indígenas de La Guajira mueren por hambre y falta de agua” teleSUR tv. 10 July 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9WQjhhrYBo
Márquez, Francia. 2015. Situación que carcome mis entrañas. A propósito de la orden de bombardear el Cauca: Carta abierta. April 18, 2015.
Martínez, Juan. 2018. BBC Travel. “La sorprendente manera en que Alemania ayudó a crear el vallenato de Colombia.” 9, March, 2018 https://www.bbc.com/mundo/vert-tra-43193906
Omniglot. 2020. The Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages. https://omniglot.com/writing/wayuu.php
Petrešin-Bachelez, Nataša. 2017. “For Slow Institutions.” e-flux journal #85.October.
Santos, Bárbara. 2019. Curación como tecnología Basado en entrevistas a sabedores de la Amazonía. Bogotá: Instituto Distrital de las Artes.
Santos, Boaventura de Sousa. 2013. “Public Sphere and Epistemologies of the South”. Promoting Access to African Research. African Journals Online. (AJOL). Last modified April 2013. https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ad/article/view/87540
Schafer. R. Murray. 1994. The Soundscape, our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Destiny Books.
Sullivan, Brian. 2020. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/26/why-oil-prices-went-negative-and-why-they-can-go-negative-again.html Last modified on April 26, 2020.
Vattenfall. 2016. “Vattenfall’s Hard Coal Procurement Explained Sourcing from Colombia.” https://group.vattenfall.com/siteassets/corporate/who-we-are/sustainability/doc/updated_sourcing_from_colombia_130516.pdf May, 2016.
Wooldridge, Anny. 2017. Culture trip. A Brief History of Colombia’s Wayuu Tribe. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/colombia/articles/a-brief-history-of-colombias-wayuu-tribe/ Last updated 3 May 2017.
Fig. 1. Conrado Espitia, Sebastián. 2017. Retrieved from “Las Huellas del Cerrejón”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryssy7pJhJI
Fig. 2. Retrieved from Google Satellite Image. Copyright 2020 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies, Map data @2020
Fig. 3. Medina Poch, Daniela. 2020. Sources and Resources.