“People protect what they love.” (Jacques-Yves Cousteau) “Every person has the right to inherit an uncontaminated planet on which all forms of life may flourish.” Bill of Rights for Future Generations.

More than 13 years ago, Captain Jacques Cousteau launched the Bill of Rights for Future Generations. His goal was to increase awareness for the deterioration of the environment on a global scale and the need to protect and preserve our planet for the generations to come.

This March 17, the U.S. Congress approved the policy to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. This act opens the refuge to oil exploration that could cause irreparable damage to the vast and pristine wilderness tundra.

Here you have two different points of view with the most contradictory results.

Cousteau successfully promoted in 1990 a worldwide petition to save Antarctica from mineral and oil drilling exploitation. His documentary Lilliput in Antarctica chronicled the voyage of Captain Cousteau and six children, each representing one of Earth’s continents, taking symbolically possession of the frozen continent on behalf of the future generations.

Significant progress toward securing the protection of Antarctica was made at the XI Antarctic Treaty Special Consultative Meeting in 1991. The signatories of the Treaty, the 26 nations that claimed to have rights for mining and exploration in the sixth continent, agreed the prohibition of mining for at least 50 years. The new Protocol of Environmental Protection includes the designation of Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

President Bush supported and promoted the exploration of ANWR calling the drillings “environmentally sensitive” and “good for business”. Mr. Bush sees these actions as a solution that will help the U.S. not to depend on foreign countries for oil. Not to spoil the party, but let’s do some simple mathematics.

The government has estimated that between 6 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil lie beneath the frozen tundra. Our gas-guzzling nation consumes 7 billion barrels a year, therefore, if the estimates of the government are accurate, the “solution” would only be good for not even 3 years. The enormous cost of spoiling the wilderness and endangering wildlife will be irreparable.

These events bring to mind memories of a trip I made in 1993 to Punta Arenas, Chile, as the Representative of the Cousteau Society for Latin America. This is the southern most city of the American continent, sprawling in front of the chilly waters of the Strait of Magellan. My visit was part of a continental tour to collect signatures for the Bill of Rights for Future Generations campaign. Latin America contributed alone with nearly 5 million signatures and Punta Arenas was one of my last stops.

By that year the residents of Punta Arenas had been exposed to high levels of UV radiation due to the hole in the ozone layer, which typically hovers over Antarctica and stretches across to the Chilean city. It is well known that too much UV radiation can cause skin cancer as well as destroy the phytoplankton, the beginning of the food chain. Human-made chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used in aerosol sprays and refrigerants cause most ozone depletion. This is a high price paid by the brave inhabitants of Punta Arenas for a problem caused by the industrialized world.

A ceremony for the delivery of signatures for Bill of Rights for Future Generations was organized in the city’s stadium by local authorities, NGO’s and schools. After the screening of several videos produced locally showing the menace faced by humans, fauna and flora due to the extreme UV radiation, a young girl on crutches and suffering with cancer of the spine came to the podium and read a little poem.

Her voice was clear and firm and – as the representative of Jacques Cousteau, she directed to me the questions that troubled her mind and that were revealed in her poem:

What right do you have, human adult To tell me: there used to be, but there is no more There used to be birds, lakes, rivers, and flowers That I’m neither going to know nor my brothers What right do you have in your greedy struggle for money and power Not to offer me life, …. But death!

I was incapable to answer her that day – she died 6 months later, and I’m unable to answer the same question that our children of the 21st century are asking us now.

*Ruben Arvizu is the Director for Latin America of NAPF and former Representative for Latin America of the Cousteau Society.

Captain Jacques Cousteau received in 1989 the NAPF’s Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.