Finding the Connection Between Pachamama and Climate Change

By Nicholas Curry

In December of 2010 the Bolivian government passed a law entrenching rights to Mother Earth or known to the people of Bolivia, and much of Central and South America, as Pachamama.  When the revised version of this legislation came out I would have just finished my first year at University and my first season of tree planting.  It was in this time that I read a book on ocean acidification, sparking my interest in, and desire to combat climate change.  It wasn’t until I got accepted into the Sustainable Cities International Internship Program that I made the connection between the news I heard years before and the country I would be spending 6 months in.

One of Mamani Mamani‘s depiction’s of Pachamama. He is a an Aymaran artist from Bolivia.  Source of photo here.

From the surface the accomplishments of Bolivia and the Evo Morales led government of the past 10 years seem fairly amazing.  Beyond incorporating Pachamama’s rights into law, Evo, famously recognized as South Americas first indigenous president, has: raised the country’s GDP, partially nationalized the petroleum industry, stopped the war against the coca plant (which has been traditionally chewed by the indigenous population for hundreds of years) and globally voiced the need to curb temperature rise to 1 degree celsius.

Not to take away from this governments many great accomplishments  but my experiences in Bolivia have opened my eyes to the naivety of my initial views of the country’s and its’ environmental policies.  While many of the laws and positions held by the government appear as if they are making major steps towards environmental protection, it often seems as if it goes no further than the paper they were written on.  Furthermore, it is true that love and respect for the Pachamama are ingrained into the cultures of Bolivia, especially from the indigenous population, however in many ways it does not translate into knowledge about or action towards addressing climate change. 

Upon realizing the disconnect between Pachamama and the need to address climate change a colleague and myself have become interested in how we could help address this issue.  We currently work in the small city of Viacha outside of La Paz which is made up of many small rural communities and has a large indigenous population.  Knowing the challenges of creating a plan that is both culturally sensitive and that addresses the amount of poverty in this area, we have set set out to increase knowledge and action towards proper waste disposal.  Not only will we construct a building partially made from recycled bottles but we also hope to implement sorting stations in public areas.  Beyond adding physical spaces to increase awareness we will also host educational workshops, and implement a promotional strategy.

When drinking beers in Viacha and much of Bolivia it is custom to pour the first sip out for Pachamama.

The next couple photos were taken throughout my time in Viacha.  It was only when I started to write this article that I chose these photos to highlight how ingrained waste is to the landscape.

The plains of Viacha.
Train tracks into Viacha.
The yard of house near a community centre in one of Viacha’s rural communities.  The owner of the house asked me if I wanted a photo on top of the donkey.  I made quick eye contact with the donkey, understood exactly what it was telling me then politely refused the offer.
This area was the old dump.  Currently being dug up for construction of a new bridge.


The threat of climate change is a very real for the people of Bolivia.  The recent drought and melting of glaciers have left the city of La Paz with limited water for the past couple months.  At the same time the government and the people have a true desire to get out of poverty.  With careful and thoughtful planning one does not need to compromise the other.  In order to address this disconnect we hope to  build an emotional connection between the community, Pachamama and the need to be conscious of your daily actions with regards to climate change.  After numerous environmental campaigns in Canada we know that the strongest way to connect individuals to a campaign’s message is not through facts but rather through an emotional connection.  Furthermore we want to incorporate a financial incentive by building the ground work for a pay per bottle system to be used as another added incentive for people to take part. 

While our project will only impact a small part of a relatively small city, we hope aid in the growth of a emerging culture of waste disposal that emotional connects environmental protection to the traditional idea of taking care of Pachamama.  Giving to the community not only knowledge but also the necessary tools and incentives we do hope that our project will impact the community in a positive way.  Still, in the beginning stages there is much for us to plan, and consider with regards to the wording of our campaign and the message we put forward.  If interested in hearing more about the project there will be more details coming out as it unfolds.

Not lacking in creativity, I was pretty excited to see these old pants being reused as a car cover when we stopped by this house for some apthapi.


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