For the Environment, Life and Peace in Latin America
Socio-environmental letter from Villa de Leyva, “30 years later”.
As individuals who work in the academic world and as advocates of environmentalism for several decades who have been developing Latin American environmental thought based on our varied experiences, we would like to share some ideas.
Taking the opportunity of having been summoned by the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana to reflect on the current situation of society and the environment apropos of Pope Francis’ Papal Encyclical “Laudato Si” and on the occasion of celebrating 30 years of work of the Green College “Colegio Verde” in Villa de Leyva, Boyacá Colombia this 5th of June, we want to address this letter to all our fellow countrymen, government leaders and citizens, to decision makers and especially, to young people in Latin America.
1. We are deeply concerned about the socio-environmental crisis that the continent is undergoing. The phenomena we observe on a daily basis indicate that far from solving this situation, it is only getting worse.
The unequivocal indexes of social and environmental crises, which as never before, have reached levels of poverty, injustice, socio-environmental conflicts, violence and destruction of the environment and quality of life, outrage us.
The Global Change that spirals due to the drivers of Climate Change, alterations in the use of Land, deforestation, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity and unsustainable extraction models show that ecological limits have already been exceeded, and we would therefore require more than one Planet Earth to satisfy the needs of the population under the current economic model (a more than impossible solution).
All of this constitutes a checkmate for the current life style, based on a predatory economy that plunders nature and communities, that consumes and destroys resources far beyond the capacity of resilience of ecosystems.
We must remember that the current situation of the planet, with the ongoing Climate Change, and without efficient and timely control measures, takes us to a point of no return. The time to act is now, as manifested after so many efforts to take on the challenge of Climate Change, reinforced by COP21 in December, 2015 in Paris.
2. The causes of this situation are mainly of human and not of natural origin. In fact, scientific historical facts indicate that the environmental crisis that the planet is experiencing has been caused for centuries by our forms of production and consumption which have not respected ecosystems and rhythms of the biosphere.
If the cause of this situation is human, it means that we are also responsible. We call on our countrymen, because we must take responsibility for our share as inhabitants of our Common Home, as citizens and as scientists.
3. Responsibility falls not only on individuals, but also, and relevantly on the systems of power in the globalized world we live in. The unequal distribution of power and wealth, and the actions of transnational entities and groups that dominate the economy are the causes of development models that take no account of justice in societies and with the environment.
It is a “system of commercial relations and property which is structurally perverse” (LS 52) as stated by His Holiness Pope Francis in his Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si”, where he adds that the cause lies with “the powerful” and with the “globalization of indifference”; he therefore urges the adoption of a new attitude.
For decades we have shown our sensitivity, contributing to unravel environmental problems, and generating theoretical, methodological and practical approaches that we believe are suitable and relevant to the search for sustainable development models. We have not always implemented efficient practices to promote awareness and motivate actions, especially among young people. We see with satisfaction that Pope Francis, with his discourse, awards depth and special relevance to Latin American environmental thought. In consequence, we believe it is necessary to carry out more decided actions that incite awareness and search for alternative development models, aimed at toppling indifference and challenging the powerful, the rulers and all citizens towards a true cultural change that involves new relations for society and nature.
4. We need changes at the individual, institutional and intellectual levels aimed at preserving, managing and protecting the environment.
We demand profound institutional changes in order to make the State more efficient and effective in contributing to sustainable development. Environmental institutionalism in many countries is still weak in terms of taking on the challenges of the present. We need to challenge society where the economic system is based on permanent growth of consumption, with planned product obsolescence which inevitably affects depletion of natural resources. This perspective presupposes that everyone must review his life style to go forward to a more austere way of living, seeking to be more with less.
These changes should occur both in territories and ecosystems as well as in cities with their eco-social problems in order to advance towards more sustainable eco-regions and urban zones.
We need changes in our daily dealings, and family life, in gender and generation relations, because the care of our Common Home must be harmonious with the care of our own home.
In terms of technology, a change is necessary to progress towards clean and sustainable technologies and renewable energy, bearing in mind that no technology is altogether neutral. We must rethink the technological platform focusing on a relationship between society and nature with equity.
In terms of the production of knowledge, a new paradigm that is open to complex thinking is necessary, where inter and multi disciplines are essential for redefining the foundations of our understanding of knowledge, society, nature and their interrelations.
5. Coincidentally, we should move forward towards a new way of thinking and reasoning regarding the relationship between society and nature, in order to progress from an economic, technocratic paradigm to a humanistic, ecological paradigm.
Ethics should be the core of all policies and decisions in every field where they can influence society and nature. Relationships between human beings should be comprehensive.
We must avoid impositions and arbitrary discrimination and advance towards a very different quality of life.
Gender studies have helped us to understand that remedies to conflicts and that the struggle for respect of each individual’s autonomy are not enough; love must be central in respect of diversity, family relations and co-responsibility.
We want to resume the environmental traditions of Latin America, those of our native peoples and of all the groups that have reflected on the environment in the south, contributing a very different vision to the vision developed by the countries in the north. We wish to gather the positive experiences of social mobilizations, environmental regulations, environmental management, and environmental evaluation, knowledge of the ecosystems of the continent, the positive essays in environmental planning and all those efforts in environmental training and education that have burgeoned throughout these years.
Latin American environmental thought has enabled the reformulation of methodologies and tools in environmental planning, as well as in environmental land management and equity accounts as the assessor of comprehensive and sustainable management of natural resources.
In this sense, we must also move forward in the use of tools that help overcome reductionist environmental assessments. The consideration of the GDP as sole indicator of development must be definitely surpassed, as has been the case of the evaluation of human and sustainable development.
We need to afford much greater opportunities to all sorts of transference of environmental knowledge, dissemination, education and training.
6. Profound cultural and political changes are needed that will strengthen democracy and environmental care. There is now doubt that there is a deficit in terms of democracy in our continent that must be bettered. There cannot be peace if there is no justice and respect for the environment.
In light of the above, and acknowledging that there is growing environmental awareness we wish to support, nonetheless it is evident that this is not enough. Action is imperative!
Many social and environmental movements, youths, students, communities, peasants, workers, gender groups, native and Afro-Americans have emerged in the defense of their local environments and the biological and cultural diversity of their territories. In many cases we have attempted to join them. We invite everyone to listen to their legitimate demands, to seek ways of supporting them, especially those who, from their territories, mobilize their natural and social potentialities to revert situations that violate human rights and degrade what belongs to us all. In socio-environmental matters, opportunities and stimulation for citizen participation, binding at all levels is needed.
7. All human conflicts, especially armed conflicts, not only harm coexistence and culture; they deeply impact territories and ecosystems; therefore, the reconciliation process among human beings must also take place with nature. Consequently we value the current peace process that is taking place in Colombia.
We aspire to coexist in an environment of peace, that is global and comprehensive, that includes peace among social groups with the environment. We want an environment of peace, and peace for the environment.
Villa de Leyva, Colombia, on World Environment Day, June 5, 2016
GRUPALA Latin American Group on Environmental Thought and Action
Héctor Sejenovich (Argentina) Margarita Marino de Botero (Colombia) Héctor Alberto Alimonda (Brasil/Argentina) Julio Carrizosa Umaña (Colombia) Guillermo Castro Herrera (Panamá) Arnoldo José Gabaldón (Venezuela) Nicolo Gligo (Chile) Ofelia Gutiérrez (Uruguay) Daniel Panario (Uruguay) Cristian Parker Gumucio (Chile)