Environmental Conservation and Socialism. A Conservationist Manifesto for the Venezuela’s revolution
By Jesús A. Rivas*, an Axis of Logic Exclusive
Jul 31, 2007, 11:15
Dr. Jesús Rivas is a research biologist in the field of behavioral ecology and conservation of large tropical reptiles of the llanos of Venezuela which is his homeland.
XXI CENTURY SOCIALISM
From the beginning of the government of President Chávez, there have been dramatic changes on the political and economic life, not only in Venezuela but also in other South American Countries. During the first years of his government, however, there was no label assigned to the process save for that of “Bolivarian”. However, on year 2005 during the Social Forum in Brazil, president Chávez gave a specific label to it. Chávez, labeled the Bolivarian movement as the XXI Century Socialism, explaining that the socialist process that had failed in the past were simply particular models of socialism but not the only one. Chavez points out that the Soviet Union had become another empire and had forgotten about the people and their needs. In the new model of socialism (as Telesur promo points out) what really matters are the people and not the capital. To put it in practical terms the new socialism does not calculate how much health care can we afford with a given amount of resources, instead it provides the health care needed regardless of its cost. The people being more important than the money.
To place the emphasis on the people’s well being set the Bolivarian process, the “Beautiful Revolution”, aside from other political and economical processes and gives us hopes that it may succeed where others did not. If we were to look for a defining characteristic of the Bolivarian Process we would say that it is its emphasis on “inclusivity” or in ending the social exclusion that has characterized the country. In the past some group of people could take possession of the resources of the country, excluding the majority of the population. This is what happened in Petroleos de Venezuela Sociedad Anonima (PDVSA), where a small group of people took control of the oil produced in the country, and excluded everybody else from the benefits derived from the oil wealth. We find the same exclusion on other aspects: the use of fertile lands where a small group of land-holders (the seldom own the land) took control of the productive land of the country, excluding the majority of the farmers; or in the education system, or the health care system. In just every aspect of the life of the country there were a few privileged, wealthier people that enjoy all the benefits excluding the poorer majority. If we were to summarize with few words the actions and philosophy of the Bolivarian Process we would say that its goal is to break up the scheme of social exclusion and to include more people on the benefits the country has to offer.
CONSERVATION AND CAPITALISM
It is not surprising that the capitalist models always have problems with the environment and that the environmental struggles are a bit of a fight lost in advance. There is an inherit contraction between capitalism and the environment. While capitalism is based on the unlimited accumulation of capital, and on an unlimited economic growth, the resources of the planet are clearly limited. Some intellectuals have compared capitalism’s philosophy of continues growth with that of a cancer cell. We know the consequences of this philosophy causes on the human body and there is no reason to think it would be different on the planet. The unlimited growth of corporate consortiums cannot have any other result than the environmental collapse, and the collapse of the society with it. The solution must be rather on a system of moderation and stability, where growth and accumulation of capital are not the ultimate goal. Since nothing is limitless in nature, and noting growth without limits in biological systems. The philosophy of the Bolivarian process where the people well being, and not the accumulation of capital, are the ultimate goal, seems a better framework for a truly sustainable system.
A SOCIALIST SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL CONTRACT
Twenty First Century Socialism sustains that the resources of the country must be available for all the inhabitants of the country (I avoid the word citizen in this essay for the exclusivist character that the word has in English). The Bolivarian process signature is the search of including more and more people on the benefits of the resources of the country. In particular those people with less representation, that often are more numerous. When a small group takes possession of a resource (whether it be, land, oil, water sources, etc) and excludes the majority from its enjoinment, the Revolution steps in and makes sure the least privileged groups also have access to the resources of the country on a just manner. We can talk about a Socialist Spatial Contract (SSC) where all the resources contained on the country are made available for all its inhabitants
Now, if we were to ask: what is the largest group of the population with least representation? A superficial analysis would suggest that the least represented people are those of the lower economic classes, with lower education level, and lower income. While it is true that this is a very substantial part of the population in Venezuela, it is also true that it is not the largest demographically. The largest demographic sector of the population is without doubt the future generations of Venezuelans. Any system that plans in staying towards the future must consider the needs of the future generations, and not only as a figure of speech. The Feeding sovereignty, industrial and technological accomplishments of the government will be of no use if we do not guarantee those levels of sovereignty to the same levels for the future generations. This element is extremely important because adding the rights of the future generations to the enjoyment of the resources of the country is the only hope for the long term, both for the people and for the environment. Clearly if we depleted all the resources to provide for the current generations we would exclude the future generations of their rightful use of those resources. Such exclusion would incompatible with the principles of the Bolivarian process.
To clear cut the forests, would exclude the future generations of the benefits that forest has to offer and it would be as abusive and as exclusivist as it is when a small group of people prevents the poor majority access to the fertile lands, or the oil revenues. This would account for an incomplete socialist model that will end up on the exclusion of the majority of Venezuelan, the Venezuelans of the future. Arguably this system of spatial socialism would be better than capitalism but it would not account for the truly egalitarian and just system we need for the future. This brief analysis shows that the only model really socialist is a Spatio-Temporal Socialist Contract (STSC) where the rights of the current people, as well as the rights of the future generations, are protected. This analysis also prompts to the concept that the only use of the environment that is legitimate in a truly socialist model is that, that does not involve any permanent damage to the environment and its diversity. It is be possible that the Venezuela might not be yet at this level of maturity but this is the certainly the path that a true socialist system must follow.
Spatio-Temporal Socialism: cases in point
A STSC guarantess all Venezuelans, both present and future, rights over the resources of the country. If we cut the forest for wood and for classical agriculture, the erosion will increase, soil will be impoverished, there will be mud slides, floods, droughts and scarcity. The use of pesticides and fertilizers for agriculture will pollute rivers and lakes and end up on the aquifers polluting also our drinking water. Uncontrolled hunting and fishing will deplete also breeding stocks excluding the future generations from their enjoyment.
Even destruction of the landscape and species of not direct use by people will deplete our biodiversity and aesthetic value of the land. It is well documented the effect of pristine landscapes on the health status of the people and how sick or injured people recover quicker, better and with fewer medicines if they are exposed to natural landscapes as opposed to artificial ones (Orians & Heerwagen 1992; Wilson 2002). This follows a natural tendency of humans, Biophylia, that links us emotionally and physically to natural landscapes. Furthermore, beyond the beauty of our natural landscapes we have the potential cure for diseases and health problems that would be lost if we let the natural areas be destroyed. So if we apply the principles of social inclusion of the Bolivarian Process towards the future we have a frame work for conservation in which capitalist systems can only dream.
Let’s consider a town and the foothills of a mountain. The inhabitants of the town could cut the forest of the mountain for firewood and to plant produce for food or they can go to a neighboring valley where the soil is more stable. To use the forest of the mountain is easier than to go all the way to the valley. If they chose to cut the forest they take the chance that the soil could lose stability, because the roots of the trees anchor the soil in place acting as a net that holds the soil form erosion and prevent mudslides. The trees of the forest also stop water with their foliage and make it go slowly so it can percolate into the ground to the aquifers. If the ecosystem is destabilized by removing the forest there may be mudslides when there is a strong rainfall. This may very well be what happened during the tragedy of Vargas State back in December 1999. If the people chose to cut the forest the can obtain produce nutritious produce that the people need but at what cost? How many kilos of produce we need to obtain to justify the lost of 30,000 lives? In the capitalist system this is an easy calculation, you figure out how many kilos of potatoes is worth a human live and you multiply it by 30,000. This option is not possible in a socialist system where the capital is not what matters but human’s well being. However, in a socialist system that only is concern with the current situation (Spatial Socialist Contract described above) this may be an acceptable option so long as everybody benefits from the income of the wood or the consumption of the produce. Since the risk of an ecological disaster may be too far into the future, it is possible that a socialist system that is not specifically concerned with the rights of future generations may consider acceptable to cut the forest. However, if we consider the rights of future generations as much as the right of the current ones (STSC), then no action that may endanger the rights of the future generations is acceptable.
Let’s consider now a town where mosquito born diseases are ravaging the population and lots of people are falling ill because of them. The capitalist system recommends that the town should be sprayed with DDT because the people that are sick are costing money to the system and the lost labor my hurt the economy. The capitalist does not care about the pollution of soils and waters, neither the fact that decades into the future the same insecticide will show up in aquifers producing congenital malformations among other diseases. A socialist system that is only spatial in nature might consider the solution of DDT as an acceptable one to prevent the people to become ill, since the health of the people is so important. This option is simply not acceptable in a Spatio-Temporal Socialism. The new socialism cannot give solutions that produce new problems. It has to find a solution of mosquito born diseases but this solution must address the cause of the problems and not a quick short-sighted, short cut. For instance in the case of mosquito born diseases the new socialism starts education campaigns informing about the mosquito’s life history and changing our behavior not to give places for the mosquito to breed, change the behavior of people to lower the risk of infestation and promotes environmental integrity that encourages the natural enemies of the mosquito, to thrive and control the population of mosquitoes in a natural manner.
We face a similar situation if we deal with cellulose processing plants in Uruguay, cooper exploitation in the Andes (in Ecuador, Intag, or Chile, Pascua Lama) Ecuatorian andes, or mountain top removal of coal mines in Venezuela (Zulia state). Capitalism threatens these systems for the money that can be produced of their land. A spatial socialism could justify the environmental damage due to the social benefit that can be afforded with the economic revenue. However, depriving the future generations of the benefits of pristine environments is unacceptable in a true, Spatio-Temporal, Socialism.
This commitment of supreme respect to the natural ecosystems as only alternative for a truly socialist system also extends towards lager developments. Currently we have great capacity of making drastic changes in the environment with all our technology and machineries; however, have very little knowledge of the impact that our actions may have on the environment on the long term and how we may hurt the capacity of the environment to self regulate. Clearly the inhabitants of Naiguatá at the beginning of the XX century or end of the XIX, had not idea that extracting firewood from the foothills of Ávila could destabilize the ecosystem that 80 years later would produce the tragedy of Vargas state. Currently we are considering many great developments infrastructure operations, some of which could produce irreversible changes to the ecosystem. We have inherited from capitalism the arrogance of believe that we know everything and the believe that we can do any changes that our technologies allows us to do without any consideration with the Pachamama or any second thought that our ignorance of the long term impact on ecosystems is much greater than our capacity to change them. In view little knowledge and our commitment with future generations it is critical that we practice prudence and self restrain when we plan large infrastructure developments.
Unfortunately the actions that protect the environment the most may not be the most productive positions. It is easier to get quicker results with the production style that we know from capitalism. If we do not look at the price to pay by future generations we may be misled by short term pay-offs. Within the system that only looks at the production of capital, or only the needs of the current people, we could easily be seduced by the practices that lower the environmental quality and lower the quality of life of future generations. For instance the use of pesticides and fertilizers as well as channeling rivers and other larger infrastructure developments could produce better results on the short term than organic methods and a more measured style of development. However, while the earlier compromise the well being of future generations the latter does not. For a process that requires feeding sovereignty it may be difficult to take the right decision towards the future. It is understandable if all the actions that the revolution is doing currently are not 100% in compliance with this goal of absolute respect with the environment and the rights of future generations but his is doubtlessly the path towards which we need to approach
The Bolivarian process offers an unprecedented scenario for conservation efforts to flourish but conservation will not happen alone so long as we continue with the old schemes of development. We must work actively to make sure that the natural resources are not lost, not only for the environmental quality itself but also to protect the rights of future generations. When we extend the basic socialist principles of the Beautiful Revolution towards future generations we see that conservation and socialism fuse into each other in an inseparable manner. They become two sides of the same coin. Socialism needs of conservation as much as conservation needs of socialism, neither can succeed without the other one. A Spatio-Temporal Socialist Contract is the only alternative for the Bolivarian process to accomplish its goals on the long term and prevent collapsing under its own weight. To limit population growth as well as to develop models of production that offer complete respect to the environment are necessary steps to reach the “largest sum of happiness”
(Rivas 2007a; Rivas 2007b; Rivas 2007c; Rivas & Lavieri 2007)
Para una versión mas larga de este articulo visiten este vinculo http://pages.prodigy.net/anaconda/conservacion.pdf
Orians, G. H., and J. H. Heerwagen. 1992. Evolved Responses to Landscapes. Pages 555-579 in J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, and J. Tooby, editors. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. Oxford University Press, New York.
Rivas, J. A. 2007a. Conservation of Anacondas: How Tylenol Conservation and Macroeconomics Threaten the Survival of the World’s Largest Snake. Iguana 14:10-21.
Rivas, J. A. 2007b. Demografía y conservación: ¿Cuantos somos, cuantos necesitamos y cuantos cabemos? Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a35808.html.
Rivas, J. A. 2007c. La diferencia entre el socialismo y el capitalismo: mas allá de las relaciones de producción. Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a32936.html.
Rivas, J. A., and R. Lavieri. 2007. El manejo social del Latifundio y la conservación del medio ambiente. Aporrea http://www.aporrea.org/endogeno/a34633.html.
Wilson, E. O. 2002. The Future of Life. Vintage Books, New York.
© Copyright 2007 by AxisofLogic.com
Jesús A. Rivas is a biologist from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. His research interests include natural history, ethology, and conservation. He has been working for a number of years in the study of behavioral ecology and conservation of large tropical reptiles of the llanos of Venezuela which is his homeland. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee (Laboratory of Reptile Ethology). He taught for one year at Boston University, made TV documentaries for National Geographic Television as a field correspondent and continues to make independent film documentaries. He is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Math and Natural Sciences at Somerset Community College in Somerset, KY. He is also a prolific writer on social and political matters. His essays are frequently published in Spanish at www.aporrea.org.