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Green capitalism

Conservation actions will only bear fruit with a long term view of profit

Measures to protect the natural landscapes are not contrary to capitalism; they are merely opposed to the forms of economic exploitation that seek an easy and immediate profit, guarantee specialists gathered together at the Third Congress of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), held at the end of November in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. A multitude estimated at 5,000 persons took part during three days of presentations and debates that analyzed the prospects of change in the often  critical situation of the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity.

“We have to review some choices”, suggested Robert Watson, the chief scientist of the World Bank and one of the coordinators of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, probably the most ample study of the exploitation of the planet’s natural resources. “We have to see whether we want to think in the short term or in the long, in attending only to the needs of the rich, or to those of the poor as well, and in destroying or preserving natural resources.” At the moment, according to Watson’s calculations, 5% of the world’s population consumes 80% of its natural resources, in the form of food, energy and water.

If short term economic growth means forgetting the concerns with the preservation of the environment, in the assessment of Eduardo Guerrero, the program of the IUCN’s program for South America, the option for long term development and for social inclusion implies the need “to reconcile economic interests and conservation, promoting the orderly arrangement of the occupation of the territory”. According to him, when one defines the areas of intensive agriculture and those that will be protected, the natural landscape ceases to be an obstacle to the accumulation of riches and becomes an essential space for maintaining the stocks of water, the quality of the soil and the stability of the climate.

According to Guerrero, Latin America is one region of the world in which these conflicts between economics and conservation are expressed with greater clarity, like the pressure of the Brazilian soybean planters exert to occupy the areas of forest that are still intact. This is one of the reasons why Brazil appears in the Red List of Threatened Species, at study by the IUCN made public at the beginning of this congress, as one of the countries with the largest number of mammals and birds threatened with extinction, alongside Indonesia, India and China.

According to this survey, 15,589 species of plants and animals – or one in every three varieties of amphibians, one in every four of mammals, and one in every eight of birds – run a high risk of disappearing in the near future, as the result of various reasons, such as the loss of habitats, pollution and global climatic changes. This is a phenomenon that is getting worse with time and human action: ecologists estimate that the current rates of extinction are from one hundred to a thousand times greater than the values expected from the natural disappearance of the varieties of plants and animals.

Coordinated actions
In the last few years, though, the main problem of the projects that try to keep natural environments intact is not funding. According to Guerrero, what is missing is more effective linkage between the financing agents, the implementers of the projects, multilateral ventures, governments and the civil society. “There is an enormous quantity of players working in an uncoordinated way”, he observed. As a result, a distrust of the actions of the government and frustration of the civil society sets in, in relation to the measures that ought to preserve the areas of forest occupied by economic activities.

Rosalia Arteaga Serrano knew these abysses when she took office as the secretary-general of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO). But since then, she has sought to build bridges between financiers, government and communities of the eight countries covered, in a greater or lesser proportion, by the Amazon Forest. “The human being”, she said, referring to one of the principles of her work, “is the main element of the environment”. As soon as the beginning of next year, according to Rosalia, the first regional project for the management of water resources should start to be implanted; it enjoys international funding in the order of US$ 30 million, of which almost US$ 700,000 have already been released. For her, Brazil, even housing 67% of the Amazon basin, should not cease to look towards the neighboring countries.  “The relationship between the Andes and the Amazon basin is very important for the preservation of water resources and biodiversity.”

Besides the quest for integrated actions and common solutions, another conquest of the ACTO, according to its secretary-general, is that the problems of the region have ceased to be dealt with only by the top management of the ministries for foreign affairs and have taken on a more practical nature, and now, at the sectorial meetings, there are also representatives of the ministries of the environment, defense, health, and public works. Representatives of other countries sometimes take part, as happened at a meeting held in Rio de Janeiro to deal with the contamination of rivers by mercury, in which French Guiana, which is not a member of the ACTO, took part.

Protected areas
There are prospects for changes in the conservation projects themselves, which, generally speaking, all over the world, give priority to the creation of protected areas and exclude the local communities. But the representatives of the indigenous peoples who attended the congress in Thailand want to change this situation. “There must be a participation of the indigenous peoples in defining the conservation strategies”, commented Ramon Tomedes Kuyujani, of the Rio Caura Indigenous Organization, from Venezuela. Barefoot and with a microphone in his hand, in a bamboo hut covered with straw alongside the main building of the convention center, he set out his grievance: “We don’t want to remain outside the negotiation, but to share the knowledge we have built up over thousands of years, and to conserve the land for you and for us”.

Next, Esther Comac, from the Ixacavaa Development and Indigenous Information Association, of Puerto Rico, added: “We want to add our ancestral knowledge to scientific research”. But the dialog that leads to innovative and socially more just solutions also needs the participation of representatives of the companies, Esther recalled, mentioning as an example Ecuador, whose mining companies do not consult the local communities nor the environmental preservation plans before advancing in search of new spaces to exploit. As the conversations proceeded, it became clear that alliances ? between cultures, sectors of society, ways of thinking and even generations – were ceasing to be an option. They are now a necessity, in order to reconcile immediate interests with the long term ones.