By Dmitri Prieto
One of the things that most impressed me about Great Britain was the way that different social actors (supermarket chains, the State, NGOs) take advantage of and promote environmentalism in small aspects of the public’s lifestyle habits, for example the use of plastic bags.
Supermarkets in Great Britain, such as TESCO, promoted the gradual replacement of plastic bags with longer lasting substitutes by rewarding the consumer monetarily or with points for using more ecologically friendly bags (green bags) instead of the traditional plastic bags.
In Cuba, the idea to substitute these bags has never seriously been discussed. Instead, recent conversations surrounding plastic shopping bags have been about the right of the client to receive one when purchasing merchandise.
After several citizens complained in letters to local newspapers about not receiving a plastic bag after shopping, TV reporters set out to investigate the black market buying and selling of plastic bags. An activity at times supported by the supermarket tellers or supervisors themselves.
The issue even made it to the television comedy program Deja que yo te cuente, where Profesor Mentepollo criticized the trafficking of plastic bags. What is interesting is that in this case the issue also poked fun over the environmental argument that plastic bags are harmful. In the skit, the plastic bag thieves were collaborating with environmentalists.
It made me ask myself how is it that in one case we have a genuine movement towards the elimination of the massive use of plastic bags while in the other case the environmental issue only comes up as a comedic device.
I believe that outside of the problem of the theft and illegal traffic of plastic bags, we Cubans are not very inclined to accept the radical need to change our lifestyles in order to save the planet.
In many cases, environmentalism is merely rhetoric: something used in propaganda or because it is fashionable. This may also be the case in Europe. But what is left to see is what role will difficulties in Cuba play in overturning current attitudes to turn the issue into one that is taken seriously.