Our Own Copenhagen

Armando Chaguaceda

Havana from the heights.  Photo: Caridad
Havana from the heights. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 7 – The Copenhagen Summit is now knocking on our doors.  However, due fundamentally to the irresponsibility of the major powers (those both imperial and emerging), who are the principal emitters of polluting gases, world leaders have not reached the necessary consensus prior to this conference.

As a corollary, the indicators of global warming point to a scenario that is worse than any of the possibilities presented two years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If the current model of economic growth persists, by 2050 humanity will need to consume the natural resources equivalent to two planet Earths.

This is all undoubtedly worrisome for nations like Cuba: poor, insular and located in a region of legendary climatological uncertainty.  For the island, this is a formula for disaster.

It is a fact that the island has made great contributions to global sustainability.  It was the only country classified as sustainable by the World Wildlife Fund in its biannual report presented three years ago in Beijing.

According to that renowned organization, “Cuba alone has attained the minimum standards for sustainability, reaching certain quality of life indexes (high literacy levels and life expectancy) while leaving a modest ‘ecological imprint’, as a result of its low energy consumption.”

International development and cooperation agencies, and those of the United Nations system, have recognized the advances of the Caribbean country in sustainable agriculture, alternative energy sources, reforestation and the development of programs on environmental education.

In addition, in the universe of the non-government organizations, as well as through several of that countries ministries (Agriculture, Culture; and Science, Technology and the Environment), we find a nation that is sensitive and committed to environmental defense.  Here there is the potential (and the outcomes) of perseverance.

Low Consumption Doesn’t Mean Environmental Consciousness

However, to draw from all of this that Cubans possess a solid environmental consciousness would be a big stretch.  On more than one occasion I have discussed this issue with friends who are officials of cooperation agencies or leaders of solidarity-with-Cuba groups.

To the majority of Cubans -at least in urban areas, where 85 percent of the population resides- is the propensity for consumerism, a factor influenced by shortages and the influence of the nearby US model of society.

Confronted with the transportation crisis, for example, the voices are few that call for (or believe possible) efficient public transport as a viable and attractive future possibility.  “If a bus doesn’t come by, I’ll take a taxi” is a refrain we hear frequently at crowded bus stops in Havana from those with the possibility to do so.  They are proposing a private and unsustainable “save yourself if you can” solution, though one cannot blame the essentially “unconscious population.”

Far from what is presented by idealistic voices, Cuban society is not regulated by “post-material” values.  Cubans suffer in their daily lives from the cumulative under-consumption of basic goods (even toilet paper or milk products), which affects the majority of the low-income and even middle income population.  In many cases these people live in conditions worse than those of their regional counterparts, which frequently shape their environmentally reactionary postures.

Our population has lived for 50 years under imposed austerity caused simultaneously by the US blockade, internal inefficiencies and bureaucratic obstacles to collective initiative.  When confronted with the pressure of the crisis, the bureaucracy has preferred to negotiate around formulas that are potentially individualistic (self-employment, small private enterprises…) rather than promoting cooperative ones (such as recycling and other environmental services), ones which interconnect the community and the environment through a sustainable notion of personal and collective consumption.

State administered austerity can operate as a temporary painkiller relative to the contamination and neglect by the majority of countries, which -coexisting with islets of excess- include the societies of the Third World.

While this is the first step for sustaining and improving concrete policies such as social security, education, universal health care and dignified work, it is not enough to generate civilizational change or create environmental responsibility.

By accepting the “manna” of resources offered from the hands of neo-development initiatives agreed to within Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), or instead opting for Miamiazation (the neo-liberal or Chinese style development of our society), we will be able to become a part of the suicidal “normalcy” that surrounds us.

It is not enough to hope that our farmers will again fall in love with tractors (Chinese, Belarusian or Iranian ones), discarding promising agro-ecological practices; or that the organic vegetables of urban intensive agriculture will become luxuries for the nouveau riche in Miramar; or that Old Havana will become irrepressibly filled with Sears outlets, Wall Mart parking lots and car franchises.

At least those of us who promote or accompany processes of socio-environmental participation don’t want that kind of future (nor a withered and stagnant present) for our children, (a theme that will be the focus on in my next post).

One thought on “Our Own Copenhagen

  • With a centralized administration, few countries in the world are better positioned than Cuba, to take a concerted effort in dealing with these life and death issues. Unfortunately, this same centralization hampers the simultaneous introduction of Environmental Health Protection Measures. Most have to wait until they are sanctified- Politically Correct. Solidarity groups abroad can support planting millions of trees per year. Tax every international traveler 5 CUC to finance Havana City Wastewater treatment facility. Encourage Cubans working or living abroad to purchase/install 5000 solar water heating/fotovoltaic panel per year, reducing fuel consumption/contamination levels. Tax beer, cigarette etc 0.05 CUC to finance the replacement of gas gussler/Almendrones cars, diesel trucks/bus for natural gas vehicles. Tax $1.00 CUC per day to every hotel bed to finance a national Safe Drinking Water/Solid Waste disposal in the nation, eradicating Dengue, Conjuntivitis etc for good.

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