Environmentalism is a field of thought in constant debate – a work in progress. This seems to be an inherent aspect of it: we inhabit natural and built systems the pattern of which is precisely constant change.
Political ecology appeared in the 1970s as a program of action for synching public policies with postulates emanating from a systemic vision of the world. Ecology arrived at the political arena in order to propose strategies and plans for political action.
The defining principles of eco-politics rest on two fundamental pillars which should always be present in the construction of public policies for the benefit of the common good: science and empathy.
Throughout history, scientific knowledge has kept on mutating and evolving. From its holistic origins to the mechanistic Cartesian vision prevailing since the 17th century – still in force -, much has happened. What would be desirable, from an ecological perspective, is that it should achieve a stage of maturity enabling the recovery and strengthening of a comprehensive world vision and the assumption of the crucial need to think in a systemic way: we are an integral part of a unique and finite living system in which the human species is just another instrument in planet earth’s orchestra.
The great challenge: achieving symphonic harmony
If we assume that subjectivity is inherent in the construction of scientific knowledge, we should acknowledge that something which is binding and essential in all living systems, with which applied science must establish a dialogue and a feedback relationship, is the willingness and the ability to perceive, share and understand what others feel and experience.
Empathy is the orchestra’s baton. It is the consideration that should guide and prevail in political practice. It is the essential capacity to put oneself in another’s shoes.
Scientific research and development for the production of genetically-modified food could be accepted provided that it met certain conditions in accordance with certain principles.
Let us take a current regional example. In Latin America, the last two decades have marked a turning point in applied sciences in the field of agricultural development.
Research on genetically modified organisms has resulted in prodigious advance in the design and mass production of transgenic seeds. In principle, there is nothing objectionable to progress in scientific knowledge aimed at enhancing a given country’s agricultural production and making new technologies available which result in better food for more people.
Even from an ecological worldview, scientific research and development for the production of genetically-modified food could be accepted provided that it met certain conditions in accordance with certain principles.
However, what we are witnessing today are the devastating consequences of the indiscriminate implementation of monocultures associated with the agrochemical industry.
What balance of forces made this possible? In which territories was crop replacement promoted? Were local communities involved in the decision process? Is this just a matter of technological change to improve productivity or, together with the introduction of some genetically-modified crops, what we are generating here is an incremental demand for agrochemicals that completely destabilizes the ecosystems into which these crops are introduced (and beyond)? What demand do we seek to meet with the supply generated by this new agricultural model? Has this policy produced a greater and more diverse supply of healthy foods to humanity? With whom did the State empathize when it was about to make a public policy decision that would irreversibly mark the productive development model of one of the key sectors in the region? Does that model take into account the fact that the system in which it is implemented and developed is finite?
From the standpoint of ecological political analysis, the answers to all these questions are univocal, scientifically based, rooted in systemic thinking and inclusive – that is, taking into consideration all the voices, especially those which are not usually heard in this discussion.
A widespread misunderstanding that hovers over political ecology is to consider it a programmatic proposal confined to an environmental agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 2001, most of the world’s environmentalist political expressions agreed on six principles that were included in the founding Charter of the parties coalescing under the name of Global Greens.
It should be noted that not all the environmentalist expressions are part of this global coordinating entity and that many Latin American ecological political spaces define themselves essentially from a territorial perspective.
Far from fragmenting the ecologist movement, the multiplication of many independent and locally rooted spaces confers greater diversity and power to global environmentalism
Far from fragmenting the ecologist movement, the multiplication of many independent and locally rooted spaces confers greater diversity and power to global environmentalism.
Ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, non-violence, sustainable development and respect for diversity constitute the heart and the shared core of global eco-politics.
Assessing the implications of each of these principles is a subjective task. However, under the focus of empathy, some truths are irrefutable.
And this is how the ecological standpoint before all of the existing agendas is to be found: eco-politics proposes a complete revision of the prevailing production and consumption system; it radically confronts emerging nationalisms; it joins the fight for feminist demands; it seeks an equitable distribution of resources; it calls for greater citizen participation in the running of public affairs; it raises nonviolence as the supreme principle; it honors diversity.
An ecological vision of politics puts forward many questions. But political ecology has an answer for most of them – an answer that is based on science and empathy.