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Five decades

Para la Naturaleza

Fernando Lloveras San Miguel_ Message
President de Para la Naturaleza
Anniversary
March 6, 2020
Hacienda La Esperanza

Absences

Bayo Alomolafe, a Nigerian philosopher, reminds us that we are made of what we do not have, not what we do have; of what is absent, not of what is present. We are made of the forests that are no longer with us, of those rivers and shores we have invaded, of those local businesses that disappeared, of women we did not recognize, of those communities we displaced. Regardless of how much we try to forget and hide these stories that make us uncomfortable, those deliberate absences- are present, constructing who we are — above all autobiographies and awards granted those who do not question the present.

Today, we invite the absentees to this conversation and confront what we conveniently want to forget.

Integrity

We believe we are separate entities- that we have a body of our own, and that we act independently. Yet we are but one part of a single unit, from which we cannot escape. We are part of our natural surroundings, our friends and family, our coworkers, the structures and objects we have created, the empty spaces that surround us.

It is in Johan Wolfgang Von Goethe’s plant metamorphosis where a small seed transforms into a root, stem, branch, leaf, flower and fruit, but in reality they are not separate parts- but rather everything is a continuum, one single being.

Today, I would like to share some ideas- that are not my own, but of all those who have been part of my existence; especially of one person who has existed by my side for over 40 years and with whom I have continuously carried this conversation on a daily basis.

Here is a brief summary of this conversation, always propelled by her concerns, sensibility and ingenuity. Thank you, Michy Marxuach.

Unlearn

There was a time when some people looked upon us present here, members of Para la Naturaleza, as a few free spirits protecting areas for insects, lianas, birds, and repairing  a number of ruins from the past; while the world passed by, and others worked hard toward achieving economic development for Puerto Rico.  

For hundreds of years the priority has been economic growth over all, obeying textbooks written by the most awarded economists — foreign investment, tax havens, major infrastructure projects, export of people, minimum-minimum wages, economies of scale, extremely easy permits, and mass consumerism. In fact, I am surprised Puerto Rico  has yet to receive a Nobel prize in Economics.     

We design, measure and finance everything in order to achieve something larger and more substantial than what we had yesterday.  In fact, we have maintained loyal to the search for that precious Holy Grail — “economic growth”. This is how we have defined our well-being. I learned all this throughout my studies in Economy, and as a good student I spent much time questioning the same.

We advanced significantly following this criteria. Nonetheless, just over ten years ago we suffered the collapse of our economy, we cannot pay debts, we have one of the most unequal societies in this hemisphere, we received the beating of ferocious hurricanes, and yet we keep exploring governments to represent us, facing risks brought upon earthquakes and tsunamis, while being stalked by lethal viruses and pandemics.

In 1972, a book titled “The Limits of Growth” was published. It caused much commotion, was harshly criticized by economists, and was then conveniently forgotten for many decades, stigmatized as being alarmist. As Thomas Huxley said, “It is the customary fate of new truths, to begin as heresies, and to end as superstitions.”

Throughout these past 50 years we have begun to feel these limits. Yuval Noah Harari, in his book “Sapiens,” tells us that the Homo sapiens is an “ecological serial killer” and that it is the deadliest species within the Annals of Biology.

This is what we have learned. It is here where we find ourselves today.

To continue following this model is to continue producing its results. Today I propose, as stated by Ivan Illich, that we must “lear to unlearn in order to relearn.

Question

How do we grow? This is certainly not the question. After all, Eco_nomy and Eco_logy are terms derived from the same word of Greek-origin Oikos, which means home. Not factories, not ecosystems, but —home; and in turn it is from ‘home’ where the word ‘fire’ derives from (focus/focaris), for it is here where families and friends gather to warm, to dry, to cook and nourish, and to create community.

Jorge Wagensberg affirms, “If nature is the answer, what was the question?” If we already have the answer -how is it that we have not been able to find the question?

(Remember having the answers to a test, but the order of the questions had been changed…?)

“What was the question?”

Climate

The climate is speaking to us. The Earths’ global surface temperature in 2019 was the second warmest to be documented since 1880, with the beginning of modern registration and archiving systems. The past 5 years have been the warmest within the last 140 years. (NOAA, NASA)

Global Climate Risk Index (Germanwatch) rates Puerto Rico as one of the three most affected countries in the planet since 1999 (along with Mianmar and Haiti). Of the ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes historically recorded, six have occurred within the past 20 years. In these past two decades: 495,000 have died in 12,000 extreme climatic events, with 3.5 trillion dollars in economic losses due to natural disasters. Interestingly, it was heat waves -not hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis- that caused major damage.

The weather is not only hot or cold, rainy or dry -or hurricanes. Climate changes our every way to exist — of enjoyment, work, collaboration, progress. Today we live with increased uncertainty, more epidemics and plagues, and greater difficulty in growing food. The impact of these events does not come and go; it stays with us and gives way to a major chain reaction – creating paths yet unknown.

The place where we were born (not that many years ago) is a place that no longer exists.

33×33

The consequences that the economic system hid form us, are a price we must now pay. Today, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering released carbon is a global responsibility. In Puerto Rico, even though we are at the vanguard of the climate crisis’ suffering, it is very little what we are doing in order to face it. 

It is in precisely these moments, working on all our reconstruction projects, that a great opportunity to achieve major changes presents itself. It is not too difficult to imagine a future — not too far from now — where we generate all our energy in a clean and cost-effective manner. A study lead by professors of the University of Mayagüez campus calculated that by installing solar panels on 65% of residential rooftops, all energy consumed annually by Puerto Rico could be produced (O’Neil, Figueroa, Irrizarry, 2013). By merely defeating resistance to change, ceasing to subsidize dirty energy, quantifying all benefits of clean energy properly and incentivizing renewable energy, we can achieve this goal in a few decades.

There are diverse strategies in regard to carbon sequestration, but the most effective and economic one has already been invented: trees. One trillion trees can reduce up to 25% of carbon in the atmosphere, or 200 gigatons of carbon (Science Magazine). This represents all the carbon that human beings have produced within the last decade.

Para la Naturaleza has established the goal of protecting 33% of our islands by 2033. In order to do so we need to draw a new map of Puerto Rico, adding 374,000 new acres in protected land, 17% of the islands. Within the last 50 years, the 35,000 acres in land that Para la Naturaleza has protected have captured over 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), equivalent to the annual consumption of nine million homes, or nine times the amount of homes we have today. With every 100,000 trees planted, we capture over 2,500 additional anual metric tons of CO2 by the time they reach maturity.

When we accomplish to protect and allow for one-third of our islands to be forests, the annual capture of CO2 would be over that of 50 million metric tons; just what we need to capture all the carbon emitted annually. Meaning, with the protection of 33% of ecosystems, Puerto Rico would be a neutral country in terms of carbon emission and capture.

Human change

In fact, the problem is not climate change. This is but a symptom of the problem. We are the cause of our own worst disaster. “Natural events cannot be avoided, but disasters can,” stated again and again by Doctor José Molinelli.

We are all aware of how many lives have been saved and how many more can be saved — if our energy system were solar, if we collected and filtered water within our structures, if we grew food on our farms, if our schools were safe spaces and refuge, if a Land Use Plan had existed, and of course, if help were received without falling in political entrapments.  

The real disaster is to continue doing the same.

The real problem is not climate change — but human change.

Decolonize

This change requires a very complex introspection that we must undertake as a specie. (And we will not resolve it here today.) Evolution granted us very competitive advantages never before seen on the planet, with which we control and consume according to our ambitions. We colonized plants and animals, forests and minerals, continents and oceans; then we colonized other human beings and ourselves.

This process, violent in itself, has an intrinsic variable that makes it work – dependence. Dependence, contrary to interdependence, impacts a natural balance that has been the base of collaboration on this planet (home). The formula of who wants to control and of who wants to be controlled, does not help either one or the another.

When we colonize we do not value, and what we do not value we do not protect; we don’t even respect it. Our attitude toward nature contaminates other forms of existence. If we begin decolonizing nature, a process of relearning new ways to exist will begin.

It still sounds odd to speak of rights of beings other than human, but this is how we thought of so many other beings we oppressed in the past and now know not how we could have done so. It is time to begin the dialogue and recognize the inherent rights of other beings: of rivers and forests, of the ocean and atmosphere; and give way to another chapter in human evolution.

Ethics parts from recognizing the right to be different, not inferior nor superior; it parts from recognizing that a tree is no less intelligent for being unable to speak; that an autistic child that does not socialize is equally important to society; that a community in bad conditions is not a slum waiting to be demolished -but a group of people in search of recognition.

It is not a matter of abandoning our desire and need for progress, but it is a matter of making decisions: what we invent, what we purchase, what we eat, where we live, how we build, how we energize, how we transport; are all decisions that can change the direction in which we are headed. Every time one of us makes an ecologically responsible decision, there is an impact. Every time another person joins, this impact multiplies. To know what decisions are in our hands and that it is our turn to make them- is the first step in the process toward an ecological culture.

Future

“The future of the future is the present,” constantly stated by Dr. Francisco Javier Blanco, the first President of the Conservation Trust. It is a fact -the future does not exist; it is a product of our imagination, pure speculation.

Even though the future does not exist, it is a very intelligent and very useful lie. That imaginary future is crucial to drawing our life cartography. As Magellan circumnavigated the globe with an imaginary map we navigate our lives on a daily basis, today with much turbulence, following our own imagination.

Today is the future of what we dreamed yesterday.

Today, we make decisions and take actions of a future we imagine for tomorrow.

Today, I invite you to take a look at that utopic map that you have in your minds, place it over the earth and let us re-draw it together.

Cartography

This map is the result of an exercise we do with our summer immersion workshop participants every year. I imagine a map:

In conclusion, I imagine a map full of humans and nature with spaces full of light and shadow, of innovation and prosperity, of peace and humility.

Closing

In Para la Naturaleza I have learned to unlearn. (Thank you all for teaching me) All of you who are a part of Para la Naturaleza, along with the volunteers, consultants, donors, entrepreneurs and public workers that have supported and support us constantly- you have been part of 5 decades of challenges and achievements.

I do not want to imagine where we would be today if it were not for all of you, and your hard work during these past 5 decades. Thank you!

Protecting nature is only the beginning of a major social and economic transformation for our islands.

What began five decades ago as a project to protect natural areas from human destruction, today becomes a mission to protect those very beings from the effects of their own decisions.

We have experienced major transformations with young people and families, with historians and anthropologists, with ecologists and citizen scientists, with farmers and gastronomists. Nonetheless, we still have a job to finish in order for us to accomplish a shared ecological culture

These next 5 decades call for a new path that we do not yet know, but we can imagine it with complete communities as sources of change with the capability of showing us a different path.

“The great challenges of humanity have been to eliminate hunger, disease and wars,” as stated by Yuval Noah Harari in his second book, Homo Deus.  These high aspirations can only be achieved with nature.

Time is shortened, the messages we receive are increasingly resounding. The recent earthquakes remind us once again of the fragility of what we have built. It is up to us to make decisions.

Nature is the answer; the question is who are we?

Nature is the answer; the question is who are we?

Thank you.