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The Empty Speech of Sustainability

The Empty Speech of Sustainability


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By A. Karambolis

What is sustainable is the simple, the austere and is opposed to the unbridled consumption, the world of fashion, the world of advertising that seeks to make us feel ugly and fat, to then be able to sell us cosmetic products that make us as attractive and seductive as the same advertising says we have to be.

Between radical capitalism and a myopic left

According to the dictionary, the word or phrase that is frequently repeated mechanically and usually unnecessarily is known as a "catchphrase".

The Western political landscape incorporates many fillers that are like the chorus of a song. They are the phrases that anyone can chant without knowing who is speaking.

Many of these litanies correspond to ideas that are not trivial at all, but by repeating them they lose their relevance and meaning. Thus, for example, democracy or justice are the protagonists of innumerable fillers incorporated into the discourse of the globality of the political spectrum that, let's be honest, between its left and right band is not that it has a very wide range.


Of all the empty phrases, there is one that bothers me especially and on which I would like to reflect in these lines.

There is no group or party that does not declare in manifestos, programs or events that all the decisions, strategies and intentions of its political option are aimed at achieving "an environmentally sustainable planet"

I wonder if any of these political options know what it is like, an environmentally sustainable planet. I answer myself that those who bet on capitalism as a socioeconomic model have a perfect sense of it and that is why they try to distort the idea however it may be. I am very much afraid that other political projects, those of the transforming left, precisely the most necessary to move towards a sustainable planet, lack a deep reflection on sustainability and its implications.

Sustainability is the set of "things" that allow life to be maintained, now and in the future, for all living beings. On an environmentally sustainable planet, goods cannot be uprooted from the earth beyond the capacity that the earth itself has to regenerate them, nor can waste be generated above the planet's capacity to act as a sink. From the prism of sustainability, the consideration of the limits of the planet is central, simply because the Earth is a ball suspended in space with a limited number of kilos of materials that are not regenerated with the magic wand of technology.

How do the limits of the planet fit with neoliberalism?

Well, very badly, they are directly incompatible and not because no one belligerent with neoliberalism says so, but because the capitalist system is based on unlimited growth. It is based on growing consumption, on throwaway culture, on the creation of artificial needs and on their satisfaction through the products that advertising determines are suitable for doing so.

The actual needs are limited. You can eat three times a day, but if you eat twelve you get constipated or have diarrhea. Human needs for affection, security, protection, environmental conditions that allow living, being able to decide on one's life, being free, being able to participate, cannot be satisfied by the market. But the money magicians, with the trick of advertising and the media they possess, convince us that freedom is in having a car, that affection is achieved with a certain deodorant, that safety is in a pension plan, that protection comes to us from the armies, the war industry or the private vigilante companies. It instills in us that clean air is given to you when you buy a semi-detached house in the mountains and that participation consists of choosing between two or three options every four years that present the same product with different packaging. What is priceless becomes pure merchandise. That easy.

Sustainability is in the near, in the near, in the self-sufficiency of the communities and in the equitable exchanges between them, in the non-dependence on the designs of the transnational companies that, to ensure their own survival, go over the limits possible on the planet and act as if natural assets were unlimited.

Sustainable is food sovereignty, that is, that each community produces the food it needs. This idea is contrary to monocultures, to the predation of the large transnational "agrobussines" companies and to the tariff policies of international economic institutions. Therefore, in addition to denouncing it, the revolutionary thing is to fight for independence in food production, to fight against the imposition of transgenic seeds that subject the peasants and mortgage their future to the interests of the industrial empires. The fight against the consumption of these products in Western societies is subversive and necessary, because if the multinationals force the peasants of the South to grow transgenics, it is because they have a market, that of Western countries, that consumes them.

Sustainable are short trips and collective transport. But that also collides head-on, among other things, with the promotion of an industrial and energy model based on oil. The large oil monopolies cause disarticulation, misery and war in societies that depend on the extraction of a fossil mineral that is running out and cannot be renewed. The ecological destruction of the environment of these societies makes it difficult for them to be independent again from the groups that traffic in black gold. For this reason, what is revolutionary and radical, in addition to denouncing, is supporting and committing to other models of urban planning and alternative transport.

Sustainable is to stop the progressive cementation of the territory, because the growing and alarming elimination of natural soil destroys biodiversity, which is what allows life to regenerate and that natural cycles remain balanced, something essential for man and the rest living beings can do little things like breathe, feed, reproduce or warm up. The simple preservation of life is also threatened by the interests of the construction mega-empire, by the large infrastructures necessary to transport huge amounts of materials or to be able to irrigate golf courses in desert lands.


What is sustainable is the simple, the austere and is opposed to the unbridled consumption, the world of fashion, the world of advertising that seeks to make us feel ugly and fat, to then be able to sell us cosmetic products that make us as attractive and seductive as the same advertising says we have to be. It goes without saying that austerity, or simplicity in consumption is the bug of the neoliberal market economy, and therefore the promotion and practice of non-monetarized or less monetarized alternatives, such as consumer cooperatives, barter, reuse or the reduction in the purchase of products, are radical options and with the possibility of influencing social transformation.

The mercantile dictatorship of the current Western model puts a price on air, water, land, and all living beings, including people, but forgets to measure how much the services that the cycles of life provide for free cost and that they are essential. How much is it worth for plants to regenerate the air we breathe from photosynthesis? How much would it be worth "photosynthesizing by hand" if deforestation levels reached critical limits? How much is it worth if it rains and can the water balance be maintained? How much does it cost to make drinking water? How much is the sun's UVA filter worth that prevents us from burning?

Neoliberalism solves problems with the short-term vision of those who only seek to enrich themselves immediately at all costs and with a terrifying lack of social ethics. This is how the dirtiest industries are sent to the poorest countries, the most dangerous waste is displaced and the goods that belong to everyone are seized, stealing them from the women and men of the present and those of the future. Water is bottled and sold, people are manufactured and sold, meat is sold in rich countries above reasonable levels for health, although to feed a cow you need an area of ​​cultivated land, it could feed twenty families in other countries where there is a food crisis. It is sold, it is sold, it is sold ...

When we buy a product that travels to our market from the other hemisphere, we would have to add to the sale price to the public, what the misery created by monocultures costs, we would have to add the disease caused by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, we would have to add the slave labor in delocalized companies, we would have to add the deaths from the oil wars necessary to move goods from one place to another and we would have to add the hopelessness that awaits future generations. In this way, those who only see things if they are translated into the only unit of measurement they know, money, may check when paying for the steak, coffee, exotic fruit or fashion garment, how expensive it is. to the whole of Humanity and to the planet its consumer blindness.

It is simply impossible for a system based on the paradigms of Western capitalism to be sustainable, in the same way that it cannot be fair or free, for this reason, when the politicians of the social democracy incorporate into their speeches the tagline of "achieving an environmentally sustainable planet "They directly make fun of men and women, they try to engulf the radical and viable alternative to their own model in order to decaffeinate it, thus making it impossible.

Even with all this, more painful for me is the use of the sustainability catchphrase in political organizations that want to constitute the transforming left. From the sincere commitment to another more just model, they fall into the same short-termism of the system. Unfortunately, they look with the same eyes of capital. They consider progress and development in the same way, naively thinking that by distributing the benefits more fairly, they can turn the tables. That is the biggest success the market has ever achieved. The propaganda of the capitalist machinery has succeeded in making the left internalize one of the basic postulates of its religion. The one who considers the planet a great store of resources that are not depleted and techno-scientific advances the neutral instrument that makes them available to people.

This blindfold that the mercantilist society has managed to place on the eyes of a good part of the transforming left, prevents us from analyzing why on many occasions when governments and mayors were obtained, it ended up falling into the usual, if perhaps with some social criteria more progressive, but not enough to create a different and lasting reality. This bandage prevents imagining alternatives and leads inexorably to seek solutions and changes that are based on a technology and a vision of development that, although presented as neutral, is carefully designed by the very essence of capital and the market.

This transforming left of the western world considers sustainability as part of the collection of satellite demands that any person on the left carries on their back. They suffer from a sad and dangerous myopia that does not allow them to see that the social movements that they currently most admire and support have as a common link: having framed their struggle and their work in sustainability.

The women of India, whom we know through Vandana Shiva, the Landless Movement of Brazil, the Bolivian indigenists, the Zapatistas, the Senegalese women of the mangroves, the movements against the dictatorship of logos and brands, etc., have their essence and the centrality of its action in sustainability. Their fundamental aspect is the search for self-sufficiency in the next, in the clean, in the sustainable.

The Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, which in its initial moment did not seem like a "conventional" revolutionary process, has gradually become radicalized, as it cannot be otherwise when the population participates, begins to try not to depend on global markets and self-organizes with sustainable criteria. Neoliberalism, obviously, does perceive sustainability as dangerous for its businesses and, therefore, it reacts violently trying to nip such claims in the bud.

The Cuban left also has its problems on the road to sustainability and it is sad to see how a society that has demonstrated that it knows how to resist and with dignity reject the seduction of the market, finds itself involved in the dangerous world of the oil business, hand in hand less than Repsol YPF, instead of procuring the necessary energy from the many hours of sunshine and the strong winds that occur on the island. From my point of view, if the Cuban revolution has a sword of Damocles suspended over it, it is not the lack of commitment of its society to socialism, but rather that it has not advanced enough on the path of self-sufficiency and sustainability.

What about the western left in the meantime?

Look with a certain nostalgia and solidarity at what Cubans, Venezuelans or Hindus do, admiring the dignity of their struggle without having the lucidity to look face to face with the beast that in their own homes, in their cars, in their jobs, in their kitchens. , in their purchases, they prop up the system. They undervalue and sometimes despise the movements and initiatives that try to clear the path of sustainability, calling them eccentric, cave-dwelling and minority, without seeing that developing these struggles in Western countries is crucial for the future of those others that are given to the thousands of miles away.

Sustainability is not just a vindication of social environmentalism. Sustainability is the alternative to neoliberalism, the only possible one, since even if we tried to distribute the benefits of a productive system based on the extraction of resources fairly, we would continue to run into the problem that the planet cannot bear the burden of so many millions of dollars. human beings consuming and generating waste at an unsustainable rate, and that, without thinking about the rest of the living world. Models that calculate the ecological footprint say that if all human beings lived like an average Western citizen, it would take three planets. So with this production model it is impossible that there is for everyone. It is necessary to stop growth in rich countries, but also, it is not possible for the poorest countries to grow following the steps of what the West did, it is not only an ethical question, it is not possible. Western society has already depreciated a good part of the "natural capital" of the future, so the search for sustainable alternatives is urgent.

Sustainability is a path that must be discovered in each context, a complicated path in which much of what has been done must be retraced, in which the paradigms of science must be changed, in which it is necessary to review what progress is or what is development. A trip that, because it has not traveled before, does not have maps, does not have recipes.

Sustainability is not an ideology, it is not an object of consumption, it is not a cliché, it is not a collateral struggle, it is not a catchphrase. It is the most supportive option with the present and with the future. It is the most radical, subversive and necessary option. So please, if you're not going to do anything, at least don't make it harder for us.

* Posted in Rebelion
- http://www.rebelion.org


Video: Jaime Lerner: Sing a song of sustainable cities (June 2022).


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