Ricardo Natalichio, director of EcoPortal: "The number of people who survive will depend on the decisions we make now"

Ricardo Natalichio, director of EcoPortal:

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By Álvaro Peinado Rojo

Nine years have passed since the creation of Ecoportal, what is your assessment of this period?

When we started with Ecoportal in early 2000, the truth is that we did not have many more ambitions than to collaborate a little, from our place, contributing our grain of sand to raising awareness on environmental issues. However, the project grew very quickly, much more than we expected and it was the visitors themselves who were pushing us to dedicate more and more time to it, to add content and services and, by the time we realized what was happening , we had a portal that was becoming a benchmark in the field. The contents that we published were used by teachers, taken by other communication media and we were recommended by other organizations, by specialized magazines and even by Ministries of the Environment. It was all very dizzying and it took us some time to get used to and adapt, but I think we have managed to do it and we are contributing much more than we expected.

Social movements have been denouncing for a long time that the system fails and now it seems that with the economic crisis the theses are endorsed from more sectors, are we facing a moment of opportunities for change?

The capitalist system is colliding with its own folly. What has really failed him is having considered certain variables as infinite when in reality they were not, far from it. Everything in this world has a limit and that is something that the very way in which capitalism is conceived makes it impossible to handle. If you ask the CEO of any company how much he would like his company to earn, he would not know what to answer you, because they only want to earn more and more and more, infinitely more if that were possible. Then, when the limits appeared, the system began to collapse. He entered the "to be or not to be", to grow at the cost of destroying the planet or stopping the machinery of "progress". I think the opportunities have not yet arrived, but they are getting closer. We must first realize that we cannot continue living as we have been doing. Once we have understood that, endless opportunities will appear that now seem impossible, unrealizable or even irrational.

Is sustainable development possible or should we begin to consider putting a stop to it, as the degrowth thesis suggests?

I believe that a sustainable development raised under the same parameters as the current unsustainable development is not possible. In other words, we cannot pretend to continue with the same lifestyle, the same levels of consumption, the same energy expenditure, but without further deteriorating the environment. For there to be truly sustainable development, we must first reduce consumption a lot, a lot, redistribute wealth, redistribute arable land, redistribute population by reducing megacities, and many other things like that. Only then could we think of being environmentally sustainable.

What main environmental challenges does Latin America face?

Latin America is currently at a great crossroads. There are already several countries that have joined the winds of change that run from right to left on the continent. But these new governments find so many urgencies in the social area that in the early days they dedicate most of their resources to cleaning it up and they do very little in environmental matters. Poverty, hunger, neglect of health and education are the logical priority, so the environment continues to suffer. I believe that the great challenge is to unite to reject the attacks of the transnational companies that intend to continue looting the environmental resources that still enrich the continent. And, of course, to achieve development without resorting to self-looting, that is, without it being at the cost of the destruction of its natural resources.

Are there then positive consequences of the emerging socio-political changes on the Latin American horizon?

Of course. But we are still at the stage where the changes are mostly seen in the social sphere. In any case, we trust that soon the time will come to also take care of natural resources.

The management of water resources appears as one of the great challenges of the immediate future. Contamination and privatization of aquifers, large numbers of the population without access to drinking water,… What measures do we need to take in order to face this problem?

Latin America has the largest remaining drinking water reserves in the world. However, it shows one of the world's highest per capita consumption indices, essentially due to agricultural-forestry and mining use. For many Latin American governments, everything is for sale, even the most basic natural resources, such as air and water. The World Bank "recommends" to developing countries, privatization through concessions to foreign companies of existing reserves, in order to take possession of this resource that will soon be as valuable as gold or oil. The control of water resources must be, without a doubt, in the hands of the State. If a people is not sovereign over its water and its air it has nothing. Controlling these resources, recovering them in some cases, is the first and fundamental step.

Returning to the title of that editorial in the journal Ambiente y Sociedad regarding climate change, are we or are we not on time?

According to a study by the NGO Save the Children, disasters resulting from climate change, ranging from droughts to torrential rains, will cause 50 million environmentally displaced people worldwide in 2010, most of them women and children. This will happen whatever we do between now and then. For them we are no longer on time. But the human being has known how to cover every space on the planet, has been able to adapt to all climates and is likely to survive any change in the climate that the future brings us. The point is that we are clear that the decisions we make now will depend on the number of people who survive and the weather conditions in which they must exist. Will we think individually, trying to enjoy our lives as much as we can, or will we learn to think as a species, sacrificing part of our well-being for that of our children, grandchildren, or those who succeed them?

GMOs will solve the problem of hunger in the world, biofuels will end climate change and the invisible hand of the market efficiently allocates resources, what does it take for us to stop believing in the wise men?

It is very simple, it would only be necessary for God to say so (that is, television), so that we can have a good breakfast of all the lies they tell us. The problem is that the new God was bought by the multinationals and he says what they want him to say. So this has already become a matter of religion and there things become a little more complicated. The truth is that it is hard to realize that we cannot believe in anything they tell us, many prefer not to see reality, eyes that do not see, hearts that do not feel ... and there they go, they continue with their lives as if nothing happened . They don't want to see reality and the truth is that it is very understandable, reality has become quite ugly over the years. I believe that our generations can no longer be fixed, that is to say, that there are conceptual and underlying things that we carry in our genes that we will not be able to change. But we can point to the future generations being different, to that and to having a more or less habitable environment. We hope to achieve it.

Do you consider the so-called Corporate Social Responsibility an opportunity to incorporate changes in the behavior of corporations in social and environmental matters or a mere marketing strategy that we social movements should oppose?

I think that in environmental matters, everything you add should be welcome. We just have to be careful not to swallow us that because we are a little less polluting we owe them eternal love. They're just being a little less bad, or at least that's what they're trying to show us in some cases and what they're actually doing in others. But as long as we continue to rule ourselves under the capitalist system, the objective of the companies will be to expand and earn more and more money, that does not change with Corporate Social Responsibility or anything like it.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?


Álvaro Red Hairstyle He is a technician in the Coordinator of NGDOs of Castilla la Mancha. This article has been published in issue 39 of Pueblos magazine, September 2009.

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