Tuesday, June 14, 2011

388. Pachamama and Deep Ecology


By Saral Sarkar, May 2011 (translation from German is by the Author.)

I have discussed recent political developments in Bolivia in two of my
earlier blog-texts. This country is currently not only interesting for
leftists – i.e. not only because of the efforts of its leadership to build
up there a "socialism of the 21st century" – but also for environmentalists,
because its (in its majority) Indian leadership apparently has a very
unusual understanding of environmentalism.

Evo Morales and his comrades have revived the old Pachamama cult of the
highland Indians and raised it to the status of a political matter. In 
Bolivia, for some time now, there is a "Law of the Mother Earth". For the
Aymaras and the Quechuas Mother Earth is a goddess, called Pachamama, from
 whom all life comes. In the said law, which is also a part of the
constitution, humans and nature are given equal status and equal rights.
 According to Morales "the rights of Mother Earth are even more important
than human rights." (quoted in: Peter Burghardt, Süddeutsche Zeitung,
27.04.2011).  This law and these words of Morales are, for the moment, perhaps
only of symbolic value. They symbolize the intention of his party "Movement
 for Socialism", to blaze the trail for an ecological socialism.

Also other people and parties had – much earlier than Morales and his
comrades – ostensibly taken up the cause of ecological socialism (or
eco-socialism). I remember in this context a big conference on the subject
environment and labour, which was organized by diverse left, green and
environmental groups. It was held in 1982 in Bielefeld (Germany). I also
remember a congress of the German Social-democratic Party held in the 1980s
and quite a few books on the subject published in Germany. But the
combination was not meant seriously. What all that meant was onlya little
more environmental protection in the given framework of a highly developed
industrial economy, or growth was to be sustainable growth, For proper
leftists, this industrial society and this kind of growth was to get a
socialist political-economic character. In order to make the idea tempting
to politicians and people threatened with unemployment, it was always
claimed that environmental protection would create hundreds of thousands of
new jobs. That was all. There was no question of equal status of humans and
nature, no question of equal rights for both. 

But if the Bolivian leadership really means what Morales has said in the
sentence quoted above, if it seriously takes the task it has given itself,
namely, to protect nature against the onslaught of civilization, then it
ought to press for the withdrawal of humanity from large tracts of the
earth, which is now almost fully occupied by it. Then it ought to demand
that such vacated tracts are allowed to again become wilderness. It ought to
demand that large parts of the forests, savannahs, rivers and swamps are not
changed anymore. And, above all, it ought to tell humanity that it must
reduce its own numbers and immediately stop all kinds of economic growth. It
ought to say openly to humanity's face that the earth is not there only for
humans, that also the other species – plants, animals, and even insects –
are children of Pachamama, and that each of them have a right to sufficient

Actually, this last thought is included in the twin goals of protecting
species and maintaining the biodiversity of the earth. But I think I do not
need to tell my readers how bad at present the situation in these two
respects is. To blame for this situation are, generally speaking, the
growing population of our own species and our growing economies. These two
facts make it necessary that we humans conquer ever greater parts of the
earth's surface. Of course, this process is going on since the Neolithic
period. But it sharply accelerated since the beginning of the Industrial
 Revolution. Already in the 1960s, a nature lover produced a film to which he
gave the title "No Room For Wild Animals". 

But particularly the leftists – at least the great majority of them, who, as
we know, strongly sympathize with the present leadership of Bolivia – do not
want to hear all that. They have only replaced the term "economic growth"
with tactically clever and well-sounding terms: sustainable growth,
qualitative growth, selective growth, green New Deal etc. And those who
consider the number of humans on earth to be too high are summarily abused
by them as rightists. Some three months ago, I had a conversation on this
 subject with an old leftist friend. He asserted that the world population of
 humans would peak in 2050 at 9 billions and he thought this number of humans 
can be fed and otherwise provided for without any problem. I could not put
the question how much habitat-space would then still be left for the other
species. The friend had to go immediately. No time for a politically
incorrect question.

Actually, it is not the Bolivian leadership that first thought of the rights
of nature and nonhuman life. In the 1980s, on the basis of decades-long
nature conservation movements in Europe and the USA, thinkers like Arne
Naess, Bill Devall and George Sessions formulated a philosophical position
that they called Deep Ecology. The first and the most important of the eight
basic principles of their Deep Ecology Platform reads: "The well-being and
flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves
(synonymous: intrinsic value, inherent value).These values are independent
of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes." 

Deep Ecologists differentiate between their position and that of the great
majority of environmentalists, who say: humans need environmental
protection, which is also economically useful, for thereby not only economic
damages are prevented but also many jobs can be created in the environmental
protection industry. They call this position shallow ecology.

Morales and his comrades probably had not heard of Deep Ecology before they
formulated their conception of the rights of Mother Earth. This
 eco-philosophy is relatively unknown even in the intellectual circles of
 Germany. It is a great credit to the Bolivians that they, with their
combination of deep ecology and socialism (their version of eco-socialism),
have enabled many people to think of eco-socialism as the alternative to
capitalism, the enemy of nature. I wish them much success, also in praxis,
and much courage to remain steadfast in the face of resistance.

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