A choice between truth and violence
Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán*
The planet is changing dramatically in a way that is “not natural”; it is no longer the same it was a few decades ago and its capacity to foster and protect ourselves has changed too. Scientists affirm that human intervention has prompted global changes -and in our ability to live securely- on such a significant scale that they surpass any natural disaster caused by nature’s own forces. A study by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in 2004 said: “Human activity now equals or surpasses nature in several biogeochemical cycles. The spatial reach of the impacts is global, either through the flows of the Earth’s cycles or the cumulative changes in its states. The speed of these changes is on the order of decades to centuries, not the centuries to millennia pace of comparable change in the natural dynamics of the Earth System.”().
Global changes, symptoms of devastation
When we talk about “human intervention”, it could implie that we all impact on the planet in the same way. However, this is almost a neomalthusian position, which frames the cause of the crisis as one of population growth, forgetting to mention the structural causes such as the model of production and consumption, and the ways in which resources are unequally and unjustly distributed, and where elites in both North and South without doubt are causing the main devastation to our planet.
It ignores as well the existence of thousands of cultures, peoples, and practices in the world that are opposed to this vision of pillage, who maintain sustainable practices that respect biological and ecological diversity, and who have an unappreciated potential to restore the necessary balance between humankind and nature on our planet.
The last sixty years have been, not just based on scientific but imperical data, the “most rapid transformation of human relations with the natural world in the history of humanity.” Climate change is one of the most emblematic crises, because it involves all the structural reasons that have led our planet and humanity to thanatic (deadly) times.
The shocking dimension is that there are sceptics who more or less accuse the scientists of being “terrorists” for warning the international community of the crisis. It is not a coincidence that the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement in the United States has promoted not only cutting funding to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), but has also called for investigations into scientists who have promoted the idea that humanity “is in danger”.
Obscurantism is also part of these times of global changes and rebel us in reaffirming the urgent need for transformation.
The global crisis is multidimensional and has a direct relationship with our economic model, systems of production, inequalities in human relationships and particularly with our systems of energy which rarely respond to human needs, because they were designed and created by a logic of the market and over-consumption. The use of fossil fuels, of coal, or the supposed alternative energies like agrofuels and nuclear power have become “black holes” in which humanity could easily become entrapped.
This crisis is a fruit of capitalism as well as ‘developmentalism,’ that was adopted by socialist as well as capitalist societies in the last century. However it has its roots in European colonialism dating back five centuries, whose thinking justified territorial occupation, exploitation of nature and the systematic appropriation of peoples’ wisdom, subverted to serve a dehumanizing and all-consuming model of living.
These systems are not just structural, economic and based on production, but are also found in the subjectivity and the values embedded in culture; they are systems of domination swith strong cultural roots. That is probably why we hear so little of “the voices of nature” nor even their warnings we receive from our own bodies. The system which we call “human nature” has itself mutated into “something alien” in our collective memory. There are hundreds, even thousands of actions that make up the betrayal to the planet: they all affect us, move us, touch us to the very core, even make us cry. Yet we forget, we move them to the terrain of collective forgetting, and learn to live with violence, injustice, death and devastation.
How can we change a dominant paradigm that not only supports overconsumption and greed in order to live better at the cost of others, but also is based on a growing cultural tolerance of this devastation?
The Fukushima syndrome: a metaphor for our times
The tragedy of Japan included the loss of thousands of human lives, the disappearance of almost an entire city due to the earthquake and tsunami, and the impact on the nuclear plant of Fukushima whose explosions had terrible consequences. It has led to the end of energy provision for more than six mllion people, and the imminent but hidden danger of grave effects by radioactive contamination on the population’s health. The attempts by the company TEPCO to maintain its image of efficiency and control over the situation in order to continue selling and exporting nuclear energy to “less developed” countries, was demolished by the tragedy that the Japanese people experienced due to the constant disinformation and contradictory public health messages. The most dramatic example of this could be seen in the experience of the workers, who sacrificed themselves to the absurd task of “controlling” the overflow and ended up offering their lives.
Fukushima is one of those events that has shaken us for many reasons:
- First because it has questioned the whole principle that sustains neoliberal and developmental capitalism: “That everything can be fixed by money, science and technology”, and everything can be brought “under control”. Fukushima has shown in a dramatic way that neither technology, nor the small investment of money (because the drive to save money always dominates over investment), nor the heroic efforts of technicians and workers have been enough to prevent a tragedy.
- Second, Fukusihma has confirmed the innumerable warnings that Japanese activists and the whole world have alerted us to in their struggle against nuclear power plants and energy for more than 30 years. They were right to denounce the big corporations and developed countries, that promote nuclear energy as a clean alternative and sustainable technology, and who have promoted the export and dependence on these energy sources. It also reminds us of dozens of severe nuclear accidents, such as those on Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Greenpeace warns that the release of Caesium-137 in Fukushima could affect the food chain for more than 30 years. It is ever more clear that these are false solutions that will only increasethe danger for humanity on a planet where vulnerability has increased hundred-fold at a time of global change.
- Third, it has put on the table again – and with much sadness – the issue of energy in a wider context, looking at what must be done to secure access and demand for energy. In other words, how to change energy models to systems that are much more sustainable and less damaging to nature and humanity. This must include reference to demands from the South – that up to now have been expressed timidly and on a more ideological or rhetorical level – that call for “living well” and for caring for “Mother Earth”. These calls suggest that our systems of production and consumptions should be based on the principles of equilibrium with nature, on reciprocity and a more democratic and sustainable redistribution of goods between human beings.
- Fourth, Fukushima has revealed a pattern that is typical of neoliberal domination – or one could say of any economic power – which is to hide the truth, to massage the facts, and to sell products that can be consumed easily with our eyes closed. This is perhaps one of the most important issues, because it is related precisely to the strength of the neoliberal system: which has built itself on the subjectivity and culture of daily life.
The Japanese people have been subject to a whole range of contradictory, out of date, and false information. One has the impression that they have been caught in a tangle of truths and lies like two intertwined textures. This ends up looking just like nuclear contamination, which works in a similar way. Experts say that in the nucleus of the reactor there are more than 50 radioactive contaminants produced as a result of uranium fusion (some have a short life, but some an extremely long one of hundreds of years). These can build up in the human body because their structure is very similar to our biological constitution. For our body, strontium for example is “like” iodine and calcium that is assimilated into our body even though it is profoundly harmful. The body assimilates them, “believing” them to be part of us.
This example synthesizes the way we “believe” what we are sold as development and wellbeing; and the way we become accustomed to living without looking at what lies behind, its origins, the mechanisms, the injustices and harm that is committed in the name of development.
Just like the Fukushima tragedy, the corporations, major powers and the powerful, know what they are causing – not just as a result of nuclear energy, but also through emissions of greenhouse gases, production of agrofuels, the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals. They know what they cause when they promote so-called “free trade” or the “green economy” with its alteration of life based on genetically modified organisms. They know the harm they cause in the global South and its peoples. They know the facts and the consequences of their actions but they don’t tell the truth to the people.
In this sense, the Fukushima tragedy is a real metaphor for the climate and environmental crisis. All of humanity is living a kind of Fukushima syndrome, which reveals how far we have gone in forgetting the value of life. The powerful know what is happening, but prefer to look after their business and alliances that maintain their power; they know of the dangers but condemn their workers to death; they know that death threatens us but they dress up reality and merely regulate the means of control. They do not respect the right to life.
Following once again the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, who said that the most important struggle was between truth and no violence, the choices put forward by contemporary society put violence up against truth. To these principles of searching for Truth and Non Violence, we should also add the need to recuperate and maintain Memory as a critical base for confronting the dangers of a system that overwhelms us and in order to build our future.
Trust in capital, technology, power over nature and over the “weakest” are not the keys to continue living on this planet. Memory – and therefore the struggle against impunity – along with Truth and Non Violence are signs of a battle for a transition towards a restorative society; one that is struggling into being and whose protagonists have had enough of being victims of power, lies and shame.
These principles must be indispensable bases for our day-to-day transformation because they say that despite the pain, despite the death sown by greed, despite the desperate attempts to sell us everything (including the truth); it is possible for hope to break forth like a green blade of grass through the rubble.
Translated by: Nick Buxton
- Elizabeth Peredo Bolivian Social Scientist, writer and activist on water, culture and against racism. Member of the Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy (REMTE), member of the Board of Food and Water Watch based in Washington (US), promotes and coordinates the National Campaign for Blue October in Bolivia. Currently the Executive Director of Solon Foundation.
 El Cambio Global y el Sistema de la Tierra (Un Planeta bajo Presión) (IGBP, 2004)