El Comercio Interview: Environmental Ethics, A Path

Nicolás Cuvi next to a blackberry orchard in Tambillo, a parish in the Mejía canton located one hour from Quito. From this place he continues with his academic work. Photo: Courtesy of Lorenzo Cuvi

August 3, 2020 3:26 PM
Gabriel Flores Editor (O) gflores@elcomercio.com


The presence of fishing vessels in the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Galapagos Islands once again set off the alarms in relation to the overexploitation of natural resources. In this interview, the biologist Nicolás Cuvi reflects on the consequences that could exist, in the medium and long term, if humanity maintains the same relationship with nature.


We know that natural resources are limited, however, they continue to be exploited indiscriminately, what is it that we still cannot understand?


I do not think that what is happening with nature is not being understood, but that several things are being denied. One of them is that the first findings of these natural resource limits are not new. As far as we know, there has been information on the subject for 400 years and 50 years ago that evidence began to skyrocket.


The other denial is that in the face of all this information, human beings began to generate resilient alternatives, many of them are already in practice. Finally, the third denial is that over time these sustainable practices can drive the creation of a new social contract that does not divide between society and nature.


It seemed that the pandemic was the perfect opportunity to change this relationship with nature, but in practice things have not changed, why?

It must be understood that today, socio-environmental thinking is still a counterculture. Personally, I think that the bio-centric way of living, which implies taking an ontological turn in our relationship with nature, will at some point become a culture. What the pandemic has done is show us that the old civilization models are not working, because both capitalism and communism see nature as something that is there to be preyed upon. We are seeing it today with Chinese fishing vessels, which are close to the Galapagos Islands.


Can you think of an example of this countercultural practice in the country?


One of the examples here are all the processes that exist in the northwest of Quito, with the Areas of Conservation and Sustainable Use (ACUS), where activities that combine tourism and livestock with the conservation of forests and water are being proposed.

When the pandemic arrived, we realized several things, one of them is that there are places that lack livelihoods. Let’s think about the south of Quito, which was among the most productive lands in Ecuador in terms of soil fertility. Today those same lands are occupied by people who do not have access to food. For me that is an alert that the city model we have does not seem to be the most appropriate.


What is the logic of the presence of fishing vessels in the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Galapagos Islands?


The first thing to note is that this is nothing new. Since the 90s of the last century we have information on foreign fishing fleets that were within the limits of the Galapagos Marine Reserve and sometimes within it. The logic here is that in countries like China there are more and more people who consume animals like those found in the Galapagos seas. Then, as the fishing fleets have already overexploited the seas that are closer to their country, they go in search of these animals in other parts of the world and take advantage of the fact that the seas are common goods.


Is there not a double standard on the part of the powers in the management of natural resources?


I think the relationship that countries like China and the United States have with nature is very clear. It is true that when they intervene in nature that territorially belongs to other countries, they do so with all the tools and when it comes to their territories they sometimes use stronger or more prohibitive legislation.

When the second wave of environmentalism gained momentum in the 70s, the Nimby movement appeared in the United States (Not in my back yard, ‘Not in my backyard’), which recognized the pollution generated in its country, but called for that the waste is transferred to another place. Nations with greater political, economic and military power more easily transfer or export waste from the destruction of nature, such as electronic waste, plastics or nuclear waste. It is not new but responds to a colonial logic.


In this context, who bears the burden of caring for natural resources? What is the role of governments?


What happens in our societies is that when we talk about issues of caring for nature, the biocentric turn or environmental thinking, the game of “hot potato” is activated. The state tells citizens that they are responsible and vice versa. I think that you have to act on all scales and not think that the responsibility falls on a particular social actor. Of course, each one has to realize what their responsibility is and propose transformations. This applies from the family to the state.
On the individual and family scale, what are the priorities?


There are many, but perhaps the most important is the obligation we have to reflect on how to become ecologically literate, so as not to stay in the world of post-truth or old customs that, many times, we do not question because they come from our parents or grandparents. It is important to be informed and understand the different processes that revolve around the socio-environmental. Only then can I make decisions about my practices. It is also important to realize that my decisions are not going to be the same as someone who lives in the country. If I live in a big city, you may have to wonder how I can get around differently.


What is the real value of international environmental agreements in practice?


This scale of socio-environmental governance is very important, because we are more than 7 billion people in the world and we need to reach minimum agreements. One of the most important is the Convention on Biological Diversity, which was signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The most famous today is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It is where countries try to agree on how we do so that the planet’s temperature stops rising. Obviously there are tensions, because there are countries for which emitting greenhouse gases is well within their model of life, but there are also the leaders of small islands, who remind the powers that if the sea level rises they are not going to stay without resources but will be left without a country.


During the pandemic, the flexibility of environmental legal frameworks has been proposed as an alternative to get out of the crisis. Where would that path take us?


That would certainly be a setback. As I was telling you, the pandemic is being used by old ideological systems to reinforce themselves. This excessive environmental liberalism would take us back several decades. We would return to practices in which there is no interest in the conservation of nature, or where it does not matter to generate pollution.

We must see this moment as an opportunity to strengthen productive systems that help us conserve and restore it, such as agroecology or organic production. We have to bet on an environmental ethic. The pandemic is showing us that perhaps the most important thing is not economic growth but that there is food for everyone.


This content has been originally published by Diario EL COMERCIO at the following address: https://www.elcomercio.com/tendences/etica-ambiental-galapagos-nicolas-cuvi.html

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2020

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