The displacement of environmental responsibilities

By Andrés Núñez Leites

The campaigns that only point out, either by coercion or education, to modify the behavior of consumers, are strictly anti-ecologist, because they alienate us from the collective political dimension of environmentalism and obscure the enormous responsibility of governments and companies in terms of contamination.

Coincidentally, teachers of the formal education system and educators of NGOs, journalists in the media, environmental authority officials and marketing designers for companies, we all seem to be coalescing in the promotion of bad environmental education, consciously or unconsciously deposit blame and responsibilities in the individual consumer, sometimes with the demobilizing excuse to find in their patterns of consumption "something that can be changed from everyday life." The result in common sense is bleak.

In 2008, a survey by Equipos Mori revealed that almost 60% of Uruguayans blamed individual consumers for environmental problems, and only 25% pointed to the government and companies. It was the time of the installation of BOTNIA (now UPM). Public opinion was already prepared... The messages of the political system were significant. Mujica, the great confounder, he said, to ridicule those who opposed the installation of the largest pulp mill in the world, that the alternative would be to stop using paper and that no one would be willing to do it. Note the displacement of his responsibility as ruler (senator of the government party) towards the citizens, and the management of their guilt. The senator's incomplete reasoning omitted that cellulose was for Europe, and that the environmental cost was paid here.

In these weeks the Uruguayan government decided, rightly, to try to solve the problem of non-biodegradable plastic sachets, which, in addition to remaining polluting the environment for decades after a single use, obstruct the drains and contribute to the floods of Montevideo and other cities. But the same government decides to give away billions of dollars in infrastructure works to a Finnish company so that it can settle in the Rio Negro, in a free zone, free of taxes, and set up the largest pulp mill in the world, minimizing the public perception of inevitable environmental damages. The same government that authorizes the mass sale of glyphosate and atrazine, for forestry and soybean production. The same government that allows the massive use of fertilizers that go on to nourish the cyanobacteria.

Returning to the 2008 survey, there was also said that most citizens were willing to give up some everyday comforts to care for the environment. One of the keys to progress collectively in consciousness and actions that harmonize human society with the nature to which it belongs, is to promote public discourses that, without renouncing our individual responsibility as consumers, adequately weigh the responsibility of governments and companies. Otherwise, we will continue marching to their rhythm, the rhythm of the destruction of life.