Friday, December 11, 2009

Matt my mate 4: From Cuba with love

An important biological species is endangered due to the rapid and progressive liquidation of its natural living conditions: the human being.

Now we become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to prevent it.

It is necessary to mention that consumerist societies are fundamentally responsible for the atrocious destruction of the environment. They were born out of ancient colonial metropolis and imperial policies that also engendered backwardness and poverty suffered by the majority of humanity. With only 20 percent of the world population, they consume two thirds of the metals and three fourths of all energy produced in the world. They have poisoned seas and rivers, have contaminated the air, have debilitated and perforated the ozone layer, have saturated the atmosphere with gases that alter climatic conditions with catastrophic effects that we have already started to perceive.

Forests disappear, deserts extend, thousands of millions of tons of fertile land is washed down to the ocean every year. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Demographic pressure and poverty lead to desperate efforts to survive even to the expense of nature. It is not possible to blame Third World countries for this, as yesterday they were colonies, and today exploited and robbed nations by an unjust economic world order.

The solution cannot be to prevent those most in need to develop. Everything that may contribute today to underdevelopment and poverty constitutes a flagrant violation of ecology. Tens of millions of men, women and children die every year in the Third World due to this, which is more than in any of the two World Wars. Unequal interchange, protectionism and foreign debt harm ecology and promote the destruction of the environment.

If we wish to save humanity from this self-destruction, we must distribute better the wealth and technologies available in the planet. Less luxury and less waste in a few countries would allow less poverty and less hunger in most of the Earth. No more transfers to the Third World of lifestyles and consumer habits that ruin our environment. Let’s make human life more rational. Let’s apply a just international economic order. Let’s use all necessary science for a sustainable development free of pollution. Let’s pay the ecologic debt and not the foreign debt. Let’s make hunger disappear, not the human species.

When the alleged threats of Communism have vanished and there is no further pretext for cold wars, arms races and military expenditure, what will impede us from dedicating immediately those resources to promote the development of the Third World and combat the threat of the planet’s ecological destruction?

Let’s cease egotism, let’s cease hegemony, let’s cease insensitivity, irresponsibility and fraud. Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a very long time ago.


(Speech pronounced by Commander Fidel Castro at the United Nations Conference about environment and development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on June 12, 1992)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Matt my mate 3: Kangaroos in the midst

Adelaide, South Australia.

Another splendorous day in Adelaide. It rained today. Then it turned sunny and warm. Then windy. Now it's fairly cold. They say it will be 36C next Wednesday. Very unstable weather. Lovely, nevertheless.

Yesterday I had the rare experience of feeding a kangaroo. Their fur is so tender. Their anatomy so peculiar. Their reproductive cycle so mysterious. They have been considered a plague in Australia, and thousands of miles of anti-kangaroo fences have been set up to keep them out of some places. They roam this land like they own it. There are millions of them all around.

Next Sunday will be the grand première of WangWang and FuNi, two pandas on loan from China to the Adelaide Zoo for ten years. They are the first pandas in the Southern Hemisphere. The Chinese government does great efforts at preserving pandas and their habitats. The panda has become a global icon of endangered wildlife. The reservations to see a panda in Adelaide are fully booked for six weeks. The local zoo has constructed a state-of-the-art, 8-million-dollar special facility for those two gorgeous animals. Imagine what the Chinese would do to be able to feed a kangaroo in China!

Then there (still) are sharks, those feared, pre-historic beasts that roam the seas searching for human hips to nibble on. As if a billion hips were nibbled on in 1989, when approximately those many sharks roamed the waters. Today, it is calculated that some 100 million sharks remain in the world (90% population decline in last 20 years), and that, at this rate of consumption of mostly shark fin and mainly in China, they will be in the brink of extinction in a couple of decades.

That is terribly bad news. Because if we manage to exterminate a fierce combatant like the shark, sharper and more sensitive than any Bodhisattva or Samurai or Monk, with seven senses (two more than humans!), then we are at high risk of extinction at our own hands. Human against human, perhaps eaten until the last lady finger [never thought I'd ever use it that way!], way past the last kangaroo and dog and bird.

The gravest consequence of inaction towards climate change mitigation is that we can soon reach a tipping point beyond which all species will be subjected to extreme pressure for resources. Without water, for example, humans do not subsist more than 72 hours. If you were an elephant, how long would you wait for the rains to come at the end of the dry season before migrating in search of water elsewhere as quickly as possible? And if you were a human? And if you had a baby? Dying of thirst is probably as gruesome as choking, but much slower. Completely alive until the last bit of water from your driest muscle. Ouch. That hurt. That's why it is mandatory that we do whatever is within our individual and collective power to make it impossible for a human being to die of thirst [in this argument, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Bjørn Lomborg in support for his Copenhagen Consensus]. Or hunger. Or AIDS. Or tuberculosis. Or gunshots.

It is all connected. We are all connected. The loss of an African child with no name because she had no water, is a loss for all of us. That's why the only way out of Climate Change is peace [Gandhi must have said it already. Perhaps even Fidel Castro on the Rio Summit in 1992]. Peace among the people and across species. That if we cannot experience the joy of hugging a tree, at least we may enjoy the tenderness of feeding a kangaroo [while its baby held its head out, as if posing for the photo...]

I hope we can all hug a koala and not have to pay $30 to do it [I didn't; petting them was for free ;) ], or hug a panda without having to pay 1000 Renminbi (RMB) for such unique experience.

So, let's all petition our governments to call on a radical ban for shark finning to assess the situation of the species and ways in which the harvesting of the fin could be done sustainably. Or better, that governments unite to request China -through diplomatic channels, as it should- to crack down shark fin soup. There is no smuggling legally-sold commodities into China. Especially the faster they progress towards the Rule of Law.

In the process, foreign NGOs could support the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs (where all NGOs must register in order to operate in the country) in establishing country-wide education campaigns to explain sustainability. There would be great support from the Chinese government (especially since they will have to guarantee that the information divulged in the campaign is aligned with public policy) and from private capital as well, and NGOs could recruit millions of Chinese young adult volunteers, conforming China's army of peace. That would, not only save the shark, but probably the panda and it habitat too.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Matt my mate 2: Stop the name-calling

The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Australia in second place for 2009 (according to Wikipedia). Maybe it has to do with how much the collectivity does to ensure the quality of living of all individuals, regardless of their individual condition. There are filthy-rich people, but there are no poor. Like in Norway. Which overrides the argument that the rich get richer to the expense of the poor and highlights the responsibility for the rich to reduce socioeconomic inequality. Start by eradicating poverty. China can teach us how.

How can we determine if Australia is doing as much for its citizens in socioeconomic terms as it is doing in environmental terms? Is the government jargon about Climate Change aligned with effective public policy towards the betterment of the country's environmental performance level?

I was wondering how can we compare two indexes that could allow us to incorporate the HDI with some other measurement of environmental performance of countries. So I took the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and I took as samples some countries I have visited, to compare what the stats say with what I have witnessed. And I found a couple of very interesting things. I assumed both HDI and EPI were comparable methodologies, so what I did was add both rankings for any one country and divide that resulting number by two. In one word: average.

There is an evident leadership among a very few countries that are both in the HDI and EPI Top 10. Of the countries I have visited, only four are such leaders: France, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Most of the sampled countries I have visited in the last two years -six of them- rank outside either of the two Top 100 (yes, one hundred.) That's because I have been living in Beijing and traveling around Southeast Asia. Of these countries, three rank outside both Top 100 indexes: Burma, Indonesia, and Cambodia, which is, by the way, the country I have ever visited that ranks lowest in both indexes. Therefore, the poorest country I have ever visited.

Most poverty I have seen is very distant, geographically, from the richest I have visited.

This shows me two trends: first, that Scandinavian countries have done something right (in fact, four of the five Nordic countries feature in one of the two Top 10s). Second, that Southeast Asia will be in the top list of countries needing more attention in terms of cooperation for Climate Change adaptation. Definitely, dozens of African countries will be there too.

How can we demand accountability from the institutions in charge?

The rich have to pay. It is clear by now that there will be no agreement about who should pay how much. One alternative to the deadlock and the name-calling is to have countries pay in accordance with the volume of their military expenditures. Show me your big guns. And your money. With a similar parameter we may determine how to prioritize the assignment of cooperation: according to the rate of reduction of military expenditures by those countries more in need.

It may sound a bit coercive, but it would be a way to organize cooperation in terms of virtue from the receiving countries. For this, the major military sellers in the world (you name them) would have to agree that their business would be running low for a while.

Are we negotiating in Copenhagen in these terms? Or are we going to discuss carbon emissions, as if 350 parts per million or 400 were better than the 280 ppm of pre-industrial times?

And stop the name-calling. Because many countries perform far worse in the HDI than in the EPI. Like United States, Japan, and Israel. Others perform way better, like Brazil, The Philippines, and Germany. In modern days of severe environmental degradation, which country is richer then: Costa Rica, ranking an average 29 in both indexes, or Israel, 38? Or could we also say that Costa Rica (29), Australia (24), and the United States (26) have a similar development?

Where would you prefer to live?

Measuring the ecological impact of the Gross National Product (GNP)

Antonio Burgués, Costa Rican Ambassador to China. Álvaro Cedeño, admitted Public Policy student at Carnegie Mellon, Australia.

The Chinese word for “crisis” is “Wei Ji,” which means both crisis and opportunity. They believe in the Far East that crises must be conceived as a change for things to improve. Civilization has come to a Tipping Point not only regarding the way its economy has been growing, but also regarding the qualitative content of its impact on quality of life –life in the broad sense of the word- where traditional economic indexes are not enough anymore.

Dr. Daniel Goleman, intellectual father of the concept of emotional intelligence, has recently published the book “Ecological Intelligence,” right on the spot for the times we are living on the planet today in terms of growth and environmental impact. In this book, he elaborates about a concept that must be considered.

He speaks about “radical transparency” as an information principle that will more closely engage producers and consumers, introducing “an opening about the consequences of the things we do, sell, buy and discard, which goes beyond the current comfort zones of most businesses.”

This information interchange about the ecological impact of all our acts of commerce “will show an economic path that has not yet been taken: to measure the ecological impact to the things we buy with the same transparency standards required, for example, in financial statements.” We would add, also, in public government systems.

Which are the incentives to be transparent or to calculate and include the ecological impact of the products and services in the information made available throughout all commercial interchange? Essentially, to have the possibility to make more intelligent and ethically correct decisions regarding the long-lasting ecological footprint each human being leaves in his or her daily life.

Such measure would provoke, immediately, the need on behalf of countries and their economic policy to include ecological programs incorporated into the GNP, as well as to incorporate indexes to measure ecological impact or environmental performance for the entire economy.

This would reveal, with radical transparency, if a country is effectively growing at 8% per year, or if, instead, due to the environmental impact generated by such growth, it is decreasing economically. We would then also talk about ecological recessions, which would be harmonious with our environment.

The same way there are indexes to measure quality of life, happiness, environmental performance, quality of public education, or level of safety and security, there should be an index of sustainable growth that may reflect, in GNP terms, the ecological impact that the economy puts on natural resources, renewable or not.

The concept of developed country would be spoken in terms of conservation. It is not enough anymore to measure economy in terms of volume of money, but, also, in terms of preservation of renewable resources such as air, potable water, fertile land, forest coverage, biodiversity, and the integral residue management, among other things. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the brand of eco-clothes Patagonia, has said, “business can’t be done in a dead planet.”

Costa Rica is, therefore, a great example of development, since it has maintained economic growth while preserving, in good measure, its environmental performance, increasing its forest coverage and raising awareness, even through public policy, of its enormous richness in biodiversity.

These achievements make it only much more urgent and important to focus efforts on taking care of its areas of improvement, like the protection of aquifers, the transformation of agricultural production to make it less polluting, the legal protection of our patrimonial seas with greater richness in biodiversity, and the reeducation of our population regarding the integral management of domestic, industrial and hospital residues.

This change in methodology measuring economic indicators would serve as a tool for the search of both international cooperation among countries and transversal cooperation among private, public and non-governmental sectors, following the principle of win-win cooperation that has become popular.

Those projects that may require more attention or that may be more susceptible of generating economic and ecological wealth will be prioritized in domestic and foreign development agendas of a country.

When the measurement ruler changes, the rules of the game will also change and there might even be a variation between winners and losers. The most responsible societies investing in their ecological future, or in its economic growth with the incorporation of ecological variables, would increase its value and would be more susceptible of receiving international cooperation and attracting foreign direct investment.

This is precisely where the Consensus of Costa Rica and Peace with Nature intersect. Both have been a top priority of the Costa Rican crusade of this Administration through its foreign policy.

This new century, the economy must be conceived as a whole, and at the service of all human beings. The virtue of this measurement applied to national assets on the GNP generates transparency with the present and future generations to create a more socially and ecologically responsible country and with world-level leadership.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Matt my Mate: When does Copenhagen start?

Adelaide, Australia.

Dear Matt,

Does anyone know when the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change begins? I thought it had begun 125 days ago (inside joke for those who followed the countdown on Facebook) when some of us were worrying that not much was being done about it, or at least it didn't feel like it. Since August, 2008, right during the Water Summit in Sweden, Climate Change was picking up. Even The Economist started changing its editorial profile about the topic and had "a climate change of opinion," as they so masterfully put it in one article's title. And then, it happened...

The stock market crashed, as painfully as it could, and left us all thinking and rethinking so many things about our daily lives, that we were globally caught up in the discussion. So, the year that we should have spent generating dialogue about an issue as rupturing in our civilization as the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change that starts today, we spent it talking about how come the market also crashes when it spends more than what it earns. Just like me. The greatest loss was all the rich synergies that could have been developed globally during this last year if we would have shared together that grandiose information apparatus humanity has created called the media for a common purpose.

The media is boring and manipulative and uninformative sometimes because there is really nothing that serious to report about. The media is not what is stupid. It is those of us who follow it as if it was a religion. I bet no responsible and serious media enterprise that covers world affairs has in its mission statement: "to make people believe in us." That is a mission statement that would be impossible to achieve in a community of highly-educated people that would not cross a dime unless there was sufficient proof that, under any reputable methodology, it could be considered probably or absolutely true that what is being presented in the media is, in fact, TRUE. Otherwise, they -the hypereducated- would take the information with the superficiality it deserves. And then start digging before forming an opinion, even before starting the pandemic of fear that usually adrenalizes us all en masse pandemonium, like when Michael Jackson passed away.

I am sure he would have preferred that all the energy and all the love (L-O-V-E) and all the time and money spent into the question of whether he was really dead or not or sick or not or murdered or not or rich or not or bald or not, or black or not, we would have used it to generate empathy across our borders (especially the mental borders) and try to think how can we prevent the ever-growing death tolls of natural disasters around the world. We all lose when we lose someone. Even if we are already numb to the suffering of others, we can still remember, as a glitch in our intoxicated brains, that if someone suffers, we all suffer. Our species will not evolve symbiotically if we disregard one another. We are not going to be better if we defeat ourselves to death.

That's why we need to change.

One idea that just popped to my mind (or I read about it in The Advertiser of Adelaide today, I can't really say...) is what if we divide the political responsibility of the decision-making process regarding climate change. There may be regions with far less territory and population than some small world states that would prefer to be left alone the way they are right now, without having or needing to change anything in their lifestyles because of others. Like for example, indigenous communities around the world that have earned their right to be in our current stage civilization, precisely because they proved to be sustainable (in fact, self-sustainable, as most didn't do much trade with other groups) for thousands of years.

Or it could be that some territorial unities are so contaminating to the world environment that they deserve a different treatment than the rest, with more financial and technological assistance to transform its industry from highly polluting to restorative, or higher taxation on specific emissions to that particular place, or recommendations about the species of trees that should be planted in that area to reforest it in 40 years from now. We need to go back to the forests, back to the jungles. We need to go back to building under the shade and protecting the pine trees that cut the strong winds from the mountain. We need to go back to drinking water from the tap and not fear our baby developing a respiratory condition. The same way a human being 100 years ago would not have liked to see a dear one being poisoned.

We have been poisoning ourselves. But that's nothing new. We are not going to get anyone off their chair by saying that. We smoke, we drink alcohol, we use combustion engines, we use electricity, we recharge batteries, we buy and buy and buy clothes and shoes and shit that piles up in desks and drawers and closets and attics, and warehouses and garbage dumps. So we are the problem. It is our responsibility. The tough challenge is that many of us are self-destructive (suicidal in slow motion) and many are skeptic. Fortunately, few are ignorant. So it is not a matter of intellect, but a matter of attitude (skeptics) and a question of punishment (in the case of the ones that match with suicidal conduct, like smoking tobacco or driving under the influence of alcohol.)

Now, before you throw your first rocks at me and start labeling me with post-Sept. 11-jargon about the extremist morality of my religion, it is important to remember that societies that are with us for over 5000 years do know the way better than those that have been here for less than 500 (in one word, all colonies, including the entire American continent except Guatemala and Bolivia, the two countries that still have a majority of indigenous people among their state population) [Congratulations, Mr. Evo Morales, for your re-election in Bolivia!]. Millenary civilizations know the way already, and the ones that are not, have been the ones ruling the industrialized planet for far too little time in their cultural existence. They have not prepared to flourish as a species and they seem doomed to extinction as well. I refer to the West (the wild, wild West...) And they won't die alone. With them, goes the rest of us. Therefore, there is no "Us" and "Them" (it sounds SOOOOOO last decade already...) anymore, but a "We" pronoun that stands for humanity. So part of our responsibility shall be to respect our elders -the more ancient ones among our cultures- to listen to them, to listen to the experience they have accumulated living much longer than us and through other harsher times. Let's ask them questions. We are facilitators in the process of having them show us the way. For that, we must learn to listen. To understand that pain will always be there once you get old, but a comforting hug or a phone call or a smile can make pain feel so much better for a bit.

If we were responsible at a smaller political level, it would be easier to participate. Plus, it would be more ethical, because the politicians in charge don't have that much to lose. They are not at the very top with the cherry in their mouths. It would be a lot more people like you and I gathering at night once a week and reading a few e-mails a week and making transformative decisions for the state of the environment as perceived from our smaller territorial unity.

In a country like Australia, this would be fairly easy. The country is so massive that 20 million people are divided in smaller groups that control vast amounts of territory. But in a country like Costa Rica, where are we jammed over each other for lack of planning and infrastructure to help secondary cities develop faster, then it is very difficult to make our communication more effective for problem-solving because we have to speak too loud to be heard, so we are unable to listen to anyone else. And everybody thinks they have a better opinion than the expert, be it a president, a football coach, a policeman, or your own freaking mother that gave birth to you. So, splitting the decision-making process into municipalities would result, in the case of Costa Rica, in 81 grassroot-think-tanks working voluntarily for the diagnosis, prognosis and transformation of the state of the local environment. So guess what would happen in Parque Nacional Las Baulas in Playa Grande, Guanacaste, when there is a municipal referendum to decide what to do with the freaking park. Didn't guanacastecos decide to join Costa Rica precisely in that same way? Was it any less civilized in 1824 than it would be today?

And then maybe the people from Beijing -or, for that matter, from the Chaoyang district where I used to live until last Month- would have to pay far more taxes than others in less polluted communities. And I don't mean that everybody has to pay more taxes. I mean those who individually contribute more with the environmental degradation. The poor have paid a heavy burden drinking dirty water and not having access to medication and dying young or violently. There would be far less suffering in the world if we would all die of old age, when your relatives have had years and years to say goodbye to you before simply fading in your sleep, like angels die. Not out of typhoid fever or diarrhea or cancer or AIDS or murdered. Imagine what the world would be like if all nations would have agreed to a human rights charter that started: "Every person has the right to die of old age..." Then we would be talking.

A brief note on the rich paying like poor: if the rich would pay 1% more -a small burden for most- than what they already pay (or if they only paid what they had to pay, without legal tricks to shake off the civic and moral responsibility of helping others help themselves) (and I include myself among the rich, definitely. After all I have seen out in some of the poorest places on Earth, I consider myself very rich -and privileged, and blessed- for the wealth that has surrounded me all my life), they could relieve a very heavy burden on hundreds or thousands or millions of people. Some burdens are life-threatening even at a young age, like the 1000 children under 5 that die every hour of a preventable disease, like malaria or tuberculosis. It is not that anyone wants to make the rich any less rich. It is empirically known that stealing is not sustainable. It is that the rich ignore the immense power they have to help heal the lives of so many others, perhaps because we the rich do not spend that much time coexisting with the poor. If we did, we would perfectly well know with how very little we could do so much for so many others. It is a question of morality. But not because we are immoral, but because we are ignorant of the conditions in which others live.

Every state, every province, every district, every municipality, every town hall, every neighbor gathering would permit far greater dialogue and creative search for synergies to deal with the environmental situation of the smaller community. And it would also allow, in very many cases, allow for a very rich and constructive interaction between the rich and the poor.

As professor Galtung used to say: "Sometimes, to solve a small problem you must make it bigger, and to solve a big problem you must make it smaller."

Cheers, Mate!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Medición ecológica del PIB

La medición ecológica del PIB

Antonio Burgués Terán

Álvaro Cedeño Molinari

El término chino para la palabra “crisis” es “wei ji”, que significa tanto crisis como oportunidad. Creen en el Lejano Oriente que se deben aprovechar las crisis como un cambio para mejorar lo que no andaba bien. La civilización ha llegado a un punto de inflexión no sólo en cuanto a la forma de crecimiento económico, sino al contenido cualitativo en cuanto a su efecto sobre la calidad de vida –vida en su sentido amplio- donde los índices económicos tradicionales ya no son suficientes.

El Dr. Daniel Goleman, padre intelectual del concepto de inteligencia emocional, ha publicado un libro recientemente bajo el título “Inteligencia ecológica,” puntual para los tiempos que vive el planeta en términos de crecimiento e impacto ambiental. En dicho libro, elabora en torno a un concepto que merece la pena considerar. Habla de la “transparencia radical” como un principio de información que vinculará más cercanamente a productores y consumidores, introduciendo “una apertura sobre las consecuencias de las cosas que hacemos, vendemos, compramos y desechamos, que va más allá de las zonas de confort actuales de la mayoría de negocios.” Este intercambio de información sobre el impacto ecológico de todos los actos del comercio “presentará un camino económico aún no recorrido: aplicarle al impacto ecológico de las cosas que compramos los mismos estándares de transparencia requeridos, por ejemplo, en estados financieros.” Agregaríamos, también, en sistemas de gobierno.

¿Cuáles son los incentivos para ser transparentes o para calcular e incluir el impacto ecológico de productos y servicios en la información divulgada en todo intercambio comercial? Esencialmente, tener la posibilidad de tomar decisiones más inteligentes y éticamente correctas en cuanto a la huella ecológica que cada ser humano deja, a veces de manera perdurable, en su vida cotidiana.

Una medida semejante provocaría, de inmediato, la necesidad por parte de la política económica de los países, de incluir programas ecológicos como parte del PIB, así como incorporar índices de medición del impacto ecológico o del desempeño ambiental de cada economía. Esto permitiría saber, con transparencia radical, si un país está efectivamente creciendo a 8% anual, o si, por el impacto ambiental que genera dicho crecimiento, estaría más bien decreciendo económicamente. Se hablaría entonces de recesiones ecológicas también, lo cual guardaría armonía con el medio ambiente.

Así como hay índices de calidad de vida, de felicidad, de desempeño ambiental, de calidad de la educación pública, o del nivel de seguridad ciudadana, también debe haber un índice de crecimiento sostenible que refleje, en términos del PIB, el impacto ecológico que tiene la economía sobre los recursos naturales, renovables o no.

El concepto de país desarrollado deviene en aspectos de conservación. Ya no basta medir la economía en términos de volumen monetario, sino, también, en términos de preservación de los recursos renovables como el aire, el agua potable, la tierra fértil, la cobertura boscosa, la biodiversidad, y la gestión integral de residuos, entre otras. Como ha dicho Yvon Chouinard, fundador de la marca de ropa ecológica Patagonia, “no se puede hacer negocios en un planeta muerto.” Costa Rica, por ende, es un gran ejemplo de desarrollo, pues ha logrado crecer económicamente preservando en buena medida su desempeño ambiental, aumentando su cobertura boscosa y creando conciencia, incluso a nivel de política pública, de su enorme riqueza en biodiversidad. Estos logros sólo hacen más urgente e importante enfocar esfuerzos en atender las áreas por mejorar, como la protección de mantos acuíferos, transformar la producción agrícola para que tenga un menor impacto contaminante, proteger legalmente las zonas de mar patrimonial con mayor riqueza en biodiversidad, y reeducar a la población en cuanto a la gestión integral de residuos domésticos, industriales y hospitalarios.

Este cambio en las metodologías de medición de los indicadores económicos fungiría como herramienta para la búsqueda de cooperación internacional entre países y transversal entre sectores privado, público y no gubernamental, siguiendo el principio de cooperación ganar-ganar que se ha popularizado. Aquellos proyectos que requieran más atención o que sean más susceptibles de generación de riqueza económica y ecológica serían los que recibirían prioridad en las agendas de desarrollo domésticas e internacionales del país.

Al cambiar las reglas de medición, también cambiarían las reglas de juego y habría quizás una variación entre ganadores y perdedores. Las sociedades más responsables que inviertan en su futuro ecológico, o en su crecimiento económico incorporando variables ecológicas, subirían su valor y serían más susceptibles de recibir cooperación internacional y atraer inversión extranjera directa. Es aquí precisamente adonde intersecan el Consenso de Costa Rica y la Paz con la Naturaleza, dos planteamientos que han encabezado la cruzada costarricense en este cuatrienio a cargo de la política exterior.

El primer compromiso para poder asumir su responsabilidad con el planeta por parte cualquier país ecológicamente deficitario debe ser el de asumir la responsabilidad con la calidad de vida de sus propios ciudadanos y las futuras generaciones. De otra forma, y como lo ha mencionado recientemente la revista The Economist, “…el subsidio de prácticas insostenibles es una licencia para robar de una generación a la próxima” (Tricks of the Trade, 2 de noviembre de 2009.) Esa responsabilidad debe ser traducida en índices más concretos de economía, que a su vez también permitirían generar índices particulares, sectoriales y por empresa y medir su impacto ecológico.

Varios han planteado ya este tema. Joseph Stiglitz, Premio Nóbel de Economía, acuñó el término “asimetría de la información” como la teoría de cómo la información da forma a la operación de los mercados. Sugiere que las brechas de información en el intercambio comercial resultan en una falla que atenta contra la eficiencia y la justicia de los mercados.

En este nuevo siglo la economía hay que concebirla como un todo, y al servicio de todos los seres humanos. Eso es así aún para los incrédulos sobre los efectos que la economía cortoplacista tiene sobre la ecología y la calidad de vida de todos nosotros, usuarios y actores activos y pasivos de la economía y del medio ambiente.

La virtud de esta medición a los activos nacionales en el PIB les da transparencia con esta y con futuras generaciones para crear un país más social y ecológicamente responsable y con liderazgo a nivel mundial.

La gran oportunidad que representa la crisis económica y ecológica que vive nuestra civilización demanda ideas innovadoras y virtuosas. Son quizás ideas a las que les ha llegado su tiempo. Las nuevas generaciones tienen incorporado el valor ecológico en sus expectativas, y cada vez será más relevante y significativo el derecho humano a un medio ambiente sano, según lo consagra nuestra Constitución Política en su artículo 50. Tarde o temprano esto se va a dar, gracias al sentido de conciencia y responsabilidad de las nuevas generaciones. A ellos, nuestro voto de apoyo.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Paradigm of Disobedience

The emergence of the internet has seen an acceleration in the shift from the old paradigm -where people were obedient to either the law, religion, public policy, ethics, morality, science, elders, peers, information or truth- towards a new paradigm where there are growing numbers of people and groups that are disobedient to the old constraints. We could call it the paradigm of disobedience.

The role of the internet has been critical, because it has allowed isolated individuals to connect with clusters of like-minded people that share similar beliefs. Religions used to be the predominant social cohesion based on belief systems, but today in any human activity there is room for a new belief system to be created and offer cohesion to its followers.

Networks have proliferated, both in number of groups and in number of members, followers, believers. A few decades ago, people would devout some time every day or every week to follow a religion. Today, they invest that time into following their networks, their groups. We could call it a tribe, as it is a group of people that has one common thread that bonds them together: their beliefs on a particular topic.

It is no wonder why non-governmental organizations have multiplied tenfold in the last two decades (the internet lifespan), and the number of members has increased exponentially. These organizations are composed of people that no longer expect or obey the way governments run societies, so they take matters into their own hands and try to execute solutions for socioeconomic problems, sometimes even appealing to violence. NGOs are the institutional symbol of the paradigm of disobedience.

When paradigms are broken not by individuals but by larger groups of people that get together to go their own way, it represents an opportunity to enrich the interaction among people, which, today, does not necessarily happen in physical spaces only, but takes place more and more by virtual means. They become magnets for others and are open for admitting new members in most cases, as long as they follow an internal code, whether written or not.

So, we see a proliferation of protestant churches, different sects, more NGOs, growing cells of terrorist organizations, clusters of scientists and researchers, political movements, or simple groups of social network followers, some of which count their members in the hundreds of thousands already.

This new paradigm of disobedience poses additional threats, risks, challenges and opportunities for local and global governance. In the old paradigm, governments had the authority and the power to conduct societies, nations, even the international community, in a particular direction through international public policy and the corresponding laws. Today, that authority is being questioned, the power is diminishing, and the compliance of individuals and networks to such policies and laws is more and more difficult to enforce.

The mandatory question is how will societies be organized during and after this surge of disobedience. Perhaps all governments should be openly discussing this. Otherwise, they will realize, a couple more decades down the road, that they are no longer the ones in charge.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009



I. What is BLINK? BLINK is many things. It is a book by Malcolm Gladwell (the author of The Tipping Point). It is the description of a decision-making process that combines awareness, research, a high-speed brain and knowledge. This essay refers to these four points. BLINK is also the word that describes an instant (a two-second period of time) in which one becomes aware of a thought that implies a decision. Mainly, for me, BLINK is the one change in my life that will clearly save me years of time in my life in decision-making processes. This is one of those things I have learned that I consider so good that I want to share it with everyone.

II. What does the book say? The book is an academic research, with footnotes and endnotes the way academic papers do, documenting everything they say. This increases dramatically the reliability of the things that are said that are true. Fortunately, what is most important about it is not the book itself, but the practical implications it may have. So, my idea is not to share the contents of the book. You can read the book if you want to know more about it. I will explain the process that I created after reading the book and relating to the book’s contents.
To say a bit more about the book, it is a masterpiece. It is written with much care and dedication, with endless hours of research, of very delicate research. It is delicious to read because of how marvelous every page turns out to be, regardless of how boring the topic we thought it might be. It is also a page-turner. You want to get to the end the moment you begin. In my experience, I reached the end of the book but the mentality and knowledge and the results of reading it are still on going. I would say BLINK is the one book that has changed my way of thinking on my list of Top 10 mind-changing books of the last three years.

III. How does BLINK work? The mind receives a vast number of impulses collected by the senses of sight, hearing, speech, taste and smell. Apart from these, there are other self-generated impulses in the brain: our thoughts. Most of them are triggered, or at least strongly influenced by our emotions. When we see cow, we immediately project that cow to our emotional library to match it with something we already know and remember, see what it feels like, and decide which attitude to take from then on. This entire process of developing an attitude about something takes two seconds –at the most – from the moment you are in presence of that “thing” until the time you make your decision. Two seconds. Finally something you can do several times while you hold your breath. You can do it while you sleep, while you play cards, while you exercise. Actually, the ideal of BLINK is that you train yourself to do it so often that you train your mind until it becomes a habit. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge, some degree of self-awareness and a little bit of self-discipline.

a. Knowledge: as I mentioned before, this process starts by identifying a moment in life and become aware of it. The moments will come to you. You don’t have to go after them. For example, when you know your favorite team is playing a very exciting match tonight, there are times during the day when you think: “shite, what if my team loses?” The first two seconds after you ask the question, as long as you remain focused on searching for an answer, will become sufficient information you need to get the process started. Remember that the process we are aiming for is how to improve our decision-making process specifically regarding speed, but not only. It also has to do with approximation of success through the process, and the simplification of something that human beings have been historically so ineffective at doing: making decisions. And if you still feel you have been good enough at it, why not try to improve it even more, reducing the time invested in making decisions to a few seconds a day?
b. Self-awareness: BLINK is not possible if there is no capability to stop at that very instant to take control over the process itself, and not let emotions run freely, drifting the focus of concentration away from the decision-making process. It is not easy, but it is easy to learn. You have to program your mind to this. First, close your eyes and remember the first memory you remember about today. Freeze the film and focus on that picture. You see a picture, which is a summary of an event or a series of events that were taking place simultaneously in your life. Have you ever been traveling and had a picture taken of yourself? How much do you remember from that instant? You remember that big plaza. It was a park and there was a main entrance where one had to pay to get in. From the outside it looked spectacular. Certainly not something one sees on a daily basis back home. It was simply breathtaking. Also, you remember if you were having money problems, if you were hungry or stuffed or with diarrhea or if you had not slept much or if you had been kissing the person taking the picture the night before. You also remember the weather, rainy, foggy, hot, cold; you remember the noise, where you bought those shoes, who’s birthday it was and you forgot to call that day; or tried and didn’t manage.
All this collection of memories comes from a picture. Well, your mind also stores pictures. The difference is that, your mind has so much more “memory” than a camera that it stores entire videos, thousands and thousands of them, so you don’t have to remember what a picture reminds you of, but you can actually see the entire video, as long as you want, of all the details that relate to this event you are remembering.
Upon remembering this, one reaches a point in the video where the video reaches its end (which you also remember) and you give it a positive or negative value. Why? Because it is a human characteristic to value-base our events and circumstances so we can conduct ourselves through the path of what we consider “good”.
So, one can BLINK and in two seconds know if a cow makes you feel good or bad. Perhaps not everything is as easy as a cow if you have seen many all your life. You can already say that you like cows. Period. Or that you don’t, and you don’t question it anymore. [Should you? That’s a different topic that can also help in decision-making process improvement, mainly regarding quality of the decisions made.]
The importance about self-awareness, in my opinion, has more to do with taking control over the process than becoming introspective. One area in which self-awareness is fundamental is in conflict analysis. We all have conflicts every day, small ones, like what shirt to wear, and big ones, like having a car accident. No matter how big or small our conflicts are, it is difficult for us to become aware of them. Remember denial stage: first thing we do is pretend and believe there is no conflict. So, once we identify the conflict, we are one step closer to its solution than when we still believed there was none.
Once you have identified a conflict or a situation that is bringing you stress, you are setting yourself in the line of BLINKing to solve it. How? The moment you identify a conflict, you must project it into the future. How bad can this go? What is the worst-case scenario (WCS)? Your brain has the capability to “show” you this WCS in two seconds. Then, your brain will process the event and trigger emotions in you. You could let yourself go with those emotions of WCS and feel “bad”, frustrated, depressed, scared, worried. Or you can stop after that BLINK, press pause before the feelings go rampant around your system, and think about your best-case scenario (BCS). Your BCS will also trigger emotions that will most likely be associated with “good”, comfortable, positive, enjoyable. Still, don’t let them take you away from this decision-making process you are in. Remember you are making decisions, so you can’t waste valuable time in your life feeling emotions about a future that DOES NOT EXIST (WCS and BCS are a product of your imagination only; those events you BLINKed do not exist in reality).
Then, once you have identified WCS and BCS you can decide which way to go. It could very well be that your WCS is not so bad, so you don’t fear much going the wrong way. Or it could be that your BCS is not so good, so it is not worth the effort going in that direction. The important thing is that you already felt, if only for an instant, what it feels like to be in that WCS or BCS so you can make decisions right now to avoid or approach those scenarios.
c. self-discipline: it is very important to develop the strength to be able to stop emotions when they start running wild after picturing a WCS or a BCS. The way you train your mind to do this is the exact same way you train your mind or your body to do everything: through practice. Try it out whenever you feel happy or sad about the future. Suppose, for example, that you have a sentimental partner that lives in a different country than you do. Imagine you meet him/her one day and ask him/her if s/he thinks the two of you are going to meet again. Imagine your partner responds “I don’t know”. You feel very sad because you really wanted to see him/her again, and s/he doesn’t know if you two are going to meet again (which is in fact true, because no one knows anything about the future). Still, you make a big drama in your head (far longer than the two seconds you need) and you let your emotions run wild, thinking how much you are going to miss your partner, and you end up crying out of the frustration of losing him/her.
Now, suppose after having this episode of sadness, four years later you end up marrying this partner, and you live happily ever after. Was it worth all the suffering of that day you cried because you didn’t know if you would see him/her again? Not really. Especially if you think you were able then to picture a BCS (marrying your partner) and considering the possibility that it could eventually happen in the future. The idea is not to create false expectations or illusions, but to think about the WCS and the BCS. If you cried because your partner said there was no certainty you two would meet again in the future, you pictured your WCS but failed to do the same with your BCS. Four years later, this failure proves that if you would have BLINKed your BCS you could have avoided all that unnecessary suffering.
This is very important, because the more self-discipline you have, the faster and easier it will be for you to stop a BLINK after two seconds to use it as valuable information to make a decision. If you let your emotions run wild, controlling them later will be more difficult than after a short two seconds.

IV. Making decisions: whenever we make a decision, we are choosing from a universe of options (at least two, but in many cases an unlimited amount), which means we are basically taking one and leaving all the rest behind. That’s how the world works. Every time we buy a pair of shoes, we are not choosing to buy dozens of other pairs that are sitting on the same rack as the one you chose. How did you choose them?
When making decisions, we choose what we think is best according to our knowledge, to our thoughts, our feelings, our wishes. Sometimes, even when we know everything about something and we think it will be the best and we have the most positive feelings about it and we wish for it intensely, we might make a decision and not succeed at it. This failure has to do with how the decision adapts to your reality. The shoes you bought might not be as good as you thought they were going to be. You might have to cancel the trip you were going to make for your vacation even though you had already paid tickets and hotels. The future is unexpected, so no matter how well we plan a decision, it might turn out to be not as “good” as we expected it to be.
So, when making decisions we always have to remember that they are not permanent states, but temporary. Every decision you make is temporary, as long as its consequences can be reversed along the way. For example, jumping off a plane without a parachute is a decision that most likely may not be reversed. But choosing a professional career or a spouse or a car, have a higher degree of reversibility.
Then, you could make a decision without really thinking much about the future and it could result in a very good decision. For example, suppose you have the opportunity to present an exam to become an official translator for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You don’t really want to do it, you don’t see or understand the purpose, but in the long run, ten years down the road, you can look back at the benefits and think everything you wouldn’t have had if you wouldn’t have made that decision.
From these two last thoughts we conclude that no matter how well or unwell you prepare a scenario for making a decision, the result can still be unexpectedly good or unexpectedly bad for you. This does not mean that life is “a box of chocolates”, as Forrest Gump used to say (“you never know what you are going to get”). There are many ways of influencing your circumstances, through your decision-making processes, through your attitude, to conduct your life on the path you designed for yourself.
What BLINK suggests is that no matter how much time you invest in making decisions, they can still come out to be very bad, so why not learn how to invest only two seconds per decision so you at least don’t lose so much time in the process, and then concentrate on adjusting the circumstances, or better, your attitude towards your circumstances.

V. The origin of fear: one of the most important things to consider about life is the origin of fear. One cannot understand what one does not know. The biggest problem with fear is that we ignore its origins. The origin of fear is a BLINK where we fail to take control over the process and, especially, over the emotions. This BLINK of fear is an instant, two seconds, during which one projects into the future an event or a circumstance that has happened to you or to someone else something that you would dislike experiencing. So, if a snake bit a neighbor and you saw how his leg became after the bite, you BLINK for two seconds, see the WCS, and you make that WCS a reality in your future. But the process goes so out of hand, emotionally, that you start fearing snakes, even though you normally don’t see them and you normally don’t hear of many people being bit by snakes around the places you normally visit. Still, you make a BLINK a reality.
The emotions of this kind of BLINK are so powerful, so out of control, that the fear takes control over you, to the point of physical impact: you cry, you yell, you shiver, you ask for help. Do you remember when you were a child and had nightmares that you called your parents to come in your rescue? What was the origin of that fear? You had a dream, probably a projection of something you heard or saw or created out of your imagination, then you woke up and shifted that picture into reality. Then, in those two first seconds, instead of taking control of the process, we give in to the emotions that start running wild to the point that we cry and we yell for help, even though that vision does not exist in reality.
Then, the process of BLINKing is very useful to overcome fear. First, choose something you fear. For example, flying on an airplane. I am afraid because I would not want my plane to crash into a building and die. That event that I saw became a projection from outside of myself into my personal future. So, when I get on a plane, I think I am going to crash into a building. But this fear exists only because I saw that happening. If I didn’t, most likely that wouldn’t be my fear. Still, I can BLINK for two seconds and realize that the origin of this fear comes from the outside and from the past. None has a direct relationship on me, except if I allow this to happen. Then, I can change my attitude after those two seconds and understand that the odds of crashing into a building while flying on a plane are so small that we can almost say “that will never happen to me”. Fear, then, is eliminated, uprooted where it is born, in our minds. We uproot it taking away the structure that holds fear, which is fantasy, imagination, past and outside world.

November 23, 2005

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cambio Climático: adaptación o mitigación?

Solía ser partidario de que la adaptación y la mitigación debían ser procesos simultáneos, principalmente porque debemos salvarnos nosotros (adaptación) y asegurarnos de no heredar un problema mayor a las siguientes generaciones (mitigación). Sin embargo, así como ahora se sabe que no es que nos quedaremos sin agua sino que cambiará el ciclo del agua en el planeta entero, también hay lugares donde es más urgente la mitigación (Estados Unidos y China, los dos gigantes contaminantes) que la adaptación (Maldivas y Costa Rica, pequeños y de fragilidad geográfica o ecosistémica).

Hago un llamado de atención para que seamos proactivos como país y empecemos a hablar -ojalá después de pensar un poco- sobre la adaptación al cambio climático. De todas maneras, es altamente probable que nuestro país ya sea neutral en emisiones de carbono.

También es importante que sepamos que la iniciativa no tiene que surgir del gobierno. Puede también surgir de la sociedad civil y de la empresa privada.

Quién se apunta?

Monday, May 25, 2009

A breath of fresh air

Imagine you are practicing that sport of free diving, where you dive deep down into the ocean without equipment to assist your breathing. You must hold your air, despite the increasing pressure and the burning of oxygen in your lungs to your blood. Suddenly, you realize you are short of air, you start feeling a pulse behind your eyes, your throat feels a growing pressure between holding back and wanting to breathe -knowing well you can't since you are dozens of meters below sea level- and you wonder what to do.

My wife says she wants to be "normal" again, meaning she doesn't have to question whether she will have free access to internet tools and websites.

I never knew what I had in Costa Rica until I left to study peace and conflict transformation in Norway for a couple of years. Costa Rica is a demilitarized nation, and I only knew what it meant when I was gone and when I started studying the causes of war and the consequences of having military armies, both in developed and in developing nations.

Now that I have moved again I have started to realize the treasures we have in Costa Rica with our democratic system, where we can be certain that every four years, every citizen will have the right to vote for the candidate of their choosing to lead the country. Where you have a Constitution that guarantees your individual freedoms, your civil and political rights, your human rights.

There are many things to improve in our system. Yes. Definitely. A lot of work to do. It is not time to fail, falter or rest. We must be aware of what we already have, to know that progress and transformation and sustainable development will start from a very strong, solid base that our ancestors have already constructed. It is the inheritance we have received and we must do the best we can to make it better, to multiply our talents, to think about what we will inherit onto the generations yet to be born.

I inhale deeply and enjoy the smell and taste of clean, fresh, free air.

Until next proxy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Explotación de Parques Nacionales

El planeta ha llegado a un punto de inflexión respecto a su sostenibilidad, la cual depende principalmente de la humanidad, quien, sin ser su mayor poblador en número de especies o en peso total de especímenes, ciertamente sí es su principal amenaza. Somos la única especie que se desarrolla insosteniblemente. Similar a como lo hace una plaga o un virus.

También somos la única con la virtud de la conciencia para transformar nuestras acciones y orientarlas hacia la sostenibilidad.

Costa Rica tiene un liderazgo marcado a nivel mundial en generación de energías renovables. Ha llegado la hora de hablar del tema de la explotación de los recursos de los Parques Nacionales, en merecidas mayúsculas. Pronto será hora de calcular la densidad vegetal de nuestros Parques Nacionales y demás zonas boscosas del país, para vender certificados de conservación ambiental, de captación de carbono, de generación de oxígeno y de almacenamiento de agua limpia. Sería esto posible ya con la legislación actual sobre Parques Nacionales? También hay que empezar a dialogar, con madurez, no con afán de bochinche estilo "reality show", sobre la posibilidad de transformar, en el transcurso del presente siglo, el origen de nuestras fuentes de energía predominantemente hidroeléctrica a energía geotérmica. Por dos razones: primero, las cuencas hidrográficas, aunque se encuentren fuera de zonas protegidas, también son bienes demaniales. O sea, le pertenecen al Estado. Merecen protección como lo que son. Las represas representan una visión sin igual por parte de sus creadores. Nos dan el orgullo de decir hoy que 93% de nuestra electricidad es renovable. En eso, le llevamos un siglo de ventaja a la mayoría de países del mundo. Sin embargo, no podemos llevar esa valiosa solución al absurdo de crear represas en todos los ríos. Entonces, cuál es el límite? La segunda razón es que en nuestro pequeñísimo territorio nacional existen al menos nueve volcanes activos, y todos son Parques Nacionales. La energía que de ellos proviene para generar electricidad es prácticamente inagotable. Costa Rica podría convertirse, con un nuevo golpe de visión nacional, en exportadora de energía tal como lo es hoy Noruega con su petróleo. Sólo que nosotros lo podemos hacer con energía renovable Y limpia. Para ello, debemos valorar cuál es la mejor forma de realizar factibilidad, de minimizar el impacto ambiental y además compensarlo con otras medidas de conservación como por ejemplo, aumento de la educación ambiental y de sostenibilidad en escuelas, colegios y universidades. Tanto la venta de certificados por conservación como la explotación del subsuelo volcánico podría hacer al país alcanzar el desarollo económico de un brinco. Estamos por ver si ya tenemos el desarrollo sociopolítico necesario para tener esa visión sin igual, que sí se tenía hace medio siglo. Esperamos que así sea.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Vivir después de la vida

Cuentan las leyendas de algunos historiadores navales que a inicios del Siglo XV, el Emperador chino envió una flota de cientos de buques a surcar los mares en busca de riquezas. En aquellos viajes –continúan las leyendas- los buques chinos alcanzaron todos los rincones del planeta intercambiando bienes, prácticas y costumbres en las interacciones con otras comunidades.

Hoy, seis siglos después, la pequeña gran Costa Rica se ha embarcado en una aventura similar, ya no en barcos, pero sí con China. Hasta las costas pacíficas de Asia ha llegado un contingente costarricense que trajo consigo una multitud de riquezas en forma de arte; una muestra de la cultura patria que se intercambia con la china en una puesta en escena llena de gracia.

La obra se titula “Amighetti”, y es un homenaje al acervo artístico de este gran hombre que fue don Francisco. El espectáculo era de danza, con nueve bailarines que parecían cientos; con elásticos movimientos llenos de clase y de trópico que invitaban a sentir en la intimidad de la butaca el deseo de libertad expresado en el escenario. Esa forma de ser costarricense, esa cultura cálida de darse brazos, besos y abrazos, estremeció a los que fuimos testigos de una pequeña ventana de Costa Rica que se abrió en Pekín el viernes de noche.

Dicen que nadie sabe lo que tiene hasta que lo pierde. Cuán cierto es cuando se trata del terruño. Esta representación artística nos transportó de vuelta al país, con un magnífico juego de luces que semejaban atardeceres de noviembre y celajes de febrero, y claros de luna de alguna noche romántica. El romance de esta noche fue con la música, que provocó la danza y jugueteó con los artistas, con una melodía y otra y otra, que parecían ser mías y de nadie más.

La poesía narrada fue el pasaporte visado para transportarse a Costa Rica a recordar viejos tiempos, y algunos otros tan viejos que sólo cuentan historias de antaño. Historias de amas de casa que aman, de enamorados que se enamoran, de seducción, de pasión y de silencio, enmarcadas entre lienzos recordando  el pincel y la gubia de don Francisco. 

Probablemente –sugiere Amighetti- morir es estar solo // quedarse con los labios sellados // mientras pasan aquellos, los que cantan // los que besan y aman…

En aquella disyuntiva entre guardar silencio y querer romperlo para sabernos vivos, cayó liviana y luminosa en mi regazo la vida y obra del gran artista.

…Dormir en una colina // con los ojos abiertos y el corazón paralizado // mientras estalla el sol // con pétalos de llama.

Esa lumbre de su vida la sentí profundamente en un teatro en Pekín, a pocos pasos del majestuoso Templo del Cielo, donde el Emperador venía en el solsticio de invierno a orar por las buenas cosechas.

Su cosecha, amigo Amighetti, tan buena, tan prolija, me transportó por varios instantes a la vida que viví en aquella Costa Rica.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wealth equality

Last century, societies around the world were profoundly transformed towards more social justice and economic equality of its citizens. Social security, labor laws and access to public education became consistent pillars of socioeconomic development. Slavery saw its definitive end.

Towards the end of the century, the computer revolution of the 90s created a tool that made the average employee many times more efficient. At the beginning of the present century, software development and information and communication technologies (ICTs) revolutionized yet again the employee's capacity to produce far more in the same period of time, and far better than only 15 years before. Nowadays, in fact, work is ubiquitous. An e-mail or a phone call can be taken during the commute or while on vacation, at night, at home, or abroad. 

The combination between formal education and the know-how to use ICTs and software has prompted the arrival of the knowledge era that the world is living today. Connectivity has become a must for governments, private enterprises -mainly transnational ones- academic institutions, NGOs, etc. Despite poverty indexes, countries across the world, from Latin America to China, India and Africa, have access to the benefits of connectivity that the more developed world is also having. 

Nevertheless, despite this exponential enhancement of productivity in employees, instead of this representing the possibility to work less time or earn more for the time worked, the average employee is working more hours (24/7) earning in disproportion to their hyper-effectiveness. 

If this hyper-effectiveness is multiplying the wealth that is being created globally, and employees are still earning a salary without regard of their productivity, this means that the widely acclaimed exploitation that socialists and communists abhorred during the communist hype of the previous century has only gotten much worse. 

As long as the working classes do not come to this realization, then the status quo is safe. Problem is, the present global economic crisis has accelerated awareness on behalf of employees who have lost their jobs or felt threatened to lose it, or have seen how rich some people have become in the last decade and how they have gotten away with wrongdoing in the last few months with the bursting of the financial bubble. 

This awareness has triggered millions of people worldwide to feel cheated. The longer this recession lasts, and the more consumption contracts, the more people will become aware of this unequal situation regarding their work and the retribution they obtain from it.

The world was unable to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the death of communism, because capitalism, as we knew it, lies on its deathbed too. These are the times to review, far more carefully, the political and economic positions around the center of the ideological spectrum. Perhaps it is even time for economists and journalists to start researching more seriously the other half of Adam Smith's capitalist proposition, yet to be discovered: The Theory on Moral Sentiments, where Smith spoke about ethics, morality and justice for capitalism to work as a sustainable system. 

Meanwhile, let's just hope for more equality in wealth distribution, as there is no doubt that in wealth creation humankind has already proven successful. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Afghanistan: careful strategy

President Obama has launched a new strategy to tackle the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It seems this Administration is taking this battlefront quite seriously, and this is what had to be done. 

There is no single-handed solution for this conflict. During the Taliban regime, even fellow Afghan Muslims were victims of their oppression and extremism with which they interpreted the Qu'ran. That seemed to be yet another turning point of a country that has suffered repeated invasions, poverty and scarcity for decades. 

Additionally, during the last couple of decades the country has become one of the world's largest producers of poppy seed, raw material to manufacture heroin. 

Now, this Taliban extremism has overflowed across the Pakistani border, where frequent terrorist attacks have been destabilizing the country politically and militarily. The greatest risk of all would be to see an extremist organization in control of nuclear weapons, as Pakistan does have. Therefore, the need for action was urgent, and the strategy must be bold. 

Apart from the additional 4000 military trainers and the 17,000 soldiers that the US will deploy in the country, and the US$1.5 billion a year that the country will give to Pakistan as cooperation to fight the extremist insurgency there, the United Nations must act accordingly with diplomatic action to gear nonmilitary power towards the transformation of the conflict and the development of Afghanistan. 

It is not a country easy to run, and not a conflict easy to be transformed. Twelve local tribes coexist in the country, and they have had two generations of people living under the law of the bullet, fighting the Soviets in the seventies and eighties, and now dealing with the homegrown Taliban and what they consider to be American invaders. 

Perhaps the most important objective is to empower both the Afghani and the Pakistani governments, and to eradicate the form of extremism that seeks to destabilize through terrorist action. Most important of all, though, is to offer a peaceful society for new generations of Afghani people, to allow them to develop with healthcare, with proper education, with the necessary tools and financial resources to make it a sustainable economy. 

Eradicating poppy seed production is only good if it can be substituted by another product that can employ people and ensure them a formal source of income. 

It is not much of a war but a nation-building strategy what Afghanistan has needed for decades. Let's hope this time it comes out right. 

Marca Costa Rica

En tiempos de globalización, resulta paradójicamente importante distinguir a los países individualmente pese a la colectivización de la comunidad global. Quizás esto responda a la regla tácita de los procesos interculturales de que "las semejanzas nos unen; las diferencias nos enriquecen."

En décadas recientes esta percepción nacional se ha comercializado, pues hay diversos factores de la economía internacional que hacen más atractivo a un país que a otro en la puja por atraer turismo, promover exportaciones, atraer inversiones, en fin, distinguirse de entre el gran concierto de naciones en el que vivimos en la actualidad. 

La marca de un país -o la percepción que el público general tiene- no es constante. Oscila invariablemente entre las marcas de buena percepción y las de mala percepción. 

Un país que tiene regularmente una buena marca-país a nivel mundial es Brasil. En cualquier rincón del mundo alguien sabe de Pelé o de Ronaldo o de Ronaldinho, que son sinónimo de éxito, de calidad, de triunfo. 

Un país como Estados Unidos, que durante la mayor parte del siglo XX tuvo una excelente marca-país, parece haberla perdido durante la última década, quizás como consecuencia de la invasión a Irak y la renuencia a firmar el protocolo de Kioto sobre cambio climático. 

En el caso de Costa Rica, la marca de este país ha sido tradicionalmente reputada. Es importante reconocer las causas, sobre todo para fijar el rumbo para la nueva imagen que el país querrá posicionar a nivel mundial por los próximos veinte años. Durante quince años fue muy exitosa la campaña turística de "sin ingredientes artificiales." Sin embargo, la globalización demanda una imagen-país que trascienda unos cuantos sectores productivos y se enfoque en elaborar una marca que distinga lo hecho en Costa Rica como un reflejo de lo que crece y vive en el país. 

Cuando se lanzó aquella campaña publicitaria, Intel no se había instalado en el país todavía. Esta semana, que la compañía lanza al mercado su nuevo procesador Nehalem, se debe hacer del conocimiento del mundo entero que un equipo de 70 ingenieros costarricenses de la firma trabajaron en la investigación y desarrollo de este procesador, llamado a ser el primero de una generación ambientalmente amigable de microprocesadores. O sea, aún con ingredientes artificiales, Costa Rica se destaca a nivel mundial. 

Si bien el país está preparándose para salir de un letargo de 15 años en materia de telecomunicaciones, pasando de una red celular TDMA a una de tercera generación en cuestión de un año, en materia de generación de energías renovables el país tiene décadas de ventaja a nivel mundial. Esto es importante de mencionar considerando que, así como la gran revolución de los noventas fue la informática y la computación y la de esta década ha sido la de las tecnologías de información y comunicación (TIC), la próxima gran revolución aparentemente será la de la generación de energía renovable. 

En este ámbito, Costa Rica ya produce el 93% de su electricidad a partir de fuentes renovables, entre las cuales destacan mayoritariamente la generación hidroeléctrica, la energía geotérmica, la energía eólica y la energía por biomasa. Mientras otros países del mundo luchan por buscar formas económicamente viables de reducir su huella de carbono en el cada vez más contaminado medioambiente planetario, Costa Rica está procurando convertirse en el primer país carbono-neutral para el 2021, año del bicentenario de su independencia. 

En materia de pobreza, Costa Rica parece haber encontrado una fórmula bastante eficaz para controlar esta patología socioeconómica. Eliminó sus fuerzas armadas hace 60 años, priorizó desde entonces el gasto público en salud y educación, y mantiene un régimen democrático reconocido como el más antiguo de América Latina. 

Es importante resaltar el tema de la desmilitarización. Mientras el gasto militar del planeta ya alcanza los 1.2 billones de dólares (en inglés, trillion dollars), el gasto de Costa Rica es cero. Peor aún, cuando se revisan las Metas de Desarrollo del Milenio fijadas por las Naciones Unidas en el año 2000 y los costos para alcanzarlas, con ese dinero en armas se podrían cumplir todas las metas ocho veces. Así lo ha desacado vehementemente el presidente Óscar Arias Sánchez, Premio Nóbel de la Paz, ante la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas, acto en el cual presentó la propuesta para crear el Consenso de Costa Rica, un pacto mundial por medio del cual los países en vías de desarrollo que reduzcan su gasto militar para destinarlo a salud y educación serán mejor considerados para recibir cooperación de los países desarrollados. 

Esto no quiere decir que en Costa Rica se viva sin violencia. La violencia es inherente al ser humano, por lo tanto nos corresponde a nosotros mismos aprender a lidiar con ella. Lo que sí es cierto es que Costa Rica ha descartado, constitucionalmente, verse involucrado alguna vez en un conflicto bélico con cualquier otro estado vecino. Esto también quiere decir que en Costa Rica no es posible realizar un golpe de estado, pues no hay ejército para sustentarlo. Parafraseando al presidente Arias, las madres costarricenses pueden estar tranquilas de saber que jamás verán a sus hijos morir en la guerra. 

El tema de la paz por desmilitarización es tan actual hoy como lo fue hace 60 años. Hoy en día también es indispensable el tema de la paz con el medio ambiente, y Costa Rica busca compartir con el mundo la fórmula que la hacen merecedora de un impresionante quinto lugar en el Índice de Desempeño Ambiental. Por ello, la presente administración Arias Sánchez ha lanzado la iniciativa Paz con la Naturaleza para demostrarle al mundo cómo se logra el desarrollo socioeconómico de manera sostenible. El liderazgo que el país ha alcanzado en las últimas dos décadas en campos como ecoturismo, reforestación y biodiversidad, sólo se comparan con el liderazgo que el país asumió desde hace 60 años cuando empezó a reservar áreas naturales para la conservación y la reserva biológicas. En la actualidad, más del 25% del territorio son áreas de conservación, uno de los porcentajes más altos del mundo. 

Sin afán de agotar el tema, se conoce poco lo que han sido las culturas prehispánicas en Costa Rica. Sin embargo, se han encontrado en el territorio nacional decenas de milenarias esferas de piedra que datan de una época en la que ninguna otra civilización conocida comprendía el concepto de la esfericidad. Este gran aporte a la humanidad que data de más de dos mil años atrás es un referente histórico de la fertilidad que ha brotado del ser humano que ha ocupado estas tierras. 

Así, con algunos ingredientes artificiales, siempre con la paz como rector y el desarrollo sostenible como objetivo, Costa Rica atrae importantes inversiones transnacionales que buscan esa paz y ese desarrollo alcanzado por el empleo de una mano de obra libre, saludable, educada, democrática, pacífica, quizás los elementos esenciales para que brote la creatividad, pilar fundamental de la innovación. También, la fertilidad de la tierra respetada por las manos y las mentes que la labran produce miles de bienes agrícolas, industriales y agroindustriales que trascienden las fronteras de más de 140 países del mundo. 

Eso es lo que significa "hecho en Costa Rica." Esa marca y esa imagen son las que se deberían divulgar para que el planeta entero se informe y se forme percepciones que hagan honor a la verdad de lo que se cree que es un modelo de desarrollo eficaz y sostenible.