In these rather grim times dominated by political and scientific procrastination on environmental issues, where can we find a bit of reassurance?
Far from the tedious calculations and conceptions of models performed by climatologists of all persuasions – agnostics, skeptics, or apostates – can we approach ecological issues from another angle, with the humanities? Is there an ecology that is capable of making us happy, a gentle ecology that reconciles man with his environment?
We believe that beauty is structuring. Living in a beautiful environment, regardless of the highly subjective nature of beauty, is a source of well being and healing. Some environments are clearly healing for they allow us to keep at bay our difficulties and problems, creating a sort of psychological frontier beyond which a new space and time unfolds.
The behavioral sciences have largely highlighted the aesthetic qualities of certain places that elicit calm wonder and awe over those who contemplate them or merely walk through them.
Are we then justified in wondering if being connected to nature really does lead to a happier, healthier, and generally more mindful individual?
The American biologist Edward Wilson is father to the concept of “biophilia”, from ancient Greek and meaning “he who became friends with nature”. According to him, Man is attracted to nature, a drive that expresses his innate need to establish connections with the living world.
We are already perfectly aware that man maintains a utilitarian relationship with nature, upon which he depends for his very survival. Even separated, at least in appearance, from his natural environment, man continues to be attracted culturally and aesthetically to Nature.
The hypothesis of “biophilia” however goes further. It suggests that our genes have maintained the memory of the millions of years when man was one with his natural environment. Therefore, even disconnected, living in artificial urban environments, we protect this memory, this particular affective tie. Thus, experiments in behavioral psychology, with highly strict protocols, have shown that even broadly defined links with nature had a beneficial effect on human wellbeing. A hospital room or office overlooking a natural landscape would increase feelings of peace and reduce stress.
Happiness is not incompatible with the environment
If this hypothesis holds, then amputating all natural subjects from man’s existence would be depriving him of a source of personal development and happiness. Paradoxically, this same individual would also be deprived of humanity, as he would no longer be able to (re)connect with his inner nature. Jean Jacques Rousseau would approve…
Before sinking further into the planet’s wide spin, let’s examine the debate from another angle. Happiness is not incompatible with the environment, quite the contrary. There is no room here for sterile lamentations on paradise lost through human fault; those choruses will be put aside. We are here to find our way back to happiness, lightness, and grace. A calmer, more peaceful relationship with nature is part of this journey. It is in everyone’s interest not to permanently alter this universal bond for between me and myself lies Nature.
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As Europe prepares to negotiate a new common agricultural policy, we want to emphasize that in today’s world, it is impossible to consider the issue without also examining its inevitable corollaries, such as the quality of our diet, maintaining biodiversity, climate change, and the development of rural areas in emerging countries.
We must first reaffirm the urgent need for agricultural policies in both developed and developing countries. Agriculture is a unique sector of activity. It is the foundation of our diet and it has an impact on our environment, our economy, and our territories, all the while being subject to the vagaries of climate. It is both essential to life and constitutes a defining element that structures the identity of our societies. This is the reason why it must be guided by political will and not be buffeted by market forces. Post-war European leaders understood this on a profound level, which led them to the creation of the CAP.
However, the policy’s limitations started to be felt in the 1980s. Support through price control and export subsidies warped the original intent; leading to negative environmental consequences and the export of surplus products at below market cost to developing countries, which then jeopardized local, unsubsidized production.
European agriculture should not produce imbalances in developing countries
Despite successive reforms of the CAP, it is vital we guide European agriculture so that it does not produce imbalances in developing countries. While agricultural policies enabled the United States and Europe to protect and develop their agriculture, developing countries, forced by international institutions to open their borders and deregulate their markets, witnessed the disorganization and discouragement of their agricultural. Their food sovereignty was thus endangered.
Therefore, the new CAP must stop the antagonistic competition between farmers. If we maintain a CAP in Europe, we must also establish a genuine pact with developing countries.
This requires us to change our approach; we must move away from state led decisions to a true cooperative process within concerned sectors
Preserving family farmers
Worldwide, eight hundred million peasants are family farmers. This traditional production method plays a fundamental role in structuring societies. Wherever appropriate, it is crucial to preserve this model in order to avoid a mass exodus. We must strengthen the model, transforming it into a pillar of agriculture organization. To do so requires encouraging family farmers to consolidate into cooperatives, which may in turn develop into organized entities within the sector, first at the national then the sub-regional levels. These organizations can then take part in participatory processes to stimulate market regulations.
Fair trade markets are current examples that these regulations are possible. Within such a context, guaranteed minimum prices are determined after consultations with networks of producers and other economic players in the field.
Thus structured, players can acquire a real working knowledge of markets and related issues. It is indeed a necessary condition to maintain competitive balance; he who possesses information, possesses the power. The choice of products can thus be made consciously, in full awareness.
An agricultural pact between Europe and emerging countries must also include sustainable land management by local communities and a verifiable list of environmental specifications to promote environmentally sustainable production methods that preserve ecosystems.
In addition to the involvement of farmers in the different networks and channels, we must raise awareness amongst citizen-consumers concerning the conditions and stakes of production. Agricultural products should no longer be regarded as merely a flow of interchangeable products. Prices should also incorporate the producer’s survival and development costs as well as that of territorial management. These new prices must also take into account hidden costs such as pollution and the loss of biodiversity, which must no longer be shouldered by the taxpayers or future generations.
The lack of organized stakeholders in developing countries
These measures have already been successfully tested in the life-size laboratory embodied by the international label Fairtrade / Max Havelaar. They could inspire future agricultural policies for both developed and developing countries, particularly in the management of transnational, agricultural industries. This entails overcoming several obstacles. The first is the lack of organized stakeholders in developing countries; their emergence must be encouraged all the while dissipating problems linked to corruption. In many countries, this means strengthening the vigilance of non-governmental groups.
We must also utterly change paradigms by extracting agricultural commodities from a logic of total liberalization issued from WTO negotiations. Finally, we must invest to both improve yields within the framework of ecological sustainability and secondly to reinstate regulatory tools for agricultural raw materials.
Directeur / Executive director
Max Havelaar France
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World Environment Day should not exist. Yet every year, on June 5, it is crucial to continue reminding everyone – citizens and especially political figures – just how vital the health of our planet is. This is true not only for the environment and the resulting biodiversity, but also for us who live in it, who use and too often abuse its resources. We must maintain the pressure for our food, our health, our survival depend on the quality of our natural environment. Unfortunately, the fact that World Environment Day continues to exist demonstrates how much more still needs to be done in order to generate greater awareness regarding the nature that nurtures us.
Saving the environment means paying into life insurance for the future
June 5, 2010 is branded by the millions of gallons of oil that are spilling across the Gulf of Mexico; let this not overshadow the other dramas that are taking place far from media spotlights. In Madagascar, Mozambique and many other countries, land is being sold off for a song to foreign multinationals, depriving people of their agricultural resources and pushing them even further into food insecurity. The commodification of water is on the rise even as more than 880 million people lack access to drinking water. Unbridled forestry and the quest for short term profits have decimated tropical and boreal forests to almost nothing and in so doing, deprive many people of resources, their habitats, and their culture. The list of environmental damage is long, far too long, and it marches forth hand in hand with irremediable social and economic disaster for those individuals with no other resources than this very environment on which they depend each and every day.
Saving the environment means paying into life insurance for the future. It is not only our future at stake but also all those small populations who are witnessing globalization engulf their languages and cultures. This is why ensuring access to water and quality healthcare, fighting deforestation and desertification, defending cultural diversity, alongside all the other projects developed and supported by the Foundation Chirac should be a priority for us all so that we will one day no longer need a World Environment Day.