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Interview with Geneviève Ferone

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 26 April 2011

Are we witnessing a paradigm shift concerning economic and social development?

Yes. Particularly since 2008 and in recent months, with the devastating economic crisis, because issues of instability, social alienation, vulnerability, and loss of purchasing power have gained such importance. Even in developed countries, considered more robust. De facto, the need to restore purchasing power, to accelerate the transfer of technology to create growth and jobs, especially in emerging countries, takes center stage.

Has this been taken into account by experts and governments?

Yes, they have changed foci, placing greater emphasis on social programs. The question that then arises acutely concerns the creation of wealth: we do create wealth but how and to whom will it be redistributed? How can we prevent exclusion? How can we create “buffers” to protect the poor? In emerging countries, food, energy, rent are pressing questions. Issues relating to housing, food, energy, mobility, have become pervasively present. On the consumer side, these concerns unfold in a continuous loop ; you need only consider the content of blogs and the aspects of political agendas.

The Fondation Chirac educates purchasing advisors for construction lumber and wood products. Is this project in tune with apprehending the “sobriety” you mention in your book, Krach écologique? What other everyday examples can you give us?

If we believe that we have entered a transitional phase that focuses on issues of innovative approaches to resource consumption and aims to create virtuous circles around recycling, optimization, reduction and reuse, we must start considering what must be done in sectors such as construction, for example. The subject deals with the recycling industry in its broadest definition. We throw too much away, compared to what could be recycled, re-injected into the manufacturing process, into a circular economy. “My waste can become someone else’s resource,” provided there are channels to reclaim, develop, recycle… This implies a logistics chain, possibly the “remanufacturing” of the resource in order to correspond to precise specifications, so that it may be reused in terms of equivalent quality and safety standards.

Can we learn from Nature?

This entire chain needs to be invented, following Nature’s example, which offers us this wisdom on a daily basis. Nature only produces bio-nourishing waste. Ultimately, man is the only species that produces waste that does not feed the environment. However, cutting skills-expertise-innovations, called “bio-mimicry” allow us to imitate nature. We can also lengthen the shelf-life of products; or find more “virtuous” products containing fewer chemical inputs, which allow for carbon storage, such as wood, and capable of being used in a multitude of ways. The condition for all of this though is to carefully measure our environmental footprint and the savings achieved.

But are we not currently subject to contradictory summons: preserving on the one hand and consuming ever more on the other?

Nowadays, two seemingly contradictory messages have collided. Beyond the moral level, we can see that more ephemeral, disposable products are being manufactured. Generations of these products are renewed with little added value. In opposition, we advocate to increase the shelf life of certain products, which refutes certain industries that, through their marketing strategies, are focused on shortening the length of usage. And at the same time, many messages fall in line with the concept of a circular and functional economy. They urge consumers to buy products or goods in order to make them last or to share the use of goods or services. It is a form of “dematerialization”; we no longer “own” things and entrust someone else to maintain the stock of objects. However, by doing this, we move economy’s chain of values. It is, by its very essence, learning a form of “lightness”, which implies a level of “maturity” of behalf of the different actors who share the goods or services. A single grain of sand can jam the system… It is still a very fragile model, as still very experimental.

What do you think of the introduction of the National Sustainable Development Week, (from April 1 to 7). It appears to highlight the responsibility of each one of us in particular while you give more prominence to a new global governance…. How do you conceive of this new governance?

First, the existing global governance is not yet homogeneous. And when we think of “new governance”, we see there already exist “bricks”…; but they exist within an extremely slow process. Between Rio, in 1992, and the upcoming Rio +20, there have been of course, the efforts of the IPCC and the Kyoto Protocol, but this is all very fragile and advancing slowly.

I think we need to imagine something else: local initiatives.

Therefore, the Sustainable Development Week is positive: it educates those involved and during one week, it posits a single theme. It helps focus attention. We can all see sustainable development “at our door” so to speak, otherwise it remains a vague and distant concept. This gives it local meaning. I think it is crucial to devise a governance at the regional, territorial, and city level. This allows citizens to become politically engaged and witness results at their local level.

Do you think the changes induced by the growing awareness of concepts such as environmental protection and preservation of biodiversity, confront us with new priorities?

Yes, the key question becomes: can we afford the luxury of developing further at the expense of the environment?

Two time arrows, heading in opposite directions, govern us.

There is the entropic arrow: we consume more wealth than we can renew or restore… We are therefore heading towards the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of the environment. We are, in addition, ever more numerous, consuming increasing amounts of energy, and producing quantities of non-recyclable waste.

But the other arrow reflects the fact that we have never been so aware, never been such stalwart holders of knowledge…. And this knowledge can help us restore the balance that we are destroying.

… Another duality?

Yes, a race against the clock. Will this knowledge allow us one day to mature and to limit or even stop our “predation” that depletes wealth? I want to be optimistic. I hope there will be a “jolt.” Because time is money, it will require substantial investments for our knowledge to be channelled into relevant topics and to be shared appropriately. Money is not the issue, it simply needs to be put in the right place.

In the most advanced, northern countries, it seems many people have begun to focus on “intangibles” (which some claim to measure with the GDH, the index of “Gross Domestic Happiness”)?

Yes, we should perhaps change our measures. The GDP, for example, is rather incomplete because it does not factor in the destruction of natural capital, our ecological debt. It is therefore possible to witness impressive growth associated with high pollution… It would be wise to abandon this idea of ​​growth in its narrowest definition, in favor of the concept of “prosperity” which also encompasses development, maintaining the quality of life, but also general well-being, immaterial riches, knowledge societies. It has a broader scope. I prefer  “prosperity” over “economic growth” because it encompasses and transcends the latter. The question thus arises concerning new measures for this “prosperity”. Many economists are debating the issue for it is a concept that can no longer be ignored. That said, GDP is a relatively simple, universal alphabet. Are we capable of finding an equally suitable measurement for “prosperity”?

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What will be Prometheus’ new flame?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 16 March 2011

A tragedy already enacted many times over

Since time immemorial, the oldest founding myths have perfectly captured the essence of our tormented soul and described the fragility of our existence. The eternal human “factor” has travelled throughout the ages, endlessly weaving the same dramas, touching upon the same wounds. Everything can be repeated at each living moment, in every civilization, playing out the unchanging elements of a tragedy already enacted many times over. Yet behind the recent revolutions and natural disasters, these terrible events that have marked the start of 2011, emerges for the first time in such sharp focus, the extreme vulnerability of our societies in terms of their most precious, shared commodity : energy.

A double irreversibility inflect’s humanity’s path

The energy systems that power the world produce irreversible consequences. The law of entropy reminds us that time’s arrow shapes the future in a sole and unique direction: towards the use and degradation of our finite stock of resources. We will bequeath to future generations a natural heritage that has largely been undermined and depleted, one that is less adapted to their needs. However, time has more arrows than just entropy to govern our evolution. Our increasing knowledge is just as important, though less tangible. The progress of human knowledge is also an irreversible process. A double irreversibility inflects humanity’s path: the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the accumulation of techniques and knowledge.

A race

Starting with these two dynamic processes, we can decide to increase resource use as long as we have sufficient knowledge to ensure the system’s sustainability. Here this means sustaining the planet’s energy system. We are caught in a race in which we must simultaneously reduce the rate of resource depletion and invest heavily in research, especially concerning any and all measures that could reduce the energy intensity of our lifestyles and develop alternative solutions.

All the necessary conditions to best handle this deadline seem to be met. However, we have come to realize over and over again that we have not always fully utilized available information to organize the transition as quickly as possible. This is precisely our current situation . The challenge lies in the ability of our institutions to tackle problems that overshadow them. If we cannot find both technological and political alternatives, we will remain stunned and helpless. Nobody can imagine a world without energy. We are not (yet) capable of doing without fossil fuels. We fear nuclear energy more than the threat of climate change and renewable energy is insignificant when compared with what is at stake. Our ancient Fire is slowly extinguishing and as it declines, it threatens to engulf the globe and divide humanity. Of what will Prometheus’ new flame be made? At no other time in our history has this issue so urgently made itself heard. It has come to a point where the answers we will provide will structure the very framework of the first half of this century.

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The importance of preserving forests

Posted by Emmanuelle Grundmann on 3 March 2011

After the UN proclaimed the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, its now the forests turn to take the spot on the international stage. Certainly, international years and days go by without producing the slightest concrete result. These events, despite shedding light on the forest, potable water, the rights of indigenous peoples, amongst others, they share a major drawback: they only last for a limited time. Once the event has passed the actions taken and lessons learned are often forgotten.

The water of New York, saved by forests

The results that we saw in Nagoya, were not up to the challenges presented by the Year of Biodiversity that just ended. Fortunately, 2011 can be considered a catch up period of all of those who refused to see the importance of biodiversity for the future of our planet.

Refusing the preservation of biodiversity in the name of economic development results in very short-term vision that makes absolutely no sense. Yes, these measures can seem restrictive at first glance, yet they are guarantees of good economic and social health in the mid and long term. Biodiversity brings many services that should not be underestimated. For example, supplying potable water; or pollination, which is essential for a large part of global agriculture; without forgetting the ever-growing number of medicinal substances found amongst animals, plants, and micro-organisms. A part of these services are made possible by forests and the species that they are home to.

The example of New York City is quite remarkable. The city has always been known for its free potable water. The water comes from the confines of the forests upstate, in the Catskill Mountains. However, this region saw very important expansion of agricultural land in the middle of the 20th century, to the detriment of natural ecosystems, particularly forests. This agriculture took the path of the agro-industry, extremely greedy for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. By the end of the 90s, the soil and the groundwater were so contaminated that the water was no longer fit for consumption. The city decided not to build a water treatment plant that would cost between 6 and 8 billion dollars, but rather to restore the degraded ecosystem of the once forested Catskill Mountains. And this, for the price of less than a billion dollars. Today, the 9 million inhabitants of the Big Apple and surrounding areas can again drink good quality potable water.

Over and above these services, we cannot forget that these very diverse forests (temperate, boreal, tropical, Mediterranean) are still home to 300 million men and women. For the Baka, the Penans, the Awà, the Dongria, the Kondh, the Komi or the Sami, the forest represents their pantry, their drug store, their home, their spirit. And nearly 2 billion people depend directly or indirectly on forest resources to live. The overexploitation of ecosystems and severe deforestation that is rampant in certain regions of the world puts the lives of these populations in peril.  This is something I have observed multiple times through my travels and reports.

Forests, our life insurance for the future

On my last trip, in Colombia, Juan and his family, of the Kogis people, spoke to me for a long time about their relationship with their forest. It’s a forest that they know inside out as well as the species it hosts. This forest furnishes everything that they need, or almost. They could not live without the forest and they never fail to thank it for all that it provides.

In our countries where consumption is raised up as the supreme value, without us realizing, forests (and particularly those of the tropical belt) continue to provide us with multiple products and services that we could not live without. Nevertheless, far from thanking it, we exploit it, worse we clear-cut it.

We have to hope that this year, 2011, will allow the public and all actors: political, social and economic to better know these ecosystems and to understand to what point they are our life insurance for the future. And, if we want this Year of Forests to be embodied with real and concrete political and economic decisions; ambitious, courageous, necessary, and proportionate to the value these ecosystems represent, we must all take action. This Year of Forests is not for a small number of dedicated individuals, NGOs, and foundations working for their preservation. This Year of Forests is ours. And the future of the forests is also our own.

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Tropical forests on the carbon market: a historical opportunity for the climate or a new source of hot air?

Posted by Alain Karsenty on 11 February 2011

In 1997, just before the Kyoto conference, it was anyone’s guess whether negotiators would focus on a carbon tax or tradable emissions permits to reduce greenhouse gases. In the end, tradable permits were chosen, along with “flexibility mechanisms” such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These mechanisms were supposed to achieve the adopted quantitative targets for reducing emissions at a lower cost. These choices were based on economic theories stating that to achieve an environmental objective we can choose to regulate prices (through taxes) or quantity (through quotas). The possible existence of a dangerous threshold concentration that would tip the climate system into an uncontrollable dynamic proned a cap and trade approach of emission permits. Unfortunately, an emissions cap was never implemented because emerging countries did not participate and because of various “loopholes” such as the CDM.

Nearly 10 years after the flexible mechanisms took effect, it has become increasingly clear that they have been primarily used to defer investments for emissions reductions and the necessary adjustments in patterns of consumption and transportation in industrialized countries. They have had only a marginal influence on the end-goals of the Climate Convention. The CDM has allowed a host of experts to do good business but has not prevented hundreds of coal plants to open alongside wind farms in China and elsewhere; contrary to hopes at the end 1990s. The political economy of a mechanism whose reliability depends on rigorous expert analysis based on the accuracy and transparency of information provided by the businesses themselves was utterly underestimated. The very design of the instrument, based on scenarios such as “what would have happened without the project?” coupled with a market where certification offices compete with companies applying for CDMs, has lead the way to all sorts of abuses that the regulatory institution is incapable of controlling. As for ‘development’ goals that were supposed to be the prerequisite for a CDM project, they were quickly abandoned.

Just a lot of hot air?

Even though a proper assessment of these market devices has yet to be completed by the Climate Convention (the systems have been criticized by experts as well known as Hansen, the climatologist, or Nordhaus the economist of climate change), it is entirely possible that they will be renewed and their scope extended to include tropical forests through the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). Variations in deforestation rates from one period to another depend more on fluctuations in agricultural prices and weather incidents than they do on public action, especially in “faltering states”. The carbon credits issued in such situations will most certainly be the result of circumstantial incidents rather than a deliberate choice of public undertaking. This in turn will generate even more hot air and weaken the price signal, which is the basis of the incentive system.

It is possible to envision a new structure for both the post-Kyoto world and the REDD program that revolves around taxation. The creation of an International Fund to Fight against Deforestation needs only a concerted decision by a certain number of countries. They could supplement it with the much talked about “innovative financing” that can be implemented within their own borders. This is George Soros’ idea; he argues for financing such a fund, at least initially, with taxes on airline tickets – similar to the system France helped initiate to fight AIDS. This fund could also support agricultural transformations in tropical countries. These measures should also aim to support economic activities that focus on sustainably developing various forest resources, as well as the agricultural sector through “ecological intensification”, and land ownership (enforceable rights for farmers and communities against monopolizing attempts by Agribusiness). In failing states, nothing can be achieved without first reconstructing the capacity for public action and restoring a minimum rule of law. These are all public policy priorities that we cannot expect the carbon market to address.

Alain Karsenty
CIRAD

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And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse

Posted by Jacques Godfrain on 26 January 2011

The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.

Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.

For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.

The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.

And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.

Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.

And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.

Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.

Today, circumstances require action not contrition.

Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.

We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.

This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.

When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.

Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.

Jacques GODFRAIN
Former Minister
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron

(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.

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Sustainable energy solutions for the poor

Posted by Rajendra K. Pachauri on 19 January 2011

An important aspect of development, which has received woefully inadequate attention from the global community, and even most national governments, relates to the widespread lack of energy access across the globe. In the past voices were raised to include access to energy as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but this did not find favour with some country governments. The result is that almost twenty years after the Rio Summit we still have almost a billion and a half people across the world without access to electricity in their homes. And, well over two billion depend on biomass as a cooking fuel, often inferior in quality, with serious adverse impacts on the health of those who are exposed to harmful emissions from these fuels.

Lighting a Billion Lives

There is now some stirring of interest at various levels worldwide, resulting from a genuine concern targeting the welfare of such a large section of human society as well as the potential for reducing future greenhouse gas emissions in those poor countries which are currently deprived of modern fuels, but would normally follow the path of fossil fuel use as an outcome of development. One major innovation is the programme launched by TERI for Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) which is based on the development of highly efficient and cost-effective solar lanterns, which are provided through a variety of measures, some of which are market-based, to villages without electricity. Typically a woman is trained as an entrepreneur to charge the solar lanterns within a village using a photovoltaic panel on her roof and renting out the lanterns to the villagers during the night. TERI has covered over 600 villages with this programme in India and several others in other parts of Asia including Myanmar and with plans to implement this programme in parts of Africa, such as in Sierra Leone. However, institutional innovations, large scale financing arrangements, training and capacity building would be essential prerequisites for the wide success of such a programme at the global level.

A programme such as LaBL provides great promise for the provision of clean and sustainable lighting solutions to those who would probably have no hope otherwise for the early use of electricity in their homes. However the outlook for effective, environmentally clean and sustainable energy solutions to meet the cooking needs of the world’s poor does not appear very bright. It is time that the global community at large, multilateral development organizations, and corporate organizations intent on socially relevant initiatives mount major efforts to innovate in this area to tackle a form of deprivation, which is completely out of place in a globalised world moving ahead with economic growth and technological advancement in the 21st century.

RK Pachauri
Director-General, TERI
Chairman, IPCC

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A very happy New Year to all, including all of the forests of the world….

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 5 January 2011

The United Nations have declared 2011 the International Year of Forests, which we at the Fondation warmly welcome. The fight against deforestation and support of sustainable harvest of timber are amongst the Fondation’s primary objectives, particularly because we are conscience of the direct link that exists between forest preservation and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples.

The future of these populations is intimately linked to their ecosystems, on which they are dependent for survival. Preserving their forest, allows them to continue to live their traditional lifestyle, to meet their needs by sustainably using the resources of their forest, and as well as preserving their culture and language, the forest protects them from the frenetic evolution of today’s world.

The deforestation of a zone inhabited by an indigenous population is all too often synonymous with the forced entry into the Western and globalized world and the loss of orientation for fragile populations. Here we are measuring a very important aspect of the strong interdependence that exists between the forest and human development.

The forest is more than just a bunch of trees and vegetation to be admired while strolling through the countryside. The forest is an immense sanctuary of biodiversity, it is the most important reserve of fresh water in the world, the best way to preserve our soils from erosion, to maintain high soil quality and thus to reap successful harvests and to preserve our climate.

100 square meters destroyed every second

The forest is the lung of the planet, a lung that is in a pitiful state and that we continue to destroy at the rate of 100 square meters every second…

We really hope that this year, 2011, is the starting point for a greater awareness on the importance of the forest and its multiple interdependencies with human development. To all, we wish you a wonderful year in 2011…. in the forest!!!

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Sustainable development and respect for diversity are intimately linked

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 8 December 2010

The Foundation has, from the start, stated that defending peace and promoting the sustainable development of our planet, necessarily entails respect for the diversity of cultures and more generally all forms of life. President Chirac is passionate about the cause of the First Peoples and has always encouraged dialogue between cultures as the very foundation for peace and the guarantee of a more harmonious, durable, richer development.

Given the hegemony of a dominant ideology and the market system that standardizes tastes and broader societal choices, we must offer solutions that are by definition different and complementary. We can not solve the current economic, social, and cultural crisis with a single model, but rather by working through the combination and complementarity of different visions. This is a feature of the sustainable development movement, it is inherently tied to natural Biodiversity but it is also by nature tied to a Biodiversity of approaches and solutions.

We cannot leave oil behind unless we combine all sources of renewable energy, unless we adjust the current neoliberal model by adapting it to the social and environmental constraints of each country or continent, unless we change the world by ceasing to create blocks and conflicts between civilizations.

Each individual must create a personal life model

This vision directly echoes President Chirac’s decision not to intervene during the second Iraq war, and in so doing, ending the binary and hegemonic vision held by the United States at the time.

Respect for each and everyone’s diverse point of view, for their participation in harmoniously changing the world, all the while allowing each his or her freedom; this is a message that offers particular depth to the concept of Sustainable Development. The theme is approached here in terms of subsidiarity. Each individual must create a personal life model, more in harmony with himself and the Planet. This would replace the current model, often based on a dominant ideology that impoverishes the world and leads into a dead-end.

One of the Fondation’s most powerful messages is that it is up to each of us to observe and participate in these multiple visions that enrich our daily lives and help build our future World.

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Sustainable Forest Stewardship: The model approach of the Forest Trust

Posted by Tristan Lecomte on 20 October 2010

According to the WWR, 40 % of timber imported into France is illegal. The lack of information on the stakes of eco-certification explains this behavior. There is a powerful incentive to effectively fight against uncontrolled deforestation throughout the World. The Forest Trust (TFT) is a respected non-governmental organization working in the field and a valued partner of the Fondation Chirac in its program to “Fight Deforestation and Desertification”.

The originality of the TFT is to tackle the problem of deforestation using a global approach to the domain. What is the use of raising consumer awareness about buying sustainably managed timber if the channels are not established and properly controlled beforehand? How can the logging industry be encouraged to undertake better practices without technical assistance and without incentives from subsequent markets?

Thus, the TFT works from one end to the other of the timber chain in order to ensure proper management. By bettering conditions for planting, logging, and the sales of timber we switch from a situation in which deforestation worsens global warming and increasingly pauperizes populations (they benefit very marginally from profits of the illegal sale of timber) to a virtuous situation in which forests are responsibly managed, in which their capacity to stock CO2 is accrued, and in which the value of the entire sector increases for the benefit of all.

Les étudiants de la promotion Moabi sur un chantier d’exploitation forestièreThis is the driving spirit behind the Centre for Social Excellence for the sustainable stewardship of forests in Cameroon, financed by the Fondation Chirac. This center is associated with a logging concession of 365 000 hectares that obtained an FSC certificate guaranteeing the sustainable management of its activities, a first in Africa. Their practices take into account the rights and lifestyles of local communities who are directly implicated, most notably by way of a community radio. The goal of the center is to expand the project to 7 million hectares by involving and training over a dozen local logging companies in sustainable forest stewardship.

The TFT is following the same approach in a number of countries. One of these is Laos where we had a chance to better grasp the added value of TFT on the field. The TFT is training communities and logging companies to optimize the planting and cutting of trees as well as in the sustainable management of timber. They also reinforce the ties and traceability with environmentally concerned buyers in our countries.

The forest is not an obstacle to development in developing countries

Together, the Fondation Chirac and the TFT strengthen these ties all the way to architects in France, the primary purchasing advisors for timber used in construction, by offering innovative and exemplary training. The Fondation also supports this newest initiative, in keeping with its partner’s example of a holistic approach to the sector.

The TFT’s approach to the sector has many advantages, one of which is to show that respecting the environment through better forest stewardship one is also creates added value for economic entities and improved social impact for the poorest populations. The forest is not an obstacle to development in developing countries. On the contrary it is one of their most precious assets. We must render it even more attractive in order to better ensure the sustainable development of these countries.

Tristan Lecomte discovers the project at Luang PrabangBusinesses and consumers in wealthy countries are more and more concerned with the social and environmental conditions of the products they buy. This is a powerful incentive for operators at the beginning of the chain. The TFT and the Fondation Chirac have therefore naturally joined forces around these themes that demonstrate the interdependence of economic, social, and environmental issues. Their partnership intends to shed light on the challenges and encourage the development of virtuous practices throughout the timber industry. Perhaps one day, their efforts will extend to every consumer product.

This would be an excellent reminder that all of our purchases at home condition the factors of social and environmental peace in the most vulnerable countries from whence these products are issued. This is a starting point to rethink our relationship to consumerism and its impact on Humanity and the Environment.

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Do We Need Nature to be Happy?

Posted by Geneviève Ferone on 23 June 2010

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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