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Academic year: 2021






Carlos R. S. Milani1 Abstract

The post-Cold War years make way for a renewal of the Latin American debate over the tensions between the environment, ethics and international politics. Defenders of the idea that the international system emerges exclusively from the interaction between sovereign and independent political entities counter those who support the centrality on the eco-political agenda of many other actors that go beyond the Nation-State. That is, the principles of unconditional sovereignty and non-interference – tenets that traditionally construct the contours of the field of “international relations” – are questioned by the growing transnationalization of political activism in favor of ethical and responsible conducts in the environmental field. Based on these conjectures, the present article is structured in two parts: (1) a discussion on the process of internationalization of the environmental problem and the contemporary tensions between environment, ethics and international politics in Latin America; (2) an analysis of issues brought on the political agenda by Latin American environmentalism operating in the heart of transnational contention within anti/alterglobalist movements.

Key-words: Environmental Movements; Political Ecology; Transnationalization; International Relations.


Os anos pós-Guerra Fria possibilitam uma renovação do debate latino-americano sobre as tensões entre meio ambiente, ética e política internacional. Defensores da idéia de que o sistema internacional emerge exclusivamente da interação entre entidades políticas soberanas e independentes contrapõem-se aos que sustentam a centralidade na agenda ecopolítica de muitos outros atores para além do Estado. Ou seja, os princípios da soberania incondicionada e da não-ingerência – ordenadores tradicionais do sentido das “relações internacionais” – são questionados pela crescente transnacionalização do ativismo político a favor de condutas éticas e responsáveis no campo ambiental. É com base nesses pressupostos que o presente artigo se estrutura em duas partes: (1) uma discussão sobre o processo de internacionalização da problemática ambiental e das tensões contemporâneas entre meio ambiente, ética e política internacional na América Latina; (2) uma análise dos questionamentos trazidos para a agenda política por movimentos ambientalistas latino-americanos operando no seio da contestação transnacional dos movimentos anti/alterglobalistas.

Palavras-chave: Movimentos Ambientalistas; Ecologia Política; Transnationalização. Relações Internacionais.


The first more politicized and critical debates about the environment problem on the international agenda date back to the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, culminating with the historical landmark which represented the celebration of the 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment (Stockholm). Before this, social representations


Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), and member of the Graduate Program in Administration (NPGA). He is also a research fellow of the Brazilian National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the current coordinator of the Laboratory of World Political Analysis (LABMUNDO).


of the environmental problem were influenced, above all, by criteria linked to the conservation and the preservation of ecosystems (seas, subsoil, Antarctica, denuclearized zones), as well as the protection of endangered species (migratory birds, aquatic mammals). Starting in 1972, politics, science and nature gradually began to build a common agenda (LATOUR, 1999), leading to highly political dialogues between the urgency of environmental protection and the need for sustainable development. This agenda has been permeated by a rhetoric of power of institutional actors (defense of unconditional sovereignty, principles of non-interference, formal political representation), but also by monitoring activities (environmental expertise, production of counter-information) and denunciations by activists who frequently use shaming and naming strategies around environmental disasters or petrochemical accidents. Both types of discourses have strongly marked the beginning of the process of internationalization of the environmental problem.

As of the 1980s, the environment became a central theme on the world agenda of political and economic negotiations, notably with regards to issues such as global warming, protection of the ozone layer and biodiversity, as well as deforestation and desertification. The environmental crisis stopped being a sectional item on a particular political agenda, and became part and parcel of a broader platform of collective security (BARROS-PLATIAU, 2006; MILANI, 1999). In the period between Stockholm-1972 and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), a consensus was consolidated, this time also corroborated by scientific expertise, that human interventions on nature have been of such a dimension that they have caused irreversible modifications into the structure and functioning of ecosystems (from the level of organisms, to population and community levels, to landscapes and even to the level of the biosphere), thereby engendering the urgency for preventive actions founded on the ethical and political principles of precaution.

Today’s accumulated knowledge and greater awareness of the limits imposed by nature have been increasingly integrated within discourses and political actions of States and international non-state actors, both in the worldwide eco-politics and the regional Latin American political sphere. From the dialectics between a slow evolution (albeit certain and gradually more relevant) in the field of ideals, collective awareness and subjectivities, on the one hand, and the materially visible effects of the environmental crisis (e.g. in its relationships with the energy matrix, the economic model, patterns of consumption, strategic geopolitics or the survival of humanity itself) on the other, results a growing importance of environmental issues and actors in defining power structures of international relations. The environment interferes with Latin American regional politics as social representation (subjectivities and identities, political affiliations, discourses) and, at the same time, as a material and territorial structural dimension of the geopolitics of exchanges and alliances between societies, markets and governments (ROSA and DIETZ, 1998; PRADES, 1999).2

It is true that the ecological revolution from the perspective of ideas and beliefs occurred much time before the attainment of political, economic and institutional awareness. The pacifist movements which were against the use of atomic energy, the denunciations of the harmful effects of the “green revolution” and the use of pesticides in agriculture, among others, steered the first outcry from protestors in Latin American civil society. The political


Rosa and Dietz (1998) deal with different theoretical aspects for the comprehension of the relations between climate change and societies, recognizing that such transformations directly impact on the sustainability of ecosystems and all the forms of social organization (human and non-human). The authors identify two sociological orientations in understanding the relationships between climate change and societies: the orientation which they call neo-realist that has a materialistic foundation and presupposes an objective world independent from the perception of the human and social actors; and another constructivist orientation, which starts from the interpretive marks of the crisis caused by the climate changes.


structure, in opposition, was strongly mobilized by the alarm of the Club of Rome, upon the publication of the famous Meadows Report (“The Limits of Growth”) in 1972. By introducing themes relating to the threat of poverty and environmental devastation, this report was able to create the desired political shock in the institutional realms: the ecological, economic, demographic and political dimensions of the crisis corroborated the emergence of a distinctly global issue (ANDRADE and TARAVELLA, 2008; CALDWELL, 1984; MILANI, 2000). In Latin America, the outcry of the indigenous movements as well as the rubber tappers, the emergence of ecological urban movements and of the first green parties, the movement of those affected by dams (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens - MAB movement), the boom of non-governmental organizations in the 1990s, as well as the anti/alterglobalist networks of the World Social Forum, have raised, in a heterogeneous and non-unified way, the flag of environmental protection and the demand for a profound reform of the economic model (LEIS, 1991; MARTINEZ-ALIER, 2007; MILANI, 1998).

Especially in the subject field of International Relations, the post-Cold War years have made viable, albeit in an erratic and non homogenous way, a renewal of the debate on tensions between environmental issues, global economics and international politics. If, on the one hand, some authors defend the idea that the international system has emerged exclusively from the interaction among sovereign and independent political entities, on the other hand, it seems inevitable to acknowledge that the world eco-political order is also made up of many other actors beyond Nation States. That is, the principle of an unconditional sovereignty, the exercise of restricted state authority over national territory and the defense of the tenet of non-interference – traditional regulators of the meaning of “international relations’ – are contested by globalization processes, the internationalization of the environmental problem and the growing demand, expressed by environmental networks and movements, for ethical and responsible political decisions and economic changes. The international relations were built around sovereign Nation-States, provoking the natural emergence of the hypothesis that policies and politics would not exist outside this inter-State system. This naturalization of the “inter-national” system as an exclusive locus of international politics, however, does not allow us to understand the different forms of violation of the Westphalian sovereignty nowadays, such as military and humanitarian interventions, direct control of national territories, concessions of or restrictions to national sovereignties, international protection regimes, and the movement of financial capital (BADIE, 1995; CAIRO, 2006; SMOUTS, 2004).

National sovereignty, as a guiding tenet of the relations between societies and States, finds itself challenged by the principle of environmental responsibility, whose limits, in terms of regulation, frequently do not coincide with national borders. The environmental issues, transborder by nature or transnationalized by way of political actions of environmental movements and networks, renew the political agenda in Latin America, provoking convergences and confrontations of ethical standards, political norms and economic demands in the regulation of patterns of action of States and private agents (businesses, individuals and associations). It goes without saying that these convergences and confrontations between capital, political institutions and ecology do not occur without some important obstacles. In this present article, some political répertoires and demands of environmental movements in Latin America will be analyzed, above all those introduced within the anti/alterglobalist wave of the World Social Forum. The article is structures around two main parts: (1) a discussion on the process of internationalization of the environmental issue and the contemporary relations and tensions between the environment, global economy and international politics (emphasizing the regional Latin America perspective); (2) an analysis of some of the critical questions brought up by the Latin American environmentalist movements operating in the heart of transnational networks of the World Social Forum.



In the current context of Latin American political transformations, the environmental problem tends to increase already complex tensions between the principles of sovereignty and responsibility which involve interests of Nation-States and private agents, but also macro-collective demands for social justice and ecological prudence. The threats that hover over the environment (fragmentation of ecosystems, extinction of natural habitats, the introduction of exotic species, threats to indigenous identities) and the need to construct collective actions in order to prevent them or restore the environment points to the reformulation of essential political and ethical tenets. The environmental crisis reintroduces the debate on the common good into the normative and political Latin America agenda. In the case of socio-biodiversity protection schemes, for instance, tensions become more evident when two quite distinct visions of the cosmos discuss the future of regulatory mechanisms of knowledge and practices associated with natural diversity: on the one hand, there is the solution pointed out by the patents regime (intellectual property rights); on the other, we can find the demand by some indigenous and environmental movements for the recognition of the particular frame of the common good whenever traditional and indigenous knowledge or social practices associated with it are concerned (DIAS and COSTA, 2008; REZENDE, 2007).

To paraphrase Sousa Santos (2006), the environmental crisis generates zones of intercultural contact that may produce concepts and meanings of which assets (and how) need to be protected. These zones also show social practices referring to the definition of the conflicts and implementation mechanisms for environmental protection or ecological restoration. Within these zones of contact there are dialogs on different views and social representations of the environment. From a normative perspective, diversity is therefore not regarded as a factor of fragmentation or isolation; instead, it is regarded as an instigating element orienting towards a sense of “mutual non-completeness” and of solidarity. This sense is a sine qua non condition for achieving an intercultural dialog (SOUSA SANTOS, 2006).

The environmental issue is, in this connection, one of the factors that influence the reaccomodation of the contemporary world order at several levels, since it alludes to, simultaneously, a greater complexity of the ecological processes (for example, systemic effects of climatic changes), but it also takes part in the double game of international regulations based on solidarity (concerted actions by social agents and States) and market mechanisms (economic interdependence). As Brenton (1994) reminds us, the importance of the environmental problem in pondering the contemporary political order is evident, seeing as the dialectics between private interests and the possibility of a collective action lead to delicate negotiations between the actors, be they public or private, individual or collective.

Because it introduces obvious constraints to the unlimited expansion of the capitalist mode of production, the environmental crisis is integrated to the current political order, deconstructing numerous myths related to technological progress, economic efficiency and a model of growth free of risks. Both premises of neoclassical economy and analyses from classical Marxism are questioned. In the field of neoclassical economy, the ecological economics (COSTANZA, 1991; DALY and COBB, 1989) considers the environmental devastation as a negative external effect. The solution to the ecological problem demands the internalization of negative external costs in the economic equation of development, making it necessary to attribute monetary values to environmental resources and services. As Martínez-Alier (2007: 45) reminds us:

“The ecological economists question the sustainability of the economy due to its environmental impacts, their energetic and material demands, and the world demographic growth. The wish to attribute monetary values to services and environmental losses, and the initiatives in an attempt to


correct macro-economic national accounts, are all part and parcel of the ecological economics” (free translation).

This means that ecological economists seek to model interactions between the economy and the environment, using the most diverse econometric and management tools, among which we can remember the integrated environmental evaluation model, carrying and resilience capacity, risk and uncertainties analysis, as well as natural capital accounting. In general, these models and tools share no concern as to the ethical limits or distributive conflicts that market mechanisms might promote. For example, shadow prices can be attributed to natural goods not having an objectively given economic value, thus allowing their integration in the logic of economic growth.

With respect to Marxist analyses, contrary to what can affirm Chesnais and Serfati (2003), we defend the hypothesis that the ecological crisis – both from a normative and empirical perspective – puts into question the conditions of capital reproduction and functioning, since it seriously destroys or damages the natural environment. It is evident that depleting nature and managing rare natural resources can be transformed into fields of capital growth and pockets of accumulation granting new profits for owners and shareholders. Advanced capitalism has produced property rights over vital elements (air, water, soil, biodiversity, traditional knowledge) by converting free assets or common goods into spheres of market value, as in the case of the natural capital theory or through the definition of ad hoc markets that administer pollution rights. The “green revolution”, for example, was above all a powerful vector in the process of exportation of fertilizers and insecticides produced by chemical corporations; it has significantly contributed to increasing the structure of inequality between peasants and agribusiness groups in many Latin American countries (CHESNAIS and SERFATI, 2003; MARTINEZ-ALIER, 2007).

However, following the thoughts of O’Connor (1994), we here defend the idea that, by entering the Latin American agenda of international negotiations, the internalization of economic costs provoked by the ecological crisis presents clear obstacles in the way of capital reproduction both at its systemic and productive level. The environmental crisis – because it deals with the frontiers of human survival and the complex interdependence between societies and modes of production, decomposition and consumption – at the same time reveals the limits of the current productive system.3

Besides this, the environmental crisis in Latin America involves ecological confrontations and implies distributive conflicts beyond the strictly economic relations at the systemic level. We can recall conflicts made evident by the resistance of Peruvian peasants against the mining company Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation (based in New York) since the 1920s, or the union of rubber tappers led by Chico Mendes in Brazil contesting the models of development for the Amazon in the 1980s.4 That is, environmental activism cannot be


We agree with O’Connor (1994), one of the founders of the magazine “Capitalism, Nature, Socialism”, who affirms the necessity of enriching the Marxist analysis in order to understand the ecological crisis. Today, capitalism would face, according to the author, a second contradiction (the first would be the over-production of merchandise and the over-accumulation of capital), located in the broader sphere of production conditions (including the means of communication, the infra-structures, the personal production conditions of the laborer, besides the physical and environmental conditions). One of the tenors of socialist and critical political ecology, James O’Connor defends the idea that the ecological crisis ushers us to a new distributive conflict, thus the necessity of linking the exploitation of those dominated by the possessors of wealth to the destruction of nature and the biosphere. In this way, the author seeks to overcome a productivist reading of the work of K. Marx and F. Engels, which was carried out during decades.


Martinez-Alier (2007, pg. 93 and seq.) reminds us that mining in Peru was, for many years, dominated by the “Cerro de Pasco Corporation,” until the copper extraction was taken to Southern Peru during the 1960’s, where the mining exploration takes place under open air – causing sediment buildup, deteriorating the water in regions where this resource is scarce, and polluting the air with sulphur dioxide from the foundry. Today, the mining is


explained based only on the evolution of an ecological consciousness, but in this case it is also a reflection of the unequal combination of factors such as the location of environmental impacts, the real possibilities of accessible technological solutions and the uncertainty of threats. This means that in Latin American countries inequality also refers to an unequal incidence of environmental damages and impacts of the ecological crisis. As Acselrad, Pádua and Herculano (2004) remind us, the demand for ecological justice is not restricted to intergenerational solidarity (between present and future generations), since it brings the conflict between nature and economy to today’s social relations. In the perspective of Martínez-Alier (2007), there is something universal about the distinct fights for environmental justice that concerns the connection between distribution struggles and demands for restoration of ecological damages. This would be the fundamental philosophical basis of political ecology, as Martínez-Alier (2007, p. 113) points out:

“The term ecological distribution may be understood as the social, spatial and temporal standards of access to benefits from natural resources and to services granted by the environment as a life support system. The determining events of ecological distribution are in some cases natural ones, such as climate, topography, pluviometric patterns, mineral deposits, and soil quality. However, they are also undeniably of a social, cultural, economic, political and technological nature” (free translation).

Therefore, political ecology makes sense in the Latin American context because it is rooted in the principle that all the environmental problems do not affect all individuals and social groups equally. Moreover, it reaffirms that the concentration of wealth is also the result of control processes over certain environmental resources. For example, in several Latin American countries peasants and rural families are forced to cultivate the topsoil in hilly areas (causing greater slope erosion) because the valley is mostly the property of large landowners; rural poverty in many of these countries tends to intensify the gathering of firewood in arid land and the use of manure as fuel, bringing negative effects to soil fertility. In Ecuador and Brazil, the expansion of shrimp farming in mangrove regions – normally public lands due to their situation in tidal zones5 – tends to expel poor populations that make their living out of mangrove fishing (Martínez-Alier, 2007). Furthermore, political ecology indicates that the environmental conflicts occur on different scales, presenting origins on internal and external spheres of the borders of the Nation-State. In Brazil, the expansion of transgenic crop cultivation, for instance, results above all from external pressure, whereas soybean agribusiness and food production are contexts in which both national and international interests converge (ACSELRAD, 2004).

carried out by the Southern Peru Copper Corporation, whose foundry was built in 1969. It comprises one of the ten largest copper producers of the world, and since its acquisition in 2005 by a Mexican company, it has been called the Southern Copper Corporation. For an introduction to political ecology as a field, see chapter 4 of Martinez-Alier (2007), besides magazines such as the Journal of Political Ecology (USA), Ecologie et Politique (France), Ecología Política (Spain), Capitalism, Nature, Socialism (founded by James O’Connor and Barbara Laurence).


As a rule, the mangrove regions are granted with authorization from governments to carry out shrimp farming (normally explored by riverside populations) via private concessions, generating enclosures and privatization of the common good. The commercial production of shrimp is supported by the World Bank, among other institutions, as a strategy aiming at encouraging non-traditional exports. This strategy is more widely known as “Blue Revolution,” which industrializes and capitalizes the new ecological frontier that the marine and water resources represent. The Blue Revolution refers to the quick development of aquiculture in the last years, as a counterpoint of the Green Revolution of high grain productivity, which started in the 1950’s. According to data disseminated by the Earth Institute of Columbia University (coordinated by the economist Jeffrey Sachs), between the 1950’s and the present day, the total amount of fishing, in both open and sheltered waters, almost quintupled, going from approximately 20 million to 95 million metric tons.


Politically, the ecological crisis equally transforms the identity of the social subjects and the strategic action of agents, resituating the modes of political organization in terms of networks, horizontal decision-making and organizational fluidity (COMOLET, 1991; DELEAGE, 1992). The environmental crisis indicates the upsurge of a complex subject with an ecological mindset who moves across different borders (of territories, disciplines and sectors), and positions itself on the side or beyond the classical forms of individual and collective political affiliation (based on social class or nation). When rural social movements demand the maintenance of their life conditions and environmental preservation, they also express their political awareness of the interconnection between the destruction of the environment and the aggressions against the conditions of their own existence as producers and citizens. That is why in Latin America conflicts of a distributive and environmental nature are directly related one to another. The current revindications of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) and the Via Campesina for access to land, and the promotion of an ecologically balanced development illustrate such categories of claim.



It is interesting to note as demonstrated in tables 1 and 2 that the networks of environmental movements in Latin America represent more than 55% of the total number of participating organizations in the processes of the World Social Forum (ie. 102 organizations out of 183), which confirms their commitment to sustainable development and defense of the environment in their struggles. Of a total of 102 environmental organizations and movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, 80 originated in Brazil, 4 in Uruguay, 3 in Ecuador, 2 in Argentina, Chile, Panama, Peru and Paraguay6. Many of these contestatory organizations and movements contribute to placing the debate over relations between environmental protection, political ecology and sustainable development at the center of attention within the World Social Forum, and its regional and thematic editions. The nature of this anti/alterglobalization debate on the environment is quite distinct from the way intergovernmental negotiations evolve in the heart of United Nations institutions and international economic agencies.

Table 1: Environmental organizations and movements within anti/alterglobalization networks

Region Number of organizations and movements Latin America and Caribbean 102

Europe 27

Africa 17


This gathering of data bears on the participation of NGOs and environmental movements that took part in the World Social Forum in 2002, 2003, and 2008 (Global Action Day). Priority was given to identifying information of general character: host country of the organization, founding year, information on the area of activity (subject to future categorizing) and electronic address, for possible further deepening. In general terms, the organizations labeled as environmental were those that made reference to the following in their main objective statement: ecology, environment, sustainable development, environmental law, environmental education, ecological sustainability, environmental justice, and the protection of natural resources. These data were collected and organized by the undergraduate student Davi Ribeiro Brazil (2007/ 2008).


Asia 11

Oceania 1

North America 7 Unidentified geographical origin 18

Total 183

Source: LABMUNDO research.

Table 2: Main organizations, networks and movements within the WSF

Countries Organizations, networks and movements (examples)

Argentina Centro de derechos humanos y ambiente (CEDHA)

Brazil Grupo de Estudos de Agricultura Ecológica; SOS Mata Atlântica; DNA Ambiental; Instituto de Permacultura em Terras Secas; Articulação do Semi-Árido (ASA); Serviço Inter-Franciscano de Justiça, Paz e Ecologia; Fórum Brasileiro de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais para o Meio Ambiente e Desenvolvimento; Rede Brasileira de Justiça Ambiental; Rede de ONGs da Mata Atlântica; Grupo de Trabalho Amazônico; Instituto do Homem e do Meio Ambiente na Amazônia; Associação Gaúcha de Proteção ao Ambiente Natural; Fundação Gaia; Instituto Ecoar para a Cidadania; Rede de Intercâmbio de Tecnologias Alternativas; Movimento Articulado de Mulheres da Amazônia; Assembléia Permanente do Meio Ambiente do Rio Grande do Sul

Chile Ecosistemas; Instituto Ecologia Política

Ecuador Deuda Ecológica (Alianza Sur Acreedores Deuda Ecológica), Red Agricultura Campesina y Mundialización

Mexico Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco

Paraguay Centro de Educación, Capacitación y Tecnologia Campesina Uruguay Comision Nacional en Defensa del Agua y la Vida

Venezuela Red de Cooperacion Amazonica

Source: LABMUNDO research.

Sustainable development is at the heart of the discussions of the WSF and its thematic and regional ramifications. These discussions are not of the same kind as those of the intergovernmental and institutional negotiations held within the United Nations system since Stockholm-72 and especially since Rio-92. In Porto Alegre in 2001, sustainable development incorporated the Forum's second thematic area, entitled access to wealth and sustainability. The subjects of the workshops held on the theme included social control of the environment, environmental protection, the democratization of scientific knowledge and the privatization of knowledge within the framework of intellectual property. The same thematic area was maintained in 2002, with the workshops placing more stress on the links between techno-science, ecology and capitalism, agro-ecology and intellectual property rights, green, ethical and sustainable consumption and cities as areas of sustainability. The thematic areas changed in 2003, with the first devoted to democratic, sustainable development. It is interesting to note the link now established between sustainability and democracy, with the latter being considered as a prerequisite for the former. Alterglobalists hold, for example, that the management of natural resources requires first and foremost the implementation of democratic mechanisms for the social control of access to these goods.

At the fourth WSF held in Mumbai, a set of organizations (Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, Public Citizen, Sweetwater Alliance, Council of Canadians and Cry


of the Water) set up a global Peoples' Water Forum. Internationally known activists such as Vandana Shiva, Ricardo Petrella and Tony Clarke participated in these discussions. At the meetings of the Pan-Amazonian Social Forum in January 2002 (in Belém do Pará, Brazil), January 2003 (also in Belém) and February 2004 (Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela), activists and participants analysed sustainable development from the angle of ecological sovereignty, sustainable management of areas by the people, the conservation of protected forest zones (the reserves known as reservas extrativistas), food security, biodiversity, agro-ecological production by rural families, the geopolitics of water and water resource management.7

Furthermore, reading the articles presented in the Library of Alternatives of the official WSF website and analysis of some of the speeches made at the various Forums by the main leaders of the movements and organizations that form part of it (Francisco Whitaker, Arundathi Roy and Walden Bello among others), it is possible to identify a series of criticisms levelled by alterglobalists at both the increasing institutionalization of the sustainable development debate and the resulting political hijacking of strategies (programmes, projects and action plans).

The starting-point for these criticisms is at the level of the report entitled Our Common

Future and Agenda 21, the two documents most cited by the international agencies working

on sustainable development (UNEP, UNESCO, UNDP, the World Bank and all the bilateral cooperation agencies) and that serve as the philosophical basis for countless international initiatives. These documents were drafted by teams consisting of diplomats, international civil servants and specialists from the North, South, East and West of the world. This global editorial team is doubtless apparent proof of diversity of opinion and is a great political advantage but led to a consensus and compromise such that their content has no precise meaning. The main defect of the Brundtland Report and of Agenda 21 is thus the result of one of their strengths: they try to to attain a consensus and avoid political oppositions. The attempt made at all costs to link development and environment, ecology and the expansion of international trade, protection of the environment and the neutrality of techniques, outward-looking development (exports) and inward-outward-looking development (the domestic market) leads to the production of formulae that are frequently very vague or that require somewhat unrealistic financial contributions. Furthermore, the Brundtland Report does not draw attention to the real costs and the different cultural visions of sustainable development.

Another example of serious criticism made by Latin American environmental movements is that in this process of institutionalization of the debate on sustainable development international cooperation agencies tend to encourage a degree of confusion between the different levels of the economic value of the environment. Now, the total economic value of the environment should be the sum of its direct and indirect use value, its option value and its existence value. Its use value is awarded by the individuals or groups who benefit from the endangered environment. The option value is the setting aside of an environment for the benefit of future generations according to a value structure that is not focused on the primary consumption of goods and services. Lastly, the existence value is the result of an environmental right that is independent of the present or future use of resources. How can these values be measured without ranking them and considering them as fungible?


The coordination of this regional forum (AWSF) is handled by the NGO Caritas, the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (CIMI), the Coordination of the Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB), the Central Workers' Union Confederation (CUT), the Amazon Working Group (GTA) and the Brazilian Writers' Union. AWSF is the first regional forum organised in the historic process of the World Social Forum. More than 10,000 people attended the second AWSF held on the central theme of 'All against the free trade zone of the Americas'.


In the eyes of the alterglobalist movements, the limits of the discussions of sustainable development in institutional agencies are thus of several kinds: temporal (are sustainable development times the same everywhere?), spatial (what degree of contextual variation is possible in the implementation of sustainable development?), political (defining the sustainability of development), economic (what position has the market economy in relation to the immaterial value of the environment?) and cultural (what are the rankings between the various forms of knowledge defining the basis of sustainable development?). We have only listed a few here. In the final analysis, the concept as presented in intergovernmental reports does not seem to draw a clear distinction between strong and weak sustainability.8

As Beckerman emphasized, intergovernmental agencies try to make a market economy approach compatible with the promotion of weak sustainability, even though they sometimes take a radical conservation position (BECKERMAN, 1994). The justification offered for this mixed approach is manifestly economic, even if ethical, aesthetic and scientific values are frequently mentioned as factors in supporting conservation reasoning. For example, it is stated in the Brundtland Report that economic reasons are not the only ones to justify the conservation of species but, for those who insist on having accounts, the potential economic value of the genetic material contained in all the species should amply justify their conservation. This reasoning is followed by the recipe for activities that are economically promising with regard to the conservation of natural resources: the pharmaceutical industry, medicine and agriculture (the genetic revolution), fields that the economic sector could draw on in order to ensure both the conservation of species and considerable profits. But alterglobalists, and especially the ecologists who are part of the movement, wonder about the price to be paid for this. How far will the limit of the privatization of living material and the merchandization of life be pushed?

As Redclift and Sage (1998: 499) remind us, with respect to the role of ideology in the debate over climatic change:

“From the perspective of the developing countries, the distributive issues find themselves in the heart of climate changes. (…) From the sociological perspective, equality is fundamental in order to think of climate change not only by the measurable differences of energy and material courses, by the levels of domestic consumption or the difficulties in reaching international agreements, but also because of ideological reasons. (…) Perhaps the best example of the influence of ideological factors in the debate concerns the construction of ‘sustainable development’ or ‘green development,’ frequently polarized between solutions connected to values of technological transformation (ecological modernization) and cultural changes of a more radical nature (deep ecology)”.

On the contrary, the movements and organizations in the heart of anti/alterglobalism foster the debate over strong sustainability, redefining and proposing reasonably profound changes in the relations between nature, capital and society. The matter is not only about


Beckerman (1994) affirms that weak sustainability tends to enhance support of growth whereas strong sustainability gives priority to the conservation of the environment. Weak sustainability is based on a rule of distribution of capital (natural, manufactured, human, and social) among the generations. The types of capital are perfectly substitutable and the important thing is to increase the potential for well-being as time goes by. This concept leaves many questions unanswered: a) How can the price of the different capitals be compared? b) Does technical progress alone make it possible to find substitute solutions to lost natural capital? c) Can the substitution of natural goods and services by material goods and services—when this is technically feasible— always be envisaged from an ethical point of view? Strong sustainability applies two further constraints: a) the identification of a critical natural capital that could neither be used nor replaced by productive capital, and b) a requirement of non-decrease of natural capital (the principle of precaution and inter-generation responsibility).


knowing whether or not mankind will be able to transform nature and conquer her, but also it is about realizing how little the ecosystems are still able to withstand. The promise of technological progress became a threat, engendering what Jonas (1979) had predefined as a “heuristics of fear”. Such environmental movements challenge the “worship of wilderness” and the “gospel of eco-efficiency”, thus embracing principles of environmental justice and a political ecology of the poor.9

Furthermore, by radicalizing the debate over sustainable development, the Latin American environmental networks demand an international regulation of the common goods of the planet, based on ethical principles of solidarity, suggesting that the definition of the meaning of sustainability is a political matter and not merely an economic one. To define the meaning of what is sustainable involves discussing the present and the future of societies, creating a dialog among distinct social representations of the environmental problem, revising the meaning of economic goals, evaluating the negative ecological impacts according to groups and social classes, as well as the diverse ways of conceiving the relationships between nature, market and society.

That is why environmental movements and networks claim an increasing political participation in public opinion formation and in decision-making processes, denouncing the democratic deficit in international economical agencies and summits (TEIVANEM, 2004) and the lack of trust in institutional political systems. Whether it be with the purpose of convincing the population to modify their behavior regarding the environment (for example, in managing solid waste, in using public transportation or in reducing cooling and heating) or with the objective of promoting transformations in productive processes (and, therefore, in the behavior of the economic operators), environmental movements question the status quo by way of visibility strategies typical of the modern repertoire of collective action (protests, petitions), but equally by means of happenings, lobbying and scientific expertise with the support of professional and university networks.

These networks and movements directly interfere in the life cycle of the environmental policies by way of actions that characterize the fight for the inclusion of the environment in agenda-setting, a clear program formulation, monitoring, besides the implementation of experimental projects. Latin American ecological networks and movements, despite their great diversity (including a quantitative one, according to the countries of the region, as indicated in table 2) and their internal conflicts, also draw attention to the new lifestyles and the search for quality of life based on self-satisfaction, and to the need of a break from


Martinez-Alier (2007, pg. 21-39) analyzes in great detail these three currents of contemporary environmentalism and their expressions in Latin America. Worship of the wilderness is characterized by being, chronologically, the first school to develop itself within the movement and assuming a posture of not defiling nature, starting at the preservation of the few areas left in the world of untouched nature. With regards to the situation of the international system, it does not present a posture of direct confrontation, having as a scientific base the biology of conservation and the maintenance of a discourse where a certain sacralization of nature prevails. Worship of the wilderness counts on large organizations throughout the world such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). In the case of the gospel of eco-efficiency, nature is not seen as something sacred, but as a resource; this being due to the centrality given to the economy by this branch of environmentalism. Lastly, ecologism of the poor, also called environmental justice, is characterized by its development in the third world and has as its main feature the perception of nature as a source of subsistence. The importance the author attributes to this movement stems from its marginal state as well as from its tendency not to be characterized by, or not calling itself, a part of the ecologist movement. Its main argumentation is the relation between the increase of economic growth and the expansion of environmental problems, especially with regards to the transportation of raw materials (relation between North and South) and the areas of residue dumping. Its development occurred due to the struggle of indigenous and peasant movements in under-developed countries, but also thanks to the contribution of the movement of environmental racism in the United States.


consumerism and the search for new ethics in trade. They demand to be recognized and integrated in the decision-making processes (as a way of political participation) and claim a statute of technical competence (counter-expertise) in intergovernmental negotiations. It is evident that the crisis of multilateralism, the limitations of a strict intergovernmental political sphere, the perpetuation of the North American unilateralism (exacerbated during the eight years of the Bush administration) constitute an important background for these demands. As Devin (2004), Wallerstein (2004), Della Porta and Tarrow (2005) remind us, intergovernmentalism finds itself under great political pressure due to the emergence of actors and movements of transnational contestation.

Recovering some of the categories of analysis proposed by Milani and Laniado (2007a; 2007b), one can reiterate, in a summarized and schematic way, that contentious environmental movements within the World Social Forum contribute to the transnationalization of the environmental problem thanks to three more important orders of factors, as follows: the articulation of scales and territoriality; the timing of the environment

vis-à-vis the political time; and the construction of multiple identities in the public sphere. (i) Territoriality and articulation of scales

From the perspective of territory and the articulation of scales, it is important to observe that the political messages and actions proposed by Latin American environmental movements acquire a truly transnational sweep. Transnational here corresponds to a territorial continuum that spreads out from the local to the global (from the smallest to the largest inclusion) and thus redefines the identity, the strategy and the resources of networks and organizations. In the same way that transnationalized capital gives rise to systemic changes in the accumulation regime (which gradually moves from a national and international regime to a global accumulation regime), environmental movements and networks tend to organize themselves transnationally. Created in 1992, the Via Campesina (VC) is a clear example of a network of peasant social movements of global reach, in which the ecological theme is treated in connection with local distributive conflicts.10

The local-global nexus builds the meaning of transnational since within the process of political and economical appropriation of space by movements and networks, the territory of the ecological crisis is neither partial nor limited to a local rank. The content of this crisis and its extension, the threats introduced by social inequality and lifestyles, as well as the necessity to take another look at the ways of production, move beyond national borders, generating conflicts whose political solutions strongly imply a multilateral negotiation between governmental, economic and social actors (SACHS, 1994). The environmental problems, from local to global, have an impact upon the definition of collective security (warming). If it is true that traditionally security tends to be defined only from a military perspective, and thus not open to environmental concerns. However, since the end of the 1980s some debate has been devoted to global environmental risks, and to the threats that they represent to collective security. Al Gore, in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, had pointed to global risks such as


The VC is a transnational social movement that coordinates rural organizations, groups of small and medium-sized producers, movements of rural women and youth, indigenous communities, movements of people who have no access to productive land (the landless) and associations of migrant farm workers. The VC calls itself a social movement of an autonomous, plural, independent, non-profit nature, having no party or political affiliation. It is made up of eighty rural organizations, from all the continents (including Latin America) in a total of 57 countries, according to data from July of 2007. The VC aims to represent the peasant voice in the international system, participating in the FAO structure, seeking to have an ever increasingly marked presence in the protests and social coalitions organized during the meetings of the OMC, the IMF or of the World Bank, as well as in the sphere of the World Social Forum (Milani, 2008).


the production and trade of highly toxic chemicals, the loss of biodiversity, ozone depletion, climate change, marine degradation, desertification and deforestation.

Thus, the environment puts into question a set of fundamental principles of the contemporary world order: the administrative borders of the national States, the separation between national and international, the monolithic definition of national interests, the state action based on the reason of State, as well as the unconditional sovereignty of the States. It disturbs the modern world of continuous and juxtaposed territoriality. As Porto Gonçalvez (2001, p. 71-72) affirms:

“If the concept of vital space was so essential at the time of F. Ratzel, as it was to giving sustainability to development trampling on the national State (…), in a worldwide capitalism the necessary vital space to grant sustainability to the system is no longer the national State. (…) We are facing a distinct tension of territorialities within the current process of social reorganization, where the environmental issue, that is the relation between society and nature plays a constitutive role” (free translation).

More than this, in many cases – when one thinks of the seriousness of the negative impacts on the biophysical and human environment caused by projects in the nuclear field, the construction of dams and hydroelectric plants, mineral exploitation, research on biodiversity (and its relationship to “biopirating”), the use of transgenic seeds and pesticides in agriculture, for example – the resistance of Latin American networks and movements may act against the State or be able to count on allies within the public administration. As Martinez-Alier (2007) reminds us, frequently there is a platform of cooperation in several Latin American countries between high State positions and foreign private companies as to the use of natural resources within the national territory, as in the case of Bolivia. In 2003 the Bolivian government signed an agreement with Repsol-YPF in order to export natural gas at a lower price to California. This agreement aroused public outcry and the resistance of unions, indigenous movements and of some political leaders.

Thus, it becomes evident that conflicts of this nature challenge the institutionalized eco-politics of the ministries, as well as the national legislation and its programs of ecological monitoring. The case of transgenic crops in Rio Grande do Sul (Brazil), which were denounced and fought against by the MST, Pastoral da Terra, Via Campesina and

Confédération Paysanne as of 1999, but also the authorization given by the Environmental

Ministry in Colombia to Occidental Petroleum in order to develop oil exploration in the 1990s right in the territory of the U’was people (whose rights are recognized by the Colombian constitution), both illustrate the growing contradictions between the State, social movements and the process of industrialization of agriculture.


Moreover, it is important to remember another dimension of the territory, which goes beyond the objective materiality of the development of productive processes. The ecological crisis also contributes to show evidence of the expansion of the idea of multi-territorialization (HAESBAERT, 2006). In the classical modernity, territories are constructed by the national subject in his/her relations with the State in its territory-as-zones (fixed, molded, given hierarchies). In the advanced modernity, new territories are discontinuous, fragmented, and simultaneous (territory-as-networks). These territory-as-networks are a support system to the expansion of transnational ecological activisms in Latin America. They allow for the development in the public sphere of political projects that involve multiple actors from the North and South11 and, as Viola (1992) has affirmed, they contribute to the multi-sectoral institutionalization of environmentalism in the 1990s. Porto Gonçalvez (2001: 76) refers to collective actions that deploy themselves in a new “planetary territoriality”.

(ii) Temporality

The timing of the environment intervenes in transnational politics in different ways: by way of the definition of diachronic solidarities between generations (protecting the environment today with the purpose of guaranteeing minimum conditions of development for future generations), by the definition of political priorities and resources to resolve environmental crises (the geological time of the environment differs from the short run of the mandates in representative democracy) or still, by way of the need of businesses to internalize economic costs (competitiveness and productivity of markets that function on the basis of short deadlines, in contradiction to future projections of technological models).

It is evident that, within this context, the environmental issue imposes critical political negotiations and conflicts of interest, profiling itself as a denunciation of the typical 'laissez-faire' of economic liberalism: the time horizon of the economist does not surpass the next ten or twenty years (or the coming weeks for the stock market); meanwhile, the timing of the environment is seen in terms of decades or even centuries. Thus, there is the need to take political decisions regarding the definition of goods to protect, mechanisms to be implemented for their protection, and also the means and financial resources to be made available. A fundamental point, albeit highly complex, refers to which decisions should be taken in the absence of scientific certainty about the consequences of ecological devastation. In fact, there is no scientific consensus to serve as an absolute basis for political decisions; there are many uncertainties as to future impacts (D'AMATO, 1990; SACHS, 1994). The ecological crisis is marked by uncertainty and unpredictability, which significantly increases economic risks and political tensions.

(iii) Social identities and representations

The third category of analysis concerns the multiple identities and social representations of the environment that matter on the contemporary political agenda. The individual and collective construction of environmentalism distinguishes itself due to representations of time,


As Durkheim affirmed, as we advance in history, we shall see that an organization that is based on territorial groupings (villages, towns, districts, provinces) will become increasingly less important; without a doubt, we all belong to a commune, a department, but these ties that unite us will become all the more fragile and more fluid. These geographical divisions will be for the most part artificial, and will not arouse in us deep sentiments. The provincial spirit will have disappeared in a definitive manner; the parochial patriotism will become an archaism with no chance of being restored (Durkheim apud Haesbaert, 2006, pg. 23). This does not mean that set territorial circumstances are predetermined to completely disappear from contemporary politics, taking into account that the ancient institutions do not disappear from night to day because of new agencies that emerge. That which is ancient always leaves its trace. However, the political and social organization, of an exclusive spatial and territorial base, coexists with new forms and contents of re-territorialization, notably those relating to transnational solidarities surrounding political ecology.


space, of sociability, and at the same time of norms which are applicable to the solution of collective problems (COMOLET, 1991). For example, the environment can be conceived as a harmonious, mythical and a-historical moment, as a polarity aimed at an uncertain future, or still as an environment that consecrates a dream of the past, such as a “Garden of Eden”. These different social representations are fundamental in the political and economic process of decision making, whether it be at the governmental level or at the level of society and of individuals (LASCOUMES, 1994).

In this sense, the environment is first of all seen as a social construction: it is not even a pre-existing asset, or some a-historic heritage, or yet an entity granted with a-temporal essence. The environment is a creation worked on by politics: it is a product of history. Translating representation into a political problem that may be understood as an activity of the agenda-setting; it can happen by way of actions of the media and the private sector, of political-administrative actions, or by means of associations’ and citizens’ pressure or lobbying, thus revealing the transversal and multidimensional character of political ecology.

Therefore, there is no doubt that the environment is part of the public sphere of Latin American international debates. When they defend transnational solidarities, ecological movements and networks foster the emergence of as new political actors and the breakdown of the exclusiveness of national citizenship. They project the fundamentals of the idea of a “planetary citizenship” (MORIN and KERN, 1993). Furthermore, these social movements are able to reconfigure their identities and integrate values of political ecology, as in the case of rubber tappers in the Brazilian Amazon who, according to Porto Gonçalvez (2001: 213), moved from the economic identity of a category of professionals who extract rubber to another identity of a political and socio-cultural nature – which is that of protectors of the interests of the Amazon rainforest.


The field of environmentalism confronts political action in Latin America with the need to overcome at least three dilemmas: sovereignty versus interdependence, neo-liberal globalization versus promotion of the common good, as well as the dilemma between private interests and collective, regional interests. To paraphrase Badie (1995), the environmental problem sheds some light on the hypothesis of a “lost sovereignty”. The ecological crisis leads to a necessary combination between national sovereignty and transnational political responsibility. However, since the environment brings new political and ethical principles into the sphere of international politics, it is important to take into account rules and norms of the inter-State system, but it is also fundamental to take into consideration concepts such as overlaid authorities (Market, international agencies and States), multiple loyalties and conditioned sovereignties (by capital and by political ecology). If, in the modern age, the communities of association (the topophily of politics) were almost exclusively developed around the State, renewed anti/alterglobalist and environmentalist networks show that new communities of awareness and belonging are also developed externally to the States’ contradictions, without always and only taking into account the their fixed borders and nationalities. If the public sphere – originally conceived in a co-extensive way to the State’s sovereign political community – needs to be re-politicized and make sense to citizens (thus allowing questionings about equality, parity, recognition, inclusion and participation), it is also necessary to place the public opinion and political interlocutors beyond the narrow limits and parameters of Westphalia. Nancy Fraser calls for a “post-Westphalian model of disaggregated sovereignty” (Fraser, 2007: 55). Finally, taking up once more Rosenau (1992) and his idea of a “multi-centered world”, transnational networks and flows engendered by the ecological crisis in Latin America also take shape thanks to the action of more informed


individuals who have greater skills to act in the realm of world politics – what Professor Rosenau calls the skillful individuals. Complex subjects of advanced modernity have a foundation of loyalty that is equally territorialized (yes, they are citizens of a Nation-State!) and re-territorialized through multiple expressions of solidarity and political affiliation that also allow them to be ecologists and defenders of an ideal of planetary citizenship.


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