A \'Laboratory\' for an Environmental Citizenry Is Born
Por Diego Cevallos
Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, from now until 2006, will serve as the laboratory for an experiment whose goal is to create environmental awareness among citizens.
MEXICO CITY, (Tierramérica).-
Raising public awareness in Latin America about the environment is like rowing against the current because the region's difficult economic and social realities mean that there are other priorities. But seven countries and six regional networks of non-governmental groups are pushing upstream with a new multifaceted project.
Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, from now until 2006, will serve as the laboratory for this experiment, which has a budget of six million dollars.
In these countries, church groups, community radio stations, parliamentarians, consumer associations and local authorities will work alongside government agencies to transmit the message to citizens that it is important to protect the environment. If this pilot effort produces positive results, it will be extended to the entire Latin American region.
"This project is not the end-all solution, but it is a contribution that lays the groundwork for an environmental citizenry," Ricardo Sánchez, Latin America and Caribbean regional director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), promoter of the plan, said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
The objective is to convey new messages to the Latin American public about what the environment is and to deepen understanding and encourage social mobilization on issues like biodiversity, climate change and depletion of the ozone layer, according to the project's partners meeting this week in Mexico.
But it is indeed like rowing upstream. Creating environmental awareness is difficult to instill as a priority when there are 220 million people living in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as recurring economic and political crises, low levels of education and unregulated and intensive exploitation of natural resources, noted Sánchez.
"Creating environmental awareness is a phrase that has lost meaning. I would say it's almost cliché, but now we want to transform it into action," says Manuel Quintero, spokesman for the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), which encompasses 150 evangelical churches and some five million members.
CLAI will communicate new environmental messages to its public in the seven countries, as will the Latin American chapter of the International Union of Local Authorities, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, Consumers International and the World Conservation Union.
Also participating in the endeavor are governments and lawmakers through the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), which has pledged to draw up recommendations.
"The environmental issue and the need for social participation go beyond borders, such that they should be dealt with by shared laws and norms," Parlatino director-general
Amadeu da Costa Ribeiro told Tierramérica.
The fruits of the effort, however, will take time to ripen, notes Angela Zambrano, a representative of Consumers International.
In Latin America "it will take several generations to create true environmental awareness and new consumption patterns that are environmental friendly. This project is just the seed," according to the activist.
* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent.