||Núm. 30 - october 2001|
Ten years of environmental thinking
In 1991, with the conflict of the Conca de Barberà against the installation of landfills acting as a political catalyst, the Government of Catalonia decided to create the Department of the Environment. The protest - which was violent at times - from inland Catalonia set the alarm bells ringing in Plaça Sant Jaume. Decisions regarding which infrastructures, which were necessary for the country, particularly in that case, would be built and where and with what environmental criteria, became a priority. Thus, Albert Vilalta, who was connected with and highly regarded by environmental movements, was appointed minister of a new department: Environment. His main task was to straighten out the country environmentally, that is, build a series of facilities. Water treatment plants, waste treatment plants, landfills, etc... all absolutely necessary to guarantee Catalonia's development within European parameters. In the context of Spain, Catalonia was once again in the lead.
At the same time, thanks to the intervention of Jaume Cabaní, the then new minister Vilalta, decided that action should be completed with thinking. The original idea, the genetic code of this publication was very simple: to create a body of theoretical reflection on environmental thinking. It was a question of giving space to and making known the main trends and thinkers, both national and international, working on environmental matters. Since then, the ministers Pere Macias, Joan Ignasi Puigdollers and Felip Puig have taken over and have maintained and built upon the original project.
These pages have contained articles on recycling; on a new culture of tourism; the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro; city models; the ecological product; the culture of water; Gaia and the networks of life; ecological economy; energy; overpopulation; biodiversity; cleaner production; ecological design; cars; migrations; the concept of sustainability; agriculture; environmental education; the history of ecologism in Catalonia; global change and the Mediterranean; the territorial future of Catalonia; the management of the hinterland; on the risk society; the scarcity of water (again); environmental democracy; natural areas; globalisation, business and critical consumption; urban waste... The most outstanding specialists have been our collaborators, thanks largely to the willingness and effort of all the members of the editorial board.
Once again, the work of the members of the board has been key to the commemoration of the thirty issues and ten years of Medi Ambient. Tecnologia i Cultura. This issue contains the personal and intellectual profiles of eleven thinkers and scientists who we consider fundamental in the current field of environmental knowledge. We thought, ever faithful to the genetic code of the magazine, that presenting a small group of men and women who have thought and think about the environment was the best present we could give our readers.
Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927), Swedish physicist who was vice-chancellor of the University of Stockholm and director of the Nobel Institute. He developed the chemical theory of the ionisation of electrolytes, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1903. In 1895, he presented a paper in which he suggested that a forty per cent reduction or increase in the concentration of a minor constituent of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, could cause retroactions which could bring about the advance or retreat of glaciers. For this reason, he can be considered a pioneer of the possible anthropic origin of the current climatic change.
"The earth receives sunlight, which penetrates its mass and turns into non-luminous heat. The earth possesses internal heat that it was created with, which continuously dissipates on its surface and, lastly, the earth receives the rays of light and heat from an endless number of stars, including the solar system. These are the three general causes that determine the temperature of the earth." (1) Joseph Fourier (1824)
You may well be under the impression that climatic change is a new concept that has been devised and used to name a series of phenomena that have occurred over the last fifteen years, and you would probably be right. Climatology as a science only received recognition fairly recently when it became evident that there was, on the one hand, a serious lack of knowledge available concerning the underlying mechanisms that characterise climatic systems and, on the other, a need for good ways to predict climate.
It was not until well into the second half of the twentieth century that attention began to be paid to climate and the work of climatologists. Climatology was considered to be a minor branch of meteorology that was merely involved in compiling data, and a climatologist was someone who was involved in describing climate, usually at ground level, and who was appraised according to the usefulness of the data he/she provided for agricultural and infrastructure installation purposes. The collection and processing of large quantities of data and extensive statistical analyses on the weather were believed to be sufficient for these tasks, and the behaviour of the climate in the past was considered to be an adequate guide to the weather in the future. Up until the 1950s, climate was subsequently merely an addition to the daily changes in the weather, which in itself had been studied very little. In this context, few people knew about the work of Arrhenius who, at the beginning of the industrial age, was the first scientist to investigate the effect that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would have on global climate. This article gives a brief summary of the concept of the greenhouse effect and climatic change, which are attributed respectively to the French physicist Joseph Fourier and the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, from both a strictly scientific and social point of view.
Carnot and Fourier: the beginning
It could be said that the history of climatic change began symbolically in 1824 when the French engineer Sadi Carnot published Reflexions sur la puissance motrice du feu et sur les machines propes a développer cette puissance. The nineteenth century was to see the development of the fundamental concepts of thermodynamics and Carnot's work was one of the key points that broke with the Newtonian paradigm of classical mechanics. It was Sadi Carnot (2) who in 1824 said, "Heat is the cause of the large movements that are characteristic of the earth; changes in the atmosphere, clouds that ascend, rainfall and other meteorological phenomena, currents of water on the earth's surface of which man uses a small part are all due to it; even the trembling of the earth and volcanic eruptions are due to heat".
Although Sadi Carnot was conceptually very important, not just in physics but also for what we know today as the environmental sciences, for his studies leading to the recognition of limits in the use of energy resources, his references to the functioning of the earth, however, did not go much beyond this. In the same year (1824), the physicist Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, known for developing the Fourier Series, a useful tool for analysing functions, and Fourier's law of heat conduction, provided a pioneering view concerning the role of the atmosphere in terms of energy.
Fourier was a man with diverse interests and far-reaching faculties. Apart from being a lifelong member of the French Academy of Sciences, a friend to Napoleon and a baron, he was also professor of mathematics, a secret policeman, governor of Egypt and an Egyptologist. He is known above all for his work entitled Théorie analytique de la chaleur (1822) although it is the article (3) entitled Remarques générales sur les températures du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires and published as a summary of his presentation before the French Academy of Sciences, which in turn was based on previous work undertaken and published between 1807 and 1809 on the warming of the planet and the periodic movement of the solar system , where he summarises his ideas on what is today known as the greenhouse effect. Like Carnot, Fourier strove to recognise phenomena in general and would thus make abstractions about secondary causes and numerical details to attain a view of the thermal functioning of the earth. This was also due to the fact that there was hardly anything else he could do because, like all of his contemporaries and many that would succeed him, he had very little meteorological data. Fourier thus described the solar system as "...being located in a region of the universe where all points have a common and constant temperature, which is determined by the rays of light and heat sent by all the surrounding heavenly bodies. The earth is thus submerged in the cold temperature of the planetary heavens and is also heated by the rays of the sun that, because they are distributed differently, produce the diversity of climates". Fourier also wrote, "the temperature increases due to the interposition of the atmosphere because heat encounters fewer obstacles in penetrating the air as light than when it has to pass through it already converted into dark heat".
Fourier is also attributed as having made the first warning about the influence that human activities can have on climate. Fourier declared that "the establishment and progress of human societies, like the action of natural forces, can notably change the state of the surface of the soil, the distribution of waters and large movements of water over vast regions. These effects can typically cause variations in the degree of average heat over many centuries". Moreover, the idea that human activities can affect the behaviour of the atmosphere had already been documented by the philosopher Teophrast, a student of Aristotle, who suspected that changes of use of areas in a region to increase the cultivated surface, such as the draining of wetlands or the cutting down of woodland, could lead to changes in the warm or cold periods in a particular zone. Two thousand years later, David Hume would also suggest that climatic changes in Europe could be caused by the increase in cultivated land.
Tyndall and the radiative properties of gases
It was during the second half of the nineteenth century that the first steps were made in the field of research known today as climatic change. Both the Irishman John Tyndall and the Swede Svante Arrhenius had extensive scientific interests and carried out their unique climatic research as merely one of numerous fields of research. The situation today is entirely different with research being highly specialised out of necessity and a large number of scientists, institutes and organisations specialising in research on climate.
As has already been mentioned, John Tyndall was born in Ireland and he trained as an engineer. He worked on the magnetic properties of crystals, the transmission of heat through organic structures, the physical properties of ice and the radiative properties of gases, amongst which he particularly studied absorption at the near infra-red region and at temperatures that are very different to those in the earth's atmosphere. He was a very enthusiastic mountaineer and, motivated by his climbing escapades to Alpine glaciers, he became interested in 1854 in studying geological questions, especially matters relating to pressure and slate. In 1859, Tyndall began a remarkable series of experiments on the radiative properties of different gases. He established and published (4) the fact that the absorption of the earth's radiation by water vapour and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is important for explaining meteorological phenomena such as night-time cooling, dew formation and frosts, and possibly variations in climate during the geological past.
He also tried to explain the colour of the sky by working on the polarisation and diffusion of light by air and dust molecules. Environmental, scientific and material conditions naturally influenced him, and the dust and pollution-filled air in mid-19th century London undoubtedly helped Tyndall, who was by that time already a member of the Royal Society of London, to pose and formulate in a brilliant yet very careful way the revolutionary idea that changes in the temperature of the planet associated with variations in the active constituents of the atmosphere, with regard to radiation, could have produced some of the variations in climate that geologists were proving had taken place.
Likewise, geology and the whole field of natural history were subject to intense debate. At the time when Tyndall was meticulously exploring the radiant properties of water vapour and carbon dioxide, Louis Agassiz's explanations of glacial periods during the earth's climatic history had led to heated scientific debate. Many years would pass before the scientific world and also public opinion would accept the alternation of warm and cold periods in the course of the immense history of the earth and the species that inhabit it.
Tyndall's proposals did not attract much attention because no-one at that time imagined that trace constituents in the composition of the atmosphere, like water vapour and carbon dioxide, could tip the energy balance of the atmosphere and lead to the transition from a warm climate to a cold one, even though this was over thousands of years. Other considerations received much more attention, such as the astronomical causes formulated by Milutin Milankovitch many years later. Palaeoclimatology is today an essential interdisciplinary component for understanding climate and it can be said that Tyndall was one of the initiators of this.
Svante Arrhenius and climatic change
Up until very recently, Svante Arrhenius was only well known for his contributions in the field of electrochemistry for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903. Arrhenius was born in Uppsala (Sweden) in 1859, just when John Tyndall was carrying out experiments on the absorption of radiation by different atmospheric gases. He was the second child of a family that was connected through his father's work with the University of Uppsala, which was founded in 1477 and since then has been the cultural driving force of both the city and the country as a whole. As was habitual at that time, Arrhenius studied at home with a tutor until he was eight years old and then went to the city's cathedral school until he went to university. At university, he began a broad study of physics, chemistry, Latin, history, geology and botany. He got his first qualification in physics and then began to prepare for what was then known as a degree in philosophy. Despite the history and prestige of the University of Uppsala, at the time when Arrhenius was coming to the end of his studies, the Department of Physics was going through a difficult period with serious problems that had even come into the public domain, and this led Arrhenius to leave for Stockholm to work at the Institute of Physics of the Swedish Academy of Science with Erik Edlund, a professor of physics who was interested in meteorology.
Arrhenius also studied chemistry with Otto Petterson in Stockholm and used his knowledge of physics in the analysis of problems involving electrochemistry that culminated in a doctoral thesis on the chemical theory of electrolytes that was published in 1884. Arrhenius' theoretical work was regarded as mediocre by his examination committee but this work was later the basis for which Arrhenius was awarded the Nobel Prize, together with two other scientists, Wilhem Ostwald and Jacobus H. van't Hoff, for their work in electrochemistry.
As the chemistry
professors at the University of Stockholm were not responsive as referees
to Arrhenius' doctoral work, he left to work with Wilhem Ostwald at the
Riga Polytechnic. His work with Ostwald and an invaluable grant from the
Academy of Science enabled him to visit numerous European laboratories
and collaborate with prestigious scientists of the time, such as Ludwig
Boltzmann in Graz, Friedrich Kohlrausch in Würzburg and Jacobus H.
van't Hoff in Amsterdam. These contacts served the restless and imaginative
Arrhenius to complete his electrolytic theory of dissociation and, after
a long postdoctoral period of six years, led to him obtain his first stable
position as lecturer of physics at the Stockholm College of Higher Education.
The role of the Stockholm Physics Society was important in stimulating Arrhenius's interest in the physics of the earth, sea and atmosphere. Scientific contact with geologists, meteorologists and oceanographers led Arrhenius to become interested in certain problems posed by these sciences. His training in physics and chemistry enabled him to easily comprehend the theoretical analysis of electrical phenomena in the atmosphere, such as the study of lightning, the influences of the sun and moon on the electrical state of the atmosphere, and the development of a theory on the formation of the solar system. Personally, he was not particularly interested in observation or experimentation, and while most of his work was theoretical, the very limited observations and measurements that were available at the time and that he did apply his knowledge to were made by others.
In 1895, Arrhenius presented what is today considered to be a pioneer presentation to the Stockholm Physics Society, in which he suggested that a reduction or increase of forty per cent in the concentration of carbon dioxide, which is a trace constituent in the atmosphere, could have a great influence and account for glacial advance or retreat. In his work, Arrhenius developed an energy budget model that considered the radiative effects of carbon dioxide and water vapour on the surface temperature of the Earth and variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. His work was published the following year (5) and, in order to proceed with his experiments, Arrhenius relied heavily on the recent experiments and observations of other scientists, including Josef Stefan's results on the law of radiation emission being proportional to the 4th power of its absolute temperature, Léon Teisserenc de Bort's estimates of cloud albedo at different latitudes, the work of Knut Ansgström on the values of the coefficients of carbon dioxide and water vapour absorption and Alexander Buchan's work on average temperatures for the entire planet.
The model formulated and developed by Arrhenius was very simple and he used it to estimate the reflection of radiation from the surface of the earth and clouds and the effect produced by snow-cover that, given current knowledge, are today considered to be rudimentary or quite simply erroneous. Arrhenius concluded that variations in the carbon dioxide and water vapour content in the atmosphere could greatly influence the heat balance of the climatic system. He came to this conclusion after having calculated between 10,000 and 100,000 operations by hand (at that time, there was no mechanical aid for making calculations) in what today would be known as different settings of the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere (given a CO2 content at that time of 1, he calculated this for situations in which CO2 was 0.67; 1.5; 2.0; 2.5; and 3.0). The calculations were made for the four seasons of the year, with latitude being taken into account. Arrhenius concluded in a general way from his calculations that "...if the quantity of carbonic acid increased in a geometric progression, temperature would vary according to an arithmetic progression". Arrhenius also came to the conclusion that the higher the quantity of carbon dioxide and latitude, the higher the variation in temperature, and that this would be higher in winter than in summer. In general, Arrhenius predicted an increase of temperature of 5 to 6 degrees Celsius if the carbon dioxide content in the Earth's atmosphere was doubled.
It is surprising that the predictions by Arrhenius are so similar, in quantitative terms, to the current results obtained using sophisticated models of general atmospheric circulation. This similarity has probably led to the fact that the Swedish physicist is generally considered to be the initiator of the subject of the possible anthropogenic origin of the current climatic change. It is important to point out, however, that Arrhenius was primarily looking back in time in his work for he was searching for the cause of developments in the glacial climatic cycles in the past with calculations of the probability of large variations in the carbon dioxide content over a relatively short geological time span.
This he was able to do as a result of the research of his friend and colleague, the geologist Arvid Gustaf Högbom, who worked on what is today known as the carbon cycle. Högbom mantained, against the more general current of thought at the time, that large variations have occurred in the source and depletion of carbon during the geological history of the Earth, which have led to substantial changes in the atmospheric content of carbon dioxide. In his work on the carbon cycle, Högbom used many components that are fully applicable today, such as the regulatory role of the oceans and volcanic activity, which he considered to be the major source of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Swedish geologist considered nevertheless that neither the burning of fossil fuels nor the elimination of forests would have an influence on the carbon content in the atmosphere because sediment and carbonate formation, together with silicate decomposition, were natural geological processes that he believed to be quantitatively much more important. Högbom estimated the order of magnitude of atmospheric CO2 to be all of the carbon fixed in the organic world and, by comparing this with the carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of the use of carbon, he found that this represented a very small proportion (less than one part per thousand). Arrhenius work in 1896 made an important contribution to quantifying these effects, although he later questioned the causes of this. In fact, Arrhenius' model enables the increase in temperature in the Arctic or between the 40º and 50º latitude parallels to be calculated, and it shows that variations in the CO2 content of the atmosphere may have accounted for the glacial and interglacial periods.
The historical perspective enables the work of Arrhenius to serve as a background to the current situation concerning the understanding of issues involving climatic change. One of his most important contributions was the development of a quantified model based on observational data, in contrast to the more frequent quantitative analyses of the time. The information that was available to Arrhenius, however, was not of very good quality. On the one hand, the idea that volcanic eruptions were the main source of carbon in the atmosphere was simplistic and connected with geological knowledge at that time. The spectroscopic information available then was very primitive; there was no complete information available on the absorption of infra-red radiation, especially in the wavelength band above 9.5 micrometers,(6) which is very important for both carbon dioxide and water vapour, and most data referred to measurements of atmospheric pressure, which occurs at the Earth's surface although this pressure is not the same at medium and high-level layers of the troposphere. The lack of precision of the spectroscopic information was one of the main criticisms that were made about two aspects of Arrhenius' work; on the one hand, the effect of water vapour, which is much more abundant than CO2 and absorbs all of the infrared radiation in a spectral band which, according to the data that were available at that time, coincided with a carbon gas absorption band. By doubling the carbon dioxide content, the radiation-absorption capacity increases but not the real absorption . On the other hand, there was the question of saturation; if a given quantity of CO2 absorbs a certain amount of radiation, doubling the quantity of carbon gas will not necessarily mean that the amount of absorbed radiation doubles as well because a point exists at which all absorbable radiation has already been absorbed.
Arrhenius continued to work on his theory of climate at the beginning of the 20th century. Aware of the frailty of his spectroscopic data, he continued to debate the carbon cycle and the absorption of short and long wave radiation and absorption bands that were extremely wide (8) . He also published his work in a non-technical way in order for it to reach a wider audience (9) and revised the work of Fourier, Tyndall and other researchers, where he spoke of the greenhouse theory in reference to the atmosphere.
Arrhenius used his model to point out that the observed temperature of the earth is thirty degrees higher than what it would be by merely taking geometric considerations into account (or, in other words, an earth with no atmosphere) and that, because of this difference, the role of the atmosphere is to produce what is today known as the greenhouse effect. He also showed by way of his model that an atmosphere without carbon dioxide would have a temperature twenty-one degrees lower. Arrhenius realised, not just as a scientist but also as an attentive observer of what would happen in the future to the society of his time, that a fast increase was occurring of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide due to industrial activities, and he claimed that advances in industry and developed society in general would more than likely lead over the course of a few centuries to an increased content of CO2 in the atmosphere, together with a warmer atmospheric temperature.
Both the work of Arrhenius and his viewpoint, influenced by the harsh, cold Nordic climate, together with his positivist vision of progress, led him to write, "Through the influence of an increasingly higher percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we can expect there to be periods with a more temperate and better climate, especially with regard to the colder regions of the earth, which means that the earth will produce better and more abundant harvests to the benefit of the human species" (10). Here is the first mention in modern times to the anthropogenic impacts on the change in climate.
The current view of Arrhenius' work sometimes brings smiles to researchers' faces. He was probably very lucky as a researcher although he was also highly intuitive. Although the concurrence of his predictions and the results of simulations by the most advanced groups at the present time is merely fortuitous, it continues to be surprising. His mention of impacts was also important and, on this point, great advances have been made in recent years. Arrhenius's optimistic vision clashes with contemporary society's overwhelming capacity to affect the carbon cycle and modify the energy balance of the atmosphere, and in this context the shifting of certain crops towards colder latitudes is likewise talked about today. In short, the arrogance that technology has brought in its wake sometimes makes modern man forget and look down on the efforts and work that was done in the past. Just over a hundred years after Arrhenius talked about climatic change, we are today merely trying to improve and refine everything he did.
1 Joseph Fourier,
from a lecture read at the Académie Royale des Sciences in 1824
and published in "Remarques générales sur les températures
du globe terrestre et des espaces planétaires" Annales de Chimie
et de Physique, 27 136-167, (1824)
Takashi Asano (1937), an engineer of Japanese extraction, is a pioneer and renowned expert in the field of reclamation, recycling and reuse of water. From the University of California at Davis, a state with scarce water resources, has carried on several works and studies on the safe use of reclaimed water. Closely linked to a research group from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Asano recently received the Stockholm Water Prize. Quite the wise man of water.
On March 22, 2001, World Water Day, it was announced that the Stockholm Water Prize had been awarded to Takashi Asano, professor of the University of California at Davis. Takashi Asano thus became the eleventh person to be honoured with the prestigious prize awarded by the Stockholm Water Foundation every year since 1990.
The award committee for this prize wanted to emphasise the fact that the Stockholm Water Prize was awarded to Takashi Asano in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the efficient use of water in the fields of reclamation, recycling and reuse of wastewater, through his technical development and applied research, as well as the adaptation and promotion carried out on an international level.
Over the past 20 years, Takashi Asano has become one of the most renowned experts in the field of safe use of reclaimed water. At the end of the '70s and throughout the '80s, Asano contributed to implementing and researching the reuse of water from his position on the California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB). This research was initially recorded in the "Practical Guide to Irrigation with Reclaimed Municipal Wastewater", published by the State of California in 1984 and later translated into Spanish in 1990, with support from the Government of Catalonia and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. This work culminated in the California Water Reclamation Criteria, which serves as the basis for most international projects and standards in the field of water reclamation, recycling and reuse.
Asano has acted as the catalyst for technological advances and as mediator among scientists, engineers and politicians in the arid and semi-arid areas of the world, where water is in greatest need and where its price is highest. Takashi Asano has dedicated most of the last decade to travelling all over the world, giving advice to diverse countries on water resource management, efficient use of water, water savings and reuse.
Worth highlighting from among his most important contributions is the formation, in 1987, of the Specialised Group, under the International Water Association (IWA), on Water Reclamation, Recycling and Reuse. After 8 years as president of the group, we succeeded him in this task in 1995, following the Second International Water Reclamation, Recycling and Reuse Symposium held in Crete. By the end of our presidency of the Specialised Group, during the First World Water Congress held in Paris in July of 2000, the group had been consolidated among the two most numerous of the IWA.
The 10th anniversary celebration of the magazine Medi Ambient offers us an excellent opportunity to profile Professor Asano, a collaborator of ours and personal friend for 16 years, who has played an exceptional part in the evolution of environmental engineering during the second half of the 20th century. The text below includes a biographical sketch and the thoughts gathered during a recent meeting with Takashi Asano, during which this evolution is analysed, as are those of water resource management and environmental awareness since he began his studies in California in 1963.
The worldwide trends of continued population growth, contamination of both surface water and groundwater, uneven distributions of water resources and periodic droughts caught the imagination of Professor Takashi Asano as an environmental and water resources engineer. In the United States, the Clean Water Act of 1972 set forth the "fishable and swimmable" water for the nation's rivers, estuaries, and waterways. Thus, under this pollution control law, all publicly owned municipal wastewater treatment plants must comply with the minimum of secondary level treatment, requiring BOD and suspended solids of less than 30 mg/L each. Many treatment plants also needed to upgrade to much higher treatment (tertiary filtration) and nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) removal because of discharge to the ecologically-sensitive aquatic environment of US waters. As a consequence, the use of highly treated wastewater effluent, now discharged to the environment from municipal wastewater treatment plants, is receiving more attention as a reliable source of water for our thirsty cities and the neglected environment. In many parts of the world, including Spain and other Mediterranean countries, water reuse is already an important element in water resource planning and solving water shortages in agriculture and landscape irrigation.
Professor Asano has done pioneering work in water reclamation, recycling and reuse in the United States and many other parts of the world. His career in this field was launched when, in 1978, he joined the Office of Water Recycling of the California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB) in Sacramento, recruited from his professorship at Washington State University. In 1980, he was also appointed adjunct professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California at Davis, where his major research has been conducted. His research on water reuse has included (1) planning and analysis of water reuse projects, (2) technological assessment of industrial water reuse and recycling applications, (3) agricultural irrigation and groundwater recharge using reclaimed water, (4) economics of water reuse, (5) treatment technology and treatment process reliability and (6) quantitative microbial risk assessment using enteric virus data.
Takashi Asano was born in Sapporo, Japan in 1937, and graduated from Hokkaido University in Sapporo in 1959. Following his graduation, he worked for a petroleum company in Tokyo and Osaka for four years. In 1963, the company sent him to the United States to study industrial water pollution control at the University of California at Berkeley, where he finished his master's degree in civil and sanitary engineering in 1965. He then worked for two years at the San Francisco Bay District offices of the State of California Department of Water Resources. A full pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Science Foundation, in 1970, enabled Asano to finish his Ph.D. in environmental and water resource engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Since then, he has had a continuously brilliant career, by means of which he has become a foremost authority in the field of water reclamation, recycling and reuse.
Our professional relationship with Professor Asano began in October 1985, when we were invited by the Consortium of the Costa Brava (CCB) to take part in the First International Symposium on Water Reclamation and Use held in Castell-Platja d'Aro. From our position in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, we have been able to collaborate closely with Professor Asano on national and international projects over all these years. The interview we conducted proved to be a wonderful opportunity to remember and reflect on the development of our personal and professional relationship in regard to protecting the environment and managing water resources.
Regarding the reasons he was led to study water reclamation, recycling and reuse more than 20 years ago, Professor Asano explains that "beyond the sanitary and environmental engineering that I studied at Berkeley, I had an added interest in water resource engineering at Michigan. But, I taught and practised traditional environmental engineering at Montana State University and Washington State University back in the 1970s and early 80s. The environmental engineering we know now started in the late 1950s and Berkeley was one of the best universities to study sanitary/environmental engineering. The programme of studies was very competitive but highly satisfactory at the same time. To me, Michigan was excellent opportunity to learn water resource engineering, and the chemical and biochemical basis of environmental engineering." And he adds: "in California and other western states, the years 1987-88 were very dry, severe drought years, and the Governor of California, the Honourable Jerry Brown, created by executive order the Office of Water Recycling within the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). In September 1978, I returned to California to occupy the specially-created position of water reclamation specialist at SWRCB in Sacramento. Because of the ensuing drought and the great emphasis placed on additional water resources, water reuse was the high priority of the State of California, and I benefited greatly from doing much research and field development work during those years."
years, an important study was conducted in Monterrey, California, on the
feasibility and safety of agricultural irrigation using reclaimed municipal
wastewater for salad crops eaten raw. In this regard, Professor Asano recalls
that "the Monterrey Wastewater Reclamation Study for Agriculture (MWRSA)
was a seven-year field study on the effects of reclaimed water irrigation
on crops, soil and groundwater. Through this demonstration project, carried
out between 1978 and 1987, we were able to show the absolute safety of
reclaimed water and food crops grown using reclaimed water. This study
was significant because we were able to prove that the tertiary treatment
process and irrigation techniques in combination worked reliably. Growers
were happy, and 7 years of field study consistently proved its safety and
The book "Irrigation with Reclaimed Municipal Wastewater", which he co-edited with Dr. Pettygrove, was very successful in the United States and was translated into Spanish in 1990. Professor Asano comments: "When I joined the Office of Water Recycling back in 1978, one of the pressing needs was to create and publish the State of California guidance manual on agricultural and landscape irrigation using reclaimed water. For this project, I collaborated with Dr. Stuart Pettygrove of the University of California at Davis. The resulting report was first published by the State of California in 1984 and later commercially published by Lewis Publishers in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We very much appreciated the authoritative translation into Spanish by Rafael Mujeriego and publication in 1990 with backing from the Autonomous Government of Catalonia and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia. I understand that this publication is widely used in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. I saw the Spanish version in Chile, Costa Rica and Mexico and I was very proud."
In recent years, Professor Asano has concentrated on two broad areas of research: treatment process reliability and quantitative microbial risk assessment. Regarding his research efforts, he states: "Because water reuse is a water supply project, reliability in performance and operation of wastewater reclamation plants is of the utmost importance. Because water quality issues in rivers, lakes, and waterways will be critical in Spain in the coming years, let me discuss water reuse "reliability" and "public health risk" in some detail. I am sure that these areas of research will be of interest in Spain, along with the now routine monitoring of water quality for future analysis and enforcement of water quality requirements.
"If we look
back at the California situation in the 1960s, our ephemeral rivers in
southern California were mostly sewage effluents from upstream towns and
cities, although most of them were secondary-treated effluents. Body contact
sports in these rivers by kids were a main concern, particularly with respect
to enteric virus infection. The Pomona Virus Study was conducted in the
late 1970s, and became the foundation for "safety" discussions in water
reuse. Then, the aforementioned Monterrey irrigation study was conducted
to duplicate the findings and assess the effects of irrigation on crops,
soil and groundwater. These studies are the basis of the latest draft (2000)
of the California Department of Health Services' 'Water Recycling Criteria'."
In fact, these findings were published in the journal Water Environment Research in 1998, and the paper was awarded the Jack McKee Medal in 1999 by the Water Environment Federation. Asano remembers that "the paper was written with a graduate student and some of my colleagues. We were gratified by this honour. I must add that the goal of essentially virus-free reclaimed water contained in the California Water Recycling Criteria should not be interpreted to mean that the practice of using such water is risk-free. Because of the difficulties in correlating causative agents (e.g. pathogens) and the disease outcome and its epidemiological significance, there is always some risk of infection due to exposure to reclaimed water. However, this does not mean that the practice of water reclamation and reuse is unsafe compared to other sources of available water. The safety of water reclamation and reuse practice is defined by the acceptable level of risks developed by the regulatory agencies responsible for risk management and endorsed by the public for the necessity of such undertaking in the integrated water resource management."
In regard to
future plans, Professor Asano indicates that "once I finished editing the
book Wastewater Reclamation and Reuse, published by Technomic Publishing
Co., Inc., Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1998, I began thinking about writing
a water reuse "textbook". I think that the time has come to work on this
subject, and I hope to concentrate on writing this textbook soon. To do
a good job and reflect upon real practice of water reuse, I would like
to visit several countries. Spain was my first visit, in May 2001, to see
the progress made since my first visit in 1985. I have learned a great
deal from the Spanish experience in water reuse. I was able to discuss
"water quality" issues with the Spanish authorities on integrated water
resource management, as well as how to set reclaimed water quality guidelines
and how to enforce regulations.
From a perspective that looks toward the future, Professor Asano is convinced that this alternative source for water presents a new opportunity for our society: "I reiterate the thesis that has been repeated over the last quarter century, holding that advanced treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater provides a treated effluent of such high quality that it should not be wasted but put to beneficial use. This conviction, coupled with increasing water shortage and environmental protection problems, provides a realistic framework for considering wastewater reclamation and reuse in many parts of the world. Non-potable water reuse applications, such as agricultural and landscape irrigation, toilet flushing in large office buildings, and water for aesthetic and environmental purposes, have become major, realistic options for planned wastewater reuse." For Professor Asano "Wastewater reuse is one element of water resource development and management which provides innovative and alternative options for agriculture, municipalities and industries. Water pollution control efforts in many countries have made treated effluent available that may be an economical augmentation to the existing water supply when compared to the increasingly expensive and environmentally destructive new water resource development. However, wastewater reuse is only one alternative in planning to meet future water resource needs. Water conservation, water recycling, efficient management and use of existing water supplies and new water resource development based on watershed management are examples of other alternatives. Wastewater reuse involves considerations of public health and also requires close examination of infrastructure and facilities planning, wastewater treatment plant siting, treatment reliability, economic and financial analyses and water utility management involving effective integration of water and reclaimed water.
reuse will be appropriate depends upon careful economic considerations,
potential uses for the reclaimed water, stringency of waste discharge requirements
and public policy, wherein the desire to conserve rather than develop available
water resources may override economic and public health considerations.
Today, technically proven wastewater treatment or purification processes
exist to provide water of almost any quality desired. Thus, wastewater
reuse has a rightful place and an important role in optimal planning and
more efficient management and use of water resources in many countries.
"Because wastewater reclamation and the planned reuse of treated effluents
are so closely linked to the freshwater supply of the region, significant
water reuse projects are implemented in water-short areas as well as high
water demand areas in large metropolitan areas. Through integrated water
resource planning, the use of reclaimed water may provide sufficient flexibility
to allow a water agency to respond to short-term needs as well as increase
long-term water supply reliability without constructing additional storage
or conveyance facilities, at substantial economic and environmental expenditures.
In addition, wastewater reuse simultaneously reduces water pollution by
providing the option of putting constraints on discharge to inland surface
waters and the marine environment. Recognition of public health protection
on beaches and in environmentally sensitive conditions in coastal waters,
such as those of Spain's Mediterranean coast or in western Florida and
southern California, may need to enforce strict discharge limits or near
prohibition of treated wastewater discharge. Increasing stricter discharge
limits has made many coastal communities -such as Limassol (Cyprus) and
San Diego (California)- implement wastewater reclamation and reuse in recent
Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), a civil engineer by profession, was actually a man of many talents, a sort of Renaissance spirit in the nineteenth century. An engineer, town planner, architect, jurist, economist, politician, militiaman, Cerdà is a point of reference of modern town planning and a systemic approach to the city. We knew a lot less in his day than we do now -the theory of systems had not been developed, nor the basics of thermodynamics, nor autoecology-, but this son of Centelles was an innovator who created a model of sustainable town planning in accordance with the social reality of the time
Ildefons Cerdà i Sunyer 1 was born on 23 December 1815 at the El Serdà farm, a property in Centelles on the Vic Plain that had been in the hands of his family since the sixteenth century. Despite their rural origins, the Cerdà family had travelled considerably and both his grandfather and father had belonged to the generations that, with the Catalan economy in full recovery, had important economic interests in commerce with America. This undoubtedly opened the young Ildefons' mind and stimulated him, as well as bolstering his faith in the march of progress.
Given that he was not the heir to the family's wealth, he devoted his life to studying. He first moved to Barcelona, where he began studying architecture, mathematics, navigation and drawing at the Junta de Comerç (Chamber of Commerce), and then he went to Madrid to study at the College of Civil Engineers, where he graduated in 1841.
He began his professional career that same year and worked as a civil engineer in the provinces of Murcia, Teruel, Tarragona, Valencia, Girona and Barcelona.
a true turning point in Cerdà's life and work with his marriage
to Clotilde Bosch, together with the premature deaths of his elder brothers
Ramon (1808-1837) and Josep (1806-1848), and his father (1787-1844), meant
that Ildefons became the heir to a considerable fortune. These factors
led Cerdà to give up his job as a civil engineer in 1849 and to
devote himself exclusively to the study of the process of urbanisation.
It was during the decade of the 1850s that Cerdà did the groundwork for what would become the Eixample of Barcelona, as a result of the fact that the city could not grow any more because it was constricted and stifled by the surrounding city walls that impeded its physical growth and improvements to hygienic conditions. It was a cholera epidemic that finally led to the city walls being demolished by the governor Pascual Madoz.
Ildefons Cerdà carried out an important study on the working class in 1856, in which the author analysed the social and economic conditions and basic needs in the old walled city area of Barcelona, which was included as an appendix in Teoria General de la Urbanizacion (General theory of urban planning).
contributions that he had made, Cerdà aroused distrust and, dismissed
from Barcelona City Council by Field Marshall Zapatero in 1856, he was
imprisoned on two occasions. Nevertheless, the Catalan Government proclaimed
a royal decree in May 1860 that irrevocably adopted the Cerdà Plan,
which was finally inaugurated by Queen Isabel II on 4 October 1860 in the
face of opposition due to the controversy caused by the call for tenders
for the Plan right from the start, and issues such as road width and the
distribution of urban planning responsibilities, all of which resulted
in delays in the actual construction of the new Barcelona.
Whilst having a Turkish bath in Caldes de Besaya (Santander) on 21 August 1876, and unaware that he was suffering from a cardiac condition, Cerdà had a fatal blackout. The obituary that appeared in the La Imprenta newspaper on 23 August was as follows; "Señor Cerdà was a liberal and he also was very talented, two circumstances which in Spain are unbecoming and often create many enemies..."
Cerdà, a man of many talents
This brief biography requires a complementary description of the highly versatile figure that was Cerdà in order to understand the magnitude and importance of his work.
Cerdà, the civil engineer
Cerdà moved to Madrid in September 1835 where he began studying civil engineering. He finished his basic training in 1841.
During these years, Cerdà's character was influenced by his life at college, especially the esprit de la géometrie. As M. Angelon stated, "He believed upright behaviour to be the product of reckoning and the source of expression. Cerdà was, so to speak, an algebraic man", and described his personality with the following sentence, "Cerdà's mind was that of a learned man, he would demonstrate like a mathematician while he had the feelings of a child".
Cerdà, the urban planner
Of all of Cerdà's facets, this one is the most fitting. In the first place, he founded the discipline with his General theory of urban planning. Secondly, his most important work was drawing up the Blueprint for the Eixample of Barcelona in 1855, the Barcelona Improvement and Eixample Project in 1859, and the Revision of this project in 1863. Thirdly, he directed the actual construction of the Eixample over a period of 15 years through numerous forms of direct and indirect management, co-ordination, and development, as a director, as an advisor to local authorities and private individuals, etc.
Cerdà, the architect
With his characteristic meticulousness, Cerdà put an enormous amount of analytical effort into his writings, figures and graphic work for proposals on housing for different social categories and degrees of complexity, from individual houses to communities.
Cerdà, the jurist
Cerdà's proposals for the cities of Madrid and Barcelona led to new legislation that were without precedent in legislation in both Spain and abroad.
In Cuatro palabras sobre el Ensanche (Comments on the Eixample) (1861), Cerdà gives an extensive explanation of the compensation system and the technique to equitably re-divide lots in order to distribute the profits and responsibilities between the property owners and to obtain regular plots of land for building from the lots made available, a system that would later be included in the Posada Herrera Bill and incorporated one hundred years later into the Land Law of 1956.
Cerdà, the economist
Cerdà established the standards for infrastructure, property division and lot assignment in the new Barcelona.
Cerdà, the politician
Cerdà considered politics to be "like a practical science, and when this was not the case, it wasn't politics for him". True to this idea, from the moment that he decided to devote himself to the science of urban planning, he became involved in public activities. In his first political appearance, Cerdà stood for the Spanish parliament in Madrid in 1851 and was elected to represent the Second District of Barcelona in a progressive list of candidates, together with Estanislau Figueres, Pascual Madoz and Jacint F. Domenech. From this point on, he would always continue to undertake some kind of political activity through one institution or another. He was a member of Congress in Madrid, a town councillor for Barcelona City Council (1854-56 and 1863-66) and, as provincial councillor, he became vice-president of Barcelona Provincial Council in the period from1873 to 1874.
In political terms, Cerdà became progressively more radical, as was observed by Estapé, who wrote, "the rectilinear and inflexible disposition of the former liberal in 1841, of the democrat in 1850 and of the republican in his final stage."
Cerdà, the militiaman
The fact that Cerdà was a member of the National Militia was an essential facet in his development. The origins of the Militia date from 1812 and the Parliament of Cadiz.
A general strike was held on July 4th 1855, which caused an upheaval in Barcelona and the outskirts. Faced with a difficult situation, the commanding military forces withdrew and were confined to barracks, which meant that the Militia became responsible for public order. In this very particular setting, the role of Cerdà as head of the Militia enabled him to call off the strike, which was an event that would mark him in the future. As a result, he became unpopular with the military and more reactionary elements to such a degree that he was imprisoned when the regime came to an end. From this point on, Cerdà would remain in close contact with the working classes.
The origins and instruments of urban planning
It was Ildefons Cerdà who in the mid 19th century invented the term "urbanism" to deal with a seriously dysfunctional situation that, in order to be resolved, required an interdisciplinary approach and sufficient imagination to use and create the technical, economic, legal and social instruments necessary to support such a new concept.
Cerdà himself wrote (1867) "given the alternative to inventing a word or to stop writing about something that, as I study it more and more, I see as being more and more useful to humanity, I prefer to invent and write than to remain silent. The use of a new word cannot be censored provided that the need is justified and that it is vouched for by a praiseworthy purpose".
The new word, however, went beyond considerations of the housing neighbourhood in relation to other buildings and their advantages and disadvantages, the relationship between roads and houses, etc., and includes analytical considerations from other applied disciplines. "...And I observed many complicated interests that gamble, struggle and fight in these great arenas where they concentrate and swarm, from the region, sometimes from the province or district, and even the entire nation; and I became convinced that the struggles between the material, moral, administrative, political and social interests that develop and the interests of public health and welfare lead for the most part to these being sacrificed not voluntarily but by force because they are overwhelmed.".
In the new idea that he was endeavouring to define, the system comes through as a fairly clear concept; "... the first thing that occurred to me was the need to give a name to this confusion of people, things, interests of all types and a thousand different elements that, despite the fact that they all apparently operate independently, can be seen on closer inspection and from a philosophical point of view to all be in constant relationship with each other, acting sometimes in a direct way on each other. As such, they all form a unit.
All of these things together, especially the material part, is called the city; however, my aim was not to express this literally but more the way and system according to which these groups form, and how they are organised and work, and then the elements that they are made up of, that is to say, a way of expressing the organism aside from the material substance, the life (if it is fitting to say this) that animates the material part; it is obviously clear that this word would not be suitable".
The origin of the expression comes from the Roman word "urbs", which describes everything within the confines of the area of the perimeter furrow that the Romans ploughed with sacred oxen. "By digging the furrow, they urbanised the area and everything else enclosed within it; that is, the digging of this furrow was a true act of urbanisation, of converting an open field into urbs.
These are the philological reasons that induced and persuaded me to use the word 'urbanisation', not just to indicate any act that tends towards the grouping of buildings and regulates the functioning of an existing group, but also the whole set of principles, doctrines and rules that must be applied so that building construction and groups of buildings, far from restraining, adversely affecting and corrupting the physical, moral and intellectual faculties of social man, serve to stimulate his development and vigour, and to increase the individual's wellbeing, the sum of which forms public happiness".
This was the origin of urban planning, a new interdisciplinary concept that relates the physical components with human activities carried out in a theoretically closed space. Nevertheless, this was not the overall view used by the majority of those who undertook urban developments prior to modern times. Solutions that were provided had been influenced by theological and fragmented visions that attempted to resolve specific, one-sided problems without attempting to resolve the conflicts that disguised and at times led to secondary forms of dysfunction of such magnitude that it was difficult to truly justify any solution that was provided.
One of the characteristics
that make Cerdà's theory of urbanisation very contemporary is precisely
the contribution he made to the overall view of the urbs in order to resolve
the most important conflicts during his time (hygiene, mobility, the crushing
of what was built, greater social justice, etc.), and providing at the
same time more overall and detailed solutions to problems that had dragged
on throughout the history of urbanisation, like the dialectic on private
and public property, privacy and sociability, town and country, etc.
Legal and administrative instruments
Cerdà grasped in all of its intensity the fact that urban development entailed wide-reaching social changes and that new legislation was needed to give order to these changes. Given the existing void, he provided a series of important reflections that provided legal ideas, concepts and techniques that were truly innovative and which clashed with the mentality of the time and continue to surprise even today as a result of their vitality, imagination and effective strategy.
Using analogy as a hermeneutic criterion, he constructed the theory of urban planning by structuring procedural sequences so that the fundamental features of his work have not been subsequently surpassed (M. Bassols 1995). The graphic synthesis was the building plan, while the economic, legal and administrative means used to develop it (economic Plan or statute), together with the building codes and urban police orders, formed the synthesis of the overall urban planning.
In reference to the Eixample building codes, which is where he focussed his attention, given that the police orders were sufficiently well regulated and that they merely needed to be applied more vigorously, Cerdà believed that "urban construction has remained stationary on account of it having adapted to the contingencies of industry and art, with contempt for political economy, hygiene and administration, which should be considered as its natural and inseparable assistants".
In this way, he established that technical specifications be added to the plans and other technical documents for carrying out works in the public interest, and by-laws for conservation and administration following the completion of construction work.
According to Bassols, the axiological basis of urban development by Cerdà can be summarised in the following points:
a) The urban agglomeration of buildings generates within itself a community of reciprocal interests between urban properties that justifies public intervention and makes it possible to talk of rights and active or passive situations in themselves, and public interest.
b) The criterion for determining the limits of public urban interventionism is expressed, with regard to this same community, according to the following axiom: «the head of the family rules within the household, whereas authority intervenes when families come into contact and directs and regulates their relationships and harmonises their interests and respective rights.»
Building codes were a compendium of operational formulae and the creation of new conceptual figures constituted the initial example of supramunicipal urban law in Catalonia. They were an early example of the concept of zoning according to use, with categories of building use that included private dwellings, industrial and administrative use; and the use of unoccupied public land (avenues, parks, gardens, squares, etc.). As far as zoning for industrial use was concerned, certain areas in Barcelona were set aside while this was prohibited in others.
The basic units
were the road network, the building block and, as in traditional ordinances,
the lot or building.
Cerdà had specific measures to calculate, lay out, separate and to surface the blocks, as well as the formation of building lots and the height of the buildings to be constructed. All of this was done in accordance with the obligations of hygiene, health and amenities that justified such detailed interventionism and which had its highest form of expression in the demand for the same style of garden fountains as that used in the construction of the blocks and buildings.
The term Cerdà used for what is today known as the discipline of urban planning was "policia de obras" (construction works administration). Under this title, he controlled the solutions and plans from the initial start of building work to their completion. Modern day issues were controlled in a rational way, for example the expiry of planning permission and liability for construction; regulations covering demolition and construction work acceptance; certification of the end of construction work; demolition in the case of irregularities, etc. As a completion to the actual building construction work, Cerdà, who was profoundly concerned about hygienic conditions of habitability, also established the control of building habitability so that any dwelling built in a defective way, with defects in ventilation, a lack of cleanliness, insufficient air space (stairways, the lack of hygienic services, etc.) would be considered uninhabitable and cleared, and a sign hung on the façade with "No entry due to insalubrity" (art. 321) (Bassols op cit).
Ildefons Cerdà's aspirations in economic matters involved research into a formula or means of financing urban development activities.
improvements to an area of a city like the Eixample to be public works
and in this particular project, he included an inventory that took account
of building work both above and below ground. He established the mechanisms
for financing urban networks and the distribution of responsibilities and
The basis of
his system of financing was that expenditure should be charged to those
who would benefit from the advantages of building developments. He believed
that no one should get rich at the expense of others.
a) In order to open up new roads on the outskirts of a town to convert them into a lot, or to open up a road right in the middle of a closed block to build houses, that it must be the property owners concerned with the development project that pay the value of the land and of the entire sewage system, all types of piping and tubing and, once it has been constructed, they must assign it all to the municipality and the public domain in perpetuam.
b) For improvements within towns and villages, Cerdà proposed the French technique adopted in Paris whereby two zones on either side of the public highway are expropriated and developed with a unity of criteria and management. As he underlined, «it is true that the proprietary administration of this triple zone is under the obligation to pay for the road with all of its accessories but, at the same time, it has the exclusive right to make use of all of the advantages provided by the opening up of the same road...» He considered, however, that it was unjust for the government to pay the cost of this type of urban development for this would be to the benefit of adjacent property owners.
c) To avoid these difficulties, he proposed the granting of a series of provisional orders for a period of thirty years and to build in the expropriated areas.
He also introduced the technique of redivision of plots and specifications for the compensation system, forty years before anything similar to this was first formulated in Germany with the passing in 1902 of what is known in urban law as the Adickes Law.
In fact, Cerdà put forward an equitable system for distributing the benefits and prejudices amongst property owners. The benefits of the Eixample, he said, "should not be distributed amongst the property owners just to please them because of their relentlessness or in a way that resembles winning the lottery. It is essential for property owners themselves, each one for their part, to ensure that the distribution is equal and equitative. This means that those who find themselves by chance more favoured should be the first to grant part of their greater advantages, undeserved and unjust, to those who, by dint of the same luck, find themselves benefiting from less". As Bassols says, one can appreciate in these words the formulation of two principles that have given shape to modern urban planning and that are included in legislation governing contemporary urban development; "the prohibition of the lottery system in urban planning and the distribution amongst those concerned of the benefits and responsibilities arising from this approach".
Cerdà proposed new organisational formulae for the development of technical, economic and legal objectives. In order to develop the idea of the redivision of plots, he developed the idea of creating a community of interests or temporary association consisting of all of the property owners with portions of land within a block, which was made up of the gross total surface area (delimited by the axes of the surrounding roads) and the surface area, with however many participating property owners forming just one entity, each one having the same rights and obligations (pro indiviso). (M. Bassols 1995)
He also proposed the setting up of the " Salubrity and Construction Council to aid all of the Municipal Councils in the Eixample in the application of the regulations" in the by-laws.
All of the interested parties would be represented, including the Spanish and Catalan Governments, and the law, economy, hygiene, statistics, roads and highways, construction and industry.
Cerdà believed that the managing of urban development should not be carried out by the Government and proposed that a private company or concessionaire be awarded the contract in a public tender, in a similar way to legislation governing the railways.
Technical or facultative instruments
The city that the founder of urbanism projected is still today a highly contemporary one, as is evident throughout this article.
Cerdà made numerous and very varied proposals of a technical nature from the mid-19th century onwards. Without wanting to make a thorough description of his facultative work, it is interesting to mention various of his conceptual proposals, some of which were actually carried out.
Cerdà, who was termed a scientific socialist by F. Estapé (1994) but in no way was he a utopian socialist, and as a liberal planner by A. Soria (1995), sought to resolve different conflicts that existed in the city in the early 19th century. On the one hand, he sought to make society as egalitarian as possible (F. Estapé at the 1st International seminar on Cerdà, Urbs and territory) and, as Estapé has said, if it had not been for materialistic interests, Barcelona as projected by Cerdà would have been the first garden city in the world (although this expression would need to be clarified). A result of this research into equality was his study of the cost of housing in order to provide decent housing for the working class by fighting the land speculators, and also his work on food, family budgets, the working conditions of working class families, density and the mortality rate, which all appear in "Monografia estadistica de la classe obrera" (Statistics on the working classes). The final solution was a composite of income in the same building, with the floors nearer to the road being occupied by higher incomes, that decreased as one went higher up. This, as I see it, is one of the explanations for the vitality and stability during the time of the Eixample in Barcelona.
On the other hand, Cerdà endeavoured to resolve problems like the lack of healthy living conditions, which were the result of congestion, and the lack of basic hygiene infrastructure and standards in both construction and public infrastructure.
Below are some quotes from the recent symposia on the "Teoria de la construction de ciudades" (The theory of city construction), as selected by A. Cabré and F. Muñoz (1995) (Cerdà's wish to resolve the problems of public health are clear and explicit):
"One can observe how light does not penetrate and give life to these houses, there is insufficient room to move and, what is more important, there is not enough room to breathe. This is not living in houses subject to the regulations, especially not in terms of public health laid down by civilisation. This is nothing more than stacking rational beings on shelves, one on top of the other."
"Air, light, space and water that nature has created around us in so much profusion (.....) are plentiful and will always be so for everybody and forever; yet in the rich man's room, as in that of the poor man, they are dispersed in a miserly and truly criminal way".
When all is
said and done, and in order to define certain characteristics of housing,
Cerdà insisted on floors with a large surface area, approximately
200 m2, in order to resolve, on the one hand, the intimacy of the home
and, on the other, adequate conditions of health and hygiene (air, light,
The importance of the network to Cerdà meant that he had to carefully study the junctions and connections, given that the continuity of movement was endangered at these points.
Cerdà's proposal for urban development thus began by defining the structure or network as a whole, and then descended through the other elements. The sequence that he proposed, according to A. Soria (1995), is as follows:
1. The networks
as such, for each road network has advantages and disadvantages that need
to be made clear for them to have a decisive influence on the design of
the city and how it functions.
It is interesting to note how much Cerdà took the radial-concentric plan to the absurd. If the network was radial, it would be logical for the roads to get wider the nearer to the centres where traffic is generated, in the way that "a river course gets wider, like that of every stream flowing into it " (I. Cerdà, 1861) and moreover it would be "essential that there be sufficient space in the centre for movement that would be widespread there, and for it not to be full of buildings" (Cerdà, I. 1861).
In short, the
radial or radial-concentric system requires an empty centre to function
and section roads that increase as they get nearer to it. If the centre
is empty, however, what is this centre? (A. Soria 1995).
As is mentioned above, Cerdà proposed the block as an elemental cell unit for urban design in the strict sense, in contrast to the building, which became the elemental unit of architectural design. The basis of city design, according to the inventor of the concept of urbanism, is the entire road network, on the one hand, and the blocks on the other. Blocks provide an integrated solution to the needs of habitability and road serviceability, and should be the growth module of the city.
Cerdà was aware that "the shape and size of the blocks determine the shape and size of the 'lot', which in turn determine the shape and size of the buildings" (I. Cerdà, tww 1861).
In other words, it is not easy to build adequate housing without blocks or lots that have certain characteristics and he thus considered housing legislation that omitted certain variables relating to blocks to be incomplete and ineffective (A. Soria, 1995).
The well-known open block with bevelled chamfers and broad surrounding roads was Cerdà's attempt to find a new form of balance between road serviceability and habitability. He opened up the block and improved housing habitability by giving it two facades, one facing the road and the other facing extensive interior gardens (an attempt to ruralise the city); the grid pattern of wide avenues improved traffic by distributing it uniformly, and the bevelling of the block corners increased the surface area of the intersections in order to avoid traffic jams (A. Adrià1995).
As has been explained, Cerdà's vision of the concept of urban development was extensive, integrated, and one could even say systemic, and he was eager to achieve a balance between various opposite yet complementary notions; town and country, solitude and sociability, stillness and movement, regularity and variety. (A. Soria 1995).
One pair of these complementary opposites stands out because it has spread extensively:
the urban, urbanise the rural». As the aforementioned author says,
however, this phase should not be understood exclusively in spatial or
physical terms. For Cerdà, ruralising the urban, for example, did
not consist of merely introducing bits of nature into each house, block
or neighbourhood, but of making the stillness and solitude of the country
compatible with the movement and sociability that are typical of the city.
which theoreticians of dissipated systems involved in resolving the complexity
of systems would endorse, could also be used to design urban fabrics that
are flexible enough to be filled to capacity with the maximum amount of
organised information. Without knowing it, Cerdà projected an urban
fabric that today assembles the greatest urban complexity within a radius
of over a thousand kilometres around Barcelona. This is perhaps what gives
the Eixample its strength and also what projects it into the future, for
it has been capable of incorporating new activities of both an economic
and social nature throughout its history. The diversity of legal entities
that are located within it makes it the centre of a very extensive geographical
All through the hundred and fifty years since Cerdà drew up his plan, a succession of speculative by-laws gradually nibbled away at part of the initial design and, with it, part of the theory that supported it. First, the interior areas of the blocks, which were meant to "green" half of the surface area of the Eixample, were occupied. These had originally been designed to be used during half of the people's time, the part of their lives related to stillness, solitude, relaxation, being able to read a book or sunbathe next to the murmur of the water flowing from a hypothetical fountain. The "theft" of these green areas partially explains the subsequent disaster that occurred in Catalonia, i.e. such a proliferation of second homes that there were more here than anywhere else in the world, with the resulting environmental consequences. The pressure caused by the development of just the part of daily city life dedicated to inter-relationships, exchange and contact forced people to compensate, beyond the city limits, for what was lacking inside it. It must be said, however, that the use to which the buildings in the inner block area were put, most of which are just one storey high, has meant that the Eixample has been more flexible and capable of adapting than other types of urban fabric. A proliferation of small workshops, warehouses and more recently car parks is a response to the challenges of changes over time.
Subsequent by-laws up to the Porcioles period mostly increased building height, which meant that shadows were cast on other buildings as they grew higher. One design criterion, which is highly topical today, related to building energy performance. Orientation towards the sun and the existence of sun-filled and shaded zones in a building create the best conditions for producing cross currents, which are the best solution and first choice for regulating the interior temperature. Recent proposals aimed at dividing up floors with a zeal that has sometimes been speculative and, in others, a way of adapting housing to current family structures are ill fated in relation to energy efficiency.
Few urban planners with an integrated vision have appeared since Cerdà, possibly because commissions have not involved the possibility of constructing a new city. On the other hand, planners have had the opportunity during this time to create not one but many cities (in terms of surface area constructed), above all since the appearance of the new form of locomotion, the automobile, which has led to a new form of urbanisation, the results of which are highly disenchanting and limited.
Urbanism: resolving conflict-producing
Typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, and other epidemics are intimately related with the walled city, a densely populated area with buildings lacking the minimum sanitation infrastructure, all of which forms a scenario that highly justified the appearance of the new discipline that was urbanism. City walls and unhealthy neighbourhoods were demolished, fast moving roads with trees and sanitation infrastructure were created, and lower class housing, public parks and public squares were built.
provided by the new city, along with the discovery of the pathogenic agents
causing tuberculosis, cholera, typhus and the plague, together with other
sanitary and public health improvements, meant that there was an increase
in life expectancy and a reduction in infant mortality.
It is important in the meantime to mention the figure of E. Howard and the garden city movement that sought to resolve the country-town conflict resulting from the different impacts of air, noise, and visual pollution and problems of salubrity in the industrial city. The idea was to give the impression of living in the country while living in the city. The regional Plan by Geddes subsequently extended territorial and regional planning and laid out garden cities over large areas on the outskirts. Attempts would be made (unsuccessfully) to preserve areas of fertile soil for agricultural use.
The equity and
greater social justice that the first utopian urban planners and socialists
contemplated in their designs for new settlements - take Cerdà's
efforts to find out about and quantify the living conditions and the economic
means of the under-privileged, which he gathered together in his "Monografia
estadistica de la classe obrera", led them to different formal and functional
solutions, some of them, as in the case of the Eixample, with obvious and
permanent results. The separation of social groups in space due to economic,
ethnic, religious or other differences is today the cause of social conflict,
the decline in law and order, and uncertainty in terms of the future. Delinquency,
drugs, the submerged economy, the undemocratic control of areas by groups
that use rules of the game beyond constitutional laws, are just some of
the emerging conflicts of a dualistic society that the segregative city
has stimulated and continues to stimulate today.
In cities in the West, a certain number of the conflicts have been resolved through a series of building and planning standards for plans and projects although the characteristics and dimension of certain current conflicts mean that, while the work of Cerdà and others should not be forgotten, emphasis needs to be placed on new basic theories of planning that deal in an integrated, systemic way with how the city works. At the time when Cerdà developed his systemic approach to the city, systems theory, the basic aspects of thermodynamics, and autoecology, which today enable us to understand the essential relationships in open systems, were all as yet to be developed. It was thus unrealistic for him to understand the nature of the new types of conflict that would appear and for him to shape them into the design for his proposal. I am convinced, however, on seeing the profoundness of his theories and the level of intuition with which they are imbued, that Cerdà would today incorporate current knowledge in resolving the new conflicts and he would undoubtedly formulate a new theoretical framework to do this.
1995. Ildefons Cerdà davant l'ordenació jurídica de
l'urbanisme: aportacions i anticipacions. 1st International symposium.
Cerdà, urbs and territory.
Gro Harlem Brundtland (1939) is a Norwegian doctor specialising in public health. Prime Minister of Sweden for ten years, in 1983, she established and chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development. The best-known work of this commission is that entitled "Our Common Future" or the "Brundtland Report" which develops the concept of sustainable development. A woman of great political and internationalist vocation, she is currently Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"We are living in a world in which the divide between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen; a world in which only a privileged few have access to the fruits of the technological revolution. Our challenge is to bridge that divide. We can do it through improving access: Access to resources. Access to commodities. Access to information and technology. Access to health systems, together with the infrastructure and institutions that make this possible".
The words of this address given recently by Gro Harlem Brundtland to the 54th World Health Assembly (14 May 2001) could serve as a presentation for the current Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) (a post she will hold until 2003), who is known the world over for popularising the principle of sustainability or sustainable development.
In 1983, the then United Nations Secretary-General invited Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, in April 1987.
Sustainability: a polysemic concept
Sustainability is a polysemic concept that corresponds to a plurality of dimensions:
Gro Harlem Brundtland was born in Oslo, Norway, on 20 April 1939. A medical doctor and Master of Public Health (MPH), she is a specialist on the public health system and spent the first 10 years of her career as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system. She has been in public office for more than 20 years, 10 of them as Prime Minister.
Dr Brundtland's first choice of career was neither environmentalist nor politician, but to become a doctor like her father. He was a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, a skill much in demand following the Second World War. When Gro Harlem was 10 years old, the family moved to the United States where her father had been awarded a Rockefeller scholarship. After returning to Norway, her father again served abroad, this time in Egypt where he was a United Nations expert on rehabilitation. The seeds of internationalism were sown in the young Gro.
Dr Brundtland inherited another passion from her father - political activism. At the age of seven, she was enrolled as a member of the Norwegian Labour Movement in its children's section and has been a member ever since, leading the Labour Party to election victory three times.
The sense of global awareness that began in her childhood developed when, as a young mother and newly qualified doctor, Gro Harlem Brundtland won a scholarship to the Harvard School of Public Health. Here, working alongside distinguished public health experts, Dr Brundtland's vision of health extended beyond the confines of the medical world into environment issues and human development.
Returning to Oslo and the Ministry of Health in 1965, she worked on children's health issues and in the children's department of the National Hospital and Oslo City Hospital and became Director of Health Services for Oslo's schoolchildren. All this at the same time as bringing up her own family and representing Norway in international conferences.
In 1974, Dr Brundtland was offered the job of Minister of the Environment. At first, believing she did not have enough experience of environmental issues, she was reluctant to accept the post. But her conviction of the link between health and the environment changed her mind. During the 1970s she acquired international recognition in environmental circles and a political reputation at home. She held the post until 1979. Meanwhile, in 1977, she had become a member of the Norwegian Parliament.
In 1981, at the age of 41, she was appointed Prime Minister for the first time. In 1981, at the age of 41, she was appointed Prime Minister for the first time. Gro Harlem Brundtland was the youngest person and the first woman ever to hold the office of Prime Minister in Norway. With two other periods as Prime Minister from 1986-1989 and 1990-1996, Dr Brundtland was Head of Government for more than 10 years.
political career, Dr Brundtland has developed a growing concern for issues
of global significance. In 1983 the then United Nations Secretary-General
invited her to establish and chair the World Commission on Environment
and Development. The Commission, which is best known for developing the
broad political concept of sustainable development, published its report
Our Common Future in April 1987.
The Commission's recommendations led to the Earth Summit - the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
She finally stepped down as Prime Minister in October 1996. In her successful bid to become Director-General of the World Health Organisation (which she did on 13 May 1998), her many skills as doctor, politician, activist and manager have come together.
The birth of the World Commission on Environment and Development
In 1983, the then United Nations Secretary-General invited Gro Harlem Brundtland to establish and chair a special independent commission to take on the challenge of drawing up a report that would constitute "a global programme for change". The General Assembly wanted to make an urgent call to all Countries in the world in order to propose long term environmental strategies, which would enable sustainable development to be achieved for the 21st century.
Behind the Commission's goal was the concern to give incentive to greater cooperation between countries with different levels of development, while improving the mechanisms that the international community would need to deal more efficiently with environmental problems and helping to define common levels of sensibility that would enable a long term action programme to be developed.
As Dr. Brundtland, as president of the Commission, has pointed out: "When the powers of the Commission began to be discussed in 1982, there were some that wanted to limit the scope of work to environmental issues. Fortunately, what could have been an easy mistake was not made. The "environment" is the surroundings where we all live and development is what we all do to try and improve our lives in the surroundings where we live. Many critical survival issues are related to inequitable development, poverty and population growth. This is why the links between poverty, inequality and environmental degradation constitute a fundamental issue for analysis".
This is how the World Commission on Environment and Development was set up by virtue of Resolution 38/161 of the United Nations General Assembly in the autumn of 1983. The Secretary-General named Gro Harlem Brundtland, who at that time was leader of the Norwegian Labour Party, as President and Dr. Mansour Khalid as Vice president. These two would subsequently select the remaining commissioners that would be involved in preparing and drawing up the report.
Sustainability as a legal principle
A group of international
legal experts worked for the Commission and formulated a Summary of proposed
legal principles for environmental protection and sustainable development,
which represented the starting point of sustainability as a legal principle
and which would form not just the legal basis for the main covenants agreed
on at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, but also the 5th Action Programme
of the European Community and in the drafting of many national constitutions
which subsequently introduced the individual's right to an adequate, high
The weakness and grandeur of sustainability
The call to incorporate sustainability as a legal principle had already been made at the UN Stockholm Conference in 1972 -"The international legal framework also needs to be considerably reinforced to support sustainable development". Although international environmental law has developed rapidly since the Stockholm Conference, there are still some important loopholes and shortcomings that need to be overcome in the process of transition to sustainable development.
As Ramon Martin Mateo has explained, "the principle's main problem is its ineffectiveness and its lack of legal callability. In spite of this, sustainability has not been totally void of practical legal significance since Rio for sustainability has become one of the great principles that serve to guide and regulate the behaviour of the different States that make up the United Nations. Beyond this, however, different ideological trends are the cause of the current confusion in terminology (durable development, sustained growth, sustainable growth, etc.) while the states avoid any kind of legal formulation that determines specific obligations that enable individuals to demand compliance by legal means".
terms, it is normal for the legal formulation of the principle of sustainability
to lag behind its formulation as an ethical principle, as an economic principle
or as a model of socio-political analysis. It is thus not surprising that
it was not a lawyer but Gro Harlem Brundtland (a doctor, politician and
activist) who championed sustainability as a universal principle. That
is how there is already talk world-wide of a third great transition, that
of the sustainable society.
The Austrian philosopher and theologian Ivan Illich (1926), is a radical critic of institutions. He has dedicated a large part of his intellectual efforts to questioning the worship by industrialised societies of institutions such as school, transport, and medicine. Illich coined the phrases "science of the people" and "convivial society". From a strictly ecological perspective, Illich has reflected on the modus of production, the use of energy, water, land... A philosophical viewpoint which is fresh and radically different from habitual approaches.
Using this article's title, Le Monde de l'éducation (July-August 1999) began a series on what Ivan Illich's thought has meant in terms of the radical criticism of institutions that permit the reproduction of the productivist system of generating goods and services.
The personality of Ivan Illich shines more brightly today than it did when he began to publish the results of research done at CIDOC in Cuernavaca (State of Morelos, Mexico), which he co-founded. In a world immersed in the process of globalisation, intent on making cultures uniform and destroying them, acting as an aggressive force against natural systems and upsetting social systems, a new reading of the profound, radical analyses of Illich makes us understand why society is evolving the way it is. It is precisely because of his radical analyses (to get to the root of things) that the clairvoyance of Ivan Illich has become a problem for the systems of power that rule the planet. That is why many petty tyrants do whatever they can to make sure he remains forgotten.
Illich's papers were translated into numerous languages and published in many commercial as well as alternative newspapers and magazines. But here, in Catalonia, we have not been able to read even one of his books in our language, even while some Catalan environmentalist associations, backed by Raimon Panikkar, among others, proposed his candidacy for the Premi Catalunya. Contrarily, we have been able to read some of his books in Spanish. The publisher Carlos Barral published 4 of Illich's works in the 'Breve biblioteca de respuesta' [Brief Library of Answers] in the 70s, and a publishing house in Madrid published another one at the end of the 80s. Then again, in Mexico, all his work has been published. In Spain, his articles were published in El País, El Viejo Topo (1st era) and in Integral (1st era).
In Catalonia, we had the opportunity to read Illich in Catalan thanks to the pioneering information and publishing work done by the Col·lectiu de Periodistes Ecologistes [Ecologist Journalist Group], in the late 70s and early 80s. An initial interview with Ivan Illich was published in the weekly Canigó, signed by Xavier Garcia. Later, Josep Català did another one that was published in the weekly El Món (1982). The newspaper Avui also echoed the IV Symposium of ECOROPA - European Ecological Action, that was held at the University of Kassel (Germany, 1980), where Ivan Illich presented the results of his research on 'Shadow Work'. Other personalities related to the nascent world of ecologism took part in this symposium: Denis de Rougemont, Edward Goldsmith, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Petra Kelly, among others. Also in attendance were Xavier Garcia (author of the feature published in Avui) and Santiago Vilanova, who presented his theses on Econationalism (later published in book form in 1981: L'Econacionalisme: Una alternativa catalana dins una Europa ecològica, [Econationalism: A Catalan Alternative within an Ecological Europe] Ed. Blume, Barcelona). By becoming editor of the newspaper Diari de Barcelona, Santiago Vilanova was able to publish many of Ivan Illich's texts in the pages of "El Brusi". Later, the magazine Via Fora also published some of his work throughout the 90s.
I had the opportunity
to meet Ivan Illich personally in Barcelona, at a conference given by the
College of Industrial Engineers of Catalonia in 1980. He was visiting our
country at the invitation of Professor Pere Escorsa, dean of economics
at the UPC and director of the course 'Industrial Development', in which
Ivan Illich took part. His work The Right to Creative Unemployment ['El
derecho al desempleo creador'] was later published in the book Industrial
Development of the 80s ['El desarrollo industrial de los 80'], which was
a collection of all the contributions made by the people taking part in
the aforementioned course.
Illich had been chosen by the Vatican for a diplomatic career, but he preferred to become a priest, and was appointed by Cardinal Spellman to be vicar of the Church of the Incarnation in New York, which had a congregation that included many Irish and Puerto Rican parishioners. In 1956, he left New York to take over the vice-rectorship of the Catholic University of Santa Maria (Ponce, Puerto Rico). His relationship with this university ended because he did not agree with the prohibition, made by the bishop of the diocese, of voting for a governor who favoured birth control.
Upon returning to New York, he was a professor in the Sociology Department of Fordham University (1960-1983) and at the same time took part in the founding, in 1961, of the CIDOC - Intercultural Documentation Centre in Cuernavaca [Centro Intercultural de Documentación a Cuernavaca] (Mexico), of which he was director. The seminars organised by CIDOC (1961-1976) turned this centre into a veritable informal university, and they immediately turned it into a place where problems of development were studied and focus was given to publishing alternatives to the technological society. In 1968, when it came up against the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the CIDOC was secularised and Illich left the priesthood shortly afterwards (1969).
His positions have included: visiting professor at the University of Kassel (Germany, 1979-1981); member of the Institute for Advanced Studies of Berlin (1981); Regents professor at the University of California, Berkeley (1982); visiting professor at the University of Marburg (Germany, 1983-1986), association with the National Museum of Baviera in organising a huge exhibit on the history of pilgrimage in oriental cultures and in the conceptual development of a museum on the history of the idea of primary education in the Bayerisches Schulmuseum (1984); visiting professor at Pitzer College (Claremont, California, 1984); visiting member of the College of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (1984); visiting member of the Institute of Italo-Germanic History at the University of Trento (1985); member of the board of the Dallas Institute for the Humanities and Culture (1985); visiting professor of Humanities and Sciences at the Philosophy Department of Pennsylvania State University (1986 - ); visiting professor of architecture in the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania (1990 - ); Karl Jaspers chair at the University of Oldenburg (1990-1991); and visiting professor at the University of Bremen (1991-). He lives in Cuernavaca, where he has long been battling a facial tumour.
It is not at all easy to define Illich's work or his attitude. Michel Bosquet said of him: 'he is a subversive Catholic who looks at industrialised societies from a centuries-old perspective'. Bosquet himself, under the pseudonym of André Gorz, said: 'One of the most subversive spirits of the century', in a long article summarising the thinking of Illich, published in Le Nouvel Observateur (September 11, 1972). The German philosopher Erich Fromm, in the prologue to Celebration of Awareness used the expression 'humanist radicalism' to refer to Illich. Radicalism not as a doctrine, but as an attitude towards life. This radicalism, according to Fromm, is based on the motto De omnibus dubitandum: question everything, and subject everything to criticism, but above all, those concepts and postulates that are considered immutable and solidly established. Those that 'are that way because they've always been that way'. Humanist because the human being is the starting point for all of Illich's meditations.
Ivan Illich has spent a great deal of effort in eroding the cult that industrialised societies profess to certain institutions: school, transport, medicine. . . And this work was done within the framework of the CIDOC, the Center for Intercultural Documentation. There, innumerable seminars are organised on the ways and means to avoid having Latin America undergo an expansion of the Radical Monopoly of Industry and Professional Domination. These seminars explore the conditions in which the benefits of modern science could be put to use in a fair way within a society, not just for the people, but by the people. The theorising done there on concepts such as 'science for the people' and 'science by the people' are basic to any person involved in matters of science and techno-science.
That is where the term "tools for conviviality" was coined in reference to modern devices, programs and institutions that allow normal people to generate values in use that free them from the necessities produced by commercialised merchandise. There, special treatment is given to the growing public dependence on intangible merchandise; or rather, services. The idea is to specifically explore the ways and means that people can use to live without having their needs professionally diagnosed and professional treatment. Needs such as learning and health care, such as having tutors for administration or for jobs.
Here was also where specifications were drawn up on the meaning of 'convivial society': a society that has at the centre of the economy what people believe or do personally, in primary groups; a society in which priority is given to activities through which the people determine and fulfil their needs; a society in which social values are assigned to merchandise according to the extent to which they encourage the ability of people to generate values in use.
Illich himself acknowledges that 'it is not easy to imagine a society in which industrial organisation is balanced and compensated with productions modes that are different and complementary and highly efficient. We are so distorted by industrial habits that we do not even dare consider the range of possibilities. For us, giving up mass production means going back to the chains of the past, or adopting the utopia of the good savage. However, if we are to widen the angle of our vision towards the dimensions of reality, we must acknowledge that there is not only one way of using scientific discoveries, but there are always at least two opposing ways. One consists in applying the discovery that leads to specialisation of tasks, to institutionalising values and centralising power. This way, humans become accessories to the mega-machine, a cog within the wheels of bureaucracy. But there is a second way of making the invention fruitful. That which increases the power and control of everyone, allowing each to exercise his or her own creativity, with the sole condition of not restricting this same possibility for other people'.
Today, in the midst of the debate on so-called globalisation and the supposed benefits which, according to its apostles, the commercialisation of everything that happens in the world will give us, we would do well to remember what Ivan Illich wrote: 'if we then want to talk about the world of the future, to design the theoretical surroundings of a society to come that is not hyper industrial, we must acknowledge the existence of natural scales and limits. The balance of life expands in various dimensions and, being fragile and complex, does not overstep certain limits. There are thresholds that should not be crossed. We must acknowledge that human slavery was never abolished by the machine, rather it just gave it a new face, so in crossing a threshold, the tool turns from servant into despot. Having crossed a threshold, society becomes a school, a hospital or a prison. That is where the big trap lies. This is precisely why it is important to find out where the critical threshold is for each component of global balance. Then it will be possible to articulate in a new way the age-old triad made up by humans, tools and society. I call convivial society that in which the modern tool is at the service of the person integrated in the community, and not at the service of a corps of specialists. A convivial society is one in which humans control the tools'.
Ivan Illich's critical research work on the monopoly of the industrial mode of production and on the possibility of conceptually defining other modes of post-industrial production lead him, first of all, to an analysis of educational instruments. His conclusions were: 1. Universal education through obligatory schooling is impossible. 2. Conditioning the masses by means of permanent education solves none of the technical problems, but it is morally less tolerable than the old school. These systems are powerful, effective instruments of conditioning, which will mass produce specialised labour, docile consumers and resigned users. They have seductive aspects, but their seduction conceals destruction. They have aspects that destroy fundamental values in a subtle, implacable way. 3. A society that aspires to fairly distribute access to knowledge among its members, and offer them the possibility of truly finding it, must acknow-ledge limits in the pedagogic and therapeutic manipulation associated with industrial growth and which forces us to maintain this growth below certain critical thresholds.
In one of his
latest published interviews, Ivan Illich acknowledged that he 'hadn't managed
to make a true, great reflection on education', in contrast to what occurred
with reflections on medicine (25 years after being published, his work
Medical Nemesis is still used as reference for students in medical schools
Today, in the midst of debate over energy in Catalonia, it is helpful to remember what Ivan Illich wrote in 1974: 'Believing in the possibility of high levels of clean energy as a solution to everything that is wrong represents an error in political judgement. It is imagining that equity in the participation in power and the consumption of energy can grow together. As victims of this illusion, industrialised people do not place the slightest limit on growth in energy consumption, and this growth continues on toward the sole end of providing more and more people with more products from an industry that is controlled by fewer and fewer people… My thesis sustains that it is not possible to attain a social state based on the notion of equity and, at the same time, increase available energy, unless it is on the condition that per capita energy consumption remains within limits'. And he continues by saying: 'now it is necessary for politicians to acknowledge that physical energy, once it has surpassed a certain barrier, inevitably corrupts social surroundings. Even if non-polluting energy could be produced, and produced in quantity, massive use of energy will always have the same effect on the social body as does intoxication by a drug that is physically inoffensive but psychologically enslaving. People can choose between a replacement drug or voluntary detoxification, but they cannot aspire to simultaneously evolve their freedom and conviviality on the one hand, and intensive technology in energy on the other'.
Illich's analyses on vernacular values and on subsistence activities that are characteristic of vernacular societies, applied to interpreting the relationship between a group of Europeans encountering a new continent (just over 500 years ago now) and the Spanish grammar of Elio Antonio de Nebrija, published in Salamanca the same year that America was 'discovered', makes for good reading in his book Shadow Work. Here he shows parallels between colonising and dominating new territories with mercenaries and arms, and colonising the living language of a people with a new weapon, grammar, by imposing a new form of speech by means of a new type of mercenary: the learned man.
Today, when here we consider water to be just another piece of merchandise, and where some consider sending it here and there, it is good to recall Illich's thoughts on water (made in regard to public debate on the suitability of building a huge lake in the centre of the city of Dallas, which was what the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture contributed to the debate): 'Dreams have always shaped cities, cities have always inspired dreams and, traditionally, water has enhanced both dreams and cities. I have serious doubts as to whether urban water can still connect dreams and cities. Industrial society has turned water into H2O, a substance with which the archetypal water cannot be mixed… The history of H2O as a substitute for water can be written in many ways. I treat it here as the engineered degradation of a substance that makes it refractory, incapable of conducting the metaphor that we and our children need. I must insist that water, unlike H2O, is a historic construction that mirrors, for better or for worse, the fluid element of the soul. Today's H2O may clash with the water we sigh over in our dreams'.
I would not like to end this summary of Ivan Illich's work without mentioning one of the most beautiful and profound documents I have ever read: The Hebenshausen Declaration on Soil, written in homage to Robert Rodale, a leader of ecological agriculture in the US, in December, 1990 in Oldenburg. This declaration serves to remind us that, today, the thin skin of our planet, which is soil, is under heavy attack all around the world. The destruction of fertile soil, by poisoning or by disappearing under asphalt and concrete, cries out to heaven. And it does not appear that the eagerness to 'develop' the living, fertile soil surrounding our cities and towns, in order to make money, will be slowing down anytime soon, but just the opposite. This is how it is forgotten that the ecological health of soil, together with that of water and air, is the material basis necessary for human societies and people to enjoy goods and services and to keep them ecologically healthy.
'Ecological discussions regarding the planet Earth, world hunger and threats to life require us to look towards the soil, humbly, like philosophers. We are planted in the soil, not in the earth. We come from the soil and throw into the soil all our excrements and waste. Yet the soil -its cultivation and our servitude towards it- is surprisingly absent from the matters clarified by philosophy in our Western tradition.
'As philosophers, we explore what is beneath our feet, because our generation has lost its roots in the soil and in virtue. In discussing virtue, we refer to the form, order and direction of action, as informed by tradition, tied to place and qualified by the options taken within our usual grasp; we refer to practices recognised as good within a local, shared culture that heightens the memory of a place.
'We have observed that this virtue is traditionally found in work, profession, the strengthening and suffering sustained not for an abstract earth, environment or energy system, but for specific soil enriched by the tracks of these actions. And yet, despite this fundamental link between soil and being, philosophy has not generated the concepts that allow us to relate virtue to common soil, something that is entirely different from handling behaviour on a shared planet.
'We were uprooted
from our ties to the soil -the connections limiting action and making it
possible to practice virtue- when modernisation isolated us from simple
dirt, from anguish, from flesh, from the soil and from the grave. The economic
system into which we have been absorbed -some willingly and some by force,
others at great cost- turns people into small, interchangeable fragments
of population, governed by the laws of scarcity.
'As philosophers, we emphasise the need to talk about the soil. For Plato, Aristotle and Galen, it was a given, but it is not so today. The soil, in which culture can grow and corn can be cultivated, is lost from sight when it is defined as a subsystem, sector, resource, problem or agricultural operation -as agricultural science tends to do.
'As philosophers, we offer resistance to those ecological experts who preach about science, but encourage contempt for historic tradition, local scents and earthly virtue, and self-limitation.
'With sadness, but without nostalgia, we acknowledge the preterition of the past. Therefore, with modesty, we try to share what we see: some consequences of the earth that has lost its soil. And we are annoyed by the contempt for the soil we observe in the discourse practised by certain armchair ecologists. We are also critics of certain well-intentioned romantics, Luddites and mystics who exalt the soil and make it the matrix, not of virtue, but of life. Therefore, let us make a call to build a philosophy of the soil: a clear, disciplined analysis of the experience and the memory of soil, without which neither virtue nor a new form of subsistence can exist.
Illich, I. (1969),
Celebration of Awareness, Doubleday (Spanish translation: Alternativas,
Ed. J.Mortiz, Mexico, 1974).
Ever since he was a child, James Lovelock (1919), the British doctor and biophysicist, has been interested in nature and designing things. His skill as an inventor has enabled him to create thirty patents, which have afforded him the financial independence necessary to devote himself to research. In 1979, he formulated the hypothesis that would later become a theory. In it, James Lovelock maintains that co-operation has been as important as competition for the maintenance of life on Earth. Much criticised by the scientific establishment, what is indisputable is that the concept of the living world and the Earth has changed thanks to the ideas of this British wise man.
Gaia, according to Greek mythology, was the Goddess of the Earth, conceived as a primordial element from which the race of deities sprang forth. According to Hesiod, she gave birth to herself after Chaos, and in opposition to him. Without male intervention, she engendered Uranus (the sky), the mountains and Oceanus (the sea). Her incestuous union with Uranus engendered the Titans, Giants and Cyclopes. Uranus hated his children, condemning them to live in the depths of the earth, or Gaea, who, in revenge, gave Cronus the steel sickle. At nightfall, when Uranus mated with Gaea, Cronus castrated him, and the blood from the wound inseminated Gaea once again, who gave birth to the Furies, Giants and Nymphs. Gaea again united incestuously, this time with Oceanus, and engendered five sea gods: Nereus, Thaumas, Phorcys, Ceto and Eurybia.
It is 1978. James E. Lovelock has to decide what to call his hypothesis. Ark, Mother Earth, Geophysiology, Gea... and he decides to share his doubts with William Golding (1911-1993), a neighbor of his in Cornwall. The writer suggests the name of Gaia, the Greek mother earth, and a word that would seem to be a happy poetic contrivance, as well as being a four-letter word. This is the title of his first book: Gaia, a New Look at Life on the Earth, published in 1979 by the Oxford University Press.
Since then, Gaia, this biocentric denomination, this happy poetic contrivance, in the words of Ramon Folch, has received attention from all areas of human knowledge having scientific, philosophical, symbolic and political connotations.
Gaia lends its name in 1985 to the Gaia Atlas to Managing the Planet, the first book from Gaia Publishing, which six years later published Gaia, Practical Medicine for the Planet, an illustrated book. Gaia lends its name to a foundation and to different groups of activists who try to offer a response to the modern search for an ancient, lost spirituality, in the words of Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade (1987) where the "goddess hidden in the shadow of our genetic memory", is revealed in the seductive words of the writer Isabel Allende.
In essence, the search for ancient, mystic wisdom is the search for a type of spirituality that is characteristic of a society that leans more towards solidarity than towards domination, according to the reasoning of Riane Eisler. Mythical as well as archeological evidence signal that perhaps the most noteworthy quality of the prevailing mind is its recognition of its uniqueness to all of nature that is found at the very root of Neolithic and Cretan veneration of the goddess. Increasingly, the work of modern ecologists who unify the fragmented, simplifying sciences, indicates that this earliest quality of the mind, which in our time is often associated with certain types of oriental spirituality, was much more advanced than the current ideology that destroys the environment. In fact, this was a precursor to new scientific theories, in the sense that all the Earth's living matter, together with that of the atmosphere and that of the oceans and soil, forms a complex, interconnected system of life.
According to Lewis Thomas (1913-1993) the word used to denominate the Earth at the beginning of Indo-European languages thousands of years ago (no one knows exactly how many) was dhghem. From this word, which means nothing more than earth, comes the word humus, which is the result of work done by bacteria in the soil. And, to teach us a lesson, from the same root come the words humble and human.
It is true that
James Lovelock escapes this spider's web of scientific knowledge (searching
for the answer to how) and symbolic knowledge (searching for the answer
to why) by invoking, for example, an outlandish support for nuclear energy
by fission that frees him from alignment with environmental activism. But
he cannot always free himself from this nebulosity, presenting himself
as "spokesman for bacteria and the more unattractive forms of life, which
no one tends to advocate. My field is all of life, except that of humans"
Technological fundamentalists and scientific reactionaries immediately disqualify the Gaia hypothesis by calling it visionary, mystic and teleological. Lynn Margulis herself clarifies, in the second American edition of Five Kingdoms. An Illustrated Guide to the Phyla of Life on Earth (1988), the metaphoric nature of the impressive drawing on the cover of the book, in which a drawing of a hand holds between thumb and forefinger a bonbon of the famous picture of the Earth taken by Apollo VIII on December 21, 1968.
"In some cases, the criticism I have received comes from the idea that Gaia is a teleological concept that presents the Earth as a superior being capable of deciding what is best for the planet. Because they cannot find a way to explain homeostatic mechanisms (conditions of stability for healthy organisms) of planetary control, they deny their existence. In order to avoid this, some of my colleagues have advised me to leave out the word Gaia in naming my theory. I admit that sometimes I was about to throw in the towel and call it Global Geophysiology, a term that is more suitable for a scientific concept" (1980). He finishes off this confession by stating that Gaia or geophysiology is a vision that is not contradictory to the human values of goodness and compassion. The science of Gaia is understood as geophysiology, the science that attempts to explain how the living Earth works.
Outstanding among the first batch of his detractors are Richard Dawkins, the author of the best-selling The Selfish Gene and professor of zoology at Oxford University, and W. Ford Doolittle, a prestigious molecular biologist. "These critiques were very valuable. I understood that I had been thinking in a very intuitive way, and was still missing the right explanation. I prepared a scientific model I called Daisyworld ." In fact, the hypothesis would become theory through research either confirming it as correct or opening other areas of interest.
In issue 8 of the magazine, dedicated to Gaia: The Networks of Life, James Lovelock explained to Lluís Reales: "Daisyworld is a computer model of a planet that has only two species of daisy, one dark and the other light. The model shows that the temperature of the surface of the world increases as much as that of the daisies themselves… In the last phase, a balance is reached between the numbers of each type of daisy, which is optimal for growth. In this way, the system tends to regulate itself according to the rays of sunlight it receives."
In his History
of Ecology (1991), in which he devotes a chapter to the Gaia theory, Jean
Paul Deléage remembers that "Lovelock thinks the most destructive
criticism of his ideas is that which claims that there is nothing new in
his theory, that it was all already known a long time ago". There is some
truth in this criticism. Indeed, the geophysiological hypothesis is part
of the philosophical and scientific tradition of Humboldt and the romantic
Germans in the 19th century and, Vladimir I Vernadsky and G. Evelyn Hutchinson
in the 20th. Thus, it is easy for Lovelock to remember that normal science
rejected certain known, observed phenomena outside its field of investigation,
as it could find no explanation for them in the framework of dominant paradigms.
The message of James Lovelock is infected by the becoming of science and the ecological movement. It could not be otherwise. Nonetheless, James Lovelock often discusses global ecological problems, searching for answers and even a language that shuns a skeptical scientific or ahistorical judgement. The fact of having been able to catalyze a global vision into a theory has forced him to use an ethnocentric, comprehensible language that he has slowly abandoned. This commitment was fatal to his career. For example, he did not receive the Nobel Prize like his friend William Golding, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983 for The Lord of the Flies (1954) [In Catalan El Senyor de les mosques, translated by Manuel de Pedrolo]. And living with a stigma is not easy, even for an independent scientist.
The fact is that, finally, his language cooled off. For their part, ecologists began distancing themselves from his theory. "Adoption of the Gaia hypothesis on the part of ecologists betrays either confused thought or latent anthropocentrism" (Andrew Dobson, 1990). If Gaia is a self-regulating system, then it should be able to react to the behavior of the human species and, fundamentally, we need not worry about what we do. This would feed technological fundamentalism and reactionaries who spread religious conformity in which the system need not be changed, because it will all work out.
James E. Lovelock was born on July 26, 1919 in Letchworth, in the county of Hertfordshire in South-West England, where he lived with his grandparents until he was six years old. His parents had a store in Brixton, a popular neighborhood in the south of London, where they sold picture frames and prints. Here he began the school life that he remembers with horror. Behind the school, the Bitons library turned him into a voracious reader. He read all day and got very good marks.
His father was
a naturalist prone to taking walks in the countryside and awakening in
his son a veneration for life. "When I was a child, I thought everything
was wonderful. And I am the same now as then. My childhood never ended.
The day I lose my enthusiasm for the world, it will be time to look for
a place to dig my grave."
He worked at the National Institute of Medical Research in London until 1961, except for two intervals at Harvard and Yale. His family, with three children, had to live on three thousand dollars a year, and he added to his income by selling half a liter of blood once a month for fifty dollars.
His stay in the United States permitted him to perfect his knowledge and finish the Electron Capture Detector, a device able to measure the presence of certain molecules. It is his detectors that allow measurements to be taken for the presence and concentration of synthetic pesticides throughout the planet in food chains. This study was the basis for Raquel Carson's denouncement in the book Silent Spring (1962).
capture detectors, for discovering and measuring PCBs, nitrous oxides and
chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) in the atmosphere, allowed Mario Molina and Sherry
Rowland to formulate the theory of deterioration of the stratospheric ozone
layer due to freon contained in aerosols and plastics such as polystyrene.
Without breaking off collaboration with NASA, he returned to his country and set himself up in the countryside, in Bowerchalke, Devon, as an independent professional and consultant for Shell Research and Pye Unicam. His research laboratory, Coombe Mill Experimental Station, in the garage of his home, was where he set to designing ingenious devices for measuring high-pressure atmospheric gases. "I am writing from a room next to one that was a water mill that got its power from the Carey River. Coombe's Mill is still a work place, now a laboratory, a corner where I spend a great deal of time. The description of the place where it is written is important in order to understand it. I work here and this is my home. There is no other way to work on an unconventional subject such as Gaia. The research and expeditions have occupied me for almost twenty years. This activity has been financed by the income from the invention and development of scientific instruments".
In 1987, during another stay in Barcelona, James Lovelock joked with the journalist Tomás Mata, from the magazine Integral, in the Hotel Colón, about his interest in devices, which went back to when he was five years old and his father gave him a pair of batteries connected to some bulbs. "I always thought that science was something you did at home, such as writing, painting or composing music; after all, it is not strange at all to have an artist do his creative work at home. The idea of an artist painting portraits in the Fine Arts Department of some university, or that of a novelist commuting daily to the Institute of Creative Writing is absurd. Why can't science be done at home?"
Over summer vacation on the coast of Ireland in 1966, he observed the Atlantic wind, clean and transparent, and the wind from Europe: a dark fog. Unsatisfied by different interpretations, and two years later, taking advantage of the family's summer movement, he equipped a gas chromatograph with an electron capture device that let him detect the pollutants SO3, nitrous oxide and CFC. The detection of this artificial gas led him to continue studying and, years after many petitions, he managed to take samples in Antarctica, aboard the ship Shackleton.
The thirty patents
he created have allowed him to act with economic independence and investigative
power. "I would not have been able to work on Gaia if I were not independent.
Even these days, grants are not given for a subject like this. If I had
wanted to work on this ten years ago, the laboratory director would have
told me: you can't waste time on these things, they aren't serious, you
must work on something important".
The Gaia hypothesis considers that the evolution of species is not independent from or parallel to the environment. Darwinists and NeoDarwinists sustain that evolution is the result of competition among species and with the environment. James Lovelock sustains that cooperation has been as important as competition in maintaining life on Earth, supporting the theories of Kropotkin (1842-1921), the Russian anarchist-communist author of Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1892).
They say that when they are first formulated, the theories that revolutionize science tend to be considered heretic deviations from established doctrine. It is only later, after they have been proven, that they become realities capable of changing the world. Lovelock's is one of these. Recently, the prestigious newspaper The Independent had a headline that read: "The Man Who Changed the World" (2000). In a passionate defense of Lovelock, Professor Ricard Guerrero states that we can divide our concept of the living world and the Earth into two eras. Before James Lovelock, our concept of life consisted in individuals, villages or communities of living beings who reside in a world that is basically stable, in permissive physiochemical conditions that are determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. After the Lovelockian revolution, life does not consist in just a group of organisms adapted to their environment by means of a relationship determined by external laws. It is not that the special conditions of Earth have enabled the development and evolution of life on it (Earth), but life which has determined the development and evolution of the conditions that are suitable for it (life) on Earth.
Bibliography to understand the Gaia theory
Gaia. Una nueva
visión de la vida sobre la Tierra. -James E. Lovelock. Hermann Blume
Editors. Madrid, 1983. First book published in English in 1979, which explained
the then Gaia hypothesis.
Ramon Margalef (1919) ecologist, limnologist, oceanographer and planktonologist is possibly the Catalan scientist and naturalist of greatest international renown. Master of ecologists and environmentalists, Margalef has made outstanding contributions to the field of ecology although never forgetting the social environment. All the knowledge he has gained through the study of nature, he has tried to explain, in simple terms, to everyone, especially children.
If it is true, as they say, that in order to protect nature one must love it, and in order to love it one must know about it, then it would be hard to find a scholar of nature in Catalonia who has contributed more to this knowledge (and, therefore, to protecting nature) than professor Ramon Margalef. Margalef has just celebrated six decades of active scientific research in the fields of limnology, oceanography and ecology, and in all of them he has created a following at home and abroad. He is one of the world's most highly respected ecologists, not only due to the enormous work he has done in each of these disciplines -in which one could say without exaggeration that he was pioneer in Spain- but also because this job of research that made him cover a good part of the continental waters of the Iberian Peninsula and study the Mediterranean Sea, Galician rias, Caribbean Sea and the outcropping areas of the Saharan coasts, among others, has been accompanied by the publication of seminal and groundbreaking papers and books on ecological theory and general ecology.
A summary within the framework of this magazine would necessarily be too synthetic and unjust; therefore, I refer to what I myself (Ros, 1991) said about his life and work in the volume dedicated in homage to him ten years ago by his disciples and colleagues (Ros & Prat, 1991), to the biography published by the Catalan Research Foundation [Fundació Catalana per a la Recerca] (Bonnín, 1994) and to the historic landscape of ecological studies in Catalonia (Camarasa, 1989), of which Margalef is the most conspicuous protagonist. Nevertheless, it is no exaggeration to state that from the appearance of his first publications on ecological theory, in the fifties and sixties, until the latest of his books (to date), Our Biosphere (1997), the contributions made by this naturalist cum ecologist to understanding how the biosphere works has been immense, as well as internationally acknowledged. (What is expected of a eulogy is that it be in praise of the person, but the letters of support we received in the department while preparing his candidacy for the Ramón y Cajal prize for scientific research, which was awarded to him in 1984, constitute an impressive, highly varied range of testimonies acknowledging his work in the various fields of ecological sciences he cultivated, from professionals all over the world.)
His first publications on ecological theory include the papers "La teoría de la información en ecología" (1957) [The Theory of Information in Ecology], in which he proposed applying methods on the theory of information to the study of species diversity in an ecosystem, and which was published in English the following year in the magazine General Systems, and "On Certain Unifying Principles in Ecology" (1963), as well as his book Perspectives in Ecological Theory (1968). The latter was very influential the world over (it was translated into several languages, including Spanish in 1978), and served to make his ideas on organisation and function of the biosphere known. Ecología [Ecology] (1974a), La biosfera, entre la termodinámica y el juego [The Biosphere, between Thermodynamics and Play] (1980b), Limnología [Limnology] (1983a), Teoría de los sistemas ecológicos [Theory of Ecological Systems] (1991d), Oblik Biosfer (1992b) and Our Biosphere (1997) kept these ideas up to date.
As I said, this paper is not an attempt to annotate Margalef the ecologist, but is rather to give an idea of a less-known facet that runs parallel to the others mentioned in regard to our great naturalist: his interest in the significance and ecological role our species plays within the biosphere. His message is that the human being, despite being so numerous (and powerful, thanks to the use of external energy) is just another animal that is subject to the rules of the game which are imposed by physical and biological laws on all living things; and that our role as profound modifier of the environment -what we have come to call "ecological or environmental impact", is another of the many disturbances to which the planet's ecosystems are subjected, and to which evolution (of which we are also a result, let's not forget) has adapted them. This vision, which often runs counter to the catastrophist outlook offered us by environmentalists for the past fifty years -and which, when located in time, is on a line with those of Rachel Carson (1962), Garrett Hardin (1968) and the Ehrlichs (in the seventies), to mention three important landmarks in making the general public aware of the relationship between man and his environment- has the merit of being founded on solid ecological theory with a scientific basis.
Because of this contribution to comprehension of the role man plays in the biosphere (Margalef has long said that the MAB, Man and Biosphere, program of the UNESCO, directed towards studying the relationships between man and nature and to encouraging the preservation of nature in a world changed by humans, should be called MIB, Man in Biosphere) I do not hesitate to include among Margalef's already universally acknowledged facets (naturalist, ecologist, limnologist, oceanographer) those of conservationist or environmentalist in the capacity of conservation and/or ecology theoretician. This label may not please the group that, rightly or not, uses it (and who may not break bread with Margalef in regard to those of his ideas which the media has now and again made public; however, see what is said about this later on); nevertheless, I would like to take the opportunity to ask that judgements not be made until after the main texts by professor Margalef, which are included in the bibliography, have been read.
Professor Margalef does not like to be defined as an environmentalist either; so, I beg his pardon and, if necessary, change it to master of environmentalists, as he has been master of ecologists. Nor does he like the fact that the questions often put to him by journalists, who know they are dealing with a "scholar of ecology", have to do with urban waste, pollution in the Mediterranean or preservation of biodiversity. Despite the fact that he can offer opinions and has very clear ideas on all these points, he believes that these are not the real environmental problems. He believes that the media and politicians (as well as ecologists, for reasons that may not be easily explained) have contributed to offering a twisted image of ecology (what he calls "shovel and broom ecology", that is exclusively concerned with cleaning and tidying up the environment); and, above all, that nature is so wonderful and its study so interesting that to get involved in these environmental trifles is to waste valuable time better spent researching its operative mechanisms.
That is why
journalists don't understand his "uninvolvement" in these matters:
Nor does the
general public fully understand this apparent lack of interest in environmental
problems, on which he often speaks ironically:
Yet we would be mistaken if, like the journalist or audience (or politicians) that Professor Margalef himself mentions in these quotes, we were to believe that earthly things (environmental problems) are not of interest to our hero. He himself defined many years ago the relationship between the science of ecology and the conservationist or environmentalist movement: "Ecology is to environmentalism what sociology is to socialism". Some have read into this phrase scorn for a certain form of politics and for movements that defend nature, but I like to believe that what Professor Margalef meant to say is that both concepts need a solid scientific basis in order to have their programs and actions to improve society or to protect nature make sense and motivate the public.
I prefer this
second explanation because Professor Margalef is a living example of this
way of working. When so many undocumented people have backed the claims
(very often justly) made by environmentalists, which demand protection
for species and habitats, sustainability in the use of resources, energy
and clean processes, etc., it is good to remember that those who have stuck
their fingers in the wounds of environmental hazards have usually been
the scientists who, like our hero, have first-hand knowledge of the problems,
grasp the effects on nature and, most importantly, have dared make them
public. Let's once again allow Margalef to define for us the respective
fields of action for ecologists and environmentalists:
Ecologists and "paraecologists" (= ecofanatics) are increasing people's awareness and responsibility. If one would listen to the prophets, if people would wake up, catastrophes could be prevented. Ecology can do this job and falsify, through optimism, its own predictions. It is better to have predictions be wrong than to have the doubtful satisfaction of saying, "We warned you".» (Margalef, 1973a).
Ramon Margalef, the naturalist who is an internationally recognised ecologist, limnologist, oceanographer and planktonologist and who integrated in a coherent theoretical corpus the operation of the biosphere, has done precisely that: "through observing nature, recognised the physical and biological mechanisms in global systems". And explained the way in which our species is altering these mechanisms. It may be surprising that, among the approximately four hundred scientific papers and dozen or so books Professor Margalef has published during his prolific career, there are a good many texts dedicated to explaining just the role of man within the biosphere. (Without being exhaustive, the bibliography at the end of this article includes most of what he published in this field). The reason is perfectly clear:
«Meanwhile, the destruction of forests persists, erosion continues to be important and we are beginning to modify to a troubling point the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and we may be affecting the climate of the future. Next to this, pollution seems to be a secondary problem, although it is big enough because it could be important to stimulate movements of reaction and, in general, an attitude of greater respect towards nature. Respect depends on awareness and admiration and is linked to them. A series of public actions are directed towards preventing the deterioration of select natural areas, which can also be used as educational centres, yet defending nature is not only that, but demands looking after every little piece of land, of those corners that are full of trash or neglected, which are turning the countryside into a huge ghetto.» (Margalef, 1985).
After a quarter century studying the aquatic communities of the peninsula and islands, Margalef published "El concepto de polución y sus indicadores biológicos" [The Concept of Pollution and Its Biological Indicators] (Margalef, 1969), which limits the meaning of the term and describes the physical-chemical characteristics and the species that signal that the "normal" environmental situation of rivers and lakes is altered by anthropogenic causes. Later (Margalef, 1974a, 1977a, 1980a) he placed pollution in a general ecological context, defining it according to the same:
«… pollution means that something is out of place and, consequently, the properties of a certain fluid are different from the norm. Pollution is a result of the imbalance between the entrance or production and exit or decomposition of certain materials… and there is always a very direct relationship between the intensity of pollution and the capacity of transport… Pollution is the absence of return, obstruction of the natural cycle.» (Margalef, 1974a).
The sentence following the previous ones ("That is why the best way to fight pollution in waterways consists in mandatory taking of water under the level where dumping is done.") has often been taken as a boutade, yet, as with so many other statements made by Margalef, it contains a message of rationality and common sense which, in our dealings with nature, is often lacking. And they are also often misinterpreted by casual readers or listeners who do not grasp the core of the message. That was what occurred with a magnificent exhibit created by Professor Margalef, "L'Ecologia" [Ecology], which was promoted by Barcelona Provincial Council, and which our hero used to make a wonderful book (Margalef, 1985).
A study made on this exhibition demonstrated, among other things, that we are still a long way from knowing what the devil we're doing, as far as biological species is concerned, in this world. Visitors to the show were surveyed to find out what they had understood, what they liked the most, what the least and what had surprised them. The results were surprising and enlightening (Prats & Flos, 1991). For example, of all the show's areas (which discussed the blue planet, energy and production, diversity, natural selection, language and nature, the rhythm of life, the forest and man), the one that was least liked and least understood by the public was the one referring to the latter. Because man was shown as just another species (much more able to modify his surroundings than the others, but in the end, one more piece in the huge puzzle of the biosphere) this message was not liked, nor was it understood (Ros, 1999a).
It is true that
some complex aspects of the way the biosphere works can be relatively difficult
for the average citizen to understand (biogeochemical cycles, the role
of the ocean and the atmosphere in regulating the climate, the interaction
and mutual regulation of populations of species sharing the same habitat,
mechanisms of biological evolution, etc.), but Professor Margalef has struggled
to place this knowledge within everyone's reach, and he has done so using
a rich, suggestive language and an easy, pleasant narrative. All these
characteristics (in-depth knowledge, easy, diverse writing) are features
of the best naturalist writers, from Buffon to Wilson, including Brehm,
and from Huxley to Attenborough, including Gould. Leaving out his more
scientific texts (which, however, are far removed from the "academic" greyness
textbooks often have), I will mention only three of those directed towards
the general public, as well as two introductory sections for widely-published
encyclopaedias. These are made up of a charming little book, due to its
simplicity and brevity, that was used as a manual for a course in the UNED
[a distance learning centre] (Margalef, 1977b); a best-seller that was
first part of a best-selling encyclopaedia (Margalef, 1981); an often reedited
update (Margalef, 1992a), and contributions to two encyclopaedias on natural
history (Margalef, 1989, 1993a).
Margalef made important contributions to a discipline that, a third of a century ago, was not well defined, which was just beginning to relate ecology to human problems and went beyond the relatively well-established areas of human ecology or social anthropology. This meant applying ecological ideas and principles to human problems, whether they are environmental or not: demography and economy; use, conservation and management of resources; pollution and environmental deterioration, etc. Margalef's basic postulate is that man must be considered as part of the biosphere and within a general ecological context. Without causing, fortunately, the uproar and rejection produced at the time by including our species in the animal kingdom, in regard to individual and social behaviour, in large part inscribed in the genetic heritage and modulated by the environment (which is Wilson's message in Sociobiology, 1975), our arrogance as species does not quite allow us to accept this human dependence on the environment (Ros, 2001). Another part of this is the fact that, here, we have never fully assimilated the reality of evolution:
«…the contribution of the theory of evolution has consisted in showing the genetic continuity of man with the rest of living nature. I feel that ecology is making us see the functional unity of man with the rest of the biosphere and the planet. But culture contains many conflicts, and the previous statements correspond to the opinion of certain groups. In others they inspire a considerable amount of rejection… The old norm, according to which nature cannot be governed unless it is by knowing it and obeying it, inspires more irritation than enthusiasm among the latest batch of intellectuals.» (Margalef, 1983b).
«...our society, Spanish and Catalan, has not assimilated the biological theories of evolution. The intelligentsia has not assimilated the deep insertion of man within nature. Our little culture does not allow for it. Nature and man are seen very differently. To say that man is not related to the rest of life seems to be a sort of defence.» (Margalef, 1999).
Professor Margalef's initial incursions into this field, which we could call the Interaction of Man with the Rest of the Biosphere, borrowing the title of a paper that is fundamentally his (Margalef, 1973a), go back more than thirty years. They are already evident in Perspectives in ecological theory (Margalef, 1968), yet, in his own words, «[in 1970] I started to become more seriously interested in the human and social implications of ecology, which until then had consisted for me in the study and contemplation of aquatic organisms.» (Margalef, 1983b).
At that time,
in fact, he did dedicate a few initial papers to it (Margalef, 1970a, 1970b,
1971, 1972, 1973b). Formalisation of the message is found especially developed
in the aforementioned article (Margalef, 1973a), in the corresponding chapter
of his Ecología [Ecology] (Margalef, 1974a), in the introduction
(Margalef, 1976) to Natura, ús o abús? [Nature, Use or Abuse?]
(Folch, 1976  and in a paper written ten years after the famous Conference
of the United Nations on the Human Environment in Stockholm (Margalef,
1983b). It is worth mentioning that, in the second edition of Natura, ús
o abús? [Nature, Use or Abuse?] in 1988, which had many changes
throughout the general text of the book, the introduction by Professor
Margalef remained unchanged, which indicates just how topical his approach
was a quarter of a century before (and still is today).
I would not know how to properly condense in the space of this article the diversity and depth of the contributions made by Professor Margalef to the comprehension of our role within the biosphere, and given the abundance of easily consulted sources, I don't want to take away from readers who are not yet familiar with him the pleasure of discovering the environmental thoughts of this naturalist and ecologist who is also a humanist:
«It is difficult to approach, and to approach in a completely reasonable manner that does not forego essential aspects or give way to criticism that obliges one to begin over and over again, the problems in the relationships between man and nature, and what is called the defence of nature. This problem involves part common sense and part ecology -which is a science and, as such, is not all common sense- but it also involves more emotional elements that have to do, in the end, with the concept we hold of the universe.» (Margalef, 1976).
topics having to do with ecology, I prefer poets to attorneys, and I feel
more inclined towards fantasy, feelings and inspiration than towards precision,
consistence and even responsibility. When considering environmental problems,
I am more attracted to the origin of the problems and what they say about
the mechanisms of the biosphere than to their solutions… This is not a
case of manifest insensitivity, but of concern over the fact that actions
which are often accepted as "ecologically correct" serve to accentuate
the inequalities among the opportunities humanity has available to it.»
Our species adds to internal or biological metabolisms, which we share with the rest of living things, an external or cultural one, which we have taken to limits that are unequalled by other organisms. It is the collective action of the growing number of individuals of our species and the ever greater capacity to use external energy to modify the environment which deteriorates nature, damages biodiversity and exhausts resources, as well as creating social, economic and political (North and South) inequalities which, paradoxically, have more of an effect on the human species than over the biosphere as a whole, which is accustomed to much greater perils.
This environmental anthropogenic deterioration has certain features and certain effects on the ecosystems that do not distinguish it, apart from its magnitude, from what happens due to natural disturbances, and human exploitation of resources is governed by the same norms as ecological exploitation in general. The result is banalization of ecosystems, rejuvenation of communities, loss of original diversity and replacement of it by a few "bad seeds" (vegetable and animal) and plague species which negatively affect our resources. Because man is just another species acting on the environment according to pre-established ecological guidelines, it is easy to see some of these actions are not sustainable by nature and/or by our species, and that in many ways which could at first be considered outside the regulating circuits of the ecosystems. It is easy to see and easy to make one see all this and more from an ecological point of view, but it is difficult to make citizens and governing bodies understand it:
«We can imagine humanity stepping on the accelerator of the planet: we give it more gas and we eat up diversity; while if we keep a steady speed, diversity can be maintained. However, man needs more and more resources. What are we to do? Within what is inevitable, there are two options. If we accelerate flows equally throughout the planet, total loss of diversity will continue to be unstoppable. Another possibility would be to distribute the pressure unequally: accelerate exploitation to the limit permitted by the technology available in some areas, and reduce as far as possible the exploitation in the rest, in the hope that diversity there will not diminish so much. This is what is thought when, after having totally destroyed the primary forests of the temperate zone, we start screaming about respecting Amazonia. Because it is seen as the only possibility to keep the average diversity of the biosphere from falling too low, in as much as this average means anything.» (Margalef, 1990g).
These desiderata, which are perfectly defendable in the field of ecology, coincide considerably with suggestions from landscape designers and architects, but much less so with the activities of politicians and economists. "Technocrats" are very practical people, and that is why they can understand ecology. What is essential is to include priority with long-term objectives. This is a very modest starting point. The end goal is to dominate and restrict the flow of energy. A secondary effect would be to reduce the power of nations and propitiate more effective co-operation among all human groups. This is probably the most important barrier to the effectiveness of putting into practice even the most modest projects of applying ecological points of view to practical problems, in keeping at the rate which they affect power or control. Today, the name of the game is competition, based on expansion, and it is difficult to imagine this having an end. Even if this possibility is kept in mind, the most natural thing is to try by all means to reach the decisive moment under the best conditions of prosperity and capacity for control. (Margalef, 1973a).
This impermeability of society in general, and of politicians and managers in particular, to the profound causes of environmental problems and the best way of solving them has a great deal to do with the habits we have been dragging around with us, as a species, since the world was a big, unexplored place and our ancestors could exploit its resources apparently without limit, and as citizens, due to a lack of training which has as much to do with a Judeo-Christian view of the role of man in the world ("God said: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over everything creeping that creepeth upon the earth.."; Gen. 1:26), as with the design of curricula in our schools and universities.
Precisely in order to make up for this lack, Professor Margalef pointed out in an important paper (Margalef, 1984b) those "Simple facts about life and the environment not to forget in preparing schoolbooks for our grandchildren". They are summarised as follows:
energy is a key factor in explaining the success of man as a species and
which should be kept in mind when considering his impact on the environment
and its survival.
These basic concepts that need to be taught to children (and to adults) so that they understand this world in which we live and which is becoming too small, poor and ugly for us, because we don't know how to nurture it, are the best way to summarise Ramon Margalef's message as ecologist and environmentalist. There is also room for other attitudes, yet:
.«.. I can't stop thinking about the bombardment to which children are subjected, with a false vision of an exaggeration of nature -television, dinosaurmania. The true distance from nature of many city children seems terrible to me, as does the slight tendency, or small effort made to awaken their interest in nature... It worries me that interest in itineraries for nature, museums, etc., is declining... The aquarium in the Barceloneta district disappeared without a trace, and the project to make a botanical garden in Barcelona with a minimum of dignity is lost in dreams of Olympic grandeur. The presentation of nature in museums is deteriorating... Maybe teachers don't know enough about it. Yet... it is more likely to be a matter of sensitivity... the accumulated information and power of our civilisation could permit arrogant blockage of the entry of more information and... we close ourselves off to the acquisition of knowledge.» (Margalef, 1991d).
«In thinking about our Earth and its living cover, we could begin to see the world as a work of art. Not all imaginable elements nor chemical composts exist. Someone could see in it the charm of the transcendent. When gazing at a genuine work of art, we generally don't think -or at least I don't think- of other images or non-images that the artist could have expressed. The universe can be seen with the quality of a work of art that has information that is not gratuitous, which encapsulates at least all of past history that is difficult or impossible to be repeated, and surely more things. Should we consider the Universe as a work of art, because it is one among an infinite number of possible or imaginable universes, and we have managed, through natural selection, to dare to make these types of considerations? And because, in this world, there is enough space for suffering as for guilt»? (R. Margalef, 2000a)
On the cover of one of his most well-known books (Margalef, 1992a) there is the fragment of a tapestry from the 16th Century, in which an old woman in manacles seems to be studying some shells, while all around her there is an impressive scenario of war. In explaining the illustration, the author comments that "one needs to be brave in order to study biotic diversity among such adversity", surely in reference to his own difficult beginnings as a naturalist, in the inhospitable atmosphere, field and laboratory of post-war Catalonia and Spain. I like to make my own interpretation. Naturalists have often been criticised for going off on their own, unblinking before the events of this world, which are generally turbulent, and from which they tend to isolate themselves in their ivory towers. The Margalef who is master of environmentalists has never done this: isolate himself from his social surroundings. On the contrary, he has applied to the world around him, which is difficult to explain in its entirety from the different optics that are used, partially and sectarianly, the knowledge that the study of nature has revealed to him.
According to J. Gould (1991), there are two kinds of naturalists: Galileans (from Galileo) delight in the intellectual enigmas of nature but, without denying their visceral beauty, they struggle to find scientific explanations for them (Gould himself would be a case in point). Franciscan naturalists (from St. Francis of Assisi), on the other hand, simply enjoy them and exalt them with words: they are nature's poets. According to E. O. Wilson (1998), the world, in all its multifaceted complexity, can be explained from a basis of general principles that are basically physical and which can be applied to sciences as well as to humanities; that is consilience. I recently dedicated a set of articles and papers on science (Ros, 1999b) "To Ramon Margalef, Galilean naturalist and scientist who is consilient avant la lettre…".
P. 1994. Ramon Margalef. Fundació Catalana per a la Recerca. Barcelona.
Ian L. McHarg
M. Baldasano Recio
Ian McHarg (1920-2001), architect and scientific disseminator, is the author of a book which is key and very much ahead of its time in regard to great environmental problems. "Design with Nature", published in 1969, relates ecology to land-use planning. With this work, McHarg anticipated the need for environmental assessment prior to development and the building of infrastructures and he paved the way for the coexistence of the artefact -the projected object- and nature.
Ian L. McHarg was born in 1920 in Clydebank (Scotland) and died last March. He was a pioneer in landscape architecture and ecological planning, as well as being Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, where he founded the department of landscape architecture and where he spent three decades as its head. He was also known as a scholar, television personality and environmentalist. In 1990, President Bush awarded him the National Medal of Art; and in 2000, he received the Japan Prize in City Planning.
His book "Design
with Nature", published in 1969, was his most influential scientific work.
With the publication of this book, McHarg emerged from a small group of
university professors, writers and environmental activists in the United
States who, in the early sixties, began to raise public awareness in regard
to the environment.
"Design with Nature" was written fifteen years after McHarg was hired by the University of Pennsylvania to create a new landscape architecture program. The chairman of the Conservation Foundation convinced him to write this book because he felt it was necessary, even crucial then, as now, that he write a book relating ecology to territorial planning and regulation. With this book, McHarg put forward the need for environmental evaluation prior to developing and building infrastructures, and he proposed a study method specifically directed towards territorial planning, which paved the way towards allowing artefacts (projected object) to coexist with nature. In short, he defined techniques for the development of new tools for inventory and spatial analysis.
We must not forget that at the time this book was written, in 1969, little was understood of the significance of ecology outside of a strictly scientific context, or of how to introduce natural processes in planning and carrying out projects. That is why it has become a classic reference book that is used as a textbook in many universities and appears in a wide range of bibliographic collections. It is closely linked to environmental protection, environmental sciences, landscape architecture and territorial planning. Europe is still timidly adopting its strategic environmental evaluations in today's plans and programs.
But it is also worth mentioning that, in the sixties, there were very few environmentalists, and a similar number of citizens, interested in this subject. The concept of sustainable development still had to be coined (1987). Back then, no one had heard of Seveso, Chernobyl, Bhopal, Love Canal, Times Beach, Valdez, etc. There were no signs of climatic changes, desertification or depletion of the ozone layer. Air and water quality were only beginning to be discussed, and waste had not yet reached the problematic level it has today.
At that time in the United States, where the environmental movement began and was led, there was only a small circle of members. Nevertheless, its followers, those people concerned with emerging environmental problems, began growing at a surprising rate. This was the context in which the book was written. It would still be quite a few years before concern for the environment became a priority on the global agenda.
la naturaleza", or "Design with Nature", is a well-chosen translation into
Spanish of the original title. In this unique combination of ideas, the
Earth as a whole, and not just a region, is presented as a living and,
consequently, dynamic ecosystem that integrates biophysical and human processes
and factors in order to create a basis upon which decisions for planning
and projects are made. An attempt is made to sum all this up in the following
paragraph, taken from the book "Human Ecological Planning at Pennsylvania
These proposals approximate and contain elements that are similar to the Gaia Theory developed by Lovelock and Margulis (1979), in which life does not randomly adapt to an inert medium, but is the product of all interactions created in a living, healthy or unhealthy, syntrophic or entropic ecosystem.
The book was rooted in different theoretical courses with innovative focuses; from the course called "Ecology of the City" and, mainly, from the course given by McHarg called "Man and Environment". This covers the evolution of material, life and man; the different forms, through philosophy or religion, in which nature has been conceived. The idea was to show man's dependence on nature from a physiological and psychological point of view in order to conclude by presenting the vision of ecology.
But it also stemmed from praxis, from carrying out projects and plans directed toward solving problems that are increasingly larger and more complex, and doing so from a teaching position as well as from professional experience. His professional participation in numerous plans and projects in the United States and abroad contributed to developing current practices in territorial planning that include integrating the environment, as well as contributing to contrasting theories, consolidating work methods and using the ideas and methods developed in his work, as well as conceptualising practice.
In one work, he adopted a system of environmental indicators to direct development of the town of Medford (1974), something that is so fashionable currently in the Agenda 21 development generated by the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference on the Environment and Development. He also established the suitabilities of use for each type of soil.
In McHarg's own words (for the 1992 edition):
"Design with Nature attempted to respond to a whole series of obvious deficiencies. The first of them was the absence of any environmental notions in planning, which at that time was an exclusively socio-economic process. The second was the lack of integration among the different environmental sciences; geologists, meteorologists, hydrologists, etc. all were very knowledgeable in physical sciences, but not in life sciences; on the other hand, ecologists and biologists had a modest knowledge of physical processes. Otherwise, scientists in general were not at all interested in values or planning; finally, there was no theoretical approximation that approached the problem of human adaptations.
"Design with Nature meant a response to each one of the problems described and, in fact, it provided a methodology for incorporating environmental data into planning processes. The dominating focus for ecology study was broadened by integrating all environmental sciences. The question of values was presented as essential within the environmentalist movement (and, we could add, also in the matter of planning and designing) and a theory was shaped. I would even suggest that this integrating character is the main feature of the methodology of ecological planning."
The special mixture of scientific depth and constructive design is what makes this book an exceptional contribution.
In establishing the need for a conscious intervention, for ethical evaluation, for orderly organisation and deliberate, aesthetic approaches that take into account each and every aspect of the surroundings, McHarg did not place emphasis only on the project or on nature separately, but on the preposition with, which involves co-operation between man and nature. His intent was not to impose design in an arbitrary way, but to take the greatest advantage of the potential offered by nature, without forgetting the necessary restrictions it imposes. In this way, by incorporating nature in its entirety, he knew that the spirit of man, as a part of nature, possesses something very valuable to add to this potential.
McHarg's central theory is that ecology must be at the foundation of the sciences that come into play with and have repercussions on the environment. This requires a basic readjustment of a philosophical, ethical and aesthetic nature in order to stop the destruction of the planet.
McHarg's method consists in understanding the processes that shape the territory and using them as the basis for the design. The method analyses the biospheric and socio-cultural systems of the place in order to reveal where specific uses for the ground should be established. As he summed up repeatedly:
"The method defines the best areas for one use of the potential ground and the convergence of all or almost all of the factors considered suitable for this use in the absence of other conditions. The areas having these features are deemed intrinsically ideal for the use of the land being considered...(...) Let's ask the earth to show us where the best places are. Let's establish criteria for various types of excellence that respond to a wide variety of alternatives. Let's look not only for the longest list of differentiating excellences among different sites for cities, but also the greatest number of alternatives within each of them."
In order to reach this goal, an interdisciplinary process of data gathering and analysis is fundamental. The survey must precede the design, and the design must lead the action. McHarg structures the chronology of the device that must organise the research. Information is gathered on the different components (geology, meteorological conditions, hydrology, soil, vegetation, animal life, culminating in the uses of the land). Then spatial distribution of the information is shown on maps. Using the process called suitability analysis, these maps are structured in layers representing a certain area (layer cake) and are overlaid or combined (overlay mapping) in order to reveal the models of territory and identify limitations as well as opportunities for potential uses.
in layers makes it easier to explain the area of study so that each of
the layers depends on the characteristics of the lower layers, with each
layer increasing the explanation, all of which results in the biophysical
descriptive model. The model enables projection of which areas could be
most suitable for certain uses and which least suitable. In other words,
it enables a search for sites that offer the greatest number of favourable
characteristics with limited unfavourable ones. It develops a methodology
that includes, by incorporating the territory's environmental aspects,
man's eternal problem of where to locate his activities.
Inventories constitute a description of the world, or the ecosystem being studied, as processes that act reciprocally, as systems of values and variety of media showing levels of adaptation for organisms, man and ground uses. All this could show the intrinsic form. One could see that there are levels of health and sickness. Inventories should include man's artefacts as well as natural processes.
His work, logically, has not escaped criticism. Some designers and professors criticised McHarg for promoting an "environmental determinism", where ecological knowledge seemed to be the source of all design knowledge. From an ecological perspective -in an early revision of the book done in 1971- it is concluded that scientific, elitist, technocratic knowledge legitimises destructive power and authority. And, even if planning were a political and social activity, not strictly ecological, they acknowledged the attractiveness of the compressive vision offered by "Design with Nature".
McHarg's method, also known as the method of transparencies, facilitated development of the current Geographic Information Systems (GIS), in particular thanks to a research group at Harvard which, motivated by his conferences during the seventies, developed the first computer programs of this type. J. Dangermond, president and founder of ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), creators of ArcInfo and ArcView, stated that Professor McHarg "had created the context in which GIS could flourish" (Thompson 1991). Geographic Information Systems have increased and currently constitute a significant methodological tool in evaluating environmental impact and risks. One of the major contributions of GIS is due to their capacity to integrate data in a referenced cartographic format and greatly strengthen analytical and deductive capabilities. Interest in them is linked to the possibilities they offer for describing and analysing spatially distributed information, in regard to spatial analysis of starting data as well as spatial analysis of the results obtained and their evolution over time.
In the early seventies, McHarg drew up a global plan of environmental quality for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which led to the institutionalisation of many of his ideas on the environmental evaluation of federal projects. In the seventies, he made pioneering evaluations of environmental impact.
By collaborating, from the University of Pennsylvania, with the EPA in drawing up national environmental inventories in the seventies, he was influential in the environmental policy of the country, which was cutting edge at that time. Creating Earth Day was due, in part, to McHarg's ideas.
The "National Environmental Policy Act," constituted the first environmental law in the United States in a strict sense of the word. Part of the type of language used in it came from his book "Design with Nature". His methodology gave way to the so-called "Environmental Impact Analysis and Statement", which constitutes the basis that has enabled environmental aspects to be introduced in projects, in regard to infrastructure as well as industrial engineering, throughout the world.
McHarg was interested in the matter of values. He approached it from the point of view of the controversy that has always existed between man and nature in different western attitudes, exemplified clearly in the story of Creation in the book of Genesis, and which is shared by the Christian as well as Jewish religions. He was interested in questioning the dominating cultural attitude in the West towards nature, and in proposing a different perspective, he was willing to acknowledge the values of nature and to evaluate the multiple decisions inherent in planning. He defended an idea of ecology that had more to do with experience, and a path capable of maintaining and enriching the biosphere as well as man's health and well being. He pointed out: "the economic system of values must be broadened to a relative system that includes biophysical processes and human aspirations."
The position approached and adopted is that nature is not the enemy that man must conquer; rather, it should be treated as an ally and friend. Regarding the question of why do environmental and natural resources have value?, McHarg sides with the position that was later called the Earth ethic, in which non-human nature has an intrinsic, inherent value and, therefore, has moral and natural rights (Azqueta 1994). This is in opposition to the other extreme, where we find positions which share an anthropocentric ethic; whereby what confers value to things, including the environment, is their relationship to human beings (things have value when and at the extent to which they are accorded value by people). This follows the work of Hippocrates in his famous "Treatise on Air, Water and Places", in which, for the first time, man's life in regard to health and illness is seen as dependent upon the forces of nature, unlike the early Greek philosophers, who saw man as something isolated. As we can see, the problem is not new.
He took into consideration the existence of a significant emptiness. While most attention given to environmental problems has to do with the air, rocks, water, soil, plants, animals or ecosystems, the study of social systems is hardly contemplated. McHarg pointed out:
"all systems are subject to the need to discover the most suitable of possible surroundings, adapting it and adapting to it in order to make it even more suitable. The right surroundings are those that best respond to the needs set forth by a user, with the least adaptation effort possible. In this sense, the right development would include minimal intervention. A synthropic adaptation will reveal the great evolutionary triumph, as well as the health of the different species and ecosystems. Excessive pathologies and illnesses, on the other hand, make evident the entropic maladjustment; in other words, the existence of a system where it is impossible to achieve adaptation to the medium, impossible to adapt it or adapt to it."
In his books and in his work, he tried to determine the processes for planning a self-renewing and balanced environment containing all the necessary ingredients for the biological prosperity of man, social co-operation and spiritual vitality. Doesn't this sound like what we now call sustainable development?
The intent of this article is to offer a small tribute to this man who dedicated his life to establishing and improving our relationship to nature. There can be no better way to end it than with his own words:
"We have before us a task: to comprehend the way the planet works, regulate our actions taking into account this knowledge, restore the Earth, give it back its verdancy...(...) In the search for survival, for success and for carrying it out, the ecological perspective offers a very valuable approximation. It indicates the path by which man would be an enzyme of the biosphere: managing it, improving the creative suitability of human surroundings, carrying out the design of man with nature."
(1994) Valoración Económica de la Calidad Ambiental. McGraw-Hill,
Mario Molina (1943), a Mexican chemical engineer, with a PhD from UC Berkeley, has devoted his scientific career to gaining knowledge of the chemical processes that control the formation and decomposition of ozone in the atmosphere. It was precisely for his discovery of the causes of the formation of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, that he received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995, along with Rowland and Crutzen.
"Science in itself is neither good nor bad", answered Mario Molina, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995, on being asked about the impact of industrial progress on the environment and human health. "What society does with science, i.e. technology, is something else".
Roald Hofmann, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981, would appear to coincide with his appraisal. "There are no bad molecules, rather negligence and evil in human beings", he writes in the imaginary yet poetic journey that he makes through the world of chemistry in his book The same and not the same 1. He cites some examples. Thalidomide, which is disastrous during the initial phases of pregnancy, has shown itself to be useful in the treatment of inflammatory processes associated with leprosy and there are even signs that it may inhibit the replication of HIV in Aids. Nitrous oxide, NO, is an atmospheric pollutant that contributes to ozone formation, yet it is also a fundamental neurotransmitter in the body. Ozone, the main actor in the scientific work of the subject of this article, and producer of harmful photochemical smog caused mainly by car fumes, also gives protection against solar radiation. This is why they say there is 'good' and 'bad' ozone, the first being produced by nature and found in the stratosphere at between 15 and 50 km in altitude, and the second produced by human activities in the troposphere. Stratospheric ozone acts as a filter for ultraviolet radiation with a wavelength of less than 300 nm, which is highly dangerous for the different forms of life on Earth. On the other hand, ozone in the troposphere only represents 10% of the total that surrounds the Earth but the concentration, which has increased during recent decades in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in large cities, contributes to the greenhouse effect and is a health risk.
Mario Molina has experienced this ambivalence in scientific progress in an intense and committed way throughout his research career. A career dedicated to understanding the chemical processes that control the formation and decomposition of the ozone in the atmosphere, and which earned him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, together with Rowland and Crutzen, for having discovered the causes of the depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica, which the Nobel committee termed "the Achilles heel of the universe".
I met him at a congress in Oaxaca (Mexico) in 1993, where we had been invited to present our work. His presentation, which focussed on the effects of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases on the ozone layer in the stratosphere, beyond its indubitable scientific value, was at the same time didactic and called for greater awareness by industrial society in the face of environmental issues. I was surprised how he combined scientific rigour with an ability to communicate and concern about the real problems concerning the environment. "What really motivates me," he has often said, "is doing basic research and seeing how it is not incompatible with doing something beneficial for society. Doing both these things is a highly gratifying experience".
The early stages
Mario Molina was born in Mexico City in 1943, the son of a wealthy family. In keeping with his family tradition of sending their children abroad for one or two years, he was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, where he learned to play the violin very skilfully. He then went on to study chemical engineering at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where he graduated in 1965. He himself confesses to having been largely influenced by his fascination by scientific experimentation from a very early age, to the point of converting a seldom used bathroom at home into a laboratory and spending hours playing with chemistry sets, with the help of his aunt who was a chemist.
His knowledge of German enabled him to spend nearly two years doing research on the kinetics of polymerisations at the University of Freiburg, and to broaden his knowledge in different areas of physical chemistry. Finally, he left for the University of California at Berkeley in 1968 to pursue his graduate studies and joined the research group of Professor George C. Pimentel, with the goal of studying molecular dynamics using chemical lasers, which had been discovered in his group a few years earlier. It was also at that time that he met Luisa Tan, who later became his wife and close scientific collaborator.
His graduate work with the group under Pimentel, who he remembers as an excellent teacher, involved the distribution of internal energy in the products of chemical and photochemical reactions. He had to learn about chemical lasers, and to interpret the emission of laser signals. This was the time of student reactionary movements against the war in Vietnam, and he was dismayed by the fact that his research tools, high-power chemical lasers, were being developed elsewhere as weapons. This made him question his social responsibility as a scientist, an issue that is often present in his discourse. Why do we do what we do? Is there a better way of using the available resources? Is science good or bad? "Above all, I wanted to be involved with research that was useful to society, and not for potentially harmful purposes".
After completing his Ph.D. in 1972, he and his wife moved to Irvine (California) where he joined the group of Professor F. Sherwood, who had pioneered research on "hot atom" chemistry, investigating chemical properties of atoms with excess translational energy and produced by radioactive processes. Rowland offered him a position on a project working to find out the environmental fate of certain very inert industrial chemicals - the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) (mainly FCl3 and CF2Cl2), which James Lovelock had shown were accumulating, although apparently without any negative effect (2).
In fact, freons have some very unique properties. They can easily be compressed and vaporised and they remain practically unchanged in the course of time, which makes them suitable for many applications without there being any anticipated problem in their use. In 1930, the discoverer inhaled CFC vapour and blew onto a lit candle to show that these compounds were neither toxic nor inflammable. Up to the 1980s, CFCs led to the appearance of new technologies and products such as modern refrigerators, air conditioning in cars and houses, plastic foams used amongst other things as insulation, dry cleaning, and the storage in pressurised tanks of drugs, cosmetics, insecticides, colourings and many other products dispensed in the form of an aerosol. Their production doubled every five years. "How could I have imagined," says Molina, "that the use of products as common as deodorants would be the cause of such a world-wide problem?"
He describes the development of events himself (3). "Three months after I arrived at Irvine, Rowland and I developed the CFC-ozone depletion theory. At first, the research did not seem to be particularly interesting - I carried out a systematic search for processes that might destroy the CFCs in the lower atmosphere, but nothing appeared to affect them. We knew, however, that freons could eventually drift to sufficiently high altitudes and even reach the stratosphere where they would be destroyed by shorter wave solar radiation to produce Cl and ClO radicals, which would begin a series of processes with extraordinary consequences, the main one being the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer that surrounds the Earth and that precisely protects us from the most dangerous ultraviolet solar radiation. We became fully aware of the seriousness of the problem when we verified that, according to the amounts of CFCs produced by industry and if there continues to be no control over emissions, the ozone layer at around 40 km in altitude could be depleted by between 30 to 40% in just a few decades. A much greater effect than the destructive power of the nitrogen oxides of anthropogenic and natural origin that Crutzen had discovered several years before (4). The results were so surprising that the first thought that came into our heads was that we had make a mistake in the calculations".
"Given the magnitude
of the problem, we decided to exchange information with the atmospheric
sciences community and went to Berkeley to confer with Professor Harold
Johnston, whose work on the impact of the release of nitrogen oxides from
the proposed supersonic transport (SST) aircraft on the stratospheric ozone
layer was well known to us. Johnston informed us that months earlier Ralph
Cicerone and Richard Stolarski had arrived at similar conclusions concerning
the catalytic properties of chlorine atoms in the stratosphere, in connection
with the release of hydrogen chloride either from volcanic eruptions or
from the ammonium perchlorate fuel planned for the space shuttle. We published
our findings in Nature, in a paper which appeared in the June 28, 1974
This was the first time that evidence was available on the adverse effects of an industrial activity at the global scale. Even so, the discovery had a rather limited effect. In 1977, certain countries like United States, Canada and Sweden began to prohibit the use of CFCs-based aerosols, and little more, because the stratosphere was a long way from being a concern of the people and politicians. The fact, however, constituted an important precedent for the application of the precautionary principle, which establishes the need to act, even though there is no conclusive proof, if there are indices of any possible irreversible damage. Fortunately, irrefutable confirmation of the problem would come some years later. Moreover, the discovery was made ten years before the ecology movement was organised and had any influential power. Given the absence of any organisations through which change could be advocated, they decided to communicate the CFC-ozone issue not only to other scientists, but also to policy makers and to the news media. This was the only way to ensure that society as a whole would become involved and take some measures to alleviate the problem. "It was then that I realised that I had put being a scientist to one side and was talking as a concerned individual".
Meanwhile, Molina was appointed member of the faculty and he set up an independent program in which his wife, Luisa, began collaborating with him. He missed not doing experiments himself because of the many responsibilities associated with a faculty position and it was for this reason that, after spending six years at Irvine, he decided to move to a non-academic position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in 1982. Although he had a smaller group there, he also had the luxury of being able to personally conduct experiments again.
The situation of apparent disinterestedness concerning the environmental repercussions of CFCs was rapidly dispelled in 1985 when Farman and his co-workers of the British Antarctic Survey published the discovery of the seasonal depletion of ozone over Antarctica 6. In the ten year period from 1980 to 1990, the ozone concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere measured from spring to October at the Halley Bay Station had fallen from 300 to 150 Dobson units, much more than what was predictable, and which left a territory the size of the United States practically unprotected from solar radiation. The most surprising thing was that the effect of products being consumed mostly in the Northern Hemisphere was being felt as far away as the South Pole, which may have helped to increase the awareness of the limits that the planet has, and of the need to be concerned about its health in global terms. But why was the effect so localised in space and time?
Models of atmospheric ozone circulation, which have been studied for over 50 years starting with the observations made by Dobson (1920), involve a vertical transport from the troposphere to the stratosphere in the tropics and advective flow towards higher latitudes, which increases especially in spring. Moreover, polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs) of water-ice crystals and solid nitric acid form in winter, which is the necessary substrate as solar radiation increases in springtime for a series of heterogeneous reactions to take place. These led to the production of chlorine-activation reactions as a result of CFC photodissociation, which is the source of ozone-destroying radicals. This coincidence of factors does not occur in the Arctic, where the PSCs disappear before the arrival of sufficient solar radiation capable of producing chlorine radicals.
Molina and his wife Luisa have made a highly significant contribution to the understanding of the chemical reactions occurring in polar clouds, and in laboratory simulation experiments they identified new chlorine-derived photoreactions (chlorhydric acid, chlorine oxide and peroxide, etc.) on ice crystals, which lead to the formation of chlorine radicals and explain the rapid loss of ozone in the stratosphere over the polar region (7).
On October 11 1995, on arriving at his office after a normal day of classes as professor of Environmental Sciences at the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where he had moved in 1989, Mario Molina received a call from the Swedish Academy.
He had been
awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which he shared with F.S. Rowland,
his co-worker at the University of California at Irvine, and Paul Crutzen,
of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry in Mainz, for their "pioneering
contributions to explaining how ozone is formed and decomposes through
chemical processes in the atmosphere," according to the Nobel Committee's
citation. "By explaining the chemical mechanisms that affect the thickness
of the ozone layer, the three researchers have contributed to our salvation
from a global environmental problem that could have catastrophic consequences
for the planet and humanity". This was the first time that the Swedish
Academy had awarded the Nobel Prize for research on man's effect on nature.
a large portion of the prize to set up a scholarship fund for young people
in the developing countries, especially Latin America, to carry out research
on environmental science. Given the large number of environmental problems
facing these countries, such as deforestation, desertisation, and water
and air pollution, Molina considers it crucial to involve young people
from these regions in the research of solutions. "There are too few experts
in the developing countries and these countries must also participate in
international negotiations to ensure a sustainable future: this is why
they need appropriate training. The world has to work together so that
development is not detrimental to the environment as it has been in the
One problem that he is especially concerned with, in that it affects his home city, Mexico City, is urban pollution caused by car traffic. He remembers that when he was young, on most days he could see the volcanoes that surround the city whereas now you will be lucky to see them at all. Based on an integrated analysis of risk, economic and political factors, together with on-the-spot research and data collection, in the case of Mexico City, he is endeavouring to find ways to strengthen environmental policy for large cities. In this respect, mention should also be made of his interest in developing methods of environmental management using technical and also interactive and educational approaches, with the object of improving both the processes involved and the institutional decision-making capacity. This is the commitment of an important project that he is leading with his wife, financed by the Metropolitan Environmental Commission, the World Bank and MIT (9).
In this way, he hopes that the arguments and strategies making it possible to halt the depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere will also serve to reduce its occurrence in the troposphere, caused mainly by emissions of fossil fuels, and in this way to ease the problem of global warming.
The connection between science and politics
One of the most remarkable aspects of the work by Molina and Rowland was not just being the first to be recognised by the Nobel awards for an environmental activity but also the fact that it is one of the few cases where scientific discovery has led to wide social debate, and their landmark discoveries even led to an international environmental treaty (the Montreal Protocol) (10). The two scientists envisaged that, unless any joint international action is co-ordinated, the ozone layer will become seriously depleted over the next few decades, with the subsequent increase in cases of skin cancer, the decrease in crop harvests and extensive damage to aquatic life forms. Science and politics thus proved their raison d'être, which is none other than to adequately guide the progress of society.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) channels governmental response to this issue through the Vienna (1985) and Montreal (1987) Conventions. On 16 September 1987, international environmental diplomacy approved the Montreal Protocol to restrict the use of chemical substances shown to be harmful to the thin film of stratospheric ozone that protects life on Earth from dangerous ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun.
The Montreal Protocol is the most ambitious attempt that has been made to combat world-wide ecological degradation. Over 150 countries ratified the agreements, including rich and poor countries, despite the impact that the accord could have for one reason or another. The Protocol also marked the beginning of a new stage in environmental diplomacy, which was followed by the Rio Conference and ultimately the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic compounds. Undoubtedly, the speed with which countries ratified this precedent-setting international agreement was due in great part to the role Molina played in communicating to policy-makers, the media, and ultimately the general public, the implications of his research
The process was not easy. Criticism of the Molina-Rowland calculations came from scientists, politicians, and especially industry. Some questioned whether the phenomenon observed merely formed part of a natural cycle, while others opposed any restriction on the production and use of CFCs. The same year that they received the Nobel award, voices were raised in the US Congress questioning the existence of the hole in the ozone and that freons were the corpus delicti. The state of Arizona even declared the Montreal Protocol to be null and void in its territory. In the face of this resistance, Molina publicly declared: "I invite you to visit the stratosphere to see how much chlorine there is and to convince you that it comes from freons" (11).
The bitter debate focussed on the fact that ocean spray, volcanic eruptions and forest fires send quantities of chlorine into the atmosphere that are thousands of times greater than that represented by the production of freons throughout history, without there being any evidence that the ozone layer had ever been affected. Others, like Rush Limbaugh in The way things ought to be, and Dixy Ray in Trashing the Planet, even talked about fraud. There was one important piece of data, however, that they had overlooked. Chlorine from the aforementioned natural sources is soluble in water so that it would be retained along with rain in the lower levels of the atmosphere, whereas the CFCs were insoluble and inert and could reach the stratosphere. Moreover, the presence of sodium or methyl chloride, which are associated respectively with ocean spray and the burning of earth biomass, have practically no effect on the stratosphere. The determination of 30 types of chlorate in 1985 using instruments set up in satellites and spacecraft, along with the corresponding mass balance of the different species, made it clear that stratospheric chlorine was closely associated with the CFCs. Molina and his wife Luisa had already identified the series of reactions that proved this relationship in the laboratory in 1987. It has now been well established that the concentrations of CFCs and chlorine in the stratosphere have grown at the same time and the theory according to which the hole in the ozone is caused by chemical reactions, in which chlorine has an essential role, is now well grounded.
The main challenge in the future will be to reinforce the Montreal Protocol in order to avoid, amongst other things, the CFC black market. In 1995, the world production of freons had reduced by 76% and it is envisaged that they will be totally eliminated by 2010. Even so, concentrations in the stratosphere continue to rise and current estimates indicate that, if the Protocol is respected, the protective ozone layer will not re-establish itself until 2045.
Mario Molina has received numerous distinctions that honour people who have made contributions to improving the management and protection of the environment, such as the Tyler Award (1983), the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement (1989), the Sasakawa Environmental Prize of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) (1999), etc.
In 1994 Professor Molina was named by President Clinton to serve on the 18-member President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The PCAST advises the President on issues involving science and technology in achieving national goals, and assists the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council in securing private-sector participation in its activities. He was invited to the White House in 1997 to help design a public awareness campaign on the greenhouse effect. President Clinton asked the scientists present to convince the general public about the fact that global warming of the planet is a problem caused by man and that the responsibility cannot be passed on to future generations unless we tackle the challenge of climatic change in a responsible way. Molina specifically stated that, given future trends, the conclusion is clear and disturbing. Existing records show that within several decades the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will be unlike those that have ever existed during the past 50 million years. Molina is belligerent in his defence of the environment, but he is not an alarmist. "I have never said that the end of the world is nigh".
Molina now spends less time in the laboratory and more talking to politicians and the media to convince them of the importance of global environmental problems. "Even so, I'm glad to spend time with my PhD and post-graduate students because they are truly an intellectual stimulus. I try to make them see that obtaining relevant results requires patience and perseverance. The key is to keep them fascinated beyond the system in itself. Moreover, teaching forces me to transmit knowledge to the students in a critical yet open way and to continually rethink the same ideas. After all these years, I consider scientific activity and teaching to be complementary. When I began researching freon behaviour in the atmosphere, it was little more than scientific curiosity that led me on. Now I am overwhelmed by the fact of having contributed not just to the understanding of atmospheric chemistry but also to the global improvement of the environment."
1 Roald Hoffman,
The same and not the same, Columbia University Press, New York, 1995. 294
Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, in India. Vandana Shiva is different. Neither a feminist, nor a classical ecologist. An activist and researcher, she works on the connection between women and sustainability. She proposes an alternative way of understanding life, the economy, society, fertility and biodiversity.
There is a school of thought surrounding sustainability that inevitably associates it with femininity. This understanding of development in accordance with feminine nature shuns the idea of sustainability as a strategy that has a plan for action and corrective measures to be taken. Contrarily, it deals with a model for development that follows the rhythm and conditions of biological life, as handled by those responsible for them in nature.
Development, as understood in this way, is savings (in the sense of economy and efficiency in administration of resources); it is durability in that it guarantees preservation of the family, of the species; it is also protection of certain values, along the lines of the process of educating children for proper socialization and integration in their cultural context.
Protectors (or protectresses, to break with the rigidness of language, because the majority of intellectual references regarding this topic are female) of this model base their defense on anthropological data confirming the fundamental role of women in preserving the human species. Study of primitive man tells us that hunters contributed quite a small part to sustaining the family. It was the woman who worked the fields, preserved the food, tanned hides, raised children and, in fact, made sure her family survived. Hunting was a masculine ritual demonstrating power and strength, and had a limited role in management of the species.
Today's technological hunting continues to be a man's thing (mainly). When women choose to participate, as happens more and more often in the industrialized world, the effects are quite visible: squandering of resources, demographic decline and loss of values or deficiencies in education. Without attempting to make all this due solely to changes in the role of women, it serves to exemplify the unsustainability of the masculine model.
The feminine model of sustainability, as one way of saying it, involves a "different" type of management of economy, biodiversity, markets and relationships.
Vandana Shiva belongs to a generation of "different" women. Her profile does not follow those of typical feminists, nor those of classic ecologists. Many bibliographies define it as ecofeminism, although those who could be its leaders are not at all comfortable with this label either. Probably because their status of being different does not allow them to wear labels.
Vandana Shiva is director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Natural Resource Policy (India). Her particular contribution to the environmental movement is precisely the connection between women and sustainability. This earned her, in 1993, the Right Livelihood Award, known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Her vision, as with that of other women from this singular group, is based on an alternative way of understanding life, economy, society, fertility and biodiversity. Protecting the latter has become the focus of her work in research and activism.
Fertility and Protecting Life
Ecofeminism studies economy and society from different positions, depending on whether they come from the North or the South. There are, however, common factors in its thinking, such as those making reference to life and the fact that women have un undeniable capacity to protect it in all its forms by making the rights of children prevalent, as well as guaranteeing the rights of future generations. Ecofeminist arguments call upon the capacity of women to find specific, immediate solutions to today's many challenges. In fact, they praise the female capacity to manage complexity, an essential ability in taking on the challenge of sustainability.
This common voice of ecofeminism that sees sustainability as management of life itself has become enriched with interesting socio-economic elements. Women are, more than users of the environment, consumers and administrators of resources. As the British professor Mary Mellor says, many traditionally female jobs are unpaid and are included only in the economy of subsistence. They are missing from the valued, masculine economy which values science and technology, valuing reason and intellect over emotions and the body. An economy that is removed from the body is also removed from ecology, and is an economy that does not understand the cycle of life itself. Valued economy is removed from territory; it is an individualized economy that is not related to the environment. The other economy, however, is connected to territory as well as to people, it prevents damage and adopts an attitude of protection towards the environment.(1)
The link between economy and territory is also made by Agnès Bertrand, director of l'Institut pour la Relocalisation de l'Economie. Relocation of the economy strives after the return of society to local activity. For Bertrand, local activity that is natural to society is still present in many European communities, and in the rest of the world, but it is pushed aside by the global market. It needs to be recovered by fighting against globalization. For women, relocating means valueing life and, in this sense, globalization is sterile and leads to the death of the territory and, therefore, of life itself.
Fertility is a natural condition of women. Women around the world have applied to daily life the abilities awarded them by virtue of their biological condition. For women, fertility is protection for life and, at the same time, sustainability.
Contributions from the South
When the above socio-economic interpretations of ecofeminism are defended from the South, we find ourselves face to face with Vandana Shiva. Through her work, this world-famous thinker and activist exemplifies the way that women around the world have led and continue to shape the main environmental movements. For Shiva, women throughout time have developed and matured strategies for cultivating sustainability, and they have defended respect for the earth and its resources. This Indian writer makes a clear association between the fertility that is innate to women and the fertility of the earth. The results of this association are projected in agriculture as well as in the way the diversity of the species is safeguarded.
For Shiva, sustainable agriculture means agriculture that is based on biodiversity and decentralization. In the model of agriculture she defends, knowledge is shared, and plants and species are part of the family -they are not property. Sustainability is based on renewing the earth's fertility and in renewing biodiversity. The main concern here is variety in animal and plant life. Shiva denounces international commercial agreements which allow large agricultural corporations to patent plants, seeds and other resources that have never been considered to be anyone's property, in order to obtain exclusive access to them. She protests that copyrights on seeds and genetic engineering applied to agriculture destroy the biodiversity and economies of small farmers in the Third World.
Yet protecting biodiversity and decentralization of agriculture are not the exclusive concern of the South. In Europe, the debate continues over the need to establish relationships between agriculture and the environment. The main impacts caused by the European agricultural sector are the use of land, fertilizers, pesticides, water consumption and, by association, the use of food supplements for livestock.
The recent agriculture and food crises in Europe have alerted governments, politicians, economists and scientists. The first crises of fattening livestock with hormones were followed by other scandals, such as the Belgian dioxins, and reached an almost apocalyptic extreme in bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Safety in food, contamination and the aggressive practices for increasing productivity in the agricultural and livestock industry have made the need for stronger ties to the environment and increasing application of sustainable practices in agriculture a hot topic for social and political debate.
In order to spice it up even more, we have introduced into this debate the matter of genetically modified organisms. Transgenic food generates a great deal of controversy at a scientific level, as well as socially and economically. On the one hand, science cannot make assurances that there are no risks, nor can it make 100% guarantees, and this fact causes a great deal of confusion among consumers and public opinion in general. On the other hand, multinational companies on one side and activists on the other back equally confusing arguments. It is hard to believe the message offered by multinational biotech (so-called life science) corporations that transgenic food is the solution to world hunger and that, without genetic engineering, productivity will never reach the level needed to feed the world. Contrary to this message, many ecological agricultural initiatives have proven that they have a much higher productivity than the large agro-industrial concerns that are based on monoculture and the intensive use of agro-toxins. It is also hard to scientifically justify the messages of dissenting activists which are, above all, ideological.
The scientific and technological debate on the risks and advantages of transgenic foods, which is taking place especially in the North, contrasts with the social and economic battle being fought by small farmers from poor countries in the South. These true protagonists of the fight are the ones who, supported by people like Vandana Shiva, defend the knowledge that has been enriched and accumulated over generations against the monopoly of foreign multinationals that, with the consent of international institutions, replace traditional seeds with patented hybrids that have been registered under copyright.
Seen in this way, the matter is startling, to say the least. It is not difficult to imagine people like Vandana Shiva tackling the problem passionately. Given these facts, Shiva talks about robbery and mutual lack of respect, using words like biopiracy. When taking action, she focuses her criticism and work on defending biodiversity, a topic that is fundamental to her, as demonstrated in her own words:
"I am especially attracted to biodiversity as a central focus of my work, because it includes, on the one hand, wide philosophical aspects of the democracy of life (the intrinsec value of species) and, on the other, much more practical activities such as creating living seed banks. It also involves important matters of individual property rights. The subject of biodiversity can connect all these levels in a much more obvious way than other matters, such as climatic change. It is also directly linked to matters of equality in regard to everyone's right to have access to a mode of subsistance, to a place on Earth.
Some environmentalists believe that in order to protect biodiversity, people must be excluded. They state that it is a case of either production or protection, never both together. I have seen farms that were as beautiful as a jungle. I feel it is important to introduce ecology and biodiversity into the heart of production, rather than leaving them out. The true question, for people as for nature, is to what extent is control over seeds and other genetic material being left in the hands of those who are only after financial gain." (2)
Local Crises, Global Roots: Action by Vandana Shiva
The important leadership of Shiva does not lie only in her ideas, but in the fact that she defends them through action. Her research is put into practice at the Research Institute she directs, and from there numerous local initiatives are promoted with direct participation by the people concerned.
It could be said that Shiva literally applies the Rio maxim of Think Globally, Act Locally. However, she does a second take even on that to clarify that it is also necessary to Think Globally and Act Globally, searching for the global roots of local crises (3). In fact, she is the leader of the International Forum on Globalization, together with Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin.
This way of approaching local crises from the root is especially characteristic of certain well-known environmental movements in India.
This is the case with the Chipko Movement created about 30 years ago by a group of women in towns in the State of Uttar Pradesh. Their fight, even today, is directed against the deforestation projects carried out without the slightest consideration for local communities and ruining them. Since the seventies, the Chipko Movement has organized eco-development camps to train farmers in forest maintenance. This initiative gave birth to the country's largest reforestation program, with the government directly involved in subsidizing these camps and awarding funds to the non-governmental organizations participating in them.
Our writer centers her action on multinationals that rob ancestral knowledge and patent it. She places herself at the front line of the battle against international agreements on intellectual property. This is her way of globally tackling a local problem.
Over ten years ago, the Navdanya program was begun. This movement for conserving biodiversity and the rights of peasants is directed, above all, to fighting the monopolization of seeds. Navdanya means new seeds. It comes from a ritual practiced by small farmers on New Year's Eve. Each family plants new seeds in a pot and, nine days later, the women compare them at the river, selecting and exchanging those that offer the best results. When it comes time to plant the fields, all the families plant the best seeds available, optimizing the general yield of the crops.
Traditional Indian agriculture has many sophisticated systems of selecting and improving seeds. Normally the women take care of this by means of culture, and solidarity among farmers is safeguarded in order to avoid having some families be left without stock if their seeds are not good enough. The essence of these practices is the exact opposite of what Shiva denounces in regard to industrial agriculture multinational companies.
The Navdanya program creates seed banks for practical purposes, not for museums. Shiva began the movement as a political act to provide farmers with free seeds with which to set up their farms with sustainable agriculture, free from the multinational system of monopolistic control. Almost a decade ago, pioneering corporations in genetic engineering began introducing programs to convert farmers to the use of their modified hybrids. The main argument was a significant improvement in productivity and greater resistence to pests. For the participating farmers, the program meant a significant amount of dependence on chemical products and pesticides provided by the company itself and, what is even more important, an obligation to purchase their seeds each year.
This last point is probably the most controversial one. Ignoring proven scientific evaluations on the greater or lesser productivity of modified hybrids and their impact on the environment and health, the aggressive commercial strategies of large corporations contain socio-economic elements of great magnitude. Farmers are obliged to purchase the seeds harvest after harvest, regardless of whether they have worked out well or not, or of whether the prices have been favorable or unfavorable to them. Occasionally, they have no choice but to take out loans (which may be financed by the companies themselves) and accumulate important risks that will hardly be shared by the multinationals. There is a clear transfer of power from farming communities to the companies. The fear of activists like Shiva is that, in the long run, this chain of events will end up with the total destruction of biodiversity, loss of the varieties of native seeds, complete dependence of farmers on multinationals, greater use of pesticides and credits. When taken to the limit, debts (those deriving as well from investments to adapt to the new technology) will force farmers to sell their property to the financiers, who would sell it to the multinationals. The results: monopolistic control of land and food production, aggravated by the help of government subsidies provided by the regimes of economic globalization. A desolate outlook if we hold by the most radical discourses.
Fortunately, it seems that the strategy of multinationals is not as effective as is claimed, while the programs intending to offset their effects are. The programs supported by Shiva range from setting up seed banks to training peasants in sustainable agriculture, and include actions at a global level such as active opposition -be it intellectual, activist or even political- to legislation for implementing GATT provisions on international agreements on intellectual property.
New Colonialism and Biopiracy. Ethics under Debate
Shiva's focus of attention in her Think Globally and Act Globally are the agreements on copyrights. One of her most widely sold books is Stolen Harvest. The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply, which offers sharp criticism of international commercial agreements and their human and environmental impact, demonstrating the devastating effects of the agricultural industry on small farmers, the environment and on the quality of our food.
In this work, Shiva sees the GATT copyright clauses (now under the WTO) as the point at which the diversity of nature and the collective innovation of thousands of farmers around the world become the intellectual property of a corporation. To patent (control) seeds is to control the food chain, and this is the commercial objective of the multinationals against which the activists are fighting.(4)
The fact that seeds can be patented turns peasants into criminals when they keep stocks for the next harvest. For Shiva, this is a brilliant strategy for robbing the biodiversity that nature provided and farmers evolved. It is the phenomenon of biopiracy, whereby Western companies are stealing centuries of collective and innovative knowledge held especially by women in the Third World.
Shiva makes an interesting analogy when she states that patents are a replica of the colonization that took place 500 years ago. Columbus put ashore in a strange land with pieces of paper called letters patent, which gave him the right to claim as his property the territory found in any part of the world and not governed by Christian principles 5. One might say that the current patents established on life have a similar nature, if they are understood only as theft on the part of corporations of the knowledge of forms of life not previously known. Of course, even though the ideology behind this argument is legitimate, it is clear that things are not that simple.
In truth, an interesting aspect of this global movement against agricultural and pharmaceutical multinationals is its strong ideological, ethical and philosophical dimension. Shiva herself introduces this aspect repeatedly in her activism -inescapably, due to her other activity as philosopher. For example, in the analogy of colonialism mentioned above, an important ethical distinction is made: old colonization subdued the earth; new colonization subdues life.
There are many
philosophical allusions in Shiva's message. She makes a direct link between
sustainable agriculture and the ethic of farmers. When she describes the
jobs of farmers in India, she clarifies that one of them is to protect
the land they till, to maintain its fertility and that of the seeds. Farmers
must feel a tie to the land and their seeds, and they must safeguard provisions
for future generations. They see the technologies of genetic engineering
as an act of violence against the ethics a good farmer needs in order to
consider him or herself as such.
"The separation between ethics and science and technology is based on the Cartesian dichotomy between res extensa (matter) and res cognitans (mind), whereby the objective mind acquires a neutral, objective knowledge of nature (…)
However, knowledge is not neutral - it is the product of the values and culture of the one gathering the knowledge. Ethics and science are related because values are intrinsec to science. Ethics and technology are related because values shape technology, they mold technological choices and determine who wins and who loses in the impact on society.
There are a
good many reasons why bioethics is still more important for the Third World
than for the West.
In the second place, bioethics is especially relevant to us because biodiversity and human diversity in the Third World are what are being pirated by corporations from the North (…)
In the third
place, values determine the context of biotechnological development due
to security factors (…)
Shiva's invitation to a different understanding of technology and science, in addition to being an inspiration, is worth thinking about, particularly now that the wealthy world is beginning to look at things differently, through the eyes of values.
1 Mary Mellor,
Dona, Treball i Medi Ambient [Woman,Work and Environment] (from the book
Sostenibilitat en una Òptica Global, ed Beta, 2000)
Víctor Toledo (1945), a Mexican biologist, has combined his scientific training with social studies on political economy, agrarian cultures and rural sociology. Toledo is an expert in ethno-ecology and his studies and theories on the relationships between indigenous cultures and nature are internationally renowned. Likewise, he has contributed to a new discipline, political ecology, where his thinking connects with that of the so-called "postnormal science" popularised by Funtowicz and Ravetz.
Victor Toledo was born in Mexico City in 1945. From a very early age, he entered the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM), first as a prep school student, then as a student of biology (1963-66) in the Faculty of Science. Since 1970, he has been a scientific researcher, first in the Biology Institute and later in the Ecology Institute.
His early research centred on studying the diversity of tropical tree species using the theory of information. This study, which was pioneered in Mexico, led him to work in biogeographical and historical interpretations of the patterns of biodiversity in the warm-humid regions of Mexico.
Deeply impressed by the serious problems of deforestation and ecological deterioration, he soon saw, in a very pioneering way, that it was necessary to explore the social causes of this impact, and to accept that natural processes could not be studied without their links to society, and vice versa. In 1971, he took part in collective research on "the ecology of the co-operative", whereby he broached a new way of approaching the problem of ecology by formulating an advanced methodology. Three decades later, this methodology became the worldwide imperative for interdisciplinary study and analysis.
In the seventies, he began adding on to this solid training in biology and ecology with permanent social training, initiated with a sabbatical in 1976 to study Social Sciences at l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris, from which he extracted continued training in the fields of political economy, agrarian cultures and rural sociology, opening new methodological and conceptual horizons all the while.
This interdisciplinary approach allowed him to carry out studies in two indigenous regions: the Lacandon Forest in Chiapas and the Patzcuaro Lake Basin in Michoacan. The latter experience, to which we had the fortune to have access, constitutes a thoroughly advanced model of innovative participation, which the sustainable culture of the First World should make its own. Called "diálogo de saberes" (dialogue of knowledge) by Toledo, it recognises other forms of knowledge beyond the purely academic which, without denying the latter, takes into account popular empirical knowledge. This methodology was applied to different studies in rural communities of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Michoacan.
His latest contribution to this perspective is the application of a socio-ecological methodology for studying rural Mexico.
His contributions, always innovative, are noteworthy in the field of ethno-ecology (the study of the relationships between indigenous cultures and nature), and he is one of the leading academics in the world in this material. Currently, ethno-ecology constitutes his main academic concern, and it was this field in which he wrote his doctoral thesis. His valuable theoretical contributions to the relationships between indigenous cultures and nature have given him wide international renown. He is founding editor of the internationally distributed magazine Etnoecològica.
His contributions have also influenced the new discipline of political ecology. His latest book, which was just published, offers an original alternative in order to achieve peace in Chiapas, based on ecology, knowledge accumulated by indigenous people and research in an alternative modernity.
Over more than thirty years of academic work, he has carried out an extraordinary task of investigation, in teaching and in training, in the field of environmental thought, which links ecological science with society, and in interdisciplinary interpretation of rural and indigenous societies.
He has about two hundred publications to his credit, of which 130 are scientific research papers and 65 general information. Among these publications, worth mentioning are two books and over 40 articles written for international publication. He has been a visiting professor at universities in the US (1988), Venezuela (1996), Cuba (1994), Brazil (1994), Ecuador (1997), Bolivia (1999) and Spain (1997,1998 and 1999). He has received a total of 12 honours, including the J.S. Guggenheim Scholarship (1992-93), the Award for Ecological Merit (1999) and the Luis Elizondo Award (2000) from the Technological Institute of Monterrey.
Science and Commitment
We first met
Victor Toledo in person in 1998 at the Ajusco International Forum (Foro
Internacional del Ajusco), organised by the College of Mexico (Colegio
de México). We were impressed by his theses, his power of communication
and, above all, the respect and influence he holds among his Spanish-American
Toledo calls attention to the fact that there is a fortunate, consistent and not-at-all fortuitous coincidence between biodiversity and multiculturalness, according to which social wealth and natural abundance of the planet are found in the same places, and in which rural communities, in particular the ill-named Indians, are the guardians of the most valuable of our natural reservoirs.
In a nuclear
fashion, Toledo defends the fact that, if the relationship between man
and society is based on a kind of production process in a broad sense,
then appropriation of nature corresponds to the rural world, where primary
activities are concentrated, while consumption, whether it be productive-industrial
or end consumption, is concentrated in urban areas, where secondary and
tertiary activities take place.
To our understanding, this Toledian thesis, which may be difficult to understand from a First World intellectual perspective, constitutes an environmentally progressive formulation, which we consider to be a conceptual element that could have a very relevant role in building a culture of sustainability. This moving culture, which Martínez Alier calls low-intensity sustainability, suffers a great deal of slander right from the start, while the First World formulates scarcely applicable intellectual approaches.
Environmental Crisis and Social Thought
On the occasion of working on an informative paper, written with Toledo, Toledo insisted on the need for education as well as communication to be framed within the fact that we are living through a unique crisis in history: the crisis of the survival of the human species as a threat to the process of evolution.
In order to survive the crisis, the key point would be acquiring a social consciousness. This requires a change in attitude, because when an individual acquires this consciousness, it is irreversible. From then on, in all likelihood, he insists, this individual will be committed to defending the evolution of the cosmos, of life and of the evolution of man as species.
For Toledo, this means that these processes are recharged by means of environmental education and scientific information, both at the corresponding levels, and directed towards nourishing this necessary raising of awareness. The current situation does not lead one to believe that progress is being made in the direction and, especially, at the intensity required by the situation.
At a political level, this awareness raising generates various processes. Individuals from different social classes, nationalities, sexes and with different life experiences become accomplices and come together to defend humanity and the environment. This causes social processes that have no known historical precedent and which, despite their difficulties, offer hope.
This is how new forms of solidarity arise which go beyond class interests and which come conceptually from different authors and thinkers. In this sense, it is necessary to again take up the author of the Gaia theory, James Lovelock, representing a hefty scientific corpus, who in a certain way takes us back to the philosophical realm of Teilhard de Chardin, who was in fashion during the progressive thinking of the 60s and 70s, and who currently returns with the Lovelockian idea of a super organism, in which individuals are cells integrating parts of a whole.
Along the lines of Toledo's thinking, insistence is made to the effect that the environmental crisis must be translated into political language and action. Given the crisis of political and ideological ideas throughout the planet, environmentalism and the new culture of sustainability could constitute a hopeful, highly renewing proposal which, in all likelihood, would give rise to a political philosophy, although this process, should it happen, will undoubtedly take time.
Toward the Formulation of Hybrid Approaches
The reconceptualization of the relationship between nature and society, as formulated by Toledo, has a point in common with the proposal from the field of the "Actor-Network Theory", which also involves greater political commitment and can contribute to designing a more just social-environmental future. In this sense, points can be found to coincide with other approaches that also attempt to overcome dualisms and increase the opening up of science to non-conventional discussions.
"Postnormal science", as popularised by S. Funtowicz and J. R. Ravetz (2000), with whom Toledo acknowledges having many points in common, would be one of these alternative approaches. These authors question the fundamentals of the notion of sustainable society organised around a fantastic vision of nature, and they argue that, as with any previous utopia, it is probably headed towards the same end. The quasi paradigm of sustainability could constitute a post-modern form of confidence that resists recognising the unbalanced, turbulent character of nature, when we intuit that no ideological fantasy can stop nature from always returning to her place.
For Funtowicz and Ravetz, it is not possible to find a cultural tradition that can contribute enough knowledge for the type of predictive answers that global environmental problems require. Some difficulties in this complexity lie in the elitist nature of science, in the univocal supremacy awarded scientists, which contains proposals that are not enough to offer a way out of the environmental crisis. The normal ideal of the rationality of science would be not just insufficient, but in many cases inappropriate. In part, this incapacity lies precisely in the fact that the prevailing scientific methodology is responsible for the environmental crisis, which is a topic on which the social sciences have much insisted. For these authors, recognising the global environmental risks reveals that the ideal of scientific rationality is no longer universally appropriate. The new postulate of postnormal science, or "science with people", opens a stimulating path towards democratising knowledge.
New participants are called to formulate new dialogues, and space is given to different perspectives and forms of knowledge, with emphasis given to a revolutionary "dialogue of knowledge" as indicated by Víctor Toledo. Along the same lines, other authors, such as Houstoun, point out that the tension stemming from the environmental crisis constitutes a positive scenario, because it reveals new forms of participation/intervention, such as multicriterial analysis, in which even antagonism becomes an intellectually motive value. This tension itself forces new forms of participation to be approached from the bottom upwards, which open innovative processes of removal of sectorial borders, whereby the concept of interdiscipline becomes an essential work tool.
Although they ought to be given the importance they deserve, the laws of nature would have a hard time explaining social dynamics, just as ecology by itself cannot take in all the modalities of the relationship between human societies and the environment. That is why it is necessary to be interdisciplinary, because entropic principles impose material limits on social phenomena, but they do not govern them. In regard to this last approach, Toledo speaks in a hopeful tone of what would have arisen against the current of the prevailing tendency in contemporary science, which promotes excessive specialisation and parcelling out knowledge. This new approach is an attempt to integrate the sciences of nature with social and human sciences, and involves a conceptual revolution fed by a new geocentric vision and by a new global conscience that would try to overcome an unprecedented "neo-obscurantism", which leads to scientific specialisation in unconnected fields.
Toledo shares the critical positioning of Funtowicz and Ravetz in the sense that recognising science as the only valid model for knowledge, and the subsequent disqualification of any other means of knowing the world, is nothing more than part of a mechanism that tries to justify a system of domination.
Europe's civilisational expansion would have translated, at an epistemological level, into the imposition of only one form of knowledge, that which, rooted in rationalism and pragmatism, reaches its most sophisticated modality in contemporary science. However, according to Toledo, science exalted as the only legitimate form of knowledge immediately turns into scientificism; in other words, becomes an ideology. Taking as an example the relationship with nature that is particular to the American humid tropics, this author questions the premise according to which there is only one detailed, complex knowledge of nature (scientific knowledge), and shows that the indigenous mode is the only proven way of using the resources of the humid tropics with a certain level of ecological feasibility.
Toledo himself, in a paper on Valdivia, talks about the emergence of "hybrid disciplines" as a response to the need to transcend fragmentary objectivity by means of a multidimensional or integrating explanation. One of them would be Edgar Morin's principle of complexity. The "principle of complexity" is an attempt to overcome knowledge in separate worlds, which is peculiar to classical science, in which social sciences do not take into account the physical and biological natures of human phenomena, and natural sciences are not aware of any ties to culture, society, history, or of the hidden principles that direct their elaboration. Needless to say, this approach has come up against resistance from ecologists, who make efforts to restrict their focus to the mere study of the phenomena of nature, conceived as a pure, pristine, untouched entity (Gómez-Pompa and Kaus, Ehrlich, Wilson).
Hybrid disciplines, according to V. Toledo
In contrast with these positions, the barriers of impermeability and disciplinary purity have been brought down in at least eight areas of knowledge, with the subsequent appearance of nearly twenty hybrid disciplines, or interdisciplinary ways to approach the environment.
Even so, Toledo warns of the enormous theoretical and methodological difficulty in an object of study that is so complex and perhaps unattainable.
The core element of Toledian thought comes from Schmidt's formulation, in which human societies produce and reproduce their material conditions of existence from their "metabolism" with nature, a condition that appears in a pre-social, natural and eternal way. For Toledo, this metabolism takes place in humans by means of the social process of work, a process that involves a set of actions through which human beings, regardless of their situation in space (social training) and time (historical moment), appropriate, produce, circulate, transform, consume and excrete products, materials, energy and water from the natural environment. In so doing, human beings carry out two actions: on the one hand, they "socialise" fractions of nature and, on the other, they "naturalise" society by reproducing their links with the environment. Similar arguments have been developed by Joan Martínez Alier when, for example, he states that the introduction of ecological elements in human history does not involve naturalising history, rather it is more the "historicizing" of ecology (Guha and Martínez Alier, 1997).
In discussing our social ecologist, we would like to highlight the concept of "appropriating nature" as an initial act in the metabolic process that the human species in society establishes with the natural universe. This appropriation constitutes the act as from which a social subject makes "something" his or her own. In this case, this concept is applied to the action by which human beings extract elements or take advantage of services of nature in order to transform them into social elements. In other words, this act is the point from which humans make a fragment of matter or energy move from the "natural" space to the "social" space, at which point the appropriation is turned into production (in the strictest sense, as a second act specific to the productive process). In this sense, appropriation of nature is an act of internalising or assimilating natural elements or services into the social organism.
With Toledo, we find a brave line of teaching, a combination of precision and solvent methodological foundations, undergoing constant innovation and in which the laws of nature and society are inseparable and interactive. This line of thought and academic work finds in science the starting point for undeniable social commitment, far distant from the stingy postulates of elitist scientificism. o
1975. Chiranthodendron pentadactylon: una especie polinizada por aves percheras,
Bol. Soc. Bot. Mex. 35: 59-67.*
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