What does it take to be an environmentalist?

Chirimoya

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A colleague who has visited the DR a couple of times told me he'd been reading up on the country's history, and one of the things that surprised him was that (in his words) "Balaguer was an environmentalist". It's true that the former president was an advocate of re-forestation, but does that really make him an environmentalist?

Many Dominicans are proud of the fact that the country is relatively well-forested compared to Haiti. They see it, quite correctly, as evidence of the DR's relative progress and development compared to their much poorer neighbour. The importance given to reforestation and tough legal penalties for cutting down trees are certainly worthy of congratulation and encouragement.

But why does Dominican environmental consciousness so often stop right there?

Why is there so little awareness of the horrible damage done by polystyrene packaging and other non-biodegradable disposables? Why is there no systematic waste recycling? In Mexico City it is now compulsory to segregate your household waste, so it's not just northern countries that are able to pull this off.

Why is there such feverish enthusiasm for mega SUVs and excessive use of air-conditioning?

Why is there no serious use of cleaner energy sources like solar? I gave the small but symbolic example in my new DR1 blog of how some apartment dwellers think nothing of using a dryer for their clothes, instead of rigging up clothes lines.

Why are cities being turned into no-go areas for pedestrians?

Why do so many people blatantly throw litter?

Being an environmentalist encompasses all these issues, and more. It's not just about planting trees.

This was inspired by several recent threads, not all of them in the Environment forum, but I thought this belonged here.
 

Criss Colon

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I Was Talking About The Very Same Subject Last Saturday!

A visiting American friend asked why the Dominican People were so "Dirty"?
I explained that Dominicans are some of the "Cleanest" people you will ever meet.
They bathe,and brush their teeth a lot! they spen money on their hair.Their clothes are always clean and well kept.Their houses are swept and moped daily,and they use more "CLORO" than anywhere in the world!
Unfortunately,it all stops at their front door!!
Once they leave their own house they will throw,wood,glass,metal,plastic,garbage,dead animals,oil,cars/trucks,and everyone's favorite:"STYROFOAM" anywhere and everywhere!!!!!!!!!!

No sense of community or national pride when it comes to polution here!
 

Dolores1

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Chirimoya said:
A colleague who has visited the DR a couple of times told me he'd been reading up on the country's history, and one of the things that surprised him was that (in his words) "Balaguer was an environmentalist". It's true that the former president was an advocate of re-forestation, but does that really make him an environmentalist?
Balaguer has to his credit creating the National Parks system. If it had not been for his decision, we would have nothing in matters of parks. He did so against all the big interest groups.

He also has to his credit separating large tracks of land for parks -- Parque Mirador del Sur, Parque Mirador del Norte, Jardin Botanico de Santo Domingo, Parque Mirador del Este, Parque Zoologico, Faro a Colon, Acuario Nacional, Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Center. Those were spaces where rich and poor could converge. And Balaguer created lovely avenues that were pedestrian friendly -- Avenida 27 de Febrero, Avenida John F Kennedy, Av Abraham Lincoln, Av Winston Churchill. Note that those areas were for all people ? the wealthy and the poor. Those spaces brought all people together because they were very attractive. That is a broader definition of environmentalist, where people are part of the greater picture.

What came after him -- President Leonel Fernandez did away with two of these (27 Febrero and JFKennedy avenues) in the so-called name of progress and to favor cars over people. And President Hipolito Mejia destroyed the Mirador del Este park in the name of the white elephants his government built for the Pan Am Games. Mejia is also criticized for authorizing lands of the Mirador del Norte park for the construction of a cemetery.

But then again, I think it was under Balaguer that tariffs were lowered on cars to facilitate the importing of second hand cars that has boosted the number of cars on city streets.

To Fernandez's credit, though, I think was the Quisqueya Verde program under then Vice President Jaime David Fernandez. This program, nevertheless, was abandoned with the change of government.

During the last government, one of the first laws signed by then President Mejia was the environmental law, but then throughout his government he tried time after time to violate the law and did so many times. He is responsible for laws that have investors salivating over the development of lands in Bahia de las Aguilas and Parque del Este. And just look at the rockash scandal. He is responsible for installing cement plants in Pedernales.

Now there is talk again of developing the Sans Souci area in Santo Domingo, but from what I am reading the plans are to give priority to tourism areas, not build parks and green areas for everyone. A marina in front of the city for wealthy yachtsmen. Balaguer didn't build projects like those, from what I recall. He prefered to make public spaces so attractive everyone would want to use them.

The new projects promoted by the Fernandez administration allot the beaches for the tourists staying at hotels, not Rio type beach. Alfonso Vegara, who in the Cities project proposes this same vision of developing the Rio Ozama, Sans Souci and Malecon area plans a public beach, not a beach for tourists staying at hotels. There, I think Balaguer had a better vision of city + people, then Fernandez has. Ditto could be said for the artificial island, that looks like another project with restricted access.

I am not talking about creating areas exclusively for the poor, either. I believe the experiment of the Malecon Libre has not worked well because this excluded people, and created limits. As a result, it has not attracted the wealthy and seems doomed for failure.

Neither do I buy anyone who tells me that Dominicans do not know how to behave. What about the Botanical Gardens, very well kept and cared for by all. Look at how well Blue Flag has managed in the Dominicus area (it obliges the hotel to keep the beach access public), look at how well the Mirador del Sur park works. The city's most expensive apartments look over a public area. The secret is management and empowerment of the users.

And we do need statesmen that have the vision of city for the people, that truly are environmentalists, but giving priority to people, all people, the rich and the poor. Maybe that is the broader definition of environmentalists, where environment is people, public spaces in addition to natural resources.
 

Chirimoya

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Thanks Dolores for the information including the details about Balaguer's contribution to the DR's environment. He did have an environmental vision that went beyond saving trees, I accept that. I find it difficult, though, to take these achievements out of the context of his wider record - much like the current discussion about Trujillo in the debates forum. Even within the immediate context it was pointed out to me that many of the places you mention involved repressive practices like forced evictions.

I was not intending this to be about Balaguer, but about what I observe as selectiveness in the environmental awareness of many Dominicans. On the one hand, a great emphasis on trees and concern about deforestation, but no regard to the effect on humans of rapid urbanisation, excessive vehicle use, wasting energy and other resources, and more.
 

Dolores1

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Chirimoya said:
Thanks Dolores for the information including the details about Balaguer's contribution to the DR's environment. He did have an environmental vision that went beyond saving trees, I accept that. I find it difficult, though, to take these achievements out of the context of his wider record - much like the current discussion about Trujillo in the debates forum. Even within the immediate context it was pointed out to me that many of the places you mention involved repressive practices like forced evictions.

I was not intending this to be about Balaguer, but about what I observe as selectiveness in the environmental awareness of many Dominicans. On the one hand, a great emphasis on trees and concern about deforestation, but no regard to the effect on humans of rapid urbanisation, excessive vehicle use, wasting energy and other resources, and more.
All accepted. Just wanted to point out that Balaguer had a more modern vision than Fernandez has had regarding cities. He built spaces for the people -- rich and poor. Projects like the artifical island, the development of Pedernales park area (Bahia de las Aguilas) and the marina project for Sans Souci, with the beach for the hotel guests, and the port area for expensive yachts, is not modern environmentalism in any sense. I think Fernandez has the wrong advisors.

On the positive side, there have been several conferences held where foreigners are invited to tell local people you have to leave public spaces and make them very attractive for all for these to be successful. Maybe someone will start listening.
 

NotLurking

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Chiri, excellent question that is best left unasked. It's one of those unspeakable best left unspoken :). The answer to this seemingly benign question is chuck full of unpleasant sacrifices many Dominicans (in fact many humans) are not willing to make. From a political prospective as noted by Dolores, perhaps Balaguer was, in the most broadest of sense, a modern urbanite environmentalist. But even under such strenuous qualifications of the term, he falls disappointedly short of the most casual definition of being an environmentalist. In the strictest sense of the word, according to webster.com environmentalist is:

Function: noun
1 : an advocate of environmentalism
2 : one concerned about environmental quality especially of the human environment with respect to the control of pollution

Both definitions are most interesting. The first definition, how ever simple, is by far the most interesting; perhaps even the most controversial. Again taking full advantage of www.webster.com, we lookup the definition of environmentalism:

Function: noun
1 : a theory that views environment rather than heredity as the important factor in the development and especially the cultural and intellectual development of an individual or group
2 : advocacy of the preservation or improvement of the natural environment; especially : the movement to control pollution

Again, both definitions are most interesting. The first definition, however, refutes without a doubt any claim that Balaguer was an Environmentalist .

Balaguer was notorious for 'doing away' with intellectuals. It became most obvious when intellects got 'in the way' of his twisted ideal. Most intellectuals didn't necessarily have to be 'in the way' to vanish into thin air. Dominican history, under Balaguer, has many 'examples of vanishing people'. I guess today most wish that part of history be forgotten; I know I do. The fact that Dominicans, in general, are culturally and socially lacking can be credited directly to Balaguer. Trujillo was partly responsible for some deficiencies in the overall educational, civil and social structures but nothing close to Balaguer. Balaguer himself was a renown intellect and much revered in Latin America. He knew the value of education and social development better than, or at least equal to, any other Dominican. Yet Balaguer would ban BOOKS from the public library because he disagreed with the author's views. He would routinely silent the voice of opposition and would routinely promote social division based on economic class. In fact, he is the father of our social-economic class system as we know it today. Clearly this behavior is in direct contradiction with what an environmentalist stands for. But enough with past horrors we elegantly call history. We need not dwell on the failures of the past we need only focus on the successes of the future - or hope for a future-

What successes might those be? Well, it is not installing a new turbo-gas generator nor boarding the cart of the future in the metro of darkness. It certainly isn't FTA, DR-CAFT, IMF, WTO nor AmBev ;) What then? What? Absolutely not Atlantis. Nope, not even more parks, sorry Mr. Penalosa. It's simple, really. Raising Social awareness and general education; that is all that's needed. I don't mean academic enlightenment either. What I mean is, simple, down to earth, common sense. The thing that needs to be address and taught by mom and pop in every home but just slips through the cracks. We need to re-knit the social fabric of Dominican society and bring back national pride. Focus has to be put on national needs not personal needs.

The DR is a developing nation. Believe it or not, our most valuable asset is our environment. Unfortunately we are under utilizing it and sometimes destroying our most important national riches under the guise of development. Our government has not, most likely will not either, developed a strategy that will free us from the chains of globalize capitalism. The race to compete for an unknown prize has us at a strict disadvantage with respect to environment and our development. Our dependency on imported fossil fuel can only help seal our environment's coffin. Bye, bye future..

If we take a hard look at the past 15 years we could easily conclude that the perceived increase in GDP (PIB) is actually a direct failure of social policies. Our agricultural throughput has been in steady decline in sharp contrast to importation. Specifically, the importation of crude oil has increased by a few order of magnitude, clearly indicating wasteful practices. More energy is being used but less 'useful' products are being developed. Unfortunately DR is a net importer, this can't be good. If better agricultural policies, elevated national pride, better national resources management and education of our farmers and their families would have been available, our agricultural output would easily exceed the nation's needs. The 'extra' crop yields could easily be used as bio-fuel. Our dependency in crude oil wouldn't be so greate today.

BioFuel is an interesting, green, technology that our government should allocate considerable resources to. Three things quickly come to mind as being positives about investing in biofuel.

1. reduction in migration to 'the' city.
2. new micro economies emerging in otherwise economically dead areas of DR
3. Reduction or outright elimination of crude oil importation.

Today Santo Domingo alone is home to about 1/3 of the country's population (~3million). A significant increase from 15 years ago by anybody's standards. The total amount of 'real' jobs in SD is, by all accounts, not more than ~1 million jobs or about 1/3 of the population of SD is employed. That Leaves a good amount of unemployed running 'down' the city's resources without any possibility of contributing, even if they wanted to, they simply can't.

Unfortunately the current situation in SD forces the creation of unregulated jobs. These jobs don't offer the economy any benefits and actually serve to increase government burden and hurt the environment. Most, if not all, of these jobs are in the streets without any control or regulation. These 'entrepreneurs sell food items - health hazard, do mechanical work in the street - environmental hazard, sex favors - a different health issue (HIV aids) and play dominoes - social and self esteem hazard. The government clearly needs to implement a policy that would reward repatriating 'el campo' and penalize those that elect to migrate to the 'big city'. Biofuel production could help solve many of these issues.

The 'campo' today is in dyer need of human and financial resource. The country side is lacking in every respect: lack of trees, animals, crops and people! Yes you read correctly, people. A true testament to the abuse our environment has witnessed through the years and the backlash of absurd government policies. If only our government would invest in the proper projects and in our people.... Perhaps better resource allocation?

All the land that isn't currently producing food crops could be used for cultivating sugarcane, beets or corn for Ethanol production. Ethanol (better known as booze) is a good liquid biofuel that can directly replace petrol (gasoline) in cars with minor modification, it's renewable and doesn't contribute to green house gases. Ethanol can also be mixed with gasoline (up to 20%) and no modifications to the engine is required. Biodiesel is another biofuel that can by made by idle city dwellers or restless farmers while helping our economy, our environment and themselves. Both biodiesel and ethanol are clean, grow your own liquid biofuels that can be made from renewable resources here in DR by our idle farmers with the existing infrastructure. Can someone please tell government officials?

Methanol is another alcohol fuel which can be obtained from biomass but it is much more expensive and does not have all the environmental benefits of other biofuels. The only real advantage of methanol is that is can directly substitute gasoline. No modification to the engine or the infrastructure is necessary, however, it is more costly to produce and it is toxic. Unlike other biofuel methanol is not a good biofuel.

Another easily producible biofuel is Methane (biogas). Methane is produce naturally by Ma' nature in animal manure like pig, chicken, horse and cow dung. Animal dung can produce a fair amount of biogas per day in man made digesters both for cooking, like propane, or for powering combustion engines. In fact, 3-4 cows can produce all the cooking gas a family of four use every day for cooking with the added benefit of providing milk, helping the environment and our economy! Got milk?

Hopefully my mad ramblings have gotten many interested in natures ways of providing for us, I am. Like everything in life nothing is really free and we all have to do our part and pay our share of the price to make our corner of the world a better place. Unfortunately that requires time, effort and sacrifice that many SUV driving, air-conditioner idolaters are just not willing to pay. We sure are in for a rude awaking - let us see what the future holds. Hopefully not more of the same backward thinking governments we've had so far.

Oh, to answer your question - it shouldn't takes a lot of self esteem and self motivation to coerce ourselves into respecting that which is OUR livelihood - the environment! AKA Ma Nature.

NotLurking.
 

Mirador

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did you hear the one about how many environmentalists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: If the light bulb is out, that's the way Nature intended it! ...
 

Dolores1

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By coincidence, my sister when she visited brought me the book, "Collapse" How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond, author also of "Guns, Germans and Steel" and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

There is an entire chapter in there on the DR environmentally compared to Haiti environmentally, and guess what, he says that the difference is basically because Joaquin Balaguer was President of the DR. He uses the case as an example where a leader in a country can make all the difference.

So, the book author recognizes Balaguer as a leading world environmentalist.

Anyone who has a chance should purchase this eye-opener of a book.
 

NotLurking

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Dolores said:
By coincidence, my sister when she visited brought me the book, "Collapse" How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" by Jared Diamond, author also of "Guns, Germans and Steel" and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
...
So, the book author recognizes Balaguer as a leading world environmentalist.

Anyone who has a chance should purchase this eye-opener of a book.
Will do and I'll get back to you with comments. 'Till then and thanks for the suggestion.
 

2dlight

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I've...

just ordered "Collapse" and re-reading Guns, Germs and Steel(not Germans). I will join this thread if I have anything to contribute after I'm done with both books.