On 10 August 2013, Green Party members met with Daniel Ortega (profile), Head of Climate Ecuador Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the Ecuador Consulate in London (press release). Ortega spoke about the social and political revolution happening in Ecaudor, especially of the last six years, in response to what he described internationally as a political, economic and environmental crisis.
I found Ortega’s presentation insightful and inspirational. Ecuador was making great strides in pursuing social well-being for the masses, in healthcare, education, employment and state-funded renewable energy projects. These opportunities were largely created by seizing the initiative on the following: taking ownership back of mineral resources; raising capital by the renegotiation of contracts with oil conglomerates; redefining the human relationship with the environment; writing into the national constitution “rights of nature”; and leaders seeking to realise their political vision with consent of the people and a zeal unheard of in the west.
The discussion period enabled us to interrogate Ortega’s assumptions, compare his frame of reference to our own, or just to reflect on what we had heard. The audience were impressed with the radical social and deep green environmental approach being advocated and pursued by Ecuador, and we shared Ortega’s analysis of the structural defects of the neo-liberal economic model, without an overhaul of which meaningful change could not be sustained. Three main themes emerged in the discussion:
1. What role did education, as distinct from indocrination, have to play in advancing such a programme of change such as this? Ortega agreed with the questioner on the primary role which education played, and in Ecuador had played, in fostering a sense of common social purpose, and in articulating due priortisation of ecological goals to the public and have them buy in to this. A couple of us then highlighted the irresponsibility of the UK government in its attempts to limit climate change science from the curriculum or somehow have this taught as less than science-based. I also raised a concern that whilst Ortega accepted that he had no entitlement to “grant” rights to nature, but only to “recognise” them, others might wish to quarrel about the status of those rights, whether they were real or constructed. I would take it to be within the scope of education to want to be able to question how we took ourselves to know these ecological rights, if we did claim to do so.
2. What tropes were readily available to us, akin to those used to articulate stewardship of the earth in Ecuador, that could help the green movement here to communicate its framework and have ecological priorities addressed? Ortega had used the term “biosocialism” to describe a thoroughgoing philosophy of value which respected human social ends alongside care and protection of the earth, and acknowledged that this had resonances with “ecosocialism”. However, an acute worry was tabled, that Ecuadorians might have access to a richer vocabulary of terms to describe their relationship to the earth, which they could then be sensitised to, which those inculcated in the liberal-individualist mindset neither enjoyed nor could be re-sensitised to. Without seeking to resign ourselves to a lazy cultural relativism, participants struggled to identify ideas in the west corresponding to “el Buen Vivir” (literally “good living” but in a holistic way). Why is our political vocabulary so denuded of socially and environmentally rich concepts? Ecosocialism may be the idea, but it does not have intergenerational lineage and promulgation of the idea of “Gaia” risks sounding esoteric in politics. Respect for nature isn’t robust enough. Perhaps therein lies the problem, a lack of a value-laden politics worthy of the name.
3. Ortega distinguished between two phases of the social and political change required, between “transition” and “transformation”. He recognised the contradiction between seeking to rid us of the unsustainable neo-liberal economic model and continuing to make use of it in the interim to generate capital for the country’s ambitious renewable energy projects. I asked, not how do you justify the building of an oil refinery in order to gain control of more of the means of production, but what economic system are you going to replace capitalism with when it is time for transformation phase? This was a topic which Ortega was developing his thinking on and we discussed how a carbon-sensitive pricing mechanism might be built into a currency. It was clear though that Ecuador was demonstrating leadership internationally through development of the Net Avoided Emissions proposal – in a nutshell, to reward countries, by instigating credit incentives, for leaving oil in the ground.
We thanked Ortega for a highly illuminating and stimulating talk and discussion. I was left thinking how deep is the denial of the neo-liberal ecomomic order and bureaucracy which props it up, that we cannot bring ourselves to collectively follow shining examples of political revolution even when they are staring us in the face. Instead oil conglomerates are determined to take Ecuador to the courts for seeking to put the interests of people and planet first. Let us hope that Ecuador can overcome these challenges and make good on its promises.
A video recording of the proceedings will be made available shortly, through the good offices of Green Left. Some web resources: ‘Ecuador challenges the world to step up‘; ‘Chevron granted access to environmental activists’ email accounts‘; ‘100 achievements of the Ecuadorian government‘.