Earth Day, Nothing to Celebrate

Here in Mexico there were no rhetorical speeches, clear evidence of a retreat in our environmental policies, since, as Freud said, words are already actions.

This April 22 past our government did not observe Earth Day. The day passed with no acknowledgement from our authorities. From the President of the Republic and the stopgap Secretary of SEMARNAT (Ministry of the Environment) to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a head of government (Mayor of Mexico City) obsessed by the thought of his own face in the political mirror of 2006, the date was ignored.

Here in Mexico these three personages, assuredly engaged in solemn trivialities, disdained the subject. Apparently neither Life’s spheres nor the depredation of nature form part of their daily agenda, nor cause them to lose any sleep. Nor did the Nino Verde (The Green Kid, Head of the Green Party and involved in the recent video corruption scandals shown on national television) express himself. There were no rhetorical speeches, a clear sign of retreat in our environmental policies, since as Freud said, words are already actions.

When I ask myself ‘what could we have celebrated this Earth Day in the City of the Automobile? I reply with questions: could we celebrate the infinite patience of the Capital’s citizens with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s projects like the Beltway, the forest of Chapultepec and his “Pyramids” on the Paseo de la Reforma? In passing, it might be said that our citizens should receive the World Prize for Submission for the inconveniences they have endured.

Should the residents in Las Lomas rejoice over the tunnels being built by private companies for the Miguel Hidalgo district in Palmas and Reforma, beginning in July at a cost of 45,000,000 pesos? These tunnels will certainly ruin their daily lives since, in their attempt to solve the traffic bottlenecks faced by 20,000 families with their 165,000 cars in the dormitory town of Huixquilucan, it is clear that neither the Federal District government nor the Miguel Hidalgo authorities give a rat’s tail about the comfort of those who pay the highest property taxes. (Soon there will be many more cars thanks to the housing estates in the Royal Forest and those planned for what forest remains in this municipality in the State of Mexico). The Palmas and Reforma tunnels, avenues due to become freeways, will be used by hundreds of thousands of cars.

Should we applaud that automobiles outnumber children 2 to 1 in the Motorized City? UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma Mexicana) researcher Carlos Welti says we are on the point of collapse, because of the shortage of open spaces and the increase in parking lots? The political populism of the City Mayor, which tends to hand the city over to the automobile, could be the most destructive since the construction of the freeways when Carlos Hank Gonzalez was Mayor. The solution to the chronic and ubiquitous traffic problem afflicting us is, as has been stated over and over again, to invest more in the Metro and other forms of punctual, comfortable, and pollution free public transport. At the end of March the Nobel Prize Winner for Chemistry, Mario Molina, said: “Studies show, that in a population of 20,000,000 with an annual mortality rate of 511,000, a 10% reduction in the pollution by PM10, could reduce the number of premature deaths in the city by 1,000”.

Moving along to the nation wide destruction of forests, could we have celebrated the integrity of the sanctuaries in the Monarch butterfly reserves? No, because the hills where the butterfly hibernates have fallen into the hands of corrupt loggers operating with the approval, or impotence, of SEMARNAT and the state governments. Faced with the present situation perhaps the idea endorsed by the municipality of Angangueo to erect a symbolic gravestone in the municipal cemetery for the 40,000,000 butterflies who died in 2002 is not a bad one, since in varying numbers the mortality repeats every year (in 2004 it was 11,000,000). At the First Regional Forum for the Monarch Butterfly, the World Wildlife Fund, Mexico condemned the fact that monitoring done between 2001 and 2003 showed a degradation of 160 hectares in a zone “where no forestry activity is supposed to take place”. On February 12, 2004, “60 logging trucks were seen causing some Monarch colonies to lose a large part of their habitat”. Never mind that there is daily news of destruction in the sanctuaries of Chincua, El Rosario, Cerro Altamirano and Cerro Pelon, the news that never comes is that the authorities of SEMARNAT and the states of Michoacan and Mexico have arrested the loggers and have taken concrete measures. They always offer excuses for not getting to the root of the problem.

According to the Perspectives for the Environment report GEO-ALC 2003 of the United Nations Program for the environment (PNUMA), the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean lost 50,000,000 hectares of forests and arable land over the last 13 years and the amount of desertification increased by 313,000,000 hectares. On this map of destruction Mexico occupied second place with 6.3 million hectares of forests chopped down and more than 400,000 hectares of degraded arable land. Brazil obtained the sad first place with 23,000,000 impaired hectares.

A recent event that has shaken the environmental conscience in the world is the systematic killing of 350,000 Arpa seals in Canada (our partner in NAFTA), one third of them recently born and most of them less than one month old. This sanctioned massacre against an animal species has no precedent in modern history. The commercial hunting of Arpa seals which migrate from the Arctic each year to the waters of Newfoundland to deliver their young and to mate again, is the biggest in the world.

Images of the killing have impressed many people for their cruelty. The hunters hit the seals on the head with metal clubs and often skin them alive. No less. In 2001 a team of independent veterinarians observed that the hunters did not care whether the seals were alive before skinning them. Suffering horribly, they were skinned and dragged across the ice with steel hooks. As for those less than one month old and not knowing how to swim, the chances of escaping from their executioners is nil. But as if it were not enough that since 1996 one million seals have been killed with federal and local subsidies to the tune of $20,000,000, the Canadian government is still studying proposals to legalize the commercialization of seals only five days old. The present market for sealskins (the price per item can be up to $42) is in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and China.

In a letter from the Group of One Hundred sent to Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada, more than fifty artists and intellectuals asked that the killing of seals be stopped and that those officials who authorized it be dismissed. In passing they suggested that a program of environmental education be introduced so that the fishermen of that country refrain from the massive murder of seals as a way of life. Leonora Carrington, the painter and a living legend of surrealist art, stated: “the killing of seals in Canada is repugnant, cruel and makes one ashamed to belong to the human species”.

Returning to Mexico, here our fellow citizens, living as moral orphans under a daily barrage of infamy, no longer know where to turn nor whom to trust, since the toad of corruption hops out where least expected. In order to educate our children about the present state of the country, do we have to sit them down in front of the TV news, which in the absence of civic values, provides Shock or, shall we say, the National Chronicle of Infamy?

An old saying comes to mind: To decontaminate the country, we must first decontaminate the politicians and officials who govern us. When these are decontaminated we can the breathe and celebrate together, government and citizens alike, the Day of Life and the Day of the Earth.