The following is an edited speech the former president of Uruguay gave at the Rio de Janeiro +20 world summit in 2012…
Written by José Mujica. Adapted by Flamencos Team Extranjeros.
Let us take this opportunity to ask some questions out loud. What is it that flutters within our minds? Is it the model of development and consumption, which is shaped after that of affluent societies? I ask this question: what would happen to this planet if the people of India had the same number of cars per family as the Germans? How much oxygen would there be left for us to breathe? More clearly: Does the world today have the material elements to enable 7 or 8 billion people to enjoy the same level of consumption and squandering as the most affluent Western societies? Will that ever be possible? Or will we have to start a different type of discussion one day? Because we have created this civilisation in which we live: the progeny of the market, of the competition, which has begotten prodigious and explosive material progress. But the market economy has created market societies. And it has given us this globalisation, which means being aware of the whole planet.
Are we ruling over globalisation or is globalisation ruling over us? Is it possible to speak of solidarity and of “being all together” in an economy based on ruthless competition? How far does our fraternity go?
Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man; and life. Because we do not come into this planet simply to develop, just like that, indiscriminately. We come into this planet to be happy. Because life is short and it slips away from us. And no material belonging is worth as much as life, and this is fundamental.But if life is going to slip through my fingers, working and over-working in order to be able to consume more, and the consumer society is the engine-because ultimately, if consumption is paralysed, the economy stops, and if you stop economy, the ghost of stagnation appears for each one of us, but it is this hyper-consumption that is harming the planet. And this hyper-consumption needs to be generated, making things that have a short useful life, in order to sell a lot. Thus, a light bulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours. But there are light bulbs that last 100,000 hours! But these cannot be manufactured, because the problem is the market, because we have to work and we have to sustain a civilization of “use and discard”, and so, we are trapped in a vicious cycle. These are problems of a political nature, which are showing us that it’s time to start fighting for a different culture.
I’m not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a “monument to backwardness.” But we cannot continue like this, indefinitely, being ruled by the market, on the contrary, we have to rule over the market.
This is why I say, in my humble way of thinking, that the problem we are facing is political. The old thinkers. Epicurus, Seneca and even the Aymara put it this way, a poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more and more.” This is a cultural issue.
We must realize that the water crisis and the aggression to the environment is not the cause. The cause is the model of civilization that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life.
I belong to a small country well endowed with natural resources for life. In my country, there are a bit more than 3 million people. But there are about 13 million cows, some of the best in the world. And about 8 or 10 million excellent sheep. My country is an exporter of food, dairy, meat. It is a low-relief plain and almost 90% of the land is fertile.
My fellow workers, fought hard for the 8 hour workday. And now they are making that 6 hours. But the person who works 6 hours, gets two jobs, therefore, he works longer than before. But why? Because he needs to make monthly payments for: the motorcycle, the car, more and more payments, and when he’s done with that, he realizes he is a rheumatic old man, like me, and his life is already over.
And one asks this question: is this the fate of human life? These things I say are very basic: development cannot go against happiness. It has to work in favour of human happiness, of love on Earth, human relationships, caring for children, having friends, having our basic needs covered. Precisely because this is the most precious treasure we have; happiness. When we fight for the environment, we must remember that the essential element of the environment is called human happiness.
If you have not yet discovered the documentary “Human”, it’s worth giving some time to… A few years ago, French manYann Arthus-Bertrand’s helicopter broke down in rural Mali. While waiting for repairs, the filmmaker spent a day talking with a local farmer about his hopes, concerns, and priorities—examining the basic questions that shape a life. “It was the first time I had ever been confronted with really finding out about a person’s life and experiences,” Arthus-Bertrand says.
Arthus-Bertrand and his team of 16 journalists interviewed 2,020 people in 60 countries. Each interview consisted of the same 40 questions, covering heavy subjects from religion and family, poverty, homosexuality and conflict. In the film, single-frame interviews are interspersed with the sweeping shots of deserts and mountains that Arthus-Bertrand is known for, against a soundtrack of world music composed by Armand Amar.
The film cuts between interviews and landscapes without an introduction of name or country or language. Arthus-Bertrand hopes that removing personal identifiers will draw focus to our similarities. “We wanted to concentrate on what we all share,” he explains. “If you put the name of a person, or what country they’re from, you don’t feel that as strongly.”
The full documentary is available to watch on youtube. However, José Mujica’s interview is one many which stand out. Give it a watch!