Environmental heritage and the commodification of the immeasurable

Environmental heritage and the commodification of the immeasurable

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By Cristhián G. Palma Bobadilla

Our environmental heritage is openly exposed to submit to the mechanics of the market, in which goods, regardless of their importance, are not valued but are traded. Rarely, an economic norm serves as support for the patrimonial defense, be it of a community or environmental nature.


The language of modern man has become angry, overwhelming, and outrageous. Consequently, the subject of our era believes that he has a wide margin of selective control over everything that surrounds him. It is about a man capable of appropriating the environment and categorizing it in order to adapt it to his needs. The historical and cultural implications of intellectual currents such as the one mentioned, particularly in Latin American countries, have generated deep cracks in their social fabric, especially if we consider that in our region there is no static and uniform participatory structure, among other things, due to because its territorial composition is not preceded by a homogeneous social body.


The cities of the 21st century are places that many of us would like to resist. Its design is conditioned to receive a number of mixed-use neighborhoods, where large buildings used for housing, commerce and the installation of administrative offices converge; a few other constructions that are part of the historical and patrimonial cap of the city; and at our discretion we will find the odd green area. In general (1), cities are crowded spaces with people, noise, pollution and neuropathies.

They are a visible example of the collateral damage that human development and progress has left in its wake (see Table 1).

Table 1: Average impact of a carbon footprint of a mixed neighborhood

This rupture of nature, this kind of supernatural as Ortega y Gasset called it, which are the cities with their monuments, are also clear manifestations of power, that which man exercises over the environment by conditioning it to his needs. The appropriation of physical space, much depends on the symbolic dimension that is assigned. For this reason, the loss of vitality of our local culture is worrying, which has allowed itself to be dragged and enveloped by a kind of Gordian knot that has it on the verge of an absolute crisis of sense of belonging and community roots.

In this sense, it is of paramount importance to warn of the risks that indiscriminate handling of the circulation of cultural goods raises. It is enough to observe how the market economy has influenced the monopolization of information (see Table 2), and how this monopoly has managed to manipulate with subtlety - and sometimes rudely-, the content of certain information in order to accentuate or undermine the preponderance they have to have some social events. In this sense, I share the point of view of the Argentine journalist, Ana Fiol, who maintains: “This oligopolistic structure, where only a few produce similar programs within the same market, offers them the possibility of joining and becoming invulnerable to pressure from other groups. economic, political and social (2).

Table 2: Economic groups with the greatest presence in the national media

Undoubtedly, this last aspect is the one that is the most dangerous, because in order to influence the collective perception of a certain reality (giving or subtracting value to specific situations or contexts, from the outside) it is necessary to deploy a process of disarticulation on everything that is part of its identity heritage, which constitutes an irreparable loss of community sense contributing to the production of empty or uprooted subjectivities (3), directing the attention of society on insubstantial issues or that deteriorate its community axiomatic anchor (4). This degenerative process threatens to powerfully limit the preservation of our planet's natural resources, especially at the local level. Well, it attacks the essential nucleus that precedes any community organization, I mean the awareness of knowing oneself capable of coping with totalitarian situations or discourses –critical thinking-. Therefore, by legitimizing and promoting instrumental values ​​such as individualism, pragmatics, efficiency or consumerism, the symbolic dimension and physical possession of our local communities are progressively displaced, to the point of restricting their right to self-determination (5) . Issue that affects the way in which society organizes itself to preserve and defend its environmental heritage.

Latin America at the environmental crossroads

In Latin America an outstanding trend in environmental management is to generate interdisciplinary discussions around environmental problems caused by ecological imbalances or the obsolete application of certain institutional criteria that facilitate the execution of projects that may cause irreparable damage to the biodiversity of the region. place. In particular, if we consider that in countries like ours, there has been an unusual emphasis on the construction of hydroelectric plants (6), despite the fact that we can find an enormous variety of renewable resources for the generation of clean energy, such as: solar energy (thermal or biomass), geothermal energy, wind or tidal energy (see table 3 and 4).

Table 3: Chile's energy matrix graph (2007-2010)

Table 4: Installed electrical capacity as of July 2006

The emphasis is on the poor quality and abuse of the environmental standard that luckily seeks to change. This is a matter that many businessmen use indiscriminately for the execution of their projects. This responds to the discredit of the Environmental Impact Assessment System (SEIA) (7), which has transformed (reduced) it into an instrument for mitigating or repairing the damage actually caused and not the means that allows it to be avoided.

On the other hand, the prevailing idea is that it costs ten times more to produce clean energy than to repair damage (8). As long as this continues to be the case, it will be difficult to reduce costs in its implementation, since its high price also responds to the fact that there is ten times more speculation about this type of energy than any other, and this significantly discourages its production, investment and subsidy (9).

However, another aspect that should be noted about the commodification of cultural assets and that precisely threatens the stability of the environmental protection discourse, is that the market presents the environmental debate as a breeding ground for the development of a new type of demagoguery and political populism. It can also be appreciated that its elaboration serves as a commercial strategy to strengthen the growth of the tourism industry, which is not minor, if we are concerned about the fact that thanks to ecotourism, it has been possible to discuss and exercise a good part of the “environmental rights ”, This speaks of the latent conflict between the development of the market economy and the exercise of citizens' rights (relative to quality of life). By the way, the exercise of these rights has been subordinated to the protection of the principle of economic entrepreneurship and the property right that exists over the exercise of my rights (10).

Rarely, an economic norm serves as support for the patrimonial defense, be it of a community or environmental nature. This occurs, paradoxically, as the consumption of cultural, rural or natural tourism (green tourism (11)) progresses and becomes more sophisticated. What represents a second threat, because sophistication often implies complexity, which means going from a mere spectator of reality to intervening and taking part in it, with the spirit of lord and owner.

This has been happening with the increasing industrialization of articles with "ecological seal (12)", and a myriad of products that promise to preserve our flora and fauna, and contribute to sustaining or preserving the environment (according to the needs and socio-economic development of the present). These strategies may seem like a simple way to provide information to consumers in their purchasing decisions, however, they suffer from serious underlying problems, which may rather contribute to deepening social differences that, in terms of quality of life, it is possible to observe in countries like ours.

First, it is impossible for us to establish objective and scientifically correct criteria for identifying "environmentally superior" products within a single selection category. Second, eco-labels erect a barrier to innovation for both environmental and other product properties. Third, ecological stamps teach consumers only to look for symbols and do not teach them to make informed purchase decisions, and this is a really important point, because if the environmental problem is systematically reduced to choice and consumption of certain products and services, the content of the discussion ends up being reified, restricting the field of action of the environmental protection discourse and further expanding the field of opportunity for producers and entrepreneurs. With this, it is clear that the market is not the solution to the problems facing the environment, and even less, the reification of everything that is part of our immediate environment.

The truth is that many of these strategies, far from nourishing the communities with content, end up dirtying the joint effort of a large number of initiatives that go in a relevant direction, that is, to create spaces for reflection on the importance of preserve (for future generations) and maintain a harmonious relationship with our natural environment, promoting changes in the state of personal, family and social consciousness, which favors the revision of public policies in these matters.

Finally, if our effort is focused on promoting the consumption of certain products and not, on giving meaning to the relationship with our mother earth, we will end up exacerbating even more the abysmal differences that society faces, transforming the environmental issue into a tool for Exclusion, which can only be accessed by those who have the necessary means to buy certain products or contract certain services.

In such a scenario, social segmentation threatens to acquire meaning, since quality of life is presented as an attractive pole of social development behind the windows of a commercial store, and in any case, as something susceptible to pecuniary appropriation. This does not solve or take care of the underlying problems that go through an adequate distribution of economic wealth generated by the same community and facilitating the field of opportunities, so that everyone can access, or at least aspire, freely and equally, at a certain level in their quality of life.

Adam Smith's harmony in dissent

Development was one of the great Latin American themes during the 50s and 70s of the last century. The strategies to achieve it were hotly debated, but today they are diluted like sugar in a glass of stormy water. In this first stage, the harmony with which Adam Smith describes bourgeois society through the myth of the market, generated a kind of inversion of human rights in the name of which he stepped over many of these.

Our environmental heritage is openly exposed to submit to the mechanics of the market (13), in which goods regardless of their importance, are not valued but are traded (14). However, in social matters, its rules serve as the basis for setting prices and salaries, increasing or decreasing the employment rate, pension coverage, the quality of the provision of certain services, as in the field of education. , health or housing, and even the destination that certain policies and public spending must have (such as, for example, in terms of environmental impact).

Despite this, the idea that the market is self-regulating prevails, that is, that in a free competition scenario there will be so many interrelated economic agents (supplier / demander, buyer / seller, provider / user or client) that none of them will be able to interfere with certainty about the price, salary or quality of a given good or service. And therefore, neither the social conditions nor the historical context of the place, or the consequences that certain governmental or business measures must have are directly relevant to determine the functioning of the market. Beyond that these aspects deserve deep reviews and raise deep questions.

However, it is easy to find cracks in this assumption. In the first place, because free competition is a race to achieve economic dominance or a dominant role over a certain market. Although it is true that every market is susceptible to the emergence of new players (who maintain a certain balance), we have been able to observe that over many economic activities, what currently prevail are colossal business organizations (consortia or corporations) that cover almost all of , the supply of goods or the provision of a certain service. By configuring an extensive control network (monopoly), which exceeds the application of market rules, and even the scope of local laws (see table 2).

Secondly, because when thinking about a self-regulating market, the possibility of risks is not ruled out, but it is assumed (expected) that financial institutions will be able to handle them adequately and in a timely manner. However, the 2008 crisis in the US financial system calls into question this second assumption. Risk management is based on the idea that the depth of the markets would allow an adequate and timely distribution of any threat. However, the close connection that exists between financial systems reveals that such depth is only apparent and that it is convenient to accept the presence of an open and global structure, which is fed by the infrastructure of local markets (its stability depends on the security of these local markets, according to the place they occupy in the larger structure, by the way).

Third, the globalization process, whatever its expression, demands that its actors develop a strong degree of responsibility and social commitment. In this sense, a market not only includes a particular economic scenario, but an infinity of situations and circumstances that will always generate repercussions on the living conditions of society. In other words, it cannot be claimed that society is governed by rules that do not take into account the basic needs and social conditions. The 1990s in Latin America taught us to look with distrust at the market economy, world GDP grew (see table 5) and yet the gap between rich and poor also increased, which raises serious doubts regarding the distribution of the property and this is nothing but a matter of justice and social equity.

Table 5: World GDP (1980 -2006)

Finally, the misunderstood principle of subsidiarity (15) on which the free market economy rests with the permission of some political sectors, reduces the strategic presence of the State, especially in terms of generating opportunities and social participation, reserving it to deal with moments of crisis. It is worth asking, if it is a task of the State to assume the burden of its partners? and What can you do if the funds you manage are insufficient (16)? Can you increase your debt? And What will happen when those who lend money no longer do so or demand too high an interest rate? Can you approve taxes ?, and What will happen when businesses say that this will cut their ability to create jobs ?, Can you reduce expenses? And in addition to the terrible pain that this inflicts on everyone, especially the most vulnerable, this action will also reduce the possibility of growth. One thing is for sure and that is that the market does not regulate itself, but with regard to particular and often shadowy interests.

Final reflection

In the midst of this scenario, the discourse of environmental protection erupts, as a sincere and concrete aspiration to consolidate a dignified treatment, especially in terms of heritage protection, which undoubtedly happens to generate instruments designed to equalize opportunities for social participation. On the other hand, it erupts as a kind of political exhaustion of the present economic discourse.

In this sense, how has our region responded? In recent years, the joint effort of civil society and sometimes the government consensus on the strategic importance of preserving the continent's natural resources has allowed us to organize an alternation bloc that was strongly consolidated in two recent moments. First, at the level of organizations and social movements, with the convocation by President Evo Morales, of the first World Conference of Peoples on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held last year in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia. Second, at the regional policy level, with the firm opposition of the delegations of the countries of the region, to lift and modify the moratorium on whaling (with a controlled quota) in the framework of the meeting of the International Commission on Hunting. de Ballenas, held in the city of Agadir, Morocco.

As noted, the strategic importance of preserving its main sources of natural resources for our continent is appreciated. In this sense, the dynamization of regional integration processes, in these last two decades, plays a crucial role since it is not only related to financial openness and the growth of international trade, but rather to a tendency to democratize from the field of social organization, those demands related to the management and defense of Human Rights, such as, for example, the preservation of the environment or the protection of cultural heritage.

As our countries enter a new stage in their bilateral or multilateral relations at the continental level, Civil Society begins to legitimize its interest in participating in aspects of the bioethics and biopolitical sphere, accentuating commitment and responsibility in intervention or interference by the governments of the day in such matters. However, the road ahead is still very long.

In short, the fact that large corporations control the circulation of cultural goods is due in a certain way to the early acceptance of a conceptual selection system, promoted by the industrial bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries, which promotes and legitimizes the appropriation and exploitation of scarce resources, based on a daily economic language, in which controlling these resources represents a prosperous business, aimed at achieving a maximization of profits from the production of services, minimizing the economic costs in said process to the maximum, although paradoxically this means that society as a whole must pay a high cost for it.

A clear example of this is the burgeoning energy market in the country. The growing interest in building hydroelectric, thermoelectric and nuclear power plants seems to show this.

The above and the complicity of the state apparatus, has allowed to monopolize the action of individuals and considerably reduce the field of participation of local communities and civil society organizations in these matters. It should be remembered, for example, that in 2008 the then president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, ratified in full and without interpretative declarations Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, adopted by the General Conference of the International Labor Organization. . This document seeks to vindicate the rights of the communities or peoples of origin in "democratic societies like ours." These rights are related to aspects as elementary as the one related to "the special importance that their relationship with the lands or territories has for the cultures and spiritual values ​​of the peoples concerned."

Despite the fact that this ratification establishes the existence of a special consultation procedure, in which indigenous community organizations have the right to demonstrate contrary to legislative or administrative measures that may affect their living conditions. The interference of these communities in the approval or rejection of numerous projects with environmental impact, has been of no importance since under the Organic Constitutional Environmental Law No. 19,300, many of these projects have been approved behind closed doors. As has happened with the approval of projects for the construction of hydroelectric plants in the south.

The complicity between state bodies and the business sector reaches such a degree that, in contradiction to the provisions of our legislation, countries like Denmark with the permission of the European Union, have authorized an annual catch quota for humpback whales - for the following three years - in Greenland, citing aboriginal subsistence purposes, despite the existence of strong evidence to show that aboriginal hunters have preserved this practice, with the aim of supplying processing companies and marketing their meat to restaurants and hotels.

However, the global debate around the preservation of our environmental heritage is spiraling upwards, generating new consensus that opens a space for participation to all those groups that are emerging as potential project identities (17), thus constituting a true Alternative global vision of natural resources as subject of rights.

As I have said, the road is long and uncertain, but as long as there is a sense of unity and belonging to the community organization, we will know how to face this tough task.

Cristhián G. Palma Bobadilla - Lawyer. Professor at the Institute of Arts, Sciences and Communication. IACC of the UNIACC University, Santiago, Chile


(1) Except for some cities where it has been successfully implemented, certain environmental and energy efficiency measures that have reduced emissions of CO2, water vapor, methane (CH4), nitrogen oxides (NOx), artificial chlorofluorocarbons , ozone pollution (O3) –one of the main problems in cities like Santiago de Chile-, lead and other substances and gases involved in the formation of greenhouse effect gases (GHG); as well as the generation of public policies that have been able to change people's behavior in favor of a healthy collective well-being. In this regard, two examples: the city of Hamburg in Germany - which this year received the European Green Capital 2011 award - and the city of Copenhagen in Denmark.

(2) Fiol, Ana (2001). State of the Media. Ownership and access to the media in the world. Latin American Journal of Communication Chasqui Nº 74.

(3) The same can be pointed out with respect to the atomization of one's own.

(4) For example, by naturalizing violence, abuse, lack of control, reckless behavior is promoted that damages the axiomatic balance of human relationships.

(5) Curious thing that this right from a legal perspective does not depend on the will of the associates. For these norms are followed or adopted by the imposition of an external external will, that of the creator of the norm - what is called the heteronomous nature of the norm.

(6) Hydroelectric plants (> 20MW) are classified as high environmental impact plants, therefore they are not considered as a renewable energy source.

(7) We have recently been able to hear a case in which SEREMI itself discredits the standard, and then unanimously approved a polluting project.

(8) In this regard, the OECD in a recent report indicates that in order to promote the use of clean energy it is necessary to stop the subsidy of polluting fuels. In Chile, such an idea would be impossible if a clear land use policy is not defined first and the energy matrix is ​​modified.

(9) It should be noted that the Kyoto protocol provides some formulas that may well encourage the development of these energies in countries of our region, but this has not been sufficiently used in countries like Chile.

(10) This, in accordance with Article 19 No. 21 of the Constitution, which protects "The right to develop any economic activity (...)". And to article 583 of the Civil Code, which recognizes that "on intangible things (rights) there is also a kind of property" (domain).

(11) Above the hotel tourism industry, traditional

(12) Which is based on the English standard that was officially published prior to the UN World Environment Meeting (ECO 92).

(13) It is said that the market is a scenario (physical or virtual) where a regulated set of transactions and exchanges of goods and services takes place between buying parties and selling parties that implies a degree of competition between participants based on the mechanism of offer and demand.

(14) That is, they are subject to a pecuniary appraisal.

(15) The principle of subsidiarity has its historical roots in the social doctrine of the church, it is based on the maximum respect for the right of self-determination or self-determination of each and every one of the members of a social structure and, in turn , is the foundation on which the entire building of that dynamic of socio-political interaction that we call participatory democracy is based. However, certain sectors of liberalism have managed to adapt this principle, and represent through it, the economic interests of exacerbated capitalism.

(16) Of course, there is a very great place to reduce expenses: the military. Military spending provides jobs but far less than if the money were used otherwise.

(17) Castells, Manuel (2001). The age of information. Vol. II: The power of identity. Mexico, Federal District: Siglo XXI Editores.


- Ana Fiol (2001). Ownership and access to the media in the world.

- Manuel Castells (2001). II: The power of identity.

- Frank J. Hinkelammert (2001). The subject and the law.

- Cesar Ross (2010). The dilemmas of democracy: economic modernization and social inequality in Latin America.

- César Jiménez and Jorge Muñoz (2006). Structure of the media in Chile.

Video: Matthew Lowery The Aporias of Late Capitalism: Cultural Commodification, Authenticity, and History (May 2022).