Monday, December 13, 2010

Itaipú Binacional: a miniature of biocivilization

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

In the global culture today, there is much widespread despair and bewilderment. We don't know where we're going. It's a blind flight into the unknown. Even more painful is the lack of an alternative to the current model that seeks great accumulation with a view to accelerated consumption, at the expense of the depletion of natural resources and generating glaring social injustices worldwide.

With the emerging "externalities" (global warming, resource scarcity, global imbalance of the Earth-system) the predominant feeling is that the world can not continue as is. We have to change. So, everywhere, there are new visions and, in particular, practices that give us back some hope that another world is possible and necessary. The new focus is on caring for life, saving humanity and the protection of planet Earth. What is to be born will be a biocivilización or a "land of good hope" (Ignacy Sachs).

And here in our country we find a miniature of the collective will, a small anticipation of what should be dominant in humanity: the "Cultivating Good Water" project of Itaipú Binacional in Foz do Iguaçú, in the state of Paraná.

There, through an agreement between Brazil and Paraguay, the world's largest hydropower plant has been built with a reservoir 176 kilometers long, where 19 billion cubic meters of water have been collected, used for 20 turbines that generate 14,000 megawatts.

What was the insight of its directors, Jorge Samek and Nelton Friedrich, even at the beginning of their administration in 2003? That water would not be used only for electricity production, but also to create all sorts of energy needed by the beings that are vitally dependent on it, especially humans.

So the "Cultivating Good Water" project was formed, that involves 29 cities around the area, in which close to a million people live, along with the raising of poultry and pigs, among the largest in the country. This is a highly complex project covering virtually every dimension of reality, resulting in a cultural revolution, since this is the purpose of the thousands of people carrying out the project. This is exactly what we need: a new civilizing attempt, tested in miniature, that is viable within the altered conditions on an Earth in the process of global warming and depletion of its resources. The motto says it all: "A new way of being for sustainability."

I've always said that sustainability was hijacked by the capitalist project, making it empty to keep it from being an alternative paradigm to it, which is inherently unsustainable. Freed from this captivity, it becomes the central value of a new civilizing arrangement that establishes a balanced relationship between human beings, nature, development and generational solidarity. In Itaipu, the establishment of this happy relationship has been achieved. They started correctly with community awareness. That is to say, they began with the expansion of consciousness, convening notable names in ecological thinking, such as F. Capra, Enrique Leff (UNEP-Latin America), Marcos Sorrentino, Carlos and Paulo Nobre among others. I myself have accompanied the project from its inception. They defined space not by the arbitrary limits of the municipalities but by the natural boundaries of watersheds. They involved all the communities, creating management committees for each river, legalized by the municipalities. Wisely, they realized that environmental education is the engine of change in being, feeling, producing and consuming. Is this not the inauguration of a cultural revolution? They trained several hundred environmental instructors, thus reaching thousands of people. A new generation is emerging that is looking for a sustainable way of living.

In the next article, I want to detail the wide range of activities from the use of solid waste to generate energy, to technological innovation with the electric car, research on hydrogen, the creation of the Centro de Saberes y Cuidados Ambientales (Center for Environmental Knowledge and Care) and the Universidad Federal de la Integración Latinoamericana (Federal University of Latin American Integration - UNILA).

Anyone who accompanies this project comes away with this certainty: that humankind can be rescued, there is a way, and it's possible, as Fernando Pessoa said, to create a world that has not yet been tried.

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