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John Celecia, expert in biodiversity

"The landscape is culture and wealth for the future"

John Celecia is an Argentinean living and working in Paris, where he is employed by the UNESCO to work as a biodiversity referee at the moment of declaring new biosphere reserves and work heritage. On the 2nd of December he visited Barcelona invited by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, to take part in meetings about the biodiversity management in Catalonia. Scientific secretary of the Margalef Environment Award, handed out by the Generalitat of Catalonia, Celecia distances himself much from the technicians in one crucial aspect: however worried he is, he always remains optimistic.

Jordi Montaner | 16 December 2009


Photo: John Celecia
What will be achieved at the Copenhagen summit? Don't tell me it will be a success …

We cannot ask this summit for miracles. In the proceeding summits, from Rio de Janeiro, neither important nor tangible changes have been registered. The politicians agree in travelling and discussing, in all appearing in the photograph; but something very different is to take measures. Pointless? Not really. Each time there is more pressure, more conscience. There is little progress, albeit irreversible.

The extinction of plant and animal species is also irreversible and will increase.
It is part of the natural history, of the selection Darwin taught us. There are species more likely to do so than others, and about what there is no doubt is that the human being has accelerated the extinction rhythm with its overpopulation and industrial activity. It is really a paradox, as well as the fact that humans will end up extinguished whilst flies or ants will survive which will also be paradoxical.

It also seems paradoxical that the idea of preserving nature and promote sustainability is only confined to Western culture.
We can afford to fight for a better environment and for a better life quality; but in other parts of the world they still have to win their struggle to simply survive. Hunger and thirst still linger in many places of our planet, too many.

But in many cases, hunger, thirst and diseases are the result of a bad management of the environment.
That is right, but it is about own countries where, to manage the resources well, money which isn't there is needed. Here in Europe, the Christmas celebrations urge us to buy things we don't need with money we don't have and for people we hardly relate to. Are we going to give lectures of how resources have to be managed in poor countries?
 
And what do we do?
First of all, teach that the landscape is culture and the efficient conservation of a coastline, a forest or mountain is wealth for the future. This is a premise without which we cannot grant the biosphere reserve status to a determined place and there are still many areas to protect. More paradoxes: many of these places are more threatened by the pressure of rich countries than by the precarious position of the countries who own the lands.
 
Tourism is turning the last living paradises into theme parks…
Unfortunately, the most protected areas are the less accessible ones.

Paul Ehrlich said that the expression "sustainable progress" is an oxymoron. 
I know Paul and I have often cited him in my environmental classes, but the correlation ‘more people=les environmental health' is not strictly true. In big European cities many positive changes are being made. The Man and Biosphere project has confirmed that cities such as Berlin or Copenhagen are worth ten points in sustainability. The Mediterranean cities, for having an urban structure that is much more antic and difficult to remake, are a bit behind. But the main concern is given in great metropolis from the so-called third world; their human activity could overwhelm London, New York, Chicago, Tokyo, Moscow or Los Angeles. I'm referring to Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bombay, Calcutta, El Cairo, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul, Manila or Jakarta; there is still much work to be done.

It could be that these cities 'progress' too much.
We need to feel responsible for their 'progress'. The globalization of the production. Consuming and commerce largely shape the environmental crisis of these cities.
As you write for scientists, I must insist that the technological and scientific community has to take conscience from their role in the environmental crisis of the third world.
Again it has to be insisted in tourism or industry to contribute to the development of the so-called emerging economies; but their impact on nature has to be regulated. The worst enemies of sustainability are greed and avarice.

You took part in the meeting Paremos la pérdida de la biodiversidad (Stop the biodiversity loss), which took place at the headquarters of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC).
It was a meeting organized by the Centro de Investigación Ecológica y Aplicaciones Forestales, attached to the  Autonomous University of Barcelona with the participation of the Societat Catalana de Biologia and the Institució Catalana d’Historia Natural. The chosen motto is the same as the one of an initiative adopted by the European states in 2001 and adopted by the European Commission in 2006, with the intention of adopting measures to stop the loss of biodiversity in 2010.

This is now.
I have to point out the good work of Josep Maria Mallarach and his team, as a very efficient management of the protected sites has been achieved here, and more important, the citizen's awareness. Let's put an example: each inhabitant of New York spends an average of 500 litres of water per year; in Barcelona 105 litres are not exceeded.  Not all goals have been reached, but there is some good news. The more environmentalist Catalans are the children and that is a very good omen for the future.

THE PARABLE OF THE CHAIR For Celecia, it is necessary to reconcile economy with environment, the public with the private and the cities with their natural surroundings. Therefore, he explains, we need more dialogue amongst all the implied sectors: society, politicians, scientists and industry. "We all know that a chair holds itself upright thanks to the perfect existing balance amongst its four legs; whilst the imbalance amongst them increases, the difficulties for us to sit on it will be major".

The life of the human beings would rest on four legs, four dimensions that have a perfect and dynamic balance amongst them: the individual dimension, the environmental, the social and the economic. "To live well means to integrate these dimensions, not to act partially; in Western societies for example, the economic dimension (numbers, statistics and financial resources) often pass in front of people and natural resources”.

Celecia complains that each time there are more inequalities between rich and poor, that society disintegrates and gives way to marginal or marginalized individuals, without connection with the natural systems or with the rest of living beings.

The relationship amongst the four bases of the chair, Celecia points out, have to be based in a reciprocal balance, integration: “To integrate today a certain artistic sense is required; the art of integration is nowadays more useful than ever."


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