Arquivo mensal: outubro 2012

Henry A. Giroux: Why Don’t Americans Care About Democracy at Home? (

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 13:47 – By Henry A GirouxTruthout | Op-Ed


(Photo: Lance Page / Truthout)“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”  – James Baldwin

Four decades of neoliberal policies have given way to an economic Darwinism that promotes a politics of cruelty. And its much vaunted ideology is taking over the United States.[1] As a theater of cruelty and mode of public pedagogy, economic Darwinism undermines all forms of solidarity capable of challenging market-driven values and social relations. At the same time, economic Darwinism promotes the virtues of an unbridled individualism that is almost pathological in its disdain for community, social responsibility, public values and the public good. As the welfare state is dismantled and spending is cut to the point where government becomes unrecognizable – except to promote policies that benefit the rich, corporations and the defense industry – the already weakened federal and state governments are increasingly replaced by the harsh realities of the punishing state and what João Biehl has called proliferating “zones of social abandonment” and “terminal exclusion.”[2]

To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

One consequence is that social problems are increasingly criminalized, while social protections are either eliminated or fatally weakened. Another result of this crushing form of economic Darwinism is that it thrives on a kind of social amnesia that erases critical thought, historical analyses and any understanding of broader systemic relations. In this instance, it does the opposite of critical memory work by eliminating those public spheres where people learn to translate private troubles into public issues. That is, it breaks “the link between public agendas and private worries, the very hub of the democratic process.”[3] Once set in motion, economic Darwinism unleashes a mode of thinking in which social problems are reduced to individual flaws and political considerations collapse into the injurious and self-indicting discourse of character. As George Lakoff and Glenn Smith argue, the anti-public philosophy of economic Darwinism makes a parody of democracy by defining freedom as “the liberty to seek one’s own interests and well-being, without being responsible for the interests or well-being of anyone else. It’s a morality of personal, but not social, responsibility. The only freedom you should have is what you can provide for yourself, not what the Public provides for you to start out.”[4] Put simply, we alone become responsible for the problems we confront when we can no longer conceive how larger forces control or constrain our choices and the lives we are destined to lead.

Yet, the harsh values and practices of this new social order are visible – in the increasing incarceration of young people, the modeling of public schools after prisons, state violence waged against peaceful student protesters and state policies that bail out investment bankers but leave the middle and working classes in a state of poverty, despair and insecurity. Such values are also evident in the GOP Social-Darwinist budget plan that rewards the rich and cuts aid for those who need it the most. For instance, the Romney/Ryan budget plan “proposes to cut the taxes of households earning over $1 million by an average of $295,874 a year,”[5] but at a cruel cost to those most disadvantaged populations who rely on social programs. In order to pay for tax reductions that benefit the rich, the Romney/Ryan budget would cut funds for food stamps, Pell grants, health care benefits, unemployment insurance, veterans’ benefits and other crucial social programs.[6] As Paul Krugman has argued, the Ryan budget “isn’t just looking for ways to save money [it’s] also trying to make life harder for the poor – for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, [Ryan] declared, ‘We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.'”[7] Krugman rightly replies, “I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.”[8] As an extremist version of neoliberalism, Ryanomics is especially vicious towards American children, 16.1 million of whom currently live in poverty. Marian Wright Edelman captures the harshness and savagery of the Ryan budget passed in the House of Representatives. She writes:

Ryanomics is an all out assault on our poorest children while asking not a dime of sacrifice from the richest 2 percent of Americans or from wealthy corporations. Ryanomics slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from child and family nutrition, health, child care, education and child protection services, in order to extend and add to the massive Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires at a taxpayer cost of $5 trillion over 10 years. On top of making the Bush tax cuts permanent, the top income bracket would get an additional 10 percent tax cut. Millionaires and billionaires would on average keep at least an additional quarter of a million dollars each year and possibly as much as $400,000 a year according to the Citizens for Tax Justice.[9]

Under the euphemism of a politics of austerity, we are witnessing not only widespread cuts in vital infrastructures, education and social protections, but also the emergence of policies produced in the spirit of revenge aimed at the poor, the elderly and others marginalized by race and class. As Robert Reich, Charles Ferguson, and a host of recent commentators have pointed out, this extreme concentration of power in every commanding institution of society promotes predatory practices and rewards sociopathic behavior. Such a system creates an authoritarian class of corporate and hedge-fund swindlers that reaps its own profits by

placing big bets with other people’s money. The winners in this system are top Wall Street executives and traders, private-equity managers and hedge-fund moguls, and the losers are most of the rest of us. The system is largely responsible for the greatest concentration of the nation’s income and wealth at the very top since the Gilded Age of the 19th century, with the richest 400 Americans owning as much as the bottom 150 million put together. And these multimillionaires and billionaires are now actively buying the 2012 election – and with it, American democracy.[10]

Unfortunately, the American public has remained largely silent, if not also complicitous with the rise of a neoliberal version of authoritarianism. While young people have started to challenge this politics and machinery of corruption, war, violence and death, they represent a small and marginalized part of the movement that will be necessary to initiate massive collective resistance to the aggressive violence being waged against all those public spheres that further the promise of democracy in the United States. The actions of student protesters and others have been crucial in drawing public attention to the constellation of forces that are pushing the United States into what Hannah Arendt called “dark times.” The questions now being asked must be seen as the first step toward exposing dire social and political costs of concentrating wealth, income and power into the hands of the upper one percent.

Neoliberal Ideology and the Rhetoric of Freedom

In addition to amassing ever expanding amounts of material wealth, the rich now control the means of schooling and education in the United States. They have disinvested in critical education, while reproducing notions of common sense that incessantly replicate the basic values, ideas and relations necessary to sustain the institutions of economic Darwinism. Both parties support educational reforms that increase conceptual illiteracy. Critical learning is now reduced to mastering test-taking, memorizing facts, and learning how not to question knowledge and authority. This type of rote pedagogy, as Zygmunt Bauman points out, is “the most effective prescription for grinding communication to a halt and for [robbing] it of the presumption and expectation of meaningfulness and sense.”[11]

This type of market-driven illiteracy has eviscerated the notion of freedom, turning it largely into the desire to consume and invest exclusively in relationships that serve only one’s individual interests. Citizens are treated by the political and economic elite as restless children and are “invited daily to convert the practice of citizenship into the art of shopping.”[12] Shallow consumerism coupled with an indifference to the needs and suffering of others has produced a politics of disengagement and a culture of moral irresponsibility. Language has been stripped of the terms, phrases and ideas that embrace a concern for the other. With meaning utterly privatized, words are reduced to signifiers that mimic spectacles of violence, designed to provide entertainment rather than thoughtful analysis. Sentiments circulating in the dominant culture parade either idiocy or a survival-of-the-fittest ethic, while anti-public rhetoric strips society of the knowledge and values necessary for the development of a democratically engaged and socially responsible public.

In such circumstances, freedom has truly morphed into its opposite. Neoliberal ideology has construed as pathological any notion that in a healthy society people depend on each other in multiple, complex, direct and indirect ways. As Lewis Lapham points out, “Citizens are no longer held in thoughtful regard … just as thinking and acting are removed from acts of public conscience.”[13] Economic Darwinism has produced a legitimating ideology in which the conditions for critical inquiry, moral responsibility and social and economic justice disappear. The result is that neoliberal ideology increasingly resembles a call to war that turns the principles of democracy against democracy itself. Americans now live in an atomized and pulverized society, “spattered with the debris of broken interhuman bonds”[14] in which “democracy becomes a perishable commodity”[15] and all things public are viewed with disdain. Increasingly, it appears the only bond holding American society together is a perverse collective death-drive.

Neoliberal Governance

At the level of governance, neoliberalism has turned politics into a tawdry form of money laundering in which the spaces and registers that circulate power are controlled by those who have amassed large amounts of capital. Elections, like mainstream politicians, are now bought and sold to the highest bidder. In the Senate and House of Representatives, 47 percent are millionaires and the “estimated median net worth of a current U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.56 million while the median net worth of members of Congress is $913,000.”[16] Elected representatives no longer do the bidding of the people who elect them. Rather, they are now largely influenced by the demands of lobbyists who have enormous clout in promoting the interests of the elite, financial services and mega corporations. Currently, there are just over 14,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, DC, which amounts to approximately 23 lobbyists for every member of Congress. Although the number of lobbyists has steadily increased by about 20 percent since 1998, the Center for Responsive Politics found that “total spending on lobbying the federal government has almost tripled since 1998, to $3.3 billion.”[17] As Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger succinctly put it, “A radical minority of the superrich has gained ascendency over politics, buying the policies, laws, tax breaks, subsidies and rules that consolidate a permanent state of vast inequality by which they can further help themselves to America’s wealth and resources.”[18] Democratic governance has been replaced by the sovereignty of the market, paving the way for modes of governance intent on transforming democratic citizens into entrepreneurial agents. The language of the market and business culture have now almost entirely supplanted any celebration of the public good or the calls to enhance civil society characteristic of past generations.

Neoliberal governance has produced an economy and a political system almost entirely controlled by the rich and powerful – what a Citigroup report called a “Plutonomy,” an economy powered by the wealthy.[19] These plutocrats are what I have called the new zombies sucking the resources out of the planet and the rest of us in order to strengthen their grasp on political and economic power and fuel their exorbitant lifestyles. Policies are now enacted that provide massive tax cuts to the rich and generous subsidies to banks and corporations – alongside massive disinvestments in job creation programs, the building of critical infrastructures and the development of crucial social programs, which range from health care to school meal programs for disadvantaged children. In reality, the massive disinvestment in schools, social programs and an aging infrastructure is not about a lack of money. The real problem stems from government priorities that inform both how the money is collected and how it is spent.[20] Over 60 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, while only 6 percent is allocated toward education. The US spends more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies and only $59 billion on social welfare programs.[21] John Cavanagh has estimated that if there were a tiny tax imposed on Wall Street “stock and derivatives transactions,” the government could raise $150 billion annually.[22] In addition, if the tax code were adjusted in a fair manner to tax the wealthy, another $79 billion could be raised. Finally, Cavanagh points out that $100 billion in tax income is lost annually through tax haven abuse; proper regulation would make it costly for corporations to declare “their profits in overseas tax havens like the Cayman Islands.”[23]

At the same time, the financialization of the economy and culture has resulted in the poisonous growth of monopoly power, predatory lending, abusive credit card practices and misuses of CEO pay. The false but central neoliberal tenet that markets can solve all of society’s problems has no way of limiting the power of money and has given rise to “a politics in which policies that favor the rich … have allowed the financial sector to amass vast economic and political power.”[24] As Joseph Stiglitz points out, there is more at work in this form of governance than a pandering to the wealthy and powerful: There is also the specter of an authoritarian society “where people live in gated communities,” large segments of the population are impoverished or locked up in prison and Americans live in a state of constant fear as they face growing “economic insecurity, health care insecurity [and] a sense of physical insecurity.”[25] In other words, the authoritarian nature of neoliberal political governance and economic power is also visible in the rise of a national security state in which civil liberties are being drastically abridged and violated.

As the war on terror becomes a normalized state of existence, the most basic rights available to American citizens are being shredded. The spirit of revenge, militarization and fear now permeates the discourse of national security. For instance, under Presidents Bush and Obama, the idea of habeas corpus with its guarantee that prisoners have minimal rights has given way to policies of indefinite detention, abductions, targeted assassinations, drone killings and an expanding state surveillance apparatus. The Obama administration has designated 46 inmates for indefinite detention at Guantanamo because, according to the government, they can be neither tried nor safely released. Moreover, another “167 men now confined at Guantanamo … have been cleared for release yet remain at the facility.”[26]

With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, the rule of legal illegalities has been extended to threaten the lives and rights of US citizens. The law authorizes military detention of individuals who are suspected of belonging not only to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda but to “associated forces.” As Glenn Greenwald points out, this “grants the president the power to indefinitely detain in military custody not only accused terrorists, but also their supporters, all without charges or trial.”[27] The vagueness of the law allows the possibility of subjecting US citizens who are considered in violation of the law to indefinite detention. Of course, that might include journalists, writers, intellectuals and anyone else who might be accused because of their dealings with alleged terrorists. Fortunately, US District Judge Katherine Forrest of New York agreed with Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and other writers who have challenged the legality of the law. Judge Forrest recently acknowledged the unconstitutionality of the law and ruled in favor of a preliminary barring of the enforcement of the National Defense Authorization Act.[28]

The anti-democratic practices at work in the Obama administration also include the US government’s use of state secrecy to provide a cover or prevent being embarrassed by practices that range from the illegal use of torture to the abduction of innocent foreign nationals. Under the rubric of national security, a shadow state has emerged that eschews transparency and commits unlawful acts. Given the power of the government to engage in a range of illegalities and to make them disappear through an appeal to state secrecy, it should come as no surprise that warrantless wiretapping, justified in the name of national security, is on the rise at both the federal and state levels. For instance, the New York City Police Department “implemented surveillance programs that violate the civil liberties of that city’s Muslim-American citizens [by infiltrating] mosques and universities [and] collecting information on individuals suspected of no crimes.”[29] And the American public barely acknowledged this shocking abuse of power. Such anti-democratic policies and practices have become the new norm in American society and reveal a frightening and dangerous move toward a 21st century version of authoritarianism.

Neoliberalism as the New Lingua Franca of Cruelty

The harsh realities of a society defined by the imperatives of punishment, cruelty, militarism, secrecy and exclusion can also be seen in the emergence of a growing rhetoric of insult, humiliation and slander. Teachers are referred to as welfare queens by right-wing pundits; conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Michael J. Fox was “faking” the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when he appeared in a political ad for Democrat Claire McCaskill; and the public is routinely treated to racist comments, slurs and insults about Barack Obama by a host of shock jocks, politicians and even one federal judge.[30] Poverty is not only seen as a personal failing, it has become the object of abuse, fear and loathing. Poor people, rather than poverty, are now the problem, because the poor, as right-wing ideologues never fail to remind us, are lazy (and after all how could they be poor since they own TVs and cell phones). Racism, cruelty, insults and the discourse of humiliation are now packaged in a mindless rhetoric that is as unapologetic as it is ruthless – and has become the new lingua franca of public exchange.

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney echoed the harshness of the new lingua franca of cruelty when asked recently about the government’s responsibility to 50 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Incredibly, Romney said they already have access to health care because they can go to hospital emergency rooms. In response, a New York Times editorial pointed out that emergency room care “is the most expensive and least effective way of providing care” and such a remark “reeks of contempt for those left behind by the current insurance system, suggesting that they must suffer with illness until the point where they need an ambulance.”[31] Indifferent to the health care needs of the poor and middle class, Romney also conveniently forgets that, as indicated in a Harvard University study, “more than 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the cost of overwhelming medical expenses.”[32] The new lingua franca of cruelty and its politics of disposability are on full display here. To paraphrase Hannah Arendt, we live in a time when revenge has become the cure-all for most of our social and economic ills.

Neoliberalism and the Retreat from Ethical Considerations

Not only does neoliberal rationality believe in the ability of markets to solve all problems, it also removes economics and markets from ethical considerations. Economic growth, rather than social needs, drives politics. Long-term investments are replaced by short-term gains and profits, while compassion is viewed as a weakness and democratic public values are scorned because they subordinate market considerations to the common good. As the language of privatization, deregulation and commodification replaces the discourse of social responsibility, all things public – including public schools, libraries, transportation systems, crucial infrastructures and public services – are viewed either as a drain on the market or as a pathology.[33] Greed is now championed because it allegedly drives innovation and creates jobs. Massive disparities in income and wealth are celebrated as a justification for embracing a survival-of-the-fittest ethic and paying homage to a ruthless mode of unbridled individualism.

Morality in this instance becomes empty, stripped of any obligations to the other. How else to explain Mitt Romney’s gaffe caught on video in which he derided “47 percent of the people [who] will vote for the president no matter what?”[34] There was more at work here than what some have called “the killing of the American dream” or simply a cynical political admission by Romney that some voting blocs do not matter. [35]Romney’s comments about those 47 percent of adult Americans who don’t pay income taxes for one reason or another, whom he described as “people who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,”[36] makes clear that a politics of disposability is central to the extreme right-wing philosophy of those who control the Congress and are vying for the presidency. Paul Krugman is on target in arguing that in spite of massive suffering caused by the economic recession – a recession that produced “once-unthinkable levels of economic distress” – there is “growing evidence that our governing elite just doesn’t care.”[37] Of course, Krugman is not suggesting that if the corporate and financial elite cared the predatory nature of capitalism would be transformed. Rather, he is suggesting that economic Darwinism leaves no room for compassion or ethical considerations, which makes it use of power much worse than more liberal models of a market-based society.

Politics of Disposability and the Breakdown of American Democracy

The not-so-hidden order of politics underlying the second Gilded Age and its heartless version of economic Darwinism is that some populations, primarily the elderly, young people, the unemployed, immigrants and poor whites and minorities of color, now constitute a form of human waste or excess. The politics of disposability delineates these populations as unworthy of investment or of sharing in the rights, benefits and protections of a substantive democracy.[38] What is particularly disturbing is how little opposition among there is among the American public to this view of particular social groups as disposable – this, perhaps more than anything else, signals the presence of a rising authoritarianism in the United States. Left unchecked, economic Darwinism will not only destroy the social fabric and undermine democracy; it will also ensure the marginalization and eventual elimination of those intellectuals willing to fight for public values, rights, spaces and institutions not wedded to the logic of privatization, commodification, deregulation, militarization, hyper-masculinity and a ruthless “competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive.”[39] Clearly, this new politics of disposability and culture of cruelty will wreak destruction in ways not yet imaginable, despite the horrific outcomes of the economic and financial crisis brought on by economic Darwinism. All evidence suggests a new reality is unfolding, one that is characterized by a deeply rooted crisis of education, agency and social responsibility.

Under such circumstances, to paraphrase C. Wright Mills, we are seeing the breakdown of democracy, the disappearance of critical intellectuals, and “the collapse of those public spheres which offer a sense of critical agency and social imagination.”[40] Since the 1970s, we have witnessed the forces of market fundamentalism attempt to strip education of its public values, critical content and civic responsibilities as part of a broader goal to create new subjects wedded to the logic of privatization, efficiency, flexibility, consumerism and the destruction of the social state. Today, neoliberalism’s ascendency has made the educational force of culture toxic, while educational institutions – whether in public or higher education – have all but transformed from promoting the public good to affirming private interests.

Encountering an onslaught of neoliberal ideology from all sides, it becomes increasingly difficult for the larger public to hold on to ideas that affirm social justice, community and those public values central to the cultural and political life of an aspiring democracy. Within both formal education and the educational force of the broader cultural apparatus – with its networks of knowledge production in the old and new media – we are witnessing the emergence and dominance of a powerful and ruthless market-driven notion of politics, governance, teaching, learning, freedom, agency and responsibility. Such modes of education do not foster a sense of organized responsibility central to a healthy democracy. Instead, they foster what I have referred to in the past as a sense of organized irresponsibility – a practice that underlies the economic Darwinism, public pedagogy and corruption at the heart of both the current recession and American politics.

Beyond Neoliberal Mis-Education

The anti-democratic practices that drive free-market fundamentalism are increasingly evident in the neoliberal framing of public and higher education as a corporate-based sector that embraces commodifying the curriculum, supporting top-down management, implementing more courses that promote business values and reducing all spheres of education to job training sites. As universities turn toward corporate management models, they increasingly use and exploit cheap faculty labor. In fact, many colleges and universities are drawing more and more upon adjunct and non-tenured faculty, many of whom occupy the status of indentured servants who are overworked, lack benefits, receive little or no support and are paid salaries that qualify them for food stamps.[41] Students are buried under huge debts that are celebrated by the debt collection industry that is cashing in on their misfortune. Jerry Aston, one member of the industry, wrote in a column after witnessing a protest rally by students criticizing their mounting debt that “I couldn’t believe the accumulated wealth they represent – for our industry.”[42]

There is more at work here than infusing market values into every aspect of higher education. There is also a full-fledged assault on the very notion of public goods, democratic public spheres and the role of education in creating an informed citizenry. When Rick Santorum argued that intellectuals were not wanted in the Republican Party, he was mimicking what has become common sense in a society wedded to narrow instrumental values and various modes of fundamentalism. Critical thinking and a literate public have become dangerous to those who want to celebrate orthodoxy over dialogue, emotion over reason and ideological certainty over thoughtfulness. Hannah Arendt’s warning that “it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think”[43] at the heart of authoritarian regimes is now embraced as a fundamental tenet of Republican Party politics.

In the United States, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education, but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university. Decreased financial support for higher education stands in sharp contrast to increased support for tax benefits for the rich, financial industries and corporations. Rather than strengthen civic imagination among students, public universities are wedded more and more to the logic of profitability, to producing students as useful machines and to a form of education that promotes a “technically trained docility.”[44]

Universities and colleges have been largely abandoned as democratic public spheres dedicated to providing a public service, expanding upon humankind’s great intellectual and cultural achievements and educating future generations to be able to confront the challenges of a global democracy. As a core political and civic institution, higher education rarely appears any longer to be committed to addressing important social problems. Instead, many universities and colleges have become unapologetic accomplices to corporate values and power, and in doing so increasingly make social problems either irrelevant or invisible. Just as democracy appears to be fading in the United States, so is the legacy of higher education’s faith in and commitment to democracy.

Unfortunately, one measure of this disinvestment in higher education as a public good can be seen in the fact that many states such as California are spending more on prisons than on higher education.[45] Educating low income and poor minorities to be engaged citizens has been undermined by an unholy alliance of law-and-order conservatives, private prison corporations and prison guard unions along with the rise of the punishing state, all of whom have more of a vested interest in locking people up than educating them. It is no coincidence that as the US disinvests in the institutions fundamental to a democracy, it has invested heavily in those apparatuses that propel the rise of the prison-industrial complex and the punishing-surveillance state. The social costs of prioritizing punishing over education is clear in one shocking statistic provided by a recent study that stated “by age 23, almost a third of Americans or 30.2 percent have been arrested for a crime…. Researchers say [this] is a measure of growing exposure to the criminal justice system in everyday life.”[46]

The assault on the university is symptomatic of the deep educational and political crisis facing the United States. It is but one lens through which to recognize that the future of democracy depends on achieving the educational and ethical standards of the society we inhabit.[47] Political, moral, and social indifference is the result, in part, of a public that is increasingly constituted within an educational landscape that reduces thinking to a burden and celebrates civic illiteracy as foundational for negotiating a society in which moral disengagement and political corruption go hand in hand.[48]

This collapse on the part of the American public into a political and moral coma is induced, in part, by an ever expanding mass mediated celebrity culture that trades in hype and sensation. It is also accentuated by a governmental apparatus that sanctions modes of training that undermine any viable notion of critical schooling and public pedagogy. While there is much being written about how unfair the left is to the Obama administration, what is often forgotten by these liberal critics is that Obama has virtually aligned himself with educational practices and policies that are as instrumentalist and anti-intellectual as they are politically reactionary and therein lies one viable reason for not supporting his candidacy.[49]What liberals refuse to entertain is that the left is correct in attacking Obama for his cowardly retreat from a number of progressive issues and his dastardly undermining of civil liberties. In fact, they do not go far enough in their criticisms. Often even progressives miss that Obama’s views on what type of formative educational culture is necessary to create critically engaged and socially responsible citizens is utterly reactionary and provides no space for the nurturance of a radically democratic imagination. Hence, while liberals point to some of Obama’s progressive policies – often in a new age discourse that betrays their own supine moralism – in making a case for his re-election, they fail to acknowledge that Obama’s educational policies do nothing to contest, and are aligned with, his weak-willed compromises and authoritarian policies. In other words, Obama’s educational commitments undermine the creation of a formative culture capable of questioning authoritarian ideas, modes of governance and reactionary policies. The question is not whether he is slightly less repugnant than Romney. On the contrary, it is about how the left should engage politics in a more robust and democratic way by imagining what it would mean to work collectively and with “slow impatience” for a new political order outside of the current moderate and extreme right-wing politics and the debased, uncritical educational apparatus that supports it.

The Role of Critical Education

One way of challenging the new authoritarianism is to reclaim the relationship between critical education and social change. Education both in and out of schools is the bedrock for the formative culture necessary to create not only a literate public but also a public willing to fight for its capacity to hold power accountable and to participate in the decisions and institutions that shape its everyday existence. The question of what kind of subjects and modes of individual and social agency are necessary for a democracy to survive appears more crucial now than ever before, and this is a question that places matters of education, pedagogy and culture at the center of any understanding of politics. We live at a time when the American people appear to have no interest in democracy – beyond the four-year ritual performance of voting, and even this act fails to attract a robust majority of citizens. The term has been emptied of any viable meaning, hijacked by political scoundrels, corporate elites and the advertising industry. The passion that democracy exhibits as an ongoing struggle for rights, justice and a future of hope has been transmuted into a misplaced desire to shop, fulfill the pleasure quotient in spectacles of violence and misappropriate the language of democracy to deploy it as a rationale for racist actions against immigrants, Muslims and poor minorities of color and class.

Clearly, as the Occupy Movement and other youth movements around the world have demonstrated, the time has come not only to redefine the promise of democracy but also to challenge those who have poisoned its meaning. We have already witnessed such a challenge by protest movements both at home and abroad in which the struggle over education has become one of the most powerful fulcrums for addressing the detrimental effects of neoliberalism. What these struggles, particularly by young people, have in common is the attempt to merge the powers of persuasion and critical, civic literacy with the power of social movements to activate and mobilize real change. They are recovering a notion of the social and reclaiming a kind of humanity that should inspire and inform our collective willingness to imagine what a real democracy might look like. The political philosopher, Cornelius Castoriadis, rightly argues that “people need to be educated for democracy by not only expanding the capacities that enable them to assume public responsibility but also through active participation in the very process of governing.”[50] The current attack on democracy is directly linked to a systemic destruction of all those public spheres that expand the power of the imagination, critical inquiry, thoughtful exchange and the formative culture that makes critical education and an engaged citizenry dangerous to fundamentalists of all ideological stripes.

As the crucial lens through which to create the formative culture in which politics and power can be made visible and held accountable, pedagogy plays a central role. But as Archon Fung points out, criticism is not the only public responsibility of intellectuals, artists, journalists, educators and others who engage in critical pedagogical practices. “Intellectuals can also join citizens – and sometimes governments – to construct a world that is more just and democratic. One such constructive role is aiding popular movements and organizations in their efforts to advance justice and democracy.”[51] In this instance, understanding must be linked to the practice of social responsibility and the willingness to fashion a politics that addresses real problems and enacts concrete solutions. As Heather Gautney points out:

We need to start thinking seriously about what kind of political system we really want. And we need to start pressing for things that our politicians did not discuss at the conventions. Real solutions – like universal education, debt forgiveness, wealth redistribution and participatory political structures – that would empower us to decide together what’s best. Not who’s best.[52]

Critical thinking divorced from action is often as sterile as action divorced from critical theory. Given the urgency of the historical moment, we need a politics and a public pedagogy which make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical and transformative. Or as Stuart Hall argues, we need to produce modes of analyses and knowledge in which “people can invest something of themselves … something that they recognize is of them or speaks to their condition.”[53]

I want to conclude by quoting from James Baldwin, a courageous writer who refused to let the hope of democracy die in his lifetime and who offered that mix of politics, passion and courage that deserves not just admiration but emulation. His sense of rage was grounded in a working-class sensibility, eloquence and passion that illuminates a higher standard for what it means to be a public intellectual and an engaged intellectual. His words capture something that is missing from the American cultural and political landscape, something affirmative that needs to be seized upon, rethought, and occupied – as part of both the fight against the new authoritarianism and its cynical, dangerous and cruel practices, and the struggle to reclaim a notion of justice and mutuality that seems to be dying in all of us. In “The Fire Next Time,” Baldwin writes:

One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places…. For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.


Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, [i]Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction,[/i] (Oxford University Press, 2010). Juliet B. Schor,[i] Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth[/i](New York: Penguin Press, 2010); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Against the Terror of Neoliberalism[/i] (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey,[i] A Brief History of Neoliberalism[/i] (New York: Oxford Press, 2005); John and Jean Comaroff, eds. [i]Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism[/i]  (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). On the moral limits and failings of neoliberalism, see Michael J. Sandel, [i] What Money Can’t Buy[/i] (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) and for positing a case for neoliberalism as a criminal enterprise, see Jeff Madrick,[i] Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present [/i](New York: Vintage, 2011); Charles Ferguson, [i]Predator Nation [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Henry A. Giroux, [i]Zombie Politics in the Age of Casino Capitalism[/i] (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

João Biehl, [i]Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment [/i](Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005). These zones are also brilliantly analyzed in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, [i]Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt [/i](New York: Knopf, 2012).

Zygmunt Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything? (And in Case It Does, What Is It?)” [i]Truthout [/i](January 21, 2011). Online:;view=item&id=73:does-democracy-still-mean-anything-and-in-case-it-does-what-is-it

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” The Berkeley Blog (August 23, 2012). Online:


Robert Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age” [i]Truthout [/i](July 2, 2012). Online:

David Theo Goldberg, “The Taxing Terms of the GOP Plan Invite Class Carnage,” (September 20, 2012). Online:

Paul Krugman,”Galt, gold and God,” [i]The New York Times, [/i](August 23, 2012), p. A25.

8. Ibid.

 Marian Wright Edelman,”Ryanomics Assault on Poor and Hungry Children,” [i]Huffington Post [/i](September 14, 2012). Online:

10. Reich,”Mitt Romney and the New Gilded Age,”; Charles Ferguson, [i]Predatory Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America [/i](New York: Crown Business, 2012); Daisy Grewal,”How Wealth Reduces Compassion: As Riches Grow, Empathy for Others Seems to Decline,”[i] Scientific American[/i](April 10, 2012). Online:

Bauman,”Does ‘Democracy’ Still Mean Anything?”

Lewis H. Lapham,”Feast of Fools: How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy,” [i]Truthout[/i] (September 20, 2012). Online:


Zygmunt Bauman, [i]This is Not a Diary[/i] (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), p. 102.

15. Lapham,”Feast of Fools,”

16. Eric Lichtblau,”Economic Downturn Took a Detour at Capitol Hill,” [i]The New York Times[/i] (December 26, 2011). Online:

17. Peter Grier,”So Much Money, So Few Lobbyists in D.C.: How Does the Math Work?” [i]DC Decoder[/i] (February 24, 2012). Online:

Bill Moyers and Bernard Weisberger,”Money in Politics: Where is the Outrage?” [i]Huffington Post [/i](August 30, 2012). Online:

It is difficult to access this study because Citigroup does its best to make it disappear from the Internet. See the discussion of it by Noam Chomsky in”Plutonomy and the Precariat: On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline,”[i] Truthdig [/i](May 8, 2012). Online:

Salvatore Babones,”To End the Jobs Recession, Invest an Extra $20 Billion in Public Education,” [i]Truthout [/i](August 21, 2012). Online:$20-billion-in-public-education

John Atcheson,”The Real Welfare Problem: Government Giveaways to the Corporate 1%,” [i]Common  Dreams [/i](September 3, 2012). Online:

John Cavanagh,”Seven Ways to End the Deficit (Without Throwing Grandma Under the Bus),” [i]Yes! Magazine [/i](September 7, 2012). Online:


Joseph Stiglitz,”Politics Is at the Root of the Problem,” [i]European Magazine[/i](April 23, 2012). Online:

Lynn Parramore,”Exclusive Interview: Joseph Stiglitz Sees Terrifying Future for America If We Don’t Reverse Inequality,” [i]AlterNet [/i](June 24, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”America’s Detainee Problem,” [i]Los Angeles Times [/i](September 23, 2012). Online:

Glenn Greenwald,”Unlike Afghan Leaders, Obama Fights for Power of Indefinite Military Detention,” [i]The Guardian[/i] (September 18, 2012). Online: See also, Glenn Greenwald,”Federal Court Enjoins NDAA,” [i]Salon[/i] (May 16, 2012). Online: . See also, Henry A. Giroux, [i]Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror[/i](BoulderParadigm 2010).

Charlie Savage,”Judge Rules against Law on Indefinite Detention,” [i]New York Times [/i](September 12, 2012). Online:

Karen J. Greenberg,”Ever More and Ever Less,” [i]TomDispatch[/i] (March 18, 2012). Online:

Catherine Poe,”Federal Judge Emails Racist Joke about President Obama,” [i]Washington Times [/i](March 1, 2012). Online:

Editorial,”Why Romney Is Slipping,” [i]New York Times[/i] (September 25, 2012), p. A20.

Brennan Keller,”Medical Expenses: Top Cause of Bankruptcy in the United States,” [i]Give Forward[/i] (October 13, 2011). Online:

George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith,”Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” [i]Berkeley Blog [/i](August 23, 2012). Online:

David Corn, “Secret Video: Romney Tells Millionaire Donors What He Really Thinks of Obama Voters,” [i]Mother Jones[/i] (September 17, 2012). Online:

Naomi Wolf,”How the Mitt Romney Video Killed the American Dream,” [i]The Guardian [/i](September 21, 2012). Online:

Corn,”Secret Video,”

Paul Krugman,”Defining Prosperity Down,” [i]New York Times [/i](August 1, 2010), p. A17.

Zygmunt Bauman is the most important theorist writing about the politics of disposability.  Among his many books, see [i]Wasted Lives [/i](London: Polity Press, 2004).

Robert Reich,”The Rebirth of Social Darwinism,” [i]Robert Reich’s Blog[/i](November 30, 2011). Online:

C. Wright Mills, [i]The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills [/i](New York:OxfordUniversity Press, 2008), p. 200.

Hart Research Associates, [i]American Academics: Survey of Part Time and Adjunct Higher Education Faculty[/i] (Washington, D.C.: AFT, 2011). Online: Street, Maria Maisto, Esther Merves, and Gary  Rhoades, [i]Who Is Professor “Staff” and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?[/i] (Los Angeles: Center for the Future of Higher Education, 2012). Online:

Andrew Martin and Andrew W. Lehren,”A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” [i]New York Times [/i](May 12, 2012), p. A1.

Cited in Richard J. Bernstein, [i]The Abuse of Evil: The Corruption of Politics and Religion since 9/11[/i] (London: Polity Press, 2005), pp. 7-8.

Martha C. Nussbaum,[i] Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs The Humanities[/i](New Jersey:PrincetonUniversity Press, 2010), p. 142.

45. Les Leopold,”Crazy Country: 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than On Higher Education,” [i]Alternet[/i] (August 27, 2012). Online On this issue, see also the classic work by Angela Y. Davis, [i]Are Prisons Obsolete?[/i] (New York: Open Media, 2003); and Michelle Alexander, [i]The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [/i](New York: New Press, 2012).

Erica Goode,”Many in U.S. Are Arrested by Age 23, Study Finds,” New York Times(December 19, 2011), p. A15.

Zygmunt Bauman,[i] The Individualized Society[/i] (London: Polity, 2001), p. 4.

Leopold,”Crazy Country,”

49. See, for instance, Rebecca Solnit,”Rain on Our Parade: A Letter to the Dismal Left,” [i][/i] (September 27, 2012). Online:,_we_could_be_heroes/ TomDispatch refers to this article as a call for hope over despair. It should be labeled as a call for accommodation over the need for a radical democratic politics.  For an alternative to this politics of accommodation, see the work of Stanley Aronowitz, Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Noam Chomsky, and others.

Cornelius Castoriadis,”Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” [i]Constellations [/i]4:1 (1997), p. 5.

Archon Fung,”The Constructive Responsibility of Intellectuals,” [i]Boston Review[/i](September 9, 2011). Online:

Heather Gautney,”Why Do Political Elites All Hate Democracy?”[i] LA Progressive[/i] (September 19, 2012). Online:

Stuart Hall and Les Back,”In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home,” [i]Cultural Studies[/i] Vol. 23, No. 4 (July 2009), p. 681.

‘Alternatives to development’: an interview with Arturo Escobar (

28 Sep 2012

At the 2012 Degrowth conference in Venice one of the highlights for me was the talk by Arturo Escobar(my notes from which can be found here). He is the author of Encountering Development and Territories of Difference, among others.  His talk looked at how Transition might look in the context of the Global South, and held many fascinating insights.  Here is the interview I did with him, first as an audio file, and below as a transcript.

So, Arturo, could you tell us a little bit about yourself please?

My name is Arturo Escobar, I was born and grew up in Colombia and I teach in the US, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I teach anthropology and most of my work as an anthropologist is also in Colombia, especially the rainforest region, the Pacific region of Colombia, with African descendant movements and communities.

So Arturo, you gave a presentation yesterday about what Degrowth would look like in the context of the developed world and the developing world, the Global North, the Global South. Could you set out what you see as the prime motivation in each of those places – what’s distinct between those two?

OK.  One of the points that I was trying to make is a parallel between the Degrowth movement as a set of ideas and political projects and social projects for transformation or transition in the Global North, especially in Europe and the US, especially in Europe, the US is still way south as you probably know better than me.

The parallel movement in the US, in Latin America at least, maybe not so much for the Global South as a whole but for Latin America in particular, which is the region of the world that I know the best because I am from there and I’ve been working there for a long time as an anthropologist and ecologist, as an activist, is what I call ‘Alternatives to Development’.

When you talk about Degrowth, I think one of the speakers today referred to that, I think it was Marcelo the theologian who referred to that in our session. When he speaks about Degrowth in Brazil people laugh at him: “why do we need Degrowth with all this poverty and all these problems and all these possibilities for growing?  We Brazilians are growing like crazy, Degrowth doesn’t make any sense”.

I think that’s a mistaken perception of what Degrowth is in Latin America, because people who have looked at Degrowth and Transition Town initiatives in South America, including some environmentalists, they find it appealing and they find that it’s not sufficient for tackling issues in South America.

One of the main ones – and he might be a great person for you to also interview – if  I wanted to point you to one single source in the South American debates on Transition and alternatives to development andBuen Vivir, would be this Uruguayan ecologist whose name is Eduardo Gudynas. He knows about Transition Towns, he’s read your books, he has a great outfit in Montevideo, but he spends most of his time in the Andean region, specifically Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Not Chile, not Brazil, not Venezuela, especially the four countries in the Andes. The other person who is really focussing on this is an Ecuadorian whose name is Alberto Acosta, who was the president of the constituent assembly that wrote the new constitution for Ecuador, where there is a huge section on Buen Vivir, and rights of nature, and both of them have been writing about alternatives to development and about the other concept that I didn’t get to explain yesterday which is transitions to post-extractivist model of society and economy.

What they find is that Degrowth – and they have some differences with Degrowth – they say here in Latin America we still have to grow in some ways. People’s livelihoods have to improve, and it’s difficult to do that without some growth. Health, education, housing – there are some sectors where the economy still has to grow.

But the second point they say is that growth has to be subordinated to a different vision of development, which is the Buen Vivir.

Could you tell us a bit more about what that is?

Yes, the Buen Vivir is a concept that has been coming out strongly over the past 10 years, especially in South America, in the context of the emergence of the left-leaning regimes in many South American countries, almost all South American countries with the exception of Colombia and Peru now, well it’s difficult to say what Peru’s current regime is.

In that context, it is the search for a different way of thinking about development and pushed by indigenous peoples and to some extent by peasants, by African descendents, and in collaboration with ecologists, sometimes feminists, sometimes activists from different social movements.  They started to say that for this model of development, this is the moment to change our development model, from a growth-oriented and extraction of natural resources oriented model to something that is more holistic, something that really speaks to the indigenous cosmo-visions of the people in which this notion of prosperity based on material well-being only and material consumption does not exist.  What has been traditionally cultivated among indigenous communities, is not even a notion of development, that is the key, because people are saying Buen Vivir is the new theory of development.

No, it’s not a theory of development. It’s a theory of something else that is not development. People translate it as ‘the good life’. I prefer to translate it as collective well-being. But it’s a collective well-being of both humans and non-humans. Humans, human communities and the natural world, all living beings.

And what does that look like in practice? What are the elements of it?

That’s the key question, the practice, the implementation of the Buen Vivir.  That’s the struggle, especially in Ecuador and Bolivia that have governments that have been put in power mostly by coalitions of social movements, especially indigenous movements, which over the past 6 years since they were elected in 2006, and they were elected with the promise that they were going to carry out this mandate of the Buen Vivir in the constitutions of both Bolivia and Ecuador, with different notions of Buen Vivir in both constitutions.

That said, the goal of state policies should be to promote Buen Vivir which involves social justice, a new notion of rights that includes the rights of nature, ecological sustainability, the elimination of poverty or the reduction of poverty. The reduction of poverty and the protection of nature are the two main dimensions of that.

So there are two sides to the Buen Vivir, which is the social and economic political side, and the rights of nature which is the ecological side. So the aims of the constitutions and development plans, I’ve looked at the development plans of both governments and they are very contradictory, because they say “we have to carry out this mandate”. But they keep falling back to the old ideas about growth and extraction of natural resources and planning as a top-down exercise, and we the experts have decided the plan for theBuen Vivir, but communities feel excluded.

So they clash now in both countries. This is like, so in southern Colombia, southern Mexico, Chiapas and Oaxaca is between indigenous, and peasant, and black movements on the one hand, movements that are for the Buen Vivir, that are for a different vision of development, and the state approach which still is what Gudynas and Acosta in particular call ‘neo-extractivists’.

They are neo-extractivit because they are still based on the extraction of natural resources: oil, natural gas, lithium, soy beans, sugar cane, agro-fuels of all kinds, gold, minerals.  They are Left regimes that are transacting with corporations, Canadian, American, European, South African, Chinese, corporations to take out natural resources. They are not traditional extractivism because, like the older Venezuelan regimes for instance, where there was so much oil, but the oil benefited only a small elite.

Now the idea of these Left regimes, which is a very good idea obviously, is they are going to be using the revenues which are far larger than in the previous regimes that basically gave everything to the corporations. They are going to use the revenues for social redistribution, to reduce poverty and to reduce inequality and to some extent they are doing it. But in the process, they have become this neo-developmentalist development models, pretty much the same as in the past but with a better social policy.

It’s interesting that the starting point was the idea of social justice and linked to environmental protection whereas in England at the moment, for example, the British government there are basically saying we have to go for economic growth at all costs, and environmental protection is optional. It’s interesting to see how with Buen Vivir, that’s been there from the beginning.

Exactly, and that is happening in the US as well, with policies like hydro-fracking which has been given carte blanche all over the place.

So in Transition we get asked about what Transition should look like in the Global South, and we say it’s about building resilience in both places, that the process of globalising food production has reduced food resilience in the Global North because we’ve become so dependent on imports and moving stuff around, and in the Global South it’s about the destruction of small farming and so on and so on. What’s your sense of that balance of how we build resilience in both places?  Also what Transition groups who are working in the Global North can do through their actions to support what’s happening in the South?

I think the concept of resilience is very good and I know that you emphasise it from the very first book, the concept of resilience.  I think it is a concept that could cut across Global North and Global South. I would have to go and look more carefully to see if it is being used now in Latin America, but it is a very fruitful concept, and actually that would be a very good question for Eduardo Gudynas who is a very good friend of mine, so I am going to ask him the question.

There are some parallels that I think could be thought about for both the Global North and the Global South in principle. In practice they would have their own specificities as you yourself said yesterday in your presentation on the first night, because every town basically has its own specificities. Local food, I think is a very important one in the Global North. It is increasingly important in the Global South, under a different umbrella.

The different umbrella is that of food sovereignty, food autonomy. In Colombia for instance, movements prefer to use autonomia alimentaria (food autonomy) which is somewhat different to food sovereignty.  Food sovereignty tends to put the emphasis on the national level, so a county might say we basically produce food for the population blah blah blah, that’s not good enough. There has to be food autonomy locally, regionally, nationally.

So peasant movements like Via Campesina that is a very important movement in Latin America and worldwide is focussing on food sovereignty, and food autonomy to a lesser extent. So the question of food is crucial as an entry point to Transition.

Energy?  Energy is so important to the Global North, I see it as less important to the Global South, and that doesn’t necessarily mean something good. We should be thinking more about energy, and that’s actually one of Gudynas’s co-workers now that I recall, who has a programme on energy, in particular for South America. He talks about the transformations that have to take place on the level of energy for transitions to take place.

The people in the Global North who say ‘oh, you can’t talk about local food because if you talk about local food you’re condemning farmers in Kenya and Chile to poverty and unemployment. How do you respond to that argument?

I don’t think it makes any sense! If you look carefully, sure, there’s a lot of food being grown in Africa, Asia and South America for the European and American markets, but who’s benefiting from that? Most times it’s not local peasants. It ceased to be local peasants at least two or three decades ago.

Even some of the agro-fuels that are touted as big solutions environmentally and so forth, like African palm which I know very well because it has been planted in Colombia all over the place. It’s being done at the expense of local communities, local ecosystems, by large Colombian capitalists or by large corporations.

I know that in parts of Africa and the Middle East it’s mostly German and European corporations that are planting food in these countries, with local cheap labour, to be exported to European markets. So on the contrary, I think local food in the north is going to be good for local food in the south. It’s going to stop this idea that the south will have to grow luxury crops for the Global North.

So if a Transition initiative in the Global North is actively working to localise its food supply, to reduce its carbon footprint, to put in place renewable energy infrastructure, localise it’s economy, is your sense that by default that that is helping the movement towards alternative development in the Global South or could they be doing something more mindfully, more intentionally to support that struggle at the same time?

I think that the first option that you outlined is the better way to think about it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it thinking about the Global South as well, and how the Global South is affected. There might be cases in which particular groups in the Global South might be hurt by practices that emerge in the Global North around Transition initiatives, for instance one of the speakers this morning, Antonella Picchio, a feminist economist, who says we should always think from the perspective of women.

In principle that’s very good. How do we ask the question – how might our activities in Transition initiatives in the Global North benefit, or hurt, particular vulnerable groups in the Global South.  Women, indigenous peoples, black peoples, ethnic minorities and peasants in particular.  I think that’s always a very good question to ask. It’s not such a huge question to answer, you sort of follow the threads of the actions.

But as a whole I would tend to think Transition activities in the Global North would tend to contribute if not immediately, at least at some point, to alternatives to development and local autonomies in the Global South to the extent that they continue to erode corporate power, which is what unites and which is really screwing up everybody, including people in the Global North.

My Finnish and Canadian friends tell me that the same corporations that have been screwing up the Global South for so many decades are now doing the same in northern Canada and Finland. So it’s not even going to be the north that’s going to be spared anymore.  In that sense I think the alliances have to be built. The conversations between Transition activists in the north and Transition activists in the south have to be cultivated. They will be somewhat difficult conversations and I think the questions you are asking are the ones we have to start with.

The concept, the practice of Transition that we use for different parts of the world, we have to take into account that they will be inter-cultural conversations, inter-epistemic conversations, different knowledge is going to be involved, and those require translation.  Translation across knowledges, across cultures, across histories, across different ways of being negatively affected by globalisation, across levels of privilege and so forth.

Is just applying the concept of localisation, going to generate sufficient employment to create the kind of employment that these countries need?

Probably not. I think it has to be a level, certainly a lot of emphasis on local actions, local solutions, but there has to be also some degree of thinking and policy implementation at the regional level and at the national level. The state has to become more part of the solution than part of the problem that it is now. Now it is much more of the problem.

With some of these progressive regimes it has tried to become part of the solution as well in terms of connecting with social movements, but the give and take between social movements that are pushing more for the local autonomy, the protection of territories, the preservation of cultural and biological diversity on the one hand, and the state, who has the national or transnational level in mind, is going again really tight, and ruptures are beginning to happen, even in countries like Bolivia and Ecuador where there has been more closeness between the state and the movements.

What’s the role of technology here? There are some people who would say if we could do open-source genetic modification then that would have a role. There are all these technologies like nuclear power, these kinds of things.  In your take on alternatives to development what constitutes good technology and what constitutes a technology that doesn’t have a place?

I think technology is super important.  I think Buen Vivir indigenous communities, Afro-descendant communities, peasant communities, they are not opposed to technology per se. If they can be connected to the internet, if they can have technologies that improve the productivity of the land, if they can have technologies that improve their living standards, that’s all great.

What they are opposed to is having those technologies coming in at the expense of their autonomy, at the expense of their territories, at the expense of their cultural traditions, at the expense of their world-views and ways of living. But when you read – and I think this is a misconception – that the Buen Vivir, because it has been promoted mostly by indigenous movements and intellectuals is something about going back to the past  – it’s not at all. It’s not about going back.

Someone said that here today too, that Degrowth is not about going back, it’s about moving forwards. The same with indigenous communities, it’s about moving forwards, but how?  The difference is “how?”  The way in which we’re moving forwards today on the basis of growth and instructivism and profit and the dominance of one particular model which is capitalism and modernity, for many communities and in the movements, that is the end and that has to stop.

But it’s not anti-technology and it’s not anti-modern. For me the criteria is to weaken or lessen the dominance of the growth model, the hi-tech model, the conventional economic neo-liberal model and the dominance of one particular cultural framework which is the cultural framework of modernity, and to allow for many different world-views and frameworks.

Risco calculado (Fapesp)

Workshop sobre extremos do clima expõe o desafio de converter informação científica em prevenção de desastres

FABRÍCIO MARQUES | Edição 199 – Setembro de 2012

Inundação em parque de diversões de Nova Orleans após a passagem do furacão Katrina, em 2005: tragédia despertou a consciência norte-americana. © BOB MCMILLAN / FEMA PHOTO

É praticamente certo – a certeza, no caso, chega a 99% – que vá ocorrer até 2100 um aumento na frequência de dias e noites quentes em diferentes regiões do planeta. Já em relação à intensidade das chuvas, que efetivamente recrudesceram em diversas áreas, ainda há dúvidas se o fenômeno é global – os dados disponíveis indicam que as previsões nessa direção têm um grau de confiança de 66%. Divulgado em março passado, o Relatório Especial sobre Gestão dos Riscos de Extremos Climáticos e Desastres (SREX, na sigla em inglês) apontou essas tendências, entre várias outras, com base no conhecimento científico recente compilado pelo Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC). Seus resultados foram discutidos numa reunião realizada no auditório Moise Safra, no Centro de Convenções Albert Einstein, em São Paulo, entre os dias 16 e 17 de agosto, na qual pesquisadores de vários países também debateram estratégias para o gerenciamento dos impactos e para levar o conhecimento aos tomadores de decisão. Oworkshop “Gestão dos riscos dos extremos climáticos e desastres na América Central e na América do Sul – o que podemos aprender com o Relatório Especial do IPCC sobre extremos?”, foi promovido pela FAPESP e pelo Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe).

“Ficou claro nas discussões que a interface dos cientistas com gestores e comunidades locais é um ponto crítico. Há muito ruído nessa comunicação”, disse à Agência FAPESPo climatologista José Marengo, coordenador do workshop e membro do comitê organizador do SREX. Talvez a recomendação mais importante extraída dos debates tenha sido essa: é preciso estabelecer novos canais de diálogo entre cientistas e autoridades para enfrentar os riscos de desastres resultantes de eventos climáticos extremos e reduzir os prejuízos que eles causam. A necessidade de participação mais ativa dos governos em decisões relacionadas a questões como vulnerabilidade às mudanças climáticas e estratégias de adaptação também foi destacada pelos pesquisadores presentes no workshop. “Os governos se mostram pouco preparados e continuam sendo pegos de surpresa por eventos meteorológicos que estão aumentando em frequência e intensidade, como mostram os relatórios, e deverão aumentar ainda mais no futuro”, disse Marengo, que é coordenador do Centro de Ciência do Sistema Terrestre do Inpe e lidera um projeto temático, no âmbito do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (PFPMCG), acerca do impacto dos extremos do clima nos ecossistemas e na saúde humana no Brasil.

Segundo o pesquisador, frequentemente existem recursos para mapeamento de risco e remoção de população em áreas vulneráveis, mas o dinheiro acaba sendo transferido para outras áreas. “Isso mostra uma falha no nosso diálogo com os governos locais. Não é segredo que o clima está mudando e todos os anos pessoas morrem por conta de desastres que poderiam ser evitados se esses recursos fossem aplicados”, afirmou.

A forma como a informação científica alcança a sociedade frequentemente é diversa da imaginada pelos pesquisadores.  
“Apareceram nos nossos debates discussões, por exemplo, sobre termos como ‘incerteza’, que é derivado da área de modelagem climática e cujo conceito nós cientistas compreendemos, mas que ainda não foi traduzido adequadamente para o público”, disse Marengo. Outra confusão envolve o próprio conceito de desastre. “Não são as chuvas que matam as pessoas. É a combinação delas com famílias morando em encostas e em residências precárias. Não dá para acabar com as chuvas intensas, mas, com planejamento, é possível reduzir o número de mortes”, afirmou o pesquisador. A percepção da sociedade sobre as mudanças climáticas obedece a uma lógica às vezes distinta da dos cientistas. Marengo cita como exemplo o furacão Katrina, que devastou o sul dos Estados Unidos em 2005 e inundou a cidade de Nova Orleans. “Não há como afirmar que o Katrina, analisado de forma isolada, seja resultado das mudanças globais. Mas foi esse evento que despertou a população norte-americana para o problema”, afirmou.

Escassez de dados

Uma das principais conclusões do relatório SREX, que foi elaborado pelo IPCC a pedido do governo da Noruega e da Estratégia Internacional para a Redução de Desastres (Eird), da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU), é que vem ocorrendo um aumento na frequência de eventos climáticos extremos no mundo nas últimas décadas em razão das mudanças climáticas. Com base nas evidências presentes, o relatório indica que é altamente provável um aumento na frequência de dias e noites quentes nos próximos anos em diferentes regiões do planeta. Mas é incerto se alguns fenômenos climáticos extremos tendem a ocorrer em escala global, devido à escassez de dados. O documento aponta dúvidas em relação ao aumento da frequência de chuvas intensas em todo o mundo, indicando regiões que apresentam aumento e outras onde ocorreu redução do evento climático. Também faltam evidências de que ciclones tropicais tenham se tornado mais frequentes, embora as chuvas relacionadas com esses fenômenos, de fato,  estejam mais intensas. Da mesma forma, é possível que secas atinjam com mais frequência e intensidade certas regiões do planeta, como o Nordeste brasileiro ou o México, mas não representem um fenômeno generalizado no planeta.


Para os pesquisadores que produziram o relatório, um dos principais desafios foi afinar os discursos entre especialistas de diversas áreas. “Foi o primeiro esforço para trocar conhecimento de maneira multidisciplinar”, disse a médica e professora da Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Unam), Úrsula Oswald Spring, que participou da elaboração do SREX e esteve noworkshop de São Paulo. “Sem construir uma linguagem comum, não é possível avançar nas soluções dos problemas colocados pelas mudanças climáticas.”

Apesar das incertezas sobre a extensão e a frequência dos fenômenos climáticos extremos no futuro, seu impacto, hoje, já é palpável. Dados apresentados por Úrsula Spring mostraram que mulheres e crianças são as maiores vítimas de furacões, terremotos, tsunamis, inundações e outros eventos extremos, climáticos ou não. Elas representam de 68% a 89% das mortes que ocorrem nesses fenômenos no mundo todo. As mulheres são 72% das pessoas que vivem em condições de extrema pobreza, o que as torna mais vulneráveis em situações de desastres. “O papel das mulheres é o de cuidar, então salvam filhos, pais e animais e não enxergam o risco que correm”, disse Úrsula, que pesquisa o tema há 10 anos. O prejuízo também é muito maior em países pobres: 95% das mortes por desastres naturais ocorrem em países em desenvolvimento. “Para que grandes desastres ocorram é necessário que a população esteja vulnerável e exposta”, afirmou o professor da Universidad Católica do Chile, Sebastián Vicuña.


O climatologista Carlos Nobre, que é secretário de Políticas e Programas de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação (MCTI), membro da coordenação do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (PFPMCG) e do IPCC, enumerou estudos publicados por pesquisadores do estado de São Paulo que tratam dos riscos causados pela maior frequência de chuvas intensas. Um deles apontou um aumento do número de áreas suscetíveis a alagamentos e que apresentam risco maior de deslizamentos de terra na capital paulista. Outro estudo demonstrou que, com a urbanização, as áreas de chuva intensa se expandem e aumenta o risco de contaminação por leptospirose – doença transmitida principalmente pela urina de roedores. Já uma pesquisa feita no Departamento de Ecologia da Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp), campus de Rio Claro, em parceria com o Inpe, mostrou que Campinas e Ribeirão Preto são as duas regiões no estado de São Paulo mais vulneráveis às mudanças climáticas. A concentração populacional em Campinas potencializa as consequências de uma enchente. Já no caso de Ribeirão Preto, a região deverá registrar temperaturas mais altas nas próximas décadas. “Podemos discernir em algumas regiões os impactos socioeconômicos causados pela aceleração dos eventos climáticos, que estão associados a maior vulnerabilidade das populações em razão da crescente urbanização do mundo e, em particular, das cidades da América Latina, onde esse processo ocorreu nas últimas décadas de forma caótica”, disse Nobre à Agência FAPESP. No Brasil, os recursos para reconstrução de regiões assoladas por desastres causados por eventos climáticos extremos tiveram uma evolução muito rápida nos últimos 10 anos e ultrapassaram o patamar de R$ 1,6 bilhão em 2011, apontou Nobre. Se há incertezas sobre a tendência de aumento da frequência de chuva em escala global, no caso de São Paulo não restam dúvidas de que as chuvas intensas têm aumentado muito na cidade nos últimos 50 ou 70 anos, observou Nobre. “Hoje temos três vezes mais chuvas intensas do que há 70 anos. E as evidências de que esse tipo de evento ocorre com maior frequência na capital paulista estão muito bem documentadas”, afirmou.

Os resultados do relatório SREX serão aproveitados e atualizados nos próximos relatórios que o IPCC divulgará em 2013. Segundo Marengo, ainda há uma escassez de estudos sobre vulnerabilidade às mudanças climáticas em regiões brasileiras. Para produzir o SREX, pôs-se de lado a norma não escrita de que um bom estudo científico é apenas aquele publicado em revistas especializadas de língua inglesa. “Conseguimos atingir um nível bom em algumas publicações brasileiras, mas ainda falta mais literatura científica publicada no país”, afirmou o pesquisador.  Os pesquisadores detectaram a necessidade de aumentar o financiamento de estudos sobre mudanças climáticas, com apoio de instituições governamentais e não governamentais. Os grupos recomendaram ainda o fortalecimento das instituições locais de gerenciamento de risco. “Não é preciso criar novas instituições, mas fortalecer as que já existem”, afirmou Marengo.

As rotas das suçuaranas (Fapesp)

Felinos conseguem se movimentar em zonas de ocupação humana, mas encontram obstáculos nas estradas

MARIA GUIMARÃES | Edição 199 – Setembro de 2012

A onça-parda (Puma concolor), um dos maiores predadores das Américas, ainda é pouco conhecida pela ciência brasileira. © EDUARDO CESAR (FOTO FEITA NA FUNDAÇÃO ZOOLÓGICO DE SÃO PAULO)

Análises genéticas estão revelando um pouco da história e da ecologia da suçuarana, ou onça-parda (Puma concolor), um dos maiores felinos do Brasil, atrás apenas da onça-pintada. Esses discretos animais são altamente adaptáveis e vivem mesmo em zonas com pouca floresta. Mas enfrentam problemas com a caça e nas estradas, conforme vem mostrando o trabalho paralelo de duas pesquisadoras que nunca se encontraram pessoalmente: Camila Castilho, atualmente na Universidade de São Paulo (USP), e Renata Miotto, agora na Escola Superior de Agricultura Luiz de Queiroz (Esalq), também da USP, em Piracicaba.

As duas estudaram aspectos genéticos de populações locais de suçuaranas, chegando em grande parte a resultados semelhantes, conforme mostram o artigo de Renata naConservation Genetics em 2011, e de Camila publicado este ano na Genetics and Molecular Biology. O primeiro aspecto importante é que há pouca diferenciação genética nas áreas estudadas, sinal de uma população não fragmentada. Isso indica que esses animais conseguem percorrer grandes distâncias e manter o fluxo de material genético, apesar de não haver continuidade de floresta. É bem diferente do que acontece com a onça-pintada, que se aventura pouco fora das áreas de mata e acaba ficando isolada em fragmentos e gerando populações diferenciadas, conforme já mostraram outros estudos.

Na prática, a onça-parda forma populações contínuas ao longo de áreas extensas. No caso de Camila, que desenvolveu o trabalho durante o doutorado pela Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), a área englobava boa parte de Santa Catarina, uma parte do sul do Paraná e algumas amostras no extremo norte do Rio Grande do Sul, um total de mais de 140 mil quilômetros quadrados (km2). O estudo de Renata, à época doutoranda na Universidade Federal de São Carlos (UFSCar), era mais circunscrito, mas nada diminuto: cerca de 1.700 km2 do interior paulista que incluem 15 municípios, entre eles Ribeirão Preto, Rio Claro e São Carlos.

O outro achado semelhante entre os dois estudos mostra que recentemente, em algum ponto do último século, houve uma drástica redução nos números das suçuaranas, que os geneticistas de populações chamam de gargalo populacional. Ao passar por um desses gargalos, a população perde parte da sua diversidade genética, o que em certos casos pode gerar problemas. “A perda de genes é aleatória e é possível que nada importante se vá”, explica Camila, “mas é maior a probabilidade de acontecer um azar”. Um azar seria o animal não poder contar com algum gene essencial para enfrentar a alterações no ambiente. Uma coisa é certa quando se detecta um gargalo: aconteceu algum desequilíbrio na população, seja uma redução importante em tamanho ou, mais raramente, uma alteração drástica na proporção entre machos e fêmeas.


É aí que começam as diferenças entre os dois estudos. O interior de São Paulo, onde Renata trabalha, está recoberto de cana-de-açúcar. “A maior parte foi plantada nos anos 1960 e 1970, em razão do Proálcool [Programa Nacional do Álcool]”, diz a pesquisadora. “Os dados genéticos indicam que o gargalo pode ter acontecido nessa época.” Nesse caso, muitas suçuaranas teriam morrido nesse período de intenso desmatamento, e depois aos poucos a população teria voltado a aumentar, à medida que suas presas se adaptaram a viver nos canaviais. “A dieta das onças na região consiste principalmente em tatus, cervos, capivaras e outros roedores”, conta. São animais que aparentemente vêm se adaptando bem à agricultura, alguns deles consumidores de cana-de-açúcar. Com alimento abundante, as suçuaranas podem facilmente viver na região, sem representar problemas para os donos das plantações.

O grande problema que esses animais enfrentam hoje são as estradas movimentadas, praticamente intransponíveis para pedestres – sejam eles humanos ou felinos –, que cortam o estado. Isso pode bloquear as rotas das suçuaranas e, com o tempo, reduzir a variabilidade genética.

Além de limitar o trânsito das suçuaranas, atropelamentos são uma causa importante de mortalidade. “Os machos jovens, que se dispersam para longe da área onde nasceram, são as principais vítimas”, diz Renata. Entre os 23 animais atropelados de sua amostragem, 16 são machos. A suçuarana Anhanguera, apelidada em 2009 com o nome da estrada em que foi atropelada, no interior paulista, era justamente um macho jovem. “Essa mortalidade diferencial pode alterar a razão sexual, o que pode ser detectado como um gargalo.” Isso acontece porque são eles os emissários do material genético, já que se mudam para uma zona distante onde afinal se estabelecem e acasalam.

As fêmeas permanecem mais próximas ao local onde nasceram, conforme Renata mostrou em cinco anos de monitoramento na Estação Ecológica de Jataí, no município de Luis Antônio, perto de Ribeirão Preto. Ao longo desse período ela percorreu trilhas e coletou fezes frescas, de onde extraiu material genético. Os dados, publicados este ano na Biotropica, mostram que todas as onças residentes são fêmeas.



Na Região Sul, Camila deparou com uma relação mais conflituosa entre os seres humanos e o leão-baio, como o felino é conhecido em terras catarinenses. Ali se criam vários tipos de gado – vacas, cabras, ovelhas – de forma extensiva, com os animais sempre soltos no pasto. Além das pacas, cutias e veados, os animais domésticos acabam virando boas refeições para as suçuaranas, que em seguida precisam enfrentar o fazendeiro armado. “Embora a caça seja ilegal, sabemos que acontece muito nessa região”, conta Camila, que aos poucos venceu as resistências e conseguiu que os donos das fazendas lhe cedessem amostras dos leões-baios caçados, para extração de material genético. A zona de estudo da pesquisadora se concentrou no sul de Santa Catarina, onde as fazendas se estendem por campos de altitude com resquícios de floresta – os capões – em meio ao pasto. É nesses capões, e nas matas ao longo de rios, que as suçuaranas se refugiam e onde por vezes encontram uma cabra ou bezerro também em busca de abrigo.

Assim como em São Paulo, os dados de Camila mostram que o gargalo populacional aconteceu no último século, coincidindo com a ampla derrubada da floresta de araucárias que caracterizava a região. Atualmente, a caça parece ser responsável pela maior parte da mortalidade por ali, e não a falta de hábitat. “Conectividade não parece ser um problema”, comenta Camila. Por meio de modelos ecológicos que analisam a paisagem ela sugere, em artigo de 2011 na Mammalian Biology, que não há impedimento para que esses animais se locomovam por toda a sua área de estudo, que abrange boa parte da Região Sul. Um dado genético que corrobora essa ideia é o baixo parentesco entre os indivíduos que conseguiu analisar. “Apenas 6,6% dos indivíduos que analisamos eram aparentados”, conta. Para ela, é preciso conscientizar os fazendeiros da importância ecológica dos grandes predadores e buscar soluções, como a construção de currais onde o gado possa passar a noite.

Mesmo nunca tendo conversado, as duas pesquisadoras continuam a seguir caminhos paralelos. Ambas, atualmente no pós-doutorado, deixaram a genética de lado para se concentrar na análise da paisagem. “São abordagens complementares”, explica Camila. Diante das informações fornecidas pela distribuição da variação genética, surgiram novas perguntas que as levaram a buscar entender o ambiente por onde as onças-pardas circulam em busca de detectar os problemas que elas enfrentam e propor soluções para manter populações viáveis desse grande felino encontrado em quase toda a América, exceto em boa parte da Argentina e na metade leste da América do Norte.

Agora ambas trabalham em São Paulo: Renata está construindo um banco de dados sobre a cobertura vegetal e a ocupação da mesma região que examinou até o momento, incluindo um mapeamento detalhado da malha viária e do fluxo de veículos, que em conjunto com os dados genéticos formarão um modelo de dispersão. Ao mesmo tempo compila dados de atropelamentos e, com ajuda da Polícia Florestal, aumenta sua coleção de amostras genéticas. “A partir desses modelos, quero avaliar as rotas preferenciais no deslocamento das onças para definir o que se pode fazer em termos de manejo da paisagem”, explica. Camila concentra seu projeto no mosaico das serras da Bocaina e da Mantiqueira, no nordeste paulista, que inclui a região de São José dos Campos. Nessa região, avaliará o hábitat disponível e as possibilidades de locomoção das suçuaranas. “Vou criar valores de permeabilidade para detectar as áreas prioritárias em termos de conservação.”

Em conjunto, os dois projetos podem contribuir para reduzir o desequilíbrio que existe entre a América do Norte e a do Sul no que diz respeito ao conhecimento a respeito desse imponente predador. Talvez também cheguem a propostas de práticas pecuárias que melhorem a convivência entre fazendeiros e predadores, e a passarelas ou túneis para travessia de suçuaranas.

Artigos científicos
CASTILHO, C. S. et alGenetic structure and conservation of Mountain Lions in the South-Brazilian Atlantic Rain ForestGenetics and Molecular Biology. v. 35 (1), p. 65-73. 2012.
CASTILHO, C. S. et alLandscape genetics of mountain lions (Puma concolor) in southern BrazilMammalian Biology. v. 76 (4), p. 476-83. 2011.
MIOTTO, R. A. et alMonitoring a puma (Puma concolor) population in a fragmented landscape in Southeast BrazilBiotropica. v. 44 (1), p. 98-104. 2012.
MIOTTO, R. A. et alGenetic diversity and population structure of pumas (Puma concolor) in southeastern Brazil: implications for conservation in a human-dominated landscapeConservation Genecits. v. 12 (6), p. 1.447-55. 2011.

IPCC enters new stage of Fifth Assessment Report review (IPCC)

GENEVA, 5 October – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is moving to a new stage in the preparation of its next major report, the Fifth Assessment Report, with the first of three government and expert reviews that will take place between now and May 2013.

The multi-stage review of draft reports is a key element of the IPCC assessment process. The main stages are the review of the first order draft by scientific experts, the review of the second order draft by Governments and experts, which starts today, and a final round of government comments on the draft Summary for Policymakers.

In the second stage of the review, IPCC member Governments are invited to review the second order drafts of the reports. Individuals with relevant expertise may also provide expert comments. The purpose of this government and expert review is to help ensure that the report represents the latest scientific and technical findings, provides a balanced and comprehensive assessment of the current information and is consistent with the mandate of the working groups and the outline of the Fifth Assessment Report that was approved by the Panel in October 2009.

  • For Working Group I, which covers the physical science basis of climate change, the government and expert review of the second order draft runs from 5 October to 30 November 2012. Further details are available at
  • The government and expert review period for the second order draft of Working Group II, covering impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, will run from 29 March to 24 May 2013. More information will be available at closer to that time.
  • Working Group III, which assesses the mitigation of climate change, will hold the government and expert review of its second order draft from 25 February to 22 April 2013. Further information will be available nearer the time at .

The number of experts involved in the review of the first order draft of the three IPCC working groups ranged from 563 to 659 for each working group, resulting in between 16,124 and 21,400 comments for each working group’s draft. Report authors must respond to each comment and they draw on the comments to produce the second order drafts. Experts who took part in this review are also invited to comment on the second order draft.

Following the multi-stage review, the Summary for Policymakers and the full report are submitted for approval and acceptance to the IPCC Plenary, its main decision-taking body. To ensure transparency, all review comments and author responses are made available on the IPCC website after the reports are accepted and finalized.

Working Group I will release its Summary for Policymakers in September 2013. Working Group II will release its Summary for Policymakers in March 2014, followed by Working Group III in April 2014. The Synthesis Report, that synthesizes key findings from the assessment reports of the IPCC’s three working groups and from recent Special Reports, is due to be released in October 2014, marking the end of the current assessment cycle.

Antropofagia em cena (Fapesp)

Com mais de 50 anos de atuação, Teatro Oficina agora faz pesquisa voltada para a intervenção urbana

GUSTAVO FIORATTI | Edição 199 – Setembro de 2012

Zé Celso em cena de “A terra”, de 2001, trilogia de “Os sertões”: fundador do Oficina continua sempre presente. © MARILIA HALLA

A fachada do Teatro Oficina na rua Jaceguai – uma estreita via de acesso 
à 9 de Julho no bairro do Bixiga, em São Paulo – tem a simplicidade de uma garagem. Quando a pesada porta da entrada se abre, revela-se então uma estrutura que em nada lembra a de um teatro convencional: lá dentro, uma espécie de passarela, comprida, corre por entre duas arquibancadas de aço e madeira.

Nada de cortinas, nada de palco, nada de poltronas. Quem percorre esse corredor nota um leve declive em direção aos fundos. À esquerda, ao lado de uma das arquibancadas e já no meio do percurso, uma imensa janela 
de vidro tem vista para os edifícios do bairro.

A arquiteta italiana Lina Bo Bardi projetou o espaço nos anos 1980 para que o diretor José Celso Martinez Corrêa, hoje com 75 anos, pudesse desenvolver uma linha de trabalho que tem um pé na arena grega e outro no Carnaval. Os espetáculos apresentados ali ocupam não só a passarela; costumam espalhar-se por todos os cantos. Não raro, o lugar da plateia é também o lugar da cena, e o público entra na dança.

José Celso está sempre presente, muitas vezes em cena, com cabelos brancos 
e roupas claras. “O ‘Teato’ é uma feitiçaria que engole o enfeitiçamento geral 
com que a sociedade de espetáculos, com o fetiche da mercadoria, escraviza a humanidade. Nós queremos nos ‘desvoduzar’. Trazer sopros que invertam as equações abstratas dominantes”, diz ele.

O rei da vela, de 1967: pesquisa voltada para o teatro épico. © DIVULGAÇÃO / ARQUIVO TEATRO OFICINA

O diretor grafa a palavra teatro sempre sem o “r” – ou com o “r” entre parênteses – para conjugar a sílaba “te” à palavra “ato”. Diz que ato 
e representação não são coisas iguais, ampliando o sentido da mimese, do texto decorado, para um trabalho performático com ares de celebração dionisíaca. 
A última peça do Teatro  Oficina, Macumba antropófaga, tem esse perfil: o espetáculo começava dentro do teatro e partia para a rua. Descia a rua Jaceguai e, por entre becos, casas, ruelas da vizinhança, prosseguia com atores conduzindo performancesao som de bumbos, pandeiros e declamações.

É um momento atual do grupo, que José Celso considera fazer parte “da descoberta do teatro como intervenção urbana”. 
O que não muda é a diretriz estabelecida por uma referência fundamental: 
a obra do escritor Oswald de Andrade (1890-1954), especialmente seu Manifesto antropófago.

A redescoberta de Oswald “foi a revolução cultural mais importante da segunda metade do século XX”, diz o diretor, em referência ao movimento Tropicalista. “Ninguém o conhecida, nem Glauber [Rocha, cineasta], nem Caetano [Veloso], nem Gil [Gilberto Gil] nem o Hélio Oiticica [artista plástico]; a antena de Oswald nos ligou neste movimento definitivo de descolonização da língua, do corpo, da arte”, prossegue.

O Oficina foi fundado em 1958 por José Celso, Renato Borghi e Etti Fraser, entre outros atores. Teve uma primeira fase realista, com pesquisa fundamentada na metodologia do russo Constantin Stanislavski. Após um incêndio que destruiu o teatro por completo, o grupo encenou em 1967 O rei da vela, de Oswald. A peça marca a nova pesquisa, voltada para o teatro épico do alemão Bertolt Brecht.

“As bacantes”, de 1996, em reapresentação de 2010. © ARTHUR MAX

O grupo se desfez em parte por conta da situação política – a ditadura militar leva José Celso para o exílio, após 20 dias de prisão por conta de manifestos contra o regime – e em parte por desacordos entre os integrantes. O diretor retornou ao Brasil em 1978 e se seguiu o período da retomada de seu trabalho. Retomada lenta e gradual, agora sim articulada à parceria com a arquiteta Lina Bo Bardi.

A reabertura do repertório do Oficina ocorreu em 1991, com o espetáculo As boas, com texto de Jean Genet e com Raul Cortez no elenco. Ham-let (1993), baseado na obra de Shakespeare, e As bacantes (1996), de Eurípedes, aprofundam a inspiração na mitologia grega de Dionísio, deus dos prazeres, da loucura, do vinho, do sexo. O Oficina firma seu terreno na celebração da nudez, do corpo e da carne como ponte para um gozo espiritual.

É uma linha de pesquisa que resulta em espetáculos longos, muitas vezes com até quatro horas de duração. Assim era Cacilda!, de 1998, baseada na vida e no trabalho da atriz Cacilda Becker, e a trilogia de Os sertões, adaptação da obra de Euclides da Cunha, de modo que o original era dividido em três partes: A terra, 
O homem e A luta. Houve sessões que reuniam esses três espetáculos, com mais 
de 10 horas de duração. Uma delas foi apresentada no mesmo município da Bahia onde houve o massacre de Canudos, narrado no livro de Euclides da Cunha.

O presídio indígena da ditadura (Brasil de Fato)

Denúncias apontam o Reformatório Agrícola Krenak, em Minas Gerais, como centro de tortura de índios durante regime militar


André Campos, de São Paulo (SP)   

Sede do reformatório onde funcionava a sede da Funai na Fazenda Guarani e onde fi cava a solitária onde os índios eram confinados – Fotos: André Campos

Em julho, a Comissão Nacional da Verdade – sancionada pela presidenta Dilma Rousseff para investigar violações de direitos humanos cometidas, durante a ditadura militar, por agentes do Estado – anunciou que também irá apurar os crimes contra os índios. “Vamos investigar isso, sim, porque na construção de rodovias há histórias terríveis de violações de direitos indígenas”, afirmou, na ocasião, o diplomata Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, um dos sete integrantes da Comissão.

Mas o massacre de etnias que se opuseram a grandes obras é apenas um dos capítulos dessa história. Tal como outros grupos subjugados nos “porões da ditadura”, os habitantes de aldeias Brasil afora também foram alvo de prisões clandestinas, associadas a denúncias de tortura, desaparecimentos e detenções por motivação política. E que, ao contrário de outros crimes cometidos pelo Estado à época, ainda não foram objeto de nenhum tipo de reparação oficial ou política indenizatória.

Tais violações de direitos humanos apontam para o município de Resplendor (MG), onde funcionou o Reformatório Agrícola Indígena Krenak, um velho conhecido do pataxó Diógenes Ferreira dos Santos. “Eu não gosto nem de falar, porque ainda me dá ódio”, diz, com o semblante fechado de quem está prestes a tocar em lembranças difíceis. “Mas quando puxa o assunto, meu irmão…” Quando começa, ele fala sem parar. Diógenes era ainda uma criança no dia em que, conforme conta, viu dois policiais se aproximarem da casa onde vivia, na Terra Indígena Caramuru Paraguaçu, encravada em meio às fazendas de cacau da região sul da Bahia. Vieram, diz ele, acionados por um fazendeiro, que reclamava ser o dono daquele local. Para não deixarem dúvidas sobre suas intenções, cravejaram de balas uma árvore próxima. E, logo depois, colocaram fogo na casa onde o pataxó vivia com sua família.

Exilados de seu território, Diógenes e seus pais viveram por cinco anos trabalhando numa fazenda próxima. Até serem novamente expulsos, no final da década de 1960. “Já que não tínhamos apoio de ninguém, decidimos voltar para o Caramuru”, conta.

Lá chegando, não demorou nem 15 dias para novamente apareceram policiais. Dessa vez estavam incumbidos de escoltar Diógenes e seu pai até a cidade. “Ficamos seis dias presos na delegacia de Pau Brasil (BA)”, relembra. “Até que veio a ordem de nos levarem para o reformatório Krenak, que eu nem sabia o que era”.

O índio pataxó Diógenes Ferreira dos Santos

No Krenak, a cerca de 700 km de sua terra natal, Diógenes, então ainda um adolescente, descreve ter vivido uma rotina de trabalhos forçados, realizados sob o olhar vigilante de policiais militares. “Íamos até um brejo, com água até o joelho, plantar arroz”, revela. Cotidiano interrompido apenas para esporádicos jogos de futebol, organizados pelos guardas e de participação obrigatória, segundo o pataxó. “Meu pai não gostava, nunca tinha jogado bola na vida.  Aquilo era uma humilhação para ele.”

Ironicamente, mais de 40 anos depois, o Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) anulou, em maio de 2012, todos os direitos de propriedade dos fazendeiros que, nos dias atuais, ainda ocupavam a Terra Indígena Caramuru Paraguaçu. Sacramentando, portanto, a legitimidade do pleito de Diógenes na querela fundiária que o levou ao cárcere

Pedagogia da tortura

O reformatório Krenak começou a funcionar em 1969, em uma área localizada dentro do extinto Posto Indígena Guido Marlière. Suas atividades eram comandadas por agentes da Polícia Militar mineira, que, à época, recebeu a incumbência de gerir as terras indígenas daquele estado por meio de um convênio com a recém-criada Fundação Nacional do Índio (Funai).

Num boletim informativo da Funai de 1972, encontramos uma das poucas menções oficiais a respeito do local, qualificando-o como uma experiência de “reeducação de índios aculturados que transgridem os princípios norteadores da conduta tribal, e cujos próprios chefes, quando não conseguem resguardar a ordem na tribo, socorrem- se da Funai visando restaurar a hierarquia nas suas comunidades”. Osires Teixeira, então senador pela Aliança Renovadora Nacional (Arena) – o partido de sustentação da ditadura –, se pronunciou sobre o tema na tribuna do Senado, afirmando que os índios do Krenak “retornam às suas comunidades com uma nova profissão, com melhores conhecimentos, com melhor saúde e em melhores condições de contribuir com o seu cacique”.

À época, fora do governo – eram os “anos de chumbo” da ditadura –, também se contam nos dedos as referências à instituição. Em 1972, um enviado especial do Jornal do Brasil chegou a entrar clandestinamente no reformatório, naquela que provavelmente é a única reportagem in loco sobre o tema. Mas sua presença durou poucos minutos – segundo a própria matéria, ele foi expulso sob ameaças da polícia.

Ex-integrante do Conselho Indigenista Missionário em Minas Gerais (Cimi/ MG), a pedagoga Geralda Chaves Soares conheceu diversos ex-internos do Krenak. Aquilo que ela relata ter ouvido sobre os “métodos reeducacionais” da instituição – que incluíam indígenas açoitados e arrastados por cavalos – sugerem o real motivo por trás de tanto sigilo. “Uma das histórias contadas é a de dois índios urubu-kaápor que, no Krenak, apanharam muito para que confessassem o crime que os levou até lá”, conta ela. “O problema é que eles nem sequer falavam português”.

Foto atual de morador da Terra Indígena Maxacali

Homicídios, roubos e o consumo de álcool nas aldeias – na época reprimido com mão de ferro pela Funai – estão entre os principais motivos alegados para o envio de índios a temporadas corretivas. Além disso, também transparecem na burocracia oficial situações de brigas internas, uso de drogas, prostituição, conflitos com servidores públicos e indivíduos penalizados por atos descritos como vadiagem.Um dos mais graves exemplos de tortura remete ao indígena Gero Maxacali, ex-morador da Aldeia Água Boa, em Santa Helena de Minas (MG). Levado ao Krenak, conta Geralda, lá ele teria sido literalmente queimado por dentro ao ser obrigado a beber, de forma alternada, leite fervendo e água gelada. Depois disso, com dificuldades para se alimentar, passou a ter sérios problemas de saúde – que, anos depois, o levariam à morte.

Brasil de Fato teve acesso a documentos da Funai que desnudam diversos aspectos sobre o cotidiano do presídio indígena. Eles revelam que ao menos 120 indivíduos, pertencentes a 25 etnias dos mais diferentes rincões brasileiros, passaram pela instituição correcional. Pessoas que, via de regra, chegavam a Resplendor a pedido dos chefes de posto local da Funai. Mas também, em alguns casos, por ordem direta de altos escalões em Brasília.

É o caso, por exemplo, de um índio canela, do Maranhão, encaminhado à instituição em julho de 1969. “Além do tradicional comportamento inquieto da etnia – andarilhos contumazes –, o referido é dado ao vício da embriaguez, quando se torna agressivo e por vezes perigoso. Como representa um péssimo exemplo para a sua comunidade, achamos por bem confiá-lo a um período de recuperação na Colônia de Krenak”, atesta ofício emitido pelo diretor do Departamento de Assistência da Funai.

Boa parte desses supostos roubos, conforme revelam os próprios ofícios internos da Funai, remetem a atos de periculosidade risível, para dizer o mínimo. Gente como, por exemplo, um maxacali flagrado afanando uma cigarreira, três camisas de tergal, uma caixa de botões e alguns outros cacarecos na sede do seu posto indígena. Ou, ainda, o xerente que, após beber em uma “festa de civilizados”, voltou à aldeia pedalando a bicicleta de outra pessoa, tendo esquecido a sua própria para trás – engano provocado pela embriaguez segundo o próprio servidor local que solicitou a sua remoção.

Imagens atuais do espaço onde funcionava a solitária

As estadias no reformatório podiam durar de poucos dias a até mais de três anos. Para serem libertados, os internos dependiam da avaliação comportamental dos policiais custodiantes, mas também de certa dose de sorte para não se tornarem “índios extraviados” na confusa burocracia da Funai. “Não sabemos a causa real que motivou o seu encaminhamento, uma vez que não recebemos o relatório de origem”, escreveu aos seus superiores o cabo da PM Antônio Vicente, um dos responsáveis locais, sobre um índio xavante, considerado de bom comportamento, que lá estava há mais de cinco meses.

Nesse balaio de gatos, alguns casos soam quase surrealistas. Um deles ocorreu em 1971, quando chegou ao reformatório um índio urubu-kaápor, com ordens de permanecer sob severa vigilância e em alojamento isolado. Seu encaminhamento a um “período de recuperação” justificava-se, segundo a Ajudância Minas-Bahia – órgão da Funai ao qual estava subordinado o reformatório – por ele ter praticado “atos de pederastia” em sua aldeia.

Dois meses depois, consta nos documentos do órgão indigenista que ele se apoderou de uma Gilette para tentar suicídio com um corte no abdômen. Recebeu atendimento médico e, após alguns meses, tentou uma fuga, sendo recapturado já em outro município.

Entre os internos, havia também pessoas aparentemente acometidas de transtornos mentais, vivendo no Krenak sem qualquer tipo de amparo psiquiátrico. A exemplo de um índio da etnia campa, clinicamente diagnosticado como esquizofrênico segundo relatório do próprio órgão indigenista. E que, entre outras excentricidades, dizia possuir vários automóveis e aviões, além de ser amigo íntimo do mandatário supremo da nação. “Sempre que um avião passa sobre esse reformatório ele pula e grita, dizendo que é o presidente vindo busca-lo”, relata um ofício a seu respeito.

Ocrides Krenak: preso pelo consumo de cachaça

Para alguns dos indígenas, a ida ao Krenak provou-se um caminho sem retorno. É o caso de Manoel Vieira das Graças, o Manelão Pankararú, levado ao presídio indígena em 1969 após uma briga violenta com outros índios de sua aldeia. Com mulher e filhos, Manelão está até hoje instalado em Resplendor. Tal como outros índios que, desativado o reformatório, permaneceram na região por conta de amizades e casamentos oriundos dos anos de cárcere – havia também mulheres entre os prisioneiros.

Atualmente, ele faz planos para revisitar a aldeia onde nasceu pela primeira vez desde que saiu preso da Terra Indígena Pankararú, no sertão pernambucano. “Eu me arrepio só de lembrar das nossas danças, das brincadeiras e do Toré (ritual típico da etnia)”, confidencia, saudoso e emocionado. Sua casa atual fica a poucos quilômetros da antiga sede do Krenak, às margens do rio Doce, onde ainda existem as ruínas de concreto e aço da sede da instituição, parcialmente derrubadas por duas cheias no rio. Quando vier a próxima enchente, acreditam alguns moradores da região, devem também vir abaixo as últimas paredes que insistem em ficar de pé.

Entre os que não retornaram há também aqueles cujo destino, ainda hoje, permanece uma incógnita. Situação que remete, por exemplo, a Dedé Baena, ex-morador do Posto Indígena Caramuru, na Bahia. “Ninguém sabe se é vivo ou morto porque foi mudado para o presídio Krenak e desapareceu”, revela um não-índio, nascido na área do referido Posto Indígena, em depoimento de 2004 à pesquisadora Jurema Machado de Andrade Souza. Outros relatos atuais de indígenas da região confirmam o sumiço.

Em agosto de 1969, conforme está registrado em um ofício da Funai, Dedé foi levado a Resplendor a pedido do chefe do Posto em questão, que o qualificou como um “índio problema”, violento quando embriagado e dono de vasto histórico de agressões a “civilizados”. Lá chegou inclusive necessitando de cuidados médicos, com uma agulha de costura fincada na perna – ferimento ocorrido em circunstâncias não explicadas.

Nos documentos aos quais teve acesso, o Brasil de Fato não encontrou registros de sua eventual libertação, morte ou mesmo fuga.

“Índios vadios”

Paralelamente à chegada dos “delinquentes”, dezenas de índios krenaks ainda habitavam áreas vizinhas ao reformatório. Estavam submetidos à tutela dos mesmos policiais responsáveis pela instituição correcional, o que os tornava um alvo preferencial para ações de patrulhamento. Diversos deles acabaram confinados.

Homens e mulheres krenaks foram também recrutados para trabalhar na prisão indígena, e dão testemunho sobre as violências desse período. “Quem fugia da cadeia sofria na mão deles”, afirma Maria Sônia Krenak, ex-cozinheira no local. “E a mesma coisa as crianças da aldeia. Se fugissem da escola, também apanhavam”.

Por mais incrível que pareça, até mesmo a vida amorosa dos índios locais passava pelo crivo da polícia. “Antes de responder ao ‘pedido de casamento’, procedi (sic) uma sindicância sigilosa e sumária na vida pregressa do pretendente, apurando-se que é pessoa pobre, porém honesta”, aponta ofício escrito pelo sargento da PM Tarcisio Rodrigues, então chefe do Posto Indígena, pedindo aos seus superiores deliberação sobre o noivado de uma índia com um não índio dos arredores.

Na Terra Indígena Krenak, homologada em 2001 em Resplendor, muitos ainda tem histórias para contar sobre esse período. “Eu, uma vez, fiquei 17 dias preso porque atravessei o rio sem ordem, e fui jogar uma sinuquinha na cidade”, rememora José Alfredo de Oliveira, patriarca de uma das famílias locais. É um exemplo típico do que, para a polícia, era considerado um ato de vadiagem.

Assim como ocorria em outras regiões do país, os krenaks só podiam deixar o território tribal mediante a autorização do chefe local da Funai. Até mesmo a caça e a pesca fora dos postos indígenas – frequentemente inadequados para prover a alimentação básica – podiam, à época, levar índios Brasil afora diretamente ao reformatório.

Para Geralda, ex-Cimi, por trás de situações como essas – de sedentarismo forçado, prisões de “índios vadios” e até mesmo de supostos ladrões – havia, na verdade, um contexto de conflito territorial. “Por exemplo, os maxacalis (habitantes do Vale do Mucuri, no nordeste de Minas Gerais). Nessa época eles atacavam as fazendas de gado. Estavam confinados num posto indígena, passando fome, então caçar uma vaca era uma atividade de caçador mesmo. E aí prendiam o índio porque ele tinha roubado uma vaca”, contextualiza. “Mas, de fato, era uma questão de sobrevivência, e também de resistência. Achavam que, pressionando os fazendeiros, eles iriam embora. A compreensão maior de que a luta pela terra tem esse viés da Justiça só veio depois.”

No início dos anos de 1970, até mesmo a área ocupada pelos krenaks e pelo reformatório vivia dias de intensa disputa, reivindicada por posseiros que arrendaram lotes nos arredores. Como saída para o imbróglio, o governo de Minas Gerais e a Funai negociaram uma permuta entre tais terras e a Fazenda Guarani, área localizada em Carmésia (MG) e que pertencia à Polícia Militar mineira. Em 1972, foram todos – os krenaks, o reformatório e os confinados – deslocados para lá.

Logo após essa mudança, mudou também o chefe da Ajudância Minas- Bahia. Quem o assumiu foi o juruna João Geraldo Itatuitim Ruas, um dos primeiros servidores de origem indígena a ocupar postos de comando na Funai. “Imagina o que era para mim, como índio, ouvir a ordem do dia do cabo Vicente, botando todos os presidiários em fila indiana, antes de tomarem um café corrido, e falando que seria metido o cacete em quem andasse errado. E que, para aquele que fugisse, havia quatro cachorros policiais, treinados e farejadores, prontos para agir”, exemplifica. “Eles não trabalhavam no sábado, que era dia de lavar a roupa, costurar, essas coisas todas. Mas, durante a semana, era trabalho escravo!”

Frente a essa realidade, Ruas afirma ter procurado o ministro do Interior – Maurício Rangel Reis, morto em 1986 – para discutir o fim da instituição correcional. Um encontro do qual diz ter saído sob ameaças de demissão. Mesmo assim, ele conta ter começado a enviar, de volta às aldeias de origem, diversos dos confinados. Ruas perdeu seu cargo pouco tempo depois.

Mas enquanto alguns saíam, a Fazenda Guarani ainda recebia, em meados da década de 1970, outras levas indígenas fruto de litigâncias fundiárias no Brasil. Foi o que ocorreu com os guaranis da Aldeia Tekoá Porã, em Aracruz (ES).

Os guaranis, explica o cacique Werá Kwaray – que passou parte da sua adolescência em Carmésia –, caminham pelo mundo seguindo revelações. E foi uma revelação que levou o seu grupo a sair do sul do país, na década de 1940, em busca da “terra sem males” – local onde, segundo as crenças da etnia, é possível alcançar uma espécie de perfeição mística, algo como um paraíso na terra. Liderados por uma xamã, chegaram a Aracruz duas décadas depois. Mas sobre aquele lugar também repousavam planos para viabilizar enormes plantações de eucalipto, um choque de interesses levou os indígenas, sob pressão e a contragosto, para a Fazenda Guarani. “Foi uma violação dos direitos sagrados dos nossos líderes religiosos”, expõe o cacique.

Depois de alguns anos em Carmésia, os guaranis retornaram a Aracruz, onde, em 1983, conseguiram a homologação da área indígena que habitam até hoje.

A virada dos anos de 1970 para os anos de 1980 marca as últimas denúncias sobre o uso da Fazenda Guarani como local de prisão, confinamento ou despejo de índios “sem terra”. Todos foram embora do local, à exceção de um grupo pataxó que lá se instalou definitivamente após sair de áreas em Porto Seguro (BA). Atualmente, o casarão que servia como sede aos destacamentos policiais foi convertido em moradia para alguns desses indígenas. E a antiga solitária local virou um depósito onde se empilham os cachos de banana abundantemente colhidos nas redondezas.

Brazilian government uses indigenous language for the first time in anti-AIDS campaign (Washington Post)

By Associated Press, Published: October 11

SAO PAULO — Brazil is using an indigenous language for the first in a campaign aimed at curbing violence against women and the spread of HIV.

The program includes folders warning that “violence or fear of violence increase women’s vulnerability to HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases” because women who fear violence can be forced to have unprotected sex.

To get the message across to indigenous populations, folders and pamphlets were prepared in Tikuna, which is spoken by more than 30,000 Indians in the western tip of Amazonas state. Educational material is being prepared in other indigenous languages as well.

The campaign is a joint effort between Brazil and three United Nations agencies including the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

“Indigenous groups have the right to this information in their own language,” said Pedro Chequer, the UNAIDS director in Brazil.

The campaign using materials in Tikuna was launched after health workers tested about 20,000 Indians for sexually transmitted diseases and found 46 with syphilis and 16 with the virus that causes AIDS, said Dr. Adele Benzaken of the UNAIDS office in Brazil.

The Tikuna Indians live near Brazil’s borders with Peru and Colombia, where prostitution and drug trafficking are rife, Benzaken said by telephone.

She said the information regarding HIV among indigenous groups will create a baseline that can be referred to in future years to determine if the incidence of the disease is increasing in that population.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

British Met Office facing legal action over pessimistic forecasts (

Wednesday October 03 2012

A tourist attraction is considering suing The Met Office after it claims a string of pessimistic forecasts kept visitors away.

Rick Turner owner of the Big Sheep in Abbotsham, Devon, said poor forecasting was to blame for lower attendance at his farm attraction business.

Mr Turner is so angry he says he’ll take the agency to court unless its forecasts improve.

He said: “The Met Office seems to come up with such pessimistic forecasts predicting chances of rain when we’re enjoying sunshine.

“We’ve had a lot rain – that’s why it’s nice and green.

“But it’s important for the tourist industry that when we do have sunshine we need to be shouting about it rather than saying there might be some chance of rain.

“The Met Office forecasters need to realise that everything they say has an impact on whether people go on holiday or go for a day out.”

The Met Office insists that forecasters have no reason to dampen spirits and are simply doing their best with the data available.

But the weather service admitted ‘No weather forecaster is going to get it 100 per cent right all the time.’

“We have to tell the weather as it is that’s what our job is. This summer has been thoroughly disappointing,” said forecaster Dave Britton.

“It’ll be hard to find someone who hasn’t found that. It’s been the wettest summer in 100 years.

“The UK is lucky enough to have one of the best weather forecasting services in the world – we should recognise that.

“We have to remember Devon is the third or fourth wettest county in England. The Met Office can’t stop it raining. We get it right 87 or 88 per cent of the time which is absolutely phenomenal.”

Malcolm Bell a tourism expert in the south west said forecasts needed to be more balanced: “The challenge is that in the forecasts the Met office says there could be showers here or there when in fact it could be dry for 90 per cent of the time.

“People just hear the word rain and that puts them off going somewhere for the day.

“There’s a difference between that goes on for two or three hours and rain that lasts ten minutes in a shower and then passes through.

“I know it’s an incredibly difficult task for the Met Office but I always advise people to look at the websites – you have to get quite local to get more accurate.”

In June Claire Jeavons, who runs the Beverley Park holiday site in Paignton, Devon, said “alarmist” forecasts which often proved groundless were having a major impact on bookings across the West Country.

Claire Jeavons, who runs the Beverley Park holiday site in Paignton, Devon, said “alarmist” forecasts which often proved groundless were having a major impact on bookings across the West Country.

“It is already causing holiday-makers to stay away,” she said. “Just a few days ago we were hearing that all caravan parks in the West Country were on flood alert, and this simply wasn’t the case.”

Tony Clish, director of Park Holidays UK which owns 700 caravans in Suffolk, said he believes weather forecasters are afraid of being caught out after recent predictions of a “barbecue summer” were proved to be inaccurate.

He said: “Coastal holiday parks in Suffolk often stay dry when it is raining inland, yet forecasters frequently tarnish the whole county with a single wet-weather symbol.

“We’re not asking them to bend the truth, but just to be more careful with phrasing. For example, they could say that while inland areas may have showers, coastal areas are expected to be dry.”