Fidel Castro, the legendary Cuban revolutionary and politician who passed away on November 25th was known for his pioneering policies in health and education, but was equally committed to environmental issues. In this short talk given at the 1992 Earth Summit, Fidel described the global environmental crisis and identified its causes more powerfully than any other delegate.
TOMORROW WILL BE TOO LATE
Mr. President of Brazil Fernando Collor de Melo;
Mr. UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; Your Excellencies;
An important biological species is in danger of disappearing due to the fast and progressive destruction of its natural living conditions: humanity.
We have become aware of this problem when it is almost too late to stop it.
It is necessary to point out that consumer societies are fundamentally responsible for the brutal destruction of the environment. They arose from the old colonial powers and from imperialist policies which in turn engendered the backwardness and poverty which today afflicts the vast majority of mankind.
With only 20 percent of the world’s population, these societies consume two-thirds of the metals and three-fourths of the energy produced in the world. They have poisoned the seas and rivers, polluted the air, weakened and punctured the ozone layer, saturated the atmosphere with gases which are changing weather conditions with a catastrophic effect we are already beginning to experience.
The forests are disappearing. The deserts are expanding. Every year billons of tons of fertile soil end up in the sea. Numerous species are becoming extinct. Population pressures and poverty trigger frenzied efforts to survive even when it is at the expense of the environment. It is not possible to blame the Third World countries for this. Yesterday, they were colonies; today, they are nations exploited and pillaged by an unjust international economic order.
The solution cannot be to prevent the development of those who need it most. The reality is that anything that nowadays contributes to underdevelopment and poverty constitutes a flagrant violation of ecology. Tens of millions of men, women, and children die every year in the Third World as a result of this, more than in each of the two world wars. Unequal terms of trade, protectionism, and the foreign debt assault the ecology and promote the destruction of the environment.
If we want to save mankind from this self-destruction, we have to better distribute the wealth and technologies available in the world. Less luxury and less waste by a few countries is needed so there is less poverty and less hunger on a large part of the Earth. We do not need any more transferring to the Third World of lifestyles and consumption habits that ruin the environment.
Let human life become more rational. Let us implement a just international economic order. Let us use all the science necessary for pollution-free, sustained development. Let us pay the ecological debt, and not the foreign debt. Let hunger disappear, and not mankind.
Now that the alleged threat of communism has disappeared and there are no longer any more excuses for cold wars, arms races, and military spending, what is blocking the immediate use of these resources to promote the development of the Third World and fight the threat of the ecological destruction of the planet?
Let selfishness end. Let hegemonies end. Let insensitivity, irresponsibility, and deceit end.
Tomorrow it will be too late to do what we should have done a long time ago.
Fidel Castro’s Enduring Environmental Legacy
In a 2003 address to U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought, Castro expanded on the destructive impact of capitalism: “Such an economic order and such models of consumption are incompatible with the planet’s limited and non-renewable essential resources and with the laws that rule nature and life. They are also in conflict with the most basic ethical principles, with culture and with the moral values created by humankind.”
Fidel Castro: Tyrant, Revolutionary, and Environmental Crusader
Cuba’s shining array of biodiversity has earned it the nickname, the “jewel of the Caribbean,” and for good reason. The country boasts some of the largest regions of untouched forest, and its oceans are among the most pristine on Earth. Six UNESCO biosphere reserves, including the 1.5 million acre Ciénaga de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, were created to protect the island’s unique flora and fauna. And while Cuba’s wildness can reasonably be attributed to its economic isolation, Castro’s strong influence on the country’s environmental legislation has arguably helped to preserve its splendor.
CUBA: Environmental sustainability discussed
Cuban ecological thinking stresses that the global environmental crisis and the world’s social and economic crises are interrelated, in particular through way the “North” exploits the countries of the “South”. As Garrido Vazquez notes: “It is impossible to conceive of sustainable development without resolving beforehand the problems of extreme poverty, which are nothing but the results of centuries of colonial domination and exploitation, and which have re-emerged in recent times through the application of neoliberal policies.”