More mining, less democracy – Alberto Acosta on fracking in Argentina
Argentina brings its shale gas deposits into play. The Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta has examined the destruction with a tribunal.
taz: Mr. Acosta, you are judges of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, which was founded in Quito in 2014. The Google translator translates this as “International Court of Natural Rights”. What is the status of this tribunal compared to other international courts?
Alberta Acosta: It’s an Ethical Tribunal . It wants to give a voice to nature and also to the communities that live in and defend nature. In the 1960s, the Russell tribunal was a very important ethics tribunal that opened the door for civil society to prosecute US war crimes in Vietnam. Based on this tribunal, the International Rights of Nature Tribunal was founded, in which people from all continents take part.
The tribunal was in southern Argentina examining the impact of fracking in Vaca Muerta , one of the world’s largest oil shale deposits. What conclusion can be drawn?
The tribunal was able to prove the enormous damage caused by fracking to people and nature. The demand for water is brutally high and the air pollution is enormous. At best, the water, mixed with quartz sand and a cocktail of toxic chemicals, is forced underground, leading to the contamination of the water table. In addition, there is an increasing number of earthquakes caused by underground explosions. The toxic waste dumps left behind are one of the most terrifying faces of indolence and corruption in the authorities in charge .
Vaca Muerta is propagated by the government and opposition as the solution to all of Argentina’s economic and financial problems. Contradiction and resistance are simply wiped away with the prospect of billions in dollar proceeds. How does the local population react?
This has been promised for ten years and has always been a fallacy. An extended cost-benefit study would show that fracking is not profitable for Argentina. But the area of Vaca Muerta is reinterpreted as a sacrificial zone that literally has to be sacrificed for the common good. The oil companies report profits because they simply do not have to bear all the costs for the damage they cause. The Mapuche indigenous communities are putting up organized resistance. They experience the effects of the destruction and lead their fight with concrete actions. Likewise, non-indigenous settlers, albeit with less organizational capacity, are attempting to confront the environmental damage and demanding corrective action.
Why should a country where 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line renounce the exploitation of vaca muerta?
Could it not even be that such countries are poor because they are rich in natural resources? There is a kind of curse of abundance, and the states and economies that finance themselves primarily from oil and mineral exports are patronizing with authoritarian governments. The more extractivism, the less democracy. In this environment, poverty does not disappear while the gap between rich and poor is widening. It is no coincidence that Vaca Muerta in Argentina, as well as the mining areas in Peru or the oil areas in Ecuador, are among the poorest regions of the three countries.
Are the judgments of the tribunal legally binding?
No they are not. The strength of such a tribunal lies in its independence and in the qualifications of its judges, who are independent of any political or economic power. They are, in Russell’s words, “prominent figures, not because of their power, but because of their intellectual and moral contribution to what is optimistically commonly called human civilization.”
The idea of declaring ecosystems to be legal entities in order to guarantee them the right to legal certainty as independent legal entities, like living persons or companies, came up in the early 1970s. What is it based on?
The assumption of nature as an independent subject with its multiple interrelationships has a long history, also in Western culture. The much deeper starting point, however, lies with the indigenous peoples of the Americas and other continents. For her, Mother Earth or Pachamama is not just a metaphor. Because in reality, like our biological mother, this mother earth does not demand the right to love and respect her. Rather, it is mother, nature, that gives us the right to exist. And strictly speaking, the effective implementation of the rights of nature requires a kind of Copernican turn.
In 2008, the rights of nature were incorporated into the constitution in Ecuador. A novelty in which you were directly involved. What progress has there been?
At first glance, the progress seems very small. But if you look more closely, you can see that today in Ecuador there are dozens of cases where primarily indigenous communities are defending both their collective rights and the rights of nature. And I’m very happy to see that the impulse for nature’s rights that started in Ecuador is now making official progress in almost 40 countries. This includes Spain with the Mar Menor and also Germany, as the referendum in Bavaria shows, which aims to change Article 101 of the Bavarian state constitution by including the rights of nature as a legal term.