Monthly Archives: March 2015

Mapping the global battle to protect our planet

A new project maps environmental protest across the world, powerfully visualising a growing movement

The Atlas of Environmental Justice project tracks protests over natural resources. Photograph: EJAtlas

These struggles have sometimes toppled governments, such as the coup in Madagascar in 2008 that brought “land-grabbing” to global attention when Daewoo was given a lease to grow food and biofuels for export on half the country’s land. But most of the time, the evictions, forced relocations and the violent repression of those impacted by contamination from gold mines, oil extraction, plantations and agribusinessoperations are rarely covered in the press. Ecological violence inflicted upon the poor is often not news but simply considered to be part of the costs of “business as usual”.

While statistics on strike action have been collected since the late 19th century for many countries and now globally by the International Labour Organisation, there is no one body that tracks the occurrence and frequency of mobilisations and protests related to the environment. It was this need to better understand and to track such contentious activity that motivated the Atlas of Environmental Justice project, an online interactive map that catalogues localised stories of resistance against damaging projects: from toxic waste sites to oil refining operations to areas of deforestation.

EJatlas aims to make ecological conflicts more visible and to highlight the structural impacts of economic activities on the most vulnerable populations. It serves as a reference for scientists, journalists, teachers and a virtual space for information, networking and knowledge sharing among activists, communities and concerned citizens.

The EJatlas was inspired by the work of participating Environmental Justice Organisations, such as Grain, the World Rainforest Movement and Oilwatch International, OCMAL, the Latin American Observatory of Mining Conflicts, whose work fighting and supporting impacted communities for 20-30 years now has helped articulate a global movement for environmental justice. The global atlas of environmental justice is an initiative of Ejolt, a European supported research project that brings together 23 organisations to catalogue and analyse ecological conflicts. The conflicts are entered by collaborating activists and researchers and moderated by a team at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

At the moment the atlas documents 1,400 conflicts, with the ability to filter across over 100 fields describing the actors, the forms of mobilisation from blockades to referendums, impacts and outcomes. It resembles in many ways a medieval world map – while some regions have been mapped, others remain “blank spots” still to be filled. While much work remains to be done, the work so far offers several insights into the nature and shape of environmental resistance today.

Secondly, it shows how the globalisation of the economy and material and financial flows is being followed by the globalisation of resistance. Mobilisations are increasingly interlinked across locations: anti-incineration activists make alliances with waste-picker movements to argue how through recycling they “cool down the earth”. Foil Vedanta, a group of activists fighting a bauxite mine on a sacred mountain in India, follow the company’s supply chain to Zambia, where they reveal Vedanta is evading tax and spark street protests there. Trans-nationally, new points of convergence unite movements working on issues from food sovereignty to land-grabbing, biofuels and climate justice.

The evidence shows that “corporate social responsibility” is not a panacea and that until corporate accountability can be enforced, successful “cost-shifting” will remain a defining feature of doing business.

The danger such movements represent to powerful vested interests is attested to by the intensity of the violence and backlash wielded to repress them, with over 30% of cases shown on the map entailing arrests, killings, abuses and other forms of repression against activists. It is not an exaggeration in many countries to speak of a veritable “war against environmental defenders”.

Furthermore the number of violent conflicts is set to increase because the world’s remaining natural capital currently lies on or beneath lands occupied by indigenous and subsistence peoples. Communities who have nothing left to lose are willing to use increasingly contentious tactics to defend their way of life.

Beyond stories of disaster and degradation, the struggles documented in the atlas highlight how impacted communities are not helpless victims. These are not only defensive and reactionary battles but proactive struggles for common land, for energy and food sovereignty, for Buen Vivir, indigenous ways of life and for justice. The environment is increasingly a conduit for frustrations over the shape of capitalist development. Tracking these spaces of ecological resistance through the Environmental Justice Atlas highlights both the urgency and the potential of these movements to trigger broader transcendental movements that can confront asymmetrical power relations and move towards truly sustainable economic systems.

The up-to-date version of the atlas will be presented at the closing meeting of the Ejolt project in Brussels today where the project brings attention to the increasing persecution of environmental defenders and calls on European Union policymakers and parliamentarians to integrate environmental justice concerns into their policy agenda and move towards reducing the current atmosphere of impunity for environmental crimes.

Leah Temper is the coordinator and co-editor at EJAtlas. Follow @EnvJustice on Twitter.

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The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)

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The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) is the premier academic organization and comprehensive research center of the People’s Republic of China in the fields of philosophy and social sciences.

CASS was established in May 1977, replacing the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Professor Hu Qiaomu was the first president accredited to CASS, and he was followed by Professor Ma Hong, Professor Hu Sheng, Professor Li Tieying and Professor Chen Kuiyuan. Professor Wang Weiguang is the current president.

CASS is now made up of 31 research institutes and 45 research centers, which carry out research activities covering nearly 300 sub-disciplines. At present, CASS has more than 4,200 staff members in total, of which more than 3,200 are professional researchers.

Conducting broad international academic exchange remains one of CASS’s guidelines, and this has gained pace in recent years. The quantity of scholars participating in academic exchanges has gone from dozens of people divided into 10 batches in 1979, to over 4,100 people divided into 1398 batches in 1995. In the meanwhile, CASS has established a constructive relationship with over 200 research organizations, academic communities, institutions of higher learning, foundations and related government departments, covering more than 80 countries and regions.

Sinking money into a pit

The Miner Plan showered tens of millions of euros on the struggling mining regions
But it failed to foment job-generating alternatives to coal of in León, Teruel and Córdoba

El poblado industrial de Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo (Córdoba), de principios del siglo XX, comprado por el Ayuntamiento con fondos mineros. / JUAN MANUEL VACAS

The Marta harks back to better times. This locomotive, built in France in 1884, should be pulling a period train right now, taking tourists through the Valley of Guadiato (Córdoba) and reverting the economic decline of this mining area.

In 2008, the Socialist mayor of Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo, Luisa Ruiz, presented the train project and claimed it would be operational by 2011. The Industry Ministry funded the restoration with a 1.4 million-euro subsidy – and that was just for phase one of the project. The money came from the Miner Plan, a fund for the economic reconversion of mining areas following the decline of coal. The Guadiato Valley tourist train was going to create 10 jobs, at a total cost of 14 million euros.

But these days, the Marta is gathering dust inside a municipal warehouse, itself a vestige of a time when the French Mining and Metallurgy Society of Peñarroya (SMMP) extracted coal out of this mountainous area in Córdoba province. There is no longer any mining activity in the town and coal production in the province as a whole has dropped from 1.1 million tons in 1997, when the subsidy plan began, to 520,000 tons in 2010. But there are no alternatives.

Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo, which is now governed by the conservative Popular Party (PP), says there is no money to complete the train restoration, and officials have filed a complaint with the Civil Guard over the alleged wrongful use of the mining subsidies. Three arrests have been made and around 10 people are under scrutiny in a court investigation into the case.

The Civil Guard has also expanded its investigation to other mining subsidies in Peñarroya. Not far from the warehouse that holds the Marta, there is a residence for people with psychological disabilities. It was built by the city using three million euros in mining funds. Construction work was completed in 2010, but the building is empty: there are no patients and no caregivers. The grey, modern-looking center sticks out like a sore thumb among all the classic stand-alone homes that housed the French engineers a century ago.

On the outskirts of town, there is yet another example of a useless investment of public funds. Inside the Antolín III industrial park, the only green shoots in sight are those growing on the brambles that cover the lots. Not a single company has ever settled down here. Next door is a tire recycling plant that also received financial support from the Miner Plan, but subsequently shut down. There is graffiti on the walls about employees not getting paid.

Carlos Luna, a miner from Ariño, in the shuttered spa in his town. / DAVID ASENSSIO

Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo, a town of 11,000, has received around 26 million euros from the Miner Plan over the last 15 years. The current mayor, María Gil of the PP, says she cannot comment on the ongoing investigation. The former mayor, Ruiz, who was arrested and released but still faces charges, declined to talk to EL PAÍS for this story.

The recycling plant and the residence both sport a sign with the emblem of the Institute for Coal Mining Restructuring and Alternative Development of the Mining Regions, an agency that answers to the Industry Ministry.

Since the late 1990s, this government body has showered millions of euros on Spain’s mining areas. Figures to 2006 (the latest year available on its website) show that 227.9 million euros was spent on building industrial parks. Many of them have no tenants. Meanwhile, the number of coal miners has declined from 50,000 in the 1980s to around 5,000 today. During that time, coal production fell from 36 million tons to six million tons in 2012.

“Transportation infrastructure and collective equipment were created, but they are lying idle. Industrial parks are empty and mining museums barely get any visitors,” notes Paz Benito, a geography professor at León University who has studied the effects of the Miner Plan in the area. “Investment has been random, with short-term vision.”

Some 750 kilometers from here, in Teruel province, a small town called Andorra built an industrial park made to measure for two businesses that were going to create much-needed jobs for its 8,000 residents, following the closure of the mines. The companies set to open here were a cement plant owned by the multinational Cemex and a branch of Castelo, a maker of prefabricated architectural elements.

On a recent day, a loud group of construction workers were taking the Castelo plant apart – it was operational for no more than a few months. Metal parts are scattered around the red-and-white building that briefly contained state-of-the-art facilities. Meanwhile, the cement works cost 84 million euros to build (of which seven million were subsidies) and currently employs a maintenance crew of two. The plant never actually opened. A Cemex spokeswoman said that, given the situation, there are no current plans for this concrete giant.

Andorra has had no mines since 2005, but it continues to live off coal. And it has failed to find alternative activities despite the public funds. The cement works was stillborn, and the dozen or so businesses that went up with public money have all left. The industrial park of La Estación, so named because it is located in the same place where the coal-filled wagons used to stop, has become a training field for all the local sports clubs.

Of the 22 billion euros in public funds handed out to the mining sector since 1990, according to the Industry Ministry, most has gone to mining companies and early retirement packages. But the 2006-2012 coal plan also financed “the transition of mining areas toward economic activities with greater added value and greater quality of human resources.” This involved investing 250 million euros a year in infrastructure (including new industrial parks) and 150 million for entrepreneurial projects. All sources consulted by this newspaper agreed that the project has met with little success and lacked proper oversight.

Jesús Magadán is sitting in his office at the Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) labor union headquarters in Ponferrada (León). He figures that in 20 years, the number of miners in this area has declined from 2,800 to 650. He also talks about companies that were created with Miner funds: “Comonor and LM [makers of wind turbines], Inoxidables del Noroeste… I can’t recall any one business that is doing well.”

A cement plant that never opened in the town of Andorra (Teruel). / DAVIS ASENSIO

Most of the companies shut down after receiving the subsidies and having remained open for five years, the minimum required by the Plan to ensure the money does not have to be returned.

The solar panel maker Cel Celis opened in 2010 after a 35-million-euro investment (six of which was public money). The inauguration was attended by the deputy premier of the regional government of Castilla y León, Tomás Villanueva. On January 19, the Industry Ministry published a note in the Official State Gazette indicating that it was revoking the aid. The decision was published here after authorities found it impossible to contact the company, which is still operational although production has ground to a halt. No solar panels are being sold.

The same issue of the gazette included 15 other cases of subsidies that were being revoked from Teruel-based businesses whose managers could not be contacted. There was a ham de-boning firm (400,000 euros in aid), a three-star hotel that was never built (393,000 euros), and a sausage factory that only functioned for two years (527,000 euros).

In the last year alone, the ministry has opened inquiries on around 100 companies whose owners have gone missing, and who had either received or were set to receive a collective 50 million euros between 2007 and 2010.

“It doesn’t make any difference whether [the authorities) ask for their funds back; those are limited corporations that have already disappeared,” warns José Luis Villares, secretary of mining for CCOO, who admits that the re-industrialization of mining areas has failed to work.

There are infrastructures, decent roads that reach remote locations and industrial parks around every corner ready to accept new corporate tenants. But there are few actual jobs.

In 2011, CCOO published a report assessing the investment plan during the 2006-2008 period: “Of the 8,789 jobs promised nationwide, only 514 were created, while 4,215 were lost [due to the drop in coal production].”

Magadán insists that the program was not poorly designed, but it just failed to work because of the crisis and the energy policies of the PP government. “The wind energy firms once employed thousands of people in León and now they barely have a few hundred workers,” explains this 49-year-old who spent a quarter of a century working in a mine. He adds that it is not easy to attract businesses to geographically isolated locations.

Thirty kilometers south of Ponferrada, in Brañuelas, Benjamín Geijo, mayor since 1979 of a village that now has 400 residents, complains about the “feeling of helplessness watching my village go downhill, and knowing that it is very hard to do something about it. There used to be 17 bars and now there are just two left.”

Funded projects that failed

The following are some of the failed projects that received millions of euros in funding from the Industry Ministry to transform the economies of mining areas.

– Six million for solar panels. The Cel Celis solar panel manufacturer opened in 2010 in San Román de Bembibre (León), after an investment of 35 million euros (six million of which came from the Miner Plan). The company is now negotiating with creditors to avoid filing for bankruptcy. On January 19, the Industry Ministry announced in the Official Gazette that it was initiating proceedings to revoke state aid from a company that was originally going to create 150 jobs in the area.

– 3.5 million for medicine. In 2002 the ministry approved 3.47 million euros in aid to the pharmaceutical company Diasa Pharma, which was going to invest 8.67 million in a new plant in Turón (Asturias), providing jobs for 90 people. The company committed to maintaining those jobs through to October 2010, but in May 2009 it had a meeting of creditors and is already being liquidated, according to the local press.

– 31 million for a photovoltaic plant. Silicio Solar, a unit of a Ukrainian company, received 20.9 million euros in 2007. The plant, which was located in Puertollano (Ciudad Real), also secured 10 million in regional funds released by the Economy Ministry. It became the largest photovoltaic manufacturing plant in Spain, with nearly 500 employees. Industry sources said it shut down last December.

– 2.1 million for prefabs. In 2009, the Galician company Castelo, which makes prefabricated architectural elements, opened up its most modern plant in Andorra (Teruel) and shut it down in December 2010. It received 2.1 million euros in aid in 2007 and only created 25 out of the 100 jobs it promised.

Geijo speaks inside a restaurant near the A-6 motorway, a favorite stop for truck drivers. Brañuelas never had any mines, but it did have the train station for the coal that came out of the mountains.

Geijo, a Socialist, recalls that the mining funds allowed him to build a seniors’ residence, a business incubator and an industrial park. The only tenant in it is a company owned by Magín Fernández Feliz, 63, who treats granite and slate for use in cemeteries and roofings. “I didn’t get Miner funds, and I almost prefer it that way,” he says. Although he once had up to 12 workers, the staff is now down to himself and his business partner. But Fernández Feliz hopes that an upcoming deal to send slate panels to Germany will reactivate production.

“What should be getting reconverted around here are the people, rather than the region. The miners are retiring early with good pensions and they don’t like to take any risks. They pay for their children’s studies and help them leave the area, but they don’t invest their money. If someone wants to get this land back on its feet, it’s got to be us – we can’t wait for the Japanese, the Germans or the Americans to come do the harvest in our place,” he says.

The region of Aragón has received 350 million euros in state funds for infrastructure and 76 million more for business ventures over the course of 15 years. The regional industry commissioner, Arturo Aliaga of the nationalist Aragonese party PAR, says matters have been conducted “exquisitely” and blames the crisis for wiping out the businesses that came to Teruel through the Miner Plan.

But he underscores another hurdle to reconversion: social pressure from the mining areas to bring projects to their villages. “Did Andorra need three industrial parks? If we hadn’t built them, they would’ve killed us. Ask the man who was mayor then, from the United Left.”

In Ariño (Teruel), with a population of 900, it has been 10 years since the first stone was laid for the spa that was going to turn the local economy around. But the wellness center was never finished, and the village is still dependent on coal. Mayor Joaquín Noe goes down to the mine every day. Carlos Luna, a Socialist councilor and a miner until he recently retired, still has his hopes pinned on the spa project, which is supposed to employ around 30 people once it is up and running. “The Miner Plan was not shared out properly; it was every man for himself, and things can’t work that way,” he says.

Yolanda Casaus, a Socialist councilor for Andorra and a congresswoman for two terms during which she focused on coal issues believes that the main problem was “planning, which was more aimed at individual villages than at the whole.”

The subsidies are handed out by a group of around 20 individuals representing the regional and local governments and the unions. This group, known as Mesa de la Minería, meets at the request of the regional government, after projects have been run through a technical committee.

But Casaus feels that these meetings, which could go on for hours, were never fully transparent, leading to the approval of a few initiatives “that did not make a lot of sense for a territory like Teruel. Aragón has built industrial parks to grow poppies.”

Naturally, not all subsidized companies have collapsed. Casting Ros, in Utrillas (Teruel), makes auto parts and has become the driving force in the region. In this case, subsidies – including some from the Miner Plan – were essential to its survival. In 2008, Casting Ros had 500 workers, but a drop in production has reduced the staff to around 300.

“The funds did not produce an obvious result,” says Paz Benito, the geography professor from León University. “While I wouldn’t say they were a failure, it is obvious that they did not stem the economic apathy or the depopulation drive.”

Julio Lago, who teaches economics at the same university, had this to say to anyone attempting to obtain hard data on the Miner Plan’s results: “I tried to do a study, but when I asked the Coal Institute for figures, they didn’t give them to me. So good luck with that.”

Fermín Rodríguez, director of a center at Oviedo University, also came up with a project to evaluate the subsidy program, but says the ministry did not seem overly enthusiastic. He remembers that at the beginning of the Miner Plan, mayors would ask and the Industry Ministry would provide: “One wanted a bowling alley, another a drinking trough. It hasn’t been a model of good management.”

A source who worked at the ministry a few years ago explains how the Miner Plan was viewed from the inside: “The regions and the unions would present their projects, and the ministry would pay and look the other way. Nobody wants an assessment of that program because it is not in anybody’s interests that one be carried out.”

But the United Left coalition in León insists on an audit. “There have been subsidy hunters; companies that opened up, operated for the shortest possible time, then shut down without any control,” says Santiago Ordóñez, the coalition coordinator in the province. “Neither the Socialists nor the PP nor the unions want to analyze what happened to the money.”

Original Source

El cártel del carbón aprieta los dientes

El sexteto de grandes mineras que domina el sector mantiene el exceso de oferta
29 MAR 2015 – 00:00 CET

Un trabajador en una mina de carbón de Polonia. / BLOOMBERG  (BARTEK SADOWSKI )

El carbón, más que un mero combustible, es un símbolo. Su ingente presencia en el norte de Europa y la facilidad para transportarlo a través de una ramificada red fluvial cimentaron el desarrollo económico que en Siglo XIX impulsó la revolución industrial europea y estadounidense. Casi dos siglos después, esta energía fósil, en retroceso por sus efectos contaminantes en los países desarrollados pero muy en uso en muchas economías emergentes, sufre como el petróleo el acusado descenso de los precios: su valor se ha reducido un 52% desde 2011.

Y no es la única similitud, pues los grandes grupos empresariales productores de carbón, al igual que los de crudo, han decidido no reducir la explotación a pesar de la menor rentabilidad, con lo cual han expulsado del mercado a los rivales con mayores costes de producción. La jugada, según muchos analistas, es comparable a la que ha puesto en marcha la Organización de Países Exportadores de Petróleo (OPEP). “Es un mercado poco transparente que se ha poblado de competidores tras la fuerte subida de los precios de 2011. No obstante, las grandes mineras que lideran el sector suelen actuar de manera coordinada, en forma de cartel, como la OPEP. En este caso han elegido no reducir la producción con lo que empujarán a los productores con mayores costes fuera del mercado”, explica Diana Bacila, analista de Nena, una consultora con sede en Oslo. A la cabeza de este núcleo duro del carbón están la anglo-suiza Glencore, las anglo-australianas Rio Tinto y BHP Billiton, la anglo-sudafricana Anglo American, la colombiana Cerrejón, y la colombo-estadounidense Drummond.

La Agencia Internacional de la Energía estima que el carbón aun satisface el 30,1% de las necesidades energéticas mundiales —el petróleo supone el 31%— genera más del 40% de la electricidad global y se utiliza en el 70% de la producción mundial de acero. La explotación de este recurso va, además, en ascenso. El Deutsche Bank calcula que la producción de carbón en el mundo ascenderá este año a 1.083 millones de toneladas, lo que supondrá un incremento de un 1% respecto a 2014. Contrariamente, su consumo bajará un 1%, hasta las 1.053 millones de toneladas. El exceso de oferta alcanzará los 30 millones de toneladas, el triple que el año pasado.

El principal motivo de este exceso de producción es una reducción del consumo de China, principal productor y consumidor del mundo. “El aumento de la generación de energía hidroeléctrica, el impulso que el Gobierno ha dado a la energía nuclear y la aplicación de políticas anticontaminantes más duras ha llevado a China a tener un exceso de oferta doméstica que la ha obligado a modificar su posición en el mercado internacional”, explica Bacila. Los datos del Gobierno chino señalan que en 2014 el país aumentó el consumo de petróleo en un 5.9% y el de gas natural en un 8.6%. El consumo de carbón cayó un 2.5%. A lo largo de 2014, además, Pekín importó 215 millones de toneladas de esta materia prima, un 15% menos que en 2013.

Citigroup ha calculado que la tasa de crecimiento de la demanda de carbón en China en los próximos años será de la mitad que en el pasado lustro. Este ajuste de las importaciones y el aumento de la oferta global es lo que está detrás del desplome en los precios. El análisis del FOB Australia, el índice que se suele tomar como referencia global, revela que el carbón térmico, que se utiliza en la producción de energía, valía en febrero de 2011 147,5 dólares por tonelada y que, en marzo pasado, su valor fue de 59,5 dólares por tonelada. La cotización del carbón metalúrgico, que se utiliza en la producción de acero, valía 378 dólares por tonelada en enero de 2011, casi cuatro veces más que en marzo de este año, cuando su valor ascendió a 100,2 dólares.

“La estrategia de los productores es de alguna forma comparable con la del sector petrolero, aunque no exista ningún cartel formalmente organizado como la OPEP. Desde 2013 hubo un esfuerzo para recortar costes, sobre todo a través reducciones de plantilla y renegociaciones de las condiciones con las empresas subcontratadas, que ha hecho que las compañías de mayor envergadura hayan conseguido mantener su cuota de mercado pese al desplome de los precios. También la fuerte reducción del coste del crudo, en un sector que cuenta con mucha maquinaria alimentada con diésel, ha contribuido a que los altos niveles de producción sigan siendo sostenibles”, asegura Michael Hsueh, analista del Deutsche Bank.

También el fortalecimiento del dólar ha favorecido a la industria. El dólar de Australia, patria de varias de las empresas mineras más importantes del mundo, ha retrocedido cerca de un 8,5% de valor frente al dólar de EE UU y ha permitido a esas firmas consolidar su cuota de mercado gracias al abaratamiento de su carbón. “Las empresas de Rusia y Colombia, dos grandes productores cuya monedas han retrocedido un 50% y un 20% frente al dólar estadounidense, respectivamente, también han obtenido grandes beneficios”, remacha Basila.

Las firmas estadounidenses viven la situación opuesta. El fortalecimiento de su moneda ha mermado la capacidad de las empresas de competir en el mercado internacional. “Los principales yacimientos de carbón, además, se hallan en Wyoming [en el centro del país]. Como las exportaciones de carbón están dirigidas principalmente a Europa, los costes de transporte son elevados”, arguye Andrew Moore, analista del mercado del carbón de EE UU de Platts, la división de energía de la consultora estadounidense McGraw Hill. La situación en el Viejo Continente tampoco favorece a esas empresas. El índice europeo de precios de los contratos negociados con un año de antelación, recopilado por Bloomberg, cayó este mes hasta los 56,60 dólares por tonelada, el precio más bajo desde septiembre de 2007. Solo el año pasado perdió el 29% de su valor.

David Perry, director de servicio de análisis del mercado global del carbón en la consultora IHS Energy, dice que las dificultades para rentabilizar la producción van a persistir por lo menos hasta 2016, “ya que el precio global del carbón se va a mantener estable alrededor de los 60 dólares por tonelada”. El analista arguye que el motivo por el que el exceso de oferta no disminuye es que “cerrar una mina tiene costes muy elevados, tanto en términos objetivos como por la imagen de una empresa. No se trata tanto de querer formar un cartel, sino de no querer ser el primero en disminuir la producción, sobre todo ahora que algunas empresas ha optimizado sus costes hasta en un 20%, o las de Indonesia [otro gran productor] que también han conseguido ahorros significativos”. El futuro, de todas maneras, se vislumbra poco alentador para las empresas de EE UU: “Las minas norteamericanas tienen costes de gestión y laborales muy elevados. Le resultará más difícil permanecer en un mercado tan complicado”, augura Perry.

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Overscaled Urbanization (Tim Franco Captures the Overscaled Urbanization of Chongqing)

© Tim Franco These days, many of China‘s largest urban areas are easily recognizable to people from all over the world, with the skylines of coastal mega-cities such as Shanghai andBeijing taking their place in the global consciousness. Far less known though is the inland city of Chongqing – another of China’s five top-tier “National Central Cities” – where in 2010 the Chinese government embarked on a plan to urbanize a further 10 million of the region’s rural population, with around 1,300 people now moving into the city every day.

Since his first visit to the city in 2009 photographer Tim Franco has been on a mission to document the rapid change in what he believes is “maybe the most widely unknown megacity in the world.” The result is Metamorpolis, a forthcoming photographic book by Franco with text by British journalist Richard Macauley, which documents the colossal scale of development juxtaposed against the people of Chongqing – many of whom still live an incongruous rural lifestyle among the concrete sprawl. Read on after the break for more images from the book and an interview with Franco about the experience of documenting one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

You are European, and based in Shanghai. What made you choose Chongqing for this project, instead of other Chinese cities?

Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and many of Chinese coastal cities are very famous world wide; everybody has seen them and knows about them. They are the ones which were developed first when the economy boomed in China. I really wanted to witness the fast urban development of the country but I felt that in Shanghai, I was a bit too late – all the famous images of the city have circulated worldwide.

That is why in 2009 I embarked on a small road trip to central China to visit some other secondary developing cities such as Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing. After a few days in Chongqing, I quickly understood it was the city I wanted to document. The most obvious reason is that this growing megalopolis is located right in between mountains and giant rivers, which give it a very unique scale. Most of the big cities in China are flat and extended but because of its unique geographical location, Chongqing is urbanizing through beautiful elements which gave the photos a very particular aesthetic. The second reason is that, being the latest province city to be created in China, and because of the different policies following the construction of the three gorges dam project, Chongqing was facing one of the fastest urbanization rates in the world. With almost two-thirds of Chongqing’s population still rural, the local government is trying to invert that trend and relocate a massive population of farmers into the city. I really felt that Chongqing was a representation of what was going on in the whole country, except in a rapid and city-scale simulation.

© Tim Franco

What was your impression as a European when you first experienced Chongqing?

My first week in Chongqing was thrilling! I felt like I was in Blade Runner, walking through dark alleys and getting lost in maze-like streets. Discovering different levels, taking elevators and cable cars to travel from one part of the city to the others. It looked to me like a chaotic and dark mix of Manhattan and Hong Kong. At that time, the local government was still chasing the giant mafia ring that controlled most of the city’s business for so many years: it felt like I was part of a movie! I couldn’t wait to go back there as soon as I left. It is kind of strange because the darkness and the mess of a city can be quite depressing and violent, but this also gives it a unique style and energy that made me want to photograph it even more.

You’ve already been documenting Chongqing’s urban expansion for five years. Have you noticed any changes in how the city is expanding?

The changes I have witnessed in Chonqqing are tremendous! I have seen entire districts disappearing in the center of the city. Some of the houses destroyed were witnesses to the Kuomintang era when Chongqing was the capital of China. I have seen farmlands on the North side of the city being taken over by concrete roads and housing complexes, with farmers continuing to plant vegetables between highways or on the side of construction sites.

I basically witnessed the entire center of the city growing into highrise glass towers, and luxury shops appearing like mushrooms on the main pedestrian street. In 2009, I was struggling to find good coffee in the morning – now I can have one on the 58th floor of the Westin Hotel overlooking the city, shop at H&M and get my new iPhone in the fancy Apple store that just opened. It’s almost unbelievable.

But it is also sad to see how the city is struggling with its originality, trying to copy other famous cities in the world, with a replica of Hong Kong IFC, a fake Zaha Hadid, or the new star project being build at the tip of the peninsula influenced by the Marina Bay Sands building in Singapore.

Do you think the people of Chongqing are adapting well to the city’s dramatic changes?

This is a tough question and according to who you ask in the city, you may get many different answers. As a Westerner walking in the city you are very quickly shocked by the amount of traditional architecture and old buildings being destroyed, almost like erasing signs of the past. But when talking to the people who lived in very poor conditions in some of those buildings with little access to electricity or basic heating, you understand why they are welcoming the transition to high rise building.

As ugly as they may look, they offer them a new level of comfort and a feeling of modernity. A feeling of becoming part of Chinese growth and not being left behind. But part of the population, especially people coming from the rural areas, are often struggling with the pace of urbanization. Often, the older generations don’t even know how to read or write. They find themselves moved to the city only knowing how to grow vegetables, so they start to find whatever land is available downtown to do the only thing they know how to do.

To be very honest I am very impressed by how the people in China learn to adapt. It seems whatever happens and whatever the difficulty, they always find a way to adapt, create small business and communities. Even though the city is growing at an incredible speed, every part of the city seems active.

© Tim Franco

One of the most striking things about your photographs is how you are able to simultaneously capture human-scale elements in the foreground with the huge buildings looming behind. Is there a particular camera setup you use for this or is it all about finding the right place to take a photo?

I am glad you brought this up, because it was exactly what I tried to do in this project! I used to shoot a lot of urban landscapes prior to this project and I only found my photos interesting when I added a human element to them, to give them scale and to see how the space was actually being used. This process was important for me in documenting Chongqing. I really wanted to show how the city was growing out of proportion and to give a very visual idea of how enormous these constructions and buildings are.

I don’t think there is a particular set up. I am using an old medium-format film camera, and I always try to spot the places with the city and the construction in the background and people in the foreground. This also allows me to be to invisible to the people I photographed so their action and behavior could be more natural in the photo. In general, I don’t like to force myself upon the people I photograph, so I either take a step back and photograph them in their environment or if I come closer, I engage them first in a conversation and explain to them what I am doing before taking a portrait.

© Tim Franco

Do you have a favorite place in Chongqing to search for photo opportunities?

I am not sure if I have a favorite place. The cable car running through the city (the one you can see on some of the photos and in particular on the video) is quite incredible because it takes you through the different layers of the city – actually, it used to do that, now half of those layers have been destroyed! In general, I am very attracted to every kind of place that gives you a sense of the scale of the city, with the rivers, the building, the mountains and the people.

How do you search out new places in the city that could be interesting?

These days, I rely on a network of people who are living in the city, both locals and foreign people that tell me about new places they discover. Often I also just find a place on the map I have never been to and take a taxi or a motorbike ride there. There is a good chance that on the way, I might find a new incredible place like a giant hole in the ground, some farmland in the middle of a construction site, or another architectural curiosity. For a while, I had a cheap motorbike which I purchased for about $200 USD and drove around the city and beyond. I sold it later for a little less.

© Tim Franco

What do you think the future holds for Chongqing?

It is going to be interesting to look at the future of Chongqing. It is certainly becoming one of the biggest cities in China, and it’s facing a very big challenge in urbanizing a very large rural population. A lot of of other cities are looking at Chongqing to see how those urbanizing policies will work for the economic and social future of the city. For me personally, even if part of the process ends with the book being finalized, I will still continue to document the city as it grows.

Original Source

“De todas las pseudociencias, la más peligrosa es la teoría económica ortodoxa”. Entrevista Mario Bunge · · ·

Daniel Arjona entrevistó para el diario español El Mundo al filósofo argentino radicado en Canadá Mario Bunge.

Recién regresado a Montreal (donde vive) tras dos semanas de vacaciones en las Antillas, Mario Bunge (Buenos Aires, 1919) responde por correo electrónico a El Cultural con rapidez y minuciosidad insólitas a cada nueva tanda de preguntas de lo que acaba siendo una vertiginosa conversación transoceánica. Y eso que: “Ya no estoy tan ágil como a los noventa años”. El sabio Bunge, filósofo analítico y uno de los científicos más citados, ha publicado Las pseudociencias, ¡vaya timo! (Laetoli), la primera recopilación en español de sus textos sobre las pseudociencias dispersos en publicaciones científicas anglosajonas. Una denuncia de las supercherías de todo pelaje, de la parapsicología al psicoanálisis, sin olvidar teorías económicas y determinismos varios. Un libro con voluntad polémica.
En la comunidad científica la cita es un elemento clave para la difusión y convalidación de los hallazgos. Si buscamos al científico nativo en español más citado de los dos últimos siglos, según el exhaustivo Hall of Fame hecho público recientemente por la Association for the Advancement of Science, el primero que encontramos de una lista encabezada por Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin y Albert Einstein es al también filósofo escéptico y apasionado racionalista argentino Mario Bunge (Buenos Aires, 1919). En Las pseudociencias, ¡vaya timo! (Laetoli) Bunge, de cuya extensísima producción intelectual dan cuenta medio centenar de libros escritos, recopila sus textos fundamentales sobre las pseudociencias y presenta una apología irrenunciable de la ciencia. Y una vacuna contra los timos que nos infectan a diario: pulseras energéticas, babas de caracol rejuvenecedoras, horóscopos, cátedras homeopáticas en universidades, supercuerdas…

¿Por qué la filosofía?

-Stephen Hawking dispensa en su último libro sendas necrológicas de la religión y de la filosofía. ¿Por qué usted, reconocido ateo, se niega a dejar de ser filósofo por mor de ser científico?

-Los filósofos se plantean problemas mucho más generales que los científicos. Por ejemplo, qué es la materia, en lugar de preguntarse sobre las propiedades del agua o de la llamada materia oscura. Y se permiten poner en duda algunas especulaciones de los científicos, tales como las de Hawking sobre el mal llamado origen del universo, que en realidad es el origen de la expansión del universo. Análogamente, los filósofos de la mente se preguntan sobre la naturaleza de los procesos mentales en general, en lugar de averiguar, por ejemplo, cómo interactúa el órgano del conocimiento -la corteza cerebral- con el de la emoción -el llamado sistema límbico”.

– Las pseudociencias son un timo, pero, ¿no suele el “timador” aprovecharse de la avaricia del timado?

– Los chamanes y psicoanalistas no recurren a la avaricia sino al deseo de comprender la vida sin estudiarla seriamente. Como dijo Borges, los psicoanalistas explotan el narcisismo, en particular el concreto deseo de que alguien ajeno se ocupe de nuestros problemas personales.

– Cuando escucha la palabra “energía”, ¿echa mano a la pistola?

– Empiezo por preguntar si se trata de una energía especial, tal como la gravitacional o la química, o del concepto general de energía. Si es lo primero, sugiero que se consulte obras científicas; si lo segundo, observo que el concepto general de energía pertenece a la ontología, donde puede definirse como la capacidad de cambiar. De esto trata un capítulo de mi próximo libro, Filosofías y fobosofías.

– ¿Y cuando alguien se justifica “es que los Capricornio somos así…”?

– Tengo la suerte de que rara vez me topo con creyentes en la astrología. Supongo que ésta es una de las ventajas de los que nacimos bajo el signo de Virgo.

– ¿Que un farmacéutico venda homeopatía es como si un arquitecto edificara sin materiales?

– Buena analogía. Desgraciadamente, la enorme mayoría de los creyentes en la homeopatía no saben que algunas de las diluciones que les venden como fármacos homeopáticos son del orden de una molécula por galaxia, lo que las hace totalmente ineficaces.

La pseudociencia más peligrosa, la teoría económica académica

En la atiborrada pasarela de las pseudociencias hay estrellas que despuntan. Y no es fácil estar al día de las que más se llevan.“Depende del país. En Argentina todas prosperan por igual. En México, el chamanismo herborístico. Y en los Estados Unidos, la teoría económica estándar”.

– ¿Y cuál es la pseudociencia más peligrosa?

– La teoría económica estándar, porque sustenta las políticas económicas de los gobiernos conservadores y reaccionarios, que son enemigos del bienestar de la gente común.

– ¿Y la más extravagante?

– La llamada psicología evolutiva, que pretende explicar todo lo social en términos biológicos imaginarios, tales como el deseo de todo hombre de difundir al máximo sus genes.

Mario Bunge se doctoró en ciencias físico-matemáticas en la Universidad de la Plata en 1952. Allí y en Buenos Aires impartió física teórica y filosofía hasta que dio el portazo a la Argentina en 1963. Tras enseñar en México, Estados Unidos y Alemania se instaló definitivamente en Montreal (Canadá) donde obtuvo la cátedra Frothingam de Lógica y Metafísica de la Universidad McGill. Su carrera, sancionada por 16 doctorados Honoris causa y por el premio Príncipe de Asturias en 1982, admite escasos parangones.

Pseudociencias en expansión

Siempre acompañaron a sus investigaciones la atención perenne a los fraudes pseudocientíficos, cuya expansión metastásica hoy considera Bunge un hecho. Lo demuestra con una impagable lista de ejemplos:

“El determinismo genético de Dawkins, Pinker y Chomsky es más popular que nunca; un número creciente de físicos defiende que los ladrillos últimos del universo son los bits o unidades de información; muchos cosmólogos eminentes sostienen que el universo salió de la nada; la multimillonaria Templeton Foundation, cuya misión es unir la religión con la ciencia, acaba de concluir un acuerdo con la American Association for the Advancement of Science por el cual van a patrocinar juntos reuniones y seminarios sobre religión, ética y ciencia; hace dos décadas las universidades norteamericanas ofrecían unos pocos cursos sobre ciencia y religión, pero hoy son más de 1.000; la Food and Drug Administration, que está a cargo de la salud pública, tolera que miles de estafadores prometan por Internet curar enfermedades que la medicina aún no puede curar…”

Guerra al psicoanálisis

El también filósofo Juan José Sebreli (Buenos Aires, 1930) al que su compatriota Bunge sólo reprocha que “se meta con el fútbol porque no le gusta y nunca lo jugó” [en referencia al libro de Sebreli La Era del fútbol, 1998] es otro gran pensador de nacionalidad argentina que comparte con el entrevistado un enemigo especialmente conspicuo y peligroso en su país de origen: el psicoanálisis.

Si Sebreli, crítico irredento de los mitos modernos, ha tachado al psicoanálisis de “irracionalista”, “moda” y “onerosa terapia interminable” (El Cultural, 27/12/2007), Bunge no es más taimado en su último libro: “El psicoanálisis viola la ontología y la metodología de toda ciencia genuina. […] No está calificado para considerarse una ciencia. Contrariamente a la creencia general, no es siquiera una ciencia fallida, puesto que prescinde del método científico e ignora los contraejemplos. Se trata simplemente de charlatanería psicológica”.

– ¿Y la legión de psicoanalistas argentinos no ha pedido la revocación de su nacionalidad?

– Todavía no, pero no me sorprendería que un día lo hagan.

Sólo los fanáticos odian a las personas tanto como las doctrinas

– ¿Cómo sobrelleva un escéptico el martirio de pegarse día a día con todo el mundo?

– Muy bien, sólo los fanáticos odian a las personas tanto como las doctrinas. Uno puede ser intolerante con las teorías falsas, pero tolerante con quienes las sustentan, a condición de que no medren con ellas.

– Dice usted que una de las pseudociencias con más adeptos hoy -entre científicos como Richard Dawkins- es el determinismo genético. ¿Cuál es su falla?

– Lo que pasa es que Dawkins no es un científico sino un divulgador. Peor, la genética que difunde no es la científica sino su versión personal de la misma. Además, jamás se tomó la molestia de aprender el Abecé de la psicología, que muestra que nuestros procesos mentales están fuertemente influidos por el entorno social, como señalan los estudios serios sobre gemelos “idénticos” criados en hogares de clases sociales y ocupaciones muy diferentes.

– Que los fraudes se invistan de ropajes científicos, ¿no rinde un homenaje al poder y legitimidad de la ciencia hoy?

– Efectivamente. En política sucede algo parecido: suele oprimirse o explotarse a la gente en nombre de la libertad (neoliberalismo) o de la igualdad (comunismo).

– Ni comunismo ni “neoliberalismo” son teorías científicas de la sociedad. ¿Cuál lo sería?

– Distingamos teoría política de ideología política. Encontrará bastante de ambas en mi Filosofia política (Gedisa, 2009). En particular, verá que, aunque prefiero la socialdemocracia a sus alternativas, propongo otra, a saber, el socialismo cooperativista, que aún no ha sido ensayado a escala nacional. Pero ya lo entrevieron los dos únicos auténticos socialistas que ha parido España: Louis Blanc (quien floreció en París aunque nació en Madrid) y el jesuita vasco Jose María Arizmendiarreta, cofundador de Mondragón.

– ¿Por qué la mayoría de los escépticos es de izquierdas? ¿No son también, tanto la izquierda como la derecha, supercherías a extinguir?

– Creo que eso ocurrió entre la Ilustración y la Segunda Guerra Mundial, con la excepción de los marxistas ortodoxos, que eran dogmáticos y se decían de izquierda. Desde 1945, la izquierda europea ha sido infectada por el postmodernismo, que es irracionalista y, en particular, anticientífico.

– Chesterton decía que cuando dejamos de creer en Dios empezamos a creer en cualquier cosa. ¿No erigió el catolicismo una suerte de defensa contra fraudes new age?

Competir por las almas

– Lo dudo, porque las supercherías postmodernas emergieron mucho después de Chesterton. Lo que es cierto es que el catolicismo ortodoxo se opone a las demás supersticiones porque compite con ellas por nuestras “almas”. Pero también combate a las filosofías procientíficas, en particular las materialistas. Muchos filósofos católicos comparten y difunden las ideas de Popper porque éste creía en la mente inmaterial.

– Señala que la difusión de la superstición es un fenómeno psicosocial que debería ser sometido a investigación científica. ¿Cuál es su diagnóstico?

– No lo sé. Los expertos en manipulación de la opinión pública -en materia comercial y científica- son más numerosos que los investigadores de los mecanismos psicosociales involucrados en la credulidad.

– Si las supersticiones infectan las mentes tal que virus, ¿qué nos vacunaría contra ellas?

– La única vacuna eficaz es una combinación de educación científica con reflexión filosófica. La primera no basta, como lo muestra el caso de eminentes científicos que han creído en la parapsicología, la homeopatía y otras yerbas. Tampoco basta la filosofía, ya que está llena de supersticiones, tales como las del alma inmaterial y el conocimiento intuitivo y a priori.

Al final de la charla, cuando el periodista pregunta al filósofo por su particular pseudociencia biográfica, la idea defendida antaño de la que más se avergüenza, la respuesta, parca y exacta, tampoco tarda en llegar:

– La dialéctica de Hegel y sus discípulos marxistas.

Mario Bunge es el más importante e internacionalmente reconocido filósofo hispanoamericano del siglo XX. Físico y filósofo de saberes enciclopédicos y permanentemente comprometido con los valores del laicismo republicano, el socialismo democrático y los derechos humanos, son memorables sus devastadoras críticas de las pretensiones pseudocientíficas de la teoría económica neoclásica ortodoxa y del psicoanálisis “charlacanista”.

Fundamentos para el análisis los de espacios públicos