This is me next to one of the few recycling containers I have seen in Buenos Aires. The sign reads “Zero Waste.” Argentina signed the Kyoto Protocol put into legislation a zero waste law. Outrageosly, there has yet to be a measure by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government (may it be known that in all of North and South America, she is the president with the absolute lowest approval rating) to enforce this new law since it was signed in.
Last year, Greenpeace Argentina, famous for their boisterous demonstrations, attempted to put pressure on the politicians by climbing the face of the largest public monument, the Obelisco, and hanging protest signs. The demonstrators were promptly arrested for defacing public property, but the judge in their trial turned out to be a Greenpeace fan, and instead of facing jailtime, they had to comply with community service that consisted of….public education initiatives on climate change.
I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a bit about the organization because Jessica, one of my ex-pat friends down here, teaches English to their employees. I got a tour of the office, went to the fancy premier of “the Age of Stupidity” (complete with Argentine celebrities and champagne!), and attended an event for all the benefactors at Parque Sarmiento where I saw their film about everything they’ve achieved in Argentina in the last year–most notably, the successful negotiation of legislation to protect forest space in the north of the country, near the border with Bolivia.
It’s really difficult to work for an organization like Greenpeace here. The green movement just doesn’t have the same momentum that I’m used to and with the raging political paralysis and skepticism about climate change at all, there is not a huge support network. I sat in on one of Jessica’s classes. I brought in some articles about Folsom Field going Zero Waste and Xcel’s smartgrid system to show the folks a bit about what’s going on in my hometown. They were happy to hear it, but knowing that Boulder has such popular support for those kind of measures was a bit frustrating for the Argentines. It’s a tiring task in a huge city like this, where there’s so much waste that every day is trash day. The country itself has so many political and economic woes as it is, it seems that the environment is generally not a high priority. Or at least that’s what the politicians claim when refusing to begin legislative efforts at reducing waste. There’s a lack of education about the issues, but also a lack of systemic capacity that would only improve with political change.
These guys at Greenpeace are working hard though, and although there have been some practices that I wasn’t too keen on (they handed us all unrecycled paper model wind turbines at the movie premier that seemed nothing but wasteful and silly to me…but, we made our grievance clear), in general I’m excited to see that the there is some manpower here in Buenos Aires to get people up to speed on the environmental crisis.
The next big task is glacier protection. If you haven’t heard, Argentina has some of the most beautiful glaciers in the world and well…they are melting. This petition is a message to the G-20 in preparation for the Copenhagen summit to urge world leaders to assume responsibility for saving them. Help out! It’s a lot more than saving something beautiful. It’s also a huge problem in terms of the country–and continent’s– water supply. There is another petition being sent to la presidente to pressure her to stop using coal power (and to stop construction of the new plants that are currently being built).