By Daniel Díaz Romero
He has written about 17 books related to the subject, including "The business of poisoning", an essay on toxic substances and dangerous industries, back in 1988 when few noticed the seriousness of this issue; “Green memory: ecological history of Argentina”, an investigation on the environmental history that covers the ecology of our country since colonial times. "Green against Green: the difficult relations between economy and ecology", "Ecology in the Bible", research on environmental history and "Ecological history of Ibero-America: From the Mayans to Don Quixote", among other publications.
But also, he is passionate about art and a prolific writer; He has edited books on economics and economic history, narrative, and is the author of plays and publications for environmental education for children, as well as children's fiction.
His works and thoughts have been studied in academic circles around the world.
But in addition, Brailovsky is a committed intellectual: He was a plaintiff in the trial that led to the ban in Argentina of the defoliant 2,4,5-T (trichlorophenoxyacetic). Thanks to him, the infamous "Agent Orange" (used in the Vietnam War) stopped being used in our country in 1983.
In a one-on-one with the Environmental Press Room we spoke with this essential man of Argentine ecology.
- What are the main environmental problems in Argentina?
- The common thread of ecological problems is the issue of water. Climate change is the result of the fact that all the mistakes made by human beings have been promoted and, especially, the mismanagements related to the use of water resources. In Buenos Aires, it cannot be admitted that they continue to use the Río de la Plata as a water tank and a toilet at the same time. In the rest of the country we have problems due to lack or excess, that is, poor water management, based on ideas such as developing countries on the wetlands of the Luján river, which becomes a criminal act in the province of Buenos Aires.
"In Córdoba, which is a semi-arid area, it is absurd that there are projects to install golf courses that require enormous water consumption," says Brailovsky, referring to the El Terrón de Mendiolaza undertaking and adds that "you live in a province that would have to have the water absolutely regulated and obsessively controlled. Córdoba should be in permanent water emergencies and not from time to time. This emergency criterion should condition everything that is done. It seems that the authorities manage the water as if it were a humid region ”.
- What is the relationship between the water problem and mega-mining in our country?
- Following this common thread that is water, mega-mining undoubtedly puts the water resource at risk and I am not only referring to the spills that Barrick Gold produced in San Juan (spills of more than one million liters of cyanide water in the Veladero mine); I point out that while the company is in place, something can solve the problems it generates, but when they leave they will leave an extraordinary environmental liability: tail dams that are immense lakes of contaminated mud that will be dangerous while there is life in the Land and that, when there is a seismic movement, they will end up in the water basins of a province like San Juan, which, unlike Córdoba, is an arid territory. So there is no forecast about what will happen to this environmental liability or what will happen to the risk of contaminating drinking water sources in that province, because this contamination with heavy metals will last forever. Every mining project leaves cyanide, which is the least of it, because it degrades over time. The most serious thing is that they will leave a set of heavy metals that will remain forever.
- Is the water management policy erratic in our country?
- On the one hand, they are overstressing water resources in places where they are scarce (Córdoba and San Juan) and, on the other hand, they are irresponsibly managing human settlements in humid areas (Buenos Aires). In our country, the humid zones have descended towards the water: one has the fantasy - because we see the maps only in two dimensions - that the cities extend horizontally, but in reality they are magnified vertically downwards, towards the water courses. Cities are founded on high ground, in a safe zone and when those areas are saturated, urbanization begins to decline and, due to climate change, when cities go down and rivers rise, people find themselves in the water without any responsible foresight by the authorities. For this reason, I believe that the issue of water, in its infinite facets, is the main environmental issue in the country now and for years to come. Climate change does not bring anything new to Argentina, it simply deepens the consequences of previous mistakes, which have been innumerable.
- What is your opinion of the role of the NGOs that are participating in the national government?
- The same thing always happens with traditional NGOs, as with political organizations that appear far away and contrast with the State: as time goes by, they get bigger and more powerful and, at the same time, more influenced by the governments or international business interests, thus leaving a space vacant for others to appear, much more rebellious, and this has been happening since the French Revolution.
- How do you analyze the management of macrismo environmental policies?
- Same as Kirchnerism. They have not put the environment on the political agenda and, therefore, consider it a minor issue.
- Has the creation of a Ministry as one of the first measures of the government been a positive development?
- A new Ministry in charge of a man who has no idea of the environment. The best that can be said about Sergio Bergman is that he is a good guy; We cannot say that he was involved in the Panama Papers but he has no idea about the issue of ecology. Do we create a ministry and call a person who does not understand anything about it? Clearly that is a political response because when it comes to managing the capital of a country we put a guy who understands economics and when we talk about the environment we put a guy who is good but doesn't understand anything about it. This indicates a priority. We put the right people when it comes to handling money and we put anyone to figure when it comes to the environment. It is an indicator of priorities.
- In Argentine history, was there a stage in which the environment has been valued?
- Each stage has had its contribution, from the way in which the indigenous and the Jesuits managed the jungle, from how the Andean peoples cultivated on terraces, Belgrano and their concern for the care of the soil, Sarmiento with forestry and Florentino Ameghino with the watershed management. In Sarmiento's time, even the cleaning of the stream, eradicating the polluting industries that were the saladeros. The problem was the lack of continuity and an inclusive vision. Each one made their valuable contributions and others who did nothing, of course.
- Of these historical figures, who would you highlight?
- In Argentina, without a doubt, Florentino Ameghino. He was the first to propose a comprehensive vision of watersheds. In Latin America, Alexander Von Humboldt, who was not American but traveled a large part of the continent with a very interesting vision integrating the Natural and Social Sciences. He was the first to travel accompanied by a cartoonist, an artist with the idea not only of describing ecosystems but of showing them, let's say he was the forerunner of National Geographic and of course with a very played opinion -in colonial times- against slavery and in favor of the independence of Latin American countries. The one who convinced Simón Bolívar of his place in the world was Humboldt.
- Is there a real concern for the environment in our society?
- In society yes and in the political class no. It is one of the many chasms that exist between those who are voted and those who vote for them. Society reacts to environmental problems that are seen, a clearing, for example. But all the cities in the agricultural zone are taking the water that comes from under the fumigated fields. Nobody is doing an analysis of the pesticides in the water of the network and this should be driving us more or less crazy, but the political sector looks the other way.
- Is Monsanto responsible for death and poisoning in Argentina?
- There has always been an effort to hide the consequences of the actions of these companies: when Dr. Andrés Carrasco empirically demonstrated that Glyphosate affected embryos, the CONICET (National Council for Scientific and Technical Research) disavowed it, including the Minister of Science and Technology, using unscientific arguments. We need serious research on pesticides. The Monsanto thing does not go through discussing a product, but a package of products because Glyphosate is never used alone, others of worse fame are used, many of them are even smuggled. Among them, the Endosulfan banned in Argentina, which is mixed with glyphosate. The bottom line is that when the government approves the use of a pesticide, they believe everything that the company that manufactures it says: the use of Glyphosate was approved within 24 hours and then only the risk of acute poisoning is addressed. That is, how many mice die with how many drops of the product. I believe that long-term effects on human health and the ecosystem have to be analyzed, and they are not doing this. The portfolio presented by a company is a point of view, one must see the others, before approving the use of a pesticide.
- Today, are you consulted or do the authorities ask you for advice?
- No, because you know the first thing I am going to say: private business should not take precedence over public interest. So, they don't even consult me.
(*) Article published in the Environmental Press Room (*) / Source: ECOS Córdoba.