Receipt: April 18, 2022
Acceptance: May 31, 2022
Patrick Boitet, Anthony Forestier and Samah Soula, 2016 TF2, Paris.
Environmental problems are already affecting the entire planet, regardless of countries, cultures, continents or social classes. Climate change due to the emission of greenhouse gases is having an evident impact on urban and rural societies in different parts of the world.
In the face of the current environmental crisis that "emerges from the bottom of the oblivion of nature", as Enrique Leff (2014) points out, some viable alternatives are nevertheless presented. Visual language is a powerful tool to disseminate the experiences that are being presented today as feasible options, which can be seen in the documentary film Tomorrow's world. It shows some examples in which technical challenges and responses to the growing dehumanization of daily life in the cities are confronted. In addition, the productive options of the rural world are presented, as well as some projects that turn social relations into examples to be followed in the face of a world that oscillates between pessimism, despair and disillusionment.
This documentary refers to different urban and rural contexts that have in common the reaction of traditionally vulnerable social groups, the majority in Western society, to precariousness, the need for imagination to improvise means and technology or to carry out sustainable production projects that generate some economic income.
The documentary addresses issues of the global environmental crisis and some experiences that are intended to be a response to it in urban living contexts in places of USACanada, France and India. The interviews combine the problems of marginalized human groups in conditions of social vulnerability living in cities and the strategies they have to develop to optimize resources of space, housing and work in order to recycle and invent techniques that allow them a minimum income to survive. There are also cases from rural areas, in which philosophical reflections are interspersed to show how to initiate a change of mentality and decide to act as an individual to avoid the lack of social or institutional response to what is already presented as the worsening of a global environmental catastrophe. The cases presented here are examples of the way in which different human groups organize themselves in order to
to build this environmental philosophy and the defense of local models that do not separate nature from culture. These models can be economically, ecologically and culturally different and can constitute projects of alternative modernity or alternatives to modernity (Escobar, 2012: 25).
These are experiences of life in large cities and in rural areas that allow us to observe and listen to how the effort to change consumption habits, eating habits, the use of working time in the countryside, free time and family is resolved. These examples are an approach and a different way of doing things with respect to the urban model; that is, it is about promoting another way of thinking about the human being, the family, the relatives and the relationship of all of them with the natural environment. It allows us to understand the value of handmade products and also invites us to reflect on the need to live not only to earn money, but also to organize with their neighbors, with people close to them and to carry out other equally important activities, such as coexistence or work for the common good, which are aspects that help to improve the quality of life and strengthen the social fabric. In this perspective, Arturo Escobar's suggestion is correct when he states that
the starting point to transform the current reality characterized by the environmental crisis and that should lead us to the achievement of the objective of an environmental philosophy is to think about how to transform the relationship between nature and culture established by the dominant modernity (Escobar, 2012: 15).
And what better when you can see the importance of these local models as privileged spaces in the construction of this environmental philosophy in which nature is not separated from culture?
The cases of profitable rural productive units are a choice that contradicts the current idea that the countryside is no longer viable in economic terms. At least that is what people have been led to believe. It is also thought that the rural agricultural production unit is opposed to the modernity of contemporary society. The documentary, on the contrary, shows the way in which family farms and artisan work give modern life processes a quality component, which makes it possible to revalue agricultural productive activity and the bonds of solidarity, to share commitments, to live collectively and, above all, to leave behind the urban lifestyle. The adoption of a style different from the urban one implies, first of all, a change of broad perspective to which one must know how to adapt collectively, in such a way that one can find the motivation, interest and above all the collective commitment that will allow a continuity in the medium and long term. A substantial aspect of the documentary is the interview with Cyril Dion, founder of an important environmental movement in France that seeks to mobilize people around some environmental issues and also in relation to educational and economic aspects, showing that everything is linked. He made a film entitled Tomorrow which won a César award in France (equivalent to the U.S. Oscars). The film was shown at the cop21The 2015 Paris agreement, which is based on three points: containing global warming, improving the capacity of human societies to adapt to changes that are already irreversible and, finally, creating the necessary conditions for financial flows to be consistent with the objectives of the two previous points. The film shows the audience that it is possible to create the conditions to create another world and that, to do so, everyone can collaborate in their own way to build it. Its ecological militancy criticizes the urban life model, the waste of food, as well as the pollution of half of the French territory due to nitrates used in agriculture, which causes 93% of the water streams to contain pesticides. It is a reality that will affect in the long term the population living near these water sources and working in the fields. It is not possible, he points out, that a few multinational companies decide and determine what we have to eat, instead of the citizens choosing what they prefer. This is an example of the anti-democracy that is currently being experienced on a planetary scale. In this sense, the documentary places us before the current discussion in Europe regarding the future of environmental organizations and movements and their constant interaction with other political forces that determine the orientation of public policy that regulates the production of good quality food.
In relation to the above, it is necessary to point out the social phenomenon reflected in the French "neo-ruralists", who are presented in the documentary as people with no ties to rural life, i.e., they are not "agro-descendants", but live on a collective farm and in their discourse they demand a return to the model of peasant family life. This is a model that uses fresh products grown with agroecological techniques and on a small scale, and where they also raise farm animals and produce handmade products such as jams, bread, cheese, etc., which has the advantage of promoting a direct relationship between producer and consumer. This eliminates the middleman, who basically makes the products more expensive, and allows the sale of quality artisanal foods at a reasonable price. This whole process was described extensively by Bernard Kayser in his book Rural renaissance. Sociology of the countryside in the western world (2020), in which he reports on the displacement of urban and peri-urban populations to rural production areas as a consequence of the growing urbanization process that began in the 1970s in industrialized countries. Being France a country with a long history of peasant life through centuries of social history, there are still traces of rural life in different areas that, from the perspective of post-war urbanized modernity, have resisted the attempts of disappearance of large sectors linked to agricultural production, and the productive control of large agribusinesses.
Another interesting movement, although apparently more radical, is that of the off the gridIt is a "wild" camp, attended by people who temporarily leave the comfort of an apartment or a house in the city and try to live in a camp without electricity, running water, cellular phones, or TV no household appliances. They live in tents and collectively organize the food supply, access to bathrooms, laundry and participate in various workshops. It is a type of social experiment based on basic principles of coexistence with certain rules that the entire community respects, such as avoiding the consumption of drugs or alcohol or generating unnecessary garbage. In short, it is about putting into practice, in a collective way, a life opposed to individualism and the atomized life of the urban environment and whose objective is to adapt by learning survival techniques in the forest through a reencounter with nature. The experience of living a few days in this way allows to compare and value this contact with the countryside in order to later, if necessary, change the way of life and generate the necessary conditions to settle in a place far from urban stress and city agglomeration.
One aspect that stands out repeatedly in this part of the documentary is related to the income that the couples interviewed say they have. Apparently the amount of their income does not exceed 500 euros per month, that is, they can live on a third of what they would theoretically need to live in the city, which is a symptom of two things: That there is a way to save on services such as water, which is not paid because it is water that comes from the mountain, or housing rent, which is generally cheaper in the countryside, with which the income is mostly used to pay for services, as does Jim, an environmentalist who lives in the middle of the forest in a "comfortable" cabin, in which solar panels are used to supply electricity to all the rooms of the house. He thinks that the USA are a catastrophe for the planet in environmental terms, so it is necessary to change the mentality of citizens and consumers, not by telling them what to do, but by showing them by example what can be done to relax the pressure on the planet and reduce energy use, avoiding global warming and climate change.
Two more examples show how the social fabric can be strengthened through solidarity, shared responsibility and thinking in agreement with others; the first is a sawmill with 25 employees, which operates as a cooperative and in which there are no bosses or hierarchies. The workers keep the company active and generate sufficient income for all of them, earning the same salary. Important decisions are made collectively and some workers in their village of residence do unpaid volunteer work, for example, cleaning the common areas, which at the same time allows them to maintain communication with the other inhabitants and strengthen the bonds of collective cooperation, cordiality and good neighborly relations. This and the sawmill activity have allowed an increase in the number of inhabitants in the locality on a permanent basis, which has prevented the exodus that characterized this French region in the 1970s. This type of experience shows, as Wallerstein (1999) points out, that there are alternatives to the social polarization generated by the capitalist system when compared to previous economic systems that have existed in the history of mankind.
A perhaps more contrasting case with the previous ones takes place in India, where in marginal neighborhoods such as the one called Dharavi in Bombay or others in Calcutta or New Delhi, survival strategies are generated in which ingenuity determines the capacity for efficient adaptation to precarious situations. Several examples show how everything can be recycled and work with materials to generate an income.
The word that designates this condition is "jugaad", which is synonymous with improvisation, with creativity in the face of a social reality of scarcity and precariousness. The ability to improvise is important because it allows us to find solutions to problems with few resources. An engineering student manufactures a cell phone battery with more energy capacity and cheaper than those available on the market. In space engineering, chicken wire was used to build parabolic antennas, replacing aluminum, which is a very expensive material. In the automobile industry, a prototype of a "low cost" automobile was created, the kwidfrom Renault. Hospitals also save costs on heart surgeries, usually burdensome for patients' families. The cost reduction has been such that Indian surgeons have performed the same successful surgeries as those performed in the United States, but at ten times less cost. Also in India, a government official in charge of science and technology thinks that the seedbeds of the country's future scientists are to be found in the most remote and poorest communities, since he believes that it is there where children's ingenuity develops the earliest, as a consequence of the difficult living conditions, and it is these children who must be recruited for education and provided with material living conditions (good housing, food and education) to develop their capabilities and efficiently realize their contributions to national science and technology. He is convinced that it is not large universities in regional capitals, with expensive infrastructure and high enrollment, that will necessarily generate the scientists of tomorrow. Nor will the scientists of tomorrow necessarily come from well-to-do families who have had the security conditions required for an adequate education since childhood.
Another scenario of social interaction are the housing units in the urban periphery of large cities, where a multi-purpose room becomes the place for neighborhood coexistence and where collective activities are organized, or an urban vegetable garden where everyone collaborates and whose vegetables are distributed among the gardeners and the other inhabitants of the housing unit. This work, and a cooking workshop, allow moments of coexistence among neighbors, of interaction in which mutual help appears to solve domestic situations such as child care, pet care, monitoring of cleaning activities and general maintenance of common spaces, the safety of neighbors or the organization of recreational activities or the promotion of health or sports. All this makes it possible to give a positive turn to neighborhood relations, counterbalancing the usual indifference and social atomization.
A final scenario presented in the documentary has to do with a festival for 500 attendees whose motto was "Dare to live together", in which meditation sessions and conferences were given on how to "live better". Alternative energies and ecological practices were discussed, so that the participants in the workshops could recognize their ability to integrate and collaborate in some task or exercise. For four days, activities with values different from those of the fragmented and individualistic urban world were explored. In other words, a kind of bubble was created that abstracts those who participate from what happens outside, in society, where there are a series of conditions that are alien to what takes place here, with other types of objectives, values and behaviors. The idea is to make the participants react in order to develop capacities such as communicating, feeling, sharing and collaborating and to offer a level of coexistence and fraternity to achieve a specific objective.
One of the interviewees makes a reflection in the sense that it is possible to work in biocooperatives earning little salary, but eating healthy every day. Here we enter into the discussion of what the money is for: to eat healthy, or can you eat healthy in a cheap and accessible way? What should be prioritized? Apparently you have to earn thousands of euros to live well, when in reality this is not the case. The phrase "money is not happiness" is understood in the sense that you can't eat money, but instead you can buy healthy and cheap products if you approach the right producers, those who do not use agrochemicals, pesticides or transgenic seeds. In several of the interviews it is clear that there is a serious concern to invest time in other things and not in work, because, at the end of the day, you do not need a lot of money to live well. In this sense, a reflection is generated according to which the time and work invested in producing something that is nutritious and of quality is more valuable than thinking about an important monetary income that allows for more consumption. In other words, consumption of what, industrialized food or healthy food?
The experiences reported here make up a mosaic of ways of thinking and acting that go against what is considered established, both in the cities and in the countryside, which is why it is important to make these types of documentaries known. For research on environmental issues, the organizational capacity of human groups, of cultures, of the inhabitants of cities and rural localities is important, since the responses that these organized collectives give to the global environmental crisis depend on it. Many experiences have demonstrated their viability and what is common to all of them is the need to interact, to reach agreements and to coordinate the social action that can be achieved for the attainment of objectives of common interest. This documentary represents a support material for courses and extracurricular activities in communities and groups of organized citizens interested in promoting agroecology projects in school, urban and peri-urban gardens, communities of small rural producers, among others. That is why it is important to disseminate it and take advantage of the fact that it has Spanish subtitles.
Escobar, Arturo (2012). Más allá del tercer mundo. Globalización y diferencia. Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia.
Kayser, Bernard (2020). El renacimiento rural. Sociología del campo en el mundo occidental. Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán.
Leff, Enrique (2014). La apuesta por la vida. Imaginación sociológica e imaginarios sociales en los territorios ambientales del sur. México: Siglo xxi Editores.
Wallerstein, Immanuel (1999). El capitalismo ¿qué es? Un problema de conceptualización. México: unam.
Yanga Villagómez Velázquez is a graduate of the fcpands of the unam of Sociology. D. in Latin American Studies, ipealtfrom the University of Toulouse, France. Member of the National System of Researchers of the conacyt since 1998. Research Professor at the Center for Rural Studies, El Colegio de Michoacán, since 2005. For 30 years he has worked on issues related to natural resource management in rural, peasant and indigenous communities and his work has been published in prestigious journals in the United States, France, Spain and different Latin American countries. He has had academic stays at the University of Toulouse, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba. Her courses deal with the history of contemporary agrarian Mexico, Political Ecology and the management of archival collections oriented to the elaboration of graduate theses.