Archive for Correo del Lector

The Horror Tour

Lucía Gascón Castillero
Society & the Environment
March 21, 2013

Executive Summary

The activity that I chose was a tour called “The Horror Tour”, in which we visited several points in the Cuenca El Ahogado, the basin along which the main river in Guadalajara, Río Santiago, passes by. The Santiago River is one of the most polluted rivers in Mexico. It receives dense toxic waste from an industrial development corridor in the state of Jalisco, as well as the sewage of Guadalajara Metropolitan Area and smaller urban centers like Ocotlán, El Salto and Juanacatlán.
This tour took place on Saturday, February 23rd, 2013, from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. It was organized by the members of a volunteer group in ITESO called Por Nuestro Río, which is mainly focused on the problem of the Santiago River through collective actions, communication and education. Their purpose is to build a bridge between the sectors involved in the death of the river, and participate in bringing life back to it and those who suffer its pollution from nearest. The objective of the tour was raising awareness in all the participants who attended, and who, like me, did not really know the seriousness of the problem.
The tour consisted on the following: We met at ITESO at 8 in the morning, and all took a bus to several points that have certain relevance to the Cuenca El Ahogado. The points we visited, in order, were: Capilla Tepeyac, ITESO Water Treatment Plant, San Sebastianito, Las Pintas, Santiago River, and El Ahogado Dam.
Along the tour, we met people involved in the conflict, who are directly affected by the problem of the river, and who talked to us about their personal experiences; we also met professionals, like professors or the members of the group Por Nuestro Río, who gave us explanations on the conflict to help us understand better.


There are several actors involved in the conflict of the Santiago River, each of them holding a posture about the problematic, and therefore playing a role in it. The town halls in the Metropolitan Area, the state government, the industries throwing their waste on the river, scientists, environmental activists, and of course, the population living along or close to the river, are all amongst these actors.
According to what we saw in class, when it comes to the environment people appeal to different ethical principles or values to justify their particular vision of nature. On one side, the municipal and state governments are behaving with indifference, not doing anything significant about the problem because they do not take responsibility for it, but they attribute it to one another. The only relevant action that took place recently was the installation of a water treatment plant near the industrial corridor, which removed both the odor and the foam present in the water, but not the toxics or the chemicals.
On the other side, there are the industries that shape the El Salto industrial corridor, which hold a vision of economic growth. As long as they keep getting wealthier, there is nothing they are willing to change. As long as they can produce the greatest amount of goods for the smallest amount of money, they will not turn to cleaner energies, better infrastructure, and most importantly, they will not stop throwing their residual waters to the river. There have been more than 40 illegal downloads of residual waters into the river discovered by the authorities, yet these companies have not been punished. Anthropocentrism could also fit in their ethics, since they are not giving nature the value it deserves; they are behaving like the environment (the river in this case) is at the service of their needs and is valuable in as much as it serves their needs.
Scientists and environmental groups defend biodiversity, intergenerational justice, and sustainable development. They defend biodiversity because most of the species that used to inhabit the river and surroundings are gone, and it is fundamental to preserve the few that are left if the river wants to show any sign of environmental health at all. They defend intergenerational justice because we are currently compromising the future of unborn generations; they have the right to enjoy the same standard of living that we aspire to, but the only bill we are passing on to them is sickness, disease, ecological disaster, and a toxic river. Sustainable development is equally important because the Santiago River and its waters are being exploited in a way that will lead to their eventual depletion. The environmental organizations currently involved in the problem are: The COFEPRIS (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios), a government agency; and Un Salto de Vida and Greenpeace, both non-governmental organizations. At Las Pintas, we met members from a collective called Colectivo Precaución, who told us about their labor of diffusion in this neighborhood, because people do not know about the problem with the water; unfortunately, we were told that they are not given much attention by most people, since it is obvious that a community with no education on the topic lack both awareness and interest.
Finally, the people in the communities close to the river, such as El Salto and Juanacatlán, are the most affected by the river pollution. Its impact on health has been denounced by these local residents and physicians, who have observed an increase in the incidence of diseases such as cancer and leukemia, as well as in the number of spontaneous abortions, respiratory problems and skin rashes. However, in the absence of epidemiological studies, government officials tend to deny the existence of any link between these health problems and the pollution of the Santiago River. Their vision on the problem involves local-stakeholder preference, because they are the original inhabitants of the area, and they should take preference over other stakeholders in conflicts affecting that area.
At El Salto industrial corridor I saw the most shocking things from all the points visited during the tour. The air was so corrosive that the wiring was completely rusty, and there were signs warning people not to touch the water for safety.
Overall, we noticed that in Mexico water is not given the value that it deserves; we realized the interesting fact that none of the buildings located along the creeks of the basin are actually facing them, but turning their backs to the stream.

Personal Reflection

This activity was very valuable for me because it really helped me realize what is going on in the world, in my country, and not too far away, in my own town; furthermore, it made me realize my role as an environmental actor too.
The government incompetence is what shocks me the most. I am disappointed on my country because during the tour I gathered enough evidence to say that the authorities’ intentions are only to cover the problem, to cover the obvious, the noticeable, in order to say that everything is working fine. Are they ever going to attack the root problem though? Are they ever going to halt these companies from downloading their waste into the Santiago River? Are they ever going to stand up for our resources, our ecosystems, and defend our biodiversity? Are they ever going to give the river the value it deserves for carrying our waste all these years?
When it comes to the industries, I think we are talking about enterprises with “double moral”, since they dare call themselves “socially responsible” or claim to have a “social compromise” by telling people to plant trees or to recycle, when on our backs they are throwing all their toxic waste to our own rivers. Can company owners really care that much about money? Do they ever think about the impact of their actions on our people, health and nature?
I realized this is where my role as an environmental actor becomes important. I think that conflicts like the one concerning the Santiago River and its health require both social pressure and citizen participation. Collective actions can achieve more than individual ones, and there are already several groups working in favor of a change.
Management and control are also fundamental in solving a conflict. Municipal and state authorities should be responsible for managing and controlling the industries’ irresponsible actions. Nature is so wonderful that it has proven its capacity to recover by itself. If residual waters containing chemicals and other toxic substances stop getting thrown into the river, the water will eventually become clean and recover its health.
In the meantime, diffusion is elemental to draw public attention to the conflict, and I realized that it is also my duty to spread the word, to diffuse all of this information, and to let the people in Guadalajara and surroundings know what is going on.
As for myself, I share the same vision with scientists and activists because I defend the ethics of sustainable development, intergenerational justice, and biodiversity. Furthermore, I see this problem form the point of view of respect for the sacred, because our Mother Earth provides us with life, and we are responding with damage and disrespect for it. Also, I sustain a vision of solidarity with all the people that are being exposed to the hazards of the river pollution, and who are currently suffering from cancer, intestinal problems, or even death without any possible alternative but conforming; the river carries the waste of all of us, so we should compromise with these people too. I think the impact of the Santiago River’s health is reaching serious social and environmental consequences, but it is never too late to start recuperating what is left, and to recover what is already gone.

Report on Trip to El Salto

Gilberto Rayas Paredes

Mechanical Engineering student

The trip to El Salto was an experience in which I feel I’ve gained a lot of awareness in terms of my local environment.

There were basically two sides to the story; the local people and the garbage collecting company.

The garbage collecting company gave us a tour of their facilities and processes. They showed us their projects and processes in a way that left me with a good first impression of a company that was relatively young. If it had been the only thing I saw, I would have said it was a pretty decent, somewhat humble company, which was making an effort to do a good job. The place looked a little messy, but it was a dump after all, and I was expecting a much more chaotic place.

However, after thinking it over, I came to the conclusion that, for being such a large and important company for the city, it was making the least possible effort and the incomes are probably going somewhere else. I recently went to an Urrea manufacturing and distributing plant and the comparison made me realize a lot of things.

If you compare it to other companies, you get the impression they were just playing us when they showed us their  processes; the only one fully operating was the collecting and disposal, the other ones were just ideas.

And even this was done using the very least possible resources; the geomembrane disposal process was mentioned in a class I had recently, and it’s supposed to be done using much more layers and materials, it’s much more complex than what is done at the dump.

In a competent company, every detail is closely observed and taken care of by many people: another thing that caught my attention was the fact that they had only one chemical engineer for the whole dumping ground. Other companies have engineers and specialists for each process, and are constantly trying to optimize them. It’s a very complex problem in terms of engineering, it’s unbelievable a company expects to improve their product, in this case a service, with the type of management it has.

I have no reason to believe it’s an issue to do with money and resources; it’s the only company doing this, it has no competition and a lot of work. For these reasons -as well as others that are more of a conjecture type, like the fact that they didn’t show us some parts that were apparently worse-, I strongly believe that this company is consciously doing more harm than what it is benefitting the city.

The other side of the story was that of the local people from El Salto. I think there’s too much to say about them, you could write a tragic novel for the stories every person can tell you.

In a nutshell, they’re the people suffering the direct consequences of our garbage, but that implies very many consequences.

It’s very sad how no one seems to listen to these people because they have no economic power. The truth is that it makes me feel lethargic to just think about all the efforts they have to go through to get almost no results.

The thought that I still have most present now, is something the woman who spoke to us told us about Guadalajara; that we should take care of it before it comes to what the people in El Salto are living. It sounds dramatic, but the fact is that people are literally dying from the pollution there.

Before the trip, I was somewhat skeptical of the impact contamination, climate change, and Guadalajara could have. I thought it was all probably exaggerated; people get excited with these types of ideas. I think that the most important lesson I got from all this is how subtle the changes in the environment are, and how strong the consequences are.

Not everything was subtle about El Salto, like the falls which were very impressive with their yellowish bubbles, but other things like that faint peculiar stink in the air were. I think it’s those little things, like the smell that was probably highly toxic, are the ones that have a larger impact on the long run; no one drinks that water anymore, they do however keep breathing that air.

This is how I’ve come to realize why (I think) these people continue to make an effort to live there and improve it. It’s the small changes that come with a lot of effort, that make a difference on the long run.

In conclusion, I think progress in sustainable living -and progress in general- is not as simple as a lot of people make it seem; as what you hear a lot of people say, like small changes in your lifestyle that don’t cost a lot of effort are enough to make a big difference. The changes in our lifestyle are going to have to cost us if we want to change the way we are impacting the environment, and the effects of those efforts will probably be very subtle but important in the end.

Jorge Orizaga: Environment and Society

By: Jorge Angel Orizaga Miquelajáuregui

Environment and Society

I have noticed, as the course has advanced, that it is real what has being said about different people having different conceptions of the environment, and nothing has concerned my spirit the way that this learning has. Please don’t get my idea the wrong way for I do not attack freedom of opinion or cultural diversity, since I am very fond of this two aspects of human culture and I do my best to encourage them every day. My concern lies on how difficult can sometimes be to get into accordance with different people about environmental subjects. Since I have been studying philosophy as well as environmental engineering, I have become quite strict in the methods of obtaining valuable information, organizing, analyzing, describing and debating, that most of my discussions end when I try to define the terms to be used in the debate and I see some people getting bored, showing few interest or not understanding some of the definitions. This course has helped me improve my tolerance, and showed me how much work has to be done in the matter of environmental education and action; starting from the foundations of human conception of nature itself.

Again, I do not try to strictly define terms, but to meet the elemental causes of discern and offer particular definitions to particular elements playing roles in the object of discussion. As an intelligent person I won’t approach culturally different people to try to impose my occidental/academic terms so we can have a discussion; I first listen to find elements to which I can do analogies in order to introduce, in every ones own understandable words, the elements which I consider of relevance in the description/analysis/solution of the object of discussion.

Even in different cultures around the world in different ages, cultures of which we have no proof that they have had contact, have somehow similar elements in their mythical tales on creation and life. Even in more recent ages with new religions and advanced scientific methods of inquiry, some elements that have been used from ancient times to describe elements in every days life, have a place and are considered maybe with fancy technical words and different epistemological methods, but finally we meet the same elemental figures that still determine every days life.

The recent concerns around the world on environmental responsibility do not fill the expectations I have on the concrete actions that need to be taken. I see much hypocrisy from some groups, who use terms such as green, ecological or organic only in their marketing campaigns and not in their concrete actions. Many political groups and transnational enterprises are flashing a green flag which many times it is just a distracter and a bad example.

I consider myself lucky of having the opportunity of studying the evolution of human understanding of life from two different methods of approaching reality: philosophy and science. From those disciplines I have learned that human conceptions of nature are constantly changing throughout time, but also that if something does not fit in the understanding that contextual philosophy and science have on reality, the philosopher/scientist gets shut up by whatever means necessary.

In my engineering formation, I have learned how every element in a system is connected with other elements, with the help of many great minds that have contributed to science I have understood through mathematics that any change in one element, not mattering how small this change is, will have effects on other elements to which this first element is interconnected. From philosophy I have learned how human understanding of reality is determined by their temporal/spatial context. Joining together these two disciplines I can feel myself in a context of fast paced changes, advancing science and technology, and degradation of the concept of human beings.
I use the term degradation because I have so much about how the scientific revolution has brought changes to human lives but I see today’s aspect of the Planet and I have trouble discerning whether those changes have brought good or bad. My answer draws more to the second option, every time I see how these changes from industrial revolution focus on giving advantages to few people, disadvantages to other and damages to all; makes me feel angry that the few use their advantages to hide/forget the damages caused, and don’t notice how the disadvantaged got to their situation.

Personally, I try to live a simplelife, being one of the few who inherited material and intellectual advantages from industrial revolution, even though I have enjoyed every opportunity this advantage has given me. My father studied veterinary medicine and owns cattle and fruit tree ranches so I have been raised in direct contact with nature, science and poverty. Also hurts my spirit seeing ranch employees, people who didn’t get the full benefits of the modern society, admiring the modern ways of life and trying to get involved into the modern ways of understanding and exploiting the planet. They don’t want to be left behind anymore in this constant evolution of lifestyle on the Planet, they consider themselves equally worthy of participating in the new market ways, products consumption, bad management of wastes and contributing to increase pollution. Aren’t they (the poor), in their full right of having the lifestyle of Europeans, or wealthy Mexicans? How can I explain to someone that everything I do has a terrible impact on environment and still I won’t stop doing it, but he/she shouldn’t do it?

Even though these different sides of the system the poor and I stand on, I do not see much difficult on getting in accordance in pointing out specific elements on today’s society that contribute to the increasing damage of human impact on the earth. Then, why does it happen that when I try to get to accordance with people on the same side of the system as I am nearly everyone gives a different example and instead of getting into accordance of hierarchies everyone argues into the importance of the example each one gave?, me included.

Is it so that modern philosophy and science context, has brought so much freedom of opinion that cultural diversity tends to vanish? From a sensitive point of view it is. Sometimes I think that modern philosophy and science context is acting on weakening the delicate barriers of cultural diversity. To set a simple example, the tendency to a full racial mixture in the planet after maybe a couple millions of year after globalization, kind of like how equilibrium is the tendency or the condition of almost every physical or chemical process.

I do not want to spoil the party for everyone, just for the few V.I.P.’s that are eating the cake as fast as they can since modern mindsets have erased the element of mystery in their lives and planted a fake trigger that they call End of the World. Now 2011, 15 years ago it was called Year Two Thousand, 15 years earlier it was called Nineteen Eighty nine  and this mindset has been encouraged by few tyrants and believed by a whole bunch of people (I won’t use adjectives this time).

The belief of an end of the world is the mystery element of our modern society, once religion gets displaced by science and existence can be explained by physics and chemistry. Even in that same mindset, a humble observant who only takes place in the huge biochemical process of life, can find some elements in the construction of reality that harmonically meets elements of mythology and religion. I don’t intend in getting into surrealist conclusions, such as the one before, but to revive the childhood spirit in humanity, which is common for every culture and social system.
I was raised an atheist, without a God, and still my father spoke about atheism being not real since it implies the not existence of God when there could not be not existence without existence. This made no confusion to my mind; maybe beacues as a child I could accept duality as an element in my reality without it being contradictory. Still with all the science and philosophy based answers I got from my father when I was a child, I still secretly feared pointing at the stars and killing animals since in my head lived the possibility for that animal to be some dead relative of mine.

To most people nowadays, and I know this because I’ve analyzed their discourse, think that my childhood beliefs (as well as mythology and ancient religions) are a product of ignorance and superstition. Whether or not such beliefs are real is not relevant, I just want to point out how those beliefs imply respect to those real things that allowed our existence (our Grandparents, the Water, the Earth, the Sun) and he who has this ser of beliefs will do nothing to harm those Grandparents, Water, Earth,  Sun, et cetera.

A great difference from modern belief system this is, because modern “standards of living” have so much damaging impact on Water and Earth that if our Grandparents were here they would spank our butts.

The capacity to adapt, that human power that according to evolutionists has brought us to the top of the food chain, is double-edged blade when society is divided the way it is in our days. The constant conditioning of artificial, material elements in our daily lifestyle, sets a comfort zone like the one Peter Sloterdijk writes about, that imprints into the children the mindset that the dominant group dictates in order to keep the system the way it is.

In the last two years I have been reviving my childhood spirit, remembering the teaching of my Grandparents, allowing the mystery back into my life, finding that child time’s state of mind when respect to the environment was natural to me, it seemed the right way. With a complete overview of what I learn from philosophy and science I no longer doubt in saying that I was right as a child. Somehow, without really understanding, I knew; and without having a statistical or scientific proof y had faith in what I was doing (living with humility and showing respect) was the right thing to do.

Matti Lahdenmäki: Sociedad y medio ambiente

Matti Lahdenmäki is a Political Science student from Finland who came to ITESO as an Exchange student in the spring of 2011. He took the course called The Environment & Society, and signed up for the two field trips offered in the course: to the El Ahogado watershed and El Salto, and also to the Primavera Forest, both on the outskirts of Guadalajara. He also traveled to other parts of Mexico during his vacation periods. The following is the final reflection he wrote at the end of the course.

Matti Lahdenmäki es un estudiante de Ciencias Políticas originario de Finlandia, que estuvo de intercambio en el ITESO en el semestre de primavera de 2011. Tomó el curso de Medio Ambiente & Sociedad, y se apuntó para las dos salidas al campo que se organizaron: a la Cuenca del Ahogado y El Salto, y al Bosque de la Primavera, ambos en las inmediaciones de Guadalajara. También viajó a diferentes partes de la República en sus vacaciones. Lo que sigue es la reflexión final que hizo al terminar el curso.

What Does the Environment Mean to Me?

Environment means different things to different people. For some people just environment itself is a value without any exploitation. For some other people environment might mean food. Or it can also mean economic opportunities. For some people environment might mean health. It can also mean sickness like in El Salto just by the corner from Guadalajara.

¿Qué significa el medio ambiente para mí?

El medio ambiente no significa lo mismo para toda la gente. Para algunas personas, el medio ambiente es por sí mismo un valor, independientemente de cualquier explotación. Para otras, el medio ambiente significa alimento. O puede significar oportunidades económicas. Para algunas personas, el medio ambiente significa salud. También puede significar enfermedad, como en El Salto, a la vuelta de la esquina de Guadalajara.

Environment can also be dirty or clean. Environment can be untouched or built. But if it is built it doesn´t mean that it is dirty. For some people it might mean that and to other people it doesn´t mean that. People have different point of views that what is beautiful and what should be protected.

El medio ambiente también puede estar sucio o limpio. Puede estar prístino o construido. Pero si está construido, no quiere decir que está sucio. Algunos lo podrían ver así, otros no. La gente tiene diversos puntos de vista acerca de lo que es bello y lo que debe conservarse.

For me environment can be many of these things. Environment is a thing which surrounds me. Different environments are important to me. I need untouched environment and I need built environment. Environment itself is a value to me but I also get resources to my life from the environment. Environment is vulnerable and it needs to be protected because of these both reasons.

Para mí, el medio ambiente significa muchas de estas cosas. El medio ambiente es lo que me rodea. Distintos ambientes son importantes para mí. Me hace falta el ambiente prístino, y me hace falta el ambiente construido. El medio ambiente es un valor en sí, pero por otro lado me provee de recursos para vivir. El medio ambiente es vulnerable y necesita ser protegido por ambas razones.

Environment is also memories for me. Memories from the forests of childhood and memories from the near past from Mexico. I have taken the photos that are within this essay and these photos will help me to remember the environment of Mexico. For me environment is something beautiful and sometimes it is something ugly. Environment is something you live with everyday.

El medio ambiente también me significa memorias. Memorias de los bosques de mi niñez, y memorias de mi pasado reciente en México. He tomado las fotos que ilustran este ensayo, y estas fotos me ayudarán a recordar el medio ambiente de México. Para mí, el medio ambiente es algo hermoso, pero a veces es feo. Con el medio ambiente se vive día con día.

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