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About Potatoes

About Potatoes

Fernando Malta


The debates between developed and underdeveloped, rich and poor, center and periphery is as old as human history and of their communities themselves.


Machado de Assis’ Quincas Borba would state that there is no death, but life, because from the difference between two tribes, and the competition therefore, peace is not possible, as war is the element that ignites, inflames and makes both societies treat each other as such.


From one’s extermination, other supremacy; “to the losers, hate or compassion; to the winners, the potatoes”.


De facto hierarchies is almost inherent to the relations of those communities, the stronger being the ruler/guide/example of those who cannot question his power; in fact, looking human history through this angle, several wars are explained by the process of a status quo force being threatened by a revisionit community and, from that threat, a conflict arise and a new order (of perpetuation or revolution) is its output.


Of course that this simplist (but not less interesting) way of thought of human communities historical studies has its critics.


Nonetheless, the realist theory of international relations goes beyond in its explanative sense of checks and balances: a 20th century inherent phenomena, and revolutionary in itself, is the gradually given power to inter or supra-states institutions (being it formal or not) that sensible bounds those communities political leeway, transferring power in order to prevent conflicts – specially armed ones – among those in the center of this system.


Not for nothing, since World War II no other war between great powers happened. For the first time in known history, it was more profitable to discuss about potatoes than fight for them.


Environmental institutions are not exceptions to the rule.


By restricting its absolute power of choice about the way its political community goes, giving it to other institutions beyond this limits, states initially accept to modify the hierarchy.


But why would they do that if past reality was favorable to their power? Among reasons to explain a mobilization in such a way, the most easily to identify regarding environmental institutions is the fear of a common threat that cannot be fought unilaterally: from global warming to large scale pollution.


Environmental issues are, for its own nature (and sorry for this joke), international and, because of that, require a joint action to be solved.


Assigning power would, therefore, the most efficient joint action strategy through a cost/benefits analysis, be it for a more powerful country that, even on its preponderance, cannot solve alone nature problems; be it for the weakest ones, that can use this to even global/regional power distribution, acting like a “free rider” – gaining the profits of the action without doing anything for it.


Yet, the counter-hegemonic questions sees this new “green methodology” adopted by powerful countries the great danger to weaker’s development.


The sum of new and more efficient technologies, “green labels” and other production qualifications’ ways and trade barriers (explicit or not) bases on sustainable factors avoid any type of international fair competition between those that have already had their opportunities (and capital) to the actual state of arts and those others that just crawl in this area.


As result, in spite of even conditions between “rich” and “poor”, it ends like a freezing and keeping hierarchy, as an institutionalized barrier that hinders revisionism. Worse than to lose potatoes on war is never have the chance to get them.


Promoting cooperation or creating dissent, questions just cannot be raised about environmental institutions’ main function in its essence – fact that unfortunately is recurring and that keeps stalling debates on the field.


Green efficiency is, therefore, seen as solution and villain, it depends the way it is looked; but what must be asked is the need of effective actions in the area.


Green actions just will begin in the moment that they turn economically and politically profitable – yet, political use of them will lengthen and can be nefarious.


To who are interested, cooperation will lead to solution; to whom are against, will lead to an unfair and harmful continuity.


There is no clear solution for the debate but standardization, homogenization or, at least, values and needs acceptation from the other side – the problem is that this idea is as archaic as political rivalry between political communities.


In the end, the question: are there a solution and/or winner? To who will go the post-modernity potatoes?


Fernando Malta, MBA in Environmental Management at UFRJ, Undergraduate in International Relations at PUC-Rio; Member of GT III, Peace and Regional Security, GAPCon

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