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What is it that flutters within our minds?


I ask this question: what would happen to this planet if the people of India had the same number of cars per family as the Germans? How much oxygen would there be left for us to breathe?

More clearly: does the world today have the material elements to enable seven or eight billion people to enjoy the same level of consumption and squandering as the most affluent Western societies? Will that ever be possible? Or will we have to start a different type of discussion one day? Because we have created this civilization in which we live: the progeny of the market, of the competition, which has begotten prodigious and explosive material progress. But the market economy has created market societies. And it has given us this globalization, which means being aware of the whole planet.

Are we ruling over globalization or is globalization ruling over us? Is it possible to speak of solidarity and of “being all together” in an economy based on ruthless competition? How far does our fraternity go?

I am not saying any of this to undermine the importance of this event [UN Earth Summit, June 2012, Rio de Janeiro]. On the contrary, the challenge ahead of us is of a colossal magnitude and the great crisis is not an ecological crisis, but rather a political one.

Today, man does not govern the forces he has unleashed, but rather, it is these forces that govern man – and life. Because we do not come into this planet simply to develop, just like that, indiscriminately. We come into this planet to be happy. Because life is short and it slips away from us. And no material belonging is worth as much as life – and this is fundamental. Life is going to slip through my fingers, working and over-working in order to be able to consume more. The consumer society is the engine of today. If consumption is paralyzed, the economy stops, and if you stop the economy, the ghost of stagnation appears for each one of us. Yet it is this hyper-consumption that is harming the planet. And this hyper-consumption needs to be generated, making things that have a short shelf life, in order to sell a lot. Thus, a light bulb cannot last longer than 1000 hours. But there are light bulbs that last 100,000 hours! But these cannot be manufactured, because the problem is the market, because we have to work and we have to sustain a civilization of “use and discard,” and so we are trapped in a vicious cycle.

These are problems of a political nature, which are showing us that it’s time to start fighting for a different culture.

I’m not talking about returning to the days of the caveman, or erecting a “monument to backwardness.” But we cannot continue like this, indefinitely, being ruled by the market. On the contrary, we have to rule over the market.

This is why I say, in my humble way of thinking, that the problem we are facing is political. The old thinkers, Epicurus, Seneca and even the Aymara put it this way: “A poor person is not someone who has little but one who needs infinitely more, and more.” This is a cultural issue. So I salute the efforts and agreements being made. And I will adhere to them, as a ruler. I know some things I’m saying are not easy to digest. But we must realize that the water crisis and the aggression to the environment are not the cause. The cause is the model of civilization that we have created. And the thing we have to re-examine is our way of life.

I belong to a small country well endowed with natural resources for life. In my country, there are a bit more than three million people. But there are about 13 million cows, some of the best in the world. And about eight or ten million excellent sheep. My country is an exporter of food, dairy, meat. It is a low-relief plain and almost ninety percent of the land is fertile.

My fellow workers fought hard for the eight hour workday. And now they are making that six hours. But the person who works six hours gets two jobs, therefore he works longer than before. But why? Because he needs to make monthly payments for: the motorcycle, the car, more and more payments, and when he’s done with that, he realizes he is a rheumatic old man, like me, and his life is already over.

And one asks this question: Is this the fate of human life? The things I say are very basic: development cannot go against happiness. It has to work in favor of human happiness, of love on Earth, human relationships, caring for children, having friends, having our basic needs covered. Precisely because this is the most precious treasure we have–happiness. When we fight for the environment, we must remember that the essential element of the environment is called human happiness.

José Mujica has been the President of Uruguay since 2010. This former guerrilla fighter has been dubbed the “world’s ‘poorest’ president.” He gives away 90 percent of his $108,000 annual salary mostly to a program for expanding housing for the poor. This text is an excerpt from Mujica’ speech given at the UN Earth Summit, June 2012, Rio de Janeiro.[cherry_banner image=”5543″ title=”Adbusters #108″ url=”″ template=”issue.tmpl”]Summer[/cherry_banner]