Buenos Aires. Environmental Education as a strategy focused on socio-territorial inequality

Buenos Aires. Environmental Education as a strategy focused on socio-territorial inequality

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By Pablo Sessano Puiggros

The idea of ​​sustainability has contributed to understanding that environmental problems affect everyone, transcending distinctions of all kinds and although we do not all live the same conditions or possibilities, no one is safe from the environmental crisis that the current model has generated. development and this can only be overcome in an integrating project.

"Because the difficulties caused by social inequality and environmental degradation cannot be defined as individual problems, constituting, in fact, collective social problems. It is not simply a matter of guaranteeing access, via the market, to education, housing, and education. health, or to an environment free of contamination, but to recover collective (solidarity) practices to satisfy these needs "(Guimaraes 2001).

Precisely for this reason, Environmental Education must be universalized to the entire educational system. But also for this reason, specific strategies (that are not focused) that contemplate the unequal situation (environmental and educational) of people who still do not have these guarantees cannot stop thinking about.

Undoubtedly the present in Argentina and also in the City of Buenos Aires is a difficult time to live, work, have fun, educate and learn, and although this reality tends to become general, there are sectors of the population that are much more exposed ( one).

One of the peculiarities of educational work in situations of urban social vulnerability is its ability to educate in adversity, which necessarily implies educating about adversity and one aspect of that adversity in the city has to do with quality of life. Because the quality of life is not only related to economic and environmental conditions, but to knowledge and the ability to understand and act on the environment.

From an environmental point of view, the argument that simply improving economic conditions automatically leads to a better quality of life has been refuted, nor is the reverse true, that is, those who live in adverse situations are necessarily condemned to vital conditions unacceptable.

The idea of ​​sustainability has contributed to understanding that environmental problems affect everyone, transcending distinctions of all kinds and although we do not all live the same conditions or possibilities, no one is safe from the environmental crisis that the current model has generated. development and this can only be overcome in an integrating project. The Argentine food crisis is clear proof of this.

The currently prevailing insecurity regarding the food consumed in Argentina is as great as it is paradoxical, since, due to the lack of controls, or the lack of control generated by technological abuse, and the lack of information, consumer uncertainty it has increased notably. This picture of risk is exacerbated for those who do not have the educational and economic resources that would allow them to choose between options.

But environmental vulnerability is a fact that must refer to various aspects of the quality of life, the environment understood narrowly as the physical-natural environment is only one of them. The environmental must be assumed integrally, systemically as a unit made up of a natural support (physical and biological) and the cultural component and, as we know, in a system the crisis in one aspect is a crisis in the entire system and of course, those who have less resources to face the problem, the worse they experience it or suffer it (2).

The environmental vulnerability of generally poor population centers (increasingly numerous) is real in the city and is due to various factors. In Bs.As. the historical relegation of urban development in individuals in the south, but more recently in other areas, has generated complex environments for living, with important natural and infrastructural conditions and even with certain levels of risk (3).

It is one more indicator, but superimposed on other adverse indicators, educational among them, they configure scenarios that frequently require a singular approach. EE may require, in these circumstances, to focus on those problems that characterize local living conditions, because not only is the risk unequal, but also and above all the resources, information and training available to face it are unequal. which is probably one of the most important factors in the definition of vulnerability (4).

That is, due to the complexity and inequity that these problems together (environmental inequity and educational inequity) represent for urban populations, their solution and approach requires specific actions, specific policies, specific training to raise awareness about and face with the possibility of success a problem, which may be generically similar to that of all the inhabitants of the city but which is not the same and influences, directly impacts living conditions. Also in the educational field, the extrapolation of environmental problems through the generalization of their consequences, often contributes to losing sight of the local dimension as the focus or origin of a problem, or vice versa as a place where the consequences are concentrated . Certainly, a city can always be seen as a system with a certain degree of unity, but this should not "dilute" the relevance of the localized consequences of many environmental problems. Just to give a not a little controversial example, a slum can be seen as a whole environmental problem and certainly the approach to its numerous specific problems cannot always depend on and be subordinate to the global urban-housing solution: the quality of life is built locally.

For this reason, teaching and training based on real and contextualized problems must be principles of EE. It is useless to improve the quality of life, theoretically knowing the hole in the ozone layer, the phenomenon of the greenhouse effect, different recycling techniques or the need to protect biodiversity while ignoring the risks and preventions that living with some blocks of garbage dumps, polluted rivers and toxic waste incinerators, it is ignored that the city's waste disposal system does not contemplate any recovery or the notion of what it is to eat has simply been lost, as is the case in Buenos Aires.

This is why education, access to culture, appropriate technological resources, as well as the strengthening of relationships and community organization and environmental education in particular, as part of policies to restore, at least, equal opportunities, make a difference here.

When working with a vulnerable population, it is not always with the objective of making it stop being vulnerable, but when it is, any educational intervention aimed at restoring equal opportunities of access to decent living conditions should be considered as a priority, since achieving this objective will suppose a new and qualitatively favorable starting point, in this sense, the incorporation into educational processes of the local environment as an object of interest, occupation and concern is fundamental.
At present in Buenos Aires such inclusion is practically non-existent.

It is in this sense also, that it is justified that those who, because they are living in an area historically disadvantaged by urban development, or destined for urban uses and facilities that are not very compatible with habitability and the construction of a residential environment, and who for various reasons must remain or to locate themselves there, and for that reason they experience critical situations that are not experienced in other areas of the city, where the environment is more favorable and comfortable for social life, are the object of the attention of initiatives that, within the framework of policies tend to balance urban and environmentally the city, correlatively favor a balance in educational conditions, which allows them to face with greater and better capacities the problems that characterize their environment, which from the perspective of an environmental education in tune with a development sustainable, involves and requires specific training, locally contextualized and based on those issues that make up the aforementioned situations of vulnerability.
Additionally, this intervention, which is justified in a disadvantageous situation, can constitute, provided it is effective, an advantage.

Indeed, from the adversity that justifies a priority intervention and a focused effort, a potential for knowledge and capacity may arise, paradoxically, that is not developed by those who are not immersed in such critical problems and that can, later, be articulated with other knowledge and other developed capacities. in other areas, tending to form a (collective) capital of comprehensive and comprehensive knowledge of the urban reality, which constitutes an objective both of EE and of different citizen education strategies. Far from just compensating for inequality, the point is to turn disadvantage into potentiality. For this reason, it is not necessary for everyone to learn the same thing, on the contrary, the diversification of the contents according to the specific life situations will favor, if it is promoted, the complementarity of knowledge. For the EA the important thing is not to know the same all, but to know everything between all. That is why the most important thing is to learn to act and think collectively. This is what EE and equity policies should promote.

Certainly the fact that in more favored or wealthy areas of the city there are fewer environmental problems, which constitutes a premise that, at this point, deserves a review, does not mean that its population is more educated or better trained to coherently face the problem. environmental crisis in the city, but have other problems.

The educational gap in this area is widespread in Buenos Aires, except for laudable efforts, everything is yet to be done.
Therefore, the universalization of EE in the city is necessary, but strategies that contemplate specific socio-environmental vulnerability situations are also necessary and complementary, whether they are defined by educational factors, by environmental factors or other factors, or by a combination of causes , which is usual.

It is worth reiterating therefore: from a global or general interest for the quality of life and the environment, the noise in the streets of Belgrano, child drug addiction, the right to abortion or the vicinity of a toxic waste incinerator in Soldati or living on the banks of the stream and in a village. But from a more localized perspective, which considers the vulnerability of the population as a variable, such situations are not equally worrisome, since the risk associated with these situations is different and some of them can even be considered a danger.

Not only is the risk unequal, but also and above all, as has been made explicit, the resources and information available to face it are unequal. Which, considering the definition of education, associated with vulnerability studies proposed by Wilches-Chaux. G, 1993, as: "the processing of information with the explicit purpose of reducing uncertainty" and "the processing of information with the explicit purpose of reducing vulnerability" places educational processes restitutive of equality and social equity (already EE in particular) in a leading place in the face of the situation resulting from the conjunction of a critical territorial location, an environmentally risky environment and a low degree of knowledge and capacity for action in the face of all this, which can perfectly be characterized as a situation of vulnerability (5).

Finally, if, as seems correct to us, we understand exclusion, not literally, but as a specific modality of social insertion, a specific way of social belonging, which perversely expresses the way in which broad sectors of the population remain precariously present, participating in the expectations of the model but not taking advantage of them (6).

In other words, as a specific form of incorporation into society through polarization. If from public and focused policies, rather than dealing with the excluded, in the face of atomization and differentiation processes, we propose the defense and reconstruction of some sense of the collective, nothing more pertinent than proposals that aim to create capacity for action and expand participation, strengthening the common and public space and creating areas of equality between the different actors, areas that favor solidarity practices. Environmental Education, at least understood as it has been stated here, intrinsically constitutes a search for the restitution of citizen rights, an exercise in the discovery of areas of equality (7) and the construction of alternative paths towards different forms of social insertion.

Environmental education cannot remain outside of traditional educational processes, nor of equity policies, nor of citizenship education. Furthermore, environmental education should also become a permanently present component in all social policy.


(1) The distribution of the population with the highest level of vulnerability in the city of Buenos Aires depends in part on the indicators taken into account, but in the southern zone the highest concentrations are historically and currently intensified. of adverse indicators, which, even in the current situation of generalized impoverishment of the population, marks notable differences between the quality of life of the inhabitants of the south and north and west of the Autonomous City.
According to the delimitation of the accepted zone, what we call the southern zone includes the neighborhoods of San Telmo, Barracas, Constitución, Montserrat, Boca, Parque Patricios, Nueva Pompeya, Villa Soldati, Mataderos, Villa Lugano and Villa Riachuelo and partially Parque Avellaneda, P Chacabuco, liniers, Villa Luro, Velez Sarfield, Flores, Floresta, Boedo and San Cristobal. It collects together 23% of the population of the autonomous city and represents around 700,000 inhabitants. *
The following data illustrates this reality. The structural poverty indicators for the year 1991 for the southern zone were:
population with UBN 15.5%, population with precarious housing 13.3% and heads of families with incomplete primary 12.2%, which compared with 5.3%, 2.7% and 6.2% respectively for the rest of the city reveals a clear inequality. The infant mortality ratio is from 18.4% to 13.1 and that which is by avoidable criteria is from 10.8% to 7%. People without health coverage in 1991 were 27% in the south against 17 in the rest. Finally, the percentage of repeaters at the primary level in 1994 was 5.3% in the south against 3% in the rest of the city. Recent data broadcast on television, which considers the crisis unleashed in the months of December 2001 and January 2002, show a difference of 19 points between the poor in the north of the city (slightly more than 8%) and those in the south with slightly more than 27%
(2) Certainly these values ​​have changed several times in these years, but the 2001 census will surely reveal a worsened situation for the entire population, which allows us to suppose that what was already bad, today is even worse. Well, the economic and social deterioration of Argentina in those years has been progressive, it has had a strong impact on the city of Buenos Aires and there have been, with few exceptions, concrete effective policies that tended to modify these indicators. Sources INDEC, National Population Census 1991, cited in Plan for the Revitalization of the South Zone: An ongoing process. SMA yDR, GCBA 1999.

The deterioration of living conditions and exclusion must be understood "from a systemic point of view, analyzing the way in which situations of precariousness and exclusion of different orders are articulated, how the situation determined in an area of ​​social life it contributes to precariousness or exclusion in others, in short, how disadvantages accumulate in different spheres ". (Minujin and Kessler 1995) (3) "... reference is made to a historical process by which this portion of the city has seen the socio-economic differences worsen with respect to the rest of it, accentuating the process of socio-spatial segregation. These processes are closely related to the relative loss of urban land value, caused among other factors by the lack of functionality of the area for productive activity, and in some areas for residential use, these processes are consolidated by the historical retraction of public and private investment in the southern zone in the last three decades. " Lanzeta, Merlinsky, Sluztky, "Social Economic Diagnosis of the South Zone", in the South Zone Revitalization Plan: An ongoing process. SMA yDR, GCBA 1999.
(4) Rosalía Cortés (1996) proposes a comprehensive concept of social vulnerability. "Different groups and sectors of society are subject to deficiencies and dynamic disabling processes that place them in situations that threaten the ability to solve the problems posed by subsistence and the social achievement of a satisfactory quality of life.
Basically, these depend on the existence and the possibility of accessing basic sources and rights of well-being: paid and stable work, knowledge and skills, free time, security and provision of social services, economic wealth, political citizenship, integration and identity. ethnic and cultural. "Strangely this author does not explicitly consider education among these basic rights and sources of well-being.
(5) Currently, from the perspective of studies of population emergencies aimed at strengthening affected human groups and preparing them to face future situations, "chronic or permanent emergencies" constitute a category defined as the result of structural poverty. that requires more permanent assistance.
Along the same lines but from a more social perspective, marginalization and poverty are also chronic emergency situations that can be defined as: "the drastic reduction of people's ability to cope with and survive crisis situations." This definition would focus on society itself and on their own potentialities and weaknesses to overcome an emergency situation. This regardless of the causes that have led to the crisis.
(6) Here. Nora Social Work, Citizenship and Exclusion. Regional Journal of Social Work. Nº 22. Montevideo, 2001.
(7) See Cardelli.G, Rosenfeld.M UNICEF Working Paper No. 6. ARGENTINA 1991. This notion of construction of areas of equality is very interesting, as a component, perhaps not expressed, but present and sought in the new planning modality: "solidarity becomes concrete from the organization as an association between equals. Thus, all participants logically and psychologically position themselves as equals in the face of a specific organized task; when this task is processed as a demand regarding which one is aware of having rights, we are facing a practice of egalitarianism located in the political field ".
By Pablo Sessano Puiggros

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