Acceptance Speech by Juan Pablo Orrego

December 9th, 1998

Madam Speaker,
Honourable guests,
Dear Friends,

I feel truly honoured to be here today, with you all, receiving the Right Livelihood Award. I'm gratefully receiving the Award in my own name, in the name of my companions of the "Grupo de Acción por el Biobío", Christian Opaso and Rodrigo Garretón, who are present here today, and in the name of the Pehuenche families with whom we have been, for the last eight years, trying to stop the damming of the Biobío river and the destruction of its magnificent watershed.

I have come to realize that defending the Biobío, speaking for the mother-Earth and rooted peoples has been a privilege and has become a spiritual journey, which does not mean pure bliss; it has been a tough, at times quite painful campaign.

Deep ecologists say that when a human being defends a forest, a lake, dolphins or tigers, it is the ecosystems or beings who have found a human voice. It is a beautiful concept and I'm sure that the Biobío flows within all the people who have been defending the river and its people, and it is a privilege. As a scientist I have also realized that nature and humans conform a continuum, so that caring for nature is caring for humanity; unfortunately this also means that degrading nature degrades us.

When I received the first letter from the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, I was amazed about how strongly identified I felt with the Foundations "motto", Mahatma Gandhi's phrase printed in the Foundation's stationary: "The world has enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed." A few decades after Gandhi's passing it is evident that there is not even enough for the insatiable greed of a few. The global market oriented by neoliberal economics is a system based on environmental degradation which generates apparent opulence for a very small minority - 5% of humanity - while it generates poverty and misery for the most. I say "apparent" opulence because the level of the system is the level of the lowest: in other words, a degraded humanity and biosphere makes one unhappy planet for us all. Opulence does not shield anyone from ultraviolet radiation or the violence which pervades humanity.

The saddest thing about this whole situation is that most of this suffering and destruction is unnecessary and avoidable. I am certain that "there is enough for everyone's need" on this planet. The best proof is that in spite of all the overexploitation and overconsumption, in spite of the greed and depredation, of the entropy that humans are generating, the biosphere is still sustaining the 5 to 6 billion of us. Imagine if globally we were wise and sharing, if we were humble and generous, if we were as we can be, as many are and have been. Humanity could perfectly be a net generator of synergy and goodness for the biosphere. I am privileged, though, because rooted peoples have shown me this potential of human beings deployed and realized. The dilemma is the situation of so many humans living in degraded sociocultural and ecological situations and who do not know any better, who do not know about our marvellous potential. How does a person motivate him/herself to work towards something that he/she does not know exists? Human's orientation depends on culture and education. We can be gardeners or the destroyers depending on an education which nurtures, deprives or hurts us. Rooted peoples have known this for ages and this is why their culture, their rituals, symbols and myths are a constant reminder of the tightrope between entropy and synergy that humans walk on this earthly reality, of the fragility of this present biosphere which sustains human life and of the totally reciprocal and caring relationship that needs to be established between humans and nature to attain the optimum homeostatic potential of both. In this context, I remember something that a Huichol indian of the Mexican Western Sierra Madre said to me in 1985: "Our culture is right because it is beautiful and it is beautiful because it is right." This rightness and this beauty is what we urgently have to strive for.

It is in this context that we have defended the Biobío River and the rights of our Pehuenche brothers and sisters. We have questioned and confronted the destruction of the Biobío and of a rooted people's culture as a symptom of a destructive pattern of growth of urban-industrial societies, of which Chile is no exception. We are facing a global, planetary problem; a problem which is somehow worse than "life or death" because our actual dilemma is rather well-being or growing degradation of the living conditions of more and more human beings, if  we do not confront fully, and really understand, what is happening to us. For this we need to start by including the non-human in this "us"; by recognizing the total interdependence and interpenetration of all beings, things and phenomena which conform the biosphere. For this we need humility and a sort of rooted cosmic consciousness which is hard to find today, at least in "westernized" societies. And this recognition of the unity of the multiplicity of the biosphere does not obliterate  the human identity, or human identities. On the contrary, diversity is basic for the sustainability of the biological systems, and I think this applies as well to our sociocultural systems which never stop being fully biological.

I would like to finish thanking again the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for their support. In Chile, the award has had an important positive impact. We certainly feel stronger and more protected, somehow. We will keep working with more strength and determination knowing very well that the Earth and the sky are the limits of the challenge we are all facing together. But any step in the right direction helps, even tiny steps. So we will keep walking together with you, with our Pehuenche and Chilean brothers and sisters, and all others who remember, who know that we can and need to do much better.  

We are one.

Thank you.

Contact Details

Juan Pablo Orrego
Exequiel Fernández 189
Depto. 101 – Ñuñoa
Santiago de Chile
CHILE

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