I do not believe what I am about to suggest will happen. Nevertheless I feel it is timely to express it. I am a Gaianist, in that I subscribe to the provable evidence of an almost miraculous self-organising and self-perpetuating planet. We appear to be in stage two of the Gaian journey. The beginning was the microbial age of single celled biota which still colonise the microbiomes of our internal life giving functions. The second age of the more sophisticated many celled biota led eventually to the emergence of humanity. We seem to be heading towards the end of this age. What looms is a third Gaian age of a planet which is essentially post human. This could emerge within the coming thousand years. By post human I posit a species which has essentially lost any moral concern for the viability of its offspring, nor has the capability of being able to create the conditions for meaningful survival of the remaining human race. In essence that third Gaian age heralds the emergence of a species that can only live for its own existence. The humanness of caring, sharing and reciprocating will have atrophied. The essence of sustainability, namely providing both the conditions and the capabilities for future generations to live sustainably, will have been lost.
One of the first things that called my attention in Lisbon, when I first arrived from Brazil, was the amount of used and unused green areas available within city limits. As I disembarked straight from Rio de Janeiro, a city that struggles with land scarcity, real estate development and gentrification, Lisbon’s land availability confused and amused me at the same time. On my everyday commute, I would think about all the possibilities these areas had to offer to local communities` improvement, for food production enhancement and for the overall promotion of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Worldwide, cities have the challenging task of how to pursue multiple SDGs, and Urban Food Gardens (UFGs) may present an interesting window of opportunity, with numerous options. These gardens, where ‘open spaces are managed and operated by members of the local community in which food or flowers are cultivated’ within urban or peri-urban limits, have the potential to address both municipal specific issues or wider regional goals if properly integrated in local/regional policy frameworks, boosting Lisbon’s food security, food systems’ design and overall social well-being.
When we look at urban planning strategies and policies, food systems are less visible and seem to be less of a priority than other systems, like housing, transportation and employment generation, and Lisbon is, in this sense, no different. However, as urban populations grow and climate change impacts become more frequent, food systems need to be looked at more comprehensively, and different institutional arrangements must be considered in order to tackle key food security and urban challenges.
When I came back from Asia after a 4-month trip to Lisbon at the beginning of March this year, a friend came to pick me up. Driving into the city, I noticed how green every corner had turned and the sun was gently shining golden light into the car – “How nice! I came back to the peaceful, green and sunny Lisbon!” As I spoke out loud my happiness, my friend kindly informed me that it had been raining for three weeks in a row, and that the sun “only came out to greet my return”. I was surprised, as much of my memories of Lisbon have been associated with sunny summer on the beach. “Yes, my mother said it was not at all common fifty years ago to have so much rain at this time of the year,” with a look in my eyes, my friend added: “it’s climate change, yeah?”
If I was to respond instinctively based on my scientific knowledge of climate change, I would say: “it probably is a result of climate change”, which was what I responded. We know that climate change is not merely about the excessive amount of CO2 in the atmosphere resulting in warmer temperature and “the warmest year on record…in a row”, nor just about penguins and polar bears, it is also about warmer oceans, more vibrant storms and more destructive wind speed – Harvey, Irma, Patricia… record damaging storms and superstorms on earth, sea level rise, increasing heatwave mortality, and a range of uncertainty related to extreme events, causing great costs of life and the economy. But it was obvious that the word “probably” did the opposite of facilitating the communication and clarifying the issue of climate change, on the contrary, it turned off the conversation which had an excellent context “three weeks of unusual rain”, in delicate awkwardness. The next thing we knew was that the rainy season continued for another few weeks.
In the last decades, there have been regular alerts on the risks that different chemical substances found in day-to-day life products – textiles, toys, cosmetics, food, electronic equipment, inks, etc. – pose for human health, particularly when vulnerable groups – among them children and women in childbearing age – are considered.
The research community has been a central intervenient in this debate. In fact, at the scientific level, research conducted on the interaction between some chemical substances and human health started, in a more systematic way, more than a century ago, even if regulatory effects resulting from that work can only be identified in more recent decades. But this is an area of strong controversy, where the strength of evidence necessary to act by anticipation by applying the precautionary principle has been everything but consensual.
The concept of sustainable development is often seen as a contradiction in terms (i.e. an oxymoron). No form of economic development can be sustained indefinitely, given the inherent limitations of both humans and the ecosystems we depend upon to, for example, access good quality water and food. Economists continue to debate alternatives based on, for example, the concepts of ‘steady state economy’ and ‘degrowth’. Ultimately, I argue, any form of long term development centred on human well-being must safeguard the health of our rivers, aquifers, lakes and reservoirs.
As Áreas Protegidas, tal como as demais áreas classificadas, albergam a maior riqueza do património natural e paisagístico do país, sendo fundamentais pelos serviços de ecossistemas que prestam e são a essência da própria ‘identidade natural’ do território. Apesar disso, sofrem de um historial já longo de múltiplos défices: de recursos humanos e financeiros, de fiscalização, de ações de conservação da natureza e restauro ecológico de habitats. E não têm merecido a atenção devida do poder político, dos media e da opinião pública.
Este texto é composto por duas partes: a primeira faz uma contextualização da Rede Nacional de Áreas Protegidas; a segunda reúne um conjunto de reflexões sobre a sua realidade em Portugal.