This past weekend in Mocomoco, the town was abuzz with political rhetoric, as we are preparing for local elections on Easter Sunday. I had a chance to speak with some people from the Altiplano and the valley areas of our extensive parish. Everyone is hoping for good harvests, which depend on the regularity of the rainy and dry seasons. This year, the rains came late. Some of the folks can remember when life was predictable. But it’s been a while.

In the lands of Panama, where the Kuna and Ngöbe peoples live, effects of climate change and strategies for energy production are having their effects as well. Joe Fitzgerald, C.M., chronicles some of the effects on the Vincentian Mission website, and has also pointed to contemporary news reports from that country.

Because I’ve had a long-term interest in environmental and sustainability issues, mostly having to due with re-use and re-fitting of religious properties and managing what is called the ”environmental debt,” but also as part of the social justice agenda for our Vincentian youth programs, centering on the issue of climate change, using resources from the United States Bishops and the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, How this piece of my personal journey will effect my ministry here remains a question. Since arriving here, my interest in the effects of environmental change and damage on the Altiplano has been growing. That’s why I decided to see if I could get accredited to the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth to be held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 19 to 22, 2010. I want to learn. You may remember that Evo Morales was very outspoken and called for this gathering after the Copenhagen conference produced such meager results. President Morales has often spoken of the concept, ”vivir bién” — living well — a secular árgument related to what we Catholics often call ”simplicity of lifestyle.”

Climate change is one of the most far-reaching systemic issues of our time. To address it will require efforts on multiple levels. In an article describing Systemic change, Robert P. Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, has written:

Here are five criteria met by projects positioned to bring about systemic change:
1. Long-range social impact: this is the most basic characteristic of systemic change: that is, that the project helps change the overall life-situation of those who benefit from it.
2. Sustainability: the project helps create the social structures that are needed for a permanent change in the lives of the poor, such as employment, education, housing, the availability of clean water and sufficient food, and ongoing local leadership.
3. Replicability: the project can he adapted to solve similar problems in other places. The philosophy or spirituality that grounds the project, the strategies it employs and the techniques it uses can be applied in a variety of circumstances.
4. Scope: concretely, this means that the project actually has spread beyond its initial context and has been used successfully in other settings in the country where it began, or internationally, either by those who initiated it, or by others who have adapted elements of it.
5. Innovation: the project has brought about significant social change by transforming traditional practice. Transformation has been achieved through the development of a pattern-changing idea and its successful implementation. (Systemic Change, an Introduction)

Often, when we consider systemic change, we consider it on the level of “projects,” forgetting the dimension of advocacy and strategies to influence institutions and governments. Maloney, of course, would not reject such thinking and sees its necessity, as do others. We could “edit” his words to suggest the following:
1. Long-range social impact: this is the most basic characteristic of systemic change: that is, that the strategy helps change the overall life-situation of those who benefit from the change it produces.
2. Sustainability: the strategy helps create the legal structures and social/behavioral changes that are needed for a permanent change in the lives of the poor, such as employment, education, housing, the availability of clean water and sufficient food, and ongoing local leadership.
3. Replicability: the strategy can he adapted to solve similar problems in other places. The philosophy or spirituality that grounds the project, the strategies it employs and the techniques it uses can be applied in a variety of circumstances.
4. Scope: concretely, this means that the strategy actually has spread beyond its initial context and has been used successfully in other settings in the country where it began, or internationally, either by those who initiated it, or by others who have adapted elements of it.
5. Innovation: the strategy has brought about significant social change by transforming traditional practice. Transformation has been achieved through the development of a pattern-changing idea and its successful implementation.

This is why advocacy strategies, on local, national and international levels, can be seen elements of systemic change. In Soloy, Panama, local organizing has begun and seen some successes. It has made me wonder what strategies might emerge that can be employed where we work here in Bolivia. I’ll report from the World People’s Conference on what I learn.

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One thought on “Systemic Change Issues: the Environment

  1. I am hoping you are able to gain great info. and perspective from attending the April conference. I can relate to your parish members regarding lack of predictable outcomes and at the same time remaining hopeful about our immediate future.–cousin tricia

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