By BRITTANY PARKIN
YALI’S QUESTION In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond proposes a theory to explain the apparent gap between the First World and the Third World. His thesis was sparked by a question posed by a New Guinean named Yali who asked the Europeans upon their arrival to his country in 1972, “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”
The “imperialist” would answer Yali’s Question by suggesting that New Guinea is behind simply because its people are less intelligent and too primitive to make the leap from agriculture to industry. But Diamond’s research compelled him to answer by writing an entire book defending the view that “…the striking differences between the long term histories of peoples of the different continents have been due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to differences in their environments.”2 In other words, the gap that exists between technologically advanced societies and those that still rely heavily on agriculture has far less to do with native intelligence and more to do with an environment lacking in sufficient resources to bridge that gap.
One such geographical location, the Fertile Crescent, located partially in modern-day Iraq, enjoyed a tremendous head start during early human existence. The former Fertile Crescent, now an arid, virtually rainless terrain was once covered in woodlands. Its transformation from a region abundant with crops and domesticated animals to a parched desert is a testament to the fact that human interaction with ecologically sensitive environments can lead to their ultimate ruin. Once at the forefront of humanity, the early humans of the Fertile Crescent “had the misfortune to arise in an ecologically fragile environment” and ended up committing “ecological suicide by destroying their own resource base.”3 History has taught us that the intelligence of a region’s inhabitants have far less effect on the ultimate fate of these peoples than the productivity of the environment itself. The demise of the Fertile Crescent tells a story of how a fragile ecosystem was lost at the hands of too many humans using its precious resources too quickly. Placed in a more modern context, we learn that no matter how “intelligent” a development plan may be, there is no escaping the fact that some particularly sensitive regions are simply not prepared for rapid population increases and subsequent overuse of its limited resources.
LORETO AND THE FERTILE CRESCENT
The region of Loreto in Baja California Sur is characterized by a similarly fragile environment that is on the verge of being rapidly developed at very high density. If we recognize that the region of Loreto is a modern microcosm of the Fertile Crescent, we have the benefit of avoiding another potential collapse from too many humans interacting with a delicate ecosystem and depleting its limited resources. If we are truly to protect an ecosystem so diverse in marine and animal life that Jacques Cousteau described its waters as “the world’s aquarium”, then it is our duty to carefully scrutinize developers who plan to build thousands of homes along such a short stretch of the coast of the Sea of Cortés.
LORETO NATIONAL MARINE RESERVE AND WORLD HERITAGE SITE DESIGNATION
Over 800 species of marine animals inhabit the Sea of Cortés, making it one of the richest seas on the globe. Due to the diligent efforts of the Loreto community, the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park was created by a Presidential Decree and approved by the Mexican Federal Congress on July 19, 1996. Creation of regulations from which to manage the park and support for that management was left to the people of Loreto to develop. That task has been taken on by the local ecological organization, Grupo Ecologista Antares (GEA).
Over the last ten years, the prestigious United States-based Nature Conservancy, the International Community Foundation, and numerous other organizations and dedicated individuals have been working closely with GEA to develop ways to support the management and protection of this amazing and unique ecosystem. In July 2005, the United Nations added the 244 islands, islets, and coastal areas of the Gulf of California to its list of protected World Heritage Sites in an effort to protect the biodiversity in the Sea of Cortés.
Loreto is rich with plant and animal life, but it is not rich with essential resources, especially water. Loreto has yet to be developed into the bustling town that it soon will be, but it has already begun to show signs of degradation due to inappropriate use of natural resources and lack of adequate conservation efforts.
LORETO AND FONATUR
In the late 1960s, FONATUR, Mexico’s government agency charged with tourism development, identified five destinations in Mexico with the highest tourism potential. These destinations included Cancun, Los Cabos, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Huatulco, and Loreto. Today, all of these locations are prime tourist destinations except for Loreto which has remained relatively untouched for the past thirty years. However, a catalyst to Loreto’s future growth occurred in 2003 when FONATUR signed a partnership agreement with The Trust for Sustainable Development, a federally chartered Canadian not-for-profit corporation. The Trust’s chairman, David Butterfield, is a prominent Canadian developer and has a background in sustainable development. Butterfield has been quoted as saying, “When building a community, the most important factors are economic development, social responsibility, and ecological protection. When these factors come together, you have a sustainable development.” 6 Within the Trust is The Loreto Bay Company, the organization marketing and developing the sustainable seaside town along the Sea of Cortés. It is not the intent of The Loreto Bay Company to develop Loreto into a clone of Los Cabos or La Paz. In fact, its plans to build using sustainable processes are an effort to develop Loreto in a way that is quite different from other famous Mexican resort destinations. This is a positive message for local residents who take pride in Loreto’s unspoiled landscape and its small, family–oriented resort community atmosphere.7 Loretanos do want responsible growth and the benefit of more facilities, but some skeptics of the Loreto Bay development fear that the hope for more amenities and a stronger economy is blinding Loretanos from the potential loss of their pristine and uncrowded beaches in the process.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
It must first be understood that “sustainable” is a difficult term to define. In terms of development, the concept of sustainablity is relative to locale. A sustainable development in Florida cannot be directly measured against a sustainable development in Loreto because each location possesses its own unique and limited natural resources. So to what standards of sustainability does The Loreto Bay Company adhere? According to the Loreto Bay Company press kit, the Trust for Sustainable Development has a mission to comply with the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainability: “meeting the needs of the present generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In particular, Loreto Bay addresses sustainability in three key areas: economic, social, and environmental. Its three ecological promises are to produce more energy from renewable resources than it consumes, to harvest or produce more potable water than used, and to create more biodiversity, more biomass, and more habitat than originally existed. With an unconventional motto like, “Live Fully, Tread Lightly”, Loreto Bay envisions a development that will leave little impact on the existing environment. Herein lies the danger—sustainablity in development is a relatively new phenomenon with very few people who are informed on the subject. Therefore, it is important to maintain vigilance when “sustainable” is being used to describe a development.
RATING SYSTEMS FOR GREEN AND SUSTAINABLE BUILDING
Eco-lodge expert Hitesh Mehta states, “A true eco-lodge has three basic elements: It protects the environment, benefits local communities, and helps guests learn about the local surroundings while they explore them.”8 The Loreto Bay Company hopes that it can become an international model for sustainable development where no such international model yet exists. The World Green Building Council (WGBC) will say that “a sustainable property industry will balance environmental, social and economic issues to ensure a viable and valuable industry for future generations”, but it cannot provide a specific rating system that will apply in every region of the world. Instead the WGBC assists its members consisting of Green Building Councils from the world over in developing their own national rating systems. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system which is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings.
According to Ross Spiegel, LEED AP, Associate/Senior Specification Writer/Green Team Leader at Fletcher-Thompson, Inc., the Construction Specifications Institute’s (CSI) Liaison to the USGBC for the last 12 years, and co-author of Green Building Materials: A Guide to Product Selection and Specification, the Mexico Green Building Council is currently in the process of developing a National Green Building Rating Tool called SICES. Spiegel says, “I do not know the timeline for the development of the rating tool but initially they intend it to cover commercial buildings and low income housing, neither category applicable to the Loreto Bay development.” Without its own rating system, sustainable developers in Mexico still have the option to submit the project for LEED Certification through the USGBC. It is Spiegel’s suspicion that “Loreto Bay is claiming to be a sustainable development without using any measurement tools to prove it or without making an actual effort to do so and hoping that no one will notice.”
“Sustainable” remains an elusive word. The Loreto Bay Company’s vision appears legitimate, but it remains to be seen if they will adhere to the true definition and fulfill the promises they have made. Since there is currently no official rating system that evaluates sustainable developments, can the Loreto Bay Company legitimately claim that they are “the largest sustainable development under construction in North America today”?9 In Spiegel’s opinion, “it is disingenuous to claim to be a ‘sustainable development’ when no standard measurement tool exists to gauge the accuracy of the statement. Unfortunately, given the general state of the environment in Mexico [highly polluted and no controls] it should not be too difficult for them to make the claim of being a sustainable development.”
GREENWASHING AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Catch words such as “sustainable” and “green” promise many things to the uninformed consumer—it may be difficult to define sustainability, but fortunately, it is much easier to determine what is not sustainable. “Greenwashing” is a term that describes the relatively new phenomenon of “claiming to be green for the economic benefits without delivering on the promise.”10 So, what are the economic benefits of building green? Why might a developer be inclined to “greenwash”? According to Hitesh Mehta, “The word ‘eco’ has been hijacked. Like organic food, yoga and feng shui, ecotourism has entered the realm of the lucrative fad, where exploitation is inevitable.”11 The bottom line is that words such as health, happiness, eco-friendly, and organic, invoke positive feelings in people because they make them feel as though they are doing something good for themselves and for the Earth. The real question is, when a developer pitches sustainability and “green” to a health-obsessed audience, are buyers getting the real deal or are they being duped?
With the recent arrival of words like “green” and “sustainable”, most lack the
expertise to know which questions to ask.A recent article in Men’s Journal lays out both broad and specific questions one should ask any developer that is claiming to be sustainable. These questions provide the foundation for the following Q&A section.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
All developers claiming to be sustainable must be prepared to answer questions concerning the true sustainability of the project. The questions posed below will illuminate the fact that sustainablity is tedious and far more involved than simply building some solar-powered condos on the beach. It is important to remember that a truly sustainable development must take into consideration the current social, economic, and ecological environment of the region to be built out. It is important to recognize that building a truly sustainable project requires extensive research, expert advice and exhaustive planning. The following interview compares responses given by The Loreto Bay Company to those provided by local residents and experts including comments from Rodolfo Palacios Castro, Hugo Quintero Maldonado, Heidi Sanborn, and Linda Kinninger. Rodolfo Palacios Castro became a board member of GEA and a member of Loreto 2025, an organization committed to developing an alternative development plan to Loreto Bay. This followed his move to Loreto when his hometown in Los Cabos grew out of control and became a heavily-travelled tourist destination. Hugo Quintero Maldonado is a local civil engineer and the current Director of El Organismo Operador Municipal del Sistema de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Loreto (The Loreto Water and Sewer Department). Heidi Sanborn has an extensive background in waste management. Linda Kinninger is a prominent resident of Loreto and an active participant in environmental affairs in the Loreto region and Wallace J. Nichols, Phd. is a leading researcher and advocate for protection of Baja’s sea turtles.
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