Ecopolitik

by José Luis Espejo


Economics: The science that studies resources, the creation of wealth, and the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services in order to satisfy human needs.

Ecology: Ecology is the science that studies the relationship between different living beings and their surroundings: “ecosystems biology.” It examines how these interactions between organisms and their environment affects characteristics such as distribution and abundance.

Realpolitik: (“politics of reality” in German) is politics or diplomacy based on practical interests and specific actions, without taking into account theory or philosophy as “policy-forming” factors. Realpolitik has been Ecuadorian governments’ argument for justifying drilling for oil.

Naturalpolitik: A term coined by Bruno Latour in reference to Realpolitik; it describes developing ecological policies that aim, in contrast to militant ecology, to renew public life by keeping intact this idea of nature invented to be poisoned.


SIL was a missionary organization that, supported by the government and US oil companies, studied the Huaorani language spoken by indigenous peoples in the Yasuni Reserve in Orellana province, Ecuador. In its first manuals, the organisation did not provided a Spanish translation of the Huao words for “noise,” “sound” and “listening.” The word for “nature,” however, was translated (awæ̈ ööingä yebænte näni quëwëñömö).

Naming and translating “nature” made it possible to colonise the place and its resources in spite of the inhabitants. With no clear differentiation between people and nature, they were both exploited in a similar way. Naming things (in the Western context—or Cowore in Huao) aims to universalise objects using a concept. This denomination displaces an idea of existence in the world of culture in order to impose another that besieges that world and understands it in terms of profits.

In front of fences we only have the indifference of people who cannot separate one thing from the whole, because when we try to protect nature—accepting that extractive exploitation is not a climatic issue, but a political issue—we unwittingly prop up that idea of nature as something separated from mankind.

This indifference also includes a certain idea about the commons. When the first constitutions about exploiting land were signed in medieval Europe, woods were marked for communal use, for hunting and timbering, separated from land for farming. Communal forests were full of what we call “the sounds of nature” and the enclosed spaces filled up with what we call “noise.” Peter Linebauch reminds us in The Magna Carta Manifesto that “Woods, forests, and mangrove are destroyed while propane, gasoline, kerosene are substituted.” What sound does the reader think of in association with the words “wood” and “swamp”? And in connection with petrol and paraffin?

Naming noise in the Yasuni, we run the risk of starting another process of colonisation. Naming vibration, as well as recording it, makes that vibration available for producing profits. This book wants to play a little with that extraction of dark material, without ignoring the book’s own capacity for colonialism, which, by naming things, may have as much influence as translating “nature” as awæ̈ ööingä yebænte näni quëwëñömö. Everybody, in one way or another, has to face up to their own contradictions.