November 23, 2014
Martín Prieto. Executive director of Greenpeace ArgentinaSunday, March 23, 2014
‘Buenos Aires won’t be a green city until it solves its waste problems’
Born: Buenos Aires City
Education: Law at Buenos
Aires City University (UBA)
Previous jobs: Used to own his
own law firm before starting in Greenpeace
Newspapers: La Nación
Magazines: The Economist
Favourite book: Doesn’t have one. Likes fiction and is now reading The Divine Comedy
The imprisonment of Argentine Greenpeace activists Camila Speziale and Hernán Pérez Orsi following a protest at Russia’s first offshore rig in the Arctic put the organization and its protest methods under the spotlight. Now, the head of Greenpeace Argentina, Martín Prieto, says the organization will not change its strategy. In a small conference room at Greenpeace’s environmentally friendly headquarters in the City neighbourhood of Chacarita, where rain is collected to re-use it and energy is obtained through solar panels, Prieto talked to the Herald and described the expansion of the local branch of the organization and emphasized his concerns over the lack of an environmental agenda in politics.
What differentiates Greenpeace Argentina from other branches across the world?
In Argentina, Greenpeace has been able to spread its message at an exceptional level. We now have 100,000 members in Argentina, compared to 250,000 in the United States. That means there’s a large proportion of Argentines who think what we do is important.
Has the organization registered growth in its membership over the last few years?
When I started working 16 years ago we only had 500 members-it has been a sustained and permanent growth. Argentina is a developing country but the figures are quite high if compared with developed countries.
Is all the work carried out by Greenpeace financed by the members’ monthly donations?
Yes, that’s our only income since we don’t receive money from companies. They are small monthly donations of an average of 60 pesos. Still, the money is never enough since there’s a large list of environmental problems in the country. We end up being like a public hospital where everybody who has an environmental problem comes and knocks on our door.
Has Greenpeace considered a change of strategy after the imprisonment in Russia of Camila Speziale and Hernán Perez Orsi?
No, we haven’t. The methodology of sending activist to carry out a peaceful protest proved to be efficient because for four months a lot of people talked about if drilling should be done in the Artic or not. All we did was to go there and publicize a situation. These days our work is getting more difficult because many countries are eliminating individual rights-any protest now implies a risk of imprisonment.
How do you evaluate the environmental policies of Kirchnerism after more than 10 years in office?
It’s just another government that has failed when it comes to environmental policies. They never had an environmental agenda and consequently never stopped anything based solely on environmental reasons. Monsanto was never stopped, mining companies have continued their projects and some key bills have been blocked like the electronic waste bill. Any issue you look at closely shows their lack of attention to the environment.
Does the same apply to Buenos Aires City, which bills itself as environmentally friendly?
Buenos Aires City needs to fulfill the plan to decrease the waste sent to the province of Buenos Aires. All the deadlines have expired and a much more aggressive plan is needed. As long as Macri fails to do that, Buenos Aires won’t be a green city. Bike lanes and the Metrobus system are an improvement but the main issue is waste and what to do with it.
Considering that Greenpeace has been in Argentina for more than 27 years, can you identify a government that was better on environmental issues?
No, sadly I can’t. We have never seen a project blocked for environmental reasons. When that happens, that will be the moment when we can say there’s an environmental agenda.
And a politician?
All the parties have people who are more sensitive to environmental issues. We work with many lawmakers and officers but they don’t have any real power to create change. Parties don’t have an environmental agenda — it’s just not a relevant issue for them.
There has been a lot of talk about developing the Vaca Muerta shale formation as a way to make the country less reliant on imports
Vaca Muerta is not the solution to the country’s energy problems. It’s only a way to postpone them without solving the real issues. A debate over our energy matrix is pending and change is unavoidable. We have an amazing potential on wind energy and we could be self-sufficient on energy based on that alone.
Do you see hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which is used in Vaca Muerta as a risk for the environment?
Yes, it has several problems due to the use of large amounts of water and chemicals to exploit the oil and gas reservoir and can pollute aquifers. Looking for non-conventional fuels is the wrong path. We should be working on renewable energies, and their development will be slowed down due to fracking.
The government relies a lot on the revenue obtained from genetically modified soy. Is it possible to develop an alternative agricultural project while maintaining a high level of revenue?
Argentina needs to create an alternative agricultural model based on an environmentally friendly agriculture. We cannot depend on just one crop. Argentina has become an ocean of soy and that creates a lot of pressure on trees, which are cut down to create farmland for soy.
Has any real progress been made in cleaning the Riachuelo River since the ACUMAR board was created in 2006?
If we compare the water samples before ACUMAR started working with current ones, we can see the same level of pollution. The work done so far has not been enough. There are many polluting substances that can be completely eliminated but to do that companies need to change the way they work. All the deadlines established by the Supreme Court to clean the Riachuelo have expired.