Foreign Correspondent: Argentina

Pollution and the Third World


Buenos Aires, Argentina. A subject which has become fashionable in the last years, and which more recently has raised very concrete problems, is the Pollution thing. The World Conference at Stockholm last July, the famous report of the MIT group for the so-called Club of Rome (thirty personalities gathered in 1968 at Rome to consider the world future), report which recommended a "zero-growth" alternative, helped to put the pollution issue at the top of the public attention.

I shall not enter into arguments about the exaggerations of some "ecologists", nor about the proper legal remedies. In REASON—as in some other journals—those aspects have been expertly considered. I shall try to give you an idea of the problem as seen from here.

It can be said that there is a growing "impression" among underdeveloped countries that if concern about pollution means slowing the industrialization and modernization process, then let's forget it. Some people even think that developed countries are trying to "sell" the pollution issue to the underdeveloped countries in order to stop the development of the last ones, apparently a paranoic attitude. But in a more serious vein, there is a widespread feeling that pollution control can become a major obstacle toward progress and modernization of economic structures. The idea is that pollution concern is a typical worry of a rich nation but that in underdeveloped ones it is a small price to pay for the eradication of fundamental and basic wrongs such as poverty. Let's develop and worry later, might be their motto.

This stand is presently advocated by Brazil, who has even invited industries of all the world worried and troubled by pollution controls, to install their factories in their territory.

However, another school of thought believes that the preceding description is fallacious and that in the specific case of Brazil poses a threat to the natural resources of some neighboring countries.

As to the first aspect, it is argued that economic development of developed countries was not simultaneous nor homogenous; when England had an established industry, Germany was a backward and divided country and USA an agrarian producer; that is why these two last countries were able to avoid some technical stages—those more primitive—arriving to the development of its basic industries when the corresponding technology had already surpassed its early non-sophisticated stage. This could be the great historical advantage—among all the other disadvantages—of relatively underdeveloped countries: starting with a more modern technology (brought, imported, etc.) they are able to save all rectifications, advancements and regressions through which older countries had to pass before. As a consequence, Third World countries can avoid an important portion of the negative consequences of technological progress. (To give an example of my own: apparently, if a country today wishes to produce its first atom bomb, it shall not have necessarily to be one of those "dirty" bombs produced early in the process by USA and the USSR, being able to produce from the beginning a "clean" one. Apply this horrible example to a more productive industrial activity and you'll get the core of the second thesis).

As you may see, Brazil's thesis is very interesting and useful to deal with leftists worried about world poverty but advocating "zero-growth" ideas.

On the other hand, Brazil's invitation to polluting industries means a very real threat to the water resources of the Silver Basin (river system formed by the Paraguay and Parana Rivers, born in Brazilian territory but running throughout more than 3,000 miles of Argentinian, Uruguayan and Paraguayan territories, and ending in a delta formation in the Silver River). These rivers possibly to be polluted by Brazil producers represent 83% of the rivers of Argentina, the basis of its economy and the origin of the drinking water for the main urban zones, among them Buenos Aires city, where I am now writing this column. Therefore, the problem is worrying indeed and of great potential consequences.