The New Idea
Juan José Consejo attributes the ongoing deterioration of natural ecosystems to the proliferation of conservation strategies that fail to accommodate the needs and dynamics of the human communities that function within threatened environments. To address this imbalance, he has designed a dual approach to ecological management that was first launched in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in 1993 with the creation of the Oaxacan Commission for Ecological Defense. Juan José starts from the premise that, while government alone is incapable of resolving environmental problems, it must be included in the discussion if proposed solutions are to have any chance of succeeding. By the same token, if local consumers and producers are not involved in the debate, then proposals are just as unlikely to flourish. The socio-political component of his idea is thus founded on the principle of coalition-building, the process of bringing together community leaders, government officials, and the owners of local businesses in a joint commission to discuss environmental problems and agree on solutions. In Oaxaca this approach was so successful that legislation was adopted at the state level which obliged the government to implement the recommendations formulated by the Commission. The technical component of Juan José's approach involves the fusion of three existing dimensions of environmental work that are rarely brought together: firstly, a solid grounding in theoretical concepts combined with previous experience of conservation efforts; secondly, the application of an "environmental inventory," which enables his team to assess the issues and potentials of a given region; and thirdly, the implementation of various "appropriate technology" projects, especially those relating to the purification and distribution of water. This combination of consensus-based community strategies, solid ecological analysis, and the introduction of appropriate technologies has led for the first time to the emergence of state policy and civil society mobilization around environmental issues in Oaxaca.