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Notes on the Revolution / Column #57

Fidel Castro declared that the Revolution needs men and women of science on January 15, 1960

Fidel Castro declared that the Revolution needs men and women of science on January 15, 1960

Notes on the Revolution / Column #57

January 15, 2020

Scientific and environmental development in Cuba

By Charles McKelvey

In this episode of Notes on the Revolution, we continue our reflection on essays found in Cuba en revolución (Cuba in revolution), edited by Luis Suárez and published by CLACSO (The Latin American Council of Social Science) in commemoration of six decades of the Cuban Revolution in power. Today we focus on an article on scientific and environmental development by Ramón Pichs Madruga, Researcher and Director of the Cuban Center for Research on the World Economy.

Pichs notes that, since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959, Cuba has been committed to scientific development. He quotes Fidel’s historic speech on January 15, 1960 before the Speleological Society of Cuba, in which Fidel declared that “The future of our country has to be necessarily a future of men and women of science; it has to be a future of men and women of thought.” In that discourse, Fidel declared that the Cuban Revolution is seeding intelligence by ensuring that the people have full access to culture and to science. “Intelligence,” he stated, “that will be incorporated into the life of the country, intelligence that will be incorporated into culture and science. This is the reason that we are converting fortresses into schools, so that in the future the country will be able to count on an accomplished group of men and women of thought, of research, and of science.”

Fidel assured the gathered representatives of Cuban science that the revolutionary government is fully committed to scientific development, because scientific development is the foundation to the economic and social development of the nation. He declared, “Today, in the new country, the country that is truly free, scientists and researchers have full opportunity, so that all the things that you do are going to benefit directly the people. Today you have the satisfaction of knowing that there is a revolutionary government that seeks the truth, that needs scientists, that needs researchers, because this is the moment in which all intelligence has to be put to work.”

Fidel concluded, “Cuba needs men and women of thought, above all men and women of clear thought that put their knowledge on the side of good, on the side of justice, on the side of the country, because only thought can guide the peoples in the moments of great transformations.”

Over the following six decades, Pichs notes, Cuba developed 208 scientific institutions, with ties to educational and productive institutions, so that Cuban scientific research is marked by interinstitutional collaboration and an orientation to the application of results, impacting the socioeconomic development of the country.

Pichs reports that Cuba is rated with a high human development index by the United Nations Program for Development, much higher than underdeveloped countries in general and slightly higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that also is ranked in the high category. A report issued by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystemic Services observes that Cuba’s gains in human development go far beyond its national income, as a result of its channeling of its limited economic resources toward education and health.

Cuban commitment to science has included attention to environmental issues, which has existed since the triumph of the revolution, but with greater emphasis in more recent decades, as the international scientific community and social consciousness moved in this direction. Cuba has a relatively low “per capita ecological footprint,” a measure that has been developed by the NGO World Fund for Nature (WWF). The ecological footprint is expressed in global hectares, or the quantity of biologically productive hectares that are required to provide for resources and absorb residues. WWF has calculated that the ecological footprint of humanity in 2012 was 2.8 global hectares per person, whereas the per capital ecological footprint of Cuba in 2013 was only 1.86 global hectares.

Using data provided by the Global Footprint Network, Pichs compares the ecological footprint of Cuba with the nations with a high index of human development. He finds that the 67 nations that have higher levels of human development than Cuba all have larger ecological footprints per capita. The great majority of them have ecological footprints from two to four times that of Cuba.

Because the countries of high development index have larger ecological footprints than Cuba, the Cuban Center for the Study of the World Economy has developed an alternative index that adjusts the human development index by taking into account not only education, health, and science, but also the ecological footprint as a fourth dimension. In this alternative human development index, the ranking of Cuba jumps from 68th to 33rd in the world.

Cuban scientists have observed that climate change is affecting the island. The temperature has increased 0.9˚ Celsius since the middle of the twentieth century; the sea level has increased 6.77 cm, and projections are that it will increase 27 cm by 2050 and 85 cm by 2100; the island is increasingly subject to extreme climatic events, especially hurricanes; and a change in the rainfall patterns has significantly increased droughts. Pichs describes the various measures in four areas adopted by Cuba to respond to the challenge of climate change.

First, Cuba has developed an efficient civil defense system of preparations for emergencies and disasters, centered on the mobilization and preparation of the community, which is able to use the neighborhood organizations that have been developed as a dimension of the Cuban political system of people’s democracy. The civil defense system includes continuous training and education and a process of early alert.

Secondly, since the triumph of the revolution, Cuba has increased forest cover from 13.9% in 1959 to 31.2% in 2017. This contributes to the mitigation of climate change, given the role of the forests as drains of carbon dioxide.

Thirdly, Cuba launched an energy revolution in 2005, which emphasizes the efficient use of energy as well as the promotion of renewable sources of energy. A Program of Renewable Sources of Energy was developed in 2014, which gives priority to solar and wind energy, bioenergy (using sugar cane and forest biomass), hydroelectricity of small scale, and biogas. On the basis of the program, it is projected that Cuban use renewable sources of energy, currently at 5% of energy production, will increase to 24%.

And fourthly, in 2017, the government formulated a plan for progressive investment in combatting the effects of climate change over the next twenty-five years, identifying low coastal zones at risk, and strategic actions and specific tasks that will be implemented.

Today’s reflections on Cuban scientific and environmental development coincide with the Cuban Day of Science, in which the Cuban media and Cuban scientific institutions are commemorating of the historic speech sixty years ago on this same date, January 15, but in 1960, in which Fidel proclaimed the commitment of the Cuban Revolution to science.

The Cuban Revolution in power for six decades has understood scientific development as the foundation to a comprehensive economic and social development. It has envisioned and developed a form of science that is dedicated to responding to the needs of the people, and it has viewed the people and nature as part of a single whole. Moreover, with a government that is of, by, and for the people, public discussion of science, nature, and society never became distorted by misinformation campaigns launched by large, private corporations. Taking into account the Cuban history of colonialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment; its limited economic resources; and the economic blockade of its neighboring imperialist power; the achievements of revolutionary Cuba in scientific and environmental development demonstrate to humanity the possibilities for human progress, when there is the political will.

This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.


Edited by Lena Valverde Jordi
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