Aug 28

Ben Eli: “Please don’t turn La Palma into something everyone is running away from”.

The Global Sustainability Fellows (GSF) programme, held on La Palma, came to a close on 1 August in Los Llanos de Aridane with the presentation of the results of the work carried out on the island.

Michael Ben-Eli, precursor of the Global Sustainability Fellows and founder of the New York Sustainability Lab, warned in his closing speech that “our planet is in danger. Even the staunchest opponents of climate change are realising that humanity is at a tipping point”.

“We are called to decide: accelerate the deterioration or choose the path of sustainability. The latter, however, presents a profound challenge in the transformations that are needed. It calls for a rethinking of our entire collective experience”, he stressed in his speech, which he entitled ‘To the beautiful island of La Palma and the spirit of Las Machuqueras’.

In Ben Eli’s opinion, “the island of La Palma is at a similar historical crossroads. The combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating eruption of the volcano has opened up many questions about the future of the island, stimulating discussion about the direction of its development, including questions about conservation, renewable energy and other sustainability issues. “In response to this crossroads, La Palma could make sustainability its main objective. Many ideas can be formulated to respond to that goal,” he said.

“If I had to highlight three priority actions, I would name the following: diversifying the economy and supporting the formation of genuinely local and community-based businesses; developing the right facilities and programmes to encourage environmentally conscious and respectful tourism; and improving infrastructure and water management, while supporting the development of agro-ecological family farms. And, of course, encouraging synergies between actions,” he said.

Ben Eli argues that “La Palma can, and must, go far beyond lip service to sustainable development and commit to establishing the concept of sustainability as an organising principle on the island”.

In this sense, he said that “the community of La Palma – citizens, businesses and authorities – can collaborate in the creation and presentation of the ‘La Palma Pact’, committing to a common vision, inclusive values and a consensual direction for its development”. “By taking such a bold step, La Palma can truly fulfil its destiny and open up entirely new socio-economic and development opportunities,” he stressed. The founder of the New York Sustainability Lab emphasised that “La Palma could be declared as a model to showcase sustainability initiatives relevant to island ecosystems around the world”.

“The island can position itself at the forefront of the global sustainability agenda and, in collaboration with international organisations and appropriate investment, a laboratory for experimentation, research and innovation in sustainability – in science, technology, industry, governance, economics, community development, ecology and the arts – integrating all relevant aspects of the human experience,” he said.

Ben Eli made a culinary simile: “As every chef knows, the secret of great dishes lies in the excellence of the ingredients…Here, on La Palma, they have the quality of ingredients needed: a unique location; a rich and diverse ecosystem; extraordinary people; a robust tradition; and world-class scientific and research institutions”.

“The Biosphere Reserve and the Institute of Astrophysics, for example, with their international connections and prestige, can provide the institutional basis for implementing a sustainable development model for the island. To achieve this, the necessary mechanism must be activated to manage and integrate all related activities, providing it with the necessary resources and authority,” he explained.

This initiative, he remarked, “could later be expanded to include the whole of the Canary Islands archipelago, as a model for building a healthy future for all. An expansion that, with the right approach, could obtain the support of the administration at all levels: Canary Islands, Spain and the European Union”.

“Above all, we cannot lose sight of one truth: you have a real treasure here! Wild, unique, beautiful and enriched with tradition, quality and authenticity. Exactly what people seem to be longing for”, he stressed, and concluded with a plea: “Please don’t turn the Island into something everyone is running away from”.