Our vision is that all people of the Earth live well and within the means of nature. We are delighted when this vision is shared by others around the world, and honored when we meet individuals equally passionate about sustainability. Last month, we had the pleasure to meet Freddy Ehlers, minister of the Buen Vivir program in Ecuador. "Buen vivir" translates roughly to good living in English. The program promotes finding a meaning to life that makes living it worthwhile, inspired by service to others and respect toward all beings in nature.
Over the course of his 40-year career, Freddy has worked as a journalist, documentary film producer, Andean community secretary general and Ecuadorian minister of tourism. He studied law at the Universidad Central del Ecuador, pursued graduate studies in political science at Davidson College in the United States and received media training at the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Holland.
We asked Freddy a few questions about his work at the Ministry of Buen Vivir.
Can you tell us a little bit about how Ecuador values nature, which in turn, supports Buen Vivir?
FE: The Ecuadorian constitution was the first in the world to have a section about the rights of nature because we seem to solely focus on human rights. It’s a start since giving nature rights and making those rights practical is difficult. We have to be interested in that.
What are some public policies in Ecuador aimed at the practice of Buen Vivir?
FE: We support activities that help us disconnect from the craziness of modern life to enable more time connecting with nature and our own hearts. In Ecuador, we believe that a few minutes of stillness and calm breathing could be the greatest revolution in humanity. It’s free, cheap, only takes a few minutes each day and helps support a more conscious way of life. In fact, we make time for this meditation in our schools and children love it.
We’ve also helped change the way consumers receive information about what they’re eating with new, simple, color-coded labels on packaged food items. It uses a low-medium-high scale to label fat, sugar and salt and has been very effective to better inform consumers and change their behavior. As you might expect, companies were absolutely against this new labeling, but now even they are starting to use less sugar and fats in their products.
What other challenges or obstacles has Buen Vivir faced?
FE: We have two personalities. First we worry about what’s happening, and then we do everything that is going to make what’s happening worse. It’s like saying during the day cigarettes are bad for you and can cause cancer but at night celebrating the news that Marlboro’s sales increased which will, in turn provide more work opportunities and move the economy. I also think there is a big problem between knowing how much is enough. According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, "Nothing is enough for the person to whom enough is too little." I think that’s more important than a book. What makes a human being satisfied? I think that’s a big question in the world.
What kind of reception are you getting from other countries?
FE: Fantastic. We were in the State of the Union in Florence [an annual conference organized by the European University Institute for high-level reflection on the European Union]. They were talking about the immigrants coming into the wealthy countries. Why do they come? Because it’s an unjust world. All the richness has been concentrated here and the poor people want to migrate because we’re not an organized society. Instead of thinking about the benefit of the world, countries are only thinking about the benefit of their own country. It doesn’t matter to them how it may harm the other countries. Statistics say 85 people own half of the wealth of the world. That’s impossible. Never, ever before could that have existed. There could be a new French Revolution or American Revolution, a Latin American revolution because now we have a group of people that because they own the technology they get more and more money.
Do you think a revolution is necessary to achieve the greatest level of happiness?
FE: A revolution is necessary, a conscious one, inside ourselves. I dream of a world with more nature than now and cleaner oceans. It is possible, but if we don’t change, nothing will change. It’s a personal decision.
The word in Ecuador is "Ecuador discovered the 'r' in evolution," so a revolution becomes evolution. That evolution is in favor of nature and human beings and not in favor of just a few big companies. So we believe in universal citizenship. We think that we have not only to be thinking just in our mind "mine, mine, mine."
Where can we stay updated with your work at the Ministry of Buen Vivir?
FE: We work with other ministries to create a weekly TV program on YouTube that provides examples on ways to change how you live and how you treat nature. We have a lot of documentaries on human beings and their communities.