CEMUS Diaries w49#2 – CEMUS: an island of thought, visions, and actions. by Alejandro Marcos Valls

CEMUS Diaries - week 49 #2

Alejandro Marcos Valls

Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB). Former course coordinator at CEMUS.


A title. I was looking for a title to get inspiration to write that piece for the CEMUS Diaries and a lot of ideas came to my mind… Should I write about ‘The grey area’ that CEMUS offers in so many different ways and that allows learning to happen? Should I talk about ‘The CEMUS bubble’ that a lot of people has experienced (and will experience) once you get to know what happens in such a special place? Should I write ‘A letter to myself 25 years ago’ reflecting on how the World and my life have changed in the last 25 years? Should I reflect on ‘In(ter)Dependence’, connected to the Catalan situation? There were so many topics that came to my mind, but, what is CEMUS that allows me to connect such a variety of topics?

CEMUS is a place, the Centre for Environment and Development Studies. Is it? Rather, CEMUS is a space made of people from different places. CEMUS is the people that meet in that space. People that stay, people that come and go, and come back, and leave again. We are connected by the belief and the conviction that a better world is possible. We know it is a hard task but someone will have to do it, and it is through education and critical thinking that we can understand the challenges and offer alternatives to make possible a better present for a sustainable future. CEMUS is a place where students are not treated like blank paper that needs to be filled with ‘knowledge’. Instead, students are included in different ways to decide what they want and co-create knowledge, visions, and spaces for transformation. CEMUS is a community that creates and shares visions by acting differently. Sometimes it feels isolated, like in the bubble I mentioned before, like on an island. An island of thought, visions and actions where bottled-messages in forms of people, courses, conferences, projects, art, manifestos, etc. are sent to the sea like seeds that spread waiting for the right place to grow and transform reality.

Looking back 25 years ago has been an interesting exercise. While CEMUS was being created, I was immersed, delighted, in the Olympic Games of Barcelona’92. I was an 8 years old kid who was impressed by how fast everything was changing around me, development was called. Barcelona and its metropolitan area were experiencing a huge transformation. I remember the movement and the change around me: the fields and small gardens where people had some vegetables planted were disappearing; the streets, districts, roads, railways, … were changing. Everything was transforming and at that time I wasn’t able to identify any critical thought around what was happening. The development of Barcelona was something almost everyone was proud of. Most of the people were together, working in the same direction, united and I wonder, what has changed in this 25 years? A lot has changed. The success of the development of certain parts of the world was not for free. Inequality, injustice and environmental degradation were the prices to be paid and spaces like CEMUS were needed, are needed, to raise awareness about these issues, give voice to those that are often not heard, and take the required actions to avoid the known negative consequences.

The Olympic Games were an example of how a community that was working together is able to achieve great transformations even though some side effects were, consciously or unconsciously neglected. We are more aware of those side effects now, and we need to create better institutions, and mechanisms in order to include the ones that are often left out just suffering the consequences of someone else’s’ success.

Being in Catalonia during the last months of intense political activity has made me reconsider everything connected to sustainability in the broad sense. What is sustainability? What do WE need to live sustainability? And maybe more importantly, who are WE? Are WE the village where I live? Where I’m from? the region? the country? the continent? and, who decides? I am still having trouble understanding what are the right boundaries that allow people to live sustainably. What it is clear to me is that we are not isolated. Everything is interconnected. No matter how your boundaries are, because most of the actions have consequences far away, often among the ones that cannot defend themselves, and those are the ones WE should always be taking the decisions for. For those not heard in the present and for the future generations that cannot defend themselves.

Thinking in islands, boundaries, sustainability, transformations, sovereignty, democracy is where I find myself nowadays. As a Ph.D. candidate, I’m trying to understand what is needed in islands, as social-ecological systems, to adapt to changes, and what are the key elements that can lead to a sustainable development considering different actors in the decision making. It is not an easy task, but my experience at CEMUS is helping me to think critically, imagine what options we have in front of us and plan what are the steps we all need to take to live sustainably, not leaving anyone behind.




This is a part of the 25th Anniversary blog series “CEMUS Diaries: Stories from past, present and future”, where we invite present and former staff, students, work group members, associates, and other CEMUS friends to reflect on their time at CEMUS and shed critical light into the future. Read the other CEMUS Diaries entries here.

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