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BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
AN OUTLINE OF REFORM:
REALISTIC VISIONS OF HOPE
Is there hope? Absolutely. The global environmental crisis is not a crisis of science. The problems are soluble from a technical point of view. It is primarily a political crisis in two separate ways. First the political will must be developed to make tough choices and sacrifices. Second the national and global political structure of the world must be changed to create a centralization of power to deal with the crisis.
One purpose of this article is to help global citizens see whether we are or not moving away from disaster. The greatest enemy of real reform we face is not reaction but rather pseudo-reform, a collection of too little, too late measures designed to prop up today's political leaders rather than actually delivering the tough medicine that might actually cure the patient. Indeed, if current trends are any indication, we are living an age of unprecedented political deceit as political and economic elites set in motion a truly massive campaign of "green-washing".
Perhaps, never before in history has there been such a gap between science and politics. On issue after issue, from climate change to deforestation to the destruction of the world's fisheries, all the scientific evidence is there. However, we have a political order that is almost totally failing to deal with deepening problems.
Indeed, what is particularly inexcusable is that the scientists of the world have been warning about the problems we face for the last 40 years from air pollution to the destruction of the world's fisheries. Unfortunately, powerful economic interests, like the tobacco industry in its campaign to "prove" smoking was "safe", have created huge public relations and political campaigns that have paralyzed reform.
Part of this economic campaign has been an effort to portray real scientists as hysterical agents of "doom and gloom" while industry paid "experts" were "realists".
The world food situation is a case in point. Enemies of reform have quoted over and over again the predictions of many environmentalists that there would be severe world food shortages in the 1980's as proof of the folly of the environmental movement. In reality, the verdict on the "Green Revolution" is anything but clear. By pumping out underground aquifers, dumping vast amounts of pesticides and fertilizers into waterways and replacing tested biodiverse seed banks with uniform "designer gene" seeds, there is every evidence that what we have is a new mortgage against the future - not a permanent step forward.
The issue of climate change today is but a part of a larger problem. It is in fact a part of the continuation of the global environmental problems that did gain national attention in America in the 1960's and 1970"s but which were neglected on the national agenda from 1981 until recently. Sadly, these problems did not go away because they became unfashionable in Washington, D.C.. They have been growing all along and are now more dangerous than ever before.
We cannot afford to go on living in fantasy world. Reality is intruding, and the pace of change is gathering a very dangerous momentum.
Most "environmental" policy suggestions deal purely with tactics, more recycling, using better light bulbs are so on. These are worthy goals but any serious discussion of reform must be connected to politics and political theory.
At the heart of any plan for reform must be an enormous concentration of political power. This must be done on a national level but there must also be a concentration of power on the international level to deal with issues such as the crisis in global fisheries.
This international cooperation requires a greater level of western humility and far less arrogance. The chances of solving today's unprecedented crisis are low if we do not recognize the legacy of western imperialism in terms of today's distribution of global wealth. The inequality of wealth in today's world is at its highest level in history. This did not occur because of the "magic of the marketplace" or Jesus. For example, the native Americans in the U.S. were driven from their lands by raw military power. In 1846 America attacked Mexico and seized half of its territory. China, India and Africa were on the receiving end of other western military invasions.
History is a long term game. China today is returning to a global position it had back in 1800.
It would not be realistic to expect America to make amends to the people it conquered but a greater level of humility when it comes to moral self-righteousness would be major step forward in creating a global consensus for peaceful reform.
What follows is a more specific discussion of general themes:
Make environmental policy a top global priority. This will be very difficult, since the global economy is based so heavily on environmental destruction. Coal, for example, is the main fuel behind China's economic boom. Agriculture in India is heavily based on pumping out the aquifers in the Punjab. In America the EPA doesn't even have cabinet rank. In the case of some key Third World states critical to the health of the planet, major economic subsidies will likely be needed from rich nations to convince these countries to sharply scale back actions such as deforestation and over fishing. Ultimately, economic sanctions and possibly even military action may be needed.
Centralized political power. This must take place on a national and global scale. The truly global nature of the environmental crisis demands a centralized solution. Furthermore, the turmoil that the past 50 years of borrowing from the future is going to produce will demand centralized power as it has in every other period of crisis in history. It is critical that this take place soon in a social democratic orderly manner or it will be imposed by autocrats who will come to power on the ruins of the current political order.
Massive state intervention in economic matters. There are few more idiotic and destructive ideas than the myth that we should simply rely on the "free market" to solve environmental problems. In the first place this is a giant lie. There is no "free" market. On issue after issue, from the government subsidies for cheap water to huge government subsidies for over fishing, the current world economy is based on a whole series of politically connected government subsidies for private profit by means of environmental destruction. In the first place these subsides need to be ended, which will be very difficult from a political point of view. Then a new series of incentives need to be put in place for environmental restoration. These are going to have to be big. Things are so far gone that major action in needed now. Also, from a political point of view we need to create environmental economic lobbies that will have the financial clout to pressure politicians to do the right thing instead of the wrong thing. Market incentives have a role to play but they must be part of an overall strategy.
Reform of the UN. We cannot expect to come together as a planet when we have a security council that is a legacy of western imperialism, that consists of four white Europeans and one Chinese person. This is bad joke. A reformed security council would at least include India and Japan as permanent members. Latin America, Africa and the Middle Eastern states should each be able to nominate a permanent member to represent them. France and England should give up their seats in favor of an EU representative.
Reform of major international institutions. These are also a legacy of western imperialism. It's ludicrous that China, Brazil and India are excluded from the G-8 but Italy is a member. If we want China and India to make sacrifices for the greater global good, they need to be given respect at global leadership forums and in organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Reform of America. It's becoming more and more apparent that things have gone very wrong in America. While every other major state has national health insurance, America can't even cover 47 million of its own citizens, something even Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany was able to do over 100 years ago. Obama's "reform" plan leaves millions without care, doesn't even include a public option and won't even start in a serious manner until 2014. U.S. wages are back to where they were in the 1960's. America's public works are falling apart. Meanwhile, America is heading towards national bankruptcy due to its inability to compete in world trade, losing a staggering $600 billion a year. In terms of foreign policy, religious and nationalist extremists have set in motion policies of military imperialism and outright sabotage on vital international efforts of cooperation in fields such as climate change and family planning. The Obama administration has been a positive change but it is not at all clear that Obama has what it takes to turn things around. He supported Bush's huge $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. His failed "cap and trade" climate change bill was a special interest gravy train, a bureaucratic nightmare and totally inadequate to create viable reform. Obama has actually expanded America's campaign of global military imperialism by placing over 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In 2011 America attacked Libya and started supporting a civil war in Syria (although it has not yet joined such "democratic" forces like Saudi Arabia in sending weapons (or so it says). Meanwhile, American drone attacks have enraged the people of Pakistan and have help fuel more extremism.
Here are some guidelines of what's needed for real reform. America needs nothing short of a war economy to implement environmental reforms and deal with the threat of bankruptcy. America's ridiculously low levels of investment must be raised. This requires a national consumption tax and a national tax on gasoline. Taxes on investments should be reduced. America's Victorian education system needs to be updated with a far longer school year. The huge summer vacations must end. Intelligent sex education programs need to be implemented. A giant program for high speed rail and urban mass transit must be implemented. Funding of public works must be set a realistic levels. A major campaign of broadband for all should be launched. National health insurance needs to be passed far sooner than 2014 to end the sociological chamber of horrors that is the U.S. health care system. It's really doubtful that America will be willing to take the hit on consumption to pay for this. The huge increase in debt to pay for Wall Street's mess has created a much more dangerous and difficult situation for real reform.
Greater unification of Europe. America's massive internal social, economic and religious problems make it more and more dubious as a world leader. The EU is light years ahead of America on so many issues such as health insurance, global poverty, chemical testing, sex education and mass transit. The EU must unite faster to become a global power. The EU has a larger population and economy than America. The EU constitution needs to be changed so that one small nation can no longer block major actions. The EU also needs to evolve militarily into a military power independent of NATO.
Greater cross cultural education on a global level, particularly in the field of religion. This is a key program of WFF in its Global Education Project. In the west there still a dangerous Euro-centric bias in education and little serious education about world religions, especially in America. We should try to bring major educational forces together from different key countries to try to agree on books, courses and web sites that could be used for global education to fight lies and various forms of religious hate.
Get serious about global poverty. More economic aid, trade adjustment and debt relief are needed for the world's poor nations. The global environmental crisis cannot be divorced from the global poverty crisis. Real "sustainable" development sometimes (but not always) costs a lot more in the short term than conventional development. It is not realistic to expect the poor to be able to finance this cost without help from the rich. The key is to create a viable system for financing this. So far, things look bleak here. America is sinking deeper and deeper in debt, while the rich nations will begin to be hit with the huge costs of social security payments in the next 20 years. The recent increase in funding for AIDS victims (while a worthy goal) is likely to further cut into funds for long term development. The recent deadlock of world trade talks shows the huge power of agriculture lobbies in the rich states. The poor nations of the world would probably do well to consider the idea that the expressions of concern from the rich are lies. They should make plans for the possibility that help is not likely to arrive that will be adequate.
The Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 is a grim portent of what's to come. The amount of climate "aid" proposed by the rich for the poor was so tiny that the leader of the poor nations block observed that it wouldn't even cover the cost of the coffins of the victims. The climate conference ended in total failure to propose a binding agreement and hope for anything here has now been postponed to 2011... at the earliest.
The global financial crisis created by America's economic mess is going to make it even harder to help those who need help.
A global data bank on environment. Incredibly, the mismanagement of the planet in the last 50 years has been so bad that we don't even have reliable data for a lot of measures and(or) are relying on governments that have an incentive to hide crimes and problems. China recently distorted the total global figures for fish consumption by presenting totally fraudulent data. There must be a huge increase in data gathering using spy satellites and other means. In particular, fishing fleets need to be far more closely monitored. A central databank must be created and severe penalties must be enforced for countries that submit false data. How these penalties would be enforced is an issue that needs to be determined.
Crisis planning. At the moment this verges on being nonexistent. Serious plans need to be put in place to prepare for death on immense scale. This will be very difficult. To engage in crisis planning would force political elites to admit there is a crisis, raising questions about their competence and fitness to continue to enjoy their privileges of power.
What follows are some suggestions for specific areas:
In the field of agriculture the world faces a series of very tough choices. In the last 20 years the so-called "Green Revolution" made a mockery of many environmental predictions of mass starvation around the globe. Unfortunately, this achievement was based on taking out another giant mortgage against the future in environmental terms. In the first place the huge expansion of irrigation required by the "Green Revolution" has set in motion a giant reduction in world water supplies. This is a one way trip. It is a road to disaster unless water consumption is cut sharply by means of a massive investment in techniques such as drip irrigation. The "Green Revolution" has also led to a huge increase in global water pollution produced by the runoff of the massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides that it uses. It is not clear how this problem can be corrected.
In looking at the whole subject of agriculture a note of human humility is in order. Industrial fertilizers were only invented in the last 100 years. There is no environmental track record of any length to evaluate what is going on. The same can be said of the astronomical use of pesticides required by the "Green Revolution". Even more troubling questions emerge in the realm of seeds. Diverse seed banks have been largely replaced by "designer gene" super crops. Thus, if one of these varieties of a crop became susceptible to a disease, the entire crop could go. Again, we have no track record on this in terms of time.
Agriculture problems are going to be compounded by global warming. As the planet warms, the water flow from the winter ice melt is going to decline, further compounding water shortage problems. This could be quite interesting. Agricultural problems have also been compounded by politics such as the use of corn for ethanol. This has big political support in America and gets lots of subsidies. It saves little energy in the long run does much to raise food prices and the incomes of influential business groups that contribute to politicians.
What to do? Clearly, without drastic changes severe trouble lies ahead. In the environmental community there is huge opposition to further genetic modification of crops. There are real reasons for concern here. However, it not clear that we can afford not to have new crops that consume less water, require less fertilizer and pesticide and produce higher yields. We don't have a final opinion on this but we believe a more open mind on genetically modified crops should be considered. In the first place "natural" crops have already largely been replaced by modified crops anyway. A higher level of modification is simply a continuation of a trend. If more of the new crops are used, there should be far higher government regulation of what is going on.
Some major reforms that are needed are the use of drip irrigation and low till agriculture. Unfortunately, drip irrigation is but a tiny part of global agriculture. Major soil conservation measures need to be adopted.
A global energy plan. We need an all out campaign to find and build a new energy economy. This again will be very difficult. Renewable energy is a miniscule fraction of energy production. Hopefully, a major technological advance will take place. If not, environmentalists need to rethink their opposition to nuclear power. So far, opposition to nuclear power has caused it to be replaced by coal, the worst possible form of energy.
Mass Transit. Progress is being made here in places like the EU. It has high gas taxes and modern rail lines. A total disaster in transportation policy is the United States. Here there are very low gas taxes and virtually no serious commitments to passenger rail traffic. Incredibly, the Bush administration has even tried to cut the tiny levels of funding for passenger rail that exists. Meanwhile, America has huge government subsidies for other means of transportation.
A global water plan. Far less well-known than the global energy crisis is the global water crisis. Some of the world's largest rivers now run dry for some parts of the year. A massive international campaign is needed to finance systems like "drip irrigation" in major food producing areas of the world. This is a particularly serious problem in China and India.
A global oceans policy. This is again going to be very tough. Many key nations are dependent on over fishing. Tough action is needed here and also in relation to stopping the destruction of the world's coral reefs. Fishing subsidies should be cut. Giant natural reserves should be created. Bottom trawling should be banned in almost all circumstances.
Chemical Testing. Due to huge budget cuts the U.S. EPA is only half the size it was in 1980. One result of this situation has been a near total failure to test chemicals properly. By contrast, a comprehensive chemical testing plan has been passed by the EU over violent American objections. America should stop opposing action here. A major reform that is particularly needed to see if there is a way to replace the use of animal testing with more humane methods.
Indoor Air Pollution. Indoor air is often far more polluted than outdoor air due to chemicals. The chemical testing plan listed above is part of the reform needed here.
Air Pollution. Huge progress has been made in the rich world since 1970 as result of powerful government action. Indeed, the air in New York and London is cleaner than it was in 1870. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the so-called "developing" world. Places like China and India have adopted industrial practices that the rich used in the nineteenth century with disastrous results. Air pollution is directly connected to energy.
Water Pollution. As in the case of air pollution, government has produced huge progress in the rich nations. In the case of poor nations, however, there is a near total catastrophe. A key problem is that the Victorian concept of water sewer systems is simply not practical for the huge volumes of human waster produced by giant and growing Third World cities. Indeed, these systems where used tend to often spread disease rather than restrict it. What is needed is the use of dry disposal systems such as compost toilets. Unfortunately, reform efforts like this are a tiny fraction of what is needed. Another problem in both the rich and poor nations comes from the so-called "green revolution". Huge levels of pesticides and fertilizers are running off fields into water supplies. Giant dead zones now sit offshore near the mouths of major rivers.
Deforestation. This is a total disaster. The rain forests of the world are being cut to pieces. Official attention to all this is highly erratic. Brazil (rightly) gets a lot of attention but few pay attention to Congo's giant rain forest and the devastation of ten years of war. This is going to be a very tough problem to solve. Countries like Brazil need the money that deforestation produces in the near term. Some kind of global financial trust needs to be created to provide incentives to stop deforestation. Combined with this should be severe penalties for those who don't cooperate.
Disease and AIDS. One result of Reagan's 1981 budget cuts was that the National Institute of Health was in such a crisis that it was not able to adequately respond when AIDS first appeared. Today, AIDS has gone global and has done a great deal of damage to Africa. As in the case of most international disasters this has led to a lot of posturing in the rich nations about providing aid that is often too little, too late. Still more problems have come from religious interference in the fight against AIDS, restricting sex education and condoms. The AIDS crisis is not unique. It is part of the larger crisis of the poor on our planet. Meanwhile, chemical poisons, global travel and trade, plus the destruction of natural habitats are creating a virtual paradise for the spread of new forms of disease and sickness.
Protection of Bio-Diversity. We living in the middle of the greatest holocaust in history in terms of the destruction of other forms of life. The future here does not look good. Obviously, more parks are needed. As noted, we need huge nature reservations at sea, something that isn't happening at all right now. This will be subject of very tough international negotiations. As noted, poor countries are going to need to be compensated in many situations.
Species Invasion. Not much good news here. World travel and trade are going to increase this problem. More monitoring is clearly needed.
Recycling. Progress is being made but far more needs to be done. A truly global system needs to be put in place. More research and monitoring must be done to determine how this can happen. A particularly sorry story has been the use of poor nations for dumping the toxic waste of rich nations. It is important that we move towards an economy that is designed from the ground up not to produce waste.
Population. Religious meddling here has been an utter disaster, particularly in terms of the Catholic Church. A vast increase in funding for family planning is needed. Abortion rights need to be protected globally. Overall, this is going to very tough even with appropriate funding. A particular problem is ethnic conflict. In many areas population is seen as power.
We shall be adding more this report as time goes on. (After all, global reform is a rather big subject.)
All people and governments want "reform". However, one person's "reform" is another person's "violation of human rights" and so on.
Martin Luther King once observed that we shall either learn the wisdom of how to live together in peace or we shall die together as fools.
It's a message worth considering.
The perfect can be the deadly enemy of the real. Politics is the art of the possible.
A key goal is to either reform the UN or create some other body where the major powers of the world can come together and make some very tough decisions. Everybody is going to have to sacrifice. Most important, there has to be a global effort. If the rich countries really are not going to make serious efforts to help the poor, then this should be made public so policies can be planned on realities - not hypocritical lies designed to paint a pretty picture of the rich world's political and religious leaders.
The world order of 1945 is dead and gone. We need an international system based on the rise of China and India and huge amounts of wealth piling up in the oil producing nations. People are not going to make sacrifices without a seat at the tables of power.
America is nearly bankrupt financially. Wall Street does not have all the answers. Indeed, from dot com disasters of the Clinton era, to the scandals at Enron to the new series of disasters and scandals in the U.S. real estate meltdown, it is apparent that Wall Street is often a part of global problems.
It is beyond the scope of this (already ambitious) report to define which leader or which country should do what. However, it is clear that waiting around for America to solve its problems is not a solution. Obviously, America has a key role to play and must be respected and included. However, other major players need to become more active and more responsible.
With a greater level of American humility and a global willingness to make a serious effort to adopt some of the ideas here as policy, there is indeed hope of global reform that can be built a real sustainable future. It is not a fantasy.
However, almost all the scientists of the world warn that time is running out rapidly. Reform means great political danger and risk. It may fail. However, doing nothing and continuing on the global road we are on is not an option. That is a certain road to disaster.