Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Do you love the green cause?

Then call the capitalists for some help!

Sukhjit Kaur 

FOR THE FIRST time in human history, there is no excuse for mass poverty and deprivation. Neither the money nor the resources to reach out and help. Still, our planet is going downhill, ecologically. And our economy as a whole is in a crisis. It is time we connected the dots. Just like the world economy had moved into a war machinery groove during WWII, and found its way back to health, it is time to turn the entire economy into an environmental groove.
Big money will only come to our aid if there is profit in the venture we suggest. When we align everything to good environmental practices, big money will not be a hindrance but will be a help. Imagine re-aligning millions of houses with better environmental norms, imagine turning every building, venture, project, institution into a green one.
We could be standing on the cusp of a revolution. Everything will change. The very idea of how we plan our cities, what materials we use in designing our cars and houses, how we lay our roads, how we make oil rigs, how we treat our forests.
To the devout of the environment domain, this may sound like blasphemy, but it is time we dialled the capitalists for big money that we need for our planet, our environment.
True, there are links between big growth and environmental crisis, connections between the food and energy crises and the financial crisis, and links of all of these to the climate crisis, but therein also lye the ways forward.
We know better the horrors of the global economic system, and its corollary - the inequities of a system that condemns hundreds of millions of human beings to lives of brute survival. It is now time to underline the hypocrisies of those who benefit from that very state of affairs. Many of these will be part and parcel of the World Environment Day celebrations, and our success will be in understanding who the real passionate lovers of environment are, and who are the parasitic enemy.
The complexities of the recent financial meltdown and the interconnections between the global economic recession, environmental degradation, and food security issues are not exactly the stuff that those schooled in neo-liberalism want to hear or read. Neo-liberalism numbs the human senses. It will not inspire you to join a social movement, or be sad at any unjust action of the government, or itch to contribute to an effort to protect the natural world.
As we mark this World Environment Day, we must understand that "everything is connected to everything" but that must not make us complacent in identifying the priority connections to understand how they work together and what we can do to change them, because they definitely do need changing.
There is a crisis of mass poverty and of growing inequality within individual countries and between the rich and poor countries and also about the financial crisis that Wall Street and the public authorities refused to see coming because they were living in bubble-land. It began with the subprime affair in the United States but has spread inexorably like a lava flow in the US and elsewhere, threatening to plunge the global economy into a prolonged period of stagnation as severe as the Great Depression.
A grab of the article from the print
edition of Punjab Today
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Punjab Today by writing to
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But it is the third most ominous of all crisis of climate change that is accelerating faster than most scientists, much less governments, thought possible, causing many to ask if we have not already entered the era of the runaway greenhouse effect.
No one seriously denies the numbers. The World Bank has already conceded that it had grossly underestimated-by about 400 million-the numbers of the very poor. Even then its figures stop at the year 2005, which means the recent upheavals in food and energy costs that have swelled the ranks of the impoverished are not counted.
What is shocking to understand is what may not be obvious to everyone: That the world is actually awash in money. Most of it is still in North America and Europe but the numbers of the seriously rich on other continents are catching up fast.
Those who have the money know very well how to keep it and, with their hired help, the battalions of lawyers, accountants and lobbyists, they are busy salting away their profits in tax havens, finding loopholes and protected investments, lobbying fiercely in parliaments and ministries against regulations on banks and financial markets. Any talk about poverty is sure to lead us to its links with the financial crisis.

Just look at the few figures:
* Ten million people, according to a recent Merrill-Lynch World Wealth Report, together boast investable, liquid funds of more than $40 trillion? That's 40,000 billion or 40 followed by 12 zeroes.

* This wealth is above and beyond the value of their houses, cars, yachts, wine or art collections and so on and it is equivalent to about three times the GDP of either the United States or Europe.

* Assume that you have one billion dollars, which is the cut-off point for the latest Forbes magazine list of 1125 truly rich individuals in the world. If despite your billion you are such a dim-witted investor that you get only a five percent return on your fortune, you will still have to spend $137,000 every day of the year in sheer consumption or you will automatically become richer.

* The UN World Institute for Development Economic Research, WIDER, estimates total world household assets at about $125 trillion. This is about three times world GDP and unsurprisingly, the top two percent of the world captures more than half of that wealth.
* The top 10 percent hold 85 percent, while the bottom half of humanity is obliged to stumble along with barely 1 percent.

* All you need to be classed in the top half of humanity is a meagre $2200 in total assets-that includes your house, your land or items like your car or your refrigerator-hardly a princely sum.

* If all household assets were divided equally-impossible and probably not even desirable to achieve-everyone on earth could have a share of $26,000. So again, money as such isn't the problem.

To those who often get swayed by the neo-liberals assurances that the progress being made in the world will one day end poverty, sorry to shatter even that assurance. Rising tides will not lift all boats. Neo-liberals do admit that inequalities have grown, but still argue that the poor are better off than they were. It seems almost rude to remind them in turn that falling tides have the opposite effect, they swamp and strand the more fragile boats and that is where the tide of the financial crisis is now taking us.
Indians are so fond of quoting China all the time. And often worry that it should be "Cheeny Kum, India Zayada". But at what cost is China growing? China has now overtaken the United States in greenhouse gas emissions and frighteningly has hardly even begun its transition to the automobile society. China also requires at least 10 times as much energy as the more mature industrial societies to produce a unit of GDP.
Growth certainly isn't the answer ecologically, but even economically it fails the test because the benefits accrue almost entirely to the top of society.
It is entirely possible to push tens of millions of poor people off the ledge where they had just gained a foothold and send them back into the depths of poverty. Food riots, most of them urban, in at least thirty different countries have revealed another scary new phenomenon: the worldwide food crisis. Until now, food shortages and famines tended to be local, but so many societies have accepted neo-liberal trade mantras and become dependent on world markets for their basic daily staples that today a sudden spurt in prices is felt from Haiti to Egypt to Bangladesh.
The Bank-Fund-EC policies have made a tiny fraction of international society rich beyond imagining, they have kept many dependent countries dependent in a new, less visible sort of colonial relationship and they have made so-called free trade, privatisation and unfettered capitalism the rule in countries that previously wanted little or nothing to do with them.
Furthermore, they have imposed their policies with relatively little organised protest because their ideology has been expertly produced, packaged and delivered.
The frantically innovating financial institutions, the large institutions that know perfectly well that they are "too big to fail", are leading to mass murders that don't seem visible. Now that the bailouts are a norm, it is socialism for the rich, the well-connected and Wall Street, in which the profits are grabbed by the usual suspects and the losses, tremendous losses, are billed to taxpayers.


Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim walks past an image of the
 world during a meeting in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Friday,
June 5, 2009.  Slim took part in a panel discussion on
environmental issues as part of World Environment Day.
We need the kind of money his ilk has!
It is clear that had it been possible for "people like us", for "we, the people" to set things right, they would have done so. It is time to concede that it is not possible. Time has passed for telling people to change their behaviour and their lightbulbs. What is required is a much bigger thing: Change the entire economy into a climate friendly economy.
The panacea, if there is one, lies in scaling up the environment industry. We must have the courage to challenge not just our political leadership but the entire neo-liberal, unregulated, privatised, capitalist economic system in place in order to provoke and promote a quantitative and qualitative leap in the scale of environmental action.
We know that many hearts would break at such a thought, that individual and local solutions are tragically insufficient.
But we must seize the opportunity. And we must see the current financial crisis as a great opportunity. We must show that the ecological transformation and environmental practices can earn money, create jobs, run economy, and benefit business. Politicians must be convinced that these policies will not just work but also be highly popular with their constituencies.
People, business and government must come together in a new incarnation of the Keynesian war economy strategy. Push for massive investment in energy conversion, eco-friendly industry, new materials, efficient public transport; the green construction industry and so on.
The scenario can be sold to the elite. A huge ecological conversion is a job for a high-tech, high-skills, high-productivity, high-employment society. It would be supported by the entire population because it would mean not just a better, cleaner, healthier, more climate-friendly environment, but also full employment, better wages, and new skills, as well as a humanitarian purpose and an ethical justification.
A worldwide carbon tax and building of broad citizen alliances should be part of the new steps to generate funds that could be invested in reversing crisis which has reached a critical stage.
Debt cancellation procedures should be linked with reforestation, soil conservation, water management and making public transport more energy-efficient. Economic packages to banks must carry an ecological criterion.

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