Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Op-Ed: How green is our economy?

By Dr Vandana Shiva in The Deccan Chronicle, August 17, 2011

In 1992, citizens and activists from across the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit. On December 24, 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to hold the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio — to mark 20 years of the Earth Summit, and to discuss the way forward. On June 4, 2012, the world community will gather again in Rio de Janeiro. Member states have agreed on the focus of Rio+20: “Green economy within the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and “institutional framework for sustainable development”.


Now, what is this “green economy” and what is the “institutional framework for sustainable development”? If the answers are offered within the old paradigm of market-driven solutions, which have failed to protect the Earth, “green economy” will mean more of the same: more carbon trading, which has failed to reduce emissions; more commodification of food, water, land and biodiversity, which has not just failed to reduce hunger, thirst, poverty and ecological degradation but has, in fact, increased them.

If the “institutional framework for sustainable development” creates a “World Environment Organisation” along the line of the World Trade Organisation, based on the commodification of, and trade in, nature’s gifts, and trade wars as part of global environment management, we will further impoverish the Earth and local communities. We will further destroy democracy.

If on the other hand the answers are offered in the context of the emerging paradigm of the Rights of Mother Earth, then the green economy is Gaia’s economy, and the institutional framework is “Earth Democracy” — democracy from the bottom up and a democracy rooted in the Earth.

The world order built on the economic fundamentalism of greed, commodification of life and limitless growth, and the complementary technological fundamentalism that there is a technological fix for every social and environmental ill is clearly collapsing.

The “green economy” agenda for Rio+20 can either deepen the privatisation of Earth, and with it the crisis of ecology and poverty, or it can be used to “re-embed” economies in the ecology of the Earth.

Green economics needs to be an authentic green. It cannot be the brown of desertification and deforestation. It cannot be the red of violence against nature and people, or the unnecessary conflicts over natural resources — land and water, seeds and food. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “The Earth has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for some people’s greed”.

To be green, economics needs to return to oikos. Both ecology and economics are derived from the Greek oikos, which means “home”. Ecology is the science of household, and economics is supposed to be the management of the household. When economics works against the science of ecology, it results in the mismanagement of the Earth — our home. The climate crisis, the water crisis, the biodiversity crisis and the food crisis are different symptoms of the crisis of mismanagement of the Earth and her resources.

We mismanage the Earth when we do not recognise nature’s capital as the real capital and everything else as derived. If we have no land, we have no economy. When we contribute to the growth of nature’s capital, we build green economies. And the richer nature’s capital, the richer human society will be.

Nature-centred, women-centred perspective takes us down a road that is sustainable and equitable. The Earth Summit in 1992 produced two legally binding treaties — the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the Summit, the participating members also produced a Women’s Action Agenda 21 through Women’s Environment & Development Organisation, which I co-founded with former US Congresswoman Bella Abzug.

As we move towards Rio+20, there is danger that the gains of Rio will be eroded. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has already been undermined by the Copenhagen Accord. There is an attempt to revisit the Rio principles that gave us the “precautionary principle” and the “polluter pays principle”. We need to strengthen Rio, not undermine it.

The “green economy” can either commodify all of nature, or it can create a new harmony with the Earth while providing for basic needs and increasing sustainable livelihoods. We must value nature. The question is how? Will nature be valued on the basis of the Rights of Mother Earth, on the basis of sacred values, or will nature be valued on the basis of speculative investment?

In the Earth-centred green economy, the market obeys nature’s laws, Gaia’s laws, the laws of Mother Earth. In the greed-centred green economy, the volatile and predatory laws of the market are forced on nature. Ecological laws are violated to impose the laws of the market. Since the majority of people derive their livelihoods from the Earth, violation of the laws of the Earth translates into the violation of laws that uphold justice and human rights. Poverty increases, hunger and thirst increases, inequality increases.

The laws of the market have proved unreliable for managing the market itself. How can they be trusted with the lives of people and the care of the Earth?

We have two options. Either the greed economy will be green-washed and presented as a green economy. In that case, the “green” will just be the colour of money. Our other option is to bring back harmony in our relationship with the Earth, live within her limits and means and create an inclusive wellbeing for all. In the latter case green will be the colour of life.

Rabindranath Tagore, in his essay The Robbery of the Soil, warns us of the consequences of the economy based on greed: “This passion of greed that rages in the heart of our present civilisation, like a volcanic flame of fire, is constantly struggling to erupt in individual bloatedness… A sudden increase in the flow of production of things tends to consume our resources and requires us to build new storehouses. Our needs, therefore, which stimulate this increasing flow, must begin to observe the limitation of normal demand.

If we go on stoking our demands into bigger and bigger flames, the conflagration that results will no doubt dazzle our sight, but its splendour will leave on the debit side only a black heap of charred remains.”

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