Worn down by hope. That’s the predicament of those who have sought to defend the earth’s living systems. Every time governments meet to discuss the environmental crisis, we are told that this is the “make or break summit”, upon which the future of the world depends. The talks might have failed before, but this time the light of reason will descend upon the world.
We know it’s rubbish, but we allow our hopes to be raised, only to witness 190 nations arguing through the night over the use of the subjunctive in paragraph 286. We know that at the end of this process the UN secretary-general, whose job obliges him to talk nonsense in an impressive number of languages, will explain that the unresolved issues (namely all of them) will be settled at next year’s summit. Yet still we hope for something better.
This week’s earth summit in Rio de Janeiro is a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago. By now, the leaders who gathered in the same city in 1992 told us, the world’s environmental problems were to have been solved. But all they have generated is more meetings, which will continue until the delegates, surrounded by rising waters, have eaten the last rare dove, exquisitely presented with an olive leaf roulade. The biosphere, that world leaders promised to protect, is in a far worse state than it was 20 years ago(1). Is it not time to recognise that they have failed?
These summits have failed for the same reason that the banks have failed. Political systems which were supposed to represent everyone now return governments of millionaires, financed by and acting on behalf of billionaires. The past 20 years have been a billionaires’ banquet. At the behest of corporations and the ultra-rich, governments have removed the constraining decencies – the laws and regulations – which prevent one person from destroying another. To expect governments funded and appointed by this class to protect the biosphere and defend the poor is like expecting a lion to live on gazpacho.
You have only to see the way the United States has savaged the earth summit’s draft declaration to grasp the scale of this problem(2). The word “equitable”, the US insists, must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.
Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities(3). This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.
This is the government, remember, not of George W Bush but of Barack Obama. The paranoid, petty, unilateralist sabotage of international agreements continues uninterrupted. To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by Bush the elder 20 years ago is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its grip on policy.
While the destructive impact of the US in Rio is greater than that of any other nation, this does not excuse our own failures. The UK government prepared for the earth summit by wrecking both our own climate change act(4,5) and the European energy efficiency directive(6). David Cameron will not be attending the earth summit. Nor will the energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey (which is probably a blessing, as he’s totally useless). Needless to say Cameron, with other absentees such as Obama and Merkel, are attending the G20 summit in Mexico, which takes place immediately before Rio. Another tenet of the 1992 summit – that economic and environmental issues should not be treated in isolation(7) – goes up in smoke.
The environmental crisis cannot be addressed by the emissaries of billionaires. It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes. The struggle to protect the biosphere is in this respect the same as the struggle for redistribution, for the protection of workers’ rights, for an enabling state, for equality before the law.
So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.
Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope on which we hang.
Through a network of unbalanced, almost-invisible committees, the government gets what it wants.
“From any single perspective”, Bertrand Russell said, “power always seems to be elsewhere”(1). This article is about one of those elsewheres. It is about the network of unelected committees, boards and commissions, operating below the public radar, through which governments pursue the aims which weren’t disclosed in their manifestos. The people they appoint are an index to the interests they serve. To list them is to expose the gulf between what a government claims to be and what it is.
It would be misleading to suggest that the process I’m about to discuss is new. Blair and Brown began the abuses that the coalition government is refining: purging countervailing voices from public bodies and stuffing them with the representatives of business(2).
But Cameron and his ministers are extending this project to serve what seems to me to be their core aims. These are to marketise and covertly privatise what remains of public provision and to create a welfare state for corporations and the ultra-rich, whose income will be sustained by public contracts and captive markets for essential services.
Forthe full Monbiot article in theGuardian click here.
Shocking, fascinating, entirely unsurprising: the leaked documents, if authentic, confirm what we suspected but could not prove. The Heartland Institute, which has helped lead the war against climate science in the United States, is funded among others by tobacco firms, fossil fuel companies and one of the billionaire Koch brothers.
The leaked documents appear to show that, courtesy of its multi-millionaire donors, the institute has commissioned a global warming curriculum for schools, which teaches that “whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy” and “whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial.”
Click here for the rest of this important exposure by George Monbiot.