Saturday, April 29

soil and oil

Sydney Peak Oil This is a fantastic resource for those of us who can watch video on-line.

And on this site you can find the following one hour plus video/audio on the subject of soil and oil by the founder of the
GROW BIOINTENSIVE Mini - Farming mentioned in the previous post on soil. I listened to it this morning, while the rain, lightning and thunder performed their dance outside my window.

Friday, April 28


Without it we don't eat. OK we don't eat soil, but make the leap if you will and consider where our food comes from. My dearly beloved partner, Kim, has often confessed that as a child she assumed food came from the shelves of a supermarket. Astounding but true, and true, no doubt, for a lot more people in so called developed nations.

How is it that we people's of the nations who claim the title of developed, have developed ourselves so far from reality? Food comes from the soil. Without soil we will go hungry. And we are effectivley flushing it down the e are losing it at a phenomenal rate.

It has been recently estimated that there is as little as a 50-year supply of topsoil remaining globally.
Yet, we all can be a part of the solution. While U.S. agricultural practices deplete the soil 18 to 80 times more rapidly than it is built up in nature, sustainable "GROW BIOINTENSIVE" mini-farming, when used properly, has the capacity to build the soil up to 60 times faster than in nature, while producing high yields with a fraction of the resources normally required. This diagram shows the amount of soil that is "consumed" to produce the food we eat, in the US, Developing Nations, China, and lastely it shows the soil that is built up using this grow biointensive method. (click on the graphic to see a larger readable version).

This miniaturization of agriculture is not new. Small-scale, sustainable agriculture has supported such widely dispersed civilizations as the Chinese 4,000 years ago, and the Mayans, South Americans, and Greeks 2,000 years ago.

Ecology Action has dedicated almost a quarter-century to rediscovering the scientific principles that underlie these traditional systems. The people in Biosphere II in Arizona have been using techniques based on those outlined by Ecology Action: they raised 80 percent of their food for two years within a "closed system."

Their experience demonstrates that a complete year's diet for one person can be raised on the equivalent of 3,403 square feet!
This is an improvement over traditional Chinese practices, which required 5,000 to 7,200 square feet. In contrast, it takes commercial agriculture 22,000 to 42,000 square feet to grow all the food for one person for one year, while bringing in large inputs from other areas.

At the same time, commercial agricultural practices are causing the loss of approximately six pounds of soil for each pound of food produced.
GROW BIOINTENSIVE mini-farming techniques make it possible to grow food using 99 percent less energy in all forms - human and mechanical, 66 percent to 88 percent less water, and 50 percent to 100 percent less fertilizer, compared to commercial agriculture.

They also produce two to six times more food and build the soil.

good morning

What a way to wake up!

Thursday, April 27

the earth charter initiative

I read the Earth Charter today.

A document which was created over a period of 10 years, and a magnificent declaration of values. It is concise and thorough, and if it was taken up "as a common standard by which the conduct of all individuals, organizations, businesses, governments, and transnational institutions is to be guided and assessed" we might all be better able to meet the challenges ahead.

From the Preamble:

THE GLOBAL SITUATION: The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species. Communities are being undermined. The benefits of development are not shared equitably and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Injustice, poverty, ignorance, and violent conflict are widespread and the cause of great suffering. An unprecedented rise in human population has overburdened ecological and social systems. The foundations of global security are threatened. These trends are perilous—but not inevitable.

car sharing

How it works?
The UK example: Customers sign up and pay a one-off lifetime membership fee of GBP 25. Booking takes place online or by phone, and a confirmation with the car's details (exact location, colour, license plate number) is sent to the customer both by email and sms. An sms is also sent to the car, to tell it who will pick it up.

To unlock a car, customers hold a smart card up to the windshield. Door opens, and they'll find the ignition key in the glove compartment. Monthly bills give a detailed breakdown of all journeys, and show how much was saved by not owning a car. The entire process is extremely customer-friendly, and nice touches include an iPod connector in every car, as well as a hands-free car phone that users can forward their own mobile phone to.

  • ...fragmented car ownership is a highly promising business concept: increasing numbers of consumers are more interested in experience than ownership, no longer viewing cars as the ultimate status-symbol, but as a utility. Serving them and being green doesn't mean forsaking profits: Streetcar went into the black 18 months after launching. And every car shared results in 6 private cars being taken off the road. May sharing proliferate!
Thanks Laurence for the lead to this solution

Wednesday, April 26

so much happening

It's hard to stay off the computer some days. There seems to be so much happening in the world.

Then again I was never afraid I would miss anything of importance in the days before the internet when I almost never read a newspaper, listened to the radio, or watched television for 15 years. As part of a religious-spiritual community there was always plenty to keep us occupied, and the important things always got through.

But there's a balance, and I am happy to have had the time over the last two years to delve deeply into the workings of the world, through the eyes of those who seem to speak my language, and see things from a larger, more human, caring, and self-transcending vantage point.

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I did manage to plant some more seeds today. Red Cabbage, Broccoli, and even some White Strawberry. It gives me great pleasure to see the pots bursting with life. We will need to find some gardens to put them in soon.

Tuesday, April 25


Collapse was often associated with failing to agree on exercising restraint in harvesting a shared resource.

More info on this important book.

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I made a bench this morning for my abundant vegetable seedlings, which are growing strong.

Monday, April 24

energy descent plan

The Kinsale Energy Descent Energy Action Plan – an introduction.
by Rob Hopkins, course co-ordinator, Kinsale FEC

Oil is an amazing material. It can power aeroplanes, run cars and lorries, heat our homes and generate electricity. It can be turned into a huge array of plastics and other polymers the world has never seen before, allowing us access to a great diversity of products our ancestors could only have dreamt of – what Kinsale’s ancient mariners would have given to get their hands on fibreglass and silicon mastic! It can be manufactured into medicines; the vast majority of modern drugs are petrochemical-based. Oil is used to power the production of high embodied energy materials such as cement, aluminium, steel and glass, which we use to house ourselves.

It has facilitated a huge growth in employment and economic wealth, created prosperity previous generations could only have dreamt of. It has allowed us to build an economy where we manufacture less and less and import more and more. We export butter and we import butter. We remove our native orchards and buy apples from the cheapest seller wherever that may be around the world. We have created a façade of wealth while at the same time wantonly discarding the very things that at any other time in history constituted real wealth - well managed diverse woodlands, local, vibrant, diverse food markets, local skills and traditions, local genetic diversity, breeds and varieties uniquely suited to local climate and soils.

However, while oil has brought undeniable benefits, these have come with a price tag. The dangers posed to us all by global warming are known to all at this stage, but suffice to say we have altered the climate in ways that are already causing chaos around the world, and it is only just the beginning.

We live in a world where oil has allowed us to create a huge range of chemical compounds never seen in the world before, many of which have been linked to problems in human health and environmental pollution. It is estimated that we all carry about 400-500 chemicals in our bodies that did not exist sixty years ago. It has also allowed us to create a lifestyle where we live faster - we drive to shop, drive to work, drive to be entertained. We are more stressed and unsatisfied, we sit down to meals with our families less and less, we have less and less time to relax with friends, there is a growing sense that “something is missing”.

The Peak
As Dr. Colin Campbell’s article below sets out, we are reaching a pivotal point in human history. At that moment, global oil production will peak, and from then on, demand will always exceed supply. There will never again be as much oil available as there is now. In short, we will reach (or have already reached) the point at which growth will become impossible. Our economies will need to make the transition to continual contraction rather than relentless growth. There will still be oil in the ground, but its extraction will become unfeasibly expensive and impractical, and our economies, designed on the fundamental assumption that they will always be growing, will have a traumatic period of adjustment to the new reality.

The co-founder of permaculture, David Holmgren, likens our situation to being on the top of a mountain, from where we have views that no-one has ever seen before, but where the storm clouds are gathering. We have to navigate a way down the mountain while we still can, while we still have favourable weather and daylight. If we just allow the peak to happen, without planning for it, we will be in for a very rough ride.

Energy Descent
A planned way down
There is an old saying, “there are three kinds of people; one who watches things happen, one who makes things happen and one who says 'what happened ?'. We do have an alternative to just sitting back and allowing a deeply uncertain future to simply unfold. Our collective dependence on fossil fuels leaves us very vulnerable, and indeed is largely responsible for the instability we see in the world today. To quote Jan Lundberg of the Sustainable Energy Institute, “real peace in a petroleum-fuelled world means rejecting petroleum dependence in all ways possible”.

Sunday, April 23

global public media

I went searching today - for some blogs or sites with solutions and real news that can help serve the transition out of our oil based society. This was the gem I found.

If you go searching within this site you will find many pertinent interviews , both audio and video, which can be downloaded (and shared).

endless oil supplies?

At our Easter gathering last weekend, Danielle told me about a documentary, she had seen on TV, which discussed the 'new' oil reserves in Canada.

I understood that the documentary suggested these new fields along with new extraction technology, was going to help counter the suggested soon-to-be, or maybe already-present, shortfalls in oil production over consumption.

I thought I should do some research, since I had only limited information to offer.

A no-apologies introduction to this subject
For all the people touting tar sands as a solution to the pending apocalypse of Peak Oil, a little experience with reality [could] help them understand that the books on energy are as cooked as the books of Enron, WorldCom and Halliburton. When business tells you there's plenty of oil it is [worth asking whether this might be] to protect the financial markets. Source

From the Sierra Club

"Tar sands oil is to conventional oil what crack cocaine is to ordinary cocaine powder. More harm to global climate through increased greenhouse gas emissions, more destruction of boreal forests, more toxic tailings and more air and water pollution." said Elizabeth May, executive director of Sierra Club of Canada. Source

Alberta's tar sands could hold more than 300 billion recoverable barrels of oil. The term "tar sands" refers to a thick oil called bitumen that is mixed in with sand, clay and water. Unfortunately tar sands oil generates two-and-a-half times as much greenhouse gases of conventional oil production due to the massive amounts of energy needed to extract, upgrade and refine the bitumen.

Originally dug out of open pit mines, there is but companies are now moving away from these huge pits; a new technique allows them to inject steam directly into the soil to melt the tar enough so that it can be pumped back to the surface.

To generate the steam, they burn natural gas, and this is one of the main reasons why Canada has so much trouble meeting its obligations under the Kyoto treaty, and why this source of oil generates between two and three times the greenhouse gases to obtain. Source

Probably the best source of information on the subject of global energy is There is a wealth of information available under clear categories on the left hand menu. Start here

There are now a number of agreements that seem to have been reached across many areas of science and industry...
  1. Oil, coal and gas are non-renewable and limited resources.
  2. The burning of these contributes to greenhouse gases, and these are impacting on our environment.
  3. Peak oil is a fact What is harder to pinpoint and therefore where agreement is impossible to achieve, is whether peak oil has occurred already, or if it will happen at some future date.

This last point seems a little irrelevant given the established increasing difficulty and financial and environmental cost of obtaining oil from these 'new' sources. Oil will never be as cheap as it has been in the past. This is beginning to impact on our lives and will do so more with each increase in cost.

Being aware of these changes, it begs the question, how can we reduce our consumption - directly and indirectly - of oil and other non-renewable fuels?

Saturday, April 22

media and public opinion

Does the dominant media reflect public opinion?

Or is it the creator of opinion?

Or perhaps a bit of both?

I'm curious about the growing number of people, many of them prominent, who are calling for the re-opening of the investigation of events leading up to, and following September 11th, 2001. From my reading, there are a lot of unanswered questions, which are neither going away, nor being addressed.

The mass media is largely ignoring this groundswell of opinion, and by doing so, is failing to put its weight behind the call for more transparency on this issue. This could be an indicator of the stance of many/most consumers of that media - for the moment they seem not to want to contemplate the potentially awful truth that their government "might" not actually be serving their [the people's] best interest. It could also be partly an intentional act of creating the point of view the media owners wish to have promoted.

The dominant media which promotes itself as the exclusive holder of the truth, is doing itself significant harm, by failing to be a servant of the people. It's actions will accentuate the growing movement away from them, as people perceive these media as less than reliable
sources of accurate information.

Thankfully there are other ways of finding and disseminating information. They often involve more effort and a more active participation in the process of information gathering. As such they will probably remain the domain of those with more free energy and attention, and those closer to the bread line, or who choose to remain relatively passive, will continue to be swayed by the manufactured truth that spews
endlessly from the TV tubes in every part of our global community.

You have a choice. Read widely, maintain an enquiring mind, notice which media channels are saying what, find out who owns them, be alert, and be willing to doubt the 'official' story of any 'news.'

Here are a couple of recent gems on the 911 issue. These are a tiny snippet from the volume which is out there, but they point to the serious of the people behind them.

Welcome To The World Of Synthetic Terror

From Henry make - April 5th

The following SPINE (Scientific Panel Investigating Nine Eleven) press release was sent yesterday to the editors of over 1,000 American newspapers...

The evidence is in, the analyses have been made, and conclusions have been drawn by scientists, engineers and other experts: the so-called terror attacks of September 11, 2001 were faked. There is, moreover, independent evidence from multiple and credible sources that Al Qaeda is the creation of western intelligence agencies.

If you have any questions concerning these assertions, visit

The Scientific Panel Investigating Nine-Eleven has formed around this website. The Panel consists of over thirty experts in the fields of science, engineering, architecture, intelligence, the military, medicine, Islamic studies and other disciplines. The members are willing to stand up and be counted, even the ones with the highest public profiles. You will find them listed on this page:

Full article here


Bush Defector To Demolish 911 Lies On May 6th

The former top economist in Bush's Department of Labor, Morgan Reynolds, will speak out on the 9/11 inside job at the State Historical Society, University of Wisconsin-Madison on Saturday, May 6th. The film Loose Change will be shown, and refreshments served, starting at 1 p.m, and Reynolds will speak at 3:00 p.m.

Dr. Reynolds, who holds three U.W.-Madison degrees, and who is currently Professor of Economics at Texas A&M University, will present evidence that top Bush Administration officials orchestrated the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center, and the murder of almost 2,500 Americans, as a pretext for initiating their pre-planned "long war" in the Middle East.

Full article here


The subject of community is coming up in conversations with ever increasing frequency lately. What is this mysterious thing so may of us are expressing a desire for more of?
  • Is it a sense of belonging?
  • A longing to find people who share our values?
  • A network of mutual sharing and support?
  • A gathering of friends with whom we can celebrate?
  • A reason to dance?

Wednesday, April 19

creative descent

In a conversation last Saturday night, a friend talked about the concept of changing our lives in order to live within our means. Is it me, am I attracting people thinking this way, or is there a owowing awareness of these issues because they are becoming critical to our future well-being and even survival?

This is a concept that is relatively new and I am going to hand over to David Holmgren, co-founder of the Permaculture concepts, to speak to it more eloquently than I could...

While permaculture strategies mesh nicely with many of those directed towards this generally accepted desirable future, permaculture in fact defines a creative response to a fourth scenario that I call “Earth Stewardship” - a “creative descent” in which we progressively reduce our energy demands to return eventually to living within the natural energy and production budget of the land we occupy. Elements of all these scenarios can be found in the wide-ranging viewpoints and arguments of today’s “sustainability” debates.

In the Earth Stewardship “creative descent” scenario, which I consider to represent the only truly sustainable future, human society creatively descends the energy demand slope essentially as a ‘mirror image’ of the creative energy ascent that occurred between the onset of the industrial revolution and the present day. The actual sustainable plateau is a long way down from current energy demands, but also a long way ahead in time. If we begin our journey now, there is time to use our familiarity with continuous change and creative innovation to avoid bringing on “Atlantis”.

So, in an energy-descent future, what are the prospects close to home - here where we live in suburbia? Will it be the end of suburbia? What if we can no longer afford to commute to work by car? What if we are dependent on food and energy supplies that are transported long distances at increasing expense? What if the services and functionality of our communities decline further so that there is ever-diminishing support from local councils and police, for example?

There is a real and viable alternative to this seemingly alarming scenario - a retrofit of suburbia - a remodelling of local neighbourhoods and communities for the energy-descent future. The “refit manual” will bring together and integrate features such as:
  • Home-based work, telecommuting, and cottage industries serving a local clientele;
  • Extended families, lodgers and shared households;
  • Recycling of storm water, waste water, and human waste;
  • Soils of improved fertility, and the water supply and infrastructure for urban agriculture;
  • City farms, cooperative gardening, Farmers’ Markets, and Community Supported Agriculture schemes (CSAs)

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a scheme in which customers undertake to buy a regular box of in-season fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. from one or more local producers, thus providing the latter with a secure income and the ability to diversify the types of produce they provide.

The bottom line here is that we do not need to wait for policies to change. We can choose today to do this - to create our own small neighbourhoods. ‘Suburban sprawl’ in fact give us an advantage. Detached houses are easy to retrofit, and the space around them allows for solar access and space for food production. A water supply is already in place, our pampered, unproductive ornamental gardens have fertile soils and ready access to nutrients, and we live in ideal areas with mild climates, access to the sea, the city and inland country.

So what do we have to do to make it work? Basically, the answer is “Just do it!” Use whatever space is available and get producing.

Involve the kids - and their friends. Make contact with neighbours and start to barter. Review your material needs and reduce consumption. Share your home - by bringing a family member back or taking in a lodger, for example. Creatively and positively work around regulatory impediments, aiming to help change them in the longer term. Pay off your debts. Work from home. And above all, retrofit your home for your own sustainable future, not for speculative monetary gain.

In an energy-descent world, self-reliance represents real opportunities for early adopters of a permaculture life style:
  • Rises in oil prices will flow through to all natural products (food, timber, etc);
  • Higher commodity prices will be a stimulus for self-reliance and organic farming;
  • Local products will be more competitive than imports;
  • Repair, retrofitting, and recycling will all be more competitive than new replacement;
  • There will be rising demand for permaculture as life-skills eduction; and
  • There will be a resurgence of community life, ethics and values.

There are, however, some real hazards for the greater community in the energy-descent scenario. For example, perverse subsidies and “head-in-the-sand” policies could distort necessary market adjustments (e.g., the end of fuel tax combined with production subsidies to agribusiness). There is a real danger that fascist-style politics could see minorities and those providing for themselves as being to blame for declining social conditions.

Sudden economic and environmental shocks could conceivably lead to social collapse, removing even the security necessary for local food production. We need to understand the energy-descent pathway ahead, act to ensure our own longer-term resource security, and keep ourselves informed about the viewpoints and approaches of the greater national and global communities around us.


A huge resource with downloadable audio
THE END OF SUBURBIA: Or the Beginning of Widespread Permaculture?
Energy Bulletin - link to full article this is excerpted from
Energy Bulletin - An easily negotiated and thorough site

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Kim and I hosted an event at the local cinema last night to speak about our trip to Zimbabwe, and to share in an experiential way, the dialogue process of Calling the Circle. Judging by people's expression in the circle, and the gratitude expressed at the end of the night, it was well received. It seems that people are hungry
be heard, and to be in a safe place where those things that are most important, relevant and urgent in their thoughts and feelings, can be expressed.

Tuesday, April 18


Kim and I were having this conversation about entitlement. Clearly some people seem to feel they are entitled to more than others, and some people do indeed seem to consent to this arrangement and feel entitled to less.

But at the most basic level, it seems to me that to be born on this earth would give us title to, or access to, clean air and clean water, a reasonable supply of a diverse and health giving range of food, and perhaps even the land on which to live and grow this food, harvest and store water, and build a shelter to protect us from the elements?

Am I a dreamer?

Do we live in a world where "dogs eat dogs" as some (usually those with more to protect) propose?

Or is there a way that acknowledges that my needs and yours are of equal importance and - within 'reasonable limits' - we all have a responsibility to monitor our consumption and limit any negative impact (direct or indirect) that we could be having on others?

The following is a teeny clip from a well researched document entitled "Our Future Prospects" by Derek J. Wilson, which you can read here. It speaks eloquently to this topic.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution the ruling powers in Great Britain embarked on one of the most sustained efforts to destroy community life ever undertaken. From 1770 to 1830 some 3,280 enclosure bills were passed putting into private hands for private gain more than six million acres of commonly-held lands, leaving less than 3% of the land under public ownership.

This led to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small group called the ‘upper classes’. Today, under the control of this ‘special class’, increasing numbers of people are beginning to realise “that the most awesome and ferocious destruction centralised power has inflicted on human life, lies in its destruction of the power and even the identity of localised communities.”


The virtual eclipse of these forms of localised power, and we need to grasp that this is indeed what they were, could not fail to result in the highly centralised forms of political and economic power with which we are familiar today and which we all too often assume are as natural as the stars in their courses. So modern man and woman emerges today, isolated, alienated, manipulated, disorientated, disempowered and debased, at the mercy of giant forces they can neither in many respects comprehend nor control and which are sweeping them towards an inevitable destiny of doom unless some profound changes are made in the management of human affairs. (Small is Powerful, 1995.)

Is it time yet?

Is it time to say "Enough!" ?

Is it time to change our actions and express our understanding of what is reasonable and fair, through non violent acts of civil disobedience?

Is it time to say to those who are clearly having negative impacts - on us and those who follow us, our children and grand children and beyond - stop your wars, your fighting, and your abuse of our environment?

Is it time to call people to "live simply, so that others can simply live"?

Is it time to begin trusting each other, knowing that we are only going to find a way through the challenges of the coming years, by working cooperatively, sharing our talents and skills, our strengths and our creativity?

Or should we wait a little longer?

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My Purple Chard seedlings popped their heads up overnight. I noticed this as I left for an early morning swim. As I was about to leave the beach I spotted some field mushrooms - they went down a treat with some poached eggs on toast.

Monday, April 17

what if

What if we suddenly decided, to put a value on such human qualities as good sense (as defined by logic that supports rather than destroys life), kindness, the ability to serve and help others, and other such uplifting values? And what if we decided to measure or reward these qualities by way of public recognition, guaranteeing the well-being (through providing of all the needs) of those people who exhibit these qualities?

And at the same time, what if we decided suddenly, to withdraw our faith in those bits of paper and metal, and numbers printed on a bank statement?

What if we sought to engage in those activities for which we are each best suited, (according to physical, mental and emotional strengths and training) and agreed to use our talents for the service of all life on this planet?

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I have been putting vegetable and herb seeds in pots over the last couple of weeks - a couple of dozen more each few days. It feels good to be doing something practical.

Friday, April 14


I stumbled across these words in an old notebook yesterday.

They had spilled out back in December, while working on my Yurt...

By now it must be obvious, to most thinking people, that we are at a crossroads. Despite the promises of a clever scientific and technological solution some time in the future, what we are seeing today, are little actuality that is leading us to such a future, and plenty of examples of a path of incredible destruction and suffering in so many forms it is hard not to weep. We need to decide if we are going to remain committed to the technological path, pursuing the status quo in our hybrid cars and solar powered homes, or choose a direction that will make the planet's essential and life-giving resources more equitably available to more of the planets population.

After so many years of acknowledging that Nuclear active materials are not neutral in their effect, and in fact having already witnessed the unimaginable human suffering it has caused - we still stood mostly silent as several hundred tonnes of it were dumped on the people living in that part of the planet we label the Middle East. While in Zimbabwe I saw a shirt that said "Labels are for jars." The Middle East is not a separate place, occupied by aliens. The "Middle East" is a place, like New Zealand, filled with people like you and me. With mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones.

You and I are witnessing a rush of depletion of our life-giving soils, our fresh water, diversity of food sources, and social and cultural diversity, and we, the people that are the fabric of our society, are vulnerable and at risk.
Mere contemplation of the extent of the devastation of those diverse elements which combine to make for a healthy society - a society made up of happy, creative, loving, caring, crazy, humorous, wise, visionary people - gives me chills. It is occurring at an extraordinary rate.

How can the small me, just one in millions, make a difference?

Yet I know now (based on study and intuition based on observation) that I must, I know that I am part of the solution and part of the problem.

I have kick started a weekly documentary film night at the local community cinema, where valuable information is shared with those curious types who want to know what is happening in their world. I have catalogued and made some of this information available on a computer hard drive.

I have started riding a bike. I still share a car, but I sold my heavy tin box seven months ago.

I have a small garden established. It gave us most of our salad needs through summer, and continues to do so. I am working on expanding it to increase our reliance, and to reduce our dependence on Woolworths.

I have started a community garden, and a Saturday market food exchange stall. I am helping a bright young horticulturalist who has begun a local service of offering to help people who want to start their own garden. And I would be happy to help anyone who wants to participate in starting up a local complimentary currency to manage some of our local exchanges.

I am now starting to offer, among my community here on Waiheke Island, help with facilitating dialogue, using the wonderful Mapping Dialogue document that was created by the founders of Pioneers of Change.

This document was one of many gifts received from the Learning Journey at Kufunda. But it was defenitely the most significant. A couple of years ago I got involved in a community effort to help a group of parents have some influence on the design of an about-to-be-built new Primary School on Waiheke Island. Our struggle to engage in dialogue with the parties who were making the decisions extended over a period of several months, during which time I have never worked so hard and felt so ineffective.

Since then I had a burning question. How is it possible to bring together people with disparate points of view and have them engage in effective dialogue, where everyone is heard and decisions are made together on the basis of mutual understanding?

Using these tools I am offering my time to help facilitate dialogue for groups and individuals who serve in such valuable-to-our-society functions as teaching our children, ensuring fair access to resources such as housing, food, and water, or simply cooperating to share the fruits of their labour with each other at a weekly market.

The size of the problem seems so vast when we are working alone. Yet, happily I am finding there are more and more people who are picking up the baton and running their leg of the race. The race to... what?

What do we want Yesterday's Future to look like - tomorrow?

Mapping Dialogue

This document was for me, the major gift of a two week visit to the Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe. You can download the document from here

"An answer is always the part of the road that is behind you. Only questions point to the future." - Jostein Gaarder

Here's an excerpt from the Introduction:

The modern world loves answers. We like to solve problems quickly. We like to know what to do. We don't want to "reinvent the wheel". We don't want to "waste our time". And when we have the answers or have a wheel invented we like to pass on the information to others. We do this through the media, through training programmes where teachers pass on answers to students, or through conferences where experts speak on panels while hundreds listen (or pretend to listen) in the audience. This approach may be useful for some situations, but is problematic for a number of reasons, particularly when working on social and human challenges in the 21st century.

Firstly, we live in a world of increasing complexity, where answers have a short life-span. Adam Kahane in his recent book "Solving Tough Problems" (2004) points out that tough problems are characterised by three types of complexity. Dynamic complexity means that cause and effect are distant in space and time. To address this type of complexity you need a systemic approach to the problem and the solution. Social complexity means that there are many different and usually conflicting points of view and assumptions about the issue, and the problem isn't owned by a single entity. This demands a participative approach. Finally, generative complexity means that the old solutions are no longer working, and the problem is constantly changing and unpredictable, which requires a creative approach. Not all problems are dynamically, socially, and generatively complex, but most if not all of the major social issues South Africa as a country is currently trying to work through are. Hiv/AIDS, black economic empowerment, democratic transition, globalisation, unemployment, and crime are all perfect examples.

Secondly, it seems to us that people have an inherent desire to want to solve their own problems. When universal, formulaic responses are imported or imposed from the outside, they meet resistance and often fail. This is partly because they are not exactly appropriate in the given context, but just as much because there is a lack of ownership from people who haven't participated or been consulted in the decision-making. Human beings have a living, deep impetus for freedom and self-determination, and given appropriate circumstances, people are usually more resourceful than expected in terms of finding their own answers.

They buy in to, and own, solutions they have been a part of creating. The success of implementing interventions on social issues often depends more on ownership and motivation of those involved than on the cleverness of the idea.

Even if only for these two reasons, we need to be adept at asking questions, and at talking and listening to each other. These are age-old competencies. For millennia, people in villages across Africa have worked through collective challenges, creating solutions through conversation. But it is not only when the group is faced with problems that dialogue comes in. Life in an African community is an ongoing conversation.

Why is this art of talking declining? Many of us seem to have forgotten how to engage in, and be present to, such conversations. In these times of busy-ness, information overload, electronic communications, scientific rationality, and organisational complexity, we are forgetting how to talk to each other. Fortunately, as a response to this trend, a number of methods for facilitating dialogue have been emerging globally, in particular over the past 20 years.

This collection profiles 10 such methods in depth and a number of others more briefly. The approaches are diverse in many ways. Some are designed for small groups of 20 people, some can accommodate up to 1200 or even 5000 in dialogue at the same time. Some focus on exploring and resolving conflict and differences, while others emphasise looking first to what is working and agreed upon. Some are explicitly dialogues between groups while others require each participant to be there only as themselves and individuals.

Yet across all these dialogue methods are some clear common patterns. They focus on enabling open communication, honest speaking, and genuine listening. They allow people to take responsibility for their own learning and ideas. They create a safe space or container for people to surface their assumptions, to question their previous judgments and worldviews, and to change the way they think. They generate new ideas or solutions that are beyond what anyone had thought of before. They create a different level of understanding of people and problems. They allow for more contextual and holistic ways of seeing. They lead to "a-ha" experiences.

Each of the profiled approaches has a life story behind it. Many of these stories begin with a person who posed a question. "How do the questions we ask shape our reality?" "Given that the coffee breaks seem to be the most useful part of the conference anyway, what if the whole conference was designed similar to a coffee break?" "What is being lost when we just take majority decisions and don't hear what the minority has to say?" "How do we create a networked conversation, modeled on how people naturally communicate?" "Why are we recreating the same conference rituals when they are passifying us and limiting our creativity?" "Why are we not managing to bring in the collective intelligence of hundreds of people but rather choosing over and over to just listen to a few expert voices?"

These inquisitive characters proceeded to experiment with new ways of organising conversations. They drew inspiration from indigenous cultures, lively cafés, international peace processes, and personal experiences of trial and error. The result is the potpourri of possibilities described in the following pages.

You can download the document from here

Wednesday, April 12

money - part 2

Who creates the money?
From the previous post, the answer to this question "Who creates it?" is not "the government", or "the country's central bank", but the commercial banks.

This seems truly remarkable - that we allow a few greedy bankers to control our primary mechanism of exchange. The propoganda machine has done its job well, since most of us believe that the present arrangement is the only way it can work.

Who benefits from this arrangement?

Perhaps more remarkable is that there is no attempt to hide this fact. In his well-known economics textbook, David Begg states: "Modern banks create money by granting overdraft facilities in excess of the[ir] cash reserves" He adds: "Bank-created deposit money [the money that people can draw from their bank accounts] forms by far the most important component of the money supply in modern economies."

Dishonest goldsmiths
So how did money creation come to be privatised? This query takes us back to the late Middle Ages when gold and silver coins were the main form of money. I recommend this article, which explains the basis of our present system. Did you know the Federal Reserve Bank of America is a privately owned corporation! I don't know about our own NZ Treasury - does anyone?

Where to from here?
If we allow ourselves to be informed, we can, by general agreement, decide to change these absurd arrangements. While watching a film titled "Alternative Currencies," I saw some inspiring and wonderful footage of people who have been using their own community currencies for years, and some direct challenges to the dominant, centralised, and abusive banking model.

There are several New Zealand examples of local regions who are using a complimentary currency, and now that they have all (but one) agreed to use the computerised CES system, there is now the ability to 'intertrade' between regions. For more information about what is happening in New Zealand the Living Economies website is a good starting point.

It's a small beginning, but an exciting and valuable one, that I imagine will grow in years to come. Anyone interested in starting up a Waiheke Currency?

Tuesday, April 11

money - part 1

I believe that every event, every meeting, every moment of life is an opportunity to learn. Even though first impressions of people, situations and events may lead one to assume that this is otherwise, a small gesture of openness is often all that is required. I confess that on arrival at the slightly run down DOC camp in the back blocks of Taranaki, I had to tell myself "there is something to learn here" and with that throw myself into conversations - that I am happy to report revealed a circle of dedicated people who had lots to teach me.

The LETS movement in New Zealand has had its moments of growth and decline - often in synch with the relative buoyancy of the market economy in which we find ourselves functioning. When people are "down on their luck" they will often turn to the complimentary currencies and find them to be a useful means of managing exchanges of goods and services which they might otherwise not be able to access, due to a lack of cash. Unfortunately if people are not educated in the realities of the market economy and how that economy undermines the social and environmental capital of their community, they will often turn their back on this tool when the market becomes buoyant again.

But the people at this annual LETS conference are the troopers. These are the ones who are working to maintain and constantly improve the functioning of the complimentary currencies that we New Zealanders can plug into and take advantage of. They are always available to welcome new members and educate them into the benefits of using a currency which does not support the upward flow of wealth from the broad lower levels of society to the small numbers of ever more wealthy elite.

I wish this subject were easier to write about. But it's not. And part of the problem is the incredible level of mis-information which we have been bombarded with, since birth. The serious study of money is something few of us dare to tackle. It has been made to appear so complicated, and beyond our comprehension. Better that we just get up each day and go off to work, to earn enough of the stuff to pay for the food, clothes, shelter and other needs which seem to cost us more and more each day. We don't really have the time to delve into this, even if we imagined that a) we could come to some significant degree of understanding of the subject, or b) have any influence on changing it if we found it to be lacking in any way.

I will write more on this subject soon (as soon as I can figure out how to simplify this subject for you). In the meantime I will leave you with these questions to prompt your thinking - till we meet again:
  • Who prints the money that we use?
  • How do they decide how much to print?
  • Why does the value of our money constantly reduce (or costs rise)?

Thursday, April 6

complimentary currency

One of the gestures being made by the Kufunda Community in Zimbabwe is to print its own money. This is an obvious move in response to an inflation rate in that country that is running at over 700% (at the last report). This is a practical step in creating a means to organise exchange between people in the wider community, by using a measure that holds its value because it is tied to something real and something everyone can relate to.

This weekend we are off to Taranaki to attend the New Zealand LETS conference, where I hope we will learn of the growing uptake of different examples of complimentary currencies across the country. I hope there will be lots to report on our return from this journey.

I have long felt that the existence of a stable means of measuring exchange are a foundation stone of any society. And I think complimentary currencies
such as this will become invaluable when the impacts of our present political, social and environmental direction result in a significant breakdown of the present economic structures we have come to rely upon, and which we foolishly(?) assume will always exist, pretty much in their present form.

And if I am wrong about the likely demise, then there are other good reasons to seriously think about taking up such alternative systems. One of these is to reclaim control of the mechanism of exchange we consent to use. At present the exchange is controlled by a few greedy bankers, and the system advantages them very well but does not work so well for the good of the whole - the planet or its people. Our current economic model is a not insignificant factor in the manifestations we see around us - this is yesterday's future, what do we want tomorrow's future to look like?

Saturday, April 1

our future prospects

Back to original post

Derek J Wilson April 2006

  • The Four Laws of Ecology:

  • Everything is connected to everything else.

  • Everything must go somewhere.

  • Nature knows best.

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch. (Barry Commoner, 1971.)

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it. (Mark Twain)

If we continue … to consume the world until there’s no more to consume, then there’s going to come a day, sure as hell, when our children or their children or their children’s children are going to look back on us – you and me – and say to themselves, ‘My God, what kind of monsters were these people?’ (Daniel Quinn, 2000.)
Do we have a future? At least Quinn thought there would be someone around after we had collapsed our civilisation. Many authorities don’t. We have been repeatedly advised by a lengthening list of learned bodies and individuals over time that global catastrophe in some shape or form is inevitable and that the effects of this can be softened only if all of us, but especially the wealthy countries who have the means and ability, very rapidly take suitable action. As Jared Diamond puts it in his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive: “The processes through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their environments fall into eight categories, whose relative importance differs from case to case: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people.” Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, explores the scientific and technological aspects of our development in his 2003 book Our Final Hour and issues a scientist’s warning as to “how terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind’s future in this century – on Earth and beyond.” Robert Fisk, on the other hand, in his monumental 2005 work The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, has someone telling him that what we learn from history is that we don’t learn. But what if this is true, what if we have already failed to learn the lessons of the past? It’s easy to believe that we have for the Precautionary Principle has still not been accepted by officialdom, let alone acted upon. Had it been, especially with regard to peak oil and climate change, we would now be in a much more advantageous position. What if we have already crossed the Rubicon? Shouldn’t all our energies be concentrated on working towards a sustainable retreat, a survivable collapse? Which they surely should have been decades ago, given the available knowledge. The question must be asked: Why has the response been so inadequate, so unequal to the task before it? The answer is quite simply because the Western and westernised world is in a state of denial – individual and collective – the prevalence of which makes an adequate response impossible. Denial is our principle defence weapon without which we would be exposed to reality, and, as T S Eliot says: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” (East Coker.) And of course, Thomas Gray made the point back in 1742 that “where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.”

Distinguished economist Herman Daly, until recently senior economist with the environmental department of the World Bank in Washington, explains it this way: “This shift [one which involves replacing our economic norm of quantitative expansion, i.e., growth and consumption, with that of qualitative improvement] is resisted by most economic and political institutions. Enormous forces of denial are aligned against it, and to overcome them requires a deep philosophical clarification, even religious renewal.” (Beyond Growth: An Economics of Sustainable Development, 1996.)

Our civilisation is now between a large mountain and a very hard place. On the one hand we are exhorted at every turn by most politicians, economists and the business world, as exemplified by Business Roundtables, to have more growth at such and such an annual percentage for without this our global economy, already on the shakiest of ground, will collapse. On the other hand, as Daly himself explains: “It’s really been only in the last 200 years that growth has been really a part of our lives [since the start of the Industrial Revolution]. Prior to that, on an annual basis, growth was negligible. The idea that we must either grow or die is just not supported by history [see Martin Rees, Ronald Wright and Jared Diamond] and I think that the contrary is much more likely: if we continue to grow then surely we will die.” (Anita Gordon and David Suzuki. It’s a Matter of Survival, 1991.)

You don’t have to be a first year economics student to understand that the sacred mantra of continuous economic growth, as against a zero growth economy, as it is understood is totally unsustainable. We live on a finite planet within a closed ecosystem of finite resources. If we continue to profligate, to grow and to live on Earth’s material capital our civilisation’s collapse is assured. (See The Growth Syndrome – Economic Destitution.) Yet our basic problem of denial is exceptionally difficult to overcome for as a leading eco-philosopher, Joanna Macy, writes: “The perils facing life on earth are so massive and unprecedented that they are hard to believe. The very danger signals that should rivet our attention summon up the blood and bond us in collective action, tend to have the opposite effect. They make us want to pull down the blinds and busy ourselves with other things.” (John Mead. Gaia and Psychology, February 9, 2006.)

How did we come to be sitting on this time bomb? If we want to understand our future prospects we must at least try to gain some knowledge of our past. Generally, history texts, especially military ones, are economic with the truth as to origins of upheavals, revolutions and wars, and fail to mention that down through the ages they have been largely contrived, organised and manipulated by Freemasons, Brotherhoods, Grand Lodges, Round Tables and other secret societies under the direction of what has been aptly called a Global Elite. As John Ralston Saul tells us, “the exercise of power, without the moderating influence of any ethical structure, rapidly became the religion of these new elites.” Their purpose in life was, and is more than ever today, the acquisition of power, the increase of wealth and influence, and the creation of the New World Order. These organisations go back a long way, beyond the “Mystery Schools of Babylon, Egypt and Greece, which guarded their knowledge with enormous secrecy. The smallest violation of the oath of secrecy was punishable by death. From this foundation came today’s massive secret society network.” The 12th and 13th century Cathars of Southern France and The Knights of the Temple (Knights Templar) will strike chords for some people. The symbols of this Brotherhood of early times – the pyramid, all-seeing eye, swastika, lamb, obelisk and many others – have not changed. Is it an accident that the Great Seal of the United States includes the pyramid, at the apex of which reside the Global Elite, and the all-seeing eye? Above and below this are the Latin phrases Annuit Coeptis and Novus Ordo Seclorum meaning “Announcing the birth, creation, or arrival”, and “New Secular Order”, i.e., the New World Order.

This part of the seal is now found on every one dollar bill, a decision made in 1935 by Franklin D Roosevelt, who was brought to power through a Wall Street-created depression and ensured of election by Wall Street financial and media ‘arrangements’. The American people were conned by Roosevelt’s backers who actually set up an organisation to oppose him – a normal Global Elite strategy – the Liberty League which was branded as ‘extreme Right Wing’ and ‘anti-Semitic’, thus enabling all opposition to Roosevelt to be dismissed. More recent presidential elections obviously repeat history.

We could go back to the Renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries which set in motion Capitalism and profoundly changed the very nature of society, but for our purposes the concentration of control of world financial resources started with the Industrial Revolution. The 18th century saw the emergence and rapid rise of the House of Rothschild, the largest and most powerful financial empire built on money embezzled by Mayer Amschel Bauer (later Rothschild) from William IV, who had stolen from the soldiers he had hired out to the British government to fight Napoleon’s armies. Rothschild sent the money to England, bought vast quantities of gold from the East India Company, used this to finance the Duke of Wellington’s exploits and, working through the Brotherhood network, manipulated governments and created wars and revolutions and lent money to both sides of the conflicts in what became a standard practice for the banking elite. Rothschild’s influence can hardly be overstated, for it was the precursor of today’s vast transnational corporations, described by John Ralston Saul as “the seat of contemporary feudalism”, and banking empires which have extended their control to the four corners of Earth in a long-term agenda of the Brotherhood. As historian John Reeves puts it:

Little could Mayer Amschel have anticipated that his sons would in after years come to exercise such an unbounded sway that the peace of nations would depend upon their nod; that the powerful control they exercised on the European money markets would enable them to pose as the arbiters of peace and war, since they could at their pleasure withhold or furnish the pecuniary means required to carry on a campaign. But this, incredible as it may seem, was what their vast influence combined with their enormous wealth and unlimited credit, enabled them to do, for no firms existed strong enough to oppose them for any length of time, or rash enough to take up a business which the Rothschilds had refused. To reach this exalted position, Mayer Amschel and his sons required the cooperation of the states, but, when once he had climbed over their backs and reached the height of his ambition, he was independent of all aid and could act with the greatest freedom, while the states remained in a suppliant attitude at his feet. (The Rothschilds: The Financial Rulers of Nations, 1887.)

The Rothschild approach was reportedly summed up by Mayer Amschel himself: “Give me control of a nation’s currency and I care not who makes the laws.” When Rothschild’s son Nathan died, his eldest son, Lionel, took over, making massive loans to the British and American governments and others, including some $80 million to Britain to finance the Crimea War. Lionel was succeeded by the second Nathan, the first Lord Rothschild, who took his seat in the House of Lords in 1885. He became the governor of the Bank of England with unlimited power over the world’s financial system. That power has not diminished – far from it – it has simply expanded with new empires like that of Morgan and Rockefeller, so that at the start of the new millennium the power and control of the world’s financial system behind its many ‘fronts’ is completely in the hands of the Global Elite. That power is enormous. As Bertolt Brecht put it: “If you want to steal some money, don’t rob a bank – open one.”

No wonder historian Ronald Wright recently saw fit to comment on how we might get out of the dire situation we now find ourselves in: “What it will take to get us there is an emergency that galvanises everybody and makes it clear – to everybody, without room for evasion – that things have to change - we can only hope that the emergency is severe enough to produce that effect, but not so severe that it gets beyond our control. That’s asking for quite a lot.” (Listener, March 11 2006.) In answer to a question at his public address as part of the 2006 NZ International Arts Festival, Wright believed that after the crash our civilisation will not collapse, as have past ones, but will be reduced to a pre-industrial state with a population of about one billion people which the Earth will adequately cope with. Some scientists believe that we are already very close to the ‘tipping point’, if we haven’t already passed it, beyond which short-term recovery is not possible. Wright’s emergency may be the energy crisis, now much worse than at first thought, (see The Fast Approaching Energy Crisis), or climate change which, according to a summary of an article by Fred Pearce in New Scientist, 18 February 2006, states that the average increase of CO2 in the air now stands at double the rate of those only 30 years ago, with the rate accelerating. (See Tim Flannery’s 2005 book The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change.) Or might it be the diminishing fresh water supplies? (See Troubled Water, ed., Brooke Shelby Biggs, 2004.) In March 2006 Oxfam stated: “We are in the middle of a global water crisis. Two million people die each year [about 6,000 daily] from water-related diseases which account for 80% of all illnesses in the developing world. At any given time, half the population in the developing world is sick from a water-related illness such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery or worms.”

But to return to the start of the Industrial Revolution. At its beginning the ruling powers in Great Britain embarked on one of the most sustained efforts to destroy community life ever undertaken. From 1770 to 1830 some 3,280 enclosure bills were passed putting into private hands for private gain more than six million acres of commonly-held lands. By 1830 not a single county had more than three percent of its land open to public use. According to historian George Sturt: “To the enclosure of the common more than to any other cause may be traced all the changes which have subsequently passed over the village. It was like knocking the keystone out of an arch.” (Kirkpatrick Sale. Rebels Against the Future, 1995.) This, together with the abolition of the protective Corn Laws after 1846, led to the impoverishment of most British citizens, and to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small group called the ‘upper classes’. Today, under the control of this ‘special class’, increasing numbers of people are beginning to realise “that the most awesome and ferocious destruction centralised power has inflicted on human life lies in its destruction of the power and even the identity of localised communities.” John Papworth, writing about the future “as if all people mattered”, reinforces this view:

The virtual eclipse of these forms of localised power, and we need to grasp that this is indeed what they were, could not fail to result in the highly centralised forms of political and economic power with which we are familiar today and which we all too often assume are as natural as the stars in their courses. So modern man and woman emerges today, isolated, alienated, manipulated, disorientated, disempowered and debased, at the mercy of giant forces they can neither in many respects comprehend nor control and which are sweeping them towards an inevitable destiny of doom unless some profound changes are made in the management of human affairs. (Small is Powerful, 1995.)

About the same time, Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith noted in The Case Against the Global Economy, 1996, with regard to “economic globalisation” … “arguably the most fundamental redesign of the planet’s political and economic arrangements since the Industrial Revolution,” that:

The German economic philosopher Wolfgang Sachs argues in his book The Development Dictionary that the only thing worse than the failure of this massive global development experiment would be its success. For even at its optimum performance level, the long-term benefits go only to a tiny minority of people who sit at the hub of the process and to a slightly larger minority that can retain an economic connection to it, while the rest of humanity is left groping for fewer jobs and less land, living in violent societies on a ravaged planet. The only boats that will be lifted are those of the owners and managers of the process; the rest of us will be on the beach, facing the rising tide.

It’s a familiar story, more especially where the foraging exploiters subjugated the indigenous peoples. What contributes to Aotearoa/New Zealand’s uniqueness is the pivotal role of Maori as the tangata whenua (people of the land), yet as Jane Kelsey and Mike O’Brien put it in 1995 in Setting the Record Straight: Social Development in Aotearoa/New Zealand:

After a century and a half of legal, military, political and economic repression a mere three million of the country’s 66 million acres remain in Maori hands.

Most state commercial activities were built on land taken in breach of the Treaty [the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi]. Since 1987 many of those resources have been corporatised and privatised, never to be returned. Maori objections were initially ignored, and subsequently bought off with promises of future redress that saw virtually none of them returned.

At the same time, the economic policies of the past decade continued to ravage Maori society and create greater dependency and needs.

To find the well-spring of America’s thinking on foreign policy – its global imperialism – we have to go back to the Monroe Doctrine which was formulated by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and approved in 1823 by President Monroe. This stated that the New World was to be the preserve of the United States. As Adams told Cabinet, the world must be “familiarized with the idea of considering our proper dominion to be the continent of North America.” Connell-Smith comments that “the appropriation by United States citizens of the objective ‘American’, not surprisingly resented by Latin Americans, has encouraged a proprietary attitude towards the hemisphere already present in 1823.” President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of State, Richard Olney, expressed the essence of the Doctrine and summarised much subsequent history in 1895 when Great Britain was known as the Evil Empire: (How epithets get repositioned.)

Today the United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition. Why? It is not because of the pure friendship or goodwill for it. It is not simply by reason of its high character as a civilized state, nor because reason, justice, and equity are the invariable characteristics of the dealings of the United States. It is because, in addition to all other grounds, its infinite resources combined with its isolated position render it master of the situation, and particularly invulnerable as against any or all other powers. (Noam Chomsky. Turning the Tide: US Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace: 1985.)

Over the years ‘corollaries’ have been added to the Monroe Doctrine, most notably by Roosevelt and Wilson. The first was announced in 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt after he had stolen the Panama Canal route from Colombia for military and commercial self-interest. To the Colombians, Roosevelt “made it clear how he would deal with refractory Latin Americans: he would ‘show those Dagoes that they will have to behave decently.’” (Lester Langley. The Banana Wars: United States Interventions in the Caribbean, 1898-1934, 1985.) Hugh Brogan puts the Corollary as follows: “… the United States had a right to do what it liked to, with or in Latin American countries, so long as it could plead its own interests or an ill-defined duty to police the western hemisphere on behalf of the civilized world.” (The Pelican History of the United States of America, 1986.) President William Howard Taft emphasised these basic objectives in 1912: “The day is not far distant when three Stars and Stripes at three equidistant points will mark our territory: one at the North Pole, another at the Panama Canal, and the third at the South Pole. The whole hemisphere will be ours in fact as, by virtue of our superiority of race, it is ours morally.” (Jenny Pearce. Under the Eagle: USIntervention in Central America and the Caribbean, 1981.)

The operative meaning of the Monroe Doctrine was made explicit by President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, in a statement which Wilson described as ‘impolite’ when stated openly: “In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motives in its declaration.” Incident or end, six years after the Monroe Doctrine Simon Bolivar observed prophetically that “the United States (seems) destined to plague and torment the continent in the name of freedom.” In his 1927 three-volume definitive study, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826, Dexter Perkins points out that “The Doctrine is a policy of the United States, not a fixed principle of international law.”

The control of finite resources, and with it the diminution of democracy, was well advanced by 1901 when Morgan and Rockefeller, who headed the two main financial groups in America, amalgamated 112 corporate directorates, combining $22.2 billion in assets – a massive sum in those days. In November 1910, Charles Forbes (who later founded Forbes Magazine), was able to make public the strange events that had taken place six years earlier:

Picture a party of the nation’s greatest bankers stealing out of New York on a private railroad car under cover of darkness, stealthily hieing hundreds of miles South, embarking on a mysterious launch, sneaking onto an island deserted by all but a few servants, living there a full week under such rigid secrecy that the names of not one of them was mentioned lest the servants learn the identity and disclose to the world this strangest, most secret expedition in the history of American finance… I am giving to the world, for the first time, the real story of how the famous Aldrich currency report, the foundation of our new currency system, was written. (Current Opinion, December 1916.)

It was here at the private hunting club of J P Morgan on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia that Morgan and his ‘duck shooters’, particularly Paul Warburg who, not knowing one end of a gun from the other when he carried a borrowed shotgun onto the train that night at Hoboken, New Jersey, (presumably Vice-President Dick Cheney does?), proceeded to draft the basic plan for the Federal Reserve System with five objectives:

  • Stop the growing competition from the nation’s newer banks.

  • Obtain a franchise to create money out of nothing for the purpose of lending.

  • Get control of the reserves of all banks.

  • Get the taxpayer to pick up the cartel’s inevitable losses. (Edward G Griffin. The Creature from Jekyll Island, 1994.)

It succeeded brilliantly. As historian Anthony Sutton remarks about one of the more blatant scams in history: “The Federal Reserve System is a legal private monopoly of the money supply operated for the benefit of the few under the guise of protecting and promoting the public interest.” (Wall Street and FDR, 1975.)

Enron has been described as “the largest corporate bankruptcy and crime in history.” In history? This essential viewing makes one want to vomit. Said its director, Alex Gibney: “I felt that the film would give me an opportunity to explore some larger themes about American culture, the cruelty of our economic system, and the way it can too easily be rigged for the benefit of the high and mighty. Enron is important because it takes the predatory nature of ‘business as usual’ to its logical conclusion. Enron is not the exception to the rule; it’s an exaggeration of the way things too often work.” There have been many other crimes comparable to that of the Federal Reserve System and Enron. One of these is the case of the Bank of Credit and Commercial International founded in 1972 by Pakistani Agha Hassan Abedi. According to reports at the time “it was a caring bank that would nurture developing economies and provide help to the struggling Third World.” The Bank’s growing turpitude in a society where the acquisition of money as an end in itself equated with power was not altogether surprising. When it closed in 1991 its long list of alleged misdeeds included financing arms deals that governments wanted to keep secret, transporting the arms in their own ships and providing manpower and security. What can one say about greed chasing profit unabashedly through the expenditure of vast sums on the acquisition of such quantities of the implements of death rather than on the providers of life?

Space does not permit any exploration of the secret machinations and malfeasance, including the Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, organised by Montague Norman, Governor of the Bank of England from 1916 to 1944, and Benjamin Strong, with a little help from their friends. Nor is there room to examine the wider implications of these Robber Barons and their support of Germany in the First World War, and for Hitler’s subsequent rise to power. Nor of how Emile Francqui, the guiding spirit behind Herbert Hoover’s rise to fortune, and Hoover himself, threw themselves into the task of provisioning Germany during that war. Nor of how one billion pounds of meat, one and a half billion pounds of potatoes, one and a half billion pounds of bread, and 121 million pounds of butter were shipped from Belgium to Germany in 1916. A patriotic English nurse, Edith Cavell, reported to the Nursing Mirror in London, 15 April, that ‘Belgian Relief’ supplies were feeding the German army. On the insistence of the British authorities, for this ‘inconvenient’ exposure, Cavell was shot by the Germans.

According to Eustace Mullins, the same all-powerful names, the same closed shop responsible for the foundation of the Federal Reserve System, still manage the world’s closely interlinked finances, “with profits for themselves but with disastrous results for everyone else.” Transnational corporations need bigger and still bigger markets to enable their profits to continue to grow. Even more frightening than the film Enron is one called The Corporation. While early colonialism was mainly about new and bigger markets, post-World War Two colonialism replaced this by the Bretton Woods form of economic colonialism, under which the troops are only sent in when a country can’t get what it wants or thinks it sees some kind of threat to its sovereignty: hence US military intervention about 60 times, killing more than 16 million people.

The original intentions of the founders of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which arose from the infamous first International Monetary Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, 1-22 July 1944, may well have been (though it seems highly unlikely) to lay the foundations for an open and stable post-war monetary system which would achieve ultimately “freedom from want… everywhere in the world”. It was supposed to “facilitate the expansion and balanced growth of international trade and to contribute thereby to the promotion and maintenance of high levels of employment and real income.” So Article VI of the IMF Articles of Agreement allows members “to exercise such controls as are necessary to regulate international capital movements.” However, the World Bank is not subject to the “transient will and uncertain judgement” of the people, is a law unto itself, is immune to policy investigation and legal process, and its proceedings take place in total secrecy. The overall results of the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been devastating. This Conference hammered out the final agreement for the post-war New World Order under which in due course there would be a further massive shift in power out of the hands of nation states and democratic governments and into the hands of banks and transnational corporations. William Pitt, more than two centuries ago, summarised what has taken place: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” – a dictum which is more generally known from Lord Acton’s statement of 1887: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Surely a handy adage for intermittent TV use. It was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who is reported to have said: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” He should know.

Ronald Reagan expressed a similar messianism in 1980 to that of his predecessors: “I have always believed that this land was placed here between the two great oceans by some divine plan. It was placed here by a special kind of people… We built a new breed of human called American.” The sentiments are consistent. President Bush Snr., during his presidency, promulgated the New World Order as “the untrammelled operation of what he would call the global ‘free market’”, as against ‘fair markets’, a world order that “represents a good deal for perhaps a quarter of the world’s population, but has precious little to offer the rest.” His son has carried on the good work. It is of course not a New World Order in any sense of those words but a continuation of the old order, as I have tried to show, or disorder – nationally and internationally – which “is characterized by expansionism, competition, oppression and exploitation. Its concomitants are environmental destruction, climate change, overpopulation, starvation, super industrialism and mass unemployment. The value system underlying the old order reveals an attitude of disrespect to humans and nature.” (Klaus Bosselmann. When Two World Collide: Society and Ecology, 1995.) Regions are now forced to become players against each other and to run roughshod over the sentiments of their peoples.

The list of commissions, conventions, seminars, summits, official reports and in particular individual writings from many world authorities warning us of our constantly worsening situation is now so substantial as to make it impossible to review in even a single book, let alone a paper. In the light of our denial I’m tempted to ask whether a part of us, like the lemmings, is programmed to commit suicide. But I will touch on the major Summits.

The first UN Conference on Environment and Development was held at Stockholm in 1972. It achieved little of lasting significance; not surprising considering the powerful corporate conduits stacked against it. The concept of ‘sustainable development’ was first publicised in 1981 with the publication of the World Conservation Strategy report by the UN Environment Programme, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the World Wildlife Fund. The report declared that nature must be used “on a basis that can be sustained into the distant future.”

In 1983 the United Nations set up under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister of Norway, Mrs Gro Brundtland, the World Commission on Environment and Development with instructions to formulate “a global agenda for change” in an urgent call to the general Assembly to:

  • Propose long-term strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond.

  • Recommend ways concern for the environment may be translated into greater co-operation among developing countries at different stages of economic and social development and lead to the achievement of common and mutually supportive objectives and take account of the interrelationships between people, resources, environment, and development.

  • Consider ways and means by which the international community can deal more effectively with environmental concerns, and

  • Help define shared perceptions of long-term environmental issues and the appropriate efforts needed to deal successfully with the problem of protecting and enhancing the environment, a long-term agenda for action during the coming decade, and aspirational goals for the whole community.

In 1988, J W MacNeill, Secretary General to the Committee, gave further direction to this challenge when he extended the meaning of sustainability. “Sustainable development means the kind of economic development that lives off the Earth’s interest instead of encroaching on its capital. It also means investing to sustain and even enhance our ecological capital, so that future dividends can be ensured and enlarged.”

Four years later, in 1987, the Commission published Our Common Future which called for “a common endeavour and for new norms of behaviour at all levels and in the interests of all. The change in attitudes, in social values, and in aspirations that the report urges will depend on vast campaigns of education, debate, and public participation.” Mrs Brundtland made it clear that “if we do not succeed in putting our message of urgency through to today’s parents and decision makers, we risk undermining our children’s right to a healthy, life-enhancing environment.” Our Common Future, while it elevated ‘sustainability’ to a goal, glossed over the destruction brought about by inappropriate technology transfer, capital flow and economic growth and its continuation on a finite Earth. It is doubtful whether the authors of Our CommonFuture fully understood that humankind was witnessing the deepest cultural-social-economic-political-environmental change in all its history. This increasing diminution of nature’s riches connoted an almost total failure of our stewardship of Earth.

The 1992 follow-on Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil, the largest ever gathering of heads of state, reinforced the Commission’s findings and recommendations, and produced its Agenda 21 with its 40-chapter plan of action for achieving sustainable development and its 27 principles for a more balanced world. In spite of this there is little genuine understanding of the word ‘sustainability’ and the changes necessary to make it a reality. In that same year, two forceful statements were issued. The first, early in the year, was by the Royal Society of London and the US National Academy of Sciences.

World population is growing at the unprecedented rate of almost 100 million people every year [three per second], and human activities are producing major changes in the global environment. If current predictions of population prove accurate and patterns of human activity on the planet remain unchanged, science and technology may not be able to prevent either irreversible degradation of the environment or continued poverty for much of the world.

In its 1991 report on population, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) states that population growth is even faster than forecast in its report of 1984. Assuming nevertheless that there will in the future be substantial and sustained falls in fertility rates, the general population is expected in the UN’s mid-range projection to rise from 5.4 billion in 1991 to 10 billion in 2050. This rapid rise may be unavoidable; considerably larger rises may be expected if fertility rates do not stabilize at the replacement level of about 2.1 children per woman. At present, about 95 percent of this growth is in the less developed countries (LDCs); the percentage of global population that live in the LDCs is projected to increase from 77 percent in 1990 to 84 percent in 2020.

More recent projections since 1990 have all shown gradual but encouraging reductions in population forecasts. Nevertheless, the nature of the problem is indicated by the fact that here on Earth now the number of people who are alive represent ten percent of all people who have ever lived. The report went on:

Although there is a relationship between population, economic activity, and the environment, it is not simple. Most of the environmental changes during the twentieth century have been a product of the efforts of humans to secure improved standards of food, clothing, shelter, comfort, and recreation. Both developed and developing countries have contributed to environmental degradation. Developed countries, with 85 percent of the world’s gross national product and 23 percent of its population, account for the majority of mineral and fossil-fuel consumption. One issue alone, the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, has the potential for altering global climate with significant consequences for all countries. The prosperity and technology of the developed countries, however, give them the greater possibilities and the greater responsibility for addressing environmental problems.

In the developing countries the resource consumption per capita is lower, but the rapidly growing population and the pressure to develop their economies are leading to substantial and increasing damage to the local environment. This damage comes by direct pollution from energy use and other industrial activities, as well as by activities such as clearing forests and inappropriate agricultural practices.

Scientific and technical innovations, such as in agriculture, have been able to overcome many pessimistic predictions about resource constraints affecting human welfare. Nevertheless, the present patterns of human activity accentuated by population growth should make even those most optimistic about future scientific progress pause and reconsider the wisdom of ignoring these threats to our planet. Unrestrained resource consumption for energy production and other uses, especially if the developing world strives to achieve living standards based on the same level of consumption as the developed world, could lead to catastrophic outcomes for the global environment.

Some of the environmental changes may produce irreversible damage to the Earth’s capacity to sustain life. Many species have already disappeared, and many more are destined to do so. Man’s own prospects for achieving satisfactory living standards are threatened by environmental deterioration, especially in the poorest countries where economic activities are most heavily dependent upon the quality of natural resources.

If they are forced to deal with their environmental and resource problems alone, the least developed countries (LDCs) face overwhelming challenges. They generate only 15 percent of the world’s GNP, and have a net cash outflow of tens of billions of dollars per year. Over one billion people live in absolute poverty, and 600 million on the margin of starvation. And the LDCs have only 6-7 percent of the world’s active scientists and engineers, a situation that makes it very difficult for them to participate fully in global or regional schemes to manage their own environment.

In places where resources are administrated effectively, population growth does not inevitably imply deterioration in the quality of the environment. Nevertheless, each additional human being requires natural resources for sustenance, each produces by-products that become part of the ecosystem, and each pursues economic and other activities that effect the natural world. While the impact of population growth varies from place to place and from one environmental domain to another, the overall pace of environmental changes has unquestionably been accelerated by the recent expansion of the human population.

There is an urgent need to address economic activity, population growth, and environmental protection as interrelated issues. The forthcoming UN Conference on Environment and Development, to be held in Brazil, should consider human activities and population growth, in both the developing and developed worlds, as crucial components affecting the sustainability of human society. Effective family planning, combined with continued economic and social development in the LDCs, will help stabilize fertility rates at lower levels and reduce stresses to the global environment. At the same time, greater attention in the developed countries to conservation, recycling, substitution and efficient use of energy, and a concerted program to start mitigating further build-up of greenhouse gases will help ease the threat to the global environment.

Unlike many other steps that could be taken to reduce the rate of environmental changes, reductions in rates of population growth can be accomplished through voluntary measures. Surveys in the developing world repeatedly reveal large amounts of unwanted childbearing. By providing people with the means to control their own fertility, family planning programs have major possibilities to reduce rates of population growth and hence to arrest environmental degradation. Also, unlike many other potential interventions that are typically specific to a particular problem, a reduction in the rate of population growth would affect many dimensions of environmental changes. Its importance is easily underestimated if attention is focused on one problem at a time.

What are the relevant topics to which scientific research can make long-lasting contributions? These include: development of new generations of safe, easy to use, and effective contraceptive agents and devices; development of environmentally benign alternative energy sources; improvements in agricultural production and food processing; further research in plant and animal genetic varieties; further research in biotechnology relating to plants, animals, and preservation of the environment; improvements in public health, to understanding the nature and dimensions of the world’s biodiversity, especially through development of effective drugs and vaccines for malaria, hepatitis, AIDS, and other infectious diseases causing immense human burdens. Also needed is research on topics such as: improved land-use practices to prevent ecological degradation, loss of top soil, and desertification of grasslands; better institutional measures to protect watersheds and groundwater; new technologies for waste disposal; environmental remediation, and pollution control; new materials that reduce pollution and the use of hazardous substances during their life cycle; and more effective regulatory tools that use market forces to protect the environment.

Greater attention also needs to be given to understanding the nature and dimensions of the world’s biodiversity. Although we depend directly on biodiversity for sustainable productivity, we cannot even estimate the number of species of organisms – plants, animals, fungi, and micro-organisms – to an order of magnitude. We do know, however, that the current rate of reduction in biodiversity is unparalleled over the past 65 million years. The loss of biodiversity is one of the fastest moving aspects of global change, is irreversible, and has serious consequences for the human prospect in the future.

What are the limits of scientific contributions to the solution of resource and environmental problems? Scientific research and technological innovation can undoubtedly mitigate these stresses and facilitate a less destructive adaptation of a growing population to its environment. Yet, it is not prudent to rely on science and technology alone to solve problems created by rapid population growth, wasteful resource consumption, and harmful human practices.

The application of science and technology to global problems is a key component of providing a decent standard of living for the majority of the human race. Science and technology have an especially important role to play in developing countries in helping them to manage their resources effectively and to participate fully in worldwide initiatives for common benefit. Capabilities in science and technology must be strengthened in LDCs as a matter of urgency through joint initiatives from the developed and developing worlds. But science and technology alone are not enough. Global policies are urgently needed to promote more rapid economic development throughout the world, more environmentally benign patterns of human activity, and more rapid stabilization of world population.

The future of the planet is in balance. Sustainable development can be achieved, but only if irreversible degradation of the environment can be halted in time. The next 30 years may be crucial.

Five months after the 1992 Summit, the Union of Concerned Scientists sponsored its World Scientists Warning to Humanity, which was signed by 1,670 of them, including 104 Nobel Prize winners – a majority of the living recipients of the Prize in the sciences.

Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about… No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.

Warning. We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated…

The Earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing numbers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of Earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and developing nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair…

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their over-consumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic instabilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic, and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavour will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war – amounting to over $1 trillion annually – will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required – a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the Earth. We must recognize the Earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists – natural, social, economic, political;

We require the help of the world’s business and industrial leaders;

We require the help of the world’s religious leaders; and

We require the help of the world’s peoples.

We call on all to join us in this task.

When this second ‘warning’ was released to the media, Canada’s national newspapers and television ignored it, no American television network reported it, while the New York Times and the Washington Post rejected it as ‘not newsworthy’. While these two warnings do not cover all our problems, they seem to be as important and as clear about our future as could possibly be broadcast. The media’s reaction indicates the depth of denial and/or the power of the controlling interests. Ted Stannard, academic and former UPI correspondent, put it this way: “When watchdogs, bird dogs, and bull dogs morph into lap dogs, lazy dogs, or yellow dogs, the nation is in trouble.”(Helen Thomas, Lap Dogs of the Press. The Nation, 10 March 2006.)

The United Nations June 1997 meeting to take stock of progress since the 1992 Summit produced much condemnation of broken promises by the rich nations, especially the United States. The UN General Assembly President, Razali Ismail of Malaysia, predicted catastrophe if appropriate action was not taken soon: “We as a species, as a planet, are teetering on the edge, living unsustainably and perpetuating inequality, and may soon pass the point of no return.” The Summit participants’ declaration makes disturbing reading: “We acknowledge a number of positive results have been achieved, but we are deeply concerned the overall trends for sustainable development are worse today than they were in 1992.” It seemed that throughout these summits with their concerned declarations, politicians, main-line economists, heads of treasuries, financiers and the business world in general had not been listening. Nor did they appear to want to listen. Under the present system are they capable of listening? That was 14 years ago. So what’s changed fundamentally for the better? The overall situation has worsened. Take population growth, one of the major factors contributing to our global deterioration. There are now over six billion people on Earth with forecasts of a 50 percent increase within the lifetime of most of those now here. Reliable scientific authorities have already stated that the Earth can reasonably support about two billion people.

Over March 3-5 2006 the Texas Academy of Science at Lamar University in Beaumont was addressed by the evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert Dr Eric R Pianka. Pianka began his talk by explaining that the general public was not ready to hear what he was about to say. He laid out his concern that the sharp increase in human overpopulation since the start of the industrial age was devastating Earth. He went on to assert that the only feasible solution is to reduce the population to 10 percent by means of the highly lethal airborne disease Ebola! On the oil situation Pianka reflected that “the fossil fuels are running out so I think we may have to cut back to two billion people.” After the questioning was over, almost every scientist, professor and college student stood and vigorously applauded.

The ‘sustainable development’ concept results in a Catch 22 situation, for in addition to development meaning a “gradual unfolding, a fuller working out, realising the potential of, bringing to a fuller or better state,” it also means “product” and “more elaborate form” – the significance of which is not lost on politicians, industry and growth agencies. Growth, on the other hand, means “to increase in size by assimilation or accretion of materials, the action or process of growing”. When something develops it becomes different – quality (good, bad or indifferent) is involved. When something grows, quantity is involved. A proper distinction is essential for our well-being. Earth’s ecosystem develops; it does not grow. Thus sustainable development means a qualitative improvement without quantitative growth beyond the point where our global ecosystem cannot regenerate. But most politicians, economists and industrialists, with their smooth talk of ‘sustainable economic growth’, repeatedly demonstrate that either they do not understand the difference, or, if they do, do not wish to make any distinction, or possibly are prisoners of the situation. Today, ‘sustainable development’ is supposed to provide a panacea for all our problems. Already its definitions are becoming more tunnel-like and are being equated with the idea of an ‘acceptable’ level of ecological destruction. In the political and business world, sustainable economic growth – an oxymoron or pointedly foolish statement – has become a catch phrase. The process is now completely out of control. As numerous writers have pointed out it is in the immediate interests of governments to collude with the transnational organisations which are primarily engaged in this continued destruction of Earth’s resources. Growth, the “ideology of the cancer cell”, is very likely to kill us, as Herman Daly has suggested. See Edward Abbey, The Fool’s Progress, 1988. Also my book Five Holocausts – the most comprehensive combined work on the major problems facing us: militarism, human oppression, economic destitution, the population explosion, and environmental destruction - covers the ‘growth syndrome’ in some detail.

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management, in an opening overview to its Annual Report 1995-96, drew attention to this rapidly developing and alarming situation:

The achievements of the 1992 Earth Summit and its high hopes for a just and sustainable society are being rapidly forgotten and cast aside as the interests of big business push their agenda for economic growth through a free market, and a minimum role for government. Certainly, resistance to this fallacious doctrine is growing as realisation emerges that society is being caught in the grip of the world’s most powerful crusade to shift ever more wealth to the already wealthy and powerful. The process downgrades people’s welfare and the integrity of the natural world in a take-over of the global economy by the great corporations and financial institutions. Those who oppose this process are seen by the establishment as Luddites or psychopaths.

Governments decreasingly represent the needs and aspirations of their people. Instead, they relate more to the international economic players in seeking economic growth as an end in itself. NGOs and social movements worldwide are increasingly concerned about this trend in both the short- and long-term.

The onslaught on the natural world continues unabated. Obstacles to bringing the development process under control and moving to a sustainable economy are formidable, a situation likely to remain until there is a general realisation that the present global economic regime is a path to catastrophe. Familiarity with the issues only reinforces this conclusion.

Governments must be told that the present regime and economic directions are working against people’s interests and the planet itself as our universal provider. They must be told what needs to be done.

The August/September 2002 Earth Summit Two in Johannesburg failed to reach agreements of any real substance. As at Stockholm (1972) and especially at Earth Summit One in Rio (1992), the United States hamstrung operations in order to incapacitate the United Nations as a meaningful international body that can place limits on global greed and corporate power. The US has continued to throw large spanners in the works with increasing frequency.

Millions continue to live far below the minimum levels for a decent human existence… the industrial countries should make efforts to reduce the gap between themselves and the developing countries. (Stockholm, 1972.)

All states and all people shall co-operate in the essential task of eradicating poverty… in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world. (Rio, 1992.)

South African President Thabo Mbeki launched the 2002 Summit with a call to end ‘global apartheid’. While 10,000 peaceful protesters marched from Johannesburg’s squalid shanty towns of tin shacks and open sewers, negotiators argued over whether a text would say ‘including’ or ‘and in particular’. South Africa’s Environmental Minister, top summit mediator Valli Moosa, summed it all up when he said: “The talks are going nowhere.” As Christian Aid’s head of policy, Paul Ladd, put it: “A poor person in a poor country has very little to celebrate after this meeting of world leaders.” This failure, although not surprising, was all the more shocking in the light of the already acute State of Emergency existing on Earth.

In February 2005 the Hirsch Report was released for the US Department of Energy. It played out three scenarios – wait until peak oil occurs then take crash action; initiate mitigation program 10 years before peak oil; initiate mitigation action 20 years before peak oil. As peak oil may have passed or be very close most of the world is trapped in the first scenario which will produce the most devastating results. (Refer ‘oil gurus’ Campbell, Simmons, Heinberg, Roberts, et al.)

On April 2 2005, Pope John Paul 11 died from “extrapyramidal neurological disorder” – Parkinson’s disease – which had been kept secret for 12 years. On the same day, the United Nations five volume Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was made public. With the Pope’s death much of the world stopped. The Assessment, put together over five years and clearly reiterating what we had already been told so often, namely that our civilisation was relentlessly moving towards the cliff, disappeared from the news.

All this can make for acute despondency. We are already living in a grossly dysfunctional world whose New World Order has greatly diminished our social capital and led to the kind of global poverty described by Christopher Richards as “characterised by feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, shame, depression and despair as well as disillusionment and sometimes aggression and violence.”

If I was to vent my inner feelings regarding our stupidity I would spit blood. But to try to sum up. At the heart of this worldwide crisis of vast and gross disparities lie two basic lethal flaws.

  • An all-powerful dysfunctional economic capitalist system of greed and growth and profit before people, to which all other considerations the world’s power brokers are committed, has triggered enormous destruction through the wholesale promotion of materialism and consumption - vastly encouraged by the most insidious multi-billion dollar advertising industry - and has promoted a strong desire for the same destructive life-styles in the developing world which it has already overwhelmingly degraded and exploited.

  • Earth’s varied and complex natural ecosystems, on which all life depends and on an understanding of which the whole human economy should be based, are treated as both limitless and, for the most part, free.

Political solutions cannot humanise the faulty economics at the heart of our dilemma, for being inhuman they are unresponsive to reason.

The transformation required to forestall disaster demands a fundamentally different kind of new world order from that being so loudly trumpeted by officialdom. It will amount to the greatest change in the history of Western humankind – a total transmutation from the present inherently inequitable, unsustainable, egocentric, anthropocentric paradigm to a fully co-operative, egalitarian, ecocentric one accompanied by an unprecedented moral change.

Have we progressed far enough along history’s time scale and acquired sufficient knowledge from previous civilisations to understand what we’re doing and where we’re going? Do we now have the ability and will to genuinely cope with our global situation? Indications are that we don’t and that we are still proceeding with increasing speed in the wrong direction. Jared Diamond, however, believes there is cause for hope: “Our television documentaries and books show us in graphic detail why the Easter Islanders, Classic Maya, and other past societies collapsed. Thus, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples and past peoples. That’s an opportunity that no past society enjoyed to such a degree.”

So what are you doing about our future?

Like most other people, I’d rather spend time with my family, go to the lab and do research in my field of genetics, or pursue my hobbies. But I have children and grandchildren. I have a profound stake in the future. I’m only one person, and I have no illusions or conceits about saving the world. But I hope my grandchildren will never look at me and tell me, ‘Grandpa, you could have done more for us.’ (David Suzuki. Naked Ape to Superspecies, 1999.)

(A Bibliography, which it was thought would make this paper too long, will shortly be available on my web site or on receipt of your email order.)

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