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Briefing Paper Series
Bernt Pölling-Vocke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Master of International Relations
Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
|How sustainable are these world affairs?|
the question whether our current world affairs are sustainable, a
resounding “no” appears to be the only appropriate, yet generally
unrecognized, or despite-better-knowledge ignored, answer. It is an
honest answer, but in reality our planet might “fall apart piece by
piece in the face of persistent and pathological denial” (Gelbspan).
people worldwide observe our dismally deteriorating world with
indifference, but not only people are to blame. It is not the
customer’s choice for unsustainable products. As a majority of us does
not know what it does not know, disastrous leadership disproportionably
causes common indifference.
If George W. Bush wholeheartedly rejects the United Nations Kyoto
Protocol, insufficient, but symbolic, as it might be, and states that
such a deal would wreck the US economy and is thus not in its best
interests, common people on the street start to question whether
everything is really as bad as green activists paint it to be. It is not
as if there were no voices of reason around – there are.
Instead, it is the constant and never-ending denial from those in
power, hiding behind statements going no further than admitting that
human actions may be blameable, albeit only to some extent, for climate
change, that confuse the public, which is understandably often
preoccupied with its own struggle for survival or prosperity.
times are dominated by neo-liberal politics and the inherently endless
quest for economic growth. The fact that economic en-masse growth
appears desirable and that industrialism appears to require perpetual
expansion is obvious. The fact that a finite planet cannot support six
billion happy consumers is the same. Both we know, but while the quest
for “more” is socially accepted and highly desirable, a blind eye is
turned towards the better knowledge that it just won’t work. It is a
dead end. No discussion needed. Let’s take care of it another day.
Today’s people are overwhelmingly the centres of their own lives,
interested in their own worlds, thus individuated individuals. People
are generally detached from nature and do not identify with “all that
is”, as most that is can be regarded as a resource – just as long as
enough is left to spend the vacations there, thus a resource for tourism.
Nothing else ought to be expected from anthropocentrism and
industrialism. Ever since the birth of industrialism, nature has been
transformed from “something to be altered” to “something to be
dominated” by capitalism and socialism alike. A mere “more equal”
distribution of wealth and consumer goods does not solve the problem of
their en-masse production in the first place. It is “no goods, no
glory” for both.
as it exists in the mainstream, is purely reactive. Insufficiently
reactive. Highly acclaimed achievements such as the Kyoto protocol would
fail to bring along any lasting change, even if ratified. They could
send an important first message, though. Humanity appears to wait until
the “shit hits the fan”, and then calculates the costs and benefits
of thoroughly cleaning up or not, constantly affirming that there is
absolutely nothing that can be done about all the filth. Obviously, a
rigorous job of cleaning up would be too expensive, so no cultural
change takes place. As I am writing this paper, toxic waters are rapidly
being pumped out of New Orleans, destined to kill all remaining life in
the target water bodies, as a thoroughly job of cleaning would be cost
prohibitive and delay the city’s (questionable) reconstruction for
months to come. It is a dilemma, the New York Times reports concerning
New Orleans, but what can you do?
lot could be done to prevent the next Katrina, or similar disasters in
less prosperous parts of the world. It would even be in the economic
interests of those for whom any sort of agreement regarding even a tiny,
legal reduction in dangerous emissions, is officially not. Higher levees
cannot be the answer, but most often they are. Following the same lines
of thoughts, the possession of nuclear weapons increases national
security. Rationally observed, it is idiocy at its best.
whole modern development project surrounding industrialism ought to be
questioned, as its en-masse realization, as far as it might be
achievable via the neo-liberal myth of global prosperity, is inherently
unsustainable. Without clean water, an ozone-layer, a stable climate,
fertile soils and vegetable, genetic diversity, humanity impoverishes.
It could be argued that industrialism alone is enough to impoverish us
all, and as it is one of the foundation stones our current lifestyles
are built upon, we are in trouble. Perilous trouble. The higher we walk,
the deeper we will fall. It might be great to hear that living standards
in China and India are rising, but the consequences at the gas-pump are
obvious and the atmospheric consequences of globalized definitions of
living standard along the lines of “a car in four” are dire at best.
Our only hope is peak oil. Will those protestors waving their “no
blood for oil”-signs one day shed their own blood for water?
persistent hope that science and technology will safe the day can hardly
convince, even though miraculous inventions cannot be ruled out. Whether
their en-masse availability and affordability, upon discovery, will
suffice, remains questionable. Many environmentalists claim that there
is no time to wait and see, no time to wait for more and more evidence
to trickle in that human activities might indeed endanger its own
species. All types of consequences of non-action are known, yet those in
power do not communicate them. The best attitude towards enormous
problems is blind ignorance. Instead, as Gerhard Schröder did after the
latest series of flooding in southern Germany, politicians call upon the
general population to live more conservatively, even though the rhetoric
hardly connects during the current economic mini-crisis where desperate
acts of penny-pinching fill the shopping carts and eternal growth is
prayed for. In times of economic prosperity, the same holds truth, as
few shop smarter, but most shop more. Analysts predict as many as 210
million people displaced by environmental changes by 2010 (Myers and
Kent), the desertification of large parts of Africa and much more.
Recent trends of desertification in southern European nations such as
Spain are far from hidden, Katrina killed more US Americans than Osama
bin Laden could ever dream of, yet the “war on nature’s terror”
has not been called out. Where is the coalition of the willing when it
is desperately needed? Theoretically, increased disastrous activity by
nature’s forces has the potential to wreck capitalism, if re-insurers
are not capable to provide financial relief in the case of increased
mass-claims, but even this is widely ignored. In comparison to quarterly
reports, even the blind have eternal vision.
and Engels noted that the cheap prices of the industrial system “are
the heavy artillery with which it batters down the Chinese walls…it
compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode
of production…it creates a world after its own image”. In addition,
it destroys this world, which Marx and Engels could not foresee. Game
conclusion, we could all start humming REM’s “Its the end of the
world as we know it”, as sooner or later, these world affairs will
prove unsustainable. It is up for history to decide whether we will
slowly approach the stop sign, or race headfirst over the cliff.
Theoretically, it could be both. First, the cliff for the world’s poor,
then the gradual stop, taking some more Katrina-alike dramatic bumps on
the road into account, for the rich. Not everybody can live as the
commonly defined “rich” of the North, and even the act of trying to
do so by the South, combined with the morbid desire of the North to do
so even more, will eventually be enough to show that nobody can.
Infinite material desires by a rapidly increasing world population –
two to four extra billion until 2050 (UN Millennium Report), cannot be
met by a finite planet. The problem of agency appears unsolvable as long
as economic interests are driven by quarterly figures and politicians,
those in power who should know and could act, follow a path of
ill-advised growth in order to appease their subjects, who often do not
know what they do not know. Cultural changes are needed, for example
along the lines of deep ecologist Arne Naess’ Ecosophy T, proclaiming
pleasure, happiness and perfection as ultimate norms. As long as
en-masse self-realization solely focuses on the self, payback is sure to
come. If self-realization would include “everything that is”,
chances would be better for everything to stay.