From The Independent
The priceless treasures of Syria’s history – of Crusader castles, ancient mosques and churches, Roman mosaics, the renowned “Dead Cities” of the north and museums stuffed with antiquities – have fallen prey to looters and destruction by armed rebels and government militias as fighting envelops the country. While the monuments and museums of the two great cities of Damascus and Aleppo have so far largely been spared, reports from across Syria tell of irreparable damage to heritage sites that have no equal in the Middle East. Even the magnificent castle of Krak des Chevaliers – described by Lawrence of Arabia as “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world” and which Saladin could not capture – has been shelled by the Syrian army, damaging the Crusader chapel inside.
The destruction of Iraq’s heritage in the anarchic aftermath of the Anglo-American invasion of 2003 – the looting of the national museum, the burning of the Koranic library and the wiping out of ancient Sumerian cities – may now be repeated in Syria. Reports from Syrian archeologists and from Western specialists in bronze age and Roman cities tell of an Assyrian temple destroyed at Tell Sheikh Hamad, massive destruction to the wall and towers of the citadel of al-Madiq castle – one of the most forward Crusader fortresses in the Levant which originally fell to Bohemond of Antioch in 1106 – and looting of the magnificent Roman mosaics of Apamea, where thieves have used bulldozers to rip up Roman floors and transport them from the site. Incredibly, they have managed to take two giant capitols from atop the colonnade of the “decumanus”, the main east-west Roman road in the city.
In many cases, armed rebels have sought sanctuary behind the thick walls of ancient castles only to find that the Syrian military have not hesitated to blast away at these historical buildings to destroy their enemies. Pitched battles have been fought between rebels and Syrian troops amid the “Dead Cities”, the hundreds of long-abandoned Graeco-Roman towns that litter the countryside outside Aleppo, which once formed the heart of ancient Syria. Syrian troops have occupied the Castle of Ibn Maan above the Roman city of Palmyra and parked tanks and armoured vehicles in the Valley of the Tombs to the west of the old city. The government army are reported to have dug a deep defensive trench within the Roman ruins.
“The situation of Syria’s heritage today is catastrophic,” according to Joanne Farchakh, a Lebanese archaeologist who also investigated the destruction and plundering of Iraq’s historical treasures after 2003, and helped the Baghdad museum to reclaim some of its stolen artifacts. “One of the problems is that for 10 years before the war, the Syrian regime established 25 cultural museums all over the country to encourage tourism and to keep valuable objects on these sites – many placed stone monuments in outside gardens, partly to prove that the regime was strong enough to protect them. Now the Homs museum has been looted – by rebels and by government militias, who knows? – and antique dealers are telling me that the markets of Jordan and Turkey are flooded with artifacts from Syria.”
There is, of course, a moral question about our concern for the destruction of the treasures of history. Common humanity suggests that the death of a single Syrian child amid the 19,000 fatalities of Syria’s tragedy must surely carry more weight than the plundering and erasure of three thousand years of civilisation. True. But the pulverisation and theft of whole cities of history deprives future generations – in their millions – of their birthright and of the seeds of their own lives. Syria has always been known as “the Land of Civilisations” – Damascus and Aleppo are among the world’s oldest inhabited cities and Syria is the birthplace of agrarian society – and the terrible conflict now overwhelming the country will deprive us and our descendants of this narrative for ever.
To their enormous credit, Syrian archaeologists have themselves anonymously catalogued the destruction of their native country’s historical sites. They include government shelling of villages that exist within ancient cities; rebels have apparently been sheltered, for example, in the small civilian township built inside the wonderful ruins of Bosra which contains one of the best-preserved Roman theatres in the world – which did not prevent several buildings from being destroyed. Similar bombardments have smashed the fabric of Byzantine-era buildings in al-Bara, Deir Sunbel and Ain Larose in northern Syria.
In the monastery of Sednaya, apparently founded by the Emperor Justinian – the people of the village still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus – shellfire has damaged the oldest section of the building, which dates back to 574. The Umayyad Mosque in Deraa, one of the oldest Islamic-era structures in Syria, built at the request of the Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab, has also been damaged. Dr Bassam Jamous, the government-appointed director general of antiquities in Syria, says that “terrorists” – ironically, the Western world’s own nomenclature for state enemies – have targeted historic buildings in Damascus, Aleppo, Bosra, Palmyra and the Citadel of Salah al-Din (Saladin), a crusader fortress seized by the Kurdish warrior hero in 1188, the year after he recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims from Balian of Ibelin.
Several months ago the Syrian authorities reported the theft of the golden statue of an 8th century BC Aramaic god – still unfound, although it was reported to Interpol – and admitted thefts at government museums at Deir ez-Zor, Raqqa, Maarat al-Numan and Qalaat Jaabar. Hiba Sakhel, the Syrian director of museums, has confirmed that items from the Aleppo museum have been transferred to the vaults of the central bank in Damascus for safekeeping.
“Syrian Archeological Heritage in Danger”, a group of Syrian specialists who list the destruction and looting of the country’s treasures on their own website, has revealed that Syria’s Prime Minister, Adel Safar, wrote to fellow ministers on 11 July last year warning that “the country is threatened by armed criminal groups with hi-tech tools and specialised in the theft of manuscripts and antiquities, as well as the pillaging of museums”. The archaeologists find this note “very odd” because it appears to warn of looting which had not yet occurred – and thus suggests that officials in the regime might be preparing the way for their own private theft and re-sale of the country’s heritage, something which did indeed occur under President Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad.
So the looting and destruction lies at the door of all sides in the Syrian conflict, along with the thieves who move in on all historic sites when the security of the state evaporates. In truth, Syria has always suffered – and the regime always tolerated – a limited amount of theft from historical sites, to boost the economy in the poor areas in the north of the country and to enrich the regime’s own mafiosi. But what is happening now is on an epic and terrifying scale. “As for the old churches, old houses, old streets of Homs, you can forget it – they don’t exist any more,” archaeologist Joanne Farchakh says. A specialist in heritage in times of war in Lebanon, Iraq and northern Cyprus as well as Syria, she gloomily reports new information from the second millennium BC sites in which looters have dug huge holes, metres wide, to unearth the treasures of pre-history.
Much of this destruction is taking place not only in the world of ancient Rome, the Crusaders and the Muslim conquest and revival, but in the land of the original “terrorists”, the Assassins whose murderous attacks on all authority a thousand years ago were led by “the Old Man of the Mountains”. He once besieged Al-Madiq castle – whose bombardment by the Syrian army is now available on videotape.
As old as war itself
Maybe we “Westerners” have a bit of a nerve to denounce the destruction of Syria’s antiquity. From the Roman destruction of Carthage to RAF Bomber Command’s pounding of Hamburg, Dresden and a hundred medieval German cities to rubble, we have been smashing our history to bits for centuries. The pillaging of Europe’s great cities was a practice of war as common as the rape of an enemy’s womenfolk for hundreds of years, and the last century has witnessed such savagery on an unprecedented scale. The German destruction of the Louvain library and the Cloth Hall of Ypres and countless French Gothic cathedrals and churches in the First World War, to the bombing of Rotterdam, the City of London, Coventry and Canterbury and the great cities of Germany – not to mention the priceless monastery of Monte Cassino – we are in no position to point the finger at the Arab world for its historical self-immolation.
In Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s, I saw the same thing. The pulverisation of mosques and Catholic and Orthodox churches, the smashing of gravestones – even the bulldozing of graveyards – were a form of cultural cleansing that reached its apogee in the burning of the old Sarajevo library. In Baghdad in 2003, hired mobs smashed into the National Museum and took the treasures of Mesopotamia. I crunched my way across the floor on fragments of Greek statues which were of no interest to the looters, and then watched the burning of the Koranic library, the flames of 15th-century Korans too bright for the naked eye. I rescued just a few 18th-century Ottoman documents flapping in the breeze down outside.
Some of these destroyers were brought into the city by bus – I saw them climb back aboard outside the library and identified one of them at another burning – and it is true that most cultural destruction is organised. Looters come in armies. Joanne Farchakh and I visited the legions of thieves working in the Sumerian sites of southern Iraq as they hurled priceless second millennium BC clay jugs out of their troglodyte holes in order to reach older, fourth millennium treasures at a greater depth. During the Lebanese civil war, looters in southern Lebanon would offer me Phoenician gold bracelets from the ancient cemeteries around Tyre. No one knows how many treasures Lebanon lost between 1975 and 1990. In 1975, the Syrian army – just as they have done today – based soldiers in Lebanon’s historical sites, including the temples of Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley. The Temple of Jupiter still bears the scar of a Palestinian RPG in its south-west corner.
This is why it is so important to have an inventory of the treasures of national museums and ancient cities. Emma Cunliffe, a PhD researcher at Durham University, published the first detailed account of the state of Syrian archeological sites in her Damage to the Soul of Syria: Syria’s Cultural Heritage in Conflict, listing the causes of destruction, the use of sites as military positions and what can only be called merciless looting. Much of her work has informed the studies of archaeologists like Farchakh.
Big Oil and the Canadian government are showing their true colors these days, and what an ugly spectacle it is. Not content to squeeze tar sands oil profits from Canada’s boreal forest, the industry and the Harper regime are working overtime to squelch free speech in this once-vibrant democracy.
Their main target is nonprofit groups that oppose the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipeline projects. To silence these voices, the government has begun questioning whether the groups are following charitable tax codes and started proposing laws to limit their advocacy work. They’ve even equated environmental groups with terrorists and money launders.
This effort to stack the deck in favor of big oil companies doesn’t just limit the rights of nonprofits. It endangers the rights of all people — on both sides of the borders — to breathe clean air, drink safe water, have a healthy climate and preserve forests and farmlands for our children.
The attacks began after President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Now another pipeline designed to take tar sands oil westward to China is also stirring large public concern. Farmers, ranchers, business owners, religious leaders, members of First Nations, scientists, and many others have concluded that these pipelines will endanger their communities. They also know that strip mining tar sands is devouring Canada’s boreal forest and that producing tar sands generates more than three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil.
People across Canada have made their opposition to tar sands known. The Canadian federal government responded by branding clean energy advocates as “radicals” and threatening to add environmental groups to the list of extremist organizations under anti-terrorism legislation. The attacks expanded when those who questioned tar sands were accused of treason and one Minister even accused environmental charities of “money laundering” for American donors.
But all of this was just the opening gambit. In April, the Canadian federal government’s budget bill rolled back many of Canada’s major environmental laws on clean water, wildlife, and climate change. Perhaps most significant, it drastically limited the public’s right to participate and comment on environmental reviews. Instead it gave the Prime Minister ultimate authority over pipeline proposals such as the controversial tar sands projects.
The budget also cut funding for environmental protection while leaving the $1.3 billion in federal subsidies for the oil industry largely intact. And in a time of supposed belt tightening, it included an extra $8 million to audit environmental groups, specifically going after those opposed to new tar sands pipelines.
This attack on democracy and clean air and water starts in Canada, but Big Oil is pushing tar sands to markets in the United States and has already been attacking U.S. efforts to put clean fuels standards in place. What is next in the United States, if the oil industry succeeds in silencing Canadian voices asking for basic public health and safety protections? Already some lawmakers are angling for a fast-track approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Congress. They are so eager to stifle public input that they have tried to include a green light for the pipeline in a completely unrelated transportation bill.
People in both countries are calling foul. On June 4, groups across the United States and Canada will black out their websites to protest this attempt to silence debate about our energy future and the need to fight climate change. Tar sands oil is sold by multinational companies to international markets. We must not let this industry believe it is above the law of any land. A united Canadian and American front will remind these companies that citizens will hold them accountable.
Freedom of speech is hardly a new value in our countries. As General Washington said in 1783 to his officers, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” This level of attack calls for a united front. Canadians are fighting back and the environmental community in the United States is standing by them. Nothing less than our democracy, health and prosperity are at stake.
Note from Earthpoems: This genetically modified (GMO) rice, and/or its seed, that includes human genes for the purpose of manufacturing substances for synthetic drugs, may be being sold or grown in ‘third world’ countries. Please inquire locally to make sure it’s not consumed by people. The company name is Ventria Bioscience. Watch out for rice or seed from VENTRIA.
Eat and grow non-hybrid non-gmo foods
Unless the rice you buy is certified organic, or comes specifically from a farm that tests its rice crops for genetically modified (GM) traits, you could be eating rice tainted with actual human genes. The only known GMO with inbred human traits in cultivation today, a GM rice product made by biotechnology companyVentria Bioscience is currently being grown on 3,200 acres in Junction City, Kansas — and possibly elsewhere — and most people have no idea about it.
Since about 2006,Ventria has been quietly cultivating rice that has been genetically modified (GM) with genes from the human liver for the purpose of taking the artificial proteins produced by this “Frankenrice” and using them in pharmaceuticals. With approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA),Ventria has taken one of the most widely cultivated grain crops in the world today, and essentially turned it into a catalyst for producing new drugs.
Originally, the cultivation of this GM rice, which comes in three approved varieties (
), was limited to the laboratory setting. But in 2007,Ventria decided to bring the rice outdoors. The company initially tried to plant the crops in Missouri, but met resistance from Anheuser-Buschand others, which threatened to boycott all rice from the state in the event thatVentria began planting its rice within state borders (
SoVentria‘s GM rice eventually ended up in Kansas, where it is presumably still being grown for the purpose of manufacturing drugs on 3,200 acres in Junction City. And while this GM rice with added human traits has never been approved for human consumption, it is now being cultivated in open fields where the potential for unrestrained contamination and spread of its unwanted, dangerous GM traits is virtually a given.
“This is not a product that everyone would want to consume,” said Jane Rissler from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to theWashington Post back in 2007. “It is unwise to produce drugs in plants outdoors.”
Though receiving tens of thousands of public comments of opposition, many rightly concerned about the spread of GM traits, the USDA approved open cultivation of Ventria‘s GM rice anyway. This, of course, occurred after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had refused approval forVentria‘s GM rice back in 2003 (
GM ‘pharmaceutical’ rice could cause more disease, suggests report
Besides the threat of contamination and wild spread,Ventria‘s GM rice, which is purportedly being grown to help third-world children overcome chronic diarrhea, may conversely cause other chronic diseases.
“These genetically engineered drugs could exacerbate certain infections, or cause dangerous allergic or immune system reactions,” said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), who published a report back in 2007 about the dangers of Ventria‘s GM rice.
You can view that report here:
Sources for this article include:
From: Natural News
Sustainable Earth: Oceans
Scientists ask Rio+20 leaders to protect the bounty of the Seven Seas for future generations.
From National Geographic News
More than half the people on Earth live within 120 miles (193 kilometers) of the ocean, but even those who live nowhere near the sea are dependent on the massive saltwater ecosystem that covers nearly three-fourths of our planet.
The ocean helps create and regulate weather around the globe and produces many of life’s essentials, including water, food, and even the oxygen we breathe every day. But scientists warn that the sea is changing rapidly and that our many uses of its bounty must be managed far more sustainably.
“If I were speaking to all the leaders at Rio+20 I’d say this is not [a choice between] the ocean or ourselves,” said marine ecologist Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. “A healthy ocean means healthier humans, more food on our tables, more jobs, and a healthier economy.”
The sea’s biodiversity is astounding. Scientists have identified some 200,000 marine species but suspect that millions more actually call the oceans home. Some seafloor ecosystems are so remote and inaccessible that we know less about them than we do the surface of Mars.
Yet the ocean is very familiar to more than three billion people whose livelihoods depend directly on coastal and marine ecosystems—about 8 percent of the world’s people are fishermen. And three billion people count on marine species as their primary sources of protein.
Until recent decades, most people considered the oceans to be an inexhaustible resource so vast and so plentiful that it was beyond humanity’s ability to deplete it of fish or seriously pollute its waters. Today we know that is far from the truth.
A Raft of Challenges
Since the mid-20th century, advances in technology have given rise to massive industrial fishing operations that can rapidly empty waters of species like bluefin tuna or Atlantic cod while satisfying an ever-increasing demand for seafood. UN-tracked fisheries have shown steady declines in catches since 1988—even as more fishers take to the water with ever more efficient gear. Some studies estimate that populations of large ocean fish are only 10 percent as big as their preindustrial levels.
Today’s ocean managers are challenged to cooperate internationally and use scientific knowledge of fish stocks to replace loosely regulated fisheries with well-managed, sustainable resources. This can be accomplished by implementing tools such as marine reserves, protected areas, and strict catch limits.
Aquaculture can also play a major part—in fact, farmed fish already constitute half of the world’s supply—but it must be done more sustainably. Aquaculture must consume fewer marine resources, like the ground-up seafood used to make fish feed, and it needs to be managed to reduce genetic dilution of wild stocks, destruction of mangroves, and other impacts on sensitive coastal areas.
Other ocean impacts have inland sources. “Most people don’t know that every eight months the drops of oil that leak from U.S. cars and other machines and run downstream into the ocean equal the amount of oil [11 million gallons] that was spilled by the Exxon Valdez,” Sala said.
Other runoff pollution, like nitrogen-rich fertilizers, has created oxygen-poor, algae-choked “dead zones,” including the New Jersey-size swath found each summer in the Mississippi River Delta. Carelessly discarded trash has formed a massive “garbage patch” the size of Texas swirling in the northern Pacific. Pesticides washed into ocean waters may be consumed by small organisms and retained by larger predators, with unknown consequences to species up and down the food chain.
“We know how to fix these problems,” Sala said. “Fishing in most cases just requires national action to restore populations to sustainable levels. We need to implement science-based quotas and reduce fishing capacity—there are just too many fishing boats in the world right now—so we can reach a point where we have a globally sustainable catch. Right now we’re above that for too many species.”
Other problems present bigger challenges and will require even greater concerted action around the world.
The Climate Connection
Ocean water and air share an enormous interface, stretching around the globe, and the two constantly interact. The sea absorbs some 30 percent of all the world’s CO2 emissions, which helps mitigate the impacts of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. But the absorption of all that CO2 is changing water chemistry, creating acidic seawater and altering marine ecosystems at their core through base-of-the-food-chain animals such as plankton and corals. These shifts are happening so quickly that some species may not have time to adapt.
Scientists say that oceans are sensitive to even small changes in temperature—and Earth’s temperature continues to trend upward. Sea temperatures over the past century have risen only about 0.18ºF (0.1ºC), and most of that occurred between the sunny surface and depths of about 2,300 feet (700 meters).
But some impacts may be evident. Too-warm waters can push coral reefs, also stressed by acidic water and pollution, toward die-off, and threaten the many species that dwell in these “rainforests of the sea.” One in five coral reefs is already damaged beyond repair. And krill, the foundation of the Antarctic ecosystem, can’t reproduce as efficiently in warming water.
The most visibly obvious result of warming water is already under way—rising sea levels that swamp coastline habitats and human dwellings alike. Due to expanding water volume and melting ice, the global mean sea level has risen an average of 0.13 inches (34.2 millimeters) annually during the past two decades, about twice the rise rate during the previous 80 years.
Though beset with challenges, the sea is resilient and has shown the ability to regenerate resources—if human beings give it a chance. The Rio+20 conference will seek to establish guidelines for sustainable management of the oceans and conservation of their priceless resources through a “blue economy” plan for the future.
Sala said progress has been stalled by what he calls an “artificial dichotomy” between economic development and environmental conservation. That view must be dispelled, he said. “In the long term there is no prosperity without sustainable use of natural resources,” Sala said. “A blue economy is a smarter economy than the current one of overexploiting one resource and then simply going on to the next.”
Article recommended by 1,000,000 Strong Against Offshore Drilling
Naomi Klein on ideological impediments to addressing climate change and how to move forward
From Common Dreams staff
In an interview with Solutions, author and activist Naomi Klein discusses how market-based solutions are not going to meet the needs required to address climate change and how ideologies have hampered both the left and right in climate action. She also states that the Occupy movement has been “a game-changer.” There is a way forward, Klein says, and it involves “changing the mix in a mixed economy.”
Throwing Out the Free Market Playbook:
An Interview with Naomi Klein
Perhaps one of the most well-known voices for the Left, Canadian Naomi Klein is an activist and author of several nonfiction works critical of consumerism and corporate activity, including the best sellers No Logo (2000) and Shock Doctrine (2007).
In your cover story for the Nation last year, you say that modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the political Left, including redistribution of wealth, higher and more progressive taxes, and greater government intervention and regulation. Please explain.
The piece came out of my interest and my shock at the fact that belief in climate change in the United States has plummeted. If you really drill into the polling data, what you see is that the drop in belief in climate change is really concentrated on the right of the political spectrum. It’s been an extraordinary and unusual shift in belief in a short time. In 2007, 71 percent of Americans believed in climate change and in 2009 only 51 percent believed—and now we’re at 41 percent. So I started researching the denial movement and going to conferences and reading the books, and what’s clear is that, on the right, climate change is seen as a threat to the Right’s worldview, and to the neoliberal economic worldview. It’s seen as a Marxist plot. They accuse climate scientists of being watermelons—green on the outside and red on the inside.
It seems exaggerated, but your piece was about how the Right is in fact correct.
I don’t think climate change necessitates a social revolution. This idea is coming from the right-wing think tanks and not scientific organizations. They’re ideological organizations. Their core reason for being is to defend what they call free-market ideology. They feel that any government intervention leads us to serfdom and brings about a socialist world, so that’s what they have to fight off: a socialist world. Increase the power of the private sector and decrease the public sphere is their ideology.
You can set up carbon markets, consumer markets, and just pretend, but if you want to get serious about climate change, really serious, in line with the science, and you want to meet targets like 80 percent emissions cuts by midcentury in the developed world, then you need to be intervening strongly in the economy, and you can’t do it all with carbon markets and offsetting. You have to really seriously regulate corporations and invest in the public sector. And we need to build public transport systems and light rail and affordable housing along transit lines to lower emissions. The market is not going to step up to this challenge. We must do more: rebuild levees and bridges and the public sphere, because we saw in Katrina what happens when weak infrastructure clashes with heavy weather—it’s catastrophe. These climate deniers aren’t crazy—their worldview is under threat. If you take climate change seriously, you do have to throw out the free-market playbook.
What is the political philosophy that underscores those who accept climate change versus those who deny it?
The Yale cultural cognition project has looked at cultural worldview and climate change, and what’s clear is that ideology is the main factor in whether we believe in climate change. If you have an egalitarian and communitarian worldview, and you tend toward a belief system of pooling resources and helping the less advantaged, then you believe in climate change. And the stronger your belief system tends toward a hierarchical or individual worldview, the greater the chances are that you deny climate change and the stronger your denial will be. The reason is clear: it’s because people protect their worldviews. We all do this. We develop intellectual antibodies. Climate change confirms what people on the left already believe. But the Left must take this confirmation responsibly. It means that if you are on the left of the spectrum, you need to guard against exaggeration and your own tendency to unquestioningly accept the data because it confirms your worldview.
Members of the Left have been resistant to acknowledging that this worldview is behind their support of climate action, while the Right confronts it head on. Why this hesitancy among liberals?
There are a few factors at work. Climate change is not a big issue for the Left. The big left issues in the United States are inequality, the banks, corporate malfeasance, unemployment, foreclosures. I don’t think climate change has ever been a broad-based issue for the Left. Part of this is the legacy of siloing off issues, which is part of the NGO era of activism. Climate change has been claimed by the big green groups and they’re to the left. But they’re also foundation funded. A lot of them have gone down the road of partnerships with corporations, which has made them less critical. The discourse around climate change has also become extremely technical and specialized. A lot of people don’t feel qualified and feel like they don’t have to talk about it. They’re so locked into a logic of market-based solutions—that the big green groups got behind cap and trade, carbon markets, and consumer responses instead of structural ones—so they’re not going to talk about how free trade has sent emissions soaring or about crumbling public infrastructure or the ideology that would rationalize major new investments in infrastructure. Others can fight those battles, they say. During good economic times, that may have seemed viable; but as soon as you have an economic crisis, the environment gets thrown under the bus, and there is a failure to make the connection between the economy and the climate crisis—both have roots in putting profits before people.
You write in your article, “After years of recycling, carbon offsetting, and light-bulb changing, it is obvious that individual action will never be an adequate response to the climate crisis.” How do we get the collective action necessary? Is the Occupy movement a step in the right direction?
The Occupy movement has been a game changer, and it has opened up space for us to put more radical solutions on the table. I think the political discourse in the United States is centered around what we tell ourselves the American public can handle. The experience of seeing these groups of young people put radical ideas on the table, and seeing the country get excited by it, has been a wake up call for a lot of people who feel they support those solutions—and for those who have said, “That’s all we can do.” It has challenged the sense of what is possible. I know a lot of environmentalists have been really excited by that. I’m on the board of 350.org, and they’ll be doing more and more work on the structural barriers to climate action. The issue is why? Why do we keep losing? Who is in our way? We’re talking about challenging corporate personhood and financing of elections—and this is huge for environmental groups to be moving out of their boxes. I think all of the green organizations who take corporate money are terrified about this. For them, Occupy Wall Street has been a game changer.
What comes after communism and capitalism? What’s your vision of the way forward?
It’s largely about changing the mix in a mixed economy. Maybe one day we’ll have a perfect “ism” that’s post-communism and -capitalism. But if we look at the countries that have done the most to seriously meet the climate challenge, they’re social democracies like Scandinavia and the Netherlands. They’re countries with a strong social sphere. They’re mixed economies. Markets are a big part, but not the only part, of their economies. Can we meet our climate targets in a system that requires exponential growth to continue? Furthermore, where is the imperative of growth coming from? What part of our economy is demanding growth year after year?
If you’re a locally based business, you don’t need continual growth year after year. What requires that growth is the particular brand of corporate capitalism—shareholders who aren’t involved in the business itself. That part of our economy has to shrink, and that’s terrifying people who are deeply invested in it. We have a mixed economy, but it’s one in which large corporations are controlled by outside investors, and we won’t change that mix until that influence is reduced.
Is that possible?
It is if we look at certain choke points like corporate personhood and financing, and it makes sense for us to zero in on aspects of our system that give corporations massive influence. Another is media concentration. If you had publicly financed elections, you’d have to require public networks to give airtime to candidates. So the fact that networks charge so much is why presidential elections cost more than a billion dollars, which means you have to go to the 1 percent to finance the elections. These issues are all linked with the idea that corporations have the same free-speech rights as people, so there would also be more restrictions on corporate speech.
Entrepreneur and writer Peter Barnes has argued that what’s missing is adequate incorporation of the “commons sector” in the economy—public goods like natural and social capital. “Capitalism 3.0” he calls it, which we’d achieve not by privatizing these goods but by creating new institutions such as public-asset trusts. What’s your opinion of this approach?
I definitely think it’s clear that the road we’ve been on—turning to the private sector to run our essential services—has proven disastrous. In many cases, the reason why it was so easy to make arguments in favor of privatization was because public institutions were so cut off and unresponsive and the public didn’t feel a sense of ownership. The idea that a private corporation has valued you as a customer was a persuasive argument. Now it turns out both models have failed. So this idea that there is a third way—neither private nor state-run public—is out there.
Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 by Common Dreams
UNITED NATIONS, March 27, 2012, 2012 (IPS) – World leaders may face an unexpected challenge come June, when a major global summit on sustainable development will be held in Brazil. Unlike during previous summits, these leaders might have trouble making promises they are unable to keep.
“We are really tired of declarations,” Antonio Herman Benjamin, judge of the Supreme Court of Brazil, told an international gathering of legal experts here Monday. Despite some progress made since the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most governments have failed to fulfil their obligations.
As a result, the court has launched a new initiative to promote role of law in advancing sustainable development. It is known as the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Stability.
The Congress’s scores of members from around the world include senior judges, prosecutors, legal scholars, auditors and development experts. They plan to focus on the problems and obstacles that hinder the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements.
Organisers said the World Congress intends to lead to the formulation and presentation of key guiding principles for strengthening the role of environmental law in achieving sustainability through the outcomes of this year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, commonly referred to as Rio+20, and beyond.
Among the measures that are likely to be discussed are the roles of courts and evolving environmental jurisprudence.
Reflecting on the slow progress on meeting sustainable development goals, Benjamin explained that in many cases, environmental policies are formulated in a way that lacks requirements for guidance on implementation.
“Laws do not mean anything when they are not effectively implemented,” he said. “We need to close the gap between legal scholarship, parliaments and judges, because what is written can be ignored.”
Despite the numerous agreements that have been negotiated since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the human environment and the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, experts noted that “only limited” progress has made towards achieving sustainable development goals.
Only a few multilateral agreements, such as the Montreal Protocol on the Protection of the Ozone Layer, which has precipitated a 98 percent drop in the consumption of ozone depleting substances, have produced meaningful results.
“The Montreal Protocol is a prime example of what can be achieved when countries work together effectively on agreed legal frameworks,” said Amina Mohamed, deputy executive director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The Congress, according to Mohamed, would focus on the actions needed from legal practitioners to overcome challenges and promote the transition to a low-carbon, efficient and socially inclusive green economy founded on the rule of law.
In recent days, discussions at the United Nations about what needs to be done at the Rio Conference have indicated that many civil society groups and development activists remain as frustrated and disappointed with governments’ roles as they were before.
An ever-worsening crisis
“I think the Rio+20 process risks being undermined by vested interests and powerful governments,” said Michael Dorsey, professor of global environmental policy at Dartmouth College, who has attended scores of international meetings on development and environment since the 1992 Earth Summit.
The ecological crisis – from resource depletion to pollution, loss of biodiversity and an unfolding climate crisis – has worsened since 1992. Marginalisation and exclusion are on the rise as well, he told IPS, although some countries have made progress in the social dimension.
In major agreements such as the Rio conventions, sustainable development is considered to require fundamental shifts in three areas: climate change, biodiversity and land degradation, he added. “The Rio+20 institutional framework needs to facilitate the interface and integration of the three pillars.”
As the host of Rio+20, the Brazilian government, along with members of the country’s judiciary and auditing community, is supporting the Congress’s initiative.
This year, the Congress will convene from June 1 to June 3, on the eve of Rio+20. The outcome document from the Congress will be presented at the summit.
The event will be co-hosted by the Association of Magistrates of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Its partners include the Organisation of American States, South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Interpol, World Bank, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.