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Michael Bell, "The Big Picture Look at the Planet"

Michael Bell writes

"The Big Picture Look at the Planet"

Mihael Bell

The problems facing the planet, which are the result of the activity of its people, in part, stem from the fact that we tend to compartmentalise the problems, put into separate boxes hunger, terrorism, disease, global warming, growth.
We do not deal with all matters as part of the whole because it is too complex.The land surfaces of the Earth may be 50 million square miles of which 20 million square miles may be suitable for tree planting, if it were not for the fact that this same area must also accommodate the majority of the 6 billion people on earth together with their food production areas, cities and infrastructure of all kinds. Added to that it takes 100 years plus to grow a forest. We, the peoples of the planet, have probably burned (added to greenhouse gases) several hundred if not thousands of earth forests, that have over millions of years been stored as fossil fuels, in the last 100 years.

In the developed world, the electricity usage per household alone contributes between 7 tonnes and 20 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. Then there are emissions from the, construction sector, transport sector, military sector, space sector, farming sector etc.

There is no way we can counteract greenhouse emissions by tree planting. It is too slow and would not equal the emissions caused by electricity usage of the households in the non majority world. Carbon credits are a joke and the joke is on us, for trusting our governments and accepting band aid solutions without critical examination.

Money is an illusion. It is an illusion because it depends on community confidence. It can evaporate as it did in 1929 and in Argentina more recently and it can grow exponentially. It can depart from the country in a nano second. Matters such as capital growth, unearned income, mortgages, superannuation, investments and income ultimately depend upon consumption and depletion of capital (the resources of the earth), which is the only capital which is not an illusion. We need something more solid in which to put our trust for the future.

Putting our trust in money is short sighted, but where the investment goes is of major concern. Profitable corporations are major contributors to damage to the environment. They are often the cause directly or indirectly of hunger, lack of health services and infrastructure, poverty wages in the majority world, land mines in Kosovo and Africa. There will never be peace in the world while chronic hunger exists and wars are created to sell arms.

We have enough problems with natural disasters, locusts in Africa in November, floods, drought etc. and unstoppable global warming without multinationals, the World Bank, IMF, WTO and our local corporations creating additional human misery. We must in the developed world reappraise our investment decisions in the interests of peace and our long term security.

Money may be an illusion, but growth of any kind is unsustainable. It simply cannot be maintained. For example, if one cent were invested at the time of Christ at the average rate of 5% compounding quarterly for 2000 years, that is for 8000 quarters, the amount would be 1.446x10 to the 41st dollars, which, converted to tonnes of gold at $430 dollars per ounce, would be equal to two trillion spheres each the size of the earth. Yet by 1430 AD it was only one sphere of gold the size of the earth, which has a mass of 5.98x10 to the 21st tonnes. From this it may be deduced that money does not relate to any tangible thing, product, goods or service, least of all the earth’s resources. Also, that compound interest and growth of any kind be it population or goods and services is unsustainable.
No country on earth, at this point of time, is attempting to change direction with respect to growth.

Up until 1804 the earths population was less than one billion. Now our population increases by one billion every 12 years. China is growing faster than any country in the history of the world. It has the seven most polluted cities in the world. China has only 7% of the worlds arable land but she has 25% of the population. The record floods in China have been exacerbated by clearing steep hillsides and terracing to provide subsistence for poor farmers who, in many cases, only make $25 per week.
The temperature of the earth has only risen 3,1/2 degrees since the last ice age. Now we are anticipating up to 6 degrees in the next 100 years.

The burning of fossil fuels is the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases and therefore global warming and of this transport is the sector which produces the most. The major car manufacturers are gearing up to produce more vehicles than ever before. Infrastructure is being provided on a scale that assumes that cars and other forms of transport will never end.

Cities are expanding, being reconstructed and spreading into new areas, usually onto productive agricultural land. Ever increasing numbers of rural workers and poor farmers are leaving their jobs and farms and moving into shanty towns around the cities, particularly but not necessarily, in the majority world.

Consumption of goods and services is measured by the growth of GDP. It is considered that a growth rate of the order of 3% is necessary to maintain employment at a static level. So that is probably what is meant by "sustainable, non inflationary growth", heard from the mouth of a happy treasurer.
None of this includes the effects of military and space projects, including weapons, aircraft, tanks, military vehicles and missiles manufacture.

The imbalance in the distribution of fossil fuels has been the cause of much power play and conflict in the world. The middle east has 56% of estimated oil reserves and uses 6% of that oil, Asia has 2.9% and uses 26%, the US has 1.8% and uses 25%. Motor vehicles account for one third of global use and half of that oil use is in the US.

If oil had been rationed in 1900 with a view to extending its use for 1000 years, it would have postponed climate change but not eliminated it and the majority world would not have been given its share (no change there). Now that the clock is ticking, it is too late for that option.

Oil revenue funding has tended to create authoritarian governments and the more reliant that, economies and government are on oil revenue, the less ordinary people profit from their oil reserves. While the minority world has profited, the majority world has become poorer, its food supplies diminished, its health deteriorated, its peoples dispossessed, caused by us, the unthinking peoples of the planet together with the multinational corporations and corrupt governments.

Well meaning organisations, governments and the UN, attempting to bring about a better world are taking a variety of actions and initiatives, including:- peace keeping, food aid (an unfortunate result of which has been the dumping of surplice grain which further depletes the ability of farmers in famine states to provide food), refugee placement, campaigns for justice and human rights, carbon credits, the Kyoto Protocol, education. health initiatives, bush fire control, flood mitigation, land care. tree planting, spreading democracy (not by force), creating the World Bank with a charter to help poor countries but which in practice enriched corrupt governments and large corporations, even car manufacturers developing fuel efficient cars and hydrogen cells.

Most of these initiatives are noble in their intention and it is certainly not that they should cease, on the contrary, but without radically changing our life styles globally, our aspirations, our consumption, our use of fossil fuels, our attachment to growth and our being committed to self sufficiency, to sustainability, to zero growth, we are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To commence the change in direction, enemies should sit down together and talk. This is difficult for democracies because opposition parties will always represent it as weakness. However, as Johan Galtung has said, initial contact should be by representatives in secret. In this way a satisfactory solution is possible and may be presented to the leaders, who can declare the result before the opposition knows about it. (reference the Cuban Missile Crisis)

In the minority world, it is more difficult to coalesce individuals, grass roots organisations, be they be fundamentalist or environmentalist to reduce consumption, change life styles, use their purchasing power and vote wisely than to campaign/pressurise governments to change direction. (reference Vietnam anti war campaign). Campaigners love protests, marches, sit ins, blockades but not making the changes necessary themselves.

Even if there is no consensus to change the directions necessary to counteract global warming and human misery world wide, a major part of fossil fuel consumption should immediately be directed towards relocating towns, suburbs and nations, subject to inundation, to higher ground.

And in addition to relocating the peoples in areas which will be affected by a rise in sea level and those where increased natural disasters are likely to occur, it must be a high priority to reduce fossil fuel consumption and generally improve the human condition by;

1. Stopping and cancelling all military and space projects

2. Stopping the sale of all existing weapons and military hardware and decommissioning the rest.

3. Requiring all projects carried out by multinational corporations in the majority world to be subject to the approval of a reconstituted UN, which has no Security Council ( how words are misappropriated) or veto and which is fully controlled by the General Assembly. Every privatised authority, in the majority and minority world, be it water, electricity, gas, transport, telecommunications has the potential to become a new, or part of, a multinational corporation.

4. Reassessing the war on terror. States must accept that the initiative to stop the cycle is in their hands, there being no perceived benefit or moral imperative for the terrorists to do so.
As Arandhati Roy has said "We know that terrorism is only the privatisation of war. That terrorists are the free marketers of war. They believe that the legitimate use of violence is not the sole prerogative of the State. It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and occupation.

Michael Bell, Gordonville NSW.


Documentary Series-World in Balance-China Revs Up, SBS
Sydney Peace Prize Lecture 2004 by Arandhati Roy
New Internationalist 361, James Lovelock and Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung is a veteran peace activist and conflict resolution specialist; 2004 Hayden Williams Fellow at the Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtin University; Director of "Transcend"; founder of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo.

James Lovelock is an independent scientist, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis which considers the Earth as a self-regulating organism, and a member of EFN — the association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy — www.ecolo.org