The Switch • February 2011
Switches tend to come fast, unpredicted and with far reaching consequences. The wave of democracy movements in the Arab world is reminding us of the huge potential for sudden drastic changes, if the grounds are fertile for them. Democracy, however, is not a guarantee for a sustainable society, rather a precondition. It's quite clear people are rightly asking for a say in how things are organized, but it remains to be seen if the revolutions go in the direction of more or less sustainability. In Egypt, some signs already point to big changes in the role of the government. Under increasing pressure, the prime minister was forced to abandon some IMF prescriptions and restart social programs that target the poor. With some 40% of Egyptians living from less than 2$ a day and food price inflation at 17%, that is not a trivial measure. The trend of governance in Egypt is switching back towards a more active government that intervenes in basic services such as food, health care and housing, to cut the sharpest edges of an increasingly unequal society. Some also argue that rising joblessness in both Tunisia and Egypt played a big part in the anger expressed on the streets, but it remains unclear how the new regimes will deal with this. Egypt is not (yet) reviving it's socialist past, but it will be very interesting to see where and how 'people's power' will change the fundamentals of the economy and also: if the same trend becomes visible in other toppled regimes. In any case, as the next article will explain, Egypt any many other countries will be forced to rethink their strategies on how to deal with one of the most basic issues a government should deal with: food production.
Autonomy and purpose also appear in a new report from the NEF (New Economics Foundation): Measuring our Progress. According to the NEF “A flourishing life involves good relationships, autonomy, competence and a sense of purpose, as well as feelings of happiness and satisfaction.”
The UK based think-and-do thank has a tradition in guiding policy makers away from the usual focus on BNP growth by providing them with alternatives. The report feeds into a debate in the UK, where PM David Cameron was quoted as saying that “We have got to recognize officially, that economic growth is a means to an end”. But to what end? At a time where this debate is alive in institutions like the EU, World Bank and UN, this new report will probably become a reference.
While NEF is saying “forget more BNP”, Jeanine Schreurs is saying “forget more”. In her book “Living with Less: Prospects for Sustainability”, she asks how living with less contributes to sustainability. Among other things, she came up with a behavioral change model (the Transformation Model Living with Less) and an extensive profile of the famous Dutch downshifters. Her propositions focus on the stigma around sustainable lifestyles. “To study sustainability is quite a job. To practice it is an even greater challenge. The social appreciation it yields as yet seems inversely proportional to the effort it costs.” With five years of work on this book / PhD dissertation, and a long history of bringing sustainability into practice, she does have something to say about the subject.
*It's official now: Rio2012 will take place on 4, 5 and 6 June 2012.
*There's a 4 page Booklet putting down the ABC of Rio2012
*For much more on Rio2012: check out the bi-weekly newsletter dedicated to the event. It has been renamed to Rio 2012: Making it Happen and from now on, all issues are available online.
*The website for Rio2012 was revamped in February: www.uncsd2012.org
On the 24th of February, the 26th Session of the Governing Council ended with Environment Ministers adopting 17 decision on issues such as International Environmental Governance and a stronger international cooperation in response to an environmental crisis. Summaries of the outcome can be found here. UNEP also presented its latest report in the build-up to Rio2012: “Towards a Green Economy”. For those interested in what the Major Groups as a whole and the NGOs in specific said, all the statements can be found on this link. All NGOs agreed that talking about a green economy is only usefull when that includes a discussion on sufficiency. “If we want to link environmental degradation and a fair management of resources we cannot deny that the Global North has to reduce the use of natural resources in absolute amounts. So only focussing on efficiency will not be enough, we have to talk on sufficiency as well.”
We continue this newsletter with another article that stresses the importance of governance, although we move from the national to the global scale. As part of its program on sustainable development governance towards Rio+20 - SDG2012, Stakeholderforum asked eminent experts in global governance for sustainable development to come up with papers like “Environment Institutions for the 21st century”. Why global institutes are relevant? Read the next article...
We're back to the oil crisis now, although this one is from a different kind. Chevron has just been convicted by a court in Ecuador in a case that involves more than 30.000 plaintiffs, increased cancer rates and huge swaths of once-pristine rainforest soaked in oil. The conviction brings the debate on making multinational corporations accountable for the ecological debt they create in the spotlights. Unfortunately, Chevron no longer has assets to confiscate in Ecuador and the company has successfully appealed at courts in New York and The Hague to prevent confiscations in other countries. It does not seem ready to pay the bill, a bill that is only a third of what a court appointed expert estimates to be the real bill. For this reason, the plaintiffs are also appealing. Maybe the defence should look into media laws as well. A recent add by Chevron read like this: “Oil companies should support the communities they're a part of. Healthy businesses need healthy communities.” For more information on the case, we refer to the few sources that don't run adds from Chevron: http://www.chevroninecuador.com/ and http://chevrontoxico.com/
In yet another hopeful development, court cases against large climate polluters just came one step closer. For the first time, researchers have dared to quantify the part climate change played in increasing the risk of flooding. So far, any causality between pollution, climate change and specific natural events was always considered 'unscientific'. But according to a report in The Guardian, two articles published in Nature, will have far reaching consequences “by making lawsuits for compensation against energy companies more likely to succeed.” In our December issue, we argued that the climate agreement in Cancun was so bad for the planet that the path followed by Bolivia, going to the courts, is probably the better option. This will surely give them, as well as the victims of Hurricane Katrina, who also have a court case running, renewed hopes. And as it happens, we hereby end this Switch with another hopeful message!