In the years to come- assuming our species survives the inevitable fallout- the epic failure of last week’s crucial Rio+20 summit may well go down in history as the worst crime against the natural world mankind has ever committed.
The UN conference on sustainable development, held in Rio de Janeiro, had the catchy slogan ‘The future we want.’ It supposedly had the aim of drawing up tough new measures on clean air and water, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, green transport and economy, deforestation and protection of marine life, as well as tackling the vitally important human issues of famine, poverty and desertification in developing nations.
Since the first UN summit 20 years ago, the number of starving people has risen- despite much more food being produced globally. This is mostly caused by increasing food prices, which in turn have been driven by speculation- i.e, the pathological greed of financial traders in the food sector- and more and more essential grains are being diverted from hungry people to feed animals for mass-produced cheap meat in the affluent West, or to manufacture ‘green’ biofuels.
In addition, global biodiversity has continued its steady decline, carbon dioxide emissions have risen steeply, and the deforestation of forests and pollution of the oceans continues unabated with the great Pacific garbage patch growing bigger by the day.
But after days of meetings, with hundreds of delegates flown in on luxury private jets, the summit was nothing more or less than the ‘rubberstamping’ of previous unfulfilled ‘commitments’. Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo summed up the outcome as a ‘polluters charter that will cook the planet’.
In short, our leaders have done nothing to prevent this out-of-control ecological catastrophe. A clear promise to protect our oceans from over-fishing and pollution was not made. Goals for clean renewable energy and the eradication of hunger and poverty were not set. The outrageous subsidisation of the fossil fuel industry will not end.
It was, in short, just another spectacle. Rome is burning, Nero is fiddling, and even as the putrid smell of thick black smoke becomes overwhelming, the hypnotised masses are still only demanding bread and circuses.
The circus came in the form of the Euro 2012 football tournament, where European leaders shirked their urgent responsibilities in favour of cheering on their teams from the comfort of the VIP box.
But why do we expect anything different? These leaders are corruptible, power hungry scoundrels who long since forgot their vows to society or the dream of a better future- ‘The future we want’. They don’t work for us, they never did, and the sooner we come to terms with this sobering fact, the better we can address the core issues in the struggle ahead.
In a Capitalist system, everything has a price tag. Want to influence government policy, even if your corporation is killing the earth and all living creatures? Simple, just contribute to the election campaign, or why not pay a politician for access and come to a cosy agreement: I’ll scratch your back with a few million dollars, and you hold off those pesky activists and refuse to ratify anything green, lest my profit margins fall this year- jeez, anything less than $600 billion just won’t please the shareholders.
Politicians are simply the actors on the world stage; they are but one small, visible part of the Capitalist machine. The rest- those CEOs and financiers who fund the draconian laws we are forced to adhere to and block those that limit profit margins, those who are maiming and murdering everything that is beautiful, are hidden in the wings with their chequebooks ready.
If this sounds paranoid, take some time to familiarise yourself with the crucial work of Maplight, a US organisation which-as the name suggests- illuminates the immoral and murky connections between campaign contributions and legislative votes in an unprecedented way. One shameless example of how donations from agribusinesses affected a crucial US senate bill on conservation and poverty versus growth in the soya and bio fuels industry can be found here.
Capitalism doesn’t care about you. Capitalism doesn’t care about the mass extinction of species, or the death of ecosystems vital to human survival. Capitalism cares about Growth. Profit. High-return investments. What’s it worth on the stock market? What’s in it for me? These are the only considerations of this sick, sociopathological system. Starving farmers pushed out of the market by Wal-Mart or the devastation of the rain forests and oceans are simply inconvenient side-effects of a machine that only knows how to destroy in order to grow.
As Ljubodrag Duci Simonovic, Serbian activist, philosopher and writer, puts it: ‘Capitalism is based on ecocidal terrorism. It has become a self-reproducing mechanism of destruction, which, to the living world, represents what a malignant tumour represents to an organism: it extends its own lifetime by devouring all that provides humankind with a chance for survival. Man’s right to freedom and life is subordinated to the right of Capitalism to survival.
‘It is becoming more and more obvious that Capitalism creates an increasingly deep social and ecological crisis that it cannot control. When private property is the absolute principle, then the worst crimes are legal and legitimate if they serve to prevent the disintegration of the ruling order. Fanatics of Capitalism are the worst sort of terrorists; they are destroying life on earth.’
Evidence of this can be seen in the opening paragraphs of Power and Accountability, an online book published in 1991 detailing the problems of balancing corporate responsibility with the everyday routine of running a big business for profit. Robert AG Monks, chairman of the board at Boston safe deposit and trust company, wrote of his dilemma:
‘I was driving through Maine one late summer day when I stopped to admire a river running through a pretty wooded area. I noticed big, slick bubbles of industrial discharge corroding the vegetation along the riverbank, and I wondered: Who wants this to happen? Not the owners of the company, the shareholders. Not the managers or employees, who want to live in a healthy environment. Not the board of directors, not the community, not the government. I could not think of anyone connected with the company emitting the effluent that wanted the result I saw.
‘This was an unintended consequence of the corporate structure. The very aspects of the company’s design that made it so robust, so able to survive changes in leadership, in the economy, in technology, were the aspects that led to this result pollution that no one wanted, but everyone would pay for. Those of us who managed money on behalf of others had the opportunity, and the responsibility, to tell management that this activity was unacceptable. But none of us were doing it.’
Monks also quotes Senator Barry Goldwater, who stated ‘PACs (corporate contributions to government) set the country’s political agenda and control nearly every candidate’s position on the important issues of the day.’
The conclusion? That ties between multinationals and politicians have not only killed representative democracy, but are destroying all forms of life on earth and putting our very survival in jeopardy. ‘Corporations determine the air we breathe and the quality of the water we drink, yet they are not accountable to anyone.’
It’s a depressing revelation: if these powerful men can’t or won’t stop this runaway train, a train which is heading towards oblivion at breakneck speed, what can we do?
We can and we must continue to fight. In the streets, in the form of peaceful protest: because although the elite are not listening, activism shines a light on the corruption of democracy at grassroots level. We can fight them at the ballot box, by only voting Green, or better yet by making blank votes a protest at the system as a whole. We can boycott the offending corporations and pressure groups (in addition to Maplight for US citizens, ethical consumer is a great place to find out whose products you should avoid).
And above all, we can love the natural world, and we can teach our children to do the same. Hope is all we have; when we lose that, we lose everything. We have to believe that the failures of our generation may become the inspiration for our children and theirs to take up the challenge of creating a fair, just and peaceful world where politicians can not be bought, but instead work to protect the life and well being of all human beings and this beautiful planet we call home.