No rest for reds under the beds

On Friday China published details of its five-year roadmap for renewable energy, reinforcing its ambition to lead the world in wind technology.

On Saturday a leader in The Times of India declared that “the greatest problem facing India is global warming.”

On Monday the Financial Times launched a major series of articles under the banner “Capitalism in Crisis.” After two days and tens of thousands of words of soul-searching anxiety, there’s not been a single reference to global warming.

Nor is there any acknowledgement of broader environmental limits or the billion people experiencing hunger and extreme poverty. And I’m afraid that Africa has disappeared under the radar as well.

In these three studies I see the whole of 2012 taking shape. In Europe and North America the response to the economic crisis will proceed as though the natural resources of the planet are infinite. By contrast, the new tiger economies will demonstrate, however imperfectly, that they understand how a sustainable economic model is part of the solution to the global financial doldrums.

The FT articles add up to an introspective review of the social contract that allows inequality to coexist with extreme wealth creation. They wheel out the familiar spectrum of socio-economic “isms” that exist between extreme right and left, daring to whisper the fearful prospect of anti-capitalism and communism.

“The diverse groups that campaign under the banner of Occupy Wall Street contain some genuine socialists,” confides Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs columnist. The message is clear – wise bankers should prepare to lock up their daughters.

It’s a measure of the failure of environmental and global justice campaigners that this most influential business paper debates the world’s future in the language of the 1950s. The Durban climate conference was a further wake-up call that our movement could be sidelined until 2020.

The challenge for NGOs in 2012 is to penetrate the bastions of big finance, not just through protest but in the specific content of campaigns for change.

The Robin Hood campaign for a financial transaction tax was a valuable start. It certainly merits a better fate than its hijack by Sarkozy and Merkel who appear more likely to spend the proceeds on bailing out themselves rather than the global poor.

The campaign to regulate commodities trading for the cause of global food security by the UK-based World Development Movement is way ahead of the times and deserves success. It goes beyond concerns about inequality, reminding us that inequality is a relative concept which overlooks the absolute poverty and hunger that exist at the bottom of the pile.

Capitalism and globalisation need not be the enemy of the people. They could be our salvation if only we start from the right place.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK