Takeover threat

  • 30/10/2002

Takeover threat STATE OF THE WORLD 2002 (US $15.95), VITAL SIGNS 2002 (US $14.95); ECO-ECONOMY: BUILDING AN ECONOMY FOR THE EARTH, 2001 (US $14.95) . Lester R Brown; THE EARTH POLICY READER . Lester R. Brown, Janet Larsen and Bernie Fishlowitz-Roberts, 2002 (US $16), all published by W W Norton & Company, New York and London; TANGLED UP IN BLUE: CORPORATE PARTNERSHIPS AT THE UNITED NATIONS, published by CorpWatch, San Francisco, 2000 (US $2); EARTHSUMMIT.BIZ: THE CORPORATE TAKEOVER OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . Kenny Bruno and Joshua Karliner . published by FoodFirst . Oakland, California . 2002 (US $12.95)

The recent UN Summit in Johannesburg was by all accounts a monumental flop. When you consider just the fossil-fuel energy expended to transport some 60,000 people there and back and to house and feed them there, the earth's atmosphere could have been spared an estimated 100 tonnes or more of greenhouse gases and air pollution, if they had stayed home.

The writing on the wall was clearly spelt out in 2000 in 'Tangled Up in Blue', showing how transnational corporations have tightened their grip on the UN, perhaps the only global agency that could offset the overwhelming power of the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and other forces of corporate globalisation. And the just-published ' The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development' by Kenny Bruno & Joshua Karliner brings us up to date with a close look at the ten years since the first Earth Summit, at Rio de Janeiro, of UN "partnering" strategy with some of the most polluting corporations in the world, including British Petroleum, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell, Ford, Mitsubishi, Philip Morris, Aventis, Nike, Rio Tinto, Unilever, Norsk Hydro, Bayer, and Eskom. The authors call on the UN to use its prestige and influence to champion the rights of the world's peoples instead of the rights of transnational corporations.

'State of the World 2002' and its companion 'Vital Signs 2002' are very useful reports issued yearly by Worldwatch Institute, the highly respected Washington DC-based research group. Both are special Word Summit editions. The former addresses the key issues - climate change, food and agriculture, pollution, international tourism, population growth, the link between resources and repression, and reshaping global governance. As valuable background, 'Vital Signs' provides in-depth indicators and statistics of "chronic trends that define the health of people and the planet...(that) now point to a dangerous instability that can only be righted by concerted efforts to create a more secure and sustainable world".

Among the findings in this edition: Global pesticide sales have increased 15-fold since 1950, but farmers are still losing as great a share of their crops to pests as they were 50 years ago. Sugar-filled "soda" drinks have become the third most commercial beverage in the world, after tea and milk, displacing healthier drinks and contributing to the rapid increase in global obesity rates. Revenues of the US biotech sector, which dominates the world market, have increased from under US $5 billion in 1989 to US $25 billion in 2000, firmly insinuating biotech into agriculture, pharmaceuticals and other industries.

As founder and former president of Worldwatch and, more recently, of its sister Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown is well-equipped to provide a detailed roadmap on how to get from from the present self-destructing global economic system to an eco-economy that respects the principles of ecology. For Brown, this requires 1) restructuring the global economy so that it will, for example, incorporate the cost of climate disruption, air pollution, acid rain, and other environmental ills as a tax on the producers of those conditions; 2) shifting from a carbon-based to a hydrogen-based energy economy; 3) re-designing cities for people, not for cars; 4) creating sustainable forms of agriculture and of forest and water management; 5) ensuring that our social institutions are capable of bringing about the changes required to achieve these objectives in the "time available" - say one generation or 25-30 years. He is mindful of the threat to the world economy posed by countries such as China continuing its American-style industrialisation.

Despite these obstacles, Brown believes that it is possible, under UN's leadership, to restructure the global economy to make it compatible with the earth's ecosystems so that economic progress can continue. One must ask, however, if he believes the UN can maintain its independence from the ever-growing influence of its "partnership" with transnational corporations, as described in 'Tangled Up in Blue' and With this caveat, 'Eco-Economy' offers a thoughtful and constructive approach as to how the restructuring can be achieved.

Hot off the press, 'Earth Policy Reader' complements all of the above-mentioned books with important updates on the economic costs of ecological deficits, especially as they relate to desertification in China, the fast-growing worldwide water deficit and the rising costs of climate change. It also provides twelve eco-economy indicators to track: population growth, the decline in economic growth, grain harvests, fish catches, and water availability, the increase in carbon emissions, global temperatures, and ice melting, and on the positive side, the increases in wind electric, photovoltaic generation, and bicycle production.

Jon Naar is a US-based urban ecologist, renewable energy specialist and environmental journalist

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