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by George Porter

In the course of the last few centuries, following hundreds of millions of years of evolution since life first appeared on Earth, the human species, endowed with dexterity and the power of reasoning has broken barriers to knowledge in discovering the structure of life forms and the chemical processes of interaction amongst the elements comprising the biosphere. But human intelligence and the ability to manipulate the natural environment, without fully understanding the balance of nature and the degree of human dependence on natural systems, has allowed the human race to so exploit and damage the natural world that it is in great danger of destroying the very systems that made life possible in the first place.

Depletion of the natural resource base and critical damage to ecosystems through human development, combined with growing human numbers and unsustainable production volumes, now threaten the capacity of the biosphere to continue to provide for human demands.

The developing crisis has become focused on two disparate forces whose interests are far apart, and that will become increasingly polarised. The dominant group comprising the adherents of a free global market and a minimal role for government, comprises a very small minority. An even smaller elite are gaining control of the world economy and already exercise strong political leverage. They do not accept the reality of the environmental crisis and advocate sustained economic growth as their flagship.

Opposing the new commercial money-centred oligarchy is the burgeoning global people's movement to restore true democracy, human justice and environmental sustainability, that is working for people-centred development.

The current crusade by the New Right to free the market and the development process from all restraints is exacerbating the crisis, by ignoring ecological and social reality and adopting sustained economic growth through an unconstrained market. Restraints are not seen just as taxes on the wealthy, but any constraint on the movement of capital and investment across national boundaries; and any national movement to replace repressive governments with democratically elected ones.

The repression of democracy and removal of checks and balances has inevitably led to growing social and income inequalities, and human hardships, suffering, starvation and armed conflict. The speed of change has been rapid. Its full significance has gone largely unrecognised by government and business in the countries of the North. The policy of the new economic regime is to place a strong rein on the poorer developing countries by stifling moves to challenge the new economic ideology. At the same time, policy is to roll back earlier social gains towards a democratic, just and caring society.

Immorality is replacing morality and ethical codes of conduct; competition is replacing cooperation; mutual care and respect for one another is being replaced by conflict and social dislocation. National governments are being deprived of their functions as the power of nations is transferred to the private profit sector.

The decline process intensified in 1980 when the New Right took over in the U.S. It is now running out of control. But there is another dimension to current economic directions. The present dominant human economic system and the dogma on which it is based, violates ethical and moral values and principles which both western and eastern religions have laid down to guide humankind over the centuries. Amongst these are the ten commandments, the last of which forbids covetousness - to covet wealth for its own sake. To covet is to desire to possess what is not one's own.

The four causes of social and environmental deterioration have been:

  • Western scientism as the overriding faith in science rather than nature, to provide for human needs.
  • Western developmentalism - the drive to change nature and natural systems through the developmental process, rather than living in harmony with nature as the provider of sustainable livelihoods.
  • The structure of the nation state, which has kept humankind divided into competing communities, whose self-interests have been defended by armed conflict.
  • The demise of moral and ethical precepts amongst the power elite now spreading throughout society worldwide.

These four basic causes have resulted in:

  • War, insecurity and militarism.
  • Persistence of poverty and polarisation of wealth.
  • Denial of human rights.
  • Unprecedented and rapid environmental destruction.
  • Creation of a globalised economy.

The means of moving towards people-centred development through a process of social transformation requires successful, popular democratic mobilisation. Paradoxically, it is modern communications technology that provides the means of achieving the necessary critical mass of human concern that will force change. But this technology is being exploited by the corporations to manipulate people to their own ends.

Barriers to social transformation include:

  • Growth of personal and corporate power.
  • Removal of safeguards to wealth accumulation which have allowed exponential economic growth and concentration of wealth and power.
  • Lack of leadership to challenge effectively the dominant paradigm of the free-market and its lack of compassion and morality, together with failure to recognise scientific realities of limits of growth.
  • Diversion of resources to armaments and military activities.
  • Indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals and nuclear technology.
  • The drive to increase production and hence consumption.
  • Disempowerment of the United Nations.
  • The policies and powers of the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, TNC's and major global financial institutions and backers.
  • The emerging global economy and the creation of artificial wealth which allows speculation that places the stability of the global economy at risk.
  • Failure to recognise the inherent value of natural resources or the integrity of ecosystems in economic policy.
  • The policies of the US Republican Party and other hyper-conservative associations whose policies are rolling back the social gains of past years in a quest for total dominance of world markets.
  • Failure of citizens movements to work together effectively.
  • Failure generally to view world problems holistically and in a long-term perspective.
  • Failure to enforce human and animal rights.

Scientific knowledge and statistical information exist in sufficient range and depth to provide overwhelming evidence to support the general statement set out above. Such information must be made freely available, and in particular to decision makers, policy analysts and their advisers.

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