Green Lantern: UNGA Informal Debate on ‘Harmony with Nature”

23 Apr

As a nod to Earth Day 2013, the UN General Assembly was the setting for an ‘informal debate’ focused on ways to more effectively promote planetary ‘harmony’.

A half-full conference room listened to a short presentation from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more passionate speeches by the UN General Assembly President, Mr. Vuk Jeremić of Serbia, and by Ministers from Bolivia and Ecuador, two ‘left-leaning’ governments that tend to exercise a great deal of control over national economic outcomes.

There were some valuable reminders shared by these four speakers during what was a bit of an ideologically-imbalanced opening session.   From our own organizational standpoint, it is good to be reminded that consumption in the developed world is largely optional and has increasingly deleterious impacts on natural health in all global regions.  In addition, we should recognize that too much of the ‘green’ movement has been co-opted by those who seek to institutionalize levels of developed world consumption while attempting to ‘manage’ levels of growth in less developed nations.

At the debate, there were also renewed calls for a ‘universal declaration’ of the rights of nature tied to an alleged, if helpful, ‘right to recovery’ for nature that has been ravaged by a preponderance of short-term economic resource use disconnected from any reasonable capacity for future generations to access (and preserve) the same resources.

Our economic situation has been increasingly dark in recent times – inequities and shortages abound, as do the toxic effects of our mindless exploitation.    While it is not yet clear how ‘nature rights’ could be properly identified and enforced, nor is it clear how economic reform would result in locally based economies rather than state structures attempting to micro-manage large scale economic development, it is critically important to shine a light on alternatives that are urgent, viable and fair.  Needless to say, we don’t have sufficient alternatives at present. We need to keep the lantern lit as much as possible.

An office like ours has very limited access to deliberations on economic futures.   From our experience in meetings such as this one, it is clear that States too have limited options, more limited than they generally acknowledge.  Economic decisions, more and more, take place beyond the reach of states in board rooms and investment houses.  Whatever one thinks of “Occupy’ and other movements to expose economic inequities, including in economic decision making, it is clear that this current system is being driven by self-interested and unaccountable forces.   If such forces were merely accumulating wealth, there would be sufficient cause for general concern.  That accumulated wealth is driving so much planetary dysfunction should be cause for the loudest general alarm.

Simply put, there are biological limits to economic growth.   And those limits are not being acknowledged, let alone respected.   As one of the ministers from Ecuador wondered aloud and with some urgency, “Who precisely is going to bell this cat?”  How will that be accomplished? The cat has a defensive, nasty disposition and sharp claws.  It will take some real courage to bell it.  Until that happens, though, the rest of us will largely remain ignorant (willfully or otherwise) of the ways that our lives are about to become more painful and toxic than they need to be!

Our collective disenchantment with our economic system seems to grow daily.   At the same time, our resistance to economic change borders on the neurotic.   We have deep addictions to unsustainable and largely optional patters of consumption that remain stubborn in their remedial application and are also quite devastating to our long-term biological prospects.

On Earth Day, we need to shine more light on the structures and choices that undermine a ‘green’ agenda – unequal economic access, unsustainable (and largely optional) patterns of consumption, and more.  We also need to renew our connections with some of our more ‘intimate’ ecological processes – how our food is grown, where our drinking water comes from, what happens to our waste when we are ‘done’ with it.

Our ignorance of basic environmental processes as well as our insistence that we own everything we use are both planet-defeating attitudes. Our preference for owning a neighbor’s land to having a neighbor undermines community integrity.   Our relentless pursuit of non-essential consumer goods represents a psychologically defective, wasteful application of time and resources.   Our ability to simultaneously express a deep love for our children while contributing to the demise of the system that supports their lives is a dangerous inconsistency.  Clearly, we must continue to shine a light on these and other discontinuities, and then organize a viable, participatory strategy to overcome them.


–Dr. Robert Zuber

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