Fighting the world order to save the earth

Opinion and Editorial – The Jakarta Post, 3 May 2002


Next month Indonesia will host an international conference in Bali. “The Government of the Republic of Indonesia has the honor and great privilege to host the Preparatory Committee meeting at the ministerial level leading to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Bali from May 27 to June 7, 2002.” That is the message we can find at WSSD’s website, welcoming the Fourth Preparatory Committee (PrepComIV) meeting which is aimed at concluding discussions on far-reaching actions to propel the sustainable development agenda forward.

Around 6.000 people will join and gather in the meeting, draw upon the agreed result from the previous PrepCom to prepare a concise and focused document that will aim to emphasize the need for a global partnership to achieve the objectives of sustainable development. It is also there to reconfirm the need for an integrated and strategically focused approach to the implementation of the-so-called “Agenda 21” and to address the main challenges and opportunities faced by the international community in this regard.

The outcome of PrepCom IV will then be submitted for further consideration and adoption at the 2002 Summit meeting at Johannesburg, evaluating the progress achieved since the first World Summit at Rio de Janeiro, 1992. How far have we been stepping ahead? Or, oppositely, stepping back?

Globalization has been the major issue during the past decades. Ceaseless repetition of jargons and slogans “inevitable change” and “necessary restructuring” have everywhere accompanied this rapid prying-open of national economies and cultures for foreign exploitation “free of trade and investment barriers”. It seems however, that faith in economic growth to signify the change and development as the key to progress comes into question as the Earth’s life-support systems fray and indicators of ecological collapse multiply.

Another side of global economic systems has shown the inescapable fact that development geared to spur rapid growth through greater resource consumption is straining the environment and widening the gaps between the rich and poor. And opposite from the proponents of neo-liberal economics standard prescription to cure, privatization, tax cuts and foreign investment, have proved ineffective.

We do not have to look far for the proof that growth-centered economics is pushing the regenerative capacities of the planet’s ecosystems to the brink. The worry is not the only one raised in the Limits To Growth more than 20 years ago. Obviously, there is no immediate shortage of non-renewable resources. Even at current consumption rates, there will not be enough copper, iron and nickel to our grand-grandsons and daughters in the next centuries.

More pressing will soon cause the disintegration of the basic life-support systems that we take for granted. This will include the composition of atmosphere, the water cycle, the pollination of crops, the assimilation of waste and recycling of nutrients, the delicate interplay of species — all of these are in serious danger. “Agenda 21”, the most important outcome of the Rio Word Summit — a blue-print and the basis of the strategy for sustainable development — has been challenged badly by the profit-driven logic of business power which drives the global economic significantly and wipes out everything on its way to accumulate gains, including the environment.

The power of business looks immense in this neo liberal economic order where “growth” becomes the highest value of social life. And this is the starting point of the problem. It involves the following line of logic: If we start from the premise that the highest value of social life is “growth”, and then malpractice or non-malpractice is irrelevant. If growth can only be achieved by letting the mal-exercise of power happen, so be it. In this case, such values as “sustainable” or “democracy” are irrelevant, for any type of power exercise that (even if unintentionally) seems to bring about growth will then be justifiable (self-legitimating).

Of course the proponents of this perspective will shout endlessly about the need for law enforcement and legal certainty to protect the environment as well as to guarantee the democratization. Yet, in fact these are immaterial to their point: deserts are spreading, forests being hacked down, fertile soils ruined by erosion and desalinization, fisheries exhausted and ground water reserves pumped dry. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to ruse due to our extravagant burning of fossil fuels. In September 1995 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that climate change is unstoppable and will lead to widespread economic, social and environmental dislocation over the next century.

The core issue seems clear to be how to socialize the notion that the way global economics control and shape our shared life is not always at the benefit of “shared life” itself. It is very central to the concern to be addressed at the PrepComIV. The descriptions on environment distraction, as well as many societal problems, are undeniable facts. In a deeper theoretical reflection this involves, actually, a psychological issue than an economic one.

The cunning exploits of neo-liberalism are that it penetrates the way people evaluate things by implanting first the criteria of the “pleasure-prestige-status-luxury” principle in society. It is not that this principle is wrong, but that the pursuit of it is most often being done to the detriment of others as we can see quite often. Here comes the importance of taking the environmental problems, forced layoffs, urban poor etc. into account in the WSSD meeting. How can this concern be “organized”?

As for Indonesia, more than 42 non-governmental organizations established the Indonesian People’s Forum (IPF) for the WSSD. This forum consists of nine major groups: Women, youth, children, indigenous people, farmers, peasants, labor, urban poor, fishermen, and NGOs.

IPF will ensure that “civil society reports” are to be submitted to the WSSD, in complement to the “state report” prepared by the Indonesian Government. The “civil society reports” are prepared based on inputs from broad consultations at both national and regional levels to gather civil society’s inputs on how far principles of sustainable development have been applied by many different stakeholders. It is also to evaluate how far the Rio commitments have been implemented in Indonesia and to gather inputs/recommendations to improve sustainable development in the future.

Our world is certainly not for sale. When the global economic order silently violates our shared life for the sake of profit accumulation, it is the act of victimizing the whole globe’s inhabitants’ capacity to sustain. It is the time to break the silence, to voice out the restlessness.


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