Eradicate Excess Wealth alongside Poverty

Posted on | mei 1, 2012 | No Comments

The world leaders will discuss sustainable development, the bedrock of 1992 Rio vision this June in Rio+20. A greater political convergence is urged by the UN for the matter because the ‘needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ has not gained much traction since the 1992 conference – largely because countries continued to equate development with economic growth, and sustainable development languished as a fringe environmental concern. Twenty years after Rio 1992, “sustainable development remains a generally agreed concept, rather than a day-to-day, on-the-ground, practical reality,” says a report by the UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability.

May be Millennium Development Goals were set up prematurely, too?

With earth resources threatened and Planetary ‘tipping points’ dangerously close, the UN urges the global leaders to set up ambitious goals for a sustainable future, something study after study are observing to be hopelessly bleak. “Achieving sustainability requires us to transform the global economy. Tinkering on the margins will not do the job,” said the UN Panel’s report. There are talks of decoupling traditional economic growth from the idea of development and greening the economy that opens up bitter protest from developing countries that fear any effort to institutionalize green economy will be divisive and block their developmental space.

The Environmental Policy Research Centre of Frerie Universität Berlin in their report Green Economy discourses in the run up to Rio+20 , finds three main rifts in the world view of such green economy, namely; Greening the existing economy by predominantly the industrially developed West, Green Development by incorporating social capital of culture and welfare concepts in emerging countries whose economic growth is substantial yet human developmental goals not fully realized and lastly Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and right to development by developing super powers. The rifts are deeper than polite multilateral discussions reveal because each has its characteristic stakeholder’s immediate interest to protect.

Political convergence to bridge over the rifts and finding a compromise look remote because world is involved in a grand beating around the bush. The Industrially developed West fears to lose luxuries and wealth it amassed since Industrial Revolution. Capitalist Growth Models have no place for idea of austerity or sacrifice of personal luxury. The developing superpowers fear to stop or de-escalate their economies as people keep on demanding life standards that a Global market has wooed them with. This mutual distrust divides the world in a more complex way than North-South; there are ‘North’s in South and vice verse. In the confusion a very basic truth escapes attention, or are we just not sincere enough to see it?

In the Run up to Rio+20 there are seven ideas that are gaining ground and popularity as All Africa summarizes from IRIN . Each of these ideas at its core has the same unspoken truth. So when UN urges us to be ambitious in setting goals and priorities, we may respond with a list.

  1. Eradicate excessive wealth alongside poverty, which we, in 20 years, have failed to get a grip on anyway.
  2. Tax over-consumption of food, energy and key resources of earth, alongside carbon which we have failed to tag with polluters with a transparent and ethical manner.
  3. Replace Multinational Corporations with Multinational Aids. Grow and consume local. It is an absurd and perverted pleasure to eat grapes from Middle East in Iceland.
  4. De-centralize democracy and governance. Communities far from seats of televised democracy are faring comparatively well managing and consuming resources in sustainable manner.
  5. Decrease military spending when we have not enough budgets for healthcare, education, housing and food.

There can be many entries in such a list, but that’s beside the point. The point is: we need to be rational, compassionate and dignified human beings who are sensitive to values of fulfilling and responsible life. What we are facing here is not a political crisis but a crisis of common resources and logically we need to review and redesign our whole ways of life and draw a clear line between necessity and excess, so that such resource pool is not strained any further.

Time and again these simple realities are presented to us and we get carried away with the petty details and technicalities of the presentation thereby missing the essence of the messages. Take Elinor Ostrom’s ground breaking work that earned her a Nobel in 2009 and you will see that it basically speaks of 2 and 4 of the list above.

Similarly, each of Rockstrom’s planetary boundaries, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut and Social Capital has in its core the dichotomy of excess vs. necessity and surprisingly there is silence about the very basic question: how much do we need as individuals for being happy and socially well? The silence is not due to the fact that it is an insurmountable question – it is due to the fact we are not sincere enough to confront it. We are content to think Governments and Corporations will make decisions for us while we can go about in life without so much of conscious action and effort to change things.

In rural folklore of India, there is this story of a king who dug a pond and ordered each of his subject to pour a jug of milk in it so that a milk pond is created. Next day there was a pond filled with water because everyone thought his jug of water will not be noticed in so much milk.

AUTHOR: Pabitra Mukhopadhyay
E-MAIL: mukhopadhyay.pabitra [at]


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