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Economic crisis: Forgetting the environmental crisis PDF Print E-mail
The Labour Movement-Economy
kas-30-90The present worsening of the economic crisis has so much preoccupied people's minds - reasonably enough - that it has literally wiped the problem of the environmental crisis from the field of their concerns. And yet, just as the economic crisis took by surprise the relatively prosperous West, so, but in a much worse way, will the environmental crisis take it by surprise. This is not a disaster scenario, but one which is based on facts. What is still not known is the exact time when the seriousness of environmental events will be subversive not only in this area of life, but in all areas without exception - the economic included.
The problems of our age are multiple. By way of indication, we would cite the following:

1. the economic crisis
2. the political crisis
3. the geopolitical crisis
4. the cultural and religious crisis
5. the environmental crisis.

These crises reinforce one another and are intertwined with one another in such a way that for the careful observer it is unclear which is the initial cause. In our view, at the foundation of all the individual causes is the selective way of apprehension of man, which is predominantly competitive and definitively directed towards an instrumental approach to the environment - natural and human.

1. The economic crisis
This is the crisis which is most familiar today and threatens with its force the whole of the global balance, as well as the well-being (material and institutional) of the peoples of the West - because, clearly, not all peoples had enjoyed affluence. This crisis has already subverted democratic institutions both at the level of taking decisions with a view to dealing with it, and as to the content of the decisions themselves, which are clearly directed towards the restriction of citizens' rights. Furthermore, the very implementation of such unfavourable decisions requires repressive action on the part of state organs to be taken against any form of protest. Thus, democracy and freedom have been crucially and perhaps irreversibly stricken.

But instead of regarding the economic crisis as being the cause of this political degradation, it would be wiser for us to distinguish the causes of this crisis, since the economic crisis did not arise out of the blue and on its own.

On this, we must work with certain assumptions:
(a) that man considers something a crisis only when it exerts pressure upon him with its adverse results, such as a reduction in wages, and unemployment, and not when there are not yet tangible results, but simply a disharmony with the whole of the world (of humanity and the environment) and with himself.

For example, the relation between the feverish activity of stock markets and the health of the economy was of little interest to the minor players who were making a profit, for as long as they were making a profit. The American people are little interested in how healthy it is to print money so open-handedly  and does not understand that the adverse results of this are only avoided because the dollar, as a world currency, circulates in all countries, and so inflation does not directly afflict the USA, since the danger is shared out world-wide. The German people has not understood the benefit which its economy had from its exports to other countries, or the behaviour of the elites in its own country. Perhaps even after the crisis they will keep on ignoring it. Similarly, the Greek people, in making it a habit to elect politicians on the criterion of appointments to the public sector, were not interested in how much expansion the state could stand, or in the fact that this was an act of violence against those who were perhaps more deserving but lacked political access, or that these politicians were unfitted for planning the country's future. Nor did anyone in any country (apart from isolated exceptions) take any interest in or find out about the lawlessness - imposed by laws - of the market. Examples could be multiplied infinitely and those given here are purely indicative.
But, however many excuses there are for these behaviours, they continue to be a fundamental problem at the basis of economic structure and operation.
The issue here, then, is that there has been as a foundation a cultural-anthropological crisis of irresponsibility which has undermined the political institutions of democracy and, eventually, the economic balance, given that the economy is the practical field of testing of institutions and civilization.

(b) that he regards a return to the previous state of material prosperity as a way of overcoming the crisis, and

(c) that he has very little interest in his spiritual fulfilment and independence, regarding these as useless 'hot air', an empty dream, or a deception imposed by those in power at the time, in order to divert his attention from everyday practical problems.
However, when these things are lacking, the result can only be a periodical increase or reduction in material prosperity until the point of final collapse is reached. In his unadmitted depths, man thinks or hopes that each crisis will explode in the hands of coming generations.
 
2. The political crisis
This crisis began afresh almost immediately after the Second World War, which, instead of being a definitive clean-up, in the end demonstrated the futility of humanity. The Great Powers forgot that this war was won by everyone together (even little Greece played an important and necessary role) and engaged in a struggle, pursuing  influences of power and economic gains, to cash in on the benefits and the moral prestige which they gained from this war.

This was already a deviation from democracy if it is supposed that freedom and equality, and not simply a form of organisation, are basic features of democracy. In addition, they did not understand that a democratic and free country cannot fail to recognise freedom to other countries. It cannot, on the one hand, impose it, but neither must it obstruct it, otherwise democracy is undermined at its very inception and becomes a privilege only for a few, or only for certain world groups. Any democracy which applies only to the interior of a country without at the same time being expressed in its international relations is - to say the least - imperfect, or, even worse, a mere imitation of democracy, and undermines  both international relations and 'democracy' itself. Of course, the socialist bloc had no particular ideological connection with freedom, except as something to come, nor, in the end, did it have any connection with the equality and the material and psychological well-being of man.

No power could accept that freedom requires augmented maturity and responsibility on the part of the peoples, and all of them wanted a persistent immaturity which would justify control on the part of the power elites. Power always conceals the immaturity and anti-social behaviour of its holder, and thus the elites, frequently, condemn peoples for characteristics which they themselves possess in abundance, but which are concealed behind power. But we must, nevertheless, make up our minds about this: immaturity and power are different things. Maturity involves consciousness and cannot be taken away, but power may be - and usually is - the result of immaturity.     
The world's peoples have shown exceptional inertia, relying  passively on the decisions of the power elites, something which has been a blow for democracy, which needs active citizens, not only so that they can voice criticism, but above all to concern themselves with political affairs.

In the United Nations itself, the General Assembly has been downgraded and at the epicentre is exclusively the Security Council. In this way, the UNO has lost its world prestige, in spite of the fact that this took time to become completely visible, and this very necessary institution has become a theatre of war operations without weapons. Naturally, the responsibility rests much more with the great powers, which should - ideally speaking – answer to History for their moral inadequacy and for causing the current crisis, which will be in all probability extremely catastrophic.

3. The geopolitical crisis
Briefly put, it must be said that all these problems could cause a world geopolitical crisis, which is constantly growing worse, and is increasing, in its turn, the rest of the crises in other areas, and is stoked by many players, the individual occasions being exceptionally complicated. This crisis could break out in an unexpected way and perhaps not even the West itself will be exempt from it.

There are scattered 'inflammable' regions everywhere, and perhaps other regions which escape the attention of even the specialists, given that the human factor is imponderable and not always manipulable. The Middle East is a region with explosive problems, the Balkans likewise; the Far East has a host of problems, and not only with the West. The Arctic Circle has become a theatre of conflicts - strategic for the present - between the countries which lay claim to deposits lurking there, and most of which are Western. Europe and the United States have conflicting economic interests; within the European Union we have a mini geopolitical crisis between the states of which it consists. The Antarctic is gradually losing its ice, and although it is a region which according to international law does not belong to anybody, it is nevertheless certain that if it becomes sufficiently accessible with the melting of its ice, everyone will hasten to conquer it for their own exclusive benefit. And Russia is tending towards totalitarianism.

The average man does not want to know, so that he can cherish his illusions, which he calls realism and practicality.
The problem, however, for consciousness (if we are concerned with this as a cause of all the problems) is not so much one of identifying the strategic causes, which are, undoubtedly, useful for immediate military, social, and political readiness, but the fact that mankind - with the power elites which as a part of humanity handle major power first and foremost - has not been able to make up its mind to seek a planning of life beneficial for everyone, with a combination of freedom and welfare.


4. The cultural and religious crisis
Apart from the fact that the West itself, in its wish to control the peoples, has frequently encouraged fundamentalist regimes, as in Muslim countries, it has also committed by omission another faux pas. Instead of attaching importance to the liberation of man from religious authority (not from religious feeling), it enslaved him to an economistic approach to life - which has constituted the new 'religion'. This has been at intervals beneficial, because it has detached man from this authority, but without settling this psychological background of subservience and savagery. In the long term, it will perhaps prove that in straitened economic circumstances and distress man will again take refuge in fundamentalism, with unforeseeable consequences.

Nonetheless, it must be admitted that without the economy, it has not seemed possible for man to be able to escape from localism and ignorance of the rest of the world. The positive developments must be appreciated, but these are not sufficient for the whole situation to be described as positive, since, in parallel with the positive factors, negative features are being cultivated which are perhaps of more decisive importance. The West - mainly Europe, because of its experience and of institutional adequacy - has shown the guarantees of a sound use of power, but, unfortunately, has proved to be like that house from which one demon was cast out, only to be taken over in the end by seven.

Human beings, on the other hand, are unable to understand how vulnerable the psychological and cultural edifice is to external conditions, precisely because there is no stability of consciousness capable of supporting it
. This, again, will take them by surprise, as they are taken by surprise by the atrocities during wars. Material prosperity removes need, and so renders anti-social behaviours unnecessary, but the absence of prosperity activates them again. Furthermore, they are not in the least interested in the inner foundation, attaching exclusive weight to 'appearances'.

These things, naturally, to those who feel impatience and anger in the face of events or to those who do not wish to think and so lose their peace of mind appear to be misleading theories, nonsense, and  lack of action. If, however, we cannot in every case distinguish what are really deceptive theories - there is also deception in impulsive and reflex supposed activism - we have only to wait for the proof of this supposed activity, that is, the developments in the contemporary world which has attached exclusive importance to what is concrete, and not to 'fine' theory.

5. The environmental crisis
This is the most disastrous crisis of the modern world and it is merely human irresponsibility which underestimates it, thinking that it will 'explode' in the hands of coming generations. Generally speaking, the residents of urban areas are alienated from the natural environment and those who live in the countryside are, necessarily, not sufficiently aware of environmental problems, since their approach to nature is instrumental and for immediate benefit. A fortiori, they are indifferent to world environmental problems in the belief that these are the business of others.

This crisis, therefore, is also spreading to and from many areas of human activity(1)  and we can, for purposes of convenience, divide it into:
(a) impairment and destruction of the environment, which includes both the impairment of soil, water, and the atmosphere and the destruction of biodiversity and other natural resources, such as, for instance, woodland.
(b) climate change, which the majority of scientists attribute to anthropogenic causes, that is, to human actions. In any event, however, it is a problem over which global measures should be taken - and, even more so, since its causes are due to the activities of man.
These two dysfunctions are mutually reinforcing and render the problem still more complicated. By way of indication, we will cite some of the central problems.
The degradation of the soil results in the degradation of plant species, which, in turn, again impairs the quality of the soil. Degradation of the soil is on the increase world-wide, according to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of 2008, following research which lasted some 20 years. According to the study, more than 20% of the total of arable land, 30% of woodlands, and 10% of grasslands are undergoing impairment. The result is reduced production, migration, insecurity over the food supply, destruction of basic sources and ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.

Furthermore, this impairment has brought about serious complications in efforts to control climate change and adaptation, since the loss of biomass and of the organic matter in the soil releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (thus contributing to climate change) and harms the quality of the soil and its ability to hold moisture and nutrients. This degradation is due to bad management of the land and has spread to new regions after 1991(2).  Fertilisers, herbicides, spraying, single crops, and intensive crops in general burden and impoverish the environment and the sub-soil, even if often they are necessary. If we also bear in mind the danger from mutated products, which an attempt is being made to impose and which can pollute other, normal, crops with unforeseen consequences for biodiversity and health, we can arrive at the conclusion that the world is faced with a major and possibly definitive crisis.

Even the method of mechanical cultivation can impair the environment. An example is deep and repeated tillage of the soil, which destroys the organisms which keep it healthy and living, and causes its dissolution (destruction of its cohesion).
And, as Jacques Diouf, Director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, has warned, the problems of the degradation of the soil and of natural resources seriously imperils the food supply, and he has stressed that the soil is not a renewable resource and regenerates with difficulty and slowly(3).

The globalisation of the economy has made products from all over the world accessible everywhere, but at the same time, transport has increased dramatically, burdening the environment as well as the cost of the products.

Climate change affects ecosystems
. Mountain regions lose their ecosystems because these are adapted to colder climates, and species suited to warmer regions migrate to them, and so we have a loss of species and dramatic changes in the distribution of the rest(4).

Among environmental problems is the fundamental one of water. Today there are significant quantitative and qualitative shortages of water, resulting in reduced production of foodstuffs, as well as harm to health because of its poor quality. One of the proposed solutions has been the privatisation of water, even in poor countries, but this has met with considerable opposition, because in this way a natural resource, which should properly be considered, as it has been up to now, as public, as being absolutely necessary for the survival of man, is commercialised. The hazards of such commercialisation are many and great - but that would call for a lengthy analysis. The fact that the planet's water reserve can remain the same is neither an answer nor a solution, because water reserves are necessary in specific forms, at specific times, and in specific places, as has been the case up to the present, and on the basis of which the structures of societies have been built.
The oceans are being destroyed by undergoing oxidisation, that is, a change in their chemical composition because of pollution in various forms. Apart from this, because of climate change, the methane trapped within the oceans, which has 20 times more negative impact on climate than carbon dioxide, is being released at an intense and unexpected rate(5).

Nuclear energy
has been proved unsafe and is capable, on its own, of putting the whole planet beyond sustainability, the most recent example of this being the accident at Fukushima.   
Waste of every kind, from plastic bags to electronic and toxic waste, will gradually give rise to a form of asphyxia which has not yet become fully visible, because it is often poor countries which are, for a consideration, burdened with this waste, but this is merely lengthening of the time for complacency of wealthier states.

Let us add to all this the findings of the latest pioneering research, according to which typhoons (which are probably strengthened and increased in number by climate change) deliver an electric charge to seismogenic faults and in a short time earthquakes occur in these, as was the case in Haiti and in other regions which have been stricken by earthquakes, having been previously swept by typhoons(6).  Moreover, we should note that the phenomena of climate change have an impact not only on the familiar vulnerable regions of the world, but also on others which up to now have been safe, such as Brazil(7).

The problem is, of course, intricate. A part of the production of goods has not been necessary, but satisfied the trend towards over-consumption by the wealthier. However, an increase in food production was necessary to deal with the food supply problem of an explosively increasing world population, although, on the other hand, the necessary measures were not taken to address the causes of this increase and of the other problems. More prosperous societies do not show a population explosion, but at the same time their citizens are better informed and demanding as to their rights. We cannot, therefore, on the one hand, meet our needs from societies with underdeveloped institutions, because they are more easily controlled, and, on the other, wonder about their increase in population. But, in any event - and regardless of the cause - the West ought to help societies to emerge from their institutional deficit and become self-supporting and not dependent on philanthropy.

The powers, and above all the West (because it had the scope for institutional social influence), and the socialist bloc (which had similar scope) chose the ease and temporary path of  the competitive ideological strength of the time, because they had neither any true vision nor the political will really to solve certain problems. And thus, in the time of crisis, the easiest thing to do was to hurl accusations at one another.
Countries did not take the appropriate measures for the environment, invoking, decades ago, the economy, even though at that time the economy was still flourishing. What they did not say was that the obstacle was competition, because competition functions as need and shortage even in times of plenty.

What is certain is that, beyond ideologies, the environmental problem cannot be solved with overpopulation, constant material development, production and consumption, poverty, social breakdown, inequality, and the concealing of information(8).  The solution or solutions will require informed and resolute public opinion – subversively for what it customarily is - and, morally, different political bodies, because the true solutions can only be democratic, that is, they must respect freedom, equality, and reason and promote compassion for one another, at an individual and collective level.  But in crises the elites who, overtly or covertly, exercise power in each country or internationally implement 'solutions' which manifestly are injurious to freedom, equality, and social cohesion. What is worse is that citizens too, at an individual level, approach the crisis in the same way, in spite of the exceptions(9).

People wonder what can be done with such a plethora of problems and think that they cannot stand the responsibility for the solution of all of them. However, if they are going really to solve even one of these global problems, they must accept two facts:
(a) that the problems can now be solved only on a world scale, and for that purpose, the recognition that there is one humanity with, generally, the same aims and needs, and of the simultaneous existence of many peoples, nations, and other sub-divisions of it is necessary. The climate and the environment, from a certain point on, know no administrative boundaries. If these two (humanity and nations or states) cannot operate freely and co-operatively, there will be no solution. Global consultation must take place on such a basis of synthesis and not be merely a meeting of power of the parties – and
(b) that the solution will be common to all the problems, because all the appropriate solutions require in the end a different approach and a way of life which, if it is chosen, will inevitably change all aspects of human activity.

The pivotal problem is that people and their governments do not want a real solution, but simply to escape the consequences of their choices. This is the simple and tragic reality and an immediate and timely reversal of this truth does not seem to be close.

________________________
(1) http://solon.org.gr/index.php/2008-07-15-19-12-00/53-2008-07-15-14-19-03/3241-2011-year-on-environment.html
(2) http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2008/1000874/index.html
(3) http://www.farming.co.uk/articles/view/5087
(4) http://solon.org.gr/index.php/2008-07-15-19-12-00/53-2008-07-15-14-19-03/3270-mountains-best-indicators-of-global-warming.html 
(5) http://news.in.gr/science-technology/article/?aid=1231142097 
(6) http://www.real.gr/DefaultArthro.aspx?page=arthro&id=114884&catID=5
(7) Note 1 supra.
(8) http://www.solonsynthesis.org/index.php/sustainabledevelopment/10-sustainabledevelopment/38-basic-ideas-cancun-2010.html -- Eight Basic Ideas for a Systematised and Holistic Approach to the Climate and Enviromental crisis
(9) Zisis, Ioannis, Green Turning-Point, Vol. I, Sustainable Economy, Society, and Politics [in Greek], p. 120.


Ioanna Moutsopoulou, Lawyer,
Member of the secretariat of Solon NGO

 
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