CORNER: THE SECOND DECADE
That’s right: this issue marks the twentieth anniversary of the founding of UNITED WORLD, back in September of 1988. It also represents the tenth anniversary of the merger of UNITED WORLD with its sister publication, WGOC (later CDWG) NEWS AND VIEWS. To help celebrate that double milestone, we are launching a new website, which will be archiving as many as possible of the last twenty years of articles, news, commentary, letters to the editor, and even a few poems that we have published in those two decades. Anyone who visits the site will see that it is still under construction – in fact, it has just barely begun. But it represents the first step of achieving a ‘presence on the internet’, a presence that is long overdue.
It is tempting to turn nostalgic at a time like this. In our tenth anniversary editor’s corner, we waxed eloquent about how much had changed during our first ten years. The Cold War ended, the Soviet Union disappeared, Yugoslavia self-destructed and the Berlin Wall came down. In 1988, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel were still prisoners, Saddam Hussein was a good friend of the United States, Yasser Arafat was a terrorist, Bill Clinton an obscure state governor, and no one had heard of the Internet. We could also have mentioned that the first issue was typed on an actual typewriter.
We also pointed out that much about the world had not changed. The end of history had not arrived: war, pollution, overpopulation, poverty, the drug and arms trade and a host of other problems, including globalization, had made the need for a democratic world republic as important as ever.
That remains true today. At the time we wrote that editorial, globalization was just beginning to be noticed as an issue. Global warming concerned only a few scientists. Virtually no one had ever heard of peak oil. There was no International Criminal Court. The World Trade Center still stood, and Osama Bin Laden had not yet become a household name. Quite literally, a new Millennium has arrived since then, full of both challenges, and opportunities.
Therefore, let us not focus on the past, but instead look to the future. Even after twenty years we are still publishing on a shoestring, but at least we are still publishing. We are providing a vital service, as a unique and independent forum, where all members of the world unity movement may come and speak freely, no matter how controversial their ideas or visionary their goals.
It is also a place where those ideas and goals will be strictly critiqued, even studiously dissected, to see what kind of value they have. UNITED WORLD has never been the kind of place where people are patted patronizingly on the head, and told they are doing a bang-up job. We remain committed to being, as one of our contributors, the late Ward Harrington called us, “The research journal of the world government movement.”
In keeping with that tradition, we intend to keep people honest, to ask the questions that need to be asked, most particularly the daunting question of “:How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?” We need practical, workable, specific programs, not fairy-tale-castles-in-the-sky platitudes. Too long have we wasted our time arguing over reforming the UN, or creating a world constitution, or holding a convention, etc. Those vague ideas are clearly not enough. We must start looking at things from ground level, like an architect who wishes to build a sky scraper.
There is absolutely no doubt that the need for our message is out there. Allow me to recount a personal experience. I recently took a experimental college course, titled, “Introduction to Peace Studies”. Throughout the course, I held my tongue, waiting to see what the class – mostly people in their early twenties – would come up with as the answer to world peace. I was amazed at how naturally the subject of world government came up; and also at how quickly it was dismissed as dangerous (too likely to become tyrannical) and unrealistic (to idealistic to ever come into being). I tried to quietly influence them to question those assumptions, and I hope I succeeded in a small way. What amazed me the most, however, was that while the arguments for democratic world government have become richer and more sophisticated over the years, the objections to it have remained largely the same. We are clearly not answering people’s basic objections.
If a world unitist cries out in the forest and no one hears, has he or she made a sound at all? We have to quit beating our heads against brick walls. The content of our message doesn’t need to change – but our methods of delivery obviously do. For the 21st century, we need a new style, we need to explore new avenues of reaching out to people. The next twenty years must be more productive than the last twenty years, lest we run out of time.
Twenty years ago, our first editorial ended with the words, “Neither World Peace nor World Unity is going to simply drop upon us from the sky; no one is going to come and impose it upon us. If we want it, we are going to have to work to get it. No one can deny that it is a long journey. But every journey, even one as long as this one, begins with a single step…The journey is before us. Let us begin.”
Amen to that.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Again, the answer to your question at the end of my last letter (Editor’s Note) is easy and straightforward: If you are a professing World Federalist, DO IT YOURSELF.
Errol E. Harris
High Wray House
Cumbria LA22 0JQ
P.S. Owing to the demands of the rapidly developing China, it may already be too late.
OIL, GROWTH AND COMMUNITY
World oil production is peaking, while world oil demand is expanding. Since cheap oil underlies our lifestyle, we are in for a “long emergency” (James Howard Kunstler). If you don’t know this is happening, it may be because government and the media don’t want to tell you, our of concern for public order, our faith in elected officials, or that bad news is bad for business. Also, the things we need to do to prepare for this long emergency are so unlike business as usual that they are had to talk about. But there are things to do, with great benefits. To do them will require changing our vision of society.
THE OIL CRUNCH
Oil, natural gas and coal are called "fossil fuels" because they are energy from sunlight stored over millions of years. They are a one-time energy bonanza for the human race. Oil geologists talk about "peak oil" for the world, the maximum rate at which oil will ever be produced. Some believe we have passed peak oil, or will do so soon. Natural gas production is also peaking, and energy from coals comes with a heightened risk of climate change.
Once peak oil is passed, world oil production will fall off following a bell-shaped curve. But this is happening while India and China are industrializing rapidly, and their demand for energy is soaring. This is the "oil crunch." Oil companies are slowly admitting the seriousness of this situation. Our elected officials don’t mention oil, even while waging war against oil-rich Iraq. But we are coming to a time when the imbalance between world oil supply and demand will be impossible to ignore.
Clearly, conservation and renewable energy can be substituted for oil to some extent, but oil is a singularly convenient energy source. Unlike electricity generated from the sun or wind, it can be stored and efficiently transported great distances. We have had a century to develop the infrastructure to use oil, and a society dependent upon cheap oil.
The difficulty of our situation is that the amounts of fossil fuel we depend upon are so enormous, that even extraordinary growth of new energy technologies will not be enough to allow business as usual to continue. The amount of oil used by the U.S. every year is the equivalent o a tank of gasoline the size of a football field, 200 miles high!
Suppose we decided today to build solar power plants and wind turbines enough to substitute for the current fossil fuel use in the United States. There is enough solar and wind potential to do this. What we don’t have is a way to continue our way of life, while supplying resources for a crash effort to protect our future. Once oil prices become high and supplies become uncertain, the massive project to transition to renewable energy will be unable to compete for resources with rescue attempts.
IMPACTS OF THE OIL CRUNCH
Oil is important to our way of life because it powers transportation, drives industry, heats homes, and provides chemicals. It is also central to our production of food. Agriculture depends on fossil fuels to build and fuel tractors, make pesticides and fertilizers, transport food, process food, package food, and heat the buildings where food is sold. Ten calories of fossil fuel energy are used for every calorie of food we consume. As one observer put it, we eat oil.
This suggests that after the oil supply becomes expensive and/or disrupted, our food supply will become expensive and/or disrupted. Consider the way our economy works. People work to earn money to buy goods and services they need to live, including food. Businesses provide jobs for workers, and provide everyone else with goods and services.
If oil prices rise, families must spend more of their incomes to drive to work and heat their houses. If they have sufficient income, that’s no problem. But for families living close to the edge, money spent on necessities means less money for extras. If they buy fewer goods and services, businesses will be forced to close. Those businesses must then lay off workers.
Families whose breadwinners are unemployed will cut down further on purchases, while businessmen cut back further on production. The result is a business downturn, a recession or depression. Business downturns are expected in our economic system, and tend to be short-lived. But a downturn triggered by the oil crunch will be different, because the underlying problem would continue, and become mores severe.
We are talking about a global problem, although it will disproportionately affect industrialized countries, and especially the United States, which has resisted preparations for an oil-restricted future. The problem will be long term, because many of the 6.7 billion people now living on Earth could never have been born except for the availability of cheap oil. Automobiles, trucks and heating fuels have allowed people to settle in colder climates. Oil-supported agriculture has provided food. For as long as it takes for human society to rebalance itself after the passing of the oil age, there will be scarcity.
THE GROWTH PARADIGM
The world, and especially the United States, believes in growth. The idea is that human society can and should continue to grow both the population and the economy – indefinitely. The growth paradigm is supported by scores of cultural stories – beliefs that are passed on to children. Those cultural stories are largely unexamined in the society, but they underlie our institutions and control our behaviors.
The growth paradigm, which seems as natural and eternal as the sunrise, is relatively recent. It began with the ‘discovery’ of the resource-rich Americas by Europe, and was given new life by the discovery of fossil fuels, especially oil. Now the growth paradigm is leading to dysfunctional behaviors, as we confront new realities. The oil crunch is a symptom of the breakdown of the growth paradigm. The oil crunch is not a single problem, and therefore cannot be addressed by a technological or economic or political fix, no matter how ambitious.
Here are cultural stories that we were brought up to believe, which need to be reconsidered for these times. Scarcity is inherent. We must respond to scarcity with competition, capitalism, rugged individualism, hierarchy and patriotism. We have done this in the past and been successful, so we need to "stay the course." Population can and should continue to grow indefinitely, along with economic prosperity, through technology and the "invisible hand" of the market. God will protect our country.
This triumphant growth paradigm, powered by fossil fuels, brought us fabulous prosperity for more than a century. We believed growth would continue indefinitely. Now we need to get used to sustainability.
To do that, we need to confront our ideas about growth. People talk about "sustainable development" and "sustainable growth," as if to suggest that sustainability can be an adjustment to "business as usual." It cannot. Sustainability is, and must be, a central guiding principle of new cultural stories for a post-oil, post-fossil fuel future.
The more prosperous we are, the harder it is for us to let go of the growth paradigm. Everyone who drives a car, uses central heat, eats food grown at a distance, or appreciates hot and cold running water, is invested in the growth paradigm. Even the suggestion that the growth paradigm must end tends to be distressing.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy, and especially terminal illness. These have been called the “Five Stages of Grief”:
1) Denials: The initial stage: “It can’t be true.”
2) Anger: “Why weren’t we warned? It’s not fair!”
3) Bargaining: “I’ll buy a better-mileage car, but continue driving.”
4) Depression: “It’s so awful, why do anything?”
5) Acceptance: “Let’s figure out what to do.”
We need to grieve for the beliefs we grew up with, and for the distressed state of the world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. Denial is everywhere. We see anger directed at environmentalists for pointing out our problems, and at industries, and government for allowing the problem to continue. Much “green” thinking in our society is largely symbolic – a bargain in which we can change our light bulbs, but then can continue to live as we have.
Those prospering the most have it so good not what they either believe it can’t end, or fear social upheaval once people understand the seriousness of our situation. So decision-makers see to it that little news of the situation appears on television.
We used to believe perpetual growth was "natural" for us; it is not. Sustainability requires that population neither grows nor shrinks, but stays in balance with the resources available.
Sustainability is necessary, but not sufficient. We also need community. We need the population/resource balance to be maintained intentionally and non-violently, so that everyone has enough to live. Such a steady-state situation will not be "natural" either. But that is exactly what a new paradigm to bring us forward requires.
Here are three principles, around which new cultural stories could be developed:
First, the Oneness of Humanity. If we respond to oil and other shortages with warfare, or us-versus-them thinking, we are likely to give up the chance to convince the great majority of people alive today to work together to build a sustainable human future.
The second cultural story for sustainability is that we must Protect the Earth. The reason is obvious; if we humans don’t protect the life support systems of the planet Earth, from climate change to extinctions to pollution to overpopulation, we will devastate the human race.
World Peace is the third cultural story needed for a sustainable future. The war system of dispute settlement has become too dangerous in the age of nuclear weapons. The war system is unsustainably costly in terms of oil and other resources, but also in terms of the trust that will be needed for building sustainable institutions. A world peace system, with justice and guaranteed basic human rights for all, would be a bargain. It might cost 1/10th of the $1.2 trillion per year the world now spends on militarism.
The sustainability paradigm, then, might be expressed as “One human family, protecting the Earth, living in peace.”
If this sounds idealistic, grandiose and impractical, consider the practicality of the path we are now on. There are important barriers to the large scale re-thinking of the parameters of the human experiment, but they boil down to this: this isn’t the paradigm we grew up with.
If we were under attack by some enemy, we might want to counterattack. But there is no enemy here. It is pointless to consider as enemies people who are merely stuck in the old ways of thinking. This is not a problem, like a car that won’t start. If it were, we could simply call in a mechanic to fix it. If we tinker with the growth paradigm, we continue its hold over society. We need a new direction.
A paradigm is beliefs. We cannot defeat a dysfunctional paradigm as if it were an enemy. We cannot repair a broken paradigm, Once we have grieved the loss of the paradigm we grew up with, we must craft new cultural stories, and adopt them.
It would have been logical to have begun preparations for the oil crunch in the 1970s, when the dimensions of the problem became known. For that matter, it would have been logical to adopt a world peace system after World War II, and to get rid of nuclear weapons and war. And people should eat healthy food, exercise, and stop smoking. There’s nothing new here. The question is what we should do now.
At a national and global level, we can work for inspired and courageous leadership. There’s nothing new here either, but in these times large numbers of people are starting to understand the need.
What is new is the importance of community building.
As we head into hard times that will affect both our country and our world, our federal government is unprepared to supply the massive help required. Even with efficient government intervention, the whole country will need help at once, federal, state and local governments together are likely to be overwhelmed.
Consider hurricane Katrina. The government failed to prevent the levies from collapsing and the government failed to get people to safety after the flooding. We now know that some people had the information necessary to avoid loss of life, but we also know that the information failed to protect the public.
Individuals and families are in a weak position to cope with upheavals to the whole society, but we see in hindsight that some of the Katrina victims could have made life-saving preparations had they understood the need.
Television has promoted the idea that we are individual, isolated, powerless consumers. Advertisers have been able to sell us the idea that any distress we feel is actually from the lack of something that they (coincidentally!) can provide. If we are lonely or unfulfilled, we can use a different toothpaste brand, buy different clothes, or drive a different car – which will make us happy.
If we see ourselves as isolated individuals, we will find it hard to come together as neighbors – as a community – to prepare for hard times.
In a community, not everyone has to understand the threat. Some community members will know things, some will be physically strong, some will have resources, some will have ideas, and many will have a variety of skills. Everyone in a community, potentially, can know everyone else, and take an interest in the wellbeing of all.
Survival and success of the community is self-defense in a time of upheaval. Some will try desperately to wring out more individual self-protection from the end of the growth paradigm. Others may be angry to see their lifestyles trashed and their futures compromised. To be prepared at a time of possible food and energy shortages, we need each other. We need work to do that is local and serves local needs, in cooperation rather than competition with our neighbors.
If our community will grow food, who will sell them the tools, seeds, fertilizers and equipment they will need? Who will have the information and skills needed to put up vegetables and fruit, and to store root crops through the winter? If Google goes, who will know how to do the basic things?
Mormon families are instructed to store food – a year’s supply for every family member – as preparation for difficult times. This is a practice that any community can adopt, simply by urging each family to buy some non-perishable foods ahead. If every family had food stores, and commitment to community, hard times might be less disruptive.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT NEIGHBORLY
If we human beings are to be more than a footnote in the history of our planet, we will have to become one human family, protecting the Earth, living in peace. We have created mighty civilizations, and discovered great things, but some of the cultural stories we have used to do it were not enduring truths, and have become obsolete.
Consider the lowly termite. Termites have been living together successfully as neighbors for hundreds of millions of years. The growth paradigm tells us that we, with our big brains and big cities and big plans, don’t have to play by insect rules. This may be a foolish assumption, when you note that termites did not invent nuclear weapons, or trigger climate change, but are more likely to survive either than we are.
When might oil/food/economic difficulties strike? Maybe never. Many people believe we can transition from an unsustainable to a sustainable society without appreciable disruption.
Others, and especially those with scientific knowledge, are not so sure. If we develop strong communities, and hard times never come, we can celebrate together. If we fail to develop strong communities, perhaps we have done too little to protect the people we love.
Democracy is not an absolute term. It is relative, describing a political state of a society. Examples range from the marginal, where a society may be developing tendencies toward a more open and responsive system, to the other extreme, where a functioning system is about to be taken over by a tyranny, such as Germany was under the Weimar Republic. Generally we assume that a society that is called a democracy is more like that form than any other description.
Among the things which inhibit or pervert democracy, one of the most important is inequality, above all of wealth. The financial corruption that can and does result comes from the excessive power of wealth. Such wealth can reach a degree of importance in a functioning democracy as to completely pervert it, while to outward appearances the system remains democratic. Degrees of wealth and inequality may be different at different times and in different societies, but the dangers to democracy are always present where great wealth and inequality exist together.
A recent statistic that two of the richest men in the United States, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, together own an equivalent to the total owned by the poorest 30 percent of the American population, is a clear indication. The Almighty Dollar has long been seen as a most accurate representation of the United States, and that is assign that the present situation is more dire than ever. Coupled with the notorious fact that virtually every lawmaker in the States is at least a millionaire, this gives the lie to the validity of now describing the United States as a democracy.
A society in which wealth and inequality is so overwhelming cannot serious continue to be described as democratic. When every aspect of choice and decision-making is dominated by the interests of big business and the wealthiest members, the society cannot hope to adequately represent the wishes and aspirations of the vast majority, let alone the poor, of whom there are no shortage. Only by incessant manipulation and propaganda can they be persuaded to continue to give support, even grudgingly, to their rulers who are ultimately chosen by the ruling group of wealthy.
The resulting American plutocracy is still invested with the trappings of the democracy which preceded it, but these are increasingly irrelevant. Even the much-vaunted reliance upon law, once the cornerstone of the fledgling democracy, is increasingly marginalized and denied by a neoconservative clique that rejoices in its own recognition of empire as a true description of the society that it has taken charge of. But of course, this has been long in the making. The empire began with the suppression of the native Americans and the importation of African slaves. It gathered strength and dominance with the rise of the imperial presidency by fighting two world wars in successive generations.
The world has become the American oyster, with military bases in almost every country to bolster and replace the financial control exercised by means of business, banking and diplomatic alliances. In all this, the American power is represented as democratic, because it is ostensibly employed for the benefit of the American electorate. That comprises the voters (nearly 50 percent) and also the unrepresented majority. The comfortable and the gullible accept it as their god-given right to be pampered at the expense of the rest of the world, while the various levels of favored friends and allies are given sufficient incentives either to participate in running the world or to acquiesce in its looting.
The fraud is complete, not by its ingenuity, but because it works largely by self-deception. The masses are content and believe that their content is enshrined in a democratic validity that should not be challenged or impugned. The more far-sighted of the rulers know the score, but few are prepared to take issue with so overwhelming a satisfied consensus. IF the United States were, as so many of its citizens feel it to be, a microcosm and an epitome of the world as a whole, perhaps that would be enough. But it is not so. World citizens everywhere, who are entitled to have needs and wishes respected, are totally ignored.
The inequality that is at the root of this plutocracy will destroy it, because the rulers guided by so partial a view and so partial an electorate, fail to read the signs of tension that will prelude vast change. But in China, India and other places still not entirely dominated by the American wealthy, there will be seeds of change that will grow and are growing to challenge the Almighty Dollar. Not only will there be disillusion felt by million at the antics of the imperialist Americans, there will also be stirrings of revolution. As these become subjected to the looming strains of global climate change, the results will be truly revolutionary.