Just a couple of intriguing articles on the BBC for you to read to while away your Sunday afternoon:
Firstly a view looking at Britain, struggling at a time of unrest across Europe, with rising unemployment and inflation leading to riots. The populist right-wing is on the rise, and secessionists are pushing for a break-up of the long-prevailing order across the continent. Cuts in public services, and the rich retreating to their mansions and avoiding their responsibilities, is leading to the poor becoming disengaged from society and opting out.
Only the view is of 400AD, and the collapse of the Roman Empire, much as it parallels today.
As the inequality grows and rich and poor retreat from each other – and under climate pressure – society collapses, the population drops from 4 million to 1 million, and takes centuries to rebuild.
An historian from the 5th century Gildas
talks about right-wing politicians advocating glibly attractive solutions that appealed to the populace while “any leader who seemed more soft, or who was more inclined to actually tell things as they are, was painted as ruinous to the country and everyone directed their contempt towards him”.
Gildas also singles out his leaders’ sheer ineptitude and bad judgement, recalling some governments and financiers in today’s banking crisis.
“Everything our leaders did to try to save the situation ended up having the opposite effect. Society became prey to corrosive quarrels and dissensions, anger towards the rich, and political opportunism was rife that made no distinction between right and wrong.”
A second BBC article looks again at Rio+20 and whether we could have sustainable consumption goals.
“We’ve been living a big fat lie,” [Leo Johnson, brother of London mayor Boris] said. “We know that consumption doesn’t make happy lives.”
Sustainable consumption is the little-mentioned corollary to sustainable development. As a briefing document for Rio puts it:
“Increased consumption by those whose basic needs are not met would be considered progress by most.
“On the other hand, increasing the competitive consumption of luxury goods among the rich would only be considered progress by a few.”
Leo Johnson puts it as avoiding
“the American dream where you serve the same billion people nine times… rather, you serve the nine billion once or twice.”
This will of course be massively resisted, as at the original Rio conference, where George Bush Snr told the world that the American way of life was non-negotiable.
In a time of recession, the need for growth contrasts with the need to limit consumption. There are few comments from John Key or Bill English about making growth ecologically sustainable, or more equal across society – they’d be happy with any growth…
But really the question we need to ask is:
“Could we devise a model of society that did not depend on us becoming ill with our fatness?” [Claire Foster-Gilbert, founder of the Ethics Academy]
[If you’re looking for some thought-provoking listening I’d go for Steve Keen on Kim Hill from yesterday morning]