Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – A Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy is an initative to bring together people and associations from various ideologies and streams to engage in dialogue on issues of various dimensions of democracy. Such dimensions include politics, ecology, gender, social justice, economy and culture.
The roots of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is in South Asia, where the concept (meaning the world is a family) has been part of the culture for thousands of years. Recently in India and Finland Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam associations have been formed.
The Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Initiative engages actively with the the World Social Forum. In practice this means taking part in local, national, regional and global social forums as organiser of events and information agency.
Links to WSF sites
Links to organisations
The ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ Initiative
A Coalition For Comprehensive Democracy
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The Earth is a Family), a Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy, is about furthering, strengthening and deepening ‘democracy’ simultaneously in economic, social, political, cultural, gender and ecological dimensions of life, from local to global levels.
Pursuing the Democratic Dream
Modern day dominant science, social and economic processes, and polity tend to fragment life, issues and people’s ways of looking at them. Democracy has come to mean merely ‘representative’ political structures. Despite this dominant thrust of institutionalisation over the past 200-500 years, which has culminated in the present processes of monopolistic, hegemonic, and humanly disempowering globalisation, there is another perspective of democracy which is still widely espoused intellectually and intuitively. It is an idea about relationships being based on equality, mutuality and respect in individual interaction between family members, between communities, between human beings and the rest of nature, in the market, between genders, and the nation state, and between peoples across the nations. The challenge for all of us is to build politics around this perspective to channelize all institutions towards ever expanding and deepening democratisation.
People in South Asia have long cherished values which, in modern times, are best expressed under the rubric of ‘universalism’ and various dimensions of ‘democracy’. Before the colonial interventions of the West, even when there were rulers of foreign origin, the participatory mode of governance from the grassroots to the top, devolution of political power at all levels, and cultural plurality were hallmarks of our social-political system. We had our own failings such as the obnoxious practice of untouchability. The communitarian principles manifested through the caste system degenerated into hierarchical fundamentalism. But, despite all kinds of failings, the sense of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The Earth is a Family) has been part of our cultural sensibility since time immemorial. That is why our socio-cultural diversity is a source of strength and, in fact, the primary defining force behind our unbroken identity. There have, of course, been brief phases of ideological or identity polarizations. But soon, the pluralist perspective prevails again. The basic premise of this world-view is that no sect, religion, ideological group, class, socio-political formation, the state, or church can claim a monopoly over TRUTH. Each one’s ‘truth’ is able to capture only some aspects of the TRUTH, depending upon the vantage point, and not ‘the TRUTH’ as a whole. Other dimensions are contained in the ?truth? possessed by our enemy, and our allies.
Threats to Democracy
All epochal transformative moments in history are pregnant with two opposing possibilities a new dawn or an era of darkness. What are the forces of darkness at this juncture?
Globally, an elusive ‘Consumer Paradise’ is being promised through the mass media and the market. There is a mad rush for this kind of globalism. Socio-political forces, whose world-views and dreams are anchored in a doctored view of history (such as Huntington’s view on ‘Clash of Civilisations’), are becoming victims of the prevailing social pathology of a ‘mad-race syndrome. Social identities are getting hardened and becoming more and more competitive. These forces believe that they are engaged in a survival struggle, in which moderation finds little place as a democratic trait.
The Democratic Agenda
No one organization can aspire to fulfil the need of all types of interventions required to realize democratic values in all walks of life. So, by definition, there cannot be any one Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. It is a way of relating to at each other, not a structure for unifying or homogenising the diverse. It is an attempt to ?own? each other and nurture each other?s democratic interventions despite differences. Therefore it can be more-or-less a space for enabling ideas on concerns about democracy and a platform for diverse interventions. It can be a forum where people from diverse backgrounds, sharing this broad search come and share their work and create new coalitions without necessarily merging their respective institutional/organisational identities.
Such an initiative could also be seen as an effort to engage the civil society in dialogues on a number of crucial issues at various levels: local, regional and international. The dimensions can be articulated as:
- Empowerment of the daridranarayan, the ‘last person’ (Economic Democracy),
- Ecological regeneration and people’s control over natural resources (Ecological Democracy),
- Ensuring human dignity (Social Democracy),
- Strengthening plural co-existence (Cultural Democracy),
- Deepening of democratic structures and institutions (Political Democracy)
- Evolving gender relations based on mutuality, equality and respect (Gender Democracy)
Our shared view is that selfishness and greed are only one part of the human journey and not the defining characteristics of human life. Wants can be fulfilled, and even indulged in, without being glorified.
The task of building true democracy today is inextricably linked to the global struggle to reform or transform capitalism without a readymade version of any ism. It is a project based on the perennial values of non-violence compassion, justice, equality and freedom and truth.
Many radical movements think that their responsibility is only towards a fundamental transfer of power in favour of the oppressed and marginalized. They feel no responsibility towards the larger whole while pursuing the cherished ideals. Moral renewal of individuals and institutions in society, with a sense of the larger whole, is the responsibility of all.
In a phase of phenomenal upsurge of democratic aspirations, new norms have to be agreed upon through a process of participatory dialogue even with the adversary, at various levels of human collectivities. One has to recognize the complementarity of each other?s ?truth? and consciously avoid being judgmental regarding the other?s viewpoint. The critical evaluation of other viewpoints has to be in an idiom which encourages moderation and introspective engagement on all sides. Such processes are unfolding and can consciously and actively be pursued today.
We espouse a three fold method for democratisation. One is ‘dialogue’, basically to recognise the contours and the calling of our times. Dialogue at all levels, including with the adversary, is possible only if we believe in the willingness of the human spirit for struggle and self-sacrifice against injustice instead of believing in the conspiracy theory. The dialogue must consciously be across hierarchical structures at each level, incorporating the idiom and aspirations of the most marginalised. Constructive action to strengthen and promote modes of production and ways of life consonant with the various dimensions of democracy is the second aspect, which must be based on a participatory process at each level and across levels. Simultaneously, we have to fight the injustice. For this, multiple forms of non-violent political action are the only answer. One is conscientious civil disobedience, to use Gandhi’s word, ‘Satyagraha’.
1312 Poorvanchal, Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi-110067, India
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DEMOCRACY FORUM VASUDHAIVA KUTUMBAKAM, FINLAND
By Thomas Wallgren
On 19 May 2003 a new association was formed in Finland by the name Democracy Forum Vasudhiaba Kutumbakam. VK-Finland has roots in the cooperation between some South Asian and some Nordic NGOs, research organisations and individuals in the democracy and solidarity movements that began towards the end of the 1980s and has continued since then. Active partners have worked with the Delhi-based network node Lokayan and researth institution Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, the Finnish umbrella organisation for Development NGOs Service Centre for Development Cooperation (Kepa), the Finnish activist group Coalition for Environment and Development and other organisations such as Friends of the Earth, Sweden and the Network Institute for Global Democratisation, NIGD.
The cooperation has focussed on practical experiments and theoretical reflections on new forms of solidarity, with a special emphasis on the democratisation of North – South relations. During the last years cooperation with trade union activists and with green, left and centrist party organisations has been a more important and integral part of the activities than before. We are proud also that the network born through these 15 years of activity also contributed in 2001 to 2003 to establishing the political contact between Latin American, African, Nordic and Asian groups that finds expression in the decision to shift the venue of the World Social Forum in 2004 from Porto Alegre, Brazil to Mumbai, India.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy has been active in South Asia since 2001 as an informal network of individual activists and independent working groups. In South Asia VK has organised a number of workshops and dialogues on economic democracy, the future of socialism, health politics and other issues. The main contact and coordination unit is in Delhi, with senior activist Vijay Pratap as the convenor.
Plans to found Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as a registered entity in Finland had been discussed since 2001. By the Spring 2003 clarity was reached on both issues with VK defining itself as an independent forum involving both party and non-party activists from the centre-left, that will contribute to the WSF-work and also keep up independent domestic activities as well as close cooperation with VK South Asia.
The founding meeting of VK-Finland was held on 19 May in Helsinki with some 40 people present. Statutes were accepted and a 17 member board was unanimously elected. The first chairperson is Ms. Satu Hassi, MP, chairperson of the Finnish Green Party and former cabinet minister for environment and development cooperation. There are four co-chairs: Ms. Elena Gorschkow, co-chair of the youth NGO umbrella Allianssi and parliamentary assistant for foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, Ms. Mirja Ryynanen a former MEP from the centre party, Mr. Esko Seppanen, MEP for the Left League and Thomas Wallgren, a philosopher from the University of Helsinki and long-time activist in the alternative movement sector. The twelve board members, active in a wide range of movement groups, academia and parties are Yrjo Hakanen, Outi Hakkarainen, Ville-Veikko Hirvela, Risto Isomaki, Liisa Jaaskeläinen, Anastasia Laitila, Iivi Masso, Pertti Multanen, Rosa Merilainen, J.P.Roos, Olli Tammilehto and Kai Vaara.
The activity plan for the first year outlines work by independent committees on, initially at least World Social Forum activities and the future of the European Union plus founding activities such as setting up a minimal secretariat and web-pages.
Contact: Thomas Wallgren, vice-chair. email@example.com.
V.K. AND WSF
V A S U D H A I V A K U T U M B A K A M
A bulletin on the World Social Forum by the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
Volume:2; Issue: 7; Part: 2; 29 March 2004: New Delhi, India
Content (part 2)
Knowing WSF: Important WSF Declarations/Resolutions
– The WSF
– Regional and Thematic Social Forums
– WSF Charter of Principles
– Rules for the operation of the WSF International Council
– WSF in India
– India General Council
– Venue and dates WSF 2004
– Mobilisation for the forums
– Broad themes of WSF 2004
– IC Document on the Porto Alegre meeting
– IC document on the Dakar meeting
– Resolutions taken in Porto Alegre meeting
– WSF 2004: Call of the social movements
– Proposals adopted at the WSF IC meeting
Knowing the WSF: Declarations/Resolutions
The World Social Forum
The World Social Forum is an open meeting place where groups and movements of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism, but engaged in building a planetary society centred on the human person, come together to pursue their thinking, to debate ideas democratically, for formulate proposals, share their experiences freely and network for effective action (see the Charter of principles). The WSF proposed to debate alternative means to building a globalization in solidarity, which respects universal human rights and those of all men and women of all nations and the environment, and is grounded in democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.
The two first editions of the World Social Forum were held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on the same dates as the World Economic Forum was meeting in Davos. By proposing to strengthen an international coalition of the widest range of social movements and organizations, on the principle of respect for differences, autonomy of ideas and forms of endeavour, the WSF ceased to be a single locus of convergence for the struggle against neo-liberal globalization and sought to become a world process.
In pursuit of these aims, in addition to the annual World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre, Regional and Thematic Social Forums are organising. These events are designed to explore specific issues considered priorities in the present world situation by the WSF International Council – the WSF policy decision-making body. All the Forums must always adhere to the WSF Charter of Principles.
The World Social Forum was conceived as an international forum built around the slogan “Another World Is Possible” to contest the formulations offered by neo-liberal economic policies and capitalist—led globalisation. It seeks to provide a space for discussing alternatives, for exchanging experiences and for strengthening alliances between social movements, unions of working people and NGOs, as well as an opportunity for cross-sectoral dialogue. The first three WSFs were held in January/ February 2001- 2003, in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil and were timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The richness of Brazilian grassroots organisations represented a source of inspiration for the development of the World Social Forum. Over the last three years, WSF has emerged as a counterweight to the worldview of the World Economic Forum. The WSF has become a symbol of the gathering strength of forces fighting against globalisation and war. WSF 2003, with over 100,000 participants became a rallying point for the protest against the war in Iraq.
The first WSF in 2001 saw the participation of about 20,000 people (of which 4,702 were registered delegates) representing over 500 national and international organisations from more than 100 countries. The success and enthusiasm generated by WSF 2001 contributed to making the WSF an annual event. The second WSF held in January and February 2002 was an even larger event. It saw the participation of around 12,000 registered delegates and a total of some 55,000 people from 123 countries. WSF 2003 saw the participation of more than 27,000 delegates and a total of some 100,000 people from more than 130 countries.
In addition to WSF, there have been regional and thematic forums during 2002-2003. Following WSF 2001 the International Council (IC) Forum was formed so as to enhance and expand the diversity of the WSF process. The IC is a group of international networks from different regions of the world. It is constituted by several organizations working on issues including economic justice, human rights, environmental issues, labour, youth and women’s rights. The IC contributes to the WSF methodology, outreach, communication strategies as well as the local and regional organising process.
Regional and Thematic Social Forums
The Regional Social Forums are part of a process of construction and universalisation of the World Social Forum. Like the WSF, the Regional Forums create open spaces for dialoguing. These democratic debates include the formulation of proposals and a free sharing of experiences of entities and movements of the civil society that oppose themselves to the neo-liberal globalization.
They are termed “regional” as they happen in a macro-regional sphere. They follow a methodology and political criteria stipulated by the WSF´s Letter of Principles, whose purpose (as well as that of the Regional Forums), is to approximate itself to the reality of the social movements and entities in the diverse regions of the world. During the period of the WSF 2003, the European, Asian, and Pan-Amazonian Social Forums shall be taking place simultaneously.
The Thematic Social Forums objectify to attend to demands of more thorough investigations of debates to specific issues, considered priorities in the global conjuncture by the International Council of WSF. For the year of 2002, we plan to accomplish a Thematic Social Forum in Argentina, which shall discuss the effects of neo-liberal politics on developing countries.
World Social Forum Charter of Principles
The committee of Brazilian organisations that conceived of, and organised, the first World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre from January 25th to 30th, 2001, after evaluating the results of that Forum and the expectations it raised, consider it necessary and legitimate to draw up a Charter of Principles to guide the continued pursuit of that initiative. While the principles contained in this Charter – to be respected by all those who wish to take part in the process and to organise new editions of the World Social Forum – are a consolidation of the decisions that presided over the holding of the Porto Alegre Forum and ensured its success, they extend the reach of those decisions and define orientations that flow from their logic.
1. The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth.
2. The World Social Forum at Porto Alegre was an event localised in time and place. From now on, in the certainty proclaimed at Porto Alegre that “another world is possible”, it becomes a permanent process of seeking and building alternatives, which cannot be reduced to the events supporting
3. The World Social Forum is a world process. All the meetings that are held as part of this process have an international dimension.
4. The alternatives proposed at the World Social Forum stand in opposition to a process of globalisation commanded by the large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions at the service of those corporations’ interests, with the complicity of national governments. They are designed to ensure that globalisation in solidarity will prevail as a new stage in world history. This will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens — men and women — of all nations and the environment and will rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples.
5. The World Social Forum brings together and interlinks only organisations and movements of civil society from all the countries in the world, but intends neither to be a body representing world civil society.
6. The meetings of the World Social Forum do not deliberate on behalf of the World Social Forum as a body. No one, therefore, will be authorised, on behalf of any of the editions of the Forum, to express positions claiming to be those of all its participants. The participants in the Forum shall not be called on to take decisions as a body, whether by vote or acclamation, on declarations or proposals for action that would commit all, or the majority, of them and that propose to be taken as establishing positions of the Forum as a body. It thus does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by the participants in its meetings, nor does it intend to constitute the only option for interrelation and action by the organisations and movements that participate in it.
7. Nonetheless, organisations or groups of organisations that participate in the Forums meetings must be assured the right, during such meetings, to deliberate on declarations or actions they may decide on, whether singly or in coordination with other participants. The World Social Forum undertakes to circulate such decisions widely by the means at its disposal, without directing, hierarchising, censuring or restricting them, but as deliberations of the organisations or groups of organisations that made the decisions.
8. The World Social Forum is a plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party context that, in a decentralised fashion, interrelates organisations and movements engaged in concrete action at levels from the local to the international to build another world.
9. The World Social Forum will always be a forum open to pluralism and to the diversity of activities and ways of engaging of the organisations and movements that decide to participate in it, as well as the diversity of genders, ethnicities, cultures, generations and physical capacities, providing they abide by this Charter of Principles. Neither party representations nor military organisations shall participate in the Forum. Government leaders and members of legislatures who accept the commitments of this Charter may be invited to participate in a personal capacity.
10. The World Social Forum is opposed to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development and history and to the use of violence as a means of social control by the State. It upholds respect for Human Rights, the practices of real democracy, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, in equality and solidarity, among people, ethnicities, genders and peoples, and condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another.
11. As a forum for debate, the World Social Forum is a movement of ideas that prompts reflection, and the transparent circulation of the results of that reflection, on the mechanisms and instruments of domination by capital, on means and actions to resist and overcome that domination, and on the alternatives proposed to solve the problems of exclusion and social inequality that the process of capitalist globalisation with its racist, sexist and environmentally destructive dimensions is creating internationally and within countries.
12. As a framework for the exchange of experiences, the World Social Forum encourages understanding and mutual recognition among its participant organisations and movements, and places special value on the exchange among them, particularly on all that society is building to centre economic activity and political action on meeting the needs of people and respecting nature, in the present and for future generations.
13. As a context for interrelations, the World Social Forum seeks to strengthen and create new national and international links among organisations and movements of society, that — in both public and private life — will increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of dehumanisation the world is undergoing and to the violence used by the State, and reinforce the humanising measures being taken by the action of these movements and organisations.
14. The World Social Forum is a process that encourages its participant organisations and movements to situate their actions, from the local level to the national level and seeking active participation in international contexts, as issues of planetary citizenship, and to introduce onto the global agenda the change-inducing practices that they are experimenting in building a new world in solidarity.
Approved and adopted in São Paulo, on April 9, 2001, by the organisations that make up the World Social Forum Organisating Committee, approved with modifications by the World Social Forum International Council on June 10, 2001.
Rules for the operation of the WSF International Council
International Council (IC) of the WSF adopts, from its meeting of June, 2003 in Miami forward, a realistic set of procedures for its work, which seeks to assure that all of its members can continue working together.
1. The WSF process expansion at the world level has advanced greatly in the past year, opening new opportunities and creating new challenges, which require changes in the linkages and planning of activities in the WSF process. Given this new framework, it is necessary to guarantee that the IC operates well so that it can fulfill its responsibility in this process as an open space.
2. In order to carry out its tasks in a more efficient way, as set out in the guidelines adopted in the Porto Alegre IC meeting, held on January 21-22, 2003, the IC will work organised in the following six Commissions:
a) STRATEGIES: In-depth analysis of the strategies, initiatives and actions used by agents of neoliberalism at the same time analysing the initiatives of the opponents of neoliberal domination (i.e. the anti or alternative globalisation movement), to facilitate the debate of strategies of resistance and the construction of “another possible world.”
b) CONTENT: Collection of materials (report backs and information from various forums), analysis and organisation by theme and dissemination to WSF participants (via internet, email, publications, and organisation of seminars) of the analysis, alternative proposals and initiatives for a better world and strategies of resistance to neoliberalism that have come out of forums (geographic – global, regional, local – and thematic) that have already taken place. At the same time, increase collaboration and relationships between participants and initiatives in the WSF process around those proposals, enabling an evaluation of appropriateness of new thematic forums to delve more deeply into specific questions/issues.
c) METHODOLOGY: Organisation and consolidation of a methodology for the forums, based in the Charter of Principles, which uses the experience of the forums that have already occurred as a starting point, assures the open character of the WSF and respects plurality and diversity as the principal strength of the process.
d) EXPANSION: Support the development of regional, national and local forums based on this methodology, as well as geographic expansion focusing on world regions where civil society is still not familiar enough with the WSF to take the initiative of organising forums or participating in the forums in their region. Additionally, this will help to insure that this expansion is reflected in the composition of IC.
e) COMMUNICATION: Creation of communication system for information/dissemination about the WSF process both in terms of communication to actors outside of the IC as well as within the IC itself, identifying ways for the IC and its Commissions to develop an effective long distance work.
f) FINANCES: Creation of a solidarity based international system for funding of the WSF process activities.
3. To implement these tasks, IC members present at its Miami meeting divided into the six Commissions listed above, with each Commission in charge of its respective function.
4. Each Commission will establish its own work methodology regarding decisions on how to develop its activities and work calendar/timeline. The Commissions will present a first report back on their activities during the next IC meeting. These reports should also be distributed to all IC members before the meeting itself. The IC monitors and evaluates the activities of the Commissions.
5. During the IC meeting to be held in June 2004, the Commissions will present to all IC members for debate their work to date. Presentation materials should be distributed to IC members before the June 2004 meeting. The discussions coming out of this IC meeting will help with the continuity of the Commissions, clarifying specific themes, potentially creating new Commissions if necessary and defining other issues for the WSF 2005.
6. The Commissions will include among its priorities to follow and support the WSF 2004 in Mumbai.
7. The acceptance of new members into the IC will be contingent on:
a) Agreement with the WSF Charter of Principles and apply it to day-to-day operations.
b) The need for increased balance regarding gender, race, age, and geography (i.e. the participation in the IC of organisations from all continents and regions) as well as the need to diversify the IC in terms of both the type of organisation as well as the focus and scope of the work of groups participating in the IC.
c) Active participation and contribution of the organisation in one or more of the IC Commissions and/or in the organising committees of the regional or thematic social forums.
d) Organising committees of global, regional or thematic forums, recognised by the IC as part of the international WSF process, may participate in the IC through one delegate and one alternate during the 12 months prior to and subsequent to the event they are organising.
8. The procedure regarding new membership in the IC will be:
a) Applications must be presented in writing to the WSF Secretariat, with the endorsement of at least two IC members. The WSF Secretariat will inform all IC members about applications at least one month before the IC meeting;
b) Candidates must have existed, in principle, at least for two years;
c) Candidates must present in writing a document stating their agreement with the WSF Charter of Principles;
d) Assessment of the active involvement and contribution of the organisation in at least one or more of IC Commissions, or in organising committees of the regional or thematic social forums;
e) Applications must be approved by the IC on the basis of an evaluation by a working group designated by the IC in its previous meeting;
f) Organisations that have already requested membership to the IC will be evaluated according to the same criteria.
9. An organisation can apply to be a collaborative member of an IC Commission. Application to be collaborative organisation will be presented to and decided by the Commission in which the applicant is seeking to participate. Being a collaborative organisation in an IC Commission does not automatically imply IC membership.
10. Applications to participate as observers in the IC meetings will be assessed by the same working group that evaluates membership applications.
11. Regarding the relationship between the IC and WSF Secretariat, the first principle is that the IC will take political decisions about the WSF process during its meetings.
12. The WSF Secretariat is a technical body to facilitate the WSF process, formed by the Brazilian Organising Committee together with the Organising Committee of the place where the WSF is held. They will decide together the division of functions and tasks amongst them. By the time this document is revised, in June 2004, the IC will also discuss the continuation of the process of internationalising the WSF Secretariat.
13. The WSF Secretariat functions, as agreed to in the January, 2003 Porto Alegre IC meeting, are:
a) To stimulate and support the Regional and Thematic Forums;
b) To facilitate the organisation of the IC meetings;
c) To ensure the IC communication process;
d) To ensure the organisation of the historical record of the WSF process;
e) To support the fundraising efforts for the WSF process.
14. From now, the facilitation of IC Commission meetings must be incorporated also as a function of the WSF Secretariat, which must work closely with the IC Commissions, supporting their work and receiving from them their contributions to the WSF process and to the organisation of the Forums and IC meetings.
15. The WSF Secretariat will present in each IC meeting a report on its activities, as well as a financial report after every WSF. Both reports must be sent to all IC members at least 15 days before the IC meeting.
16. The WSF newsletter will regularly inform IC members about the activities of the WSF process.
17. Free communication between and among IC members is guaranteed. To promote this communication, a permanently updated list of all IC members contact information should be available to all IC members. The WSF Secretariat will also ensure that a closed Internet discussion listserve is maintained in good working order for use by all IC members through which the maximum level of transparency will be sought vis-à-vis information about activities developed in the WSF process.
18. In its June 2003 meeting in Miami, the IC began discussion of the proposal for internal rules prepared by the IC Internal Rules Working Group and decided to continue discussion on this proposal as well as the present rules through the IC Internet listserve. The IC will continue discussing this issue in its next meeting, in order to advance in the process of the organisation and clarification of how the IC functions. A special working group was formed in the Miami IC meeting to facilitate and organise this discussion.
19. All the points of this document will be subject to evaluation and modification in one year.
Note: other definitions adopted subsequently during the meeting, concerning the application of these rules:
20. The IC decided that, until its next meeting in Mumbai (January, 2004), the functions of the working group on evaluation of new memberships applications, mentioned in the item 8.e, and invitation of observers, item 10, will be carried out by the Expansion Commission [item 2.d].
21. The IC defined that the discussion on the internal rules (referred in the item 18) only will be taken over after the WSF in Mumbai. The new working group is formed by: CBJP Brasil (Chico), IPC (Savio), Red Global de Economia Solidaria (Carola), NIGD-IOC (Vijay) and CUT-Brasil (Gustavo).
22. The next IC meeting will take place in Mumbai, India. It will have two parts: one day before the WSF it will be a meeting for socialising information on the event among IC members; after the WSF closing, the IC will meet again to deal with the agenda of pending debates (WSF 2004 evaluation, report on the work of the IC commissions etc.) According to what was defined in the point 14, the WSF Secretariat will organise the agenda of the next IC meeting in dialogue with the Commissions.
WSF in India
In 2003 the IC of the WSF and the Brazil Organising Committee strongly felt that WSF needed to move beyond Brazil and Latin America to be more inclusive of peoples of Africa and Asia: the peoples facing the brunt of imperialist and neo liberal globalisation, and enjoined in strong popular struggle against it. Keeping this in mind, India was chosen as the host country for the WSF 2004 so as to bring in Asian and African concerns to greater prominence. With the success of the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, India in January 2003, which saw the participation of over 20,000 delegates representing 840 organisations, tremendous enthusiasm has been generated within Asia about the WSF process.
In fact, hosting of the WSF global meet in Mumbai in January 2004 has been a great opportunity and challenge to people’s movements and to all civil and political organisations across the world especially those of the peoples of Asia and Africa. It was for all those opposed to imperialist and neo-liberal globalisation, war and sectarian violence, and has a commitment to democratic values, plurality, dignity and peace.
WSF 2004 was also a symbol of unity and democratic space for people to assert their rights for peace and a world free of violence, bigotry and hatred. The WSF India process not only focused on imperialist globalisation but also on the issues of religious and sectarian violence, casteism and patriarchy. It made space for all sections of society to come together and articulate their struggles and visions, individually and collectively, against the threat of neo-liberal, capitalist globalisation on one hand and uphold the secular, plural and gender sensitive framework on the other. The event brought various mass organisations, new social movements and NGOs on one platform, for the first time in recent Indian history. The WSF process was also deepened at the grassroots by initiating social forums in states, districts and towns of India. The WSF 2004 advanced the debate on concerns Indian and yet simultaneously maintain an international perspective.
In India the WSF Charter has been extended to include social and political realities, as they exist in the country today. The process in India makes space available for all sections of society, but most importantly, it makes space for all those in society that remain less visible, marginalised, unrecognised, and oppressed. This entails the opening of a dialogue within and between the broad spectrum of political parties and groups, social movements and other organisations.
The WSF-India process aims to be widespread and inclusive by allowing for a space for workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, dalits, women, hawkers, all minorities, immigrants, students, academicians, artisans, artists, the media as well as parliamentarians, sympathetic bureaucrats and other concerned sections from within and outside the state.
India General Council
The India General Council is the decision making body of the WSF India process. The membership to the IGC is open to all social movements and organisations that are committed to the WSF Charter of Principles. At the moment there are approximately 135 members in the IGC.
The India Working Committee is responsible for formulating policy guidelines that form the basis for the functioning of the WSF India process. The IWC currently consists of 67 organisations nominated from the IGC and is indicative of the diverse social, political and economic gamut. The IWC comprises of 14 national trade unions and workers’ organisations, 8 national women’s organisations, 6 national farmers’ networks, and 4 national platforms each of dalits, adivasis, 4 student and youth bodies, as well as 27 social movements, other organisations and NGOs.
* The India Organising Committee is the executive body of the WSF 2004 and is responsible for organising the event. The IOC consists of 45 individuals, each being a member of one of the eight working groups
* The Mumbai Organising Committee consists of organizations based in Mumbai that are represented in each of the functional groups.
Venue and dates
India hosted the WSF 2004 from 16- 21 January 2004 in Mumbai. The choice of Mumbai as the venue for WSF 2004 was made following a lengthy dialogue between all groups involved in the WSF India process. Mumbai provided an ideal site to challenge the neo-liberal globalisation agenda, being perhaps the largest financial centre in the world outside the OECD, as well being the location of some of the most aggressive and violent acts of religious sectarianism that the sub-continent has witnessed. Mumbai, a large industrial centre, also witnessed the birth of the a militant trade union movement, vibrant dalit and women’s movements, and has allowed the growth of alternatives to mainstream arts, performing arts and cinema.
Mobilisation for the forum
More than 100,000 people participated in the WSF 2004. Of these, more than 10,000 were from outside India. A range of accommodation facilities was made available and necessary links provided on website. An effort was also made to provide low-priced accommodation including campsites available. In keeping with the traditions established in Porto Alegre.
WSF India worked closely with the International Secretariat and International Council for international mobilisation. The India Organising Committee hosted a meeting of mass organisations and other movements from Asian countries in Mumbai in June 2003. Many ideas on expanding the decision making process to include issues of mobilisation and the sharing of responsibilities, were discussed.
Programme and methodology
The Opening and Closing plenary of WSF 2004 were the events on the initial and final days of the WSF. During the four intervening days there were plenary sessions, debates, dialogues, round table discussions, seminars and workshops, and panel discussions. The public meetings and testimonials were held every evening. Various cultural events, including the arts and the performing arts, and Youth Forum ran concurrently. The main focus, and thematic axes for WSF 2004 were — Imperialist Globalisation, Patriarchy, Casteism, Racism and Social Exclusions, Religious sectarianism, Identity Politics, Fundamentalism, Militarism and Peace.
A functional group on Culture is co-coordinating the various cultural events was organised on each day of the WSF. These events will be designed to capture the flavour of cultural responses to the onslaught of neo-liberal globalisation and the politics of exclusion and sectarian violence. They will include various expressions of art and various forms of performing arts. Groups from all over the World will be encouraged to participate.
A website and communication system was put in place to deal with correspondence, listserves, newsletters, registration, and campaign and publicity material. The Communication and Media Group managed media and press relations and worked with the International Secretariat for international communications and publicity.
Stalls were made available for exhibitions or for sale of books, posters, souvenirs, food, music, etc.
Broad themes and sub-themes for WSF 2004
Militarism, War and Peace
* US Militarist Agenda and Resistances
* Against global and permanent war
* Identities and Peoples Right to Determination
* Growing militarisation of society; impact on women
* Imperialist war and control of resources
* Role of United Nations and war
* Aggression on Iraq and consequences
* Palestine: a continuing war
Building culture of peace
* Genocides and crimes against humanity
* Global disarmament and nuclear weapons
* International law and war
* Peace, well being and regional cooperation
* Self determination and nationalities
* State terrorism: Civil and Political Rights
Media, Information, Knowledge and Culture
*Against merchandising information, culture and media
* Media concentration and loss of pluralism
* Media and the commodification of women
* Sponsorship and Censorship
* Alternate media
* War and media – manipulation of images and “embedded” journalism
*Art and social transformation
* Culture of dissent
* Role of culture: youth and the marginalised
* Privatising science and knowledge
* Community’s loss of knowledge through patenting
* Genetic Engineering, Patenting life forms
* Access to knowledge for the third world
* Information Technology: Opportunities and Challenges
* Media as an instrument of exclusion and a space for democratic struggle (social audit of old and new media, changing content and form, state-owned media vs. public broadcasting)
Democracy, Ecological and Economic Security
Debt, finance and trade
* Critical examination of the IMF, WB, WTO – Institutions of Capitalist Globalisation
* Scope of selective de-linking with respect to national development
* Breaking the power of financial markets
* Politics of Aid
* Illegitimacy and Burden of Debt
* Bilateral and regional trade, investment processes and its impacts
* NAFTA and other bilateral treaties
* Fair trade
* Participatory economics
* Solidarity Economics
* Agreement in Agriculture (AOA) and Food Sovereignty
Land, Water and Food Sovereignty
* Land and agriculture
* Privatising basic services: energy, water, transport and telecommunications
* Livelihoods and Natural resources – access, entitlements, etc.
* Climate change – Kyoto Protocol
* Bio-safety and GM foods
* Governance, accountability and peoples resources
* Dumping of hazardous wastes
* Peasantry and village economy under globalisation
* Urban development and displacement of the poor
* Feminisation of Poverty and immigration
* Innovative models of sustainable livelihoods
* Forests, Land, Air, Water: Democratic control of common goods
* Regulation and de-regulation: removing democratic controls
* Corporate Accountability
Labour and World of Work in Production and Social Reproduction
* Creating and distributing wealth differently: monetary, budgetary and fiscal policies in favour of employment
* Work and the logic of profit
* Closing of industries, relocation of production and the trade union movement
* Trade union movement and the informal and small scale sector
* Migrant labour and protectionism
* New technologies of product automation: impact on women and men workers
* End of work and other theories
* Abolishing the wage system: liberating workers or liberation from work
* Valuation of social reproduction and housework
* The trade union movement within the construction of the global social movement
Social sectors — food, health, education — and social security
* Impact of service sector liberalisation/GATS
* Entitlements, social security and the “safety net”: ensuring universal access
* Social Security, pensions and medical welfare
* The marginalized and their access to social security and the safety net
* Privatisation of and Merchandising health and education
* Child Rights
* Politics and agenda of population control and use of reproductive technologies
* Food Security of communities and households and public distribution
* Employment, Job Security, Pension Schemes, VRS
* Reproduction, Health and Sexual Rights
* Exclusions, Discrimination, Dignity, Rights and Equality
Nation, State, citizenship, law and justice
* State, Civil Society and the disadvantaged (Dalits, indigenous peoples, religious/ethnic/linguistic minorities) Changing institutional and legal frameworks for labour and peasant rights in the context of globalisation
* Loss of economic sovereignty under globalisation
* Privatisation, Liberalisation and impact on the disadvantaged
* Rise of the right, legitimisation of majoritarianism and intolerance of minorities
* Race, migration and citizenship
* Effect of globalisation on legal and institutional frameworks of decision making
* Militarising the state and erosion of civil liberties/human rights
* Disability and discrimination
* Trafficking in women and children
* Refugees, displaced persons, IDP, cross-border migration, racism and human rights
* Alternative visions, practical experiments and struggles for inclusive, plural and radical democracy
* Autonomy, separation, reconciliation
Caste, race and other forms of descent/work based exclusions
* Caste, race and other work/descent based discrimination: exclusions in the market and in governance
* Community/group specific (dalits, indigenous peoples, tribals and ethnic religious, national and other minorities): analyses of the new and emerging forms of exclusions
* Gender related exclusions and ‘double’ exclusion of women from marginalised communities
* Attack on affirmative action in education and work
* New voices in social movements
Religion, culture and identities
* Communalism — Religious sectarianism and exclusions — and religiosity
* Globalisation, homogeneity and pluralism
* Cultural imperialism and shaping subordinate identities
* Globalisation and cultural resistance
* Fundamentalism and Sexual Identities
* Reinforcement of stereotypes
Patriarchy, Gender and Sexuality
* Patriarchy and capitalism
* Law and women: the global scenario
* Personal, constitutional law and human rights
* Women and men: from equality within the law to equality in reality
* Against the sexual division of labour
* Liberty of women within society
* Forms of resurgent patriarchy
* Right to sexual orientation: from claims for rights to the assertion identities.
IC Document on the Porto Alegre Meeting
(The International Council met on January 28 and 29 to decide future prospects for the World Social Forum)
The meeting emphasized the idea that the WSF is much more than an isolated event. Rather it is consolidating as an ongoing process and as a movement that is spreading worldwide and obtaining growing support on every continent. The composition of the International Council in itself shows that social forces from all over the planet are increasingly making an enduring commitment to the WSF.
The International Council believes that holding an annual centralized WSF event is crucial to assisting the wide range of forces that oppose neoliberal globalization to come together and organize. Furthermore, the event itself has a large and very public impact which is energizing the movement. Lastly, the International Council decided that as the WSF takes on a worldwide character and acquires more support, there must be more mobilization in the regions to encourage more participation from all the continents.
In view of this situation, the International Council took the following decisions?
1) Continental or regional World Social Forum events will be held in the second half of this year, in different parts of the world.
2) The III World Social Forum will once again be held in Porto Alegre and on the same dates as the World Economic Forum.
3) The International Council of the WSF will play a decisive role in preparing and organizing the work of the Regional and Continental Forums and the centralized World Social Forum. This will be the main theme of the Council meeting to be held from April 28 to 30, 2002.
English text by volunteer translator Thomas Nerney
IC Document on the Dakar Meeting
(October 30, November 1, 2001)
The International Council of the World Social Forum, meeting in Dakar from October 30 to November 1, 2001, mobilized an important number of African organizations and social movements which are thus becoming ever more actively involved in international movements against neoliberal globalization. This mobilization will lead to the organization of the first Africa Social Forum, in Bamako in January 2002. The proposals that will emerge from this meeting, as well as from other preparatory meetings being held in different parts of the world, will contribute enormously to the success of the World Social Forum being organized in Porto Alegre from January 31 to February 5, 2002.
This report has three parts: a synthesis of discussions on the international situation; a listing of the main decisions taken; and, in annex, projects proposed by one or more organizational members of the council.
1. Synthesis Of Discussions On The International Situation
The following text does not attempt to be all-inclusive. It simply relays some of the major discussions, without necessarily mentioning all of the viewpoints expressed. It was reiterated that, as with the WSF itself, the International Council does not speak with a single voice. As the Charter of Principles adopted in San Paolo in June 2001 reminds us, the Forum constitutes a space for dialogue and ideas that respects the diversity of those that participate in it.
The first World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, in January 2001, produce evidence of the blockages and ravages of neoliberal globalization. A space for developing and proposing alternatives on a planetary level, the WSF reinforced the desire for “another world” in many parts of the globe, as well as in Africa. It became a reference and pressure point for social struggles, and placed directors, media, governments and multilateral institutions in the service of finance markets and transnational corporations on the defensive. Unable to disavow the disastrous results of their policies, these forces have been unable to react except by attempting to criminalize social movements that oppose neoliberal fundamentalism. Since September 11 they have gone a step farther by attempting to use to their profit the emotions brought on by the criminal attacks in New York and Washington, which all of the members of the World Social Forum have unanimously condemned.
In attempting to fight against a terrorism whose deep roots they refuse to analyze and which instrumentalizes poverty, the U.S. and British governments, supported by most European governments as well as by a coalition of diverse interests, are engaged in a war whose first victim is the Afghani people.
The events of September 11 provide a useful excuse to shift focus from popular demands and to impose those of neoliberal globalization. As such, while many international conferences were cancelled, that of the World Trade Organization, scheduled for November 9 to 13 in Qatar, is maintained in spite of its proximity to the area of conflict. By enrolling the WTO in this military coalition, the commodification of the world is accelerated, and new constraints are being imposed on countries in the South, notably in the areas of investment and intellectual property rights. At the same time, governments are taking steps to curtail liberties, while corporations, citing the consequences of September 11, lay off thousands of works – even thought the beginning of the U.S. recession, and its contagious effects on the rest of the world, began almost a year ago.
The dictates of the market and of neoliberal fundamentalism and fanaticism must be rejected as firmly as one rejects dictatorial or authoritarian regimes and religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. It is only by building a more just world, free from all forms of racism, based on solidarity, respectful of womens rights, more conscious of the environment, as well as by providing just solutions to ongoing struggles and especially that of Palestine, that the conditions which give rise to terrorism will be eradicated, and in which the impulse for war can be substituted by the impulse for peace. What should prevail is not commercial and financial imperatives or the rule of the strong, but the shared values of humanity, all rights for all human beings. If globalization it is, let it be that of human rights.
In this vein, it is noteworthy that specific demands made by organizations and social movements such as those represented on the Council – in particular the abolition of tax havens, the struggle against financial speculation, the abolition of the external debt of Southern countries, government regulation of the economy and the right to affordable medicines – are currently invoked and even partially implemented by what had been until just a few weeks ago their most dedicated enemies: the leaders of the United States! Even if only in light of specific circumstances and in support of large American corporations, the “beacon” of global neoliberalism publicly demonstrates the scandalous nature of the costs it intends to impose on the rest of the planet, through the intermediaries of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. It thereby provides involuntary legitimacy to specific demands which emerged at the first World Social Forum, and encourages their deeper exploration during the second World Social Forum being organized in Porto Alegre from January 31 to February 5, 2002.
The members of the International Council of the WSF, meeting in Dakar from October 30 to November 1, 2001, renew their call to all members of the social movement, to all trade unions, to elected leaders in different countries, as well as to all representatives of major philosophical and spiritual currents, to make of Porto Alegre a time to bring together of alternative proposals to neoliberalism, as well as a springboard for struggles and a symbol of hope for all of humanity.
Resolutions taken in the Porto Alegre Meeting
(Brazil January 21st and 22nd 2003)
Orientations adopted by the International Council of the World Social Forum on its meeting on January 21st and 22nd 2003 in Porto Alegre.
The International Council of the World Social Forum adopts the following orientations to give continuity to the process of the World Social Forum after the 2003 edition of its main annual event in Porto Alegre:
1. to foster the continuity of the fundamental richness of the events in this process, which is its ample, open and plural character that works with the diversity of resistances, organisations and proposals; to that end, ensure total respect to its Charter of Principles and take the WSF as an incremental process of collective learning and growth;
2. to deepen the process of experimentation of horizontal organisational practices and systems based on co-responsibility;
3. to stimulate the multiplication of regional, national and even local events, as well as theme events, that intercommunicate horizontally and that will not be articulated as preparatory for one another but as meetings with their own political value;
4. when holding the forums, to organise discussions and the search for alternatives giving equal weight to the activities scheduled by the organisers and to the seminars and workshops proposed and organised by the participants themselves, as well as to stimulate the international character of these forums;
5. to hold the 2004 global event of the World Social Forum process in India and the 2005 global event of the World Social Forum process in Porto Alegre;
6. to turn the date of the global event of the World Social Forum process independent of the date of the World Economic Forum in Davos but keeping it always in the same month of the year; to create a “Global Day for marching against Neo-liberalism and War and for Another Possible World” in one of the days in which the Davos’ Forum is taking place;
7. to hold meetings of the Forum’s International Council (IC) in June 2003, January 2004 and June 2004 for working sessions of a longer duration and organised in work groups and floor meetings. The IC’s tasks are to evaluate, given a systematic analysis of the world situation — having a dialogue with the entities and organisations mobilised in the world against neo-liberalism, systemising the WSF process’ memory and taking support from ad hoc workgroups — the continuity of the process, to ensure the respect for its Charter of Principles when holding Regional and Theme Forums, to identify themes for the IC’s work, for the world events and for the theme Forums to be stimulated, as well as to identify regions of the world in which the process needs to expand, acting in alliance with movements and organisations from these regions;
8. enlarge the composition of the IC, integrating all the international and regional networks, movements and organisations that adhere to the Charter of Principles of the WSF and that ask for their integration, as well as representatives of the organising committees of the regional and theme forums;
9. to give continuity to the present functions of the IC’s Secretariat, progressively internationalising it, with the following functions:
• to stimulate and support regional and theme forums;
• to facilitate the holding of IC and its workgroups meetings;
• to ensure the process of communication in the WSF;
• to ensure the systematisation of the WSF process’ memory;
• to support fund raising efforts for the WSF process.
WSF 2004: Call of the social movements and mass organisations
(Mumbai, India, January 2004)
* We the social movements united in Assembly in the city of Mumbai, India, share the struggles of the people of India and all Asians. We reiterate our opposition to the neo-liberal system, which generates economic, social and environmental crises and produces war. Our mobilisation against war and deep social and economic injustices has served to reveal the true face of neo-liberalism.
* We are united here to organise the resistance against capitalism and to find alternatives. Our resistance began in Chiapas, Seattle and Genoa, and led to a massive world-wide mobilisation against the war in Iraq on 15th February 2003 which condemned the strategy of global, on-going war implemented by the United States government and its Allies. It is this resistance that led to the victory over the WTO in Cancun.
* The occupation of Iraq showed the whole world the existing links between militarism and the economic domination of the multinational corporations. Moreover, it also justified the reasons for our mobilisation.
* As social movements and mass organisations, we reaffirm our commitment to fight neo-liberal globalisation, imperialism, war, racism, the caste system, cultural imperialism, poverty, patriarchy, and all forms of discrimination – economic social, political, ethnic, gender, sexual – including that of sexual orientation and gender identity. We are also against all kinds of discrimination to persons with different capacities and fatal illnesses such as AIDS.
* We struggle for social justice, access to natural resources – land, water and seeds- human and citizens’ rights, participative democracy, the rights of workers of both genders as guaranteed in international treaties, women’s rights, and also the people’s right to self-determination. We are partisans of peace, international cooperation and we promote sustainable societies that are able to guarantee access to public services and basic goods. At the same time, we reject social and patriarchal violence against women.
* We call for a mass mobilisation on 8th March, International Women’s Day.
* We fight all forms of terrorism, including state terrorism. At the same time we are opposed to the use of terrorism, which criminalises popular movements and restricts civil activists. The so-called law against terrorism restricts civil rights and democratic freedom all over the world.
* We vindicate the struggle of peasants, workers, popular urban movements and all people under threat of losing their homes, jobs, land or their rights.
* We also vindicate the struggle to reverse privatisation in order to protect common, public goods, as is happening with pensions and Social Security in Europe. The victory of the massive mobilisation of the Bolivian people in defense of their natural resources, democracy and sovereignty testifies to the strength and potential of our movements. Simultaneously, peasants across the globe are struggling against multinationals and neo-liberal corporate agricultural policies, demanding sovereignty over food and democratic land reform.
* We call for unity with all peasants on 17th April, International Day of Peasants Struggles.
* We identify with the struggle of the mass movements and popular organisations in India, and together with them, we condemn the political and ideological forces, which promote violence, sectarianism, exclusion and nationalism based on religion and ethnicity. We condemn the threats, arrests, torture and assassinations of social activists who organised communities in order to struggle for global justice. We also denounce discrimination based on caste, class, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. We condemn the perpetuation of violence and oppression against women through cultural, religious and traditional discriminatory practices.
* We support the efforts of mass movements and popular organisations in India and Asia, which promote the struggle for justice, equality and human rights, especially that of the Dalits, Adivasis, and the most oppressed and repressed sectors of society. The neo-liberal policy of the Indian government aggravated the marginalisation and social oppression, which the Dalits have suffered historically.
* For all these reasons we support the struggle of all the marginalised throughout the world, and urge everyone worldwide to join the call of the Dalits for a day of mobilisation for social inclusion.
* As an escape from its crisis of legitimacy, global capitalism is using force and war in order to maintain an anti-popular order. We demand that the governments put a stop to militarism, war, and military spending, and demand the closure of US military bases because they are a risk and threat to humanity and life on earth. We have to follow the example of the people of Puerto Rico who forced the US to close its base in Vieques. The opposition to global warfare remains our main object of mobilisation around the world.
* We call on all citizens of the world to mobilise simultaneously on 20th March in an international day of protest against war and the occupation of Iraq imposed by the United States, Great Britain and the Allied Forces.
* In each country, the anti-war movements are developing their own consensus and tactics in order to guarantee as wide a participation and mobilisation as possible. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all occupying troops and support the right of the Iraqi to self- determination and sovereignty, as well as their right to reparation for all the damages caused by the embargo and war.
* The struggle against terrorism not only acts as a pretext for continuing the war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is also being used to threaten and attack the global community. At the same time, the US is maintaining a criminal embargo against Cuba, and destabilising Venezuela.
* We call upon all people to give maximum support this year to the mobilisation for the Palestinian people, especially on 30th March, Palestinian Land Day, against the building of the wall of apartheid.
* We denounce imperialist forces that are generating religious, ethnic, racial and tribal conflicts in order to further their own interests, increasing the suffering of the people and multiplying the hate and violence between them. More than 80 per cent of the ongoing conflicts in the world are internal and especially affect African and Asian communities.
* We denounce the unsustainable situation of debt in poor countries of the world, and the coercive use by governments, multinational corporations and international financial institutions. We strongly demand the total and unconditional cancellation and rejection of the illegitimate debts of the Third World. As a preliminary condition for the satisfaction of the fundamental economic, social, cultural and political rights, we also demand the restitution of the longstanding plunder of the Third World. We especially support the struggle of the African peoples and their social movements.
* Once again we raise our voices against the G8 Summit and the meetings of the IMF and World Bank, who bear the greatest responsibility for the plunder of entire communities.
* We reject the imposition of regional and bilateral free-trade agreements such as FTAA, NAFTA, CAFTA, AGOA, NEPAD, Euro-Med, AFTA and ASEAN.
* We are millions of persons united in the struggle against our common enemy: the WTO. The indigenous people are struggling against patents on all kinds of life forms and the theft of biodiversity, water, land. We are united in fighting the privatisation of public services and common goods.
* We call upon everybody to mobilise for the right to water as a source of life that cannot be privatised. We are endeavouring to recover control over public, common goods and natural resources, previously privatised and given to transnational enterprises and the private sector.
* In the victory at Cancun, the death of Lee symbolised the suffering of millions of peasants and poor people all over the world that are excluded by the “free market”. His immolation is a symbol for our struggle against the WTO. This proves our determination to oppose any attempt to revive the WTO.
* WTO out of agriculture, food, health, water, education, natural resources and common goods!
* With this determination in mind, we call upon all the social movement and mass organisations of the world to join the mobilisation in Hong Kong or in any other place where the WTO ministerial will be held. Let us join our efforts to struggle against privatisation, in defense of common goods, environment, agriculture, water, health, public services and education.
* In order to achieve our objectives, we reiterate our strong desire to reinforce the network of social movements and our capacity for struggle.
Proposals adopted at the WSF IC meeting
(January 23, 2004 in Mumbai, India)
1. The six IC Commissions will keep working to develop their working plans, considering the following IC decisions.
2. The six Commissions will be maintained; at the same time, the IC encourages them to interlink and dialogue whenever necessary.
3. Like previous WSFs and according to the Charter of Principles, WSF 2005 will be a space open to activities self-organised by the participant organisations, according to priorities they themselves set – within the logistic limitations. It is strongly recommended that the closing date for event registration should be as early as possible.
However, in Porto Alegre 2005, our process is to take a new step towards a working methodology and WSF format that, before and during the WSF, encourage dialogue, identification of convergence in themes and strategies, interlinking and formulation of action plans, while respecting diversity and the multiplicity of aims and strategies, divergences, pluralism, diversity of opinions and all values enshrined in our Charter of Principles.
All IC members’ proposals in this regard should be sent to the Methodology and Thematic and Content Commissions as input to their work.
This is the general direction in which the Methodology and Thematic and Content Commissions should head when developing their proposals, for the next IC meeting, on how to move the process forward and what format the WSF should have in Porto Alegre.
4. For the next IC meeting, the Finance Commission is to produce a document that moves ahead in establishing our fund raising criteria.
The IC is also responsible for the deficit regarding organisation of WSF 2004, in India; proposals on how to cover it will be discussed by the Finance Commission and with the Secretariat (Brazil and India) on the basis of a detailed report on expenditure at Mumbai.
The Finance Commission is also to discuss a strategy for financing the process in the long term.
6. The IC approves the setting up of a Solidarity Fund to enable delegations of excluded groups and individuals in general with low income, fighting patriarchism and other forms of oppression, to take part both in the IC and in WSF events. The format, rules and form of administration of this Fund are to be defined at the next meeting, on the basis of a draft by the Expansion Commission in collaboration with the Finance Commission.
7. The Expansion Commission is also to:
7.1. submit to the IC broader / more detailed draft criteria for the admission of new members (expansion through the IC).
7.2. forward to the IC discussion list, before the end of February, all documentation relating to membership applications (received between Barcelona and Miami) to be considered at the next IC meeting.
7.3. to develop a policy on expanding the WSF as a process and through its events.
7.4. in collaboration with the Methodology Commission, to develop a proposal for interlinking the Thematic, Regional and World Social Forums.
8. The Strategy Commission is to present a working plan to the IC at its next meeting. At the next IC meeting, one of the sessions will be devoted to debating strategy; the agenda and methodology are to be decided by the Strategy Commission.
9. The Communication Commission is to present a plan for the next IC meeting following the arrangement systematised in Mumbai.
10. IC confirms that next WSF will be held in Porto Alegre in 2005 on the same dates as the World Economic Forum at Davos.
11. The next IC meeting will focus on dealing with the themes mentioned above. It will be strictly a working meeting. On these criteria and in order to reduce costs, it will be held in Italy, from April 5 to 7, 2004.
To surmount the problem that this venue is a disadvantage to the South in terms of travel costs, the possibility will be considered of calculating expenses on the basis that the sum of the travel costs of all confirmed participants will be divided by the total number of participants, each of whom will then pay this average value. It means that European delegates, besides paying their own fares would contribute an extra amount and delegates from the South will receive a reimbursement of part of their travel costs (whether or not this methodology is viable depends on each organisation’s administrative requirements) …
12. The IC meeting held a preliminary discussion on the frequency, rotating hosting and venue for the WSF after Porto Alegre 2005. The Methodology and Expansion Commissions are to present documents on these subjects for discussion at the next IC meeting.
13. On the accusation of rape in the South Africa delegation during WSF in Mumbai:
13.1. Women’s organisations are to draft a note to be posted on the WSF site;
13.2. World March of Women is to write a policy proposal on how to prevent and deal with cases of violence against women in WSF events or processes, which will be discussed by women’s organisations and then will be a subject for discussion at the next IC meeting.
14. IC will guarantee support for the Intercontinental Youth Camp and work to really integrate the Camp into the WSF 2005 process and event. The WSF Secretariat will discuss a plan to put this proposal into practice with the camp organising commission.
15. Considering the closing ceremonies of the last WSFs, the IC will evaluate them carefully (their function, format and goals).
An Alliance for Comprehensive Democracy
Vijay Pratap, Ritu Priya and Thomas Wallgren
Published by Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, 2004
Foreword by Satu Hassi
Preface by Kishen Pattnayak
Vijay Pratap and Ritu Priya:
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: From Democracy to
Pursuing the Democratic Dream
The Social Costs of Globalisation
The Democratic Agenda
Directions of Search
Limitations of North-South Civil Society Dialogues
Proposals for Concrete Action
Statement of Purpose for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
Diagnosis of the Times: Politics in the Context of Culture
The Crisis of Centre-left Politics
The Way Out: Deepening and Broadening the Agenda
Overcoming the American Dream: Some Notes on the Work Ahead
Currently people all around the world are in a search for alternatives to the one-way globalisation that has increased the drift between the majority of the humankind and a narrow elite. More and more people see that the unregulated market forces will lead to increasing exploitation of the environment, widening gap between the rich and the poor and concentration of power and wealth in the hands of few.
The Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam concept, as presented by the two articles in this booklet, presents an alternative world-view where democratic relations among the people in all spheres of life is in the centre of the society. It is attractive not only because it responds to the urge for just and humane values, but also because of the pragmatic agenda it sets for engagement. The Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam concept provides a vision, which can inform and guide action in social work, economic affairs, political participation, cultural engagement and more.
I am committed to pursue the ideas of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and hope more and more people will feel like joining the family of those who see world as one, and to whom the whole world is part of a family.
Satu Hassi Chairperson Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Finland
The Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam stands for another kind of globalisation, one that is permeated by all-round democracy. As I write this small note a few weeks before the 2004 World Social Forum I am gripped by the question if the WSF so far has contributed efficiently to shaping the conceptual and agitational tools to resist the existing globalisation that has weakened the whatsoever roots of democracy that had been nurtured in the past centuries.
Globalisation weakens democracy by destroying the cultural-economic viability of the autonomous communities at the base. In South Asian countries rural communities as well as the national community had an autonomous existence economically and culturally. (At the national level it is called sovereignty). It is on the basis of these autonomous communities that democracy could be structured in one country or region, even if other countries remained non- democratic. Autonomy creates a miniscule universe in which the individual gets the sense of being a prime mover of that universe, whereas in a larger universe he or she may get lost not knowing how to assert.
Technology determines economic policy. As the technologies become very ‘high’ the resources and activities come under international control (not even national control). The individual, unless he or she is a member or the global elite, is reduced to the status of a receiver, a consumer, depending on purchasing power.
Market globalisation has been made possible with the help of technologies that conquer distance and require unprecedented large investment that developing nations cannot afford even in terms of loans. This has made grassroots autonomy and national sovereignty redundant from the economic point of view.
The role of technology in depriving poorer countries of their control over the economy is hardly debated among centre-left intellectuals. It is not realised at all that the campaign against economic imperialism presupposes a technological revolution. This is also the dilemma that cripples those who come to power in South American countries after defeating the United States supported regimes. They won’t be able to basically change the economic policies of the earlier regimes, like heavy dependence on exports, continuing the state of indebtedness, destroying the Amazon for expanding soya been farms, and pursuing the goal of unlimited growth.
Kishen Pattnayak Senior ideologue of socialist movement, India
From Democracy to Sampoorn Swaraj
Vijay Pratap and Ritu Priya
Pursuing the Democratic Dream
People in South Asia have long cherished values which, in modern times, are best expressed under the rubric of ‘universalism’ and various dimensions of ‘democracy’. Before the colonial interventions of the West, the distinctive features of our socio-political system were cultural plurality, devolution of political power at all levels and the participatory mode of governance from the grassroots to the top.
We had our own failings, such as the obnoxious practice of untouchability, or the fact that communitarian principles manifested through the caste system degenerated into hierarchical fundamentalism. But despite all kinds of failings, the sense of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam ’ (a Sanskrit concept, meaning ‘The World is a Family’) has been part of our cultural sensibility since time immemorial. That is why our socio-cultural diversity is a source of strength and in fact the primary defining force behind our unbroken identity. There have, of course, been brief phases of ideological or identity polarisations. But soon after, the pluralist perspective prevails. The basic premise of this world-view is that no sect, religion, ideological group, class, socio-political formation, the state or ‘church’ can claim a monopoly of the truth. All truths have to start with the small letter ‘t’ and, depending upon the vantage point, they are able to capture only some aspects of the Truth and not the Truth as a whole. This forms the basis for a democratic society.
Conventionally, democracy is taken to be a political system based on the separation of judiciary, executive and legislature. In this system the legitimacy of governance is derived from the electoral process and the right to vote. Such a narrow definition reduces democracy merely into a political instrument.
However, the last century has witnessed a series of transformations. They have generated an explosion of human energies never known before, devoted to redefining human life. The praxis of ‘new’ social movements embodies a much deeper and comprehensive meaning of democracy than what is understood and practised in the mainstream political discourse. Never before in the history of humankind have such a large proportion of human beings worked for swaraj. (‘Swa’-‘raj’= self + rule, a term commonly used by Gandhi and the Gandhi-inspired movements in India.)
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is an idea aspiring to redefine democracy from a mode of governance to a way of life. If democracy informs all levels and dimensions of life, this perspective of comprehensive democracy can be called sampoorn swaraj (full realisation of self-rule).
The idea of ‘self-rule’ goes much beyond the political. It encompasses life itself in a comprehensive manner that makes our lives more meaningful. Swaraj relates to all dimensions of human life and applies to relationships at all levels, from the individual to the global:
- the relationship between nature and human beings,
- the dynamic of ‘the individual’ and ‘the community’,
- the dynamic inter-relationship of ‘the self’ and ‘the other’,
- the relationship of individuals and various types and levels of collectivities with governance structures and
- the relationship of individuals and collectivities with the market.
The striving for democracy within these relationships can be respectively termed ecological democracy, social democracy, cultural democracy, political democracy and economic democracy.
There is a comprehensive democratic revolution in the making: humankind is striving to redefine all the basic relationships of human life. No single ideology or region can be identified as the vanguard in terms of striving for the above five dimensions of democracy simultaneously.
Issues of self-rule, related to the dynamic of nature – human being, have given rise to green parties, groups, movements and intellectuals all over the world. These green movements are increasing rapidly even in those parts of the world where, according to the conventional development indices, standards of material life are very high. In the societies of material affluence there is an attempt to recover the ‘green consciousness’ and to address the challenges of ecological degradation. In the most of the countries movement groups are engaged in defensive action of saving the livelihood support systems, along with revitalising of ecological and cultural sensibility. Since these energies aim at greater participation of local communities in resolving the nature-human dynamic, we could call this the age of striving for ecological democracy.
Similarly, there is phenomenal human energy on this earth trying to redefine the individual-community dynamic. Issues of dignity are on the central agenda of many groups for human rights, gender, anti-caste and anti-apartheid. There is almost aglobal churning for redefining social relationships, what we could term as social democracy. The response to the Conference against Racism in Durban is an indicator of the revolutionary energies we are talking about. The women’s movement has now a gender perspective on all issues, it is no longer just a women’s rights movement. From this standpoint this is an age of strivings for social democracy.
If we analyse the dynamic of the self and the other and systems of meaning, an entire set of issues emerge under the broad rubric called ‘culture’. The human activity on this front is also of an unprecedented kind. There has been an explosion of new ideas and ideological confrontations, both violent and non-violent. The varied strivings of a cultural democracy are many: critiques of the culture of industrialised societies and modernity, the attempts at revitalising indigenous knowledge systems, emphasising the importance of the plurality of ideas and ways of life, and loosening the controls of orthodoxy are all part of it.
After the majority of the states were liberated from colonial rule, they acquired greater control over their economies. Standard of living started rising, even though very slowly for some. Now, indigenous peoples with natural resource-based economies, and small and marginal farmers are in search for dignified ways of earning their livelihood. This is done through two ways of search and striving: first is to emulate (and even blindly imitate) the rich and prosperous North, the other is to recover the control over natural resources as well as knowledge systems in agriculture, medicine, food, water management and so on. Both represent the pervasive desire for an economic democracy.
The anti-colonial struggles in the majority of the nations have constructed new political identities. A desire for self-rule is pervasive. The people are re-examining and redefining the transplanted colonial instruments. Sometimes there is regression as the firmly established elite imposes some form of authoritarianism. Fortunately participation of people in the political institutions has acquired a tremendous legitimacy. (This explains why many dictators have had to undertake a legitimatisation exercise through some form of election, how so ever partial or imperfect.) This constitutes political democracy.
The imperative of democratic revolution requires that we recognise and relate to the positive dimension of all these energies and contribute in forming them into a definable world-view and a dream for the future. This is our vision of a universal humanistic globalisation.
The Social Costs of GlobalisationHowever, what we witness todayis the culmination of exactly the opposite: a hegemonic globalisation that can only be viewed as a satanic force.
In South Asia the social costs of economic globalisation and the neo-liberal policies related to it have already been very high – and could become still worse. The achievements of four decades of a democratic polity, however limited, are being reversed. Rapidly declining mortality rates have become stagnant or even reversed in some sub-populations. In India the Dalits (ex-untouchable castes), the landless or near- landless agricultural labourers and the Adivasis (the indigenous peoples of India) will be the worst hit. At the same time the land-owning farmers have also suffered; Indian farmers are more indebted than ever before. In Nepal the legislative measures, which formed the basis of the country’s successful community forest programmes, are being rev ersed because of the pressures from the World Bank.
Besides this economic reversal, the process of economic globalisation has created new serious challenges for the democratic decision-making processes in every part of the world. The transfer of decision-making power into the hands of transnational institutions like the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank has severely reduced the sovereignty of the national governments. It has resulted in a very serious drift, undermining the whole party political system, especially the accountability of the governments to their own people. As shown by Franck Amalrick’s study:
“Influencing national institutions and policies becomes openly one objective of development co-operation policies. […] The World Bank and IMF intervene at the national level under the banners of ‘sound macroeconomic policies ’ and ‘good governance’ – technical banners that fit well the technical nature of these organizations, while bilateral donors intervene under the banners of ‘democracy’ and ‘partnership’.” (Heads in the Sand: A track record global responsibility, 2001)
In the present situation it does not really matter so much what kind of party or coalition of parties has been in power. In India, subsequent government coalitions have been forced to continue implementing roughly similar neo-liberal policies. These policies include privatisation, the liberalisation of trade and investment policies and the reduction of subsidies.
One finds the same defeat of democratic dreams in Finland. Since the Nordic countries undertook the transition from peasant pre-modern to industrial modern societies, they developed social security systems to smoo then the process. It kept the ‘satanic’ features of industrial society in check at least within the region. No monstrous disparities were allowed to creep in: marginalisation and hardships were sought to be kept in check by high taxation and a sound welfare state. The decision-making and governance was reasonably participatory and transparent. Now, with the new structures created by EU, new laws are proposed by a small group of people. National parliaments endorse them without adequate debate or space for listening to voices of disagreement.
This has amounted to a crisis in democratic decision-making because in most countries the neo-liberal reforms have been implemented against the will of the majority of the voters.
The crisis of democracy has been aggravated, in a very important way, by the problem of corruption. Corruption has increased geometrically during the last decade and there has been at least a ten-fold rise in the 1990s. For instance, the privatisation of public-owned companies and public services, and the entry of the transnational corporatio ns to the national markets, have created ample opportunities for corruption and misuse of public offices. If the Northe rn counterparts in civil society insulate us from the North-driven corruption, we in the South will be able to fight both corruption and communalism domestically. Corruption was a major problem in South Asia even before the present era of globalisation, but deterioration of the moral and ethical basis of political life has proceeded very fast after it.
How can all these problems be addressed? How can the positive energies be synergised to shape a humanist-universalistic globalisation for an effective democratisation of human society at all levels? All epochal transformative moments in history are pregnant with both possibilities – a new dawn or an era of darkness. What are the forces of darkness at this juncture?
Globally, an elusive ‘consumer paradise’ is being promised through the electronic media and now through the internet. Those are being financed by interested stakeholders without any consideration for issues of economic equity, ecologi cal sensitivity, cultural plurality or dignity of the oppressed. All over the globe one finds a kind of mad rush for this consumer paradise. Values of austerity, larger good and rights of the future generations over our natural and other resources are considered outdated, as well as keeping the interests and perspectives of oppressed communities in mind while simultaneously asserting individual autonomy. This is resulting in fragmentation and polarisation of human collectivities. Extreme individuation and atomisation is resulting in a backlash of identity assertion. This backlash is to be clearly distinguished from the genuine expressions of autonomy, cultural self-definition, issues of ethnic identity or social dignity.
Socio-political forces, whose world-views and dreams are anchored in a falsified view of history, are becoming victims of the prevailing social pathology of a ‘mad-race syndrome’. Globally, the most important challenge of our times is to respond to this threat from various kinds of fundamentalism. As mentioned earlier, expansion and deepening of democracy with a comprehensive view is the only antidote against all kinds of fundamentalism; democracy viewed as a perpetual process of mediation between diverse human tendencies and needs.
The Democratic Agenda
In a phase of phenomenal upsurge of democratic aspirations, new norms have to be agreed upon at various levels of human collectivities. That has to be done through a process of participatory dialogue, even with the opponents. (Let us say, two neighbouring Nation States who are at loggerheads with each other, or two ideological adversaries in a single Nation State, or between and within communities and families.) One has to recognise the complementarity of each other’s ‘truth’ and consciously avoid being judgmental regarding the other’s viewpoint. The critical evaluation of other viewpoints has to be in an idiom that encourages mode ration.
In discussions that have taken place in various national and international forums, people have started to develop ideas about building a global network of individuals and organisations sharing similar values and goals. Such an initiative could also be seen as an effort to engage the international civil society in organising global or regional dialogue processes about a number of issues that are of crucial importance at this juncture.
The five basic dimensions of human life discussed above could form the thematic perspective for an international network on democracy. As Mr. M.P. Parameswaran, a leading ideologue of the All India People’s Science Network, has put it:
“Strengthening of all the five types of democracies at home in India, in the states, and in the panchayats [local councils], is important. This is a real concrete task. Equally important is the task of disillusionment: that progress is not what the capitalists or even the Marxists have been telling us. International solidarity is important. It gives us moral support. But there is something more important. I feel that we cannot save humanity without saving ‘the West’, especially the Americans, from their follies: without making them realise that their way of life is unsustainable and unenviable. There are a very large number of groups in the USA who share this view. A project – a programme – to weld all these groups into a single force will be useful and even necessary for us and the rest of the world. Can we think of a concrete plan of action for this? I have been feeling the necessity of such action since quite many years.”
It is, admittedly, somewhat uncomfortable to discuss democracy – which, as a process of constructive self-engageme nt of humanity, should be indivisible – in such small bits and shreds. However, if the complexity of democracy is approached through the five dimensions mentioned above, this should bring forward a wider and richer spectrum of problems and possibilities. One possible articulation of these dimensions as thematic perspectives is suggested below.
i) Empowerment of the Daridranarayan, the ‘Last Person’ (Economic Democracy): All the greatest teachers of humankind including Gandhi, Muhammad, Christ and the Buddha, have emphasised the importance of empowerment of the weakest and the poorest of society. Many people probably consider such a concept either patronising, elitist or naïve. Despite that, perhaps the most important single test for any kind of democracy is whether it works so that it can protect the needs and rights of the poorest, most oppressed and least influential people in the society. What this means in each society and in each historical period will differ, because poverty and deprivation will be created and regenerated over and over again through widely varied means. But the issue or goal is clear and remains the same. One of the main problems is how to relate to the needs and concerns of the Daridranarayan in a way that is empowering and not patronising.
With the Daridranarayan at the centre of all thinking, all issues concerning transactions of goods and services, technological choices and mode and relations of production have always been part of human engagement. All such issues can be considered as the economic dimension of democracy, called ‘economic democracy’ for convenie nce.
ii) Ecological Regeneration and People’s Control over Natural Resources (Ecological Democracy): Environmental degradation – pollution of air, water and soil, loss of species and bio-diversity, destruction of the ozone layer, destabilisation of the climate, loss of tree and vegetative cover, soil erosion and desertification – is one of the most serious issues of our times. It should be a high priority for the movement. However, the discourse of the West and among the westernised organisations in the South is often very alienating for the majority of the (rural) people. This discourse may result in programmes and measures neither understood nor owned by them. In the long run, such programmes can backfire. A better approach is to concentrate on people’s control over natural resources, and integrate the various environmental and conservational concerns in such an approach. Human kind’s relationship with nature as a consumer, controller, nurturer, destroyer or as a small component of nature are all issues to be dealt with under the rubric of ecological democracy.
iii) Ensuring Human Dignity (Social Democracy): There is no doubt that the neo-liberal economic policies and other measures pursued by the ‘new right’ will be causing extreme poverty on a scale that could be unsurpassed in human history. In many cases the problems should be seen in the framework of empowering the Daridranaryan and as issues of acute economic survival. However, in most insta nces, issues like unemployment or underemployment, temporary employment, workers’ rights and the meaning and nature of the available working opportunities are issues of human dignity across the globe. Even in cases where the crumbs falling from the table of the neo-liberals are more than enough to satisfy the basic material needs of the people, human dignity is sacrificed in a most harmful way. The hegemonic neo-liberal policies create identities of greed, promote consumerism and materialism and prevent people from making good moral choices and pursuing their spirituality. They sacrifice human dignity for profit.
The struggle for dignity and social equity has to be the principle issue among Dalits. This way they are well equipped to contribute from their perspective and experience in the struggle against satanic globalisation. It is the actual situation among Dalits that forced large number of ideologues, including Babasahib Ambedkar, to emphasise the importance of a caste annihilation movement in India. (In the rest of South Asia, due to the peculiar local situation, it is not even being recognised as an important source of inequity). In the past two decades there has been regression of the upper caste from their earlier acceptance of empowerment of the ex-untouchable castes. Also, increasing voice of women in the social sphere is being accompanied by new forms of perversions and violence against them, manifested e.g. by the declining sex ratio of 0-6 year olds in India. These issues have to be viewed with their wider linkages under the rubric of social democracy.
iv) Strengthening Plural Co-existence (Cultural Democracy): The issue of plural coexistence – and of the prevention of communal (or racial) violence – has a profound significance for every part of the world at the beginning of this millennium. When the world’s economic and cultural crises deepen, the threat of communal violence increases. In areas suffering from acute environmental degradation, the undermining of the natural resource base can aggravate such problems.
In South Asia there is a living tradition of peaceful co-living of various ethnic and religious groups and of sects within religions. This tradition is under great strain and needs to be revitalised in the present context. A judicial pronounceme nt in Bangladesh in January 2001 banning fatwa (religious edicts) is an authentic illustration of cultural democracy. Among the Hindus, vesting of adequate dignity to the folk practices not conforming to Brahmanical scriptural norms should be a priority item.
A campaign for cultural democracy should also be a mobilising act against attempts to distort history in almost all countries of the world, including those in Europe and America. In Europe the Muslims are being projected as a fundamentalist or non-pluralist segment of the society. The increasing polarisation between the Islamic countries and the West (the European Union and the United States of America) has been deepened by instances like the Gulf War in 1990, which created anti-West feelings throughout the ‘Islamic world’. The European integration – all the old colonial powers being fused to one new super-power – is worsening the situation because it is considered as the potential and powerful adversarial supra state by the Islamic states. The conflict will be further aggravated if the European Union becomes a real Federal State and if it develops a joint defence policy and a joint army. In that case all the EU member states, including the Nordic countries, will become integral parts of a major military super-power with a large arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Plural coexistence, however, should not be viewed from a negative viewpoint, through only the scenarios of conflict that need to be prevented. It should be seen as richness, where new things are being created and recreated ontinuously through the interaction of differences. All of human history has developed through cultural interaction, diffusion and adaptation. Diversity in ways of life provides complementary ways of fulfilling the need for expression of diverse human tendencies in any society, and therefore must be nurtured.
v) Nurturing and Deepening of Democracy (Political Democracy): Political democracy, if not constantly cared for and defended, can be greatly undermined. All the possible checks that can be built against the un-democratising thrust of social systems can only be effective if the people actively guard democratic structures and norms. Democracy – defined in terms like participation, representation and rule of law, protection of cultural, linguistic, religious and political minorities and transparency of political decision-making – is to be nurtured and deepened. However, at present only one model of such democratic processes is being adopted by all the countries with different cultures, institutions and traditions: the western liberal or market democracy, whose specificities have evolved in a small cultural-historical zone of the globe.
So far, the most important institutional framework for negotiating a society incorporating universalistic-humanistic values is political democracy, based on a multi-party system, adult franchise and separation of powers of executive, judiciary and legislature. Even this comes under threat when other forms of democracy are not realised. The principle of subsidiarity of power, i.e. allowing the people to exercise self-rule at the grass-root level, is crucial to ensure particip atory democracy. District, provincial and national political power should not be treated as higher levels of power but different spheres of power.
The big wave of indigenisation and anti-westernisation – which is part explanation for the Islamic Resurgence, the growth of the Hindutva-movements and the economic and cultural rise of China – cannot be wished away lightly. If issues like democracy, human rights or women’s rights get labelled as “western values” by various oppressive forces in the South, there is a real danger that these values will be seriously undermined during the first century of the new millennium.
Directions of Search
In the bottom-up view of participatory democracy where institutions, ideas and ideologies are worked out by the people themselves, there is a contradiction in terms to suggest institutions of governance. When the recipients of the Right Livelihood Award met in Salzburg in 1999, issues of WTO came up. The solution suggested was not an alternative WTO, but basically a plea to pause and undertake introspection seriously. It was suggested that the operation of the WTO should be suspended for five years, a Citizen’s Commission should be appointed to go into the various kinds of damages it has inflicted over humankind, and civil society dialogues should be organised all over the globe, especially among the affected communities.
Instead of giving a top-down solution, we would like to engage with the following questions with regard to the potential and direction the present flux will take. The main issues for a democratic basic transformation of society involve (a) faith, (b) hope and (c) the methods.
Faith: Regarding faith in fellow human beings, the widely shared view among the community of activists we belong to, is that selfishness and greed are only one part of the human journey and not the dominating, defining characteristic of human life. Wants can be fulfilled, and even indulged in, without being glorified.
We insist that it is very degrading to define human beings as entities with material wants only. They have moral, spiritual and cultural orientations as well. Commenting on an earlier draft of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam statement Professor B.K. Roy Burman, a leading Indian anthropologist, said the following:
“My understanding of anthropology impels me to accept the basically social nature of human beings. […] Democracy is the other name of practice of companionate value oriented culture. It is a process in non-stop dialectical relationship with antinomous culture. Commitment to responsible democracy is commitment to the processual dimension and not to any pre-fabricated structure.”
Hope: The task of building true democracy is now firmly linked with the global struggle to reform or transform capitalism without a readymade version of socialism. It is a new project. However, it is based on perennial values of compassion, justice, equality and freedom. It is based on understanding the spiral and web of life and to nurturing life in its most holistic sense in the contemporary context. There has to be hope for such a creative endeav our.
Method: The method for democratic struggles has three aspects. One is ‘dialogue’, basically to reco gnise the contours of the present times. Through dialogues we not only recognise our times but also understand the calling of our times. Dialogue at all levels, including with the adversary, is possible only if we do not believe in the conspiracy theory and believe in the willingness of the human spirit for struggle and self-sacrifice against injustice. However, grasping the essence of the times will be incomplete if we do not simultaneously fight the injustice. For this, the second component is ‘non-violent civil disobedience’. The third component of the method is ‘constructive a ction’ to create structures, activities and life styles in consonance with the vision of a democratic society.
Limitations of North-South Civil Society DialoguesFor a variety of political and historical reasons, internationally funded NGOs have less popular appeal and legitimacy in our society than the non-funded / non-structured movement groups. Civil society groups working among Dalits of India are under such pressures (to work for issues of local oppression, proper implementati on of the policy of positive affirmation, land reforms, plight of the agricultural workers and issues of Dalit atrocities etc.) that they hardly get to link these pressing issues of identity and dignity with the larger issues of globalisation. The diversity of Indian civil society makes it imperative that the anti-globalisation perspective and struggle can flower only when there is a linking up of various social groups into a holistic democratic struggle at all levels, including the grass-root and national levels.
Northern civil society has to work out institutional mechanisms to relate to the less globalised sections of our society. In the early eighties, peasant movement ideologues like Sunil Sahastrabudhey used to emphasise a distinction between India and Bharat. Bharat refers to that section of Indian population which is either less colonised or structural could not access the global modern knowledge systems and networks. There is plenty of literature that clearly demonstrates that people in Bharat have not completely lost their touch yet and they lead a more wholesome life than those of us who are victims of the mad-race syndrome.
We are trying to convey two issues: first, in the bottom-up view of democracy, we need to learn the specificity and uniqueness of each entity and at every level. Second, we must not undermine the autonomy of each entity and should not mix-up the levels. But in an era of globalisation, where we all need to unite to deal with the satanic dimensions of globalisation, we need to know each other empathetically. Knowing oneself is a very difficult task and knowing the ‘other’ is yet more difficult. But to work out concretely the ideas of global solidarity we need to help each other to know ourselves without undermining our autonomies.
It is instructive to remember Gandhiji’s advice that he gave to a group of Christian workers from USA in 1936. This advice also makes it clear that Gandhiji was not a blind opponent of modern science and technology, as some sections would like to portray him: “When Americans come and ask me what service they could render, I tell them: if you dangle your millions before us, you will make beggars of us and demoralise us. But in one thing I don’t mind being a beggar. You can ask your engineers and agricultural experts to place their services at our disposal. They must come to us not as lords and masters, but as voluntary workers”.
Proposals for Concrete Action
Till date Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam has been more a framework for connecting various levels and dimensions of political work in the manner that new forms of North-South solidarity and partnership could be worked out. It is not an organisation competing with other organisations in terms of visibility and constituency. It owns and considers itself part of the radical democratic movement. The more we dialogue and rub shoulders with each other, the nearer we arrive at a more comprehensive and shared understanding of our times and the possible modes of intervention. The organisational form that Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam takes depends upon the local context in which people come together. Several organisations in India have adopted a programme on dialogues for comprehensive democracy,
calling it ‘the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam programme’. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in India is not a registered organisation but a forum to develop the international dimension of radical democratic politics of the country to become part of the world-wide movement for deepening democracy.
Keeping our basic premises, the challenges covered in the foregoing discussion and the limitations in mind, the following are some suggestions for concrete action:
- Opening up spaces for multiple visions to evolve, flower and express themselves. Dialogue, or in fact multi-logue across the diverse visions and between diverse strands within them, will enrich all human striving. This can occur democratically only when each vision feels secure and empowered.
- Institutionalising quasi-permanent structures/networks for enduring ‘Dialogues on democracy and globalisation’. This can be the most strategic tool for global democratisation. We need to consciously and urgently cultivate peer groups, clubs, institutions, networks, movement groups and political parties to discuss the positive forms of intervent ion to deepen democracy.
- We urgently need to undertake some defensive actions as well. We need to evolve a defence strategy in preserving what the hegemonic forces have not so far destroyed. Southern civilisations have been practising for thousands of years a way of life that we now describe as ‘green principles’. A careful look at their livelihood support systems will show that limiting the wants was a conscious choice for conservation and regeneration of nature and not due to sheer technological backwardness. But now, the present form of globalisation is destroying these communities at a very rapid rate. Global democratic forums need to set up a ‘defence committee’ to defend ‘green communities’ in the South. Otherwise, what has been preserved through thousands of years will be completely destroyed in the next couple of decades.
- We need an independent information, research and media network to identify the democratic practices, struggles, dreams and dramas being unfolded and enacted in the family called Earth. We need to collect, collate and then share this information, especially for those who are still prisoners of the mirage of the American consumer paradise. We should resolve to set up such media centres all over the world and to disseminate this information in the people’s languages as widely as possible, besides doing so in English.
- All these dialogues and building up of institutions and networks should culminate into building a global front for defending, deepening and expanding democracy. This front can be built through a combination of intellectual activism and organisation building. The organisation building cannot happen through intellectual activism alone. The evolution of ideological frameworks and building up of networks can happen effectively if we use the tool of civil disobedient and constructive action, as evolved by Gandhiji.
- Those who believe in democracy have not only to shun violence themselves but also have to delegitimise violence as a method for social change. They have to sharpen the tools of non-violent civil disobedience. Gandhiji believed that only those who are civil and obey the laws of the land have the right to fight the unjust laws.
- The agenda of boycotting genetically modified food-grains and biotechnology produced edible materials should be adopted and, if necessary, non-violent civil disobedience should be resorted to. This should be done after adequate political and technical preparation, including sustainable land use planning
- A campaign should be launched against all diversionary moves which, in the name of cultural nationalism and ‘national sentiments’, put issues such as the right to work and right to sustainable livelihood at the backburner.
- Democratising existing global institutions by sensitising them to the above processes and making them supportive. Building such pressure on existing institutions and devising new institutions more in consonance with the calling of the present times would then be part of bottom-up movements. The institutions must be constantly renewed by an interactive process and mechanisms for this must be structurally incorporated.
Statement of Purpose for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Finland
Diagnosis of the Times: Politics in the Context of Culture
The dream of equality between free people living dignified and secure lives may be as old as human kind itself. It is not the property of any one time, place or culture but belongs to all, as an ongoing task. The conditions for its realisation vary over time. In our times all people engaging in politics for equality and solidarity need to define their views on the powers – military, economic, political and cultural – unleashed by the modern West. This is true to an eminent degree for those of us who live in Western Europe and North America. Let that, then, be my starting-point.
Modernisation as a form of civilisation combines unlikely political, social, economic, moral and cultural aspects that have been upheld triumphantly globally for five centuries. This has, famously, been the first period of world history. At no other time in the million years that humanoid creatures have inhabited this earth have any one of their cultural expressions come anywhere near the modern West in terms of dynamic influence on the biosphere and cultural developments on all continents. The five centuries of modern expansion deserve to be called the era of extremes. They have been marked by excessive amounts of both oppression and emancipation, poverty and wealth, suffering and self-realisation, cultural decline and flowering, all of which have been extremely unequally distributed.
One of the most attractive features of modernisation is its universal intention, an aim certainly not unique to modern culture, but which nevertheless serves as its moral basis, giving its other aspirations support and credibility. Modernity, which promises so many good things in this life, including emancipation from old social bonds, individual autonomy, the satisfaction of immediate desire without moral risk and unforeseen material affluence and power comes with the claim that these promises are meant for us all.
Until recently, the promise seemed realistic. It made sense to believe that modernisation as a universal moral project was compatible with the industrial growth model of social organisation. Under these conditions, it was natural that protests against the affluent utopia were mostly seen as expressing an elitist aesthetic sensibility that did not merit serious political attention. Given the ideology of the cultural neutrality of science, technology and modern Western consumer standards, it was natural too that industrial affluence of the Western type became a goal and its furtheran ce a source of cultural and political legitimacy for the powerful across the planet. This was the time when cultural visions that did not integrate the search for scientific and technological might and at least some aspects of the consumer paradise became marginalised in most traditions.
At the end of the old Millennium it had, however, become evident that the dream of modernity as the universal consumer paradise has come to its end. The world has enough for everyone’s needs but not for everyone’s greed, as Gandhi already knew.
The cultural implication is obvious but not eagerly received in all quarters: modernisation can continue today only on the basis of a choice between solidarity and growth, as the overriding concern and criterion for social and cultural success.
There is little doubt about the choice that prevails today: the US and EU and elites in all countries who follow their lead, are heading towards the abyss that opens up when priority is given to industrial growth that benefits, at most, the already rich, not to universal justice and solidarity. In the search for growth, capitalism, unfettered by the socialist challenge, comes into its own, promising infinite increases in wealth and might to the already rich and mighty. And, of course, capitalism in its pure form is a political regime too, with imperialistic warfare, global juridical regulation of the economy, and increasingly totalitarian domestic politics as its condition for success. A fundamental question of our times, especially in the modern West is how we can shift cultural track. How can we move away from the dim prospects that inevitably follow for us and others as long as we choose growth that benefits the rich rather than a solidarity as the paramount goal? How can we abandon such ‘cynical modernity’ and embark on a new ‘modernity of solidarity’ in which priority is given to the universal moral ideals of modern culture over the values of worldly success? What would it mean for us today to be guided in our politics by those very ideals of democracy, equity and freedom and dignity of all, which the dominating powers still, with unfathomable hypocrisy, claim for themselves?
It is in the search for answers to this question that I see a role for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. That statement implies that I think the answers given at present by the best political forces are not satisfactory. Bits and pieces of the answers we need are available in the broad spectrum of left, green and centrist-liberal forces, which can credibly claim to be guided by universal, democratic aspirations. (I shall call this the centre-left.) But they need to be deepened and strengthened, bearing in mind a key lesson of the past century, the lesson that the centre-left needs to draw its strength from multiple dreams and open-ended, non-violent struggle rather than from a singular utopia that gives false justification to standardisation, violence and oppression.
The Crisis of Centre-left Politics
The current crisis of modernity has a well-known political aspect. Imperial, corporate-driven, capitalist globalisation has prompted a crisis of governance with world-wide implications. Not only are basic survival conditions of disadvantaged people, animals and plants destroyed at a phenomenal rate. Ironically, the collapse of many states and the growing uncertainty and disregard for rules that grows from within capitalism itself is, arguably, creating increasing risk for the traditional winners in global capitalism, the large corporations, and the political and administrative elites of the dominant powers.
The ensuing so-called crisis of governance has received enormous attention, especially among the educated, western and westernised elites. The natural, often-heard response is the call for more transnational and / or global governance. Just see how wide the call has rung in academic circles, the web, NGOs, World Bank reports, government programmes and western media during the past decade. Sometimes the call is moderated by calls for democracy in global governance, and lately radical groups and intellectuals have started gathering around programmes for transnational and global democratisation.
The call for global democratisation has my sympathy and support. It can also be dangerous, however, unless it is understood in a larger cultural context. As long as we think of the crisis we face today primarily as a crisis of governance we will not be able to see that the call for governance and the call for democracy are ultimately two entirely different cultural models. We will then be prone to engage in a politics for global democracy with an agenda so narrow that it risks becoming, inadvertently, the unlikely ally of imperial, belligerent capitalism. This risk looms large in centre-left politics today and is a key reason for our collective weakness at all levels of politics. As I think this diagnosis is politically quite potent, I will next provide some warrant for it. Before going to that, let me stress, however, that I do not see Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as a forum exclusively for those who agree with my diagnosis and argument. I see it rather as a forum, in which concerns such as the ones I express here can be debated among friends sharing common values so that we can learn together.
Let me start with an analogy. Between 1965 and 1985, the rising awareness of the ecological problems and of their links to the development crisis in the South led to a much needed questioning of the industrial growth model of society in Western Europe and North America, or ‘the North’. In the mid-80s, however, after the invention of a new terminology with the concepts ‘ecological modernisation’ and ‘sustainable development’ at the core, the radicalising questioning of the dominant development model in the North was transformed into a search for more-of-the-same. As we have seen so clearly since the publication of the so called Brundtland Report on Sustainable Development in 1987, the political search for sustainable development since has not been a search for cultural transformation in the North due to the limits to growth nor has it been about social and political transformation in order to advance global equity. Sustainable development has become the legitimating ground for a politics of technological and administrative fixes in which the political potential of the ecological crisis is domesticated. What used to be a reason to put checks and limits on imperial aggression and corporate power has become a vehicle for enhanced power for the educated elites in business, administration, academic institutions and the new power brokers called NGOs.
There is no exact parallel between ‘sustainable development’ and ‘globalisation’, and not all uses of the word globalisation are dangerous. Nevertheless, it seems to me that some very troubling political developments are intrinsically linked to the rise of the term ‘globalisation’ to the centre of our present political vocabulary.
First, there is what I want to call the unintended affiliation between e.g. many political initiatives discussed at Porto Alegre and in Davos, in the World Social Forum (WSF) and the World Economic Forum. Even President Bush will agree easily with many discussants at the WSF that because of economic globalisation, ‘the world’ needs creativity and bold action in shaping new structures of transnational governance. Given the asymmetry in communicative and administrative power, this agreement is often sufficient to enable the elites to translate radical and well-intended propositions for transnational institutional reform into a political dynamics that works in their favour. Just think how smoothly radical reform proposals, such as the call for a Currency Transaction Treaty (the ‘Tobin tax’), have during the past few years been translated into a legitimation of new means of technocratic control, such as the investment treaty in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or greater centralisation of power in the European Union (EU). The crucial step is often the shift from the correct claim, “we need fair and democratic rules to control so-and-so, e.g. transnational capital flows” to the potentially genocidal “we need a rules-based global system to control so-and-so”.
Consider further, the debates over the WTO and over the EU. In both debates, the centre-left stands divided. Some of us are eager to use the WTO and EU as tools for our goals. The reason is not that we think so well of the present WTO or EU. The reason is that we think both, or at least one of them, say the EU, belong to the best promises we have in the struggle for global democracy, peace and justice. The core of the argument to this effect is very well known. It runs, with little variety as follows:
“In the 20th century, the centre-left came a long way ino taming capitalism at the national level. The finest achieve ment was, arguably, the creation of the welfare societies of the Nordic countries, which became models of equality, prosperity and democracy of global significance. Unfortunately, however, capitalism has outgrown the political reach of nation states. The centre-left must therefore create new structures of transnational governance. If we do not join forces to reform the EU (and perhaps the WTO too) from within, we lose some of our best tools for taming global capitalism. Therefore, and also as a counterweight to US military hegemony, we need a strong EU (and, perhaps, a strong WTO).”
One could call this the political programme of the social democratic reformist optimists.
The reformist programme is challenged by other centre-left forces. They claim that the present prospects for reform of the WTO and / or the EU are so dim that we should oppose and resist rather than go along with and seek reform from within. Not all transnational power, these forces will claim, are effective when we seek to tame capitalism. The present WTO and the present EU, they will claim, are fundamentally undemocratic. Rather than serving as tools to control corporate power the EU and/or the WTO work, in fact, to enhance it. We should not be misled by our dreams. No one who takes the trouble to analyse the draft constitution for the European Union prepared by the ‘European Convention’ can fail to see that it promises no democratisation of the EU, but rather cements the present power structure. Far from developing into a tool for democratic control of capitalism, or for putting checks on the military hegemony of the US and the EU as we have it in reality and not in our dreams, the draft constitution is developing into a tool for control by industry and finance of the polity and for securing an improved European contribution to US- led imperialist aggression. Giving more power to the EU will not, therefore, bring more justice and peace to the political system but less.
The debates over the role of EU and WTO reform to advance global justice and peace illustrate a larger problem that haunts the centre-left today. The quarrels over the role of short-term realistic reform of existing transnational institutions in a comprehensive politics for global solidarity has resulted in what could be called the Great Divide. On one side, we have the committed realists and reformists of the centre-left. Their fate during the past decade or two has been to play quite weakly in government or government coalitions whose politics is defined by a solid neo- liberal hegemony. Tax cuts and deregulation in domestic politics have been accompanied by corporate-friendly ‘liberalisation’ of the international economy, under the guidance of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the WTO and their regional clones. The result is known by all: growing income gaps in and between countries globally, growing insecurity and marginalisation on all continents, the decline of small scale farming and local self-reliance, etc.
At the same time, more radical centre-left groups who refuse to fight on the terms dictated by the dominant right have been marginalised from pragmatic decision-making. Simultaneously, they have encountered their notorious ‘strange bed-fellow problem’ i.e. the problem of distinguishing themselves from communal, nationalistic or xenophobic groups.
The situation we end up in is this: The more radical left stands with a growing nationalist and fascist right in a position of a morally righteous but politically impotent opposition. And the reformist left stands helplessly in power with the prevailing, neo-liberal right. Unable to level out their differences, the divided centre-left fights a defensive and losing battle in the capitalist whirlpool while the fascist right advances to power.
What we have lost, or never achieved sufficiently, in most European countries at least is the day-to-day co-operation and sense of self-evident solidarity between the reformist left-liberal spectrum and the more radical green-left spectrum of politics. In my country, Finland, and I believe many other countries as well, the loss takes the form also of a loss of solidarity between established parties, trade unions and farmers’ organisations on one side, and radical more or less anarchist movement groups on the other side. (The WSF-process serves well to break this unhappy constellation. And maybe the new governments of Ecuador, Venezuela and Brazil are a sign that a new centre-left hegemony is on the rise? But I shall not discuss that here.) What we witness in consequence of these divides is the sorry spectacle of a centre-left that lacks moral vision and political courage. The end result is that we have been slow and weak in challenging imperial capitalism at its roots; at the levels of cultural imagination and daily mass-support.
The Way Out: Deepening and Broadening the Agenda
We, the people, parties, groups, movements, trade unions and other political organisations of the centre-left have a simple task. We need to break the neo-liberal hegemony. This requires strength both in pragmatic day-to-day political reform and at the level of visions and values.
Creative work for transnational political reform has a role to play in our overall strategy, but if we are to overcome ‘the Great Divide’, we need to be more clear than we have been of late about this part of our programme. Quarrelling over the right EU or WTO politics will be endless and unproductive unless we see both tasks in a broad and long-term perspective. Let me refer briefly to two basic conditions for democracy that the centre-left needs to, but has often have failed to, take into account. (Both conditions are shrugged off as irrelevant by neo-liberals. Keeping them in view helps, I think, in making clear the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the neo-liberal right.)
First: democracy is not interest agglomeration. According to a popular but limited version of liberal democratic thought, people enter society with interests and needs which only the individual herself can know. Democracy, on this account, is a tool we use to weigh these legitimate irreducibly individual interests and needs against each other in order to accomplish fair (re)distribution. This view is based on an atomistic notion of society (as constituted by isolated individuals or ‘atoms’) and it implies a mechanistic notion of democracy. Global democracy, we might think on this basis, is essentially achievable by having a world parliament elected through adult franchise and assisted by an effective staff of experts to take care of global problems. Regional parliaments will do the job at the regional level, national at the national level and so on. This vision of democracy as essentially comprising three components, free and fair elections, democratic legislation by the elected and the exercise of power by governments accountable to elected parliaments has only limited merit if already for the following reason: It overlooks the extent to which needs and interests are constantly defined and redefined through communication. (I cannot know what is good for me unless I know how my assessment is received by others I care for and about, and unless I know how these others assess my assessment and can learn from them, and unless the others can learn from me, and unless I know that they know how I understand their assessment, and so on and so on: The levels and kinds of reciprocal reflection, care and learning that play a role in democratic communication are quite many and complex.) For this reason alone, we can have democracy worth its name only between people who can effectively communicate with each other. And, for this reason alone, many well-intended proposals for global and transnational democratic reform that are in vogue today bear the mark of naivety.
Second: democratic communication is not easily achieved. We must, of course, be fascinated by the prospects opened up by new media and so-called global civil society. Both open up important new possibilities. But we must be clear that new media are no more neutral tools for democracy than are old media, such as the ‘free’ commercial press and TV. And ‘civil society’ is all too often founded on dreams of mass participation while its real outreach and mobilisation remains extremely weak. Of course, my point is not that we should leave internet and international conferencing to our opponents. But the fact is that even when at their best, as in the Socialist International, the International Coalition of Free Trade Unions, the World Social Forum, global movement networks such as People’s Global Action or Jubilee 2000 or in INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organisations) such as Friends of the Earth or Attac, international communication structures in the age of the net and ‘global civil society’ remain extremely asymmetrical. Language barriers, gendered technologies and economic and technological disparities continue to give fantastic privilege to the educated male elites and middle classes in all parts of the globe. This is not only true in business, high politics and the academic world but in left-centre politics of all varieties as well. And the problem is often even more acute on the transnational and global level than on regional, national and local levels of organisation.
With these observations in mind, let me single out three strategic challenges to centre-left politics in the era of globalisation and the cultural crisis of modernity. (It should be obvious from the discussion above that I intend the challenges I highlight as complementary to, not as replacements for, some more obvious and well-known tasks such as stopping imperialist warfare and curbing corporate power.)
First, the challenge of comprehensibility: people can exercise democratic rights and participate effectively only if political processes are understandable. Often the currently most decisive political issues, such as EU or WTO-reform, present quite serious difficulties in this regard.
Second, the challenge of creating the right structures of communication and to strengthen, and if needed create, corresponding democratic processes and institutions. We must face, not least, the fact that in the era of the internet and global air travel, and as more nations than ever before conduct multi-party elections with universal suffrage, the democratic accountability of elected and non-elected political leaders seems to have weakened rather than strengthened. Why is this and what are the remedies?
Third, the challenge of limiting the political tasks. The current level of integration and interdependence in world affairs threatens to make meaningful, reasoned political participation a full-time task. But not all people want to be full-time activists and not all people can. This (and other considerations only hinted at here) opens up the prospect that modern technology and the modes of organisation it necessitates are incompatible with comprehensive democracy. And that reminds us of the need in the centre-left to take seriously again the discussion about the right balance between the local, the national and the transnational in our political and economic strategies.
It seems to me that no democratic politics today can hope to be realistic without a view of transnational or global democratisation. But it is equally true that a democratic politics that focuses too much on the global or transnational level will have little chance of responding to the challenges I mentioned.
It is because of the need I see for the centre-left to unite and to address the challenges I have mentioned that I welcome the comprehensive perspective on democracy that lies at the core of Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
In discussions of this perspective, friends of the initiative have often talked about dimensions of democracy. Dimensions that have been mentioned include political, ecological, cultural, gender, social, economic and knowledge democracy.
One could say that this discussion of the dimensions of democracy is informed by a horizontal view of the challenges for a comprehensive politics for democratisation.
I welcome it for many reasons. At the level of our theoretical understanding, the analysis of the various dimensions of democracy reminds us that democratic politics is a richer and perhaps more demanding art than is often observed. (Democratic politics is not only about economics and governance, even though it must be about these too.) At the level of pragmatic day-to-day work, the same analysis promises to be an energising and enriching tool. I would like to emphasise one particularly promising aspect. When we speak of the many dimensions of democracy, we will be reminded of what the political movements have always intuitively known: a political movement is successful when cultural, social, epistemic and other efforts work without competition between them towards common goals. Emma Goldman was right: A movement that does not have its own dances will not be successful. Hence, there is a place and need in democratic politics for people of many other types than those who enjoy the classical political themes of state-power and economic regulation. One way in which Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam has the potential to contribute to a resurgence of centre-left politics is by serving as a forum that inspires a broadening of the centre-left self- understanding, participation and political agenda.
I would, however, like to add a ‘vertical’ perspective to the horizontal perspective on democracy. Whichever ‘dimension’ of democracy we consider, it involves challenges at different vertical levels of human interaction. The mechanisms and tools for democracy will not all be the same at the family level, the community level, the national level, the regional level, the transnational level and the global level. (If we recognise this, we can also recogni se that the quarrel over direct vs. representative democracy is often spurious.)
All vertical levels of democracy in all horizontal dimensions are interdependent. If we have no democracy in our families or our companies, our schools or our local communities, we will not have individuals with the capacity to engage democratically in transnational politics. But, also, unless transnational democratic structures protect local democracies of e.g. gender and the economy against the onslaught of capitalist aggression, the latter will be facing hard times. And so on.
Democratic politics, then, is a truly comprehensive task. Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam serves a role already in reminding us that this is the case. Nevertheless, it is not an initiative designed only to propel dreams.
Overcoming the American Dream: Some Notes on the Work Ahead
This is not the place to discuss programmes but let me close with a remark that connects to my diagnosis above and with a few notes on the current tasks of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam as I see them.
The centre-left needs, as stressed above, to challenge the neo-liberal hegemony in ‘high politics’, especially transnationally. But it can do so successfully only if (i) it does not restrict itself to ‘reactive’, transnational political struggle and (ii) if it recognises that the current neo-liberal hegemony is rooted in a deep cultural hegemony. In the present world, ‘the American Dream’, the dream of getting a ticket to consumer paradise, has captured the hearts and minds of people across the globe. In this sense, the defeat of centre-left politics for justice, peace and democracy : the comprehensive and deep political changes that are required today can only come together with changes in cultural vision and aspiration. Correct responses and answers will be different in different contexts and different parts of the globe. We will not find all the right answers overnight. Peaceful cultural change involves deep collective learning processes and must be slow. It took centuries for the modern West to acquire its hegemonic force. It is a relatively new discovery that this cultural form has come to a point at which a choice has become inevitable between striving above all for growth for the rich, which will lead to a new cultural form, ‘cynical modernity’ and striving for ethical universalism, which will lead, in various forms and with many varieties, to modernities (or post- modernities) of solidarity. The needs of our times are truly gigantic and pressing. Nevertheless, it would be unrealistic and dangerous to expect that the cultural and political changes that our new cultural predicament necessitates could be achieved within just one or two generations.
Regardless of how accurate the nuthshell diagnosis of the times I have suggested is, one thing seems clear. The only way to a different, more plural, ecologically realistic and more humane cultural order comes through long processes of democratic negotiation, struggle and service. The work ahead can only be achieved through real participation by very large numbers of people. Success will not come easily. But I suppose few of us thought that human life would ever be easy. And there is good news as well. We do not know the ways of history. But it seems to me realistic today to think that even quite minimal democratic advances can, due to the monstrosity and precariousness of the present structures of power, have very powerful effects.
Can Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam add anything to this struggle? That, of course, is a question to be decided through real work. I close with some remarks that give an idea of the kind of work I think Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam could advance.
- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam grows partly out of discussions and political co-operation between South Asian and Nordic activists that have endured for more than decade. The initiative has therefore an inherent inter-cultural aspect. Nevertheless, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is not designed only or primarily to promote international activities. While we recognise the huge relevance of international and transnational politics, many of us think that most political work today still needs to reach the levels where most citizens meet and are active, i.e. the local and national levels. These basic starting-points should help avoid both national or local parochialism and the eurocentrism and dominance of the experiential basis of the frequent travellers that is so typical of many international and transnational political initiatives, old and new.
- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is not a campaign organisation, nor a body that tries to advance its own political programme or ideology. It strives to serve as a forum for understanding and bridge-building. To this end, it will be useful if Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam can be used as a forum to negotiate differences and recreate solidarity through debate over issues that are strategically divisive between people and organisations of the centre-left working on similar themes. But I also see a role for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam in re-forging links between various sectors of the centre-left that at times have been close but have now drifted apart. One example might be the links between the academic centre-left and parties and movements, another might be the links between cultural workers and activists in parties and movements with a more immediately political identity.
- Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam intends, with all modesty, to be one of many groups and initiatives that support and contribute to the World Social Forum process. It should not be seen as seeking to compete with it, be it at the national, regional or international level.
- Despite its intellectual profile and dialogic focus, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam should be acutely aware of the need not only for discussion and debate, but also for two other equally necessary dimensions of democratic politics. One is service: only by understanding our work as selfless service for what Gandhi called Daridranarayan (the last perso n), not as struggle for power and influence can we accomplish the unity of means and ends that is essential to all truly democratic politics. The other is resistance: to achieve democratic change, we must remember, it is often not sufficient to have good ideas and good arguments that win massive support. Often necessary change can only be achieved after the powerful have been challenged with all means of non-violent struggle and resistance.
The ideas expressed in this book are an outcome of a long lasting dialogue between the authors and many others since 1989. If all those who have contributed to the development of these ideas were named, the list would make another 50 pages. However, there are people who have taken active interest in the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam idea whom we wish to acknowledge. In India and Nepal, G. Narendra Nath, B.K.Roy Burman, Richa Nagar, D.L.Sheth, Devinder Sharma, Arun Kumar (economist), Arun Kumar (panibaba), Arun Singh, Rajni Bakshi, Ajit Jha, R.N.Mehro tra, Anil Bhattarai, Vagish Jha, Raman Nanda and Manvi Priya have given important inputs. In Finland and Sweden a group of activist and scholars who have taken part in the discussions include Jaana Airaksinen, Tord Björk, Outi Hakkarainen, Risto Isomäki, Meri Koivusalo, Anastasia Laitila, Leena Rikkilä, Katarina Sehm-Patomäki, Tove Selin, Folke Sundman, Olli Tammilehto, Oras Tynkkynen and Marko Ulvila. Jarna Pasanen did the final editing and effort to bring out this booklet.
Vijay Pratap has been active in the democratic social movement, as member of youth wing of the Socialist Party since 1968 and later Janata Party at its inception. He has been founder member of a number of organisations and networks for furthering democracy and people-centred development. These include the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Lokayan and Sampoorna Kranti Manch. He has been visiting fellow and convener of dialogues at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. Currently he is attempting a dialogic engagement for democratising the international North-South relations and developing local to global networks for deepening comprehensive democracy.<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ritu Priya, currently teaching at Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been working on the democratisation of knowledge systems. As a medical graduate with a doctorate in public health, her focus has been a search for developing approaches towards contextual and people- centre health policies and programmes. Dalit perceptions, health of the urban poor, the responses to AIDS and the links between health and democracy are some of her ongoing concerns. She has been member of People’s Union of Civil Liberties, the Medico Friend Circle and coordinator of Swasthya Panchayat, working group on health in Lokayan, Delhi.<email@example.com>
Thomas Wallgren is a philosopher and senior research fellow at the Academy of Finland. His main research interests are the philosophy of modernity and epistemology. During the past decades he has played an important role in several formations of new social movements, especially in the fields of the environment and global solidarity. He has served as a vice-chairperson of Service Centre for Development Cooperation and Finnish Society for Nature Conservation and been a leading activist of many movement groups such as Finnish Forest Action Group and Alternative to the European Union. Currently he is the vice-chairperson of Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Finland) and board member of Corporate Europe Observatory (the Netherlands).<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Your co-operation and participation will contribute towards enriching this dialogue. Please send your comments and ideas to us at the following addresses:
Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy – Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
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Delhi – 110 054
Global Ecological Problems and Issues of Ecological Democracy in the Beginning of the New Millennium
A Discussion Paper for the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Ecological Democracy Working Group
First Draft, July 2003
At the beginning of the 21st century the various environmental problems have become perhaps the greatest challenge of the humanity and the most serious threat for the long-term well-being of the human population living on our planet.
The ancient problems related to soil fertility, erosion, desertification, salinization and loss of nutrients, are still with us and damaging the food production in different parts of the world. The air in many cities is more polluted than perhaps ever before. Millions of people are still drinking water that has been polluted by human wastes and industrial pollutants.
Besides these age-old problems there is a truly frightening array of new environmental threats that have been produced by modern industrial development within a very short period of time, in less than a century.
One hundred years ago we did not even know that there is something which is called the ozone layer. Now we know that it is threatened by destruction by various chemicals produced by the human civilization.
We started to use deep groundwater in a larger scale only a couple of decades ago. At that time we thought that this would be a solution to all our water needs, replacing the traditional water harvesting and storing technologies that had been in use for thousands of years. After fifty years of groundwater overuse we are faced with declining water-tables and with a huge problem of groundwater pollution, the most striking example of which is the vast arsenic poisoning epidemic in Bangladesh and in the states of West Bengal, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh in India. While this is happening, the hundreds of thousands of traditional water harvesting systems are lying in ruins in South Asia, North Africa, Middle East, China, Latin America and elsewhere. In some cases the “answers” to the acute water problems dreamed by our governments, like the overly ambitious river-linking schemes, are almost as frightening as the actual problems the projects are supposed to solve.
The strenghtening of the greenhouse effect is threatening to destabilize the whole climate of our planet. This would make weather conditions very unpredictable and cause major problems for agricultural production. The melting of Himalayan glaciers could lead to the drying of some of the most important rivers in Asia. The melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic glaciers could raise sea levels and drown most of the world’s fertile farmlands, and also produce very large and dangerous tsunami waves.
While the worries related to global warming and its possible consequences are increasing, the US government has bluntly stated that it plans to increase the US carbon dioxide emissions by 40 per cent.
Many observers have claimed that the market mechanisms can take care of global warming and other environmental issues. However, in reality it seems that the present emphasis on market mechanisms is leading to a renewal of nuclear power and to the production of natural gas with a technology called underground coal gasification. In other words: instead of solving the problems the market mechanisms are leading the world towards a massive use of the two most dangerous and harmful ways of producing energy anybody has ever been able to conceive.
Most of the people living on Earth do not want all this. They would like to have clean air and clean water, they do not support the destruction of the forests. They would like to use energy whose production is not stabilizing the global climate. And they would like to leave a beautiful Earth which has not been contaminated with radioactive waste for their children, grandchildren and for the innumerable generations which should have the right to be born on Earth after them.
However, a very complex web of economic and political power relations often forces the people to support policies which they would not like to support and to use the most polluting forms of energy. Therefore we cannot save ourselves and the future generations from an environmental disaster without tackling the issues of democracy and equality. Ecological democracy is an important dimension of democracy, and a prerequisite for sustainable human societies.
Issues of ecological democracy
Ecological democracy is a very complex concept, with numerous different aspects and dimensions at different levels of the society.
Some of the present practises and technologies can, during the lifetime of only a few generations, cause serious harm for thousands if not millions of future generations. However, the future generations cannot vote. How do we take such issues into account?
There are usually many different ways of solving the same environmental problems. Different solutions have different social, economic, cultural and political consequences.
Who should decide what type of solutions will be adopted? Who will, for instance, decide how much nature will be protected and how? How much decision-making power should be delegated to the global or regional level and how much to the national level? How much should remain on the municipal or local (village) level? What is the best way of linking these different levels of decision-making together? How can the conflicts between local, national and global level be negotiated?
The control of local natural resources is one issue that has divided opinions among the environmentalists in the South and in the North.
In this respect, the two most important streams of thinking could be called the sustainable use approach and the protectionist approach.
In the North the protectionist approach has been stronger than in the South, and it has dominated the thinking among the environmental organizations and the Green parties that started to emerge on the political map of Europe at the end of 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the North it has been the former peasant parties, now known as Center parties, that have based their environmental thinking on the sustainable utilization and local control of natural resources. In the North it has usually been very difficult for the peasant parties and the new Green parties to speak to each other, and they have often drifted into seriously conflicting positions. The dynamics of such conflicts have hardened the attitudes on both sides and led to increasing polarization, which has been extremely harmful from the viewpoint of environmental protection. As a result many Green parties in Europe have adopted a very top-down approach in conservation and environmental protection, which has seriously alienated them from the rural populations. On the other hand rural people have become so frustrated and angry for the Green parties and environmentalists that many peasant organizations and Center parties of Europe have become much less Green than what they used to be. While the peasant movements in the South have gradually become the backbone of most important environmental movements a similar trend has not yet emerged in the North. On the contrary, many peasant organizations have, venting their anger towards the top-down approach of the new Green parties, sometimes taken vehemently anti-environmentalist stands.
In the South the balance of power has been very different. Issues that have to do with everyday survival, acquiring an adequate supply of food, water, building materials and monetary income are so acute for the majority of the people, that an environmental approach that would not pay any attention to such issues could not attract many followers.
In the South the main stream of the environmental movements has been speaking about sustainable development, sustainable use of forests and farmland, sustainable utilization of fish stocks and wildlife, multiple land use looking for an optimal balance between agriculture, forestry, cattle raising, tourism and nature protection.
All the international environmental organizations were originally dominated by the Northern, protectionist approach. However, while the participation of the Southern member organizations has become stronger, the emphasis has been shifting towards the sustainability approach. This happened first inside IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) and FOEI (Friends of the Earth International) and slightly later in other organizations like the Greenpeace International and WWF International (World Wide Fund for Nature International).
If there will be more Green parties in Asian, African and Latin American countries, their participation inside the Global Greens is likely to induce a similar shift into the approach of the Green parties, or at least into their international cooperation organizations. This would also bring the Green Parties and the European peasant parties (Centrist parties) ideologically closer to each other, and perhaps lead to the re-greening of the Centrist parties.
The shift in the thinking of the international envrionmental organizations has been accelerated by the United Nations Conference for Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the Republic of South Africa, in 2002. It was also accelerated by the “sustainability assessments” that IUCN, WWF and the other international environmental organizations produced during the 1990’s. The environmental organizations thought that such assessments would provide new and powerful ammunition for their demands of new, green policies by showing that the existing policies of most governments were unsustainable because they destroyed basic natural resources. It was no great surprise that the assessments supported such conclusions. However, what came as a shock to many Northern environmentalists was that the same assessments were almost as critical also towards the conventional approaches promoted by many environmental organizations.
The weight of the evidence was overwhelming and it was almost everywhere. The same points were repeated over and over again. The assesments emphasized that natural parks and other protected areas would be overrun by people’s needs, sooner or later, unless the parks would also serve the needs of the local people.
“There is no point in creating protected areas if they fail to recognise the requirements of the people who live in or around them. That can only lead to conflict and reduce the chances of success”, says Claude Martin, the zoologist who is currently the director-general of the WWF International.
Global Warming and Ecological Democracy
According to most environmentalists and scientists the strenghtening of the Earth’s greenhouse effect is rapidly becoming the most serious single threat for the future of humanity.
Global warming is also a complex democracy and equality issue. On a long run the strenghtening of the greenhouse effect is a serious threat to everybody. The problem, however, is mostly caused by the rich minority of the world’s population. On a per capita basis some countries are producing a hundred times more climate warming emissions than the world’s poorest countries. And inside each country the more well-off people are always producing more greenhouse gas emissions than the middle- or low-income segments of the population. The rich have large cars and they tend to use them more, they tend to travel more with jet planes that produce several times more greenhouse gases per kilometre per passanger than private cars, they have larger houses that are either heated or cooled down with fossil fuels and they buy more consumer goods the manufacturing of which is causing large greenhouse gas emissions.
If we can only produce a certain, clearly limited amount of greenhouse gases without destabilizing the climate, the only fair way to divide the rights to produce greenhouse gas emissions should be to divide them on a per capita basis. How to achieve such an arrangement, however, is far from easy. Many observers have remarked, that the political negotiations about sharing the rights to pollute greenhouse gases could become something like the New International Economic Order of the 21st century.
In the UNCED conference in 1992 the industrialized countries committed themselves to cutting their carbon dioxide emissions back to the 1990 level before the year 2000. This was a modest step, but it was hoped that it would gradually lead to more meaningful moves towards the same direction.
In the Kyoto meeting, at the end of 1997, the industrialized countries finally promised to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent from the 1990 level before the year 2012. This was a far cry from the level IPCC had deemed necessary, but in spite of such reservations the Kyoto Protocol was hailed as a historical first step towards significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
The convention was somewhat watered down in Bonn, in July 2001.
According to decisions made in Bonn the industrialized countries that will ratify the Kyoto Protocol can implement most of the agreed reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon dioxide emission quotas from other countries, by financing greenhouse gas cuts in the Third World or in the former Soviet Union or by absorbing carbon dioxide into forests or the soils of farmlands.
In reality the industrialized countries – with the significant exception of the USA who produces one third of their greenhouse gas emissions – committed themselves to reducing their real greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8 per cent of the 1990 level by the year 2012.
The next steps will be more difficult. In order to achieve the necessary 60-80 per cent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions much more needs to be done in the North, and the Southern countries must also agree to limit the growth of their emissions.
Some Southern countries have said that the Western countries, with only about 20 per cent of the world’s population, are producing 60 per cent of all the greenhouse gas emissions. If the USA is producing, on a per capita basis, roughly one hundred times more carbon dioxide than Bangladesh, it can’t possibly be fair to ask both countries to cut their emissions by 60 per cent, or by 80 per cent.
Many Third World countries would like to appropriate the rights to produce greenhouse gas emissions between the different nations on a per capita basis, so that a country with one hundred million people would get ten times more emission permits than a country with a population of ten million. If there is an agreement on this, most Third World countries could still continue increasing their greenhouse gas emissions for some time, or alternatively sell their unused quotas to the industrialized countries. The industrialized countries, on the other hand, would have to make very major cuts into their own emissions, or to buy some more emission rights from the Third World countries.
The OECD has estimated, that the price of the emission permits might be somewhere between USD 100 and USD 350 per one ton of carbon already when we would be talking about a cut of 20 per cent in the global emissions. According to the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment this might earn at least USD 100 billion a year in foreign currency for the Third World countries. When the world would move towards a 60 or 80 per cent cut in the emissions, the prices of the emission quotas and the worth of their international trade might multiply.
Besides emission permits, also the managing of carbon sinks – forests absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – could become a tradeable commodity. If this happens and the governments will be paid for carbon sequestration, perhaps peasants and village communities should also get their share of the income?
In the climate convention negotiations many environmentalists were against the inclusion of carbon sinks in the treaty. According to many environmental organizations the sequestration of carbon into forests can only be a temporary relief to the problem, because there is a clear limit for how much carbon the forests can absorb. When the trees start to die the carbon is again released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. On a long run the only way to halt the build-up of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is to limit the use of oil, coal and natural gas. And what if the forests that have been grown to store atmospheric carbon dioxide will burn in giant forest fires?
Other environmental organizations, however, emphasized the benefits of including carbon sinks into the convention. They pointed out that the principle would, among other things, provide a strong incentive for the governments to protect their remaining natural forest areas. Among the supporters of the idea were most of the indigenous peoples of Amazonas and the union of the rubber-tappers and nut-collectors of the Brazilian Amazonas (CNS).
In Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Equador and Peru huge tracts of rainforests have been protected from logging by agreements between the governments and the federations of indigenous peoples living in the forest areas. This has been one of the most important success stories in the history of nature protection, because roughly 30 per cent of all the living species of our planet’s land ecosystems exist in the Amazonian rainforests. The most important ally of the Amazonian rainforest peoples have been the trade unions of people who earn their living by collecting natural rubber, brazil nuts or other products from the rainforests without cutting the trees. Especially the national rubber-tappers’ and nut-gatherers’ union of Brazil (CNS, Conseilho National de Seringueiros) has been very important. In Brazil between four and six million people earn at least a major part of their livelihood through such activities, while the number of rainforest Indians is very small. This has, in practise, made CNS the most important organization with a vested interest in the protection of the rainforests in Brazil.
In spite of all this CNS a lot of violent and angry criticism from the Northern environmental organizations when it supported the inclusion of carbon sinks into the climate convention.
The establishment of carbon storage forests doesn’t have to be a temporary measure. It is possible to manage the forests so, that very high amounts of carbon can be stored in the tree biomass for an indefinite period of time. This can simply be done by lenghtening the rotation period used in forestry. Also, there is a surprisingly large number of tree species that can live one or several thousands of years and achieve a very big size – if left in peace.
Carbon storage forests would most probably be less vulnerable to forest fires than ordinary forests. Young and small trees burn much more easily than older and larger trees which are often surprisingly resistant to forest fires because of their thick bark. Some trees – like the baobab – cannot burn in any kind of forest fires, as long as they remain alive, because of their high moisture content.
Global warming will definitely increase the number and severity of forest fires in different parts of the world, but the higher the average age of the forests will be, the less damage the fires are likely to do. The trees in the ordinary commercial forests are hardly ever grown to an age that would enable them to survive even a relatively mild forest fire.
Many Southern organizations have pointed out other dangers. If the governments and private companies start to establish huge carbon storage forests in the South, this might lead to large-scale privatization of common lands and to large-scale displacement of a lot of people. When the government of Thailand announced that it was going to establish of 4.5 million hectares of eucalyptus plantations, the plan was violently opposed and finally brought down because it would have displaced 5-10 million rural people. For instance the US Ministry of Energy has proposed the establishment of 700 million hectares of new plantation forests in the Third World in order to halt the global warming. What would be the scale of displacement caused by such imaginative approaches?
However, there might be ways to modify the idea of carbon storage forests so, that it becomes truly useful. The most important thing is to ensure, that the arrangements related to carbon sequestration will appropriate more resources into the hands of the poor instead of further narrowing their already limited resource base.
This can be done by several different ways. Perhaps the best alternative would be to demand, that if there will be carbon storage forests, only trees producing food for human consumption should be planted in them. Also, the carbon storage forests should be open for the local people, so that they can collect edible fruits, nuts, pods, seeds and mushrooms from them, gather dry branches or cones that have dropped from the trees for fuel, and let their domestic animals graze and browse the undergrowth after the trees have attained a size after which cattle or goats can no longer harm them. The programmes could also emphasize the planting of food-producing trees that can easily survive bush and forest fires.
We should perhaps agree to and support such arrangements, on three important conditions. First, just like in the Bonn agreement, governments should also in the future be able to implement only a certain per cent of their emission reductions through joint ventures, by absorbing carbon dioxide into the forests or through purchasing carbon sinks or additional emission quotas from other countries. It is important that the governments have a strong enough incentive to develop energy saving technologies and renewable energies. Also, the possibilities to absorb carbon dioxide into forest biomass are limited, and some of these possibilities must be reserved for taking some of the already existing carbon dioxide out from the atmosphere. Second, carbon sinks should only be included if the income from establishing and maintaining carbon storage forests will be divided between the governments and the local people. Third, forests should only be counted as carbon storage forests if they contain food-producing trees and if they will be kept open for the local people.
This probably is the most important issue: whether the programmes are to be implemented in a way that would appropriate more resources into the hands of the poor, or whether they would lead to the further narrowing of the resource base the poor depend on.
Why Global Warming is a Serious Threat to us all
The greenhouse effect refers to the ability of the Earth’s atmosphere to trap the Sun’s infared radiation (heat). Because of the existence of the present kind of atmosphere, the Earth is currently about 30 centigrades warmer than it should otherwise be. Without the greenhouse effect the average temperature on our planet would be about -16 degrees Celsius instead of the present +16 degrees Celsius.
Only some gases are efficient in trapping heat into the atmosphere. Ordinary oxygen and nitrogen molecules do not contribute to the greenhouse effect. Most of the natural greenhouse effect is caused by water vapour. Other substances that contribute to the natural greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ozone (O3).
The use of fossil fuels and the clearing of large forest areas to farmland and pasture are annually producing a lot of extra carbon dioxide. This has started to increase the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content. Also the production of concrete and the draining of peatlands have produced smaller carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time humans are also increasing the atmosphere’s nitrous oxide and methane contents and the amount of ozone in the lower atmosphere. Besides this humans have invented a number of new greenhouse gases or climate warming substances, that do not exist in the nature. The most important group of such substances are the freons or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that also destroy ozone in the upper atmosphere.
The relative significance of the various greenhouse gases depends on the the time frame that is used in the calculations. Different substances have different lifetimes. Methane breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere. Ten kilograms of methane will warm the climate during the next decade as much as a ton of carbon dioxide, but during the next century the impact will only be equivalent to 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide. At this very moment methane is causing approximately one half of the already observable, man-made strenghtening of the greenhouse effect. The calculations used in connection of the Kyoto Protocol, however, use a hundred-year rule: they are based on what will be the warming potential of the various substances over the next 100 years.
If the one hundred-year rule is used, carbon dioxide is most probably responsible for 55-60 per cent of the man-made global warming. Most of this is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, and a smaller part (between one seventh to one third) by the destruction of the world’s forest cover.
In the one hundred-year framework methane’s contribution is between 15 and 20 per cent. The amount of methane in the atmosphere has already more than doubled since 1800. Natural wetlands annually produce about 170 million tons of methane. Rice paddies produce about 110 million, livestock about 80 million, carbage dumps about 40 million, the burning of forest and grasslands about 40 million and the gas-drilling and coal-mining about 80 million tons of methane.
The CFCs used to be make almost 25 per cent of the anthropogenic (human-made) greenhouse gas emissions, but since then their production has almost stopped. Nitrous oxide is responsible for 6 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Probably four-fifths of the man-made emissions are caused by nitrogen fertilizers. The best way to reduce nutrous oxide emissions would be to useorganic farming methods or to prefer less harmful types of nitrogen fertilizers. When anhydrous ammonia or aqua ammonia are used, up to 5 per cent of the nitrogen can be released into the atmosphere in the form of nitrous oxide. For instance nitrogen solutions and sodium nitrate seem to be much less harmful. According to the available studies, only about 0.05 per cent of them is converted to nitrous oxide.
The fourth major problem is ozone, which acts as a climate-warming substance in the lower atmosphere. Most of the tropospheric ozone is produced when the nitrogen oxide in the cars’ exhaust fumes react with sunlight.
Climate scientists say that the man-made emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases might increase the average global temperatures by 1.5-6 centigrades during the 21st century.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative scientific body aiming to coordinate research on global warming, the higher temperatures could lead to a rise of 7 to 13 metres in the sea levels during the next 500 years. If sea levels were to become ten metres higher than now, about ten million square kilometres of land and most of the world’s fertile farmlands would be inundated. About half of the world’s people would lose their homes under the water. Most of our great cities would also be submerged.
The predicted rise is caused by two factors: heat expansion of the sea water and the partial melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic glaciers. According to the IPCC, the thermal expansion of the water “would continue to raise sea levels for many centuries after stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations”. It will take about a thousand years before the warming will reach the bottom of the sea, but during this time the warming predicted for the next century could raise the oceans by four metres.
IPCC scientists predict, that a 2.7 centigrade rise in temperatures in Greenland would trigger an “irreversible” melting of its ice sheet. This would raise sea levels by 7 or 8 metres during the next one thousand years.
Some researchers claim that the West Antarctic ice sheet is also showing signs of becoming unstable. According to the latest satellite pictures the largest glacier of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the Pine Island Glacier, is already losing ice faster than snowfall can replenish it. If the glacier continues to melt at the current rate, it will disappear in 600 years, raising global sea level by five more metres. And this five metres would come on top of the rise caused by heat expansion and by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
If these scenarios will become true, the continuous rise in sea levels could become the most important single factor sustaining and deepening absolute poverty in the world – at least for a thousand years or so. A major part of the world’s population would be pushed into the coastal areas threatened by the rising sea and by hurricanes, because no one else would like to live in these areas, and because the rich and powerful would appropriate for themselves all the good farmland in safer regions. When the sea levels would rise, little by little, the poorest people would have to escape and move, over and over again, losing their homes and a major part of their scarce properties one time after another.
In Bangladesh about ten million people are already living like this: the poorest families have been pushed on lands that will sooner or later be swallowed by the great rivers, that are continuously changing their courses. Many families have been forced to move more than ten times, and each time they have been forced to construct new huts for themselves – which has eaten away what little money they have been able to save.
Also the areas that are lying on somewhat higher ground would be likely to suffer. Various extreme weather conditions like floods and droughts would become more common. The incidence of devastating typhoons and hurricanes might increase by a factor of ten, if the world will become five centigrades warmer than now. At the same time the destructive power of the worst storms might increase by 50 or 60 percent because of the higher temperatures – and higher wind speeds caused by them. This would be very bad news for the countries that are suffering from typhoons or hurricanes. A major hurricane or typhoon can, already now, wreck the economy of a whole country for decades. Super-hurricanes created by global warming would do still much more damage.
Besides the rise in sea levels, the most serious consequence of the global warming could be the drying of the tropical and sub-tropical areas. Even though rainfall would be likely to increase, it is likely that evaporation would increase even more. According to one estimate a four-centigrade warming in global temperatures would increase, on average, rainfall by 12 per cent and evaporation by 30 per cent in the tropical and sub-tropical areas. This would most probably cause a disastrous decline in agricultural yields, unless the emphasis will be shifted to crops that do not require much water.
According to the second IPCC report the drying of the tropics might reduce the flow of Nile by 75 per cent, which would be a catastrophe for Egypt and its neighbours. Many other large rivers in India, Pakistan and China – including the Indus – could would also suffer because of the increased evaporation rates. According to IPCC up to five billion people might be faced with acute water scarcities by the year 2025, at least partly because of the global warming.
A further threat comes from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. The quantity of water in the Himalayan glaciers is not large enough to raise the sea level in a significant way, but the issue is extremely serious because of other reasons.
If the snow and ice masses in the Himalayas continue to melt, the water supply of much of Asia will be affected. Indus, Ganga, Mekong, Yangtze, Huangho and many other major rivers get a major part of their dry season flows from the Himalayan glaciers.
It has been predicted, that the Himalayan glacial area alone will shrink by one-fifth within the next 35 years, to 100 000 square kilometres. In the last 50 years alone some 15 000 glaciers have already vanished in the Himalayas. In the Gangotri Glacier of Indian Himalayas – the source of the holy Ganga – is now retreating with an average speed of 30 metres a yera, compared with only 18 metres a year between 1935 and 1950 and only 7 metres a year between 1842 and 1935. The Pindari Glacier is now retreating at an average rate of 135 metres a year. Indian scientists have projected that by 2030 many of the rivers originating from the Himalayas, including the Ganges, Kali and Indus, to name a few, will all be dry during the dry season.
These are grave predictions, especially because the groundwater resources in South Asia, South-East Asia and China are also being depleted with a frightening speed.
Many tropical diseases that require high temperatures, would spread with the increasing temperatures. For instance, the global warming might greatly increase the number of people that are threatened by the deadliest form of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, and by schistosomiasis. Falciparum malaria is already killing three million people, every year, and the situation is getting worse because the malaria parasites are rapidly developing strains that are resistant to most of the known medicines. At the same time the mosquitoes that spread the parasites are becoming resistant to pesticides.
Schistosomiasis already affects 250 million people, and causes permanent damage and disability for many of the carriers. Large parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America have this far been spared from the problem, because their winter temperatures have been too low for these parasites. But this could soon change because of the global warming.
According to the IPCC the world has probably already warmed by 0.6 centigrades because of the greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and from the destruction of tropical forests. This might be only 50 per cent of the warming we have already committed ourselves by emitting a certain amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
According to IPCC a certain increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will, on a longer run, warm the global climate by a certain number of centigrades. But because the oceans warm only very slowly, at a much slower pace than the atmosphere itself, there is a long delay before the whole impact has actually been realized.
In other words, even if we would eliminate all our greenhouse gas emissions, today, it is possible that the climate would still go on warming by another 0.6 centigrades.
The most frightening possibility is the so called runaway greenhouse effect. This far the oceans, soils, peatlands and forests of the Earth have absorbed a significant part of all the greenhouse gas emissions. This has slowed down the warming process. But many scientists are afraid, that if the climate warms too much, the global warming starts to feed itself.
According to Peter Cox and other researchers of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research plants should first absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, when it gets hotter, the level of carbon dioxide absorbed by the trees and other plants is likely to level out, while the amount produced by the microâ€‘organisms decomposing organic matter would increase exponentially. According to the models constructed by Cox and his coâ€‘workers the biosphere will rapidly shift, around the year 2050, from absorbing a little carbon dioxide to belching huge amounts of the gas. This would accelerate the warming, and the more the climate would warm up, the more carbon dioxide would be released from the soils. Such a vicious circle could rapidly add at least two centrigrades to the expected global warming.
Methane clathrates are iceâ€‘like solids in which methane molecules have been trapped inside cages that consist of ice. They were first discovered by Russian scientists from the permafrost, but it is now known that they also occur in the offshore areas, in the sediments of the continental slopes. Very little is known about these deposits. According to the lowest estimates there should be about 10 000 billion tons of methane in the offshore clathrate deposits and about 400 billion tons under the permafrost. This is 2000 times more than the current amount of methane in the atmosphere. Other studies have concluded that the clathrate deposits could be one thousand times larger and contain up to 10 000 000 billion tons of methane. Moreover, the up to two kilometres thick mud layers of the actual sea bottom have been estimated to contain a further 15 000 000 billion tons of organic carbon.
The clathrate deposits remain stable only in nearâ€‘freezing temperatures. If the waters along the continental slopes warm up, increasing amounts of methane should be released into the atmosphere, which could create another viscious circle with a nightmarish quality. It has not been possible to quantify the size of the potential emissions. However, Russian scientists have already reported about major methane eruptions in the Sea of Okhotsk, near the island of Sakhalin.
Other studies have linked the eightâ€‘degree warming at the end of the late Paleocene, 55 million years ago, to offshore methane eruptions. Fossil evidence suggests that land and sea temperatures rose sharply during this period. Many species of singleâ€‘celled organisms dwelling in the seafloor sediment became extinct. At the same time there was a notable increase in the light carbon 12 isotope in the preserved shells of the creatures that survived the heat spell. According to many scientists, methane clathrates are the most likely source for the light carbon.
Researchers of the TromsÃ¶ University of Norway have found 700 metres wide and 30 metres deep craters created by violent methane eruptions from the bottom of the Barents Sea. Moreover, in 1998 Russian researchers from the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology found unstable hydrate fields off the West coast of Norway. It seems that they were the cause of the so called Storrega submarine landslide, in which 5600 cubic kilometres of sediments slid 800 kilometres down the continental slope, about 8000 years ago. If the oceans become much warmer, other clathrate deposits might become destabilized and create huge tsunamis, thus devastating coastal areas.
The floating ice around the North Pole currently covers about 15 square kilometres in the winter and 7â€‘8 million square kilometres during the summer. These vast expanses of drifting ice form an effective reflector that reflects up to 98 per cent of the Sun’s radiation back towards the space. Open sea is much darker and absorbs more radiation. If the area covered by the ice starts to diminish, the warming of the northern areas will accelerate.
There is a number of other potentially serious feedback loops. If the climate heats by a few degrees, the methane production of the peat bogs might multiply. If the circulatory system of the oceans is disrupted, it will remove less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bring back less nutrients from the deeper layers of the ocean. The less nutrients there are, the less plankton is produced. This could affect the climate by several different ways. Certain forms of plankton produce large amounts of a substance called DMS (dimethylsulphide) as a by-product of their metabolism. DMS aerosols are often the most important source of cloudâ€‘condensation nuclei over the ocean, so reduced production of DMS could reduce the cloud cover and accelerate the warming.
The runaway greenhouse effect might actually start as a local or regional phenomenon, quickly spreading to become a global disaster. Some regions are likely to experience much more than the average amount of warming, while others could actually cool by a few centigrades due to the shadowing impact of sulfur aerosols, soot particles and other pollutants. The vicious circle could be initiated for example by the rapid destabilization of a single large methane clathrate deposit. This could happen for instance in the northern sea of Japan, which may already have warmed by three centigrades.
The third report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, in 2001, that methane emissions could increase by fifty per cent during the next fifty years, while the concentration of smog chemicals such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone could double or triple. IPCC said that this could be potentially dangerous, because future emissions of these pollutants might actually overwhelm the oxidative capacity of the whole atmosphere.
Even before, in 1993, Sasha Madronic of the US government’s National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, had warned that the atmosphere’s hydroxyl chemistry is potentially unstable and carries the seeds for runaway reactions that could create a collapse in the hydroxyl levels. If the amount of pollutants increases too much, the atmosphere will start losing hydroxyl. After the chemistry has been tipped off balance, the remaining hydroxyl ions will be able to clean out only a rapidly diminishing amount of the new emissions entering the atmosphere. In such a situation the amount of pollutants remaining in the air would increase with an almost exponential rate, and the whole Earth would quickly become engulfed in huge clouds of smog.
As far as we know, the depletion of the atmosphere’s hydroxyl content could be a real possibility if the carbon monoxide, ozone and nitrogen oxide emissions from cars, factories and thermal power plants and the methane emissions from various different sources continue to increase with the present speed, and if the global warming will cause vast forest and peat fires on different continents.
The vanishing ozone layer
The depletion of the ozone layer is a problem that has very similar implications from the viewpoint of ecological democracy than the issue of global warming: everybody will suffer from a problem to which some people – the world’s rich minority – contribute much more than the others. Most of the emissions that are damaging the ozone layer are still produced by West Europe and North America, which only have about one eighth of the world’s population.
Ozone, the three-atomic molecule of oxygen, has two very different roles. In the lower atmosphere (troposphere) it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to the global warming. It is also poisonous to people and harmful for plants. However, the thin layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) filters the most damaging forms of the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation and prevents them from reaching the ground level. Without this protection we would be exposed to much more intensive and dangerous uv-radiation. This would increase the rate of skin cancers and cataracts and damage many food crops. Serious loss of ozone could also reduce fish catches by killing fish larvae that are vulnerable to strong ultraviolet radiation.
In the early 1970’s scientist became worried about the possibility that nitrous oxides from fertilizers, supersonic aeroplanes and space shuttle flights might destroy stratospheric ozone. Somewhat later it was understood that also the so called freons or CFC compounds (chloro-fluoro-carbons) were harmful for the ozone layer. CFCs were first used in fridges and air conditioning systems and later as cleaning solvents, aerosol propellants and to puff up polystyrene foam for hamburger cartons and for other purposes. Their world production rose from 2200 tons in 1940 to 491 700 tons in 1970, and it was still growing by 20 per cent per year when it was discovered that the CFCs were both strong greenhouse gases and efficient ozone-depleting substances.
The issue was taken seriously only five years after the British scientists had discovered a vast “ozone hole” over the Antarctic in 1982. The delay was caused by an American satellite, whose computer had been programmed to ignore the impossible results. Thus the satellite did not see the ozone hole and could not confirm the results reported by the British ground stations. It took five years before the confusion was sorted out. At that time the Antarctic ozone hole had grown to cover an area of 14 million square kilometres. Under this area almost all stratospheric ozone vanished during the spring months.
After the existence of the Antarctic ozone hole had been confirmed, the governments started to move with a record speed. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated and signed in 1987. In the Montreal Protocol the signatory governments agreed to cut their CFC emissions. During the coming years further meetigs of the parties adopted more ambitious targets and finally agreed to phase-out the CFCs and most other ozone-depleting substances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA, these treaties are likely to prevent about 137 million cases of skin cancer and about 40 million cataracts before the year 2075, so they certainly were a major victory for the humans and for the environment.
However, we still have the problem of nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizers and from the burning of fossil fuels. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere are likely to rise by 45 per cent by the year 2100. The Australian research agency CSIRO says that the ozone levels in the mid-latitudes are likely to recover a little because of the elimination of the CFC production. However, they should start falling again around the year 2040 because of the build-up of nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. CSIRO predicts that the ozone layers above the mid-latitudes should be about 9 per cent lower at the end of the century, and they could keep on falling with an accelerating speed.
The new threat to the ozone layer could be even more serious than the CFCs, unless the problem will be prevented in advance. The ozone depletion caused by chlorine and bromine compounds mostly occurs in mid-winter, when there is less sunlight in the northern latitudes and when the people are usually well covered because of the temperatures are low. But most of the ozone loss caused by the nitrous oxide takes place in mid-summer when the ultraviolet radiation is the most intense and when people generally wear much less clothing. The damage caused by nitrous oxide is also likely to concentrate on the mid-latitudes where the majority of the world’s population lives, and not on the unhabited polar regions.
It is likely that nitrous oxide will become a major topic in international environmental negotiations in the near future. The most important ways to tackle the problem are to promote organic farming, in which chemical fertilizers are not used, or to develop nitrogen fertilizers that do not cause significant nitrous oxide emissions.
Some types of chemical nitrogen fertilizers that are in use now, especially anhydrous ammonia and aqua ammonia, produce approximately one hundred times more nitrous oxide than the most benign alternatives like sodium nitrate and nitrogen solutions.
Gram Swaraj 21: modern local economics for the 21st century
In order to solve the problem of global warming we have to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energies: biofuels, wind, solar, wave, geothermal and hydrothermal energy. Besides this we probably have to abandon, at least partially, the idea of a global marketplace and reduce the amount of goods that are transferred to us from other continents by freightships or by an aeroplane. We probably have to start again emphasizing the importance of local production. We have to renew our local economies so that a larger part of everything we need, including our food and clothes, can be produced as close to our home as possible. This would basicly mean taking Gandhiji’s vision about strong but somewhat modernized local economies, Gram Swaraj, seriously.
According to the conventional breakdown the transport sector is responsible for about one third of the consumption of fossil fuels in the industrialized countries. However, a Spanish study concluded that when also the indirect energy use of the transportation sector is included, it is responsible for more than one half of the fossil fuel consumption. The study included in the transportation sector also the energy used to manufacture cars, planes, ships and trains; the energy used in building docks, airports, roads, multi-storey car parks and other infrastructure; as well as the energy required to produce the packing materials that become necessary because of the longer transportation distances.
The greenhouse gas emissions caused by the transportation sector in the industrialized countries have increased significantly over the last forty years, but this has not happened because more goods are being consumed but because roughly the same weight of goods is being moved over longer distances because of the increasing concentration of production (which is also causing large-scale structural unemployment). In Britain the number of freight-ton miles almost tripled between 1952 and 1992, even though the production of most bulk commodities fell.
The larger the economic units or “free trade areas” grow, the longer the average transportation distances of various goods become. The United States of America is the only continent-wide modern free trade area that has existed for a somewhat longer time. It might not be a coincidence, that the per capita carbon dioxide emissions of the USA are almost three times higher than in Japan or in Western Europe. The USA is annually producing about six tons of carbon emissions for every inhabitant of the country.
If the whole world would truly become a global free trade area, so that all the goods would be produced where-ever they can be manufactured with the cheapest possible prize, and then transported to the other side of the world, the carbon dioxide emissions caused by the humanity would be multiplied, and there would be no hope of preventing the melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the drying of the tropics.
On the other hand, if we can make our countries to abandon the madness of the present, neo-liberal free trade policies that are destroying both our environment and hundreds of millions of jobs, we can cut the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in a very significant way by strengthening local economies and by protecting different national and local production structures in agriculture, forestry, fishing, handicrafts, village industries, and so on.
According to the latest estimates cement production is already responsible for seven per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions. Cement production produces CO2 emissions by two different ways. The conversion of the raw material (limestone or calcium carbonate) to the final product (cement or calcium oxide) is a chemical reaction in which a lot of carbon dioxide is released. Besides this a lot of coal is needed in order to heat the kilns to the temperature of 1450 centigrades, which is necessary for roasting limestone.
The world currently produces 1.4 billion tons of cement, every year, and the production increases by 5 per cent, annually. The production of cement is increasing very rapidly in many Asian, African and Latin American countries while growing percentages of their populations are moving from the countryside to the cities. According to John Lanchberry of the Verification Technology Information Centre in London, cement industry will soon be responsible for about ten per cent of the global carbon dioxide emissions.
An alternative for these trends would be to increase the use of bamboo, wood and mud – and different composite materials partly based on them – to replace cement in the construction of houses. Gandhiji actively promoted the use of mud and bricks made of mud for such purposes. Houses build of mud are less hot in summer and warmer in winter, which reduces the need for heating and air conditioning. Mud is cheaper than concrete and mud bricks can be produced without causing carbon dioxide emissions, either by solar energy or by using firewood.
Traditional houses of India, however, were not made of only mud. They were based on a kind of composite structures that incorporated mud with tree branches and shoots. This kind of a structure is surprisingly strong. When the terrible Earthquake of 2001 killed one hundred thousand people and destroyed the homes of five million people in Gujarat, in many areas it was only the houses built by these traditional methods that were able to withstand the holocaust. For example in the village of Ludiya in Kutch all the other kind of buildings collapsed while every single one of the round traditional houses that had used the mud-wood composite structure remained standing. The round houses that had been built of mud and stones, only, and which had thus imitated the mere outlook but not the actual structure of the traditional building, did break down.
In other words, realizing Gandhiji’s vision of village republics would go a long way towards solving the whole problem of global warming.
International publicly-owned companies
Many technologies that can be produced in the village level make it possible for the communities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while they would also increase the peole’s economic and qualitative standards of living.
However, in some cases also Big can be Beautiful. What comes to energy production in the village level we should perhaps think in terms of hybrid technologies. By this we mean technologies some parts of which are best produced in very large series in big factories, but which can still strenghten local economies and lead to more decentralized production structures.
For instance it would be very expensive and very, very difficult to produce good-quality Stirling engines or modern windmills at the village level. It makes sense to produce such technologies in large factories where it is easy to produce millions or even billions of such devices with relatively low prices. Such centralized production of renewable energy technologies cannot employ many people. However, if the nature of the actual energy production based on these technologies is very decentralized, the overall result will be more employment.
Various renewable energies typically provide 5-10 times more employment per unit of energy produced than centralized energy production systems like large dams or big coal and nuclear power plants. Replacing such technologies with decentralized production of renewable energy could create hundreds of millions of full- and part-time jobs to millions of separate village economies.
The trade union chapters of Finland’s state-owned companies proposed, in November 2000, that the programme of privatizing state-owned companies should be stopped and that the publicly owned companies should be developed as models for ecologically and sustainable development. Based on this initiative some of the Finnish environmental organizations and trade union activists that have been part of the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam network in Finland produced a set of more detailed proposals.
The most important new idea was the establishment of international state-owned companies.
One of the arguments for privatizing publicly-owned enterprises has been that state-owned companies cannot compete succesfully in a global economy. Because private transnational corporations operate globally national state-owned companies are doomed to lose and disappear if they are not sold to private capital.
However, if the state-owned companies would start working together
and establish global networks and joint companies together with the publicly-owned enterprises in other countries, they would get all the benefits globalization has brought for the privately owned transnationals. This would take away the extra, unfair competitive edge globalization has given for the private transnational corporations in relation to state-owned enterprises.
In other words, the establishment of international, publicly owned companies might be a way to protect different kinds of mixed economies consisting of both private and publicly-owned companies and strong public service sectors from the onslaught of raw and barbaric North American capitalism. Most of the countries in the world are different kinds of mixed economies, and the mixed economies have generally done better than the extremist models aiming either to abolish all private entrepreneurship (Soviet Union and Pol Pot’s Cambodia) or to privatize both public services and all state-owned companies (the model towards which the USA is now moving).
One of the most important areas for such cooperation might be modern biogas technology. From the viewpoint of halting global warming and preventing the global renewal of nuclear power, the development of biogas technologies could be the most important single thing to do. India and China have been clear world leaders in developing and distributing decentralized biogas technologies, but even they have utilized only a small part of all the interesting possibilities.
Methane (natural gas or biogas) will in any case be an important part of the energy system of the future.
The big vision of the car manufacturers and the big oil companies is hydrogen economy. At least Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Toyota, Nissan and Honda are developing their own fuel cell cars that would use hydrogen as their fuel. DaimlerChrysler predicts that there will be 250 million hydrogen-using cars already in 2020. Also BMW estimates that at least one third of the cars it will sell in 2020 will be using hydrogen.
Oil companies like Shell, Texaco and BP Amoco share these opinions. They say that the global warming is a real problem, and that the easily utilizable oil reserves will soon be finished if the world economy continues to grow with the present speed. According to one estimate, the oil companies are now finding only one barrel of oil for every four that is being consumed. This means that the prizes of oil and gasoline could soon rise to prohibitive heights.
However, hydrogen has to be manufactured from fossil fuels, biomas or methane (fossil natural gas or biogas) or produced by breaking water to hydrogen and oxygen with the help of electricity, in a process known as electrolysis. The electricity for electrolysis has to be produced somehow, for instance by burning some of the produced hydrogen in order to produce electricity. A further problem is that the storing of hydrogen also consumes a lot of energy.
For these reasons it is likely that the production and storing of methane will always be cheaper than the production and storing of hydrogen, which the transnational oil companies and car manufacturers are so interested in. Thus it is very likely that methane will be the main fuel of tomorrow’s cars, lorries, buses, ships and aeroplanes. It is likely that methane will also play a role in the production of electricity and in the co-production of heat and electricity.
In many industrialized countries most of the production of heat and power is currently based on methane because it is very convenient to use. Unlike the burning of coal, oil or wood the burning of methane does not produce health-threatening small particle emissions.
It has sometimes been claimed that methane has no future as a source of energy because the natural gas deposits are going to be exhausted relatively soon. However, most of the existing fossil fuel reserves can only be utilized in a commercially viable way in the form of methane.
It is currently estimated that the world’s oil reserves might amount to 200 billion tons. This, alone, is probably not enough to cause serious climatic destabilization. Unfortunately there is at least
1 000 billion tons of coal that could be utilized by conventional methods (by excavating the coal and brining it to surface as coal). This is five times more than the known oil deposits. However, through a method called underground coal gasification (UCG) even the coal deposits laying very deep under ground can be utilized in an economically feasible way. UCG techniques multiply the commercially available coal deposits to at least 7 000 billion tons. This is the most important threat to climatic stability and the glaciers.
UCG was originally developed in the Soviet Union, in Uzbekistan, in the 1930’s. In the 1950’s the USA tried to develop a method of UCG that would have used atomic bombs to gasify the coal deposits. It turned out that the gas produced this way would be too radioactive to be used, and the whole programme – known as the Ploughshare programme – was cancelled. However, at least the US, the British and the Australian governments are planning to start major UCG programmes with somewhat more rational technologies. In Australia there already is one company which is selling methane produced by UCG with an economically competitive price.
However, methane can also be produced with the help of bacteria from all kinds of organic waste matter. China and India already have millions of biogas reactors producing cooking energy and gas for lighting for individual households or whole villages. This kind of programmes should be expanded so that all cow dung, human waste, organic household waste, paper waste and crop residues would be used to produce biogas. It is much better to convert for instance the cow dung to biogas instead of burning the dung in the form of a dried cake, because the burning of biogas does not produce harmful particle emissions. Also, composting or burning of cowdung wastes valuable fertilizer by vaporizing the nitrogen into the atmosphere. In the production of biogas all the nutrients remain in the matter that is left at the bottom of the biogas reactor after the gas has been extracted for burning. In other words, biogas reactors should also be seen as small factories of organic fertilizers.
Among the nothern countries Sweden has the most ambitious biogas programme. Sweden is producing biogas from municipal waste to fuel cars and municipal heat and power production plants. The final aim is to produce enough biogas to fuel 700 000 cars. Sweden has about eight and a half million people, larger countries could produce much more biogas from their municipal waste.
Besides this biogas can be produced from almost any plant matter, including sea weed, water hyacinths and single-celled algae. Plants growing on water tend to grow with a much faster speed than plants growing on land. For example macrocystis seaweed can grow with the speed of 130 centimeters per day if they are harvested regularly. This means that they can produce enormous amounts of organic biomass per hectare. Some freshwater plants also grow very quickly. Tropical stands of water hyacinths can increase their weight by 25 wet tons or by 800 kilograms of dry matter per day per hectare. Water hyacinths are an excellent raw material for biogas production: each kilogram of dry weight produces about 370 litres of biogas, with an average methane content of 69 per cent and an energy value of 22 000 kJ per cubic metre.
In Jamaica experimental trials growing single-celled algae like chlorella have produced 2.5 megawatts of electricity on 7.5-10 hectares of water tanks. The biomas production of the single-celled algae (many of which can be grown in salty sea water) is 150-200 times more than what willow coppices can produce.
In Brazil fuel alcohol became 25-50 per cent cheaper than benzin after all subsidies for energy production had been removed. The production of fuel alcohol requires better raw materials, more expensive equipment, a more laborious production process and more external energy than the production of biogas. Therefore it should be possible to produce large amounts of biogas with economically competitive prices.
One very simple way to produce biogas would be to have complexes of tanks filled with either freshwater or salt water, and to cultivate single-celled algae, seaweed or freshwater plants like water hyacinths in them. The tanks could be constructed either on coastal areas or in riverine environment, like Amazon and its tributaries. After the plants have consumed the nutrients in the water and filled the tanks, the tanks could be closed so that no more air gets in. In such conditions the anaerobic bacteria which do not require any oxygen break down the plant matter and produce gas that contains roughly 70 per cent of methane. After this the gas can be collected and the tanks can be opened again. The water can be stirred a bit so that the nutrients that have sank into the bottom will be mixed more evenly in the water, and a new crop of plants can be grown. In tropical conditions each production cycle would not take a very long time.
Various Southern and Northern countries could establish a complex of joint enterprises, international state-owned companies, to develop these various biogas technologies and to mass-produce them with cheap prices in order to make them more widely available for even middle and low-income households.
Some of the companies could concentrate on mass-producing cheap biogas producing equipment for individual households. Some of them could concentrate on the production of biogas-producing plants for large cities and smaller municipalities. They could also produce long series of equipment that is needed for collecting biogas from individual biogas-producing households or farms and equipment that is needed for purifying the raw biogas so that it can be used to fuel cars and buses. Raw biogas can provide cooking energy and lighting, but if the biogas is to be used by cars the impurities – carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur – have to be removed.
Another interesting possibility would be an international, publicly-owned company mass-producing cheap Stirling engines. Stirling engine is a simple machine that can transform temperature differences into mechanical energy and further to electric power. First Stirling engines were invented already in 1839, but the technology has become truly attractive only recently, with the development of new materials that can tolerate higher temperatures and continuously changing temperature differences without breaking down relatively quickly.
Stirling engines can utilize any kind of heat source, from wood to solar energy. Solar electricity produced by Stirling engines is currently 10-12 times cheaper than the electricity produced by solar cells. The large-scale mass production of Stirling engines and parabolic reflectors that would heat them by sunlight would make solar electricity much cheaper than nuclear or coal power in the regions that receive large quantities of direct sunlight. Stirling engines can also produce cheap electricity by biogas, natural gas or by wood.
In England the first so called micro-CHP machines (CHP=combined heat and power) meant for individual households have already entered the markets. Even if they presently use the same fuel, fossil natural gas, than the larger plants they reduce the carbon dioxide emissions per household by more than one fifth by cutting the transmission losses in the power grid.
Third interesting area of cooperation could be the mass-production of vertical and horizontal windmills. Danish energy consultants have calculated, that it would be possible to mass-produce middle-sized, 150-300 kw windmills in Russia with approximately Euro 15 000 unit prize. Cutting the costs to this level might be possible because of the scale-benefits of mass-production and through the conversion of some of the unused production capacity of the Russian airplane factories to this purpose.
Another option is the mass-production of modern vertical-axis windmills. The first windmills were originally invented in Afghanistan and Iran during the 12th century. They were vertical-axis windmills that were mostly used for grinding the grain to flour. When the idea spread to Europe, Europeans changed the construction and shifted the axis into a horizontal position. After this the vertical windmill was, for centuries, known as the “Islamic” windmill and the horizontal windmill as the “European” windmill. In some European countries, most notably in Finland, the interest towards vertical windmills never really died, and the idea is about to make a big come-back.
Finnish companies have developed helix-shaped vertical windmills that are very efficient in collecting wind energy. They produce some electricity with very little wind and they can also utilize considerably higher wind velocities than the conventional windmills without breaking down. Above all, such vertical windmills are so silent and produce so little “visual pollution” that they could be erected, in very large numbers, on rooftops or on the sides of buildings, on top of poles, in electric pylons, on sides of mobile phone masts and even on the sides or tops of tall trees. This would enable millions of urban and rural households to produce much of their electricity by themselves, but the technology will be economically competitive only if such vertical windmills would be mass produced in relatively large numbers. Otherwise their unit costs will remain too high for most households.
Karl Yeager, president of the US Electric Power Research Institute, says that various kinds of small personal power stations using Stirling engines, windmills or other types of technologies could largely replace conventional centralised power stations by the mid-century. According to Yeager power grids will become more like the internet, networks for sharing electricity among millions of independent domestic and community generators.
Rethinking Nuclear Power
Humanity currently produces about 2 per cent of its energy in nuclear power plants. Many people have recently proposed, that nuclear power could be a partial solution to the threat of global warming, because it does not produce greenhouse gas emissions. The lobbyists for the nuclear industries are talking about increasing the world’s nuclear power capacity by 20-fold in order to halt the global warming. The only country in the North that has already decided to build a new nuclear power plant is Finland, but other Northern governments are playing with the same idea. The government of Russia is discussing a plan to construct up to 30 new nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power has several aspects related to democracy issues. The most important one is obvious. Large-scale production of nuclear power could, within a few generations, pollute the whole planet with various long-lived radioactive contaminants. The scientists estimate that the Earth should be habitable for humans and other living beings at least for a thousand million more years before the Sun becomes so hot that all life will be destroyed. Some of the radioactive contaminants produced by nuclear power plants would still be around when this happens. Plutonium 244 has a half-life of 70 million years and the amount of uranium-235 is halved once in 710 million years.
Do five generations of people inhabiting the planet have the right to contaminate the planet permanently, in a way that might harm fifty million future generations of humans and their descendants and other living beings sharing the same planet with us? Future generations do not have the right to vote in our elections so how do we ensure that their rights are taken into consideration?
Another problem are the large bribes that have been paid to government ministers and other politicians by the nuclear industries. The companies that are producing nuclear power plants have staked huge amounts of investment capital on the success of the technology. The performance record of the nuclear power plants, however, has not been very satisfactory. Nuclear power has been, for most countries, a very expensive option even though the costs of radioactive pollution, dismantling the used nuclear reactor and storing the nuclear waste have not been properly included in its present price tag. Also, nuclear power has not been a popular option because most people do not like to gamble with the lives of their families. This has forced the nuclear industries to use bribes much more often than other types of companies working in the energy sector have committed similar crimes. This has contributed to serious corruption, which is a big problem for democracy.
One of the most famous cases took place in the Philippines, when Westinghouse paid a bribe that may have amounted to 35 million US dollars to a government minister for securing a decision to buy a nuclear power plant from the company.
The third major problem is, that the large-scale use of nuclear power might lead to the deterioration and finally dismantling of human rights and civil liberties in the countries that invest in this technology.
The world is rapidly drifting towards a kind of asymmetrical world war in which numerous violent underground organizations are fighting the world’s leading industrialized countries through the means of terrorism. Terrorist organizations will in any case be a major threat to democracy everywhere on Earth. The gradual dismantling of civil liberties and human rights can be legitimized and rationalized to people with the need to fight terrorism. This might finally, through a slow and creeping process of gradual deterioration in the situation, transform many democratically ruled countries first to some kind of police states and then to full-fledged military dictatorships.
In the fight against terrorism the important issue is to ensure that only a very few people are willing to commit serious acts of terrorism. This is the only way to win the struggle. Fighting terrorism with violence will only worsen the problem by multiplying the number of potential terrorists. It is not possible to prevent terrorist strikes if there are hundreds, thousands or millions of people willing to carry out such strikes – and who are even willing to sacrifice their own lives in the process.
This is the main point. However, we already are in the middle of a vicious cycle of strikes and counter-strikes, and halting the killing may be a very slow and demanding process.
In this kind of situation nuclear power is very dangerous both for general safety and for democracy. By hijacking jet planes and crash-landing them on skycrapers the terrorists can kill thousands of people. If they decide to attack nuclear power plants or nuclear fuel reprocessing plants they could kill millions or possibly even tens of millions of people.
Because nuclear power plants are the ultimate terrorist targets they might also – during the so called war against terrorism – provide the ultimate legitimation for the dismantling of democracy. Thus nuclear power may pave the way to police states and fascist regimes more effectively than any other factor.
One of the most serious problems related to nuclear power is the issue of nuclear waste.
One small part of the problem are the nuclear reactors themselves. Some of the companies that are currently operating nuclear power plants have reserved nominal amounts of money for dismantling the nuclear reactors after they are no longer in use. However, in the few instances in which old nuclear power plants have actually been dismantled the costs have been 15-20 times larger than the overly optimistic calculations produced by the nuclear industry. For instance in Britain it has now been estimated that the dismantling of the nuclear power plants and other radioactive clean-up will cost at least 63 billion pounds and possibly much more. It is now openly admitted that all this money has to come from publuc sources, from the tax-payers’ pockets, there is no chance that the near-bankrupt nuclear industries would be able to contribute much.
The mildly radioactive waste produced by uranium mines is another serious problem. Uranium mining typically removes roughly 15 per cent of the radioactivity of the uranium ore deposits. This means that on average 85 per cent of the radioactivity is left behind in huge masses of slightly radioactive soil and rock. The amount of this low-active radioactive waste is so huge that nobody has been willing to consider what should actually be done for it: individual mining areas can contain billions of tons of such slightly radioactive material. For instance in India the waste from uranium mines has been stored in middle-sized earth dams. The dams leak and the rivers below them are becoming, little by little, more radioactive.
The production of nuclear fuel leaves behind seven tons of depleted uranium (DU) for each ton of enriched nuclear fuel. A 1000 megawatt nuclear power plants produces about two hundred tons of depleted uranium per year, and the manufacturers of nuclear fuel have already accumulated almost one million tons of DU. Also the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel produces smaller amounts of depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium is only half as radioactive as natural uranium because it only contains 0.3 per cent of the more radioactive uranium 235 isotope. In natural uranium there is, on average, 0.7 per cent of U235. However, DU is still a mildly radioactive toxic waste, the storing of which causes major additional expenses for the nuclear industries.
To reduce the costs of storing their waste materials the nuclear industries give depleted uranium to the armament industries for free. Because of this almost unlimited free supply depleted uranium has become extremely popular among the manufacturers of military ammunition. Uranium is 1.7 times denser than lead, and projectiles made of DU can pierce otherwise impenetrable armour.
Depleted uranium burns on impact, and produces small particles of uranium oxides, between 0.1 and 10 micrometers wide. These particles can be inhaled and they seem to be highly insoluble. The alpha radiation caused by natural uranium or by depleted uranium cannot penetrate any kind of clothing, human skin or even paper. However, the inhaled particles can expose vulnerable tissues to alpha radiation. This should increase the risk of cancer and other health problems. For instance a modern 30-millimetre Gatling gun used in battle helicopters and in fighter planes can fire 3900 rounds of ammunition in a minute. Every DU round that hits a hard target explodes into a mildly radioactive uranium oxide aerosol.
In the First Gulf War the US forces fired, in a very short period of time, almost one million rounds of ammunition that contained alltogether about 260 tons of depleted uranium.
According to Jawad Khudim al-Ali, director of the cancer ward of the teaching hospital of Basra, cancer rates in Basra are 11 times higher than before the First Gulf War. Also many other Iraqi doctors have reported about anomalous rates of cancer and birth defects. Even the US government has admitted that these claims seem to have something to do with the reality, but they say that the astonishingly high rates of cancer and birth defects have probably been caused by chemical weapons and not by depleted uranium. Most Iraqi people are blaming the Americans.
Also about four fifths of the soldiers fighting in the Allied troops were exposed to high doses of depleted uranium. The level of uranium in the urine of some of them was, three years after the war, still 4000 times higher than the US safety limit for adults. According to the studies of the German professor, biochemist Albrect Schott the British veterans of the First Gulf War have on average five and a half times more than the average number of chromosome abnormalities. Some of the veterans have 14 times the usual level of chromosome abnormalities in their genes. According to Schott this should increase the probability of cancer, deformed babies and other genetic conditions. According to professor Malcolm Hooper of England’s Sunderland University, the exposure to depleted uranium may cause between 22 000 and 160 000 extra cancer deaths among the US and British troops that fought in the First Gulf War. The chemical toxicity of the substance is already causing serious health problems to many Gulf veterans. Of the 504 047 registered American veterans of the First Gulf War, 29 per cent have been officially classified as invalids.
In Kosovo and Bosnia much smaller amounts of depleted uranium were used, probably about ten tons. According to a recent study by an Italian team in the badly polluted areas of Kosovo there can be as many as a million tiny uranium particles in just a few milligrams of soil. The particles are so tiny that they “have a potential for resuspension and inhalation under arid conditions”. The Italian team and the UN Environmental Programme have estimated, that a child inhaling 0.1 grams of the polluted soil would receive an additional radiation dose of 1.44 millisieverts – more than the recommended maximum annual level of radiation for adults.
The chemical toxicity of the uranium dust is especially dangerous for children. In Kosovo and Bosnia it has been found out, that children who happen to swallow a pinch of heavily contaminated soil can easily take in 120 milligrams of uranium, a big enough dose to seriously harm their kidneys. The normal average annual dose of uranium people get from air, water and food is only about 0.4 milligrams.
In the Second Gulf War much larger amounts of depleted uranium were used. Some estimates have spoken about 2200 tons of depleted uranium consisting of nine million rounds of ammunition containing DU. This is not official, yet, but it is known for sure that very large quantities of DU were used. The most worrying thing is that most of these nine million or so DU rounds were spread over the most densely populated areas of Iraq. If the currently existing information about the matter is true, the US and British armies have really behaved in an astonishingly barbaric way. 2200 tons means 2 200 000 000 000 milligrams, almost twenty billion doses sufficient to destroy the kidneys of a child.
In future wars most major battles will probably be fought in densely populated urban environment, because partly or totally demolished structures of major cities will create the kind of killing grounds that level the odds between troops armed with highly sophisticated weapons systems and their less well armed opponents. The psychological and symbolic turning point of the Second World War, the battle of Stalingrad, and the battle of Madrid during the Spanish civil war are the classical arch-types of such a situation. The idea of hundreds of millions of DU rounds fired in such battles in the future wars is highly uncomfortable. The present stores of depleted uranium which have already been produced by our existing nuclear power plants are sufficient to produce thousands of millions of uranium rounds, and the world’s nuclear power plants are producing vast further quantities of depleted uranium, every year. The USA has sold ammunition containing depleted uranium to at least 16 countries, including Bahrain, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Kuwait, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey.
Nobody knows how dangerous depleted uranium really is. It may be that the fears have been exaggerated, but there is no doubt about the chemical toxicity of the material, and the way it can damage the kidneys of small children. Also the radioactivity is likely to do some damage. However, perhaps the most important aspect of the situation is that most people in Iraq believe that DU is very dangerous. In the future the US army will, in any case, be blamed about every cancer and every birth defect in Iraq. Thus the use of depleted uranium may also increase the probability of terrorist strikes using radiation weapons or “dirty bombs”, or strikes against US nuclear power plants.
For instance used nuclear fuel which has just been taken out of a nuclear reactor can be more than 300 000 000 times more radioactive than depleted uranium but it has, otherwise, similar physical and chemical properties. Already now there are, on Earth, about 10 000 sites that store radioactive materials that could be used to make dirty bombs.
These possibilities have become much more real than before because of the worsening conflict between the USA and its allies and a number of extremist guerilla movements, especially the Al Qaida network. In an intereview given to the Al Jazeera television, two Al Qaida leaders who had been involved in planning the terrorist strikes to Washington and New York on 11.9.2001, said that their original plan had been to strike against US nuclear power plants. However, they had changed the plan because they had thought that a strike against nuclear power plants might have done too much damage and have too uncontrollable consequences.
In June 2003 the Thai police arrested a man who had smuggled 30 kilograms of radioactive cesium-137 from Russia. The arrested person was probably trying to sell the material to a terrorist organization.
When the US and British military forces occupied Iraq the official explanation was that this was done in order to prevent Iraq’s possible weapons of mass destruction from getting into the hands of terrorist organizations. Due to an amazing blunder the Americans, however, left the most important and best known storage of various radioactive materials in Iraq unguarded for more than a week after the troops of the Iraqi government had withdrawn. The Tuwaitha nuclear complex contained at least 400 medical and industrial radiation sources, and it is now feared that some of them were stolen in the middle of the chaos caused by the war. Many local people seem to be suffering symptoms of radiation poisoning such as nosebleeds and diarrhoea. The most likely explanation is that they stole something from the complex and either hid the material or sold it forward to somebody.
When Michael Levy of the American Association of Scientists was describing the impact of a dirty bomb for the US congress, he was talking about a pea-sized bomb containing only 74 gigabecquerels or 2 curies of radioactivity in the form of cesium-137. The detonation of such a mini-bomb in the middle of New York or Washington DC would force, accoding to the existing legislation, the government to evict people from a stretch of land one and a half kilometre wide, in order to avoid about one thousand extra cancer deaths. The 30 kilograms of cesium-137 captured in Thailand would have been enough to make tens of thousands of such mini-bombs.
An attack that would cut the cooling pipes of a 1600 megawatt, water-cooled nuclear reactor might cause a release of 10 000 curies of radioactivity, five thousand million times more than the detonation of a 74 gigabecquerel dirty bomb. The cooling ponds – especially their water pipe systems – storing used nuclear fuel rods are even more vulnerable to terrorist strikes than the actual reactors.
The primary energy-producing reaction will stop immediately if a water-cooled nuclear reactor loses its cooling water. This is because the water is also acting as a moderator: it is slowing down the neutrons produced by the splitting of the atoms to speeds in which most of them will split other atoms. However, if the nuclear fuel has been in use for some time, it has accumulated a large amount of waste products. These nuclear ashes are a mixture of numerous different radioactive materials including plutonium, each decaying at a different rate. These radioactive waste products that have been accumulating in the nuclear fuel keep on decaying and producing heat even after the reactor has been shut down. If something happens to the nuclear reactor just before it would have been shut down so that the fuel rods can be exchanged, each ton of fuel can keep on producing 1.6 megawats of heat even after the primary reaction has stopped.
In other words: a large water-cooled nuclear reactor can keep on producing up to 80 megawatts of heat even after the reactor has been shut down. If the cooling pipes have been cut or seriously damaged this heat will not be transferred out of the reactor by the coolant. When you lift a kettle containing water off an electric stove, it does not take very long before the plate has been heated red hot by the current running through it. If a nuclear reactor goes through a loss of coolant accident (LOCA) at the wrong moment, the same thing will happen to it. The nuclear fuel will melt and sink into the ground through the containment shield. This phenomenon has been dubbed “the China syndrome”.
The China syndrome has never happened in a nuclear power plant and the probability that it would happen by accident is not very large because the nuclear power plants now have multiple safety systems. However, if somebody wants to sabotage a nuclear power plant on purpose in order to cause a loss of coolant accident, this is very easy to do.
According to a study carried out by majors Scott M. Nichelson and Darren D. Medlin of the US Air Forces terrorists could also do a lot of damage if they were able to capture a single used nuclear fuel rod. If the fuel rod would be detonated with a mixture of diesel oil and nitrogen fertilizer, the radioactive fallout could kill 50-90 per cent of the unprotected population of Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. Besides this there would be a notable increase in cancer mortality on the whole Wastern Coast of the USA.
However, the most serious problem related to the safety of the nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities could still be something else than terrorism. It could be a phenomenon known as megatsunami.
Normal tsunamis are fast-travelling waves caused by volcanoes or earth-quakes. They are typically only a few centimetres or, at most, a few metres high. Even this kind of waves can cause enormous damage in coastal areas.
Geologists and geomorphologists at the University of Wollogong in New South Wales, Australia, have discovered traces of a number of very large but relatively recent tsunami waves around the coast of Australia. The traces include car-sized blocks of rock lifted over 100-metre high cliffs, and smaller debris deposited up to 35 kilometres inland. According to the Australian researchers there has been, an average, one megatsunami wave at intervals of 1000 to 500 years.
Most researchers first assumed, that the megatsunami waves on the Australian coast had been caused by comet fragments or asteroids hitting the Earth. This theory, however, has now fallen out of glory. The record of impact craters on land does not support the hypothesis, it is likely that cosmic collions on this kind of scale are very rare. Moreover, the researchers think that a collision with an asteroid would create a slightly different wave than the ones that have left their marks on the coast of Australia.
This leaves three likely candidates: the destabilization of methane clathrate deposits, the destabilization of Antarctic glaciers and the collapse of volcanoes.
For example a volcano named Cumbre Vieja, on the island of La Palma on the Canary Islands, is expected to collapse when the next major eruption of the volcano takes place. When this happens roughly half a trillion tons of rock will drop in the ocean and create a five hundred metre-high megatsunami wave raging over the Atlantic with the speed of a jet-plane. Earlier collapses of the Canary Island volcanoes have caused similar waves. For example on the Island of Eleuthera, Bahamas, these ancient megatsunamis have washed boulders weighing up to 2000 tons on younger rocks situated tens of metres above the sea level.
However, something like this should only happen once in every one hundred thousand years or so. This means that the most likely cause of the megatsunamis have been the destabilization of methane clathrate deposits or continental glaciers. The destabilization of clathrates can create megatsunamis by causing very large underwater landslides.
Also the melting of glaciers can cause huge tsunami waves. After the last ice age vast amounts of melt water often accumulated behind large ice dams. It seems that large melt-water lakes, the biggest of which may have contained up to one million cubic kilometres of water, have suddenly erupted and flooded to the sea when the ice dam has finally been broken.
According to professor John Shaw of Canada’s Alberta University the breaking of the ice dams may have created a situation in which huge masses of melt water have started to run towards the sea under a continental glacier. In such situations a vast chunk of the whole continental glacier can suddenly lose its contact with the base rock. When the contact with bedrock is severed the glacier can slide towards the sea on top of the water. Such glacial surges have probably caused very large tsunamis at the end of the last ice age. They might be the most plausible explanation also for the old megatsunamis which have hit the coast of Australia. This is a very worrying possibility, because the predicted man-made warming of the climate could well trigger similar glacial surges also in the future.
Most nuclear power plants in the North have been built on coastal zones, because they require large quantities of cooling water and because most of the people in the USA and Europe live on coastal regions or relatively close to them.
If there would be a big megatsunami wave triggered by the collapse of glaciers or the destabilization of clathrate deposits, all these nuclear power plants would be destroyed. Even ordinary breaking waves can create pressures of up to 6 kilograms per square centimetre, equivalent to 60 tons per square metre, which is enough to crush very strong steel baulks and plates. Megatsunamis are much larger and much, much faster than ordinary waves and the forces created by them are at least one order of magnitude stronger. The pipelines and other vulnerable structures of the nuclear power plants and cooling ponds have no chance of withstanding such an impact. The radioactivity in the cooling ponds would be released into the environment. The complete melt-down of the actual nuclear reactors would also be likely to produce a very hot pond of molten metal, which might be hot enough to penetrate through the containment shell.
Loss-of-coolant accidents leading to the simultaneous melt-down of a hundred nuclear reactors and the related cooling ponds would be a disaster of almost unimaginable portions, perhaps even the end of the human kind. The amount of radioactive pollution released into the environment could be tens of thousands or one hundred thousand times larger than the radioactive fallout created by the Chernobyl accident.
If building nuclear power means taking big risks, the construction of nuclear power plants on coastal areas during a historical period when global warming is threatening the stability of glaciers and methane clathrate deposits is raving madness. There should perhaps be a huge global boycott against the countries that aim to construct new nuclear power plants on coastal areas.
We do not know exactly how harmful radiation is, but everybody now agrees that radiation does cause some damage. Estimates about the number of cancer deaths caused by man-made nuclear pollution, most of which consists of the fallout from the atmospheric nuclear tests, range from 1 173 600 (International Commission on Radiation Protection) to 61 600 000 (European Committee on Radiation Risk).
Cooking energy, equality and democracy
Cooking energy is one of the basic necessities of the people. According to recent studies people can better utilize the energy and nutrients of cooked than of uncooked food. Two times more vegetable food or 50 per cent more meat is required to provide the same amount of nutrition for humans if the food is consumed without softening it first through the process of cooking.
Cooking energy is an important equality and democracy issue. It is also an issue where it is easy to see that inequality and lack of democracy are hurting everybody, and not only the poor.
A growing percentage of people can cook their food with electricity, natural gas or kerosene. However, about three billion people in the world use wood, straw and cow dung as the source of their cooking energy. About one quarter of the people who use fuelwood in cooking live in India.
Most people that use biofuels can only afford very primitive and poorly designed cooking stoves. Hundreds of millions of them cook their energy with a stove consisting of only a few stones. Such stoves have a very low thermal efficiency: they often waste 90 per cent of the energy content of the wood, while the best available designs only waste between 10 and 20 per cent. Thus they are a factor contributing to the loss of forests, other vegetative cover and biodiversity.
Also, the cooking technologies that the poor are forced to use produce huge quantities of small particles and other substances that are dangerous to peoples health. The mothers and children of the poor families receive the highest exposures of these harmful substances, but in the densely populated urban or semi-urban areas also the more well-off families are affected. Thousands and millions of small stoves producing large amounts of pollution can make the air very toxic for everybody living in the cities and other densely populated areas. In Kolkata at least 60 per cent of the people are suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses like bronchitis because of the air pollution produced by traffic, factories and cooking stoves.
The soot particles, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides produced by the cooking stoves also contribute to the problem of global warming. Nitrogen oxides produce ozone, which is a strong greenhouse gas and the carbon monoxide emissions slow down the break-down of methane in the atmosphere.
Studies have linked woodfuel smoke to an impressive number of ailments. They include acute respiratory illnessess like bronchitis and pneumonia (both among children and elder people); lung cancer and a number of other cancers; chronic lung ailments like asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease and emphysema (and the heart problems that are often related to such lung diseases); tuberculosis; severe coronary heart disease; adverse pregnancy outcomes like an increased risk of low birth-weight, stillbirth or neonatal death; eye diseases and anemia.
A survey carried out in Jumla, a cold mountain district of Nepal, where the average indoor smoke levels are very high, reported an infant mortality rate of 490 per thousand, 335 of which were due to acute respiratory illnesses. The very high infant mortality rate in the area is most probably caused by woodfuel smoke. Studies made in western India have estimated that the exposure of pregnant women to fuelwood smoke increases the risk of stillbirths by 50 per cent. In Nepal 15 per cent of non-smoking women suffer from chronic bronchitis.
According to the World Health Organization the smoking of pregnant women doubles the chance of the children to be born under-weight. This, in turn, increases the babies’ risk of dying during their first year of life by three or four times. There is no reason why the exposure to smoke from cooking would not cause similar damage to the unborn children as the smoking of cigarrettes.
According to one estimate particulate air pollution from the woodfuel smoke is, in India, at least partially responsible from 900 000 to 3 600 000 deaths, annually. Another study has estimated, that outdoor air pollution in the Indian cities is responsible for 40 000 to 50 000 deaths, annually, while the smoke from the cooking stoves kills 2,2 million people in a year. If the mortality rates among the other three-quarters of the people who use similar fuels in their cooking are somewhat similar, the impact of the fuelwood smoke is one of the most important health problems in the world.
In China, where much of the cooking is done by small, flueless stoves burning mineral coal instead of charcoal, mineral coal is probably causing similar adverse health effects than the cooking of biofuels in open stoves has been reported to do. In spite of all this, it has been estimated that more than 99 per cent of the world’s air pollution research and control expenditures concentrate in reducing outdoor air pollution – which is responsible for less than 40 per cent of the total worldwide human exposure to particulates.
One solution to the problem is to spread smokeless chulhas: if the stoves are equipped with a flue (chimney) through which the smoke can escape, exposure to smoke is greatly reduced. Such cooking devices can be made of clay or mud to reduce the cost, so that even the poorest families can afford them. Another simple solution is to improve the ventilation of the kitchen. According to Indian scientists a roof hatch with a size of one square metre that can be opened when food is being prepared can reduce the exposure to smoke by almost 90 per cent.
To increase the production of good-quality fuelwood might also be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to improve the situation. The worst alternative is to burn cow dung and very small branches and sticks. When the burning temperatures are low a lot of different toxic compounds are produced. Also the agricultural production suffers, because the cow dung would have a great value as fertilizer.
Proper firewood produces less smoke and less toxic compounds than cow dung or small sticks. Also, some trees are better suited for firewood than some other species. Their wood burns cleanly and produces only little smoke. Unfortunately, it is the poorest that are forced to use the worst firewood: the better fuelwood is often too expensive for them. The more extensive growing of high-quality firewood would be a partial solution to the problem.
In Finland studies have shown that it is very important to burn wood that has been properly dried. The dangerous particulate and carbon monoxide emissions from wood that has been drying in the sun over two summers are roughly one hundred times smaller than the emissions from burning wet wood. In the tropics the sun is much hotter than in North Europe, and the wood dries with a much faster speed. However, even in the tropics it takes some time before the fuelwood has lost most of its moisture content. Also the poor families should be given a chance to store, legally, larger amounts of woodfuel so that they can dry it properly before burning it. This will also reduce the amount of wood needed for cooking because a smaller percentage of the wood’s energy content is wasted on evaporating the moisture. Nowadays the poor families often have to burn the wood almost immediately after cutting or collecting it.
Finnish researchers also recommend that the fire should be lit from the top and not from the bottom, which can only be done if the wood is very dry. This is a very effective way to reduce the dangerous particulate emissions and to get more heat energy out from the same amount of fuelwood. A large percentage of the energy content of the wood is in the form of volatile chemicals. When a smaller or larger pile of wood is lit from the bottom, the wood above the fire is heated so much that these volatile chemicals evaporate and escape from the wood. However, most of them escape without burning, which both wastes a large percentage of the wood’s energy content and produces a lot of dangerous emissions. If the fire is lit from the top, or simultaneously from the top and from the bottom, also these volatile chemicals are burned in the process. The fire burns with a hotter and much cleaner flame, and produces only very small amounts of suspended particulate matter and other harmful substances.
Charcoal produces much less harmful emissions than fuelwood. Most of the harmful particulates and other toxic compounds are released during the charcoal-making process. Because of this charcoal burns quite cleanly, even though it can produce high carbon monoxide emissions if the burning is not complete enough.
However, charcoal is more expensive than fuelwood. Another problem is that it is often produced by simple earth kilns that waste up to 90 per cent of the energy value of the wood. Part of the loss is compensated by the fact that charcoal is more efficient to use than wood. Because it burns well it can be used in smaller quantities and in a more economic way than wood. This reduced the amount of wastage by a factor or two or three. Improved charcoal kilns can preserve up to 70 per cent of the wood’s energy content, but they are in most cases too expensive for the poor charcoal makers. The development of improved earth kilns as an intermediary stage in the charcoal production technology could be a partial answer to the dilemma.
Charcoal retorts also make it possible to recover the various liquid chemicals that are extracted from the wood in the charcoal-making process. (In the traditional charcoal-producing methods these chemicals often seep into the soil and pollute the groundwater.) Such biochemicals can be used to protect houses and other wooden structures from termites, which could also save a lot of wood. Alternatively, they could be collected and sold as a raw material for chemical industries. If industrial end uses for these chemicals would be developed and the collection of them is organized in a proper way, their market value could actually become higher than the market value of the charcoal.
Still in the beginning of 1940’s, plant-based materials dominated the chemical industries. Since then chemicals manufactured from oil and coal have largely replaced chemicals derived from wood and other plant materials. The output of petrochemicals in the USA was only 10 000 tons in 1921, but increased to 1.5 million tons in 1939 and 109 million tons in the mid-1990’s, which is sixteen times more than the production of biochemicals. In 1945 petroleum-based synthetic fibres had only 0,5 per cent of the American clothing market, while the plant-based synthetic fibres had a 10 per cent market share. By 1980 the petroleum-based clothing materials already had a 64 per cent share of the market. First plastics were made from plant material, but since then it has been almost completely replaced by petrochemicals in the manufacturing of plastics.
This shift from plant-based raw materials to chemicals derived from coal and oil has not been environmentally benign: breaking down organic minerals like oil or coal requires high pressures, high temperatures and – in many cases – strong inorganic acids or alkalis. The manufacturing of petrochemicals consumes a lot of energy and produces very large emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
The main reason for this dramatic shift has been the development of the oil refining and automobile industries. The production of petrol for motor vehicles produces a lot of waste chemicals, and the oil companies wanted to find end uses for them. Because these chemicals were manufactured in very large quantities by the oil refineries as a waste-product, they became much cheaper than the plant-based chemicals and gradually replaced them.
However, the large-scale use of charcoal kilns that are capable of recovering the liquid chemicals of the wood, might again change the whole picture. Not unlike the oil refineries, the numerous charcoal kilns could together produce an impressive amount of liquid chemicals as a by-product. A charcoal retort can recover, on average, 50 litres of liquid biochemicals for each cubic metre of wood.
The state-owned chemical industries should start to develop different uses for the wood-based chemicals. If there is no demand for them, it will not necessarily be profitable for the charcoal-makers to invest in expensive charcoal retorts.
In other words, improved charcoal kilns could, at least partly, replace oil and coal with charcoal and also lead to a partial replacement of petrochemicals by plant-based raw materials in the chemical industries. Above all, the increased charcoal production would reduce the people’s exposure to particulate pollution and to many other dangerous pollutants.
From the view-point of public health the use of biogas, fuel alcohol or solar cookers are still better alternatives than charcoal. For example nipa palm stands could annually produce about 11 000 litres of fuel alcohol per hectare, but it would probaly still be too expensive for the poorest families. In South Asia, the average cost of a biogas generator sufficient for the needs of one family has been about USD 200, which is also a bit too much for the low-income households. Some of the new models developed in Vietnam cost only USD 20, which is already much more affordable. Besides the cow dung and human waste the Vietnamese biogas generators – which are in practise large plastic bags – can also use food waste, crop residues and other plant matter.
Solar cookers are even cheaper. Many models cost USD 20-40, but it is also possible to construct a solar cooker from materials that only cost a few rupees. Such a solar-cooker can be made for instance by taking some mud, clay or cow dung and by molding it to a parabolic shape (into the shape of a satellite antenna). Besides this only some thin aluminium foil and some glue is needed. When the aluminium foil is glued on the parabolic-shaped base, it will act as an efficient reflector that concentrates the sun’s rays on a pot that is hanged over the cooker.
The scarcity of water is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most serious problems. Water problems also have numerous dimensions which are basicly issues of democracy.
Freshwater resources are often limited, especially during dry seasons. This thumb rule applies both to groundwater resources and to surface water, freshwater in the lakes, ponds and rivers. If the water resources are limited, who will decide how they will be shared? What kind of participatory and democratic decision-making structures for sharing the water resources should there be on the local and on the national level?
At present water resources are usually divided in a most unequal and undemocratic way. Different industries and power plants easily get more than their fair share of the national water resources. There is no eagerness to emphasize those forms of energy production that do not require large amounts of freshwater, like wind, solar and wave energy. The main emphasis is still in coal and nuclear power plants, both of which require large amounts of fresh cooling water.
People living in cities consume, on average, several times more water than people living in the countryside. Moreover, urban people often
waste a major part of the water they use by not bothering to mend leaks in water taps or pipes or to fix leaking water closets. A badly leaking water toilet in a city can use, in one day, more water than a poor rural household in dry areas is using during the whole year.
Agriculture is, in most countries, the largest consumer of freshwater. More emphasis should be paid in cultivating crops and breeding cultivars that do not require large amounts of water. Even water-hungry crops can be cultivated with methods that require less water. Various traditional and modern drip-irrigation methods and sub-surface irrigation methods delivering the irrigation water straight under the ground to the roots of the plants are especially recommendable. Such techniques can greatly reduce the need for irrigation water.
Besides this it would be important to divide the existing freshwater resources in a more equal way, and to develop local democratic institutions for this purpose.
The larger landowners that can afford to build deep tubewells and install strong water pumps typically appropriate a lion’s share of the water resources for themselves. The poorer families can only afford to dig ordinary, much shallower wells, and extract lesser amounts of water from them. The big landowners with more efficient pumps often use so much water that the water-table on the whole area declines and the shallower wells of the poor families become totally dry. Larger landowners often appropriate also a disproportionate share of the river water for themselves through large-scale irrigation projects.
Various communal or cooperative rainwater harvesting and storing schemes based on different traditional technologies could be an important way to ensure a more democratic appropriation of local water resources.
Another issue is how to divide, in the international level, the water in rivers that are shared between more than one country. For example the sharing of the freshwater resources of the Nile, Tigris-Euphrates, Jordan and Indus rivers is causing growing tensions between the nations competing of the water of these rivers.
The main reason for the world’s present water crises has been the overuse of groundwater. The humanity started to dig wells at least
5 000 year ago, when the oldest known wells were constructed by the Indus Valley civilization, in areas that now lie within the borders of Pakistan and India. However, most of the dugwells were relatively shallow. They often dried during the dry season, which forced the ancient cultures to depend on rainwater harvesting and storing in their water supply systems. Numerous such systems are known from Asia, North Africa and Latin America, and they provided an important part of the basis of many civilizations for thousands of years.
It was only after the Second World War that the large-scale construction of tube-wells was introduced to the South. Before the Second World War there were only a few thousand tube-wells in India, now there are tens of millions of them. Tube-wells provide safe and clean water for hundreds of millions of people.
However, in many areas too many tube-wells were soon made, and too much water was taken from them. The wells were not used to provide safe drinking water and household water, only, but huge amounts of water were pumped to the ground for irrigation purposes. The utililization of groundwater resources was no longer on a sustainable basis. People started to mine groundwater resources and use them with a much quicklier pace than the reserves were able to replenish themselves.
The UN organizations have estimated, that Africa has already lost two thirds and Asia and Latin America about one half of their easily accessible groundwater resources during the last fifty years.
In large parts of the Middle East, South Asia, China, the United States of America and Africa the water tables are now receding by 1-4 metres per year. The situation may have serious implications for the world’s food production. For example in China, Egypt, India, Indonesia and Pakistan more than one half of the food production is based on irrigation, by which two or even three crops can annually be produced on the same patch of land.
In India it has been estimated that the annual use of groundwater resources already exceeds the replenishment by about one hundred billion cubic metres. International Water Management Institute says, that the depletion of the groundwater resources is a threat for one quarter of India’s grain yields. In China the situation is almost as serious.
The pressures on groundwater reserves are likely to increase because of the population growth and a number of other factors. Because of the economic globalization a growing percentage of the people in the South is abandoning ancient vegetarian traditions and increasing their consumption of meat. To provide an American diet (containing a lot of meat) for one people typically consumes two times more water than the provision of an average Asian diet (containing very little meat), in spite of the fact that the most important staple food of Asia is rice, which is a water-thirsty plant.
Another problem is that the different industries and urban areas are rapidly increasing their water consumption. When people move from a rural area to a city they tend to forget where the water comes from and increase their consumption of it. Mark Rosengrant and Claudia Ringler of the International Food Research Institute have estimated, that the urban households’ and industry’s share of the world’s water consumption might incrase from 13 to 27 per cent by the year 2020. According to Rosengrant and Ringler the world’s food production could be reduced by one sixth, if all this water is taken away from irrigation purposes.
According to the Population Action International 2800-3500 million people could suffer from acute lack of water in the year 2025. The GEO 2000 programme of the United Nations has presented even more pessimistic predictions. According to GEO 2000 it is possible, that two thirds of humanity will soon be faced with water shortages. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted, that five billion people will suffer from an acute scarcity of water after twenty years.
The expected warming of the Earth’s climate due to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is likely to aggravate these problems. While the climate change may increase rainfall, it will probably increase the evaporation of water even more. According to one estimate a four-centigrade warming in the tropics might increase the rainfall by 12 per cent but the evaporation by 30 per cent, thus making the tropical and sub-tropical areas considerably drier.
It is clear that the present trends will pretty soon lead to an impossible situation: there won’t simply be enough water for all these purposes. This could leave to serious conflicts over the use of water within each country, and between different countries. The danger is that it is the poor that will, once again, suffer the most. The rich farmer can make a deeper well when the wells of the poor remain dry. The people living in the cities and the industries are usually more influential than the rural people, and a ton of water used in an industry can produce seventy times more in terms of dollars than if the same amount of water is used to irrigate the fields. On the other hand, food is usually more important for the people than various industrial products.
Another closely related set of problems has to do with the pollution or poisoning of the groundwater resources. The most horrible case is the vast arsenic poisoning epidemic in Bangladesh, and in the Indian states of West Bengla, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh where almost one hundred fifty million people are slowly being poisoned by the water they are drinking. Epidemiologists have warned that unless rapid measures are taken one death in ten in the badly affected areas of Bangladesh will soon be caused by arsenic poisoning. The situation in Bangladesh and the mentioned Indian states, however, is not an isolated case but an extreme example of a much trend.
According to Payal Sampat from the Worldwatch Institute the groundwater resources are slowly being poisoned by pesticides, by the nitrates from chemical fertilizers and carelessly designed pit latrines, by carbage dumps, by oil leaks from cars and service stations and by industrial waste. The main problem is that it usually takes several decades or more before these poisons have seeped their way through the soil into the groundwater. The problems that are currently detected in the groundwater have leaked to the ground long ago. Since then the amount of different chemicals and toxic waste that has just been dumped on the ground has increased by dozens of times. A vast amount of pollutants is already on its way towards the groundwater, and the present problems are only an iceberg’s tip of what we can expect in the future.
A recent study near 22 industrial centers of India discovered, that the groundwater in the surrounding areas was no longer fit to be used as drinking or household water. According to the Worldwatch institute most of the approximately two billion people who are now drinking groundwater, could soon face serious problems related to the pollution of the groundwater.
The most important solution to these problems could be the revitalizing and further development of the various ancient rainwater harvesting and storing systems. Even in the world’s driest areas proper water harvesting and storing methods can provide an adequate drinking, household and irrigation water supply for the people. Even as little as 100 millimeters of rain provides a thousand cubic metres or one million litres for each hectare of land. In India there are at least 500 000 large tanks that were built, long time ago, in order to store rainwater. The state of Tamil Nadu, for example, has 30 000 such water tanks called eris. They form, alltogether, a huge water collecting structure consisting of hundreds of thousands of brick-made dams and of 50 000 kilometres of other structures.
In many parts of India, in Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and Iran, in the Middle East and in North Africa people used to construct horizontal wells that collected water from the deep soil layers and transported it to the nearby population centers. In Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the Xinkiang province of China these horizontal wells are known with the name karez. On India’s western coast they are surangams, in Marocco they are called foggaras. In Iran they are qanats. Iran has, alltogether about 40 000 qanats, the combined length of which is about 270 000 kilometres. The longest qanats are 40 or 50 kilometres in length.
Such horizontal wells have their darker side. Their construction has originally required huge amounts of labour. It is very likely that
many of them have been constructed by slave labour, and that many people have died in the process. However, in our own day we could build similar horizontal wells in ways that would not endanger the
lives of our construction workers.
It would probably be a good idea to revitalize the technology, because it is still working astonishingly well. Many horizontal wells have kept on producing good-quality drinking water for thousands of years. Xinkiang’s one thousand karez structures are still providing the province with one third of its water. In Iran three quarters of water supply was based on qanats until the 1950’s, and the system started to deteriorate only after that due to the exaggerated westernization drive of the Shah Reza Pahlavi.
In many countries people have also constructed sub-surface dams, ditches filled with stones and various types of earthen walls that increase the formation of groundwater. Tarun Bharat Singh, an organization working in the drylands of Rajasthan, in India, has been able to bring whole rivers back to life with the help of such traditional technologies. The thousands of village parliaments organized by Tarun Bharat Singh have been an important model experimenting with ecological democracy at the local level.
Loss of Biodiversity and Genetic Erosion
Genetic erosion means the loss of biological diversity, either whole spiecies or different races or varieties of them.
Biodiversity should also be seen as an issue of ecological democracy. How much biodiversity should we preserve for the future generations? Don’t we have a duty to ensure that also the people living on Earth after a thousand years might have a chance to see a tiger or a whale?
Also, numerous disease causing bacteria are rapidly developing strains that are resistant to most or all known antibiotics. Our anti-bacterial medicines may become totally useless within a relatively short period of time. Where can the future generations find new anti-microbial medicines, so that their children do not have to die, unnecessarily, to pneumonia, tuberculosis or infected wounds?
Antibiotics are something that certain fungi use to defend themselves against bacteria. However, also the various plants and insects and marine creatures have their own defence mechanisms against bacteria, otherwise it would not be possible for them to survive. This means that the areas that are rich in biodiversity will be the treasure troves of future hunters of new anti-microbial medicines. For this reason, also, it is important to preserve the rainforests and coral reefs: it is a question of democracy between our generation and the future generations.
Another issue is who has the right to develop the cultivars of important food plants, and who controls the genetic reserves of them? At the moment we are rapidly moving towards a system in which the genetic basis of our most important food plants is controlled by a small number of giant transnational companies like Monsanto. This is a very dangerous situation, indeed. The more centralized the system becomes, the more vulnerable it will be.
A more democratic system in which hundreds of millions of farmers would breed and own their own varieties and in which the farmers’ organizations would exchange interesting genetic material (seeds) between themselves would be a much safer system from the view-point of food security. This kind of improved traditional plant breeding system would ensure that the genetic diversity of our food plants remains so high that whole crops of the important plants cannot suddenly be wiped out by new bacterial, viral or fungal diseases or by insect pests resistant to all known pesticides. It would also maintain the control of the food production system in the hands of the farmers and their own organizations, and not leave them at the mercy of transnational corporations. Numerous seed-saver networks, ecologically oriented research institutions and peasant organizations in different parts of the world are already working in order to make this vision a reality.
Biologists have described a total of between 1.5 million and 1.8 million species, but estimates about the true number of living species usually range between 3.6 million and more than 100 million. One of the big uncertainties is the number of species living in marine ecosystems. The estimates of total number of marine species have increased from 160 000 in 1971 to 10-100 million at present. What comes to species in land ecosystems, a great majority of them live in the tropical rainforests. The huge rainforest of Amazonas might alone contain about one third of the species of the world’s land ecosystems.
However, perhaps the most serious aspect of genetic erosion is the depletion of the genetic foundations of our main food crops.
There are between 250 000 and 300 000 of plant species in the world. Of these, 10 000 – 50 000 are edible in their wild forms, and most of the others could be made edible through selective breeding. Formerly, people used to utilize a very wide variety of edible plants as food. Indigenous peoples of North America – an area relatively poor in biological diversity – utilized at least 1 112 different plants for food.
Nowadays only 150 – 200 plant species are widely used as food, and more than one half of the calories and protein consumed by humans come from three species: rice, maize and wheat. Moreover, the genetic basis of the widely cultivated food plants has become frighteningly narrow.
According to one estimate there used to be something like five hundred thousand different varieties of rice in South Asia, alone, but most of them have already been wiped out by a small number of new, high-response rice cultivars. In the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam a single rice variety, IR-36, constituted 60 per cent of all rice production already in 1982. In Egypt, a country that had grown onions for at least 7 000 years, only one variety of winter onion, Giza 6 Improved, remained. More than 70 per cent of the genetic diversity of wheat in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon was destroyed within a short period of time by the introduction of a handful of new varieties. About two per cent or one in fifty of the remaining varieties of our important food plants are now lost, every year.
This frighteningly rapid destruction of the genetic basis of our main food crops is a very serious issue. In traditional farming systems people usually cultivated dozens of different plants in the same patch of land. This reduced, to a great extent, crop losses caused by insects and plant diseases. Because the fields grew a rich mixture of different plants it was more difficult for the diseases and pests to spread. Also, while one plant belonging to a certain species was not resistant to a certain disease or pest, the next individual perhaps was, because the genetic basis of the crops was not very uniform. The great diversity of different plants harboured large numbers of spiders and ants and other natural predators of the pests, which also helped in keeping their populations in check.
Modern monocultures are in direct contrast with this philosophy. They often grow only one genetically uniform variety of a single species at a time. This kind of fields can, at their worst, become real super-highways through which various plant diseases and pests can spread with astonishing speed, destroying whole crops while they proceed.
One of the most dramatic examples of what can happen was the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. Practically all the potatoes grown in Ireland at that time belonged to a few cultivars, none of which was resistant to a fungus called potato blight. When potato blight hit Ireland the whole crop was destroyed. One million people died in the famine and two million more had to emigrate to America. The population of the island was cut from six million to about three million in only a few years.
What if something similar would happen to the most widely spread rice cultivars that have replaced tens or hundreds of thousands of local varieties during the last decades? As Richard Douthwaite has observed: “…very few people also knoww that the (food) system is genetically unsustainable and might suddenly collapse, causing the deaths of hundreds of millions of people from starvation and leading to political, social and military consequences comparable to those of a nuclear war.”
In a monoculture damages caused by pests and plant diseases are fought by two different methods. First, whenever a new disease or pest becomes a truly major problem, plant breeders try to breed new varieties that are resistant to the disease or pest in question. However, this takes so much time that often a lot of damage is done before the new, resistant varieties are available. Also, the resistant plant varieties are usually not resistant for a very long time. Plant diseases and pests evolve and mutate all the time, and because their breeding populations are very large and genetically diversified, it won’t usually take long before they have overcome the problem. In other words: the resistance bred to cultivated plants is not permanent but has to be replenished and renewed over and over again with new genes.
As Dr J.P. Kendrick from the University of California puts it:
“If we had only to rely on the genetic resources now available in the United States for the genes and gene recombinants needed to minimize genetic vulnerability of all crops into the future, we would soon experience losses equal to or greater than those caused by
southern corn leaf blight several years ago – at a rapidly accelerating rate across the entire crop spectrum.”
The problem is, that when the genetic basis of the cultivated plants becomes more narrow, the plant breeders will have less material that they can use in order to renew the resistance of the plants against diseases and against the at least 15 000 known species of pests.
There has been a serious effort to save the various cultivars of important food plants by storing their seeds into international gene banks. However, seed can only be stored in a gene bank for a certain time before they lose their ability to germinate. This means that the stock have to be regenerated within a certain period of time by sowing the seed out and storing the new seed. However, the new seed will not be genetically identical with the original variety that had been stored into the gene bank. The original variety is a result of evolutionary adaptation into the conditions in a certain locality. When seeds collected from thousands or tens of thousands of different localities will be sown on the same locality, the process favours the varieties and traits that match the requirements and conditions of that particular site. Other kinds of characteristics – unfavorable for that particular site – and genetic material responsible for them will irrevocably be lost. Thus the gene bank approach will not be able to preserve genetic diversity for centuries. The only way to do this is to pay for individual farmers or village communities for maintaining small local seed collections on hundreds of thousands of dirrecent sites.
The other way to limit the damage is the use of pesticides and fungicides. This has proved to be a very problematic approach. Pesticides also kill the natural enemies of the pests, and sometimes the populations of the targeted pests recover much quicklier than those of their main predators. In field trials wrongly timed and measured applications of pesticides have sometimes increased pest populations by 1250 times.
Extensive use of insecticides has led to the resurgence of several insect pests of rice that were of only minor importance, before. One of them is the brown planthopper, which became Asia’s most damaging rice pest in the 1980’s, and started to consume rice crops in South and South-East Asia with an unprecedented rate.
In the USA it has been estimated, that crop losses due to pests would increase from 33 to 42 per cent, if the use of pesticides would be eliminated. It is interesting to note that the Americans currently lose – in spite of extremely heavy use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals – one third of their crops to pests. It would be interesting to compare these figures to the losses suffered in the traditional farming systems that do not use any pesticides or fungicides, but which cultivate dozens of different plants and trees in the same land area. It may be that they have suffered much smaller losses.
Still another problem is the development of resistance to chemicals. The ability of the pests, viruses and fungi to adapt to changing environmental conditions also includes an ability to develop resistance to human-made poisons. When some individuals in a pest population find a way to survive a pesticide, all further spraying favours the individuals with the genetic or behavioural characteristics which allow them to survive the chemical. Because the pesticide will kill most other insects, the resistant pest population soon starts to dominate the area.
Chemical industry has tried to develop new pesticides in order to replace the older ones which have become almost useless in many areas. This far the pests have been able to develop new resistant strains much more quickly than the scientists have been able to create new poisons. According to Dr Sawicki of the Rothamstead Experimental Station: “Estabished resistance can be dealt with only by switching to alternative pesticides to which there is no resistance. This, however, is a transient solution because with time resistance develops to the alternative, which must be replaced by yet another compound. Each new insecticide selects in turn one or more mechanisms of resistance, and each mechanism usually confers resistance to several insecticides.”
The development of resistance has often forced farmers to use very heavy doses of several different pesticides. According to the latest estimate, up to 300 000 people may annually die of pesticide poisoning. Pesticides kill bees and other insects that have a great value as pollinators of fruit trees and of many other important crops. If there are too few pollinators, the crops of insect-pollinated crops are reduced.
In many countries fish and shrimp harvested from rice paddies have been an important source of animal protein for the people. In Indonesia, for example, fish farming in rice fields used to produce about a quarter of all fresh, closed-water output of fish. In 1969 about 600 000 tons of fish were harvested from three million hectares of rice fields. However, the use of chlorinated hydrocarbons and other pesticides practically eliminated fish and shrimp from large rice field areas – or made them too poisonous for human consumption. This was one of the reasons why Indonesian government became so interested in the development of integrated pest management (IPM) in the 1980’s.
Ecological Land Reforms and Issues Related to Soil Fertility
Adequate supply of food is the most basic human need, and democratic systems can never function very well before people can become free from hunger and from the fear of starvation: it is too easy to threaten people who are afraid of not having enough food for their families. For example in the Nordic countries the organizers of the workers’ movement realized this very well. To acquire small patches of farmland and gardens for the urban factory workers in order to reduce their dependence on food and food relief became a very important project for the Nordic trade unions and workers’ parties. It was thought that the workers will be too scared to demand better salaries for themselves unless they are certain that their families will, in any case, have enough food to eat during the next winter.
The analysis was, to some extent, correct, and the numerous patches of workers’ own gardens and farmland around the cities helped the trade unions to become so strong a force promoting democracy and equality in the Nordic countries.
Most countries of the world still have a very unequal structure of land ownership. In Brazil 20 largest landowners control 17 million hectares of land, while at least seven million rural families do not own any land at all.
Land reforms are a very important way of reducing poverty and of increasing agricultural production. According to a study conducted by the US ministry of agriculture in fifteen Southern countries the farms which had a size of two hectares or less produced, on average, USD 3500 worth of food per hectare per year. The production of farms that were larger than 2000 hectares was only worth USD 30 per hectare per year. Such a 120-fold difference is very significant. The main explanation for this astonishing piece of statistics is that the small farmers use much of their land as a multi-storey home gardens: they grow various food-producing trees, shrubs and vines and different annual food plants on the same, small patches of land. The large landowners, on the other hand, keep much of their land as pasture for cattle.
Land reforms, however, have not always been good for the environment. In many cases governments and large landowners have promoted land reform programmes in which landless families have been resettled in rainforest areas. This has happened in a very large scale for instance in Indonesia and Brazil. In such resettlement schemes the land has usually been taken from the indigenous forest peoples by force.
Numerous indigenous peoples have cultivated rainforest lands on a sustainable basis for a very long time with different farming methods incorporating trees with annual plants, but the settlers have not usually been familiar with such methods. When they have tried to utilize the rainforest lands to conventional field farming or transformed them to pasture, the lands have often lost most of their nutrients in only a few years. After this the settlers have usually been forced to clear new fields into the middle of the forest, and this process of destruction has been repeated over and over again once in a few years. The settlers have also been plagued with malaria and other seriuous diseases thriving in the rainforest areas.
We should probably start thinking in terms of a concept known as the Ecological Land Reform. The concept was first developed by the Brazilian Rubber-Tappers Union (CNS), and it originally meant the establishment of the so called extractivist reserves in the Amazonian rainforest areas. In the extractivist reserves the trees are not felled but the forest will be reserved for collecting nuts, fruits and natural rubber.
Ecological land reform, however, can also mean many other things. If the families that are given land will transform much or all of their land to multi-storey home gardens they will effectively protect it from erosion and from other depletion of soil fertility.
Community forest programmes in Nepal, which have reforested badly degraded or barren hillslopes and created a system of much better village-based management of the forest lands, have also been an outstanding example of ecological land reforms. Nepal’s community forest programmes have probably benefited millions of people, and they are an important model worth studying in other countries, as well.
It is most unfortunate that the World Bank and many other international aid agencies have started to lobby Nepal and many other Southern governments to dismantle their community forestry and land reform programmes, as well as all kinds of communal or village-based land ownership structures, and to move towards full privatization of all land properties. The counter-land reforms now aggressively promoted by the World Bank will, if they are implemented, will increase poverty and hunger, destroy large areas of forests now controlled and managed by indigenous forest peoples and worsen the problems related to erosion and depletion of soil fertility.
The loss of soil fertility is one of the most serious environmental problems in the world, in terms of the number of people affected. In spite of this the problem often receives much less attention in the media than many perhaps less important environmental issues. When the problem is covered, most of the attention is often reserved for the most dramatic aspects of it, like the creation of desert-like conditions (desertification) on the edges of actual deserts. This is not to say that desertification would not be a real and serious issue – it is. The point is that it would be important to cover also the the more mundane aspects of the problem and the various, often simple and non-dramatic, solutions to these problems.
Probably the most important mechanism causing widespread loss of soil fertility is erosion, or the loss of soil matter through the work of water and wind. For a long time, agricultural scientists practically equated soil degradation with erosion and soil conservation with the control of erosion. More recently they have started to approach the conservation of soil fertility through a somewhat broader framework. This makes sense because erosion is not the only mechanism that can lead to decreased productivity, even though it could be the most important one.
Besides the control of erosion, maintenance of soil fertility also requires the maintenance of organic matter and nutrients in the soil and the maintenance of the soil’s physical properties. In some areas like in tropical rainforests the loss of nutrients through leaching, by being washed by water to lower soil levels in the ground, can be the most important mechanism of declining fertility. Moreover, fertility can also be lost through toxification (pollution of the soil) or through salinization caused by irrigation.
The United Nations Environmental Programme has estimated that 6-7 million hectares of cropland are being lost, every year, due to soil erosion. Besides this perhaps 1.5 million hectares are lost due to salinization or waterlogging of irrigated farmland. Between one third and one half of the world’s 230 million hectares of irrigated farmland is suffering from salinization or waterlogging. According to the 1992 Global Assessment of Soil Degradation almost 20 million square kilometres of land became degraded between the years 1945 and 1990, of which 12.2 million square kilometres suffered serious loss of productivity. In India it has been estimated that one third of all arable land area is seriously threatened with complete loss of topsoil.
According to the Worldwatch Institute about 65 per cent of all agricultural land in Africa, 45 per cent in South Amerca and 38 per cent in Asia has already been degraded, at least to some extent.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization erosion might reduce the overall productivity of the world’s rainfed farmlands by 30 per cent within a few decades. Even larger areas are suffering from declining fertility. Phosphorus deficiency affects 73 per cent of farmland in China and 80 per cent in Pakistan.
The scale of the problem is vast, but many of the solutions are simple and very cheap. Organic farming is one of them. According to a survey on 200 organic farming projects, conducted by Jules Pretty of England’s Essex University, organic farming has increased the farmers’ yields on average by 73 per cent. The 200 projects evaluated by Pretty had helped about four million farmer families to increase their yields and income in a very significant way.
When Soviet Union collapsed it cut its supplies of cheap grain and agrochemicals to Cuba. This forced Cuba to shift to organic farming in a very short period of time. The consequences of the change, however, have been different than what was expected: mixing maize, beans and cassava in order to replace chemical fertlizers with biological nitrogen fixation has actually doubled the yields.
Many farmers in different parts of the world have stopped ploughing their fields. This reduces their work load and costs. Ploughing does help in reducing the amount of weeds but it also damages soil fertility and increases erosion. If fields are left unploughed they can absorb up to one ton of carbon per year per hectare from the atmosphere, which could help in fighting the global warming. In Argentina fully one third of the farmers have abandoned the use of ploughs, and in other Latin American countries millions of other farmers have done the same.
It is now widely thought that a ground cover of mulch is one of the best and most cost-effective ways of controlling erosion and other forms of declining soil fertility. The mulch laid on the ground protects the soil from the eroding impact of the raindrops: when the rain drops hit the layer of mulch they explode into a fine mist that can no longer do much harm.
Mulch can also have a kind of double-effect in controlling erosion. For instance in oil palm plantations erosion can be reduced in a very dramatic way by placing pruned palm fronds on the ground, optimally with tips downslope to create inward flow towards the stems. When such method is used the mulch also checks the outflow of nutrients in the fine soil by creating countless of tiny micro-catchments that are very efficient in capturing small soil particles.
The organic matter used as mulch also acts as fertilizer, and reduces the need for more expensive, industrially produced fertilizers. One study in Northern Nigeria estimated, that the amount of nutrients in crop residues available in the area, alone, was almost 80 times more than the nutrient content of the mineral fertilizers that were being used. Besides this mulch can reduce soil temperatures and evaporation of water, and increase the amount of rainwater that filters into the soil. In the semi-arid zone of Niger millet grown with no fertilizer only produced about 0.2 tons of grain per hectare. The addition of four tons of mulch per hectare increased the yields four-fold.
The planting of trees is often promoted as an erosion-control measure. The litter produced by the trees can reduce erosion by a major extent (up to 95 per cent) and if the branches and leaves produced by the trees are used as mulch they can be most useful.
If the litter produced by the trees is burned or removed the planting of trees can actually increase erosion by reducing the amount of protective undergrowth (grasses and other herbaceous plants), besides which tall tree canopies can also increase the erosive potential of rain by concentrating the water to larger and heavier drops that can do major damage when they drop down from the high branches. However, the smallest rates of erosion are found from untouched natural forests and from multi-storey home gardens that imitate the structure of the natural forest.
Such multi-storey farming systems mixing tree crops with other kinds of plants deserve special attention because they can, in practically every conceivable ecosystem, produce more food per hectare – in terms of calories, proteins and other nutrients – than conventional farming.
The emergence of tree planting as a widespread custom seems to be a more or less spontaneous and automatic process that is taking place when the population densities reach certain levels and continue to grow beyond them. This can already be seen in many regions of the world. Wherever population densities have reached a certain level they have also led to the development of multi-storey, multi-species agroforestry systems known as tropical home gardens.
In Southeastern Nigeria, where population densities range as high as one thousand people per one square kilometre, the high population densities are usually linked with more trees.
Similar trends can be observed, for example, on densely populated slopes of Kilimanjaro and Meru in Tanzania and Kenya, on the island of Zanzibar, in Rwanda, in China and India and in Java – where tropical home gardens cover 75 per cent of all agricultural land.
In Kenya both the government and dozens of non-governmental organizations have actively encouraged people to plant their own trees. This has made Kenya the first country in Africa that has reversed the decline of living biomass. According to latest studies the biomass – the combined amount of trees and other vegetation – is now growing in 39 out of the 42 districts of Kenya. And in many districts the growth has been rather spectacular.
The reason for these trends is obvious: home gardens involving various tree crops are more productive. For example in the heavily populated areas of Nigeria the production of the multi-storey gardens is, in monetary terms, 5 to 10 times higher than that of conventional field farming.
It has been estimated that fruit trees only occupy 2-3 per cent of the world’s agricultural land, but contribute 5-7 per cent of the gross food production and 10-35 per cent of national income from agricultural production.
When a tropical forest is cleared and transformed to a field or pasture, the amount of carbon stored in the vegetation is usually reduced between 90 and 99 per cent. This contributes to the problem of global warming. Transforming fields and pastures to multi-storey home gardens, on the other hand, removes large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. Some types of multi-storey home gardens can store hundreds of tons of carbon per hectare.
According to John Sholto Douglas and A.J. de Hart only about 8-10 per cent of the world’s land area is currently being cultivated, but this area already includes a very large majority of all existing good-quality farmlands. Tree crops, however, could theoretically be grown on at least 75 per cent of the world’s land area. Trees can be grown also on lands that are not suitable for conventional field farming, including arid and semi-arid lands, steep hill-slopes and rainforest lands.
In arid ecosystems the land may become almost like a desert during the dry season, but the vegetation recovers quickly with the rains. Only if the soil has continuously been losing nutrients through erosion so that the natural recovery has been prevented, can we talk about actual desertification.
In areas that have a very uncertain rainfall the security of food production is the number one consideration of the poorer segments of the population. In such areas tree crops are especially important because trees are likely to provide a crop even during bad drought years, when all the (rainfed) annual crops will fail.
The world has alltogether 6.1 billion hectares of drylands if hyper-arid, arid, semi-arid and sub-humid lands are all included. Already about one billion people live on drylands and they will most probably have to feed a growing percentage of the world’s population in the future. Because the trees and other plants growing on arid places have never received the attention of plant breeders, people moving to drylands usually attempt to cultivate familiar plants which require large or relatively large amounts of water to survive and produce crops. This results in very insecure food crops: in drought years there may be no crop at all. For this reason already 90 per cent of all international food aid is going to drylands.
The domestication of various wild fruit and nut trees growing on drylands might be the most important single answer to these problems.
Tree crops and multi-storey home gardens are likely to constitute the agricultural technologies best suited for very arid conditions. Food-producing trees can be grown also on lands that cannot be used to conventional field farming. Moreover, food-producing trees can probably produce much more protein, fat and carbohydrates per hectare than any other food crops that can be grown on dry lands.
Because their longer root systems the trees are able to utilize moisture and nutrients that lay far beyond the reach of the annual crops. Many of the trees that have evolved in the dry areas produce fruit crops even during the worst drought years. And properly managed tree plantations can provide good and permanent soil cover – both directly and through their litter production.
In the super-humid tropical rainforests the topsoil contains practically no nutrients: all the nutrients have been washed down to the deeper soil layers by the heavy rainfall. Most of the available nutrients are contained by the vegetation itself, and they are continuosly being recycled by the trees. If the trees are replaced by annual crops or by pasture, most of these nutrients will be lost in a very short period of time.
When the land is transformed to pasture, it is usually cleared by burning. This creates a transient fertility that will wear off in a year or two. After this the land is invaded by weeds, many of which are poisonous to cattle. The only practical way to fight the weeds is to burn the area again, but the repeated burnings further deplete the fertility of the soil.
After three or five more years the land has to be abandoned, and left for a fallow for a much longer period of time. And a substantial part of its fertility has been lost on a permanent basis: because all the trees have been cut down, most of the nutrients have been leached into the deeper soil layers, so that they can no longer be captured even by the trees that will grow on the land during the fallow period. Slash-and-burn agriculture can also produce a similar degradation of the land, if the burning and cultivation periods become prolonged or if they are repeated too often.
The answer, again, is to mix perennial crops with annual plants.
If there is, permanently, a large enough number of trees growing on each hectare of land, the nutrients will not be leached into the deeper soil layers. Instead, they will be captured by the innumerable small branches of the trees’ root systems and recycled back to the farming system.
As long as the rapid recycling of nutrients, the actual basis of the whole rainforest ecosystem, is maintained crops can be grown on rainforest land on a permanent basis, for thousands and thousands of years. In theory it should be possible to continue this kind of cultivation even much longer than this: some rainforests have probably existed for a hundred million years or more.
If cultivated by conventional farming methods or turned to pasture, rainforests are among the world’s poorest and most unproductive lands. However, when multi-storey home gardening in practised, and a permanent tree cover is maintained, they can be extremely productive, because of the combination of high temperature and extreme humidity. Tropical rainforests are situated in areas that would anyway receive a lot of rain, but in some cases the amount of rainfall is doubled or multiplied by the trees. Rainforest trees evaporate huge amounts of water. At the same time they produce aerosols (tiny particles) that contribute to repid cloud formation over the forest. The researchers have found out, that some rainforest areas have an ability to circulate up to 75 per cent of the rainwater back to the atmosphere. The super-efficient, super-fast recycling of nutrients (and water) leads to very high biological production.
In one study the natural rainforest of Panama was found to produce about 40 tons of fruit (with a net dry weight of eight tonnes) per hectare in a year. This is a lot, when we remember that not all the trees growing in the rainforest produce fruit.
At its height the Mayan civilization supported populations of 700-1150 people per square kilometre on rainforest land in the densely populated parts of their empire. According to Clive Ponting: “Excavations in the outer areas of Tikal suggests that, at its height, the population was at least 30 000 and possibly as high as 50 000 (of the same order as the great cities of Mesopotamia). Other cities, though not quite so large, would have followed the same pattern of dense urban settlements and so it seems likely that the total population in the Maya region at its peak might have been near to five million in an area that now supports only a few tens of thousands.”
The descendants of the ancient maya, the lacandon maya indians living in the Chiapas rainforest, the home of the famous Mexican Zapatista rebellion, still practise simplified forms of the methods that made these rather impressive population densities possible.
Lacandons clear small plots inside the forest, the size of which is usually a little bit more or a little bit less than one hectare. The feled trees and branches are left on the ground in order to prevent erosion and to reduce leaching of the nutrients into deeper soil layers. Fast-growing tree-like perennials like banana and papaya are planted immediately after the clearing of the forest, in order to reduce the loss of nutrients. Other fruit trees like guavas, plums, custard apples, pineapples, cacao, avocados and citrus fruits are also planted. In an old plot that is just cleared again for farming, there is already a number of fruit trees. On the trunks of the trees climbers like yams are grown, and maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, sugarcane and other crops are planted between the trees.
The lacandons do not concentrate certain plants to separate compartments in tidy and straight rows. On the contrary, they make a point of not planting clusters of the same plant species within three metres of the same variety. The idea of this practise is to minimize the spread of plant-spesific pests and diseases and to make the best use of the available nutrients.
In conventional, western-type gardening it takes a lot of work to keep the spaces between different crops clear of weeds. In the lacandon system there are no spaces between food crops because every square inch is covered by different crops that are grown on purpose. This does not eliminate the need for weeding, but reduces it in a very significant way.
The same plot is cultivated from three to seven years in a row. After this the weeds become a major problem, and the land is left for fallow for five years or more. After the fallow period it is again cleared for farming. But even during the fallow period the fruit trees growing on the plot continue producing food for human consumption.
A lacandon milpa with the size of 0,4 hectares can produce two and a half tons of maize and an equivalent amount of tree and root crops in a year. In the same area cattle-raising produces the maximum of 10-50 kilograms of meat per hectare, annually.
The lacandon system already gives us a vague idea of what could be done if the rainforest lands were cultivated with somewhat similar way.
However, the lacandon system is not the optimal system we should have in mind. It should be relatively easy to develop multistorey rainforest gardening systems that are still much more productive. The lacandon mayas only grow relatively small fruit trees in their milpas, and many very productive and promising food-producing trees like peach palms, ingas, breadfruits, jackfruits and plantains are unknown to them.
According to C.R. Clement and H. Villachica the Amazonian peach palm cultivations can yield up to 30 tons of fruit per hectare, annually. In other words, the peach palm cultivations can produce between 2500 and 500 times more protein and calories suitable for human consumption than cattle ranching. And this is a short term comparison: on the long run the difference is still much more dramatic, because cattle ranching can typically be continued for five or seven years, only, before the land has to be abandoned.
World’s mountainous areas cover an area of about 30 million square kilometres and are a home to about six hundred million people. Mountains are very important places because all the world’s major rivers come from the mountains, and because more than half of the humanity depends on mountains for their water supply.
In spite of their importance mountainous areas have often been seriously neglected by different governmental programmes and it has been estimated that 80 per cent of the world’s mountain-dwellers live below the poverty line. Mountain people often feel left out and bitter, and it is no coincidence that of the 27 major armed conflicts that were fought in the world in 1999, 23 were in mountainous countries.
In steeply sloping hills and mountains topsoil is quickly lost if annual crops are planted without complex terracing systems. The fertile topsoil layer accumulated during tens of thousands of years may be washed away in a few years.
Besides terracing, the problem can be avoided by using suitable combination of trees and shrubs and annual crops. Trees thrive on steep hillslopes, even in places where hardly any soil can be seen. Their roots can penetrate deep in small cracks in the rock to acquire the necessary nutrients and moisture. Trees and bushes grown on densely planted rows along the contour lines can also capture soil and thus create, little by little, level terraces on which also other types of crops can be grown. Or, alternatively, the trees can be used to stabilize more conventional terraces in order to reduce the heavy maintenance work.
Ancient Greece lost, already thousands of years ago, almost all its topsoil due to intensive farming and grazing. After this the Greeks started to grow olive trees on eroded mountain slopes where other crops could no longer be grown. This saved the economy of the Greek civilization, which in those times included a large part of the whole Mediterranean region.
Tree crops could become as important for most other mountain ecosystems, as well. A few years ago the government of Pakistan started a very interesting programme, the purpose of which was to produce healthy cooking oil for the people.
Pakistan consumes about two million tons of food oil, every year. Of this only 0.8-0.9 million tons are produced in Pakistan, and 1.2-1.1 million tons have to be imported with an annual cost of about 40 billion rupies. The government of Pakistan decided that it should start promoting large-scale cultivation of olive trees in two mountainous provinces: North Western Frontier Province and Baluchistan. If a relatively small part of the wastelands in these two provinces would be transformed to olive plantations, Pakistan would become self-sufficient in food oils and might even be able to export olive oil to India and other countries.
The programme would have used indigenous olive varieties as rootstocks, and graft better-producing varieties brought from Afghanistan to them. The government of Pakistan also thought that the programme would be likely to have a positive impact on public health in Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries.
People in Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries have, on average, thinner blood veins than for instance Europeans, North Americans and Africans. This means that South Asians are extremely vulnerable to heart diseases if they consume a lot of unhealthy food oils that contribute to a disease called atherosclerosis, in which the blood veins are gradually blocked by fats accumulating into the walls of the veins. Indian cardiologists, doctors specializing in heart disease, who have worked both in India and in Europe have remarked, that in India the average age of their patients was 45 years while in Europe it was 65 years. People in South Asia have greatly increased their consumption of the most unhealthy fats, which may have very serious consequences for their health. The poorer people for whom the problem is too little fat and not too much of it may also suffer from the threatening epidemic of heart disease: if a larger part of the rseources of the public health care system will be devoted to treating the heart problems of the middle and upper classes, less resources will be available for treating and preventing other kinds of disease.
The production of olive oil for the South Asian markets would have improved the situation in a very important way, because olive oil seems to contribute to the prevention of heart disease. Up to 80 per cent of olive oil consists of “good” fatty acids that actually reduce the amount of “bad” fats (bad cholesterol) in the blood. Only 4-12 per consists of the harmful fats. This means that olive oil actually reduces the amount of the substances that contribute to the blocking of the arteries. Heart disease is four times more common in Great Britain and the USA than in Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy, where people consume vast quantities of olive oil.
Unfortunately the government of Pakistan was, at the end of the year 2002, forced to cut its funding for the olive growing programme from 40 million to 2 million rupies per year. We should hope that it will become soon possible to restart the programme, because it would be an important way of providing employment for millions of families living in the remote mountainous areas of Pakistan.
NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLES MOVEMENTS AT THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM
Appeal to join in solidarity towards transformation
The devastative impacts of the free flowing global capital all over the world, expropriating the world’s resources is, by now, well realized and recorded too. As a result of the policies, those in the subsistence economy living on the natural resources, along with the organized sections, including those managing the public services and production – distribution processes in the various countries are facing eviction from their livelihood and natural resources. The worst affected being the world’s poor. There is no aspect of life and no section of a country’s population that can go unaffected by the upheaval caused by the capital and market-based paradigm and the corporatised polity.
In India, the dalits (socially disadvantaged in the casteist society), adivasis (tribals), women and the labour class have waged battles against this neo-imperialism. They have been challenging the corrupt, criminal politics and the State that is subservient to the hegemonic oppression of so-called ‘global’ agencies: may it be the World Bank or the WTO. They also have to simultaneously fight the ethnic forces, the politics not just dividing but leading people into caste and religion-based massacres. This has been communalising every sector and aspect of life, thriving on the social disintegration, economic deprivation and identity crisis resulting out of the politico-economic onslaught faced by the increasing number of people in this largest democracy not worth the name. Such struggle thus has necessarily been on multiple fronts, from the local environs-human and Nature, at the same time redefining the ‘national’, and challenging the ‘global’ powers. Various mass based people’s organisation, the people’s movements are carrying the torch perseveringly with an alternative vision as also alternative strategies.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), as most of you know, is such an attempt towards building a people’s political force, outside the electoral politics that can counter the forces of destruction, inequality and exploitation and realize the values of equity, justice, peace and non-violence. With Gandhian, Marxist and Ambedkarian perspectives brought together, the people’s movements in India have been shaping up a new praxis on the basis of their struggles and constructive work on alternatives. This New Ideology strives for the radical changes in the production processes, technologies along with social-individual consumption patterns. Further, for it, the economic growth, democratic values and sustainability are equivalent and inevitable components of development. The NAPM has tried to follow an ideological framework that strengthens the people’s struggles for life and livelihood, by the agriculturists including agricultural labourers, adivasis – the indigenous populations, Dalits, fisher people, toiling women or the industrial workers and others, and people’s development and the people’s politics.
It’s in this context that NAPM has participated at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre as also the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad. Knowing fully the critique of these efforts by such forums by some fellow organisations, NAPM tried to gain and widen the space for people’s movements and raised the issues regarding transparency to accountability, including involvement of certain corporate funding agencies in the WSF processes. Being in the process and the structure (committees) to the extent possible for mass-based movements, with our own pace and limited resources with unlimited challenges, we could seek answers and evolve consensus on the issues raised. The committees and various groups at work responded. We could demand from within and get allotted, space for people’s movements. While there are still certain doubts to resistance with respect to WSF-India, on the part of some expressed through articles and actions, there is no doubt in our mind that such international unity and solidarity among widest possible range of organizations that form a part of civil society, is the minimum basic necessary to be able to stand up and question the world level violent attack of the capitalists-communal-criminal nexus.
It’s towards this end, that we have been a part of the unique phenomenon that is World Social Forum, which has created a hope for the widest possible human alliance for a just, pluralist, secular, peaceful alternative world and humanity. (The political consciousness it expresses can go a long way.)
NAPM plans to organize, with other collaborating organizations, conference, panel/s, seminar/s and also mobilize people in the regions where movements work and in Mumbai. While some of our allies are a part of the India organizing committee, others have preferred to participate at the India working council level. The National Coordinator of NAPM is a member of the International Council although in her capacity as a founder activist of Narmada Bachao Andolan and convenor of the Strategy Commission (a subgroup created at Miami). Not all those in the movement could do justice to the responsibility as committee members due to being engrossed in struggles but have faith in the others carrying out various roles with some of our representatives. All the efforts at various levels, we believe would be complimentary. Two of our allies, fisher people and agricultural labourers have decided to mobilize mass-strength in order to project the plight and struggle of their communities, in the context of the anti-people policies denying them right to live, on the January 19, on one of the days when WSF-India would be on. All these efforts, we sincerely hope will further the process of building a world level movement for solidarity and cooperation. NAPM appreciates the concern expressed by some of common-thinking networks and organizations in India and abroad as regards the future of WSF and the role of NGOs and movements. We sincerely hope that those will get due space and time for deliberations within the WSF and NAPM would be able to contribute to the same.
NAPM has registered itself, as a member of the India Working Council, and will hold a number of panels, seminars, cultural event and other items. We have approached various organizations and individual resource persons to collaborate. Our international allies, we hope, would also participate in the Rural Trip we have announced preceding the main Forum. With WSF being held in Mumbai, a megalopolis, we look forward to the international partners in the global struggle to visit the places of people’s struggles as well as reconstructive work on the alternatives in various sectors. A detailed programme and schedule of the panels / seminars to be organized by NAPM with others as well as that of the Rural Trip proposed (including letter of invitation, tour details, requisition form) and estimated expenditure is enclosed herewith (in this message).
- Do convey to us your comments, suggestions and enroll with us for participation in trip
- Let us know if you or any other group in interested in joining the cultural event.
- Feel free to propose names of resource persons and organizations that would wish to collaborate with us during the events planed at WSF.
- Every suggestion and comment would help us plan better.
Our motto is to raise the people’s issues and take up the perspective of people’s movements onto the World Social Forum.
Our commitment is to strengthen the unity of all who dare fight the global powers and endeavour towards realization of the alternative vision.
We appeal to you all, our friends, to join us and let us know you are with us, as an ally, in whichever capacity with whatever contribution.
Awaiting an early response.
|P.Chennaiah- Sanjay M.G.
NAPM Representative at WSF
Proposed conference and seminars at the WSF 2004 by NAPM
|Type of Event||Conference||Seminar||Seminar||Seminar|
|Theme||Development Induced Displacement: Perspectives and Strategies||Agrarian Struggle: People Over Profit||Water for Livelihood: Linking People not Rivers||Indigenous People’s Rights and Identity|
|Co-ordinating Agencies||NAPM/ NBA||NAPM||NAPM/ Bangla Praxis, Bangladesh||Shoshit Jan Andolan / NAPM|
|Co-organisers proposed||MAB, Brazil, MMP (Mine Mineral and People), Urban poor and displacement South Africa, Lokayan, Focus on the Global South||MST, Brazil, La Via Campasina, Brazil Monlar, Srilanka, Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, Finland, HKMS||International Rivers Network, NBA, SANDRAP, Bangla Praxis, WAFED, Nepal||Adivasi Solidarity, Geneva, Shoshit Jan Andolan, Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines, Survival International|
An invitation to join the rural trip to experience people’s
movements and struggles, pre-WSF meet in Jan 2004 in Mumbai.
While the preparations for the fourth World Social Forum, to be held in India in January 2004 are on, you must have received an invitation for the same. The people’s movements in India are looking forward for your visit to web together our common efforts to build a wider alliance to fight the global forces of corporate globalization and the hegemony of the financial institutions. We welcome you all to India.
India, with its cultural, linguistic and ethnical diversity, is in the grip of the global powers, with her natural resources mortgaged to the transnational and national corporations. This has resulted in the displacement and destitution of a large number of her citizens. The successive governments in power compete with each other in appeasing the global capital forces and thus putting the lives of the citizens in perils. The WSF, which proposes democratic, people-centred alternatives to imperialist globalization cannot come at a better time than this. The Another World, which is Possible, can be attained only through knowing the small and large people’s movements in the nook and corner of the country, struggling for a just and egalitarian society.
A network of the people’s movements in various states within India, National Alliance of People’s Movements is planning a visit by the selected participants of WSF to those areas and centers where people’s struggles are on. While WSF is to be held in Mumbai – the giant megalopolis – the real and rural face of India, still agrarian economy, can be seen only through an opportunity to reach out to the rural places and poor communities in urban and rural areas, to understand their social rubric, economy and lifestyle, the disparity, deprivation as also self-reliance. The tour will cover different places, interacting, exchanging views with the locals leadership and strengthening the movements who are working in diverse areas such as displacement due to dams and other projects, tribal (indigenous) rights, farmers unions, fight against MNCs etc. The team of foreign activists and other participants will also see and enjoy the diverse culture and heritage of the country, as also people’s initiative in reconstruction, with an alternative technology.
The details of the tour are appended. We extend you a cordial invitation and an appeal to participate and express solidarity with the movements in India.
Since only a limited number of participants can take part in this (due to logistical problems), we would encourage you to kindly register for the same at the earliest by filling the Requisition Form attached along with this. (see below the two alternative tour plans, expected expenditure and requisition form).
Your visit, which would give you an unique experience, can also strengthen the people’s struggle and reconstruction. We look forward to hear from you.
National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Alliance of People?s Movements
NOTE: The mentioned schedule and form can be obtained from Mukta Sriwastwa email@example.com.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam Glossary of Political India
Final draft 12 Nov 2003 circulated for comments. Please give your suggestions by 26 November 2003 to firstname.lastname@example.org
ABVP Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Student’s wing of BJP.
Adivasi Tribals, subjugated community – the original inhabitant of a region, classed today as Scheduled Tribe.
Advani, Lal krishna (1927-), Deputy PM of India, Union Cabinet Minister, Home Affairs, a hard-line Hindu leader of BJP, undertook a Rathyatra in 1992 (?) to mobilize support for Babri Mosque demolition and accused of raising the emotions of the karsevaks at Ayodhya.
AICC All India Congress Committee. The apex body of the Congress party.
AIIMS See All India Institute of Medical Sciences.
AIR All India Radio
All India Institute of Medical Sciences India’s premier public hospital situated in Delhi.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao Ramji (1891-1956), chiefly responsible for drafting of the Constitution of India and a champion of human rights, honoured with the highest national honour- ‘Bharat Ratna’ in April 1990. Graduated from Elfinstone College, Bombay in 1912, joined Columbia University, where he was awarded Ph.D. Later he joined the London School of Economics & obtained a degree of D.Sc. (Economics) & was called to the Bar. Started a social movement with the slogan of ‘Educate-Agitate-Organize’, aimed at annihilation of caste & the reconstruction of Indian society on the basis of equality of human beings.
ASI Archaeological Survey of India
Ayodhya The disputed site in Uttar Pradesh, where once stood the Babri Mosque (demolished on 6th Dec. 1992), believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, although this belief lacks archaeological and historical evidence.
Babri Mosque A mosque at Ayodhya believed to have been built by Babar in 16th cent, the first Mughal emperor of India, demolished on 6th Dec 1992 by Karsevaks (Hindu fundamentalist forces mainly belonging to BJP and VHP).
Bahujan Samaj Party A political party representing the oppressed castes and claiming to follow the ideology of Ambedkar, established in the 1980s, largely based in UP. The symbol of the party is an elephant. First President: Kanshi Ram. Present President: Mayawati.
Baniya Trader community, third in the Indian caste hierarchy.
Begar Forced labour, often without any re-numeration.
BEST Bombay Electric Supply and Transport Corporation, the local bus network in Mumbai.
Bhajan Hymn, Hindu devotional song
Bhartiya Jan Sangh See Jan Sangh.
Bhartiya Janata Party A political party in India, originated from the RSS (a fundamentalist Hindu organization), Formed in 1980. The biggest partner in the present ruling coalition. President: Venkiah Naidu. (See BJS too)
BJP See Bhartiya Janata Party.
BJS Bhartiya Jan Sangh, see Jan Sangh.
Bollywood The Indian (Hindi) film industry centered in and around Mumbai (Bombay).
Brahman Priestly class, highest in the Indian caste hierarchy.
BSE Bombay Stock Exchange
BSP See Bahujan Samaj Party.
CBI Central Bureau of Investigation, an autonomous govt. agency for criminal investigation.
Chandrashekhar (1927- ), Former PM of India (Nov 1990 – June 1991), President of the Janata Party (1977-88). Known as a firebrand idealist with revolutionary fervour, joined the Socialist Movement in 1951 Praja Socialist Party. Founded and edited YOUNG INDIAN, a weekly published from Delhi in 1969, joined INC Jan 1965, elected Gen Sec. Congress Parliamentary Party in 1967. Inspired by JP and his idealist view of life during the turbulent days of 1973-75 and became a focal point of dissent within the Congress Party. He undertook a marathon walk (Padayatra) through the country from Kanyakumari in the deep South to Rajghat (Samadhi of Mahatma Gandhi) in New Delhi, established fifteen Bharat Yatra Centres to train social and political workers for mass education and grass root work in backward pockets of the country. A Member of Parliament since 1962 except for a brief period from 1984 to 1989.
CM Chief Minister (of a state in India)
Cong(I) See Congress.
Congress Indian National Congress (INC) at the time of conception and through the freedom movement. Indira Gandhi made Congress (I) I standing for Indira, and INC disintegrated. INC – a political party in India, played crucial role in the Indian Freedom Movement. Started by A.O. Hume in 1882 to gain Indian Public Opinion but gradually evolved and gained mass support and spearheaded the Independence Struggle with Gandhi, Nehru etc. as its leaders. Cong swept the state as well as Parliamentary elections till the 1960s. Since then its share in power has been reducing gradually. Present President: Sonia Gandhi, wife of Rajiv Gandhi, Italian Origin.
Crore Ten million
CSE Centre for Science and Environment, an environmental think tank in Delhi.
Dalal Commission agent
Dalit The oppressed and the lowermost section in the Hindu caste hierarchy.
Dharmshala Religious rest houses, also a place in the UP hills (middle Himalayas)
Dharna A way of showing dissent and putting moral pressure by sitting at a specific place, originally at the doorstep of the person to whom the view point is to be expressed.
Dravidian A general term for the cultures and languages of the deep south of India, including Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada.
DRDO Defence Research and Development Organization
DU Delhi University
Emergency National Emergency (June 1975-Jan 1977) imposed by the president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad on recommendation of Indira Gandhi, the then PM; when a judge in Allahabad, Indira Gandhi’s home constituency, found her landslide victory in the 1971 elections invalid because civil servants had illegally aided her campaign. Amid demands for her resignation, Gandhi decreed a state of emergency on June 26 and ordered mass arrests of her critics.
Gandhi, Indira (1917-84), PM of India (1966-77, 1980-84), daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first PM of India) assassinated in 1984 by two of her own security guards who were from the Sikh community. This led to massive riots against the community. (Also see Emergency)
Gandhi, Rajiv (1944-91), PM of India (1984-89), eldest son of Indira Gandhi, flew for Indian Airlines until his brother died in 1981 and he was drafted into politics by his mother. He succeeded her after her assassination in 1984 but was him self assassinated in 1991 by Tamil extremists during an election campaign.
Gherao A way of industrial protesting by locking-in the employer.
Gowda, H. D. Deve 1933-), Former PM of India (1996-97) heading the United Front coalition govt. consisting of secular socialist and left parties. He is from a farming family, trained as a civil engineer, elected to the Karnataka assembly in 1962, became the CM. At first an independent, later joined the Cong, jailed during emergency, important leader of Janata party and then of Janata Dal.
Gujaral, I.K. (1919-), Former PM of India (Apr. 1997-Feb. 1998). Architect of India’s foreign policy, believed that it should look inwards and work on the principle of generosity with benign and accommodating bilateralism. Participated in the freedom struggle, jailed in 1942 during the Quit India Movement. Alternate leader of the Indian delegation to the UN Session on Environment, Stockholm in 1974. Ambassador to USSR (1976-80). Union Minister of state (1967-76), Union Minister of External Affairs (1989-90 & 1997-98, as the PM).
Harijan Literal meaning – people of God, a name given to the untouchables by Gandhiji.
HC High Court, the second in the hierarchy of Indian Judicial System.
HT Hindustan Times, a leading English daily.
IB Intelligence Bureau, Indian govt’s internal intelligence gathering agency.
IGI Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.
Jan Sangh Predecessor of BJP. Formed in 1951 from RSS, under the leadership of Syama Prasad Mookherjee to gain political recognition and acceptance of the Indian masses. Renamed Bhartiya Jan Sangh in 1980 after the disintegration of Janata Party.
Janata Dal A political party in India formed in 1980 after the disintegration of Janata Party, established because of the claim that there was corruption in the Congress govt., actually a political bloc of different factions, which managed to form a govt. in 1989.
Janata Literal meaning – People.
Janata Party A political party in India, established before the 1977 elections comprising of many anti-Emergency factions viz. Congress (O), Lok Dal, Jan Sangh among others, under the leadership of JP. The first political party to establish a non-Congress government when it won the 1977 elections and Morarji Desai became the PM, did not survive for long, a clear split occurred after JP’s (?) death in 1978 between Morarji Desai’s supporters and Charan Singh’s supporters. In 1979 Morarji Desai resigned as Prime Minister and other members tried to replace Prime Minister. During this period Jagjivan Ram, an untouchable according to strict Hindu society, was very near to become a Prime Minister. But finally Charan Singh of the Lok Dal faction was proclaimed the new Prime Minister. A few weeks after Charan Singh became the Prime Minister, because of the instability in the coalition, the president declared new elections. In 1980 new national elections took place in which Indira Gandhi’s Congress again won the elections. Later on after these elections, different factions of the Janata Party broke up from the Janata Party and established their own parties major ones being Jan Sangh and Janata Dal. Janata Party continues to survive, but is very small, did not win any seat in the 1996 national elections and in the 1998 elections it won only one seat.
JD See Janata Dal.
JNU Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
JP Movement A student’s non-violent movement under JP’s leadership primarily in Bihar, started in March 1974, as an outrage against increasing inflation, corruption and unemployment, biggest after the independence struggle, considered a landmark for the Indian democracy, lead to certain constitutional amendments, converted to anti-emergency movement as nervous Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in June 1975.
JP See Jay Prakash Narayan. (Can’ find!))
JPC Joint Parliamentary Committee
Kalyug/Kaliyug The fourth, degenerate age of the aeon (?).
Karsevak Literal: Volunteer for manual labour. Hindu fundamentalist forces of the Sangh Parivar, large groups of Karsevaks were mobilized to demolish Babri Mosque and construct Ram Temple.
Kharif The autumn crop.
Kshatriya The warrior class, second in the Indian caste hierarchy.
LAC Line of Actual Control, the present border between India and China.
Lac/Lakh Hundred thousand
Laloo See Yadav, Laloo Prasad.
LoC Line of Control, the present ‘working’ border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir.
Lohia, Ram Manohar (1910-68), socialist leader of a fearless and dynamic personality, a man of rare scholarship and independent thought he toiled to create a society which would ensure justice to the poor, the backward and women, was called ‘the stormy petrel of Indian politics’, went to Germany where wrote his doctoral thesis in Berlin University on the Salt Satyagraha. Returned in 1932, imprisoned during the Disobedience Movement formed a youth wing in the Congress-the Congress Socialist Party, became the editor of a periodical the ?ngress Socialist’, (?) in charge of the external affairs branch of INC and was in contact with progressive thinkers of different nations of the world, started a secret Broadcasting station and, with JP, he organized an underground movement, laid the foundation for the liberation of Goa from foreign domination, became the Political ‘guru’ or mentor of the youth of Nepal who came to study at Benares and the revolt against the Rana Dynasty in Nepal was inspired by Lohia. He became the General Secretary of the Praja Socialist Party in 1955, later re-made the Socialist Party. He started ‘Mankind’, an English daily from Hyderabad, and ‘Jana’ -a Hindi monthly. In his life span of 57 years Ram Manohar Lohia suffered imprisonment twenty times. The government of free India imprisoned him as many as twelve times.
Lok Sabha The lower house of the Indian parliament, consisting of 545 members, elected every five years, although it may be dissolved earlier by the President on the recommendation of the PM .
LS See Lok Sabha.
Mandal Commission Second Backward Classes Commission appointed under Article 340 of the Indian Constitution commonly called Mandal Commission after its chairman B.P. Mandal. Submitted its report on 31/12/1980, which included recommendations like a certain weightage (?) to be provided for socially, economically and educationally weak sections of the society in the services of the Union and their Public Undertakings. Implementation announced by the V.P. Singh govt. in 1990, which led to street protests by upper caste youth and women.
Mandal See Mandal Commission.
Mandir A Hindu temple.
Mantra Sacred formula, incantation or spell.
Mayawati A political leader of India, Party: BSP, holds an L.L.B. degree, the chief minister of UP thrice (1995, 1997 (?), 2002-03), MP (RS) (1994-96), an active social worker for the downtrodden and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, has been member of the Committee on the Welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Gandhi, Sonia 1946-) Present President Cong, third woman of foreign origin and fifth of the Nehru family to take over this prestigious post, widow of Rajiv Gandhi. Born Sonia Maino in a middle class Turin business family, studied English at Cambridge University. She married Rajiv in 1968 and acquired Indian citizenship in the early 1980s. Her nationality has triggered off a debate on the issue of letting citizens with foreign origins contest for the prime post. It also led to a revolt within the party, which proved quite insignificant.
Mela Fair, fete
MLA Member Legislative Assembly
MP Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India.
MP Member Parliament
Murti A statue of God.
NAM Non-Alligned Movement
Namaste/Namaskar Traditional Hindu greeting, often accompanied by a small bow with joining hands at the chest as a sign of request.
Namaz Muslim prayer
National Alliance of People’ Movements, a federation of movement groups formed in the early 1990s for co-ordination on issues of survival, alternative development, decentralization and people’ control against western capitalistic technology.
NAPM See National Alliance of People’s Movements.
Narayan, Jay Prakash A veteran socialist leader and freedom fighter. Higher studies in the US. Returned in 1929 and joined INC, active participation in Civil disobedience movement, sentenced to jail in 1939 for his opposition to Indian participation in WWII, escaped and tried to organize violent resistance to the govt. before his recapture in 1943, released in 1946, tried to persuade the Cong. leaders to adopt a more militant policy against the British rule. In 1948 left the Cong. and formed Praja Socialist Party in 1952 with most of the Cong Socialists. In 1954 announced that he would devote his life exclusively to the Bhoodan Yajna Movement. Floated a new agenda for ‘reconstruction of indian Polity’ by means of a four-tier hierarchy of village, district, state and union councils in 1959. Came back to politics in 1974 seeing rise of corruption and increasingly undemocratic govt. of Indira Gandhi, he gained a following of students, opposition politicians and the masses. He wanted Mrs. Gandhi to resign and was put in jail during emergency where his health broke down. In 1977, he became the advisor of the Janata Party after defeating Cong.
Narmada Bachao Andolan Literal: Save Narmada Movement, a people’ movement started in 1985 with ideals of justice, equality and democracy, employing non-violent tactics like sit-ins, fasts, rallies and marches under the leadership of Medha Patkar. The movement has attracted a national and international network of support but receives no funds from outside India. It succeeded in exit of the World Bank from Sardar Sarovar in 1993, halt of Sardar Sarovar construction 1994-99 and withdrawal of foreign investors from Maheshwar dam 1999-2001.
Naxalites Ultra-leftist groups, the term originated after a political movement begun in Naxalbari, West Bengal, as a peasant rebellion, characterized by violence.
NBA See Narmada Bachao Andolan.
OBC See Other Backward Classes.
Organizer An English weekly, mouthpiece of RSS.
Other Backward Classes A section of ‘lower’ castes people in India who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reservations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc
Panchayat Assembly of arbitrators, often chosen by the community from amongst themselves, five in number with one Sarpanch-the head of four Panches.
Panchjanya A Hindi weekly, mouthpiece of RSS.
PIB Press Information Bureau, Indian govt’s PR agency.
PM Prime Minister, real head of the central govt., elected by the MPs of his party, must be a member of LS and is its leader also. Present PM: Atal Behari Vajpayee.
POK The northern most part of Kashmir which the Indian govt. calls Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
President of India The nominal head of state, elected for a five-year term by elected members of the state assemblies and the parliament. Present President: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a nuclear scientist.
PTI Press Trust of India, a Delhi-based news agency.
Puja A Hindu term for worship.
Rabi The spring crop.
Rajya Sabha The upper house of the Indian Parliament consisting of 250 members, one-third of them retire every other year. So the term of a member is six years. A majority of members are apportioned by state, each state’s delegates are chosen by its assembly and twelve nominated by the President.
Rao, P.V. Narsimha (1921-), PM of India (1991-96), Cong(I), CM of Andhra Pradesh (1971-73). Elected to the Indian Parliament in 1972, held several cabinet posts under Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi including foreign affairs minister (1980-84). He moved decisively towards free-market reforms, reducing govt’s economic role, instituting austerity measures, and encouraging foreign investment. Convicted in Sept. 2000, allegedly conspiring to buy votes in parliament prior to a 1993 no-confidence vote and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh Literal: National Volunteers Association. A Hindu fundamentalist organization started in 1925 by Dr. K. B. Hedgewar, banned in 1948 following the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by a right-wing Hindu- Nathuram Godse. RSS went underground before re-emerging in the 1960s. Since then it has slowly gained prominence and political influence, culminating in the rise of BJP. (See BJS and BJP too)
RAW Research and Analysis Wing, Indian government’s international secret investigation bureau.
RBI Reserve Bank of India, India’s Central Bank, established on 1 April 1935, nationalized on 1 January 1949. Present Governor Y.V. Reddy, considered to be a liberal.
RJD Rashtriya Janata Dal, a regional political party of Bihar and Chattisgarh, founded by Laloo Prasad Yadav now ruling the state of Bihar with Rabri Devi as the CM. arty symbol: A lantern. First President: Laloo Prasad Yadav. Present President: Laloo Prasad Yadav.
RS See Rajya Sabha.
RSS See Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh.
SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
Sadhu A male Hindu mendicant.
Sadhvi A female Hindu mendicant.
Samajwadi Jan Parishad A small socialist party made in Dec.1994 as a result of merger of non-party, non-electoral movement groups viz. Socialist Front Maharashtra, Samta Sangathan among others, aiming at greater impact for social transformation. First President: Kishan Patnaik. Present President: Vinod Prasad Singh.
Samajwadi Party A regional party with secular credentials established in 1992. The party is in favour of ‘Indo Pak Bangladesh Mahasangh’, believes in Democratic Socialism and assistance to Agriculture, Small and Medium scale Industry, it opposes uncontrolled entry Of Multinational companies to India, emblem of green and red colours with a bicycle as the symbol. First President: Mulayam Singh Yadav. Present President: Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Samta Party A political party in India, an offshoot of Janata Dal, formed in 1994 fter two senior leaders in the Janata Dal, George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar broke away mainly against what they called corrupt and undemocratic practices of Laloo. The party is largely based in Bihar. It tied up with the BJP in the 1996 national elections and won six seats, in the 1998 elections, the party in alliance with the BJP won 12 seats and is a crucial ally in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The party manifesto claims it to be a secular party opposing communalism, committed to the eradication of corruption at all levels and stressing on the need for increased security of the nation and believing in mobilising people for the same. Party Symbol: a torch. Samata Party leader George Fernandes rose to international fame for his opposition to multinationals. He was instrumental in packing off Coca-Cola from India when he was a minister in the Janata Party government during 1977-79. He was also an ardent campaigner against the BJP, which he then criticized as a communal party.
Sangh Parivar A cluster of organizations related to RSS including VHP, BJP etc.
Sant An ascetic, saint
Sarvodya Movement Conceived by Vinoba Bhave, Central aim: to contribute to the awakening of the world (‘Vishvodaya’) by responsible action through the dimensions of Self, Family, Village community, Urban community and National community which would result in the ultimate goal-the awakening of all (?rvodaya? (?) Spearheaded by Gandhi with his philosophy of Truth, Non-violence and Self-sacrifice.
SC See Scheduled Castes.
SC See Supreme Court.
Scheduled Castes A number of ‘lower’ castes in the Indian caste hierarchy who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reservations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc.
Scheduled Tribes Tribal people in India who are given special constitutional status for being traditionally educationally and economically backward. They are given special provisions like reservations in govt. jobs, educational institutions, lower fees, lesser qualifying marks etc.
Singh, V.P. (1931-), PM of India (Nov 1989-90) heading the National Front govt. with outside support of the BJP. Elected President UP Cong. Sept 1984, Union Finance Minister (1984-86), Minister for Defence 1996, the Whip, Congress Legislative Party (1970-71); MP (LS) (1971-74); Union Minister of Commerce (1974-77); MP (LS) (January-July 1980), CM UP (1980-82); Member, Legislative Council, UP (1980-81); MLA, UP (1981-83). MP (RS) July 1983; elected President, UP Cong on September 1, 1984, became the Union Finance Minister on December 31, 1984. He announced implementation of the Mandal Commission Report on Reservations for OBCs and became a ‘messiah’ of the downtrodden.
Sloka A couplet.
SP See Samajwadi Party.
ST See Scheduled Tribes.
Sudra Caste of labourers, fourth in the Indian caste hierarchy.
Supreme Court The apex court of the country, consisting of 25 judges.
UNI United News of India, a Delhi-based news agency.
UP Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India.
Vajpayee, Atal Behari (1926-), Present PM of India (1996, 1998-), foreign minister (1977-79) in the anata Party Govt. Prominent leader of the BJP since its conception and before that of the BJS, considered the moderate face of BJP.
Varna The concept of caste system.
VHP See Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Vishwa Hindu Parishad A hardline Hindu outfit founded in 1964 by a group of senior RSS leaders to give Hindus what they believed would be a clearly defined sense of religious identity and political purpose and to ‘Hinduise’ the Indian nation.
Women’s Reservation Bill A long awaited bill to be staged in the parliament, providing for 33% reservation for women in the parliamentary elections.
Yadav, Laloo Prasad (1948-), A secular, socialist political leader from Bihar, the man running the Bihar government through his wife- Rabri Devi, has made his presence felt on the national political scene with his steady stream of earthy aphorisms. He was elected to the 6th Lok Sabha in 1977, leader of the opposition in the Bihar Legislative Assembly for two terms (1989 (?)), CM of Bihar (1990-97). He was re-elected to the 12th Lok Sabha for a third term. He has a Law degree, and his interests include reading of books on thinkers and revolutionaries, writing and debating, he has also written articles on politics and economics.
Yadav, Mulayam Singh (1939-), A political leader inspired and influenced by the socialist thoughts and ideology of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, active student leader in Etawah, UP. Jailed nine times during different agitations for the protection of rights and welfare of farmers, labourers, youth, students, minorities and backward classes; MLA (UP) (1967-96), President of the UP units of Lok Dal, Lok Dal (B), Janata Dal, UP Legislative Council Leader of the Opposition 1985-89 Leader of the Opposition, CM UP (1989-91, JD/SJP), (1993-95, SP/BSP), (Aug. 2003-, (?) SP and allies), Founder, Samajwadi Party, MP (LS) (1996-98), Union Cabinet Minister, Defence (1996-98) in the United Front coalition led by HD Dewe Gowda, 1998 re-elected to 12th Lok Sabha. Although much of Mr Yadav’s career has been spent fighting regional issues, he has become prominent in central politics. He took a strong stand against the demolition the mosque in Ayodhya by Hindu hardliners. This further enhanced his reputation as a key supporter of the minorities. It also added to his secular credentials at a time when many in UP were concerned about the uneasy mix of religion and politics.
Zamindar A big powerful landlord.