- an occasional blog -


T U R N I N G    T H E   T I D E
E A R T H    A D V O C A C Y:  A  P R E S E N T  A N D   F U T U R E  V O C A T I O N
A   W O R L D   W I T H O U T   W A N T ?
S U S T A I N A B L E   D E V E L O P M E N T/A   S U S T A I N A B L E   F U T U R E
P O L I C I E S  A N D   S T R A T E G I E S
A   Q U E S T I O N   O F   P R I O R I T I E S
C R E A T I V I T Y   A N D   I N N O V A T I O N
A R T S   A D V O C A C Y

As if there were not enough seemingly intractable problems facing the world, the situation we now face has become more complicated since Covid-19 was added to the mix. A range of unresolved social, economic and environmental issues requiring action were already emerging before the global pandemic took hold; crises resulting from a collective failure to address long term, deep-seated problems such as economic inequity and climate change.

What this means is that in taking action to mitigate the detrimental effects of climate change we must also continue to challenge ways of thinking and behaviours which do not support efforts to create a fairer and more just world. This old paradigm, which still has rich and powerful proponents, including prominent climate change sceptics and deniers, seeks to maintain and extend, at all costs, the kind of unsustainable ethos and structures which have now brought us to the brink; a capitalist system which is geared up to satisfy a seemingly insatiable desire for more and more stuff, what ever the unaccounted for "externalities" may be.

In The Sustainable State (2018), Chandran Nair argues that in a resource constrained 21st century the aspiration of developing countries to reach the level of prosperity currently enjoyed in the West is unrealistic and says that moderate prosperity may be an achievable goal in developing countries where sustainable development is pursued by strong states. It is clear that people in the developed world do not want their standard of living to decline, and this is part of the fundamental problem, since prosperity in the West has largely been accomplished by grossly exploiting the world's natural resources, by the over production of commodities and by debt-laden mass consumption, none of which is sustainable in the long term.

In her book The Fire Economy (2015), Jane Kelsey discusses the implications of debt-laden consumption-driven economics, and how embedded neoliberal economic orthodoxy and the privatisation of public policy has deprived debate on critical issues of oxygen, so that up until now, alternative ideas and viewpoints have been unable to gain much traction. For example, in order for developing countries to obtain loans, they have had to adopt neoliberal development models foistered on to them by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which has meant converting subsistence agriculture and local self-sufficiency, which do not generate foreign exchange, into export commodity crops and sweatshop production, which do (Eisenstein, Sacred Economics, 2011).

In her book This Changes Everything (2014), Naomi Klein argued that climate change is not about carbon – it’s about capitalism. Profit is the primary driver of unregulated, growth orientated, free market economic practices, which are still heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels, regardless of the cost to the environment. The extraction, refining and burning of fossil fuels is a primary source of green house gas emissions and therefore a major cause of climate change. Big Oil has known about this for decades and yet the oil and gas industry now relies on higher risk extractive practices like fracking and deep sea drilling, which, as in the case of Deepwater Horizon (2010), have already caused unacceptable levels of damage to the environment and adversely affected the health and wellbeing of innumerable species, including human beings. As if we humans aren't already doing enough which is detrimental to the planet as a whole.

According to Klein the most workable responses to counter carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere break all of the free market rules. The US Government used public money to bail out banks and auto companies after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), so why not do the same in relation to climate change? It should now be clear that investing in renewable energy and other solutions to climate change is a key not just to future prosperity, but to future survival.

Drawdown (2017), a book edited by Paul Hawken and billed as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” lists 100 solutions to global warming ranked by their potential for reducing carbon dioxide. Two of the highest ranked solutions, reducing food waste (#3) and moving to a plant rich diet (#4), are simple but powerful things that individuals can do to play their part in mitigating global warming.

We must start acting now in relation to climate change and other pressing global problems so that a just transition to a more sustainable and inclusive ethos can take place. A new approach is needed which will enable us to move beyond fear, greed and hatred, and to heal the earth. Let us be kind to each other, kinder to our world and creative in our responses, as the way forward requires many aspects of our way of life to be radically transformed, and for some this process may be unfamiliar and difficult.

So can we succeed in turning the tide on the challenges we face or will we perish? Are we willing to embrace change or will the inertia of "business as usual" prevail? While a re-imagined, post Covid world is yet to eventuate, the future is in our hands right now.

We have arrived at a critical juncture in history. It appears that a significant number of people still choose to follow, or are being driven along, the old, unsustainable path of unconstrained economic growth, gross exploitation of natural resources, over-reliance on fossil fuels, rampant consumerism and the accumulation of material wealth. However, mounting evidence indicates that to continue along this path without thought of consequences is now clearly unwise, and will result in further detrimental environmental effects, such as damage to fragile ecosystems, destruction of habitats, the extinction of species, increased pollution and so on. Without a change of direction and with an ever-increasing human population seemingly hankering after the same things, this path inevitably leads to the widespread, irrepairable degredation and destruction of the natural environment which sustains all life on earth.

The challenge is to bring about this change of direction when those in power refuse to alter their approach and at the same time dismiss other views without even considering their merits or validity. For example, take the question of climate change, which is occuring primarily because of greenhouse gas emissions and, while still not accepted as a fact by some, could be the forerunner of a deeper ecological crisis if we humans don't change our behaviour. That human activity, namely atmospheric pollution, is causing a problem of this magnitude is just one compelling reason why the "pollution economy" must be transformed into a smarter, greener economy, reducing our ecological footprint and enabling us to play a more active role in the sustainable management of planet earth, a finite world.

While the gradual transition to a more sustainable society depends to some extent on what influence those advocating change are able to wield, the quality of emerging leadership, and the degree to which there is a real political will for change, the tide is now turning. The time has come for men and women to step forward with courage and determination; to become earth advocates in a newly emerging dispensation where earth advocacy is a present and future vocation. With or without an answer to this urgent call for action, mother nature may still remind us of our folly, replying to us in her own way with cataclysmic natural events like earthquakes.

Despite many now calling for more inspired and enlightened leadership and for different approaches to solving the world's problems the old way of business as usual still seems to prevail. Progress marches on unabated with newer, faster, better as its rallying catch-cry, while measures to address the most pressing human needs either fall short of what is actually required or are not being implemented at all.

As economies falter and enterpises close down, restructure or relocate, and as the global labour market shrinks and becomes increasingly casualised, unemployment and poverty increases. Use of the cheapest possible labour as well as other exploitative and highly questionable labour practices implemented to reduce costs and maximise profits are now so widespread that many workers on low wages struggle to make ends meet. Despite this state of affairs, the Government has recently introduced youth rates of pay which are lower than the minimum wage; a measure which does nothing to address growing inequity and which, in fact, further exacerbates the situation.

Policies like these, which sound reasonable and plausible when first presented, are justified by flawed arguments, supported by unreliable or inaccurate data in some cases, and based on a number of untested assumptions (e.g. that a working person will be "better off" than a beneficiary). But take away the spin and many of the Government's supposed "reforms" can be seen for what they really are: exercises in power and control. Through autocratic decision making which pays lip service to notions of consultation with stakeholders and cost cutting measures which have their most significant impact on the vulnerable and needy, the Government continues to pander to those who derive the most "benefit" from a low wage economy. The erosion of rights (e.g. the right to peaceful protest, the right to privacy) and increased powers of surveillance complete a picture which shows how to keep living in denial with little compassion but says nothing about playing our part in moving towards a world without want.

Sustainable development considers the interrelationships between economic, environmental and social factors and focuses on policies and activities which are equitable, bearable and viable. Unfortunately when decisions are based primarily on conventional economic thinking and imperatives, social and environmental costs are not adequately considered and real viability is never established. The bounty of the earth does not belong to those who believe that it is theirs to exploit with impunity and who have the power and resources to do so. All economic activity ultimately relies on the natural resource base which sustains life; a commonwealth shared by all living beings on the planet. Some would still have us believe that economic growth which grossly exploits our natural resources is the only panacea to cure our economic woes when capitalism has now clearly had its day. To continue as if there is no end to what we humans can acquire and consume is clearly unsustainable and a new way has to found.

A sustainable future requires us to make a paradigm shift in terms of ideas and practices: to move beyond what Hazel Henderson has called the "little variables" or "parameters of distress" (interest rates, budget deficits, inflation and unemployment) and GDP type analyses used by economists, to redefine what we mean by progress and to create a new kind of social order which is not based upon enmity, conquest and inequity. We eagerly await the emergence of more enlightened and inspired leaders to help us bring in the changes that are now so desperately needed.

Having become obsessed with winning the vote of middle New Zealand in order to stay in power, successive governments in recent years have adopted orthodox economic policies, borrowing money and using it to prop up and extend inequitable systems which are increasingly failing to meet real needs (e.g. borrowing used to fund tax cuts in order to create a "fairer tax system"). Coupled with the increase in GST, the result of this policy has been to increase the inequity between rich and poor, as those on the highest incomes have benefited most from the tax changes, whilst many on low incomes struggle to make ends meet.

Many still seem to believe the spin and lies which have seen the National led government re-elected on policies which include the sale of strategic energy assets like the hydro electric power stations on the Waikato River, as if the sale of state assets is the only way out of the hole the Government has dug for itself by pandering to the interests of the rich and powerful. These kind of policies, which are based on outmoded thinking, cater to extremely limited self interest and are ultimately not the way of the future.

According to the
World Game Institute approximately 30% of the US $780 billion the world currently spends annually on the military could solve the major need and environmental problems facing humanity.

However, the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow alarmingly larger each year and the richest 20% of the world now have 85% of the world's income, while the poorest 20% share only 1.4%. The often repeated mantra about needing to be competitive in an increasingly globalised world economy is now well accepted and consequently the idea that there must, out of necessity, be winners and losers continues to be reinforced and reflected in the state of our world.

In his film The New Rulers of the World, journalist John Pilger showed how under the dominating influence of multinational corporations and the institutions which back them, the IMF and World Bank, millions throughout the world have lost their livelihoods. The truth is that the supposed "free market" has never been a level playing field and those with the deepest pockets are best able to maintain their place in the scheme of things.

Large scale military spending and activities to defeat "the enemy" can easily be justified while human beings are unable to resolve their differences by peaceful means without resorting to armed conflict and while feelings of resentment, hostility and hatred continue to fester, resulting in such cataclysmic world events as the "terrorist attacks" in the United States on 11 September 2001.

The cause of world peace has not been furthered by pre-emptive action on the pretext of non-existent weapons of mass destruction and a determination to win the "war against terrorism," whatever the cost, while disregarding international law and the wishes of the wider global community. There can be no peace without justice and justice will not prevail while the poor are subject to the law and the rich and powerful believe that somehow they are above the law.

The wise counsel of caution and restraint did not prevent the occupation of Afghanistan or stop the oil-rich sands of Iraq from becoming a target of those with an unconstrained greed and urge to dominate.

Like most creative people in New Zealand I was pleased to see more money being invested in creativity and innovation following a change of Government in 1999. In 2000
Creative New Zealand received a funding boost which amounted to approximately $6 million a year over three years and their first priority was to shore up the arts establishment. Many of the recommendations from the Heart of the Nation process were rejected by the new Government - the expectations of many project-based artists were not met and increased levels of funding did not "trickle down" to grass roots creative communities where the arts infrastructure is the most fragile.

Around the same time New Zealand On Air began distributing an extra $7 million for New Zealand music, television and radio with $2 million tagged to the development and promotion of New Zealand music, with the $5 million balance for television and radio initiatives. The main criteria for funding music projects has been potential for commercial radio airplay. However, the inevitable result of having to meet market requirements to garner funding has been a proliferation of bland, mainstream music and television in New Zealand.

In 2000 the New Zealand Music Industry Commission was also established with a $2 million budget over five years.

It is now evident that over the past decade or so very little of the new money actually got through to those challenging the status quo or working outside of today's convention, which is only the diffusion of yesterday's innovation. However, official sanction for radical departures is seldom given . . .

The Impact of Cultural Policy on Music Making: A Comparative and Historical Analysis
The Artist as a Revolutionary

M e t a m i x    w a s   c r e a t e d   b y  P h i l  B o w e r i n g   ©   2000 - 2024.