The Switch • October 2011



The Switch is a monthly newsletter distributed by the Northern Alliance for Sustainability (ANPED) on initiatives that are making the switch to a sustainable society. The Switch covers various campaigns, new book releases, academic papers, policy processes and more. It takes a holistic and progressive approach to the sustainability debate and does not shy away from addressing controversial topics. The Switch also keeps you updated on upcoming conferences and events. The Switch is open for your news, events and articles. For this or for for any other comments, don’t hesitate to contact the editor of The Switch, Nick Meynen, nick[at]anped.org

The no-longer-silent majority

In April we reported about a poll showing a huge drop in the trust in capitalism in the US. Two months ago we wrote about the angry youth who are rising up from Spain to Chili and from Egypt to Israël. Last month we wrote that we are in the age of greed and that we see signs that people are fed up with this. Today, protesters in Wall Street and in 1500 other cities around the world are raising their voice against greed, for social justice and for a new kind of democracy. “We are the 99 percent” is a slogan spreading like wildfire. Their website shows that these are not just some fringe groups on the margin of society, even if many of them are in the protests as well. 

This is a mixed bunch of people with several messages and an unclear common goal but they all feel that the interests of the common people are no longer represented. According to a poll made by TIME magazine on the 9th of October, these people actually get support from the silent majority in the US. According to The Economist, 'There are legitimate deep-seated grievances.' And while even liberal, big-capital driven media are saying that they understand the grievances, scientists are sending out remarkable reports. On 19 October, Swiss system scientists gave the protesters an unexpected boost when publishing what New Scientists calls ‘the capitalist network that runs the world’. The study showed how 147 companies, mainly banks, basically have 40% of the word economy in their hands and can act together when their power is challenged, what is happening today in Wall Street and all over the world. It might surprise some why it took so long for people to protest against the current state of affairs, but actually, what we see today is not something entirely new. It’s rather the spilling over of a massive build-up of activism and energy from the web to the streets.

Take for example AVAAZ: a truly global community of activists that now has more than 10 million members and campaigns in 14 languages. Their massive outcries signed by hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, have already helped to change events on the ground in places like Libya, India, Brazil, Iran and now in New York. They urged their members to flood the New York police with phone calls to NOT kick out the Occupy Wall Street protesters, an action they indeed decided to drop. Remarkable: both AVAAZ and the Occupy Wall Street movement have nothing to do with the ‘traditional’ activist groups, like trade unions, North-South NGOs or environmental NGOs. This is not some government subsidized or ‘vested interest’ campaign but real-life democracy and shared grievances and anger in action. AVAAZ lives from gifts only and lets members decide priorities through polls, while Occupy Wall Street decides in open meetings on what to do next. These are truly democratic unities of individuals with a yarning for radical change, not just in one single or local issue but in the way our society, democracy and economy are organized. This sure gives reason for hope. In a world populated by seven billion people and with a real-life perfect storm of peak oil and peak food gathering upon us (see next editorial), their fighting back attitude is one thing we absolutely need if we ever want to see a Switch to a sustainable world for all to live in.

World Food Day 2011: Drought is an act of nature but famine is man made.

Isn’t it shameful that in 2011 we still need to have days like "The World food day" (16/10) or "Day for the Eradication of poverty"(17/10). And isn’t it shocking that the majority of people in our societies are not aware of these days, and that “World food day” is no food day for more than a billion of the world's hungry? We, the richest 20 percentile of the world’s population living in the countries who consume over 80% of global output, try to make up our failure to eradicate hunger and poverty  by having these dates. These gentle reminders that in a present world of 7 billion people, 1 billion is urgently hungry with inadequate access to food. Although we have these reminders, we fail  to act accordingly, perhaps because we feel too accommodated, guilty or powerless towards the immensity of the problem we created. Yes, we created. Drought is an act of nature but famine is man made. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes, that's one child every five seconds. The political instability we witness in several countries now is the result of price hikes and food insecurity. Nevertheless, there are great efforts to sound the alarm and propose changes to this situation, as the Oxfam’s “Growing a better future” report, released last May; the new CFS report "The wheel of life: Food, climate, Human rights and Economy” and a report written by Nora McKeon for Heinrich Boll Stiftung title “Global Governance for World Food Security: A Scorecard Four Years After the Eruption of the Food Crisis”.

Another great dynamic tool to understand how food systems and food speculation have been reduced to a model of corrupted industrialized agriculture that completely fails to meet its obligations, which is the production of healthy and affordable food to the benefit of people are the two following videos: “The missing opportunity…Food Sovereignty” and “Food Speculation”.

The elimination of extreme poverty is not a question of charity, but a pressing human rights issue. States are legally obligated to realise human rights for all, prioritising the most vulnerable which includes those living in extreme poverty. By respecting the Fundamental rights charter and engaging in initiatives such as  the Millennium Consumption Goals, the rich, those who have abundance, can start to set things right.

EJOLT: Environmental Justice, Liabilities and Trade

While a majority of Americans now support a movement for social justice and is against the greed at the top 1%, a majority of people in the South craves for environmental justice and is against the massive pollution at the top 1 or 10%, because that pollution is hurting them. They are right to ask for environmental justice and increasingly, they are also doing this, for example in a court case from Ecuador against oil pollution caused by Chevron-Texaco. EJOLT, a European project with 23 partners in 20 countries (including ANPED) is jumping on that wave of justice seekers by mapping environmental injustices worldwide, making case studies and bridging the gap between activists and researchers. The largest database on environmental conflicts in the world is being created as we speak and will be visualised through interactive user-friendly online maps. In the meantime, you can already find out more about this ground-breaking project on the recently launched website: www.ejolt.org (made by Mapping for Change). We already publish factsheets, news, self-made video's and blogs on specific cases of environmental conflicts. And there's much more that will follow!

ANPED: Facebook page and Rio+20 group

Truly committed to our role as facilitators of debates for securing policy inputs from the NGOs during the preparation process and Summit of Rio+20, we’re investing in new communication channels to broaden and strengthen your participation and collaborations. We already have a ning page, where civil society can share and discuss everything related to the Rio conference. In a joint initiative with CIVICUS and Consumers International, we’re also launching a Rio+20Ngo’s Facebook group, where you can make suggestions and help us draft joint statements for and during the Rio+20 UN CSD, using this group as our "strategy meeting" point. Finally, ANPED now also has a Facebook page, where you can get up to date on what ANPED and our members are doing, in relation to Rio or not.

BOOK: Indignez-vous (Cry out!)

Can a young person growing up today, or any person, still learn valuable stuff from a 93 year old French ex-resistance fighter in World War II? You bet. Stéphane Hessel has just proven the world a great favor by putting his thoughts in a 13 page long text, sold for 3 euro. His brief call to action, to fight back against the powers that are taking the  achievements of the resistance away, was first printed on 6000 copies in France. Several reprints later is has sold more than a million copies in France and it is translated and reprinted all over Europe, Latin America, Asia, The Middle East, ... "We, veterans of the resistance ... call on young people to revive and pass on the heritage and ideals of the Resistance,". It is unclear what exactly these ideals are but Hessel did leave us some hints, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he helped writing. Social security for all. And this quote could have been a copy paste from one of our own pamphlets: "The productivist obsession of the West has plunged the world into a crisis which can only be resolved by a radical shift away from the 'ever more', in the world of finance but also in science and technology. It is high time that ethics, justice and a sustainable balance prevailed..." He further thinks that our democracy should get above the financial aristocracy and that resistance should be non-violent. He's been dubbed a modern-day Ghandi but we rather call him the right man on the right time. Read it and get out there!

CONFERENCE: Geneva UNECE regional meeting in preparation of Rio

If you happen to live in the UNECE region (From Canada over USA & Europe to Kazakhstan) and are involved in the run-up to the Rio+20 conference then you probably want to attend the UNECE regional meeting in Geneva, on 1 and 2 December. The UNECE is the last region to have its regional meeting and this is one of the last opportunities to meet and team up with other civil society networks in the region, follow training sessions and get up to date with the action. Registration is possible until 11 November by filling in a form and sending it back to the UNECE secretariat. All info on this website. As usual, UNDESA organizes a training workshop for all Major Groups on the process and on how to influence the outcome of the conference. Jan Gustav Strandenaes, our senior advisor, will lead this training session. This session will take place on the 30th of November, a day before the start of the meeting. Details will soon be available on the same site.

INSPIRATION: Everyday stories

We’ll never stop addressing injustice and we believe governments and companies have to change their ways big time, but what’s wrong with giving a little inspiration for those who want to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Olof Soebech needed that inspiration so badly that she paused her academic career to start her own life-project: collecting everyday stories of ordinary people who live extra-ordinary lives. Stories are introduced through a series of short videos and pictures, which all make it very real. ‘I wanted to understand better why some people actually walk the talk, whereas most of us know and care, but don't find the way to change our behaviour.’ All the ordinary people she interviewed live in European cities and all have a high ‘happiness to ecological footprint’ rate. She selected people who are not self-sacrificing “ecological weirdoes” on the margins of society, in the hope that we can all relate to one or more of the stories.