The Switch • March 2012
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
GUEST EDITORIAL: Combining social and environmental justice
By Francine Mestrum
In January, a Thematic Social Forum in Porto Alegre has started to prepare Rio+20. The participating social movements clearly reject the proposals for a ‘green economy’, though the trade unions have some doubts. Surely, the green economy can be seen as a capitalist attempt to appropriate the last bits of nature, in fact, to appropriate life itself. But some trade unions first think of growth and jobs. Sadly, even if the title of the Thematic Forum was ‘Capitalist crisis, social and environmental justice’, once again, this social dimension was not discussed in depth.
The social dimension of the climate justice agenda can be looked at from two perspectives. The first perspective starts from the climate justice side and shows how poor people, especially in the global South, are the first victims of climate change. This approach allows for showing how the climate agenda is in the first place an equity agenda. It opens the door for preventive and remedial action.
The second perspective starts from the social justice agenda and tries to find out how to change and broaden our social protection systems in order to take into account the climate risks. Our welfare states can only be sustainable if they are rights-based, take into account individual and collective rights, material and immaterial needs. The objective of social protection should be to preserve life in general and social life in particular. That goes far beyond poverty reduction and guaranteeing everyone’s dignity. It can be considered as a ‘common good’. But on this point, a lot of research remains to be done.
EDITORIAL: Food speculation: what the next bubble means to all of us
Last spring, after world food prices rose 37% in a year, world leaders showed some attention to the problem of feeding the world. “Volatility is a plague on farmers and consumers,” according to French President Sarkozy, adding that “it can plunge entire populations into famine and poverty.” So where does this volatility come from?
In 1996, speculators made up 12% of the food futures market. By 2011, they spoke for 61%. This huge increase follows on deregulation in the UK and US in the mid-1990's. The guardian concludes: “speculators were allowed to treat food like any other asset class.” The result is not just volatility, but a dangerous bubble economy in food. And it's not just a bunch of African poor people who suffer from this. Recent figures from the UK show that lower income families have cut their consumption of fruit and vegetables by nearly a third in the wake of the recession and rising food prices, to just over half of the five-a-day portions that the government recommends for a healthy diet. This caused Ministers to debate the rising cost of food in the UK Parliament, because of concerns about food poverty, food waste, poor diets and increased spending on fast food.
But the UK is still a food paradise compared to the food situation of an average household in the world today. According to a new report from Save the Children, half a billion children could grow up physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years because they do not have enough to eat.
A three-year research project that brought together 40 International Land Coalition (ILC) members and partners to examine the rapidly increasing commercial pressures on land concluded that it “strongly urges models of investment that do not involve large-scale land acquisitions, but rather work together with local land users, respecting their land rights and the ability of small-scale farmers themselves to play a key role in investing to meet the food and resource demands of the future.” Another report says that Arab countries face a serious food security challenge, blaming the situation on vulnerability to … volatile food prices.
Meanwhile, the record prices from spring 2011 have lowered slightly the rest of that year, but food prices made a sudden 2% jump upwards in January 2012 and the outlook is bad. As this EJOLT video on landgrabbing shows: there are no easy solutions to the problem. But it is easy to identify regulations and companies that did turn the food crisis from something really bad to something unjust, manmade and utterly unacceptable, as this article brilliantly does. Goldman Sachs and flawed legislation is not nature or Malthus at play, but something we can -and must- change.
REPORT: Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) 5: Summary for Policymakers
In light of the conclusion in the previous article, we like to point out that it is not just us, civil society, who believes that something is deeply wrong with governance these days. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), “A complete overhaul of the way the planet is managed is urgently needed if the challenges of global sustainability are to be met for seven billion people.” This is the conclusion of their wide-ranging Foresight Process, involving a Panel and 400 leading scientists and experts from around the world. The panel produced a ranked list of "21 Issues for the 21st Century", concluding that the number 1 issue facing the planet is aligning governance to the challenges of global sustainability. And in relation to our editorial on the food crisis: ranked number 3 of the 21 emerging issues is Ensuring Food Safety and Food Security. “The current system of international environmental governance, with its maze of interlocking multilateral agreements evolved during the 20th century, is believed by the vast majority to be unsuitable and ill-equipped to meet the risks and deliver the opportunities for the 21st century.” That is the least you can say. See here for ANPED's proposals to the Rio+20 conference, including serious reform on global governance. One step in the good direction is the subject of our next article.
PETITION: Ombudsperson for the future generations
The World Future Council launched a global e-petition for Rio to support Ombudspersons for Future Generations. We've supported this proposal from the start and already wrote about it in our August 2011 issue, but the need to keep the growing momentum until it is included in the Rio conference deal is still needed. The World Future Council is working to establish this institution at the global, national and local levels to safeguard environmental and social conditions for the benefit of current and future generations by securing their institutional representation in all areas of policy-making. The petition entitled ‘Right to the Future’ acknowledges the deficit in our governance structures and the huge gap in bringing sustainability concerns into the heart of our decision making process. The proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations is in the first draft of the Zero Draft Outcome Document (dated 10 January) and has support from the European Union and other governments including Mexico and Montenegro, from UNEP and Mr Brice Lalonde, Rio+20 Executive Coordinator. Maybe in a few seconds also from you. Which is very likely if you belong to the group discussed in the next article.
VIDEO: Cultural creatives
It started in 2000 with the book “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World”, by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson. They recognised about 50 million Americans and an estimated 80 to 90 million Europeans who they call cultural creatives. These people do not share a nation, age group, generation or sex but values. Positive values that, combined, are able to bring about substantive changes to the state of the planet. The book, their website and now the movie all try to describe the cultural creatives, make connections, help people decide if they share values and to recognize their collaborative power. If you're in desperate need of a strong hopeful message for the future of humankind: this is as close as two scientists can probably get you there. As for stepping from your screen to the real world: here are some conferences you might want to attend.
CONFERENCE: Achieving Global Justice in the Green Economy
On the 15th of March, ANPED, in collaboration with the EEB, CEEWEB and CIDSE, is holding a European High-Level Conference on Rio+20: “Achieving Global Justice in the Green Economy”, in Brussels. This conference plans to address one of the main themes of the up-coming UN CSD Rio+20 Summit: “Green Economy in the context of Sustainable Development and poverty eradication.”Up to now the preparation debates have stressed the absolute importance of social equity and global justice as key concern in shaping a Green Economy worldwide but no concrete proposals were made so far for a fair share of the natural resources worldwide. Although this is an open event, it is necessary to register for this meeting by completing and returning before 5 March 2012, the registration form that you can download on our website (and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org).
CONFERENCE: Degrowth in the Americas
Drawing from previous degrowth conferences in Paris and Barcelona in 2008 and 2010 respectively, in between 13 and 19 May, the Montreal conference will focus on the particular situations and dynamics of the Americas. How can degrowth models apply to different contexts from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego? What does degrowth mean for the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their aspirations for their lands and peoples? How can degrowth concepts be made audible, understandable and acceptable to rich North Americans? This gathering will bring together academics, activists, environmentalists and indigenous peoples to discuss our needs and hopes for diverse and more equitable societies in the Americas, on a post-growth healing earth. The early Bird rate for registration expires on 16 March!
CONFERENCE: Policy meets research. A workshop on Sustainable Housing
This workshop, held on 15 and 16 March in Helsinki, Finland, deals with policies and policy instruments for sustainable housing. In this workshop you may learn from good policy practices in sustainable housing from other EU countries; use a networking opportunity with other European policy makers and researchers in the field; identify research needs and co-develop a research agenda on sustainable housing and learn of innovative forms and methods of effective knowledge brokerage. Closing date for registration is March 10th 2012.
BOOK: The Environmental Rights Revolution
By Hali Healy
In response to the debate over whether rights to clean air, water, and soil should be entrenched in law, The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment by David Boyd, (2011, UBC Press) moves beyond theoretical debate to measure the practical effects of constitutionally enshrining the right to a healthy environment. Analysing 193 constitutions and legal decisions taken in over 100 nations in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, Boyd demonstrates a positive correlation between constitutional protection and stronger environmental laws, smaller ecological footprints, superior environmental performance, and improved quality of life. Boyd’s analysis is timely, especially for environmental justice organisations (EJOs) engaged in legal disputes for the protection of resources and livelihoods. A salient example of the impact of constitutional recognition of environmental rights comes from the current dispute between Taseko Mines Ltd. and the Tsilhqot’in First Nation people of British Columbia, Canada. Last year, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Board rejected the mining company’s proposal for the development of one of the largest copper and gold sites in the world, with an estimated ore body value of greater than $20 billion (CAD), on the basis that it would damage the culture, well-being and traditional practices of the Tsilhqot’in. More recently, a Supreme Court judge granted an injunction to stop further exploration at the site as the company sought to develop a revised proposal with a smaller footprint. Declaring “The ore bed is not going anywhere,” Justice Christopher Grauer said exploration, drilling and road building could affect the environment and the rights of local Indigenous groups, ruling that they weren’t properly consulted on two permits granted to Taseko by the provincial government in accordance with the Province’s Constitutional duties. Grauer also said the First Nation will suffer greater harm than Taseko if it carries on its work for the proposed “New Prosperity” mine. The 90 day injunction was granted in order to seek a judicial review of the exploration permits issued, demonstrating the truth of Boyd’s assessment of the positive correlation between constitutional protection and improved quality of life. In this case, the enshrinement of the constitutional rights of the Tsilhqot’in, a small and isolated Indigenous group, means that a sacred fishing lake and local hunting area remain protected from the threat posed by a 10,000-person mining camp and all its attendant social impacts, at least for the time being.
For the latest news on the Tsilhqot’in vs. Taseko case, see http://www.woodwardandcompany.com/newsarchive.html
To order The Environmental Rights Revolution: A Global Study of Constitutions, Human Rights, and the Environment, go to: http://www.ubcpress.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=299173539
SUMMER COURSE: Ecological Economics
From July 2nd to July 11th, master and doctoral students can participate in 20 hours of lectures and discussions (English) on the global movement for environmental justice. The summer course, in the pleasant city of Barcelona (Spain) focuses on socio-environmental conflicts at different scales and in different forms. After a theoretical underpinning of environmental justice and conflicts, you can discuss cases and dimensions of environmental conflicts and learn about mechanisms to address and redress environmental injustice and inequalities. Deadline for Application: April, 30th 2012. Please send CV + one-page cover letter to Isabelle.Anguelovski@uab.cat. For more information, check www.environmentalconflicts.com