Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Our end-time prophet attends a Tory-run seminar, where the climate of opinion still hotly favours trade and power

The Ecologist (March 2007)

'Trade In a Changing Climate' was the title of a seminar I attended in London last month, run by the Conservative Party. If you want to know why we are in such a mess and why there is not the remotest prospect of any government doing anything constructive to alleviate it or its consequences, you should have been there.

All the platform people seemed to share a common delusion that trade was a good thing regardless, and climate change was an unfortunate marginal matter of which we ought to take proper notice where we can, but meanwhile let us get on with the serious job of developing the economies of the poor countries so that they can enjoy the same standards of living (they really mean the same standards of material consumption) as we in the rich countries.

One speaker, a Julian Morris of an International Policy Network, as well as being a Visiting Professor of some luckless university, produced a stream of statistics to show that, over the past century or so, millions more people had been enjoying better health, better education, better life expectancy, lower infant mortality and so on - all of which, he appeared to urge, was the result of development and of free markets and that we could look for the same results from the poor countries if they would only brave the same route.

I listened in a sort of daze of disbelief that anyone professing to profess anything at all in matters academic could be so divorced from the realities around him and so blind as to where we were heading.

The rich countries have reached their current unsteady and utterly unsustainable apex of 'development' by bankrupting our posterity of basic resources such as oil; by perpetrating crimes against the natural world in terms of species poisoning and elimination, of soil and oceanic degradation that will beggar humanity for generations; by promoting the biological hoodlumism of global warming; and by disintegrating our local community structures, the oldest social unit in all human history, to such a degree that our prisons and hospitals are full to overflowing and that figures for such ills as cancer, venereal infections, juvenile behaviour disorders and psychotic forms of social dislocation and family breakdown are climbing to ever higher levels as millions resort increasingly to drugs and opiates to relieve the stresses all this wonderful development is imposing on them.

There is, of course, not the remotest prospect that the billions of people living in 'undeveloped' countries will ever experience anything remotely akin to the affluent consumerist lifestyle of the West.

The resources are just not there and global warming is but one of a scream of planetary protests at the ways we have already abused our biological eminence to indulge our boardroom-dominated abandonment of social and ethical responsibility.

The signs are multiplying around us that global warming excesses - in terms of resource squandering, biological abuse, social disruption and psychic disbalance have reached the limits that a finite planet can afford. Any attempt to pursue our current policies of 'development' can only hasten the onward ride of the horsemen of the apocalypse: of war, resource bankruptcy, an oceanic population flood, climatic catastrophe and economic breakdown as the global boardroom bubble goes pop, and the social immiseration of millions trapped in economic and political structures they have no way at all of controlling.

At heart, the problem confronting us, one which has bedevilled human scholarship and seeking for centuries, is not one of resources or of economic planning, it is one of morality.

What is the purpose of economic activity? The accumulated moral wisdom of humankind makes it clear that empires, especially modern boardroom ones, are too huge and too immersed in power struggles to even begin to entertain such questions. They are questions that pertain rather to the sphere where human relationships take their natural pre-eminence within the jealously guarded confines of small, localised human communities, ones where restraint and discipline can prevail on a consensual basis involving no loss of liberty.

The seminar was held in the Royal Society of Arts, which professes, I am glad to report, 'a tradition of challenging thinking'. I have to say I saw not a glimmer of this challenge here, not a hint of recognition that the coming decades are likely to see food riots in major cities of the West even more common than they are in Africa today, and that if we are serious about meeting the challenge of global warming with any concern for reality, we should be embarking on a massive global programme of de-industrialisation.
One chairman of a discussion appealed for practical proposals; I could give him nothing more practical and imperative that that we should do just about the opposite of almost everything we are doing now.


In his 85 years, Cassandra has been an orphan, runaway, communist, cook, beggar, editor, presidential advisor, prisoner and priest. In a former life she was a Greek prophetess whose unerring prophecies of impending disaster were cursed to go unheeded.

Bill Totten


Post a Comment

<< Home