Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 25, 2000
Hope for our battered planet
Human security, end to poverty, clean environment are not too much to expect
By SENATOR DOUGLAS ROCHE
The first thing to do is to recognize what is happening in the world. You certainly couldn't tell by looking at the election campaign. The political leaders and most would-be politicians avoided any discussion of some real facts that deeply affect the human condition. Consider:
Wars and internal conflicts in the past few years have forced 50 million people to flee from their homes, and the UN estimates that some 100 million children now live or work on the streets. Thirty thousand children a day die from preventable diseases. Some 500 million small arms are in circulation around the world. And the major powers are hanging onto 30,000 nuclear weapons, 5,000 of which can be fired on 15 minutes' notice.
The combined wealth of the 200 richest people in the world exceeds $1 trillion, while the 582 million people in the 43 least developed countries have an income one-fifth of that amount.
To achieve universal provision of health and education services in all developing countries would cost $50 billion a year. Too much, say governments of the world which this year spent $780 billion on armaments.
Arctic meltdown is happening. This is not only affecting polar bears. It's bad news for you. Global warming, caused by the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions, will alter every ecosystem on earth. Waters are rising, wiping out islands and low-lying mainlands. Ironically, water tables in drylands are falling, spelling more hunger ahead and future wars over precious fresh water resources.
The World Watch Institute says three parallel trends - falling water tables, shrinking cropland per person, and the leveling off of the oceanic fish catch - all suggest that it will be far more difficult to keep up with the growth in world demand for food in the next half century. Meanwhile, world population, now at six billion people, will rise by another half to reach almost nine billion people in this time period.
Isn't it time we woke up?
Maurice Strong, the Canadian internationalist who has run environmental conferences at the UN, has written an important book, Where on Earth Are We Going? detailing the human disasters ahead, but I can't find anyone who has read it.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan constantly reminds the world that the century just ended was disfigured time and again by ruthless conflict. Grinding poverty and striking inequality persist within and among countries even amidst unprecedented wealth. Nature's life-sustaining services are being seriously disrupted and degraded.
Militarism, economic and social development, environmental protection are now the core issues on the world's political agenda - so why don't we talk about them more?
Globalization is our central focus today. And rightly so, because virtually every person and problem in the world is inter-connected with other people and problems. Some think that globalization just has to bring bigger markets and everything will be OK.
But if globalization is just to mean more money for the rich and more weapons to protect themselves, uprisings of the furious will be inevitable. The protestors that we have seen in Seattle, Washington and The Hague will be just the advance wave of a huge army.
The only way around future calamities is to re-orient our public policies - now. We must have the vision and the political determination to build a world that is human-centred and genuinely democratic, a world that builds and protects peace, equality, justice and development.
I want a world where human security, as envisioned in the principles of the United Nations Charter, replaces armaments, violent conflict and wars. Is it too much to expect a world where everyone lives in a clean environment with a fair distribution of the earth's resources and where human rights are protected by a body of international law?
I do not feel alone in such desires, for this is the precise agenda advanced by the People's Millennium Forum held at the United Nations earlier this year.
Yes, it is hard to obtain such a world. But an identified agenda is waiting to be acted upon. A permanent UN Peacekeeping Force, properly financed, would be a start. So would negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons.
We could insist that the rich countries fulfill their commitment to reach 0.7 per cent of their GNP in official aid to the poorest. And we could stop global warming with a treaty with some teeth in it to curb greenhouse gases.
Maybe we could devote some attention to them in the run-up to the "peace" of Christmas. That would give us some real hope for a safer, more secure world. Peace at Christmas has got to be more than just a wish.
(Douglas Roche is an independent senator from Alberta and founding editor of the WCR.)
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