It’s commonly known that capitalism is a voracious over-eater.
But can anything be done to slow down or even stop habitat destruction that threatens the survival of future generations?
Laws and legislation are the framework to address it, says UK-based international environmental lawyer and author Polly Higgins, who will speak on the topic at Mullumbimby Civic Hall on Saturday March 15.
She is promoting the idea that Ecocide, or the destruction of living habitats, should be considered a crime along with genocide and war crimes. She has redrafted Ecocide legislation, which was dropped from UN’s Crimes Against Humanity list when The International Criminal Court was enacted after the Second World War.
Currently that list includes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
But given nations have always flaunted the rule of law –especially after the atrocities of WW II – how effectual would it be?
PM Abbott, for instance, embraces God as the reason to plunder the natural environment. He said as much to a forestry industry gathering last week.
Supposedly it’s what Jesus would have wanted.
Others however, would prefer to maintain the delicate and largely incomprehensible ecosystem that provides everyone on this planet with a stable climate.
But will that logic prevail since the West’s economic model depends on resource extraction and a questionable interpretation of god/s?
As futurist R Buckminster Fuller said, ‘We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.’
Doors for Ms Higgins’s event open at 6pm and it will be chaired by SCU lecturer in law, Aidan Ricketts (author of The Activists’ Handbook) and myself. Welcome to Country is at 7pm, and a Q&A will follow her talk.
Given the upcoming Nimbin Aquarius Festival celebrations in May, it’s a good opportunity to point out the importance of counter culture.
While not particularly a popular notion these days, it is perhaps the most valuable tool a society has. As Frank Zappa once said, ‘Without deviation from the norm, “progress” is not possible.’
Counter culture is mostly known for the 60s hedonistic drug- taking, which spurred psychedelic music, free loving, mismatched colourful clothing and infrequent personal hygiene practices.
But it’s so much more because it challenged the narrative of imperialism, which includes slavery and warfare. Counterculture can also summon that disgusting word intellectualism, the antithesis of slavery and warfare. And anything with the word counter in it obviously means the opposite. Activist Howard Zinn once said, ‘Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.’
Counter culture’s history includes the The Age of Enlightenment (1650 to 1700), Romanticism (1790 to 1840), Bohemianism (1850 to 1910), the Beat Generation (1944 to 1964) and Hippies (1964 to 1974).
And counter culture’s influences were usually fleeting: after the Vietnam war ended in 1972, almost all hippy baby boomers discarded the tie dye for a suit and embraced their planet-wrecking ego.
Counter culture is important because it helped to liberate gay rights, among many other things. Oscar Wilde’s 1895 trial and imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’ seems ludicrous now. With any luck the imprisonment of US private Bradley Manning for spreading transparency via WikiLeaks will seem just as stupid in 100 years.
As for the counterculture of the present, some current Echo staff were present at the Aquarius Festival all those years ago, as were many who still live in this shire. Activist Harsha Prabhu’s efforts to immortalise this region and festival through a book should be wholeheartedly applauded and supported.
It was an important event that generated a significant blip of consciousness forty years ago in May.
Abolish flash trades
Remember the inconvenient Al Gore? He’s written a new book entitled The Future – Six Drivers Of Global Change, and was on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last week (which you can only get here by paying for Murdoch’s Austar/Foxtel channels).
The two brought up the current global system which, as we all know, is inherently flawed. When Jon Stewart said capitalism was a ‘voracious overeater’, Gore launched into an interesting tirade.
‘We have two powerful tools to shape our future. One is democracy, the other is capitalism. And the alternatives to democracy have been tried and found to be disastrous. The alternatives to capitalism have also been not so great. Capitalism as we all know allocates resources efficiently, balances supply and demand, is more conducive with higher levels of freedom and it unlocks a higher level of human potential. But in spite of that, it
is now associated with market disruptions which are bigger and more frequent... Short-termism is one example.
‘Thirty years ago stocks were held on average for seven years. That was rational. And now it’s seven months. Here in New York and in London, 60 per cent of the trades on the stock exchange are now made by these algorithmic “flash trades” – it happens in milliseconds. That’s not really investing. So we have a flash crash where the market drops a thousand points and comes back again in 20 minutes and they have no idea why it is happening...’
‘Capitalism the way it currently operates needs to be reformed’, Gore says. ‘Our democracy has been hacked – it’s been taken over.
‘It no longer operates the way our founding fathers intended it to. Anonymous donors, big corporations, big money, might makes right... the lobbyist and special interest groups are now in control.
‘You can’t do anything without begging for permission and it’s time that we took our democracy back. And it can be done.’
‘Only the little people pay taxes,’ said the late American billionaire Leona Helmsley in 1983, who ironically spent jail time for tax evasion. Since then, there is little doubt that elaborate tax evasion methods have become more complicated and seemingly less regulated for the super rich and corporations.
Now thankfully the population, at least in the UK, have had enough. US coffee corporation Starbucks has been copping public protests after paying ’no corporation tax in the UK for the past three years,’ The Guardian reports. Along with Amazon and Google, they were accused by a committee of British MPs of an ‘immoral’ use of secretive jurisdictions, royalties and complex company structures to avoid paying tax on British profits.
What’s wrong with paying taxes? Let’s be real: government is a type of socialism. We pay taxes because we all use roads and hospitals. It’s considered part of the social contract, a theory that originated during the Age of Enlightenment and in part addresses the authority of the state over the individual. Clearly society suffers when rich individuals and corporations aren’t taxed at comparable rates to an ‘ordinary’ individual.
And fewer taxes for the rich fits neatly into the idiotic narrow conservative views peddled by simpletons such as Hockey and Abbott – ie ‘investment will suffer’. There is no evidence to that claim and is simply a scare tactic by the greedy. Also the social contract is not talked about by politicans because by and large they are are failing at it.
Greek philosopher Plato is reputed to have said, ‘When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same amount of income.’
Given that sound logic, stimulating or reviving economies couldn’t be simpler: make super-rich corporations pay more tax by closing the loopholes. Change in the short term here is unlikely of course because the Liberal, Nationals and Labor parties – along with mainstream media – know who their masters are.
Lacking common sense
While scratching my head at all the absurd evils of the world, it occurred that we lack a charter of common sense.
The ideological dichotomy that western societies presents, ie the left and right, breeds a system where oppositions negatively campaign against common sense. Co-operation over basic ethical principles is rarely discussed, hence layers of choking bureaucracy are added.
But what about common sense? As it happens an Englishman proposed this during the American revolution. Common Sense, a 48-page pamphlet written by Thomas Paine in 1776, challenged the authority of the British government and the monarchy. Essentially it was a reasoned argument for the US to be independent from British rule.
It was an immensely popular document in its time, and not only examined how societies function and the need for self-governance, but refuted tyranny. Paine claims there are two tyrannies in the English constitution: monarchical and aristocratic, and they do not benefit a society. ‘[The] king and peers… rule by heredity and contribute nothing to the people,’ he writes. Common Sense was a hit because its language was clear and easy to understand. Its broad appeal persuaded many undecided settlers to want independence and it is widely regarded as one of the catalysts for the American War of Independence.
The best common sense document that democratic societies can produce is of course a constitution, which specifically sets out laws on governance. The difference between our constitution and the US is that ours doesn’t include a Bill of Rights, which is separate from governance. The US Bill of Rights, or amendments, are aimed to protect freedoms of religion, speech, a free press, free assembly, free association and the right to keep and bear arms.
Arguably America was founded by educated atheist intellectuals whereas we were a dumped colony of uneducated convicts. How else can we possibly excuse our appalling treatment of Aboriginals and those who seek refuge from wars we are involved with? A Bill of Rights would address these issues and more – it would also negate never-ending inquiries into our human rights abuses and would have addressed the current media inquiry.
An interesting history and analysis of our constitution and (lack of) a Bill of Rights is at www.nswbar.asn.au/docs/resources/lectures/bill_rights.pdf.