Publications / Annual E. F. Schumacher Lecture

The Right Livelihood Award and Further Initiatives for a Sustainable Society

Ten years ago I presented the Right Livelihood Award to a very remarkable woman who had gone into public life to represent, in her own words, the interests not just of her fellow beings but of animals and plants and of future generations. She said it was time to become both tender and subversive, and she walked her talk like no-one else. We last spoke a month ago, and she was full of plans and projects. The world is colder without her, and I ask you to join me in a moment of silence in gratitude for the life and work of Petra Kelly … Thank you.

The Right Livelihood Awards were set up to honor and support those working on practical solutions to the most urgent challenges facing us today. Alfred Nobel wanted the Nobel Prizes to honor those who had conferred the greatest benefit on humankind. Most people today, especially in the Third World, would probably feel that the work of our award recipients–for human rights and justice, for environmental protection and spiritual regeneration–is of greater benefit than that of many Nobel laureates. Our prize is known as “the Alternative Nobel Prize,” and it is presented in Stockholm the day before the Nobel Prizes to highlight this connection. Although the ethics of some recent peace and scientific Nobel laureates leave much to be desired, our award is not an “antiprize” or a cozy little prize on the side but a challenge, a statement of different priorities. Thanks to the support of an all-party group of members of Parliament—and in Sweden that means everybody from the conservatives to the communists—we have been presenting these awards in the Swedish Parliament for seven years.

There is no escape today from the dangers we face. My Swedish friends who had decided to leave society to grow their own food, to live out in nature, were, after Chernobyl, more radioactively polluted than those who had lived in the cities, consumed electricity, and bought imported food from the supermarkets. Therefore, I believe that the only solution is to set up shadow institutions, in order to create a new and alternative mainstream and to give it as much energy and standing as possible. This is, of course, a difficult task. One of our award recipients is the nuclear physicist Hans-Peter Dürr. His socially innovative and peace-oriented work setting up the Global Challenges Network—an organization which helps scientists, engineers et al, find jobs which move them from being part of the problem to being part of the solution—faces enormous funding difficulties. Yet, he told me, when his institute needs another ten million to find out whether there is possibly another sub-nuclear particle lurking somewhere, he just needs to call up a government institution or a wealthy foundation in Germany or the U.S.A., and, as he says, while they often haven’t got a clue what his research is all about, the millions always arrive because it is part of mainstream science.

There are millions of dollars available for research chairs at universities to study and write reports about all the problems we face, but those who are actually out there working for change, working literally to save our planet, to save our future, are quite often frustrated by the lack of a few ten thousand. There is a small Swedish foundation currently working with the Serbs and the Kossovo-Albanians to prevent a war breaking out between them, which would bring in Turkey, Bulgaria, etc. They desperately need funds to carry on their work; they’re having great difficulties raising it, although Cyrus Vance has told them that the reports they produced on Yugoslavia were the best he’d seen—better than what the U.N. could produce. Yugoslavia shows us the total failure of the present international world order.

When I worked at various international conferences in the seventies as a journalist and translator, I soon came to the conclusion that solutions were not to be found at the official conferences. (I found, in at least two cases, that these cost more to organize than the total funds which were made available afterwards for the projects discussed there.) But solutions were offered at the alternative conferences, which were often held at the same time. (The word “alternative” is really a misnomer, because frequently there is no alternative to the alternatives, unless you believe that the path to catastrophe is an alternative.) However, these solutions were not being taken seriously. So I asked, how do you get something to be taken seriously? Having grown up in Sweden, I remembered that if you had won a Nobel Prize, then you were taken seriously. Indeed, if you won a Nobel Prize in any subject, you could, after that, pronounce on any other subject and you were taken seriously.

With this in mind, I wrote to the Nobel Foundation and suggested that they introduce a new award, more geared to the needs of the Third World and the environment. After all, by introducing the prize in economics, they had broken from the tradition that Nobel Prizes are prizes initiated by Alfred Nobel himself. But they said, “No thank you, we’ve decided there aren’t going to be any more Nobel awards.” So I went ahead with my own much more limited resources (dealing in postage stamps is not as profitable as inventing dynamite). I had become an expert on the postal history of the Arabian Peninsula; as E. F. Schumacher said, an expert is somebody who knows more and more about less and less, and it was time to get out before I knew everything about nothing. Therefore, I sold my business and used the proceeds to establish the endowment fund for the Right Livelihood Award. If there had not been support from other donors, the award would no longer exist today. I put it at a level where I felt it would make a difference and attract attention. If it was meant to be, other people would support it. And since then we’ve had a couple of donations from various countries which have built up the endowment fund, so while the total award money we gave away in the first year was fifty thousand dollars, this year it is about a hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

In the first year, 1980, one of our two award recipients was the Egyptian architect of the poor, Hassan Fathy, whose life’s work was dedicated to showing that being modern doesn’t mean rejecting the knowledge of our ancestors. He did not believe that old ways must be preserved at all costs; he believed in building on them, and he showed what happens if we do not. The North African peasants’ buildings—mud-brick adobe buildings in which their ancestors had lived for thousands of years—were being replaced by all the modern architecture they could afford: namely, shacks with corrugated iron roofs in which young children would die of heat exposure. Hassan Fathy went out with his students to the villages, where those who knew how to build adobe arches were being deserted by their sons, who thought the knowledge of their fathers and grandfathers was primitive and out-of-date. The sons were moving to the cities to become car and television repairmen. But then the message came through that a professor had actually arrived from the capital with his students to study what their fathers and grandfathers knew. So the sons decided that maybe their fathers and grandfathers weren’t so primitive after all, and they came back and took up the trade, and the skills were preserved that otherwise would have been lost in just one generation.

The second 1980 award recipient was “Plenty International,” a relief organization set up by The Farm, the Tennessee commune which is the largest in North America. Its members have kept alive the ideals of sharing and living materially simple but spiritually rich lives, and not just among themselves. Some of them work in the Third World, for example with peasants in Latin America and Africa, to whom they can relate because their living standards are in some ways comparable. Plenty International was nominated by a high United Nations official who had seen millions spent on projects with very little result and here had come across an organization which was making a real impact with very little money.

Two years ago we brought together the recipients from the first ten years of our awards. Despite their varied fields of activity, it was clear that they had much in common. In addition to their refusal to let conventional wisdom, prestige, and money guide their paths, they also share a vision for a just, sustainable, and non-violent world order and are working to create it.

Perhaps none of the recipients illustrates this better than the one who could not come to the Tenth Anniversary because he was, and still is, in an Israeli jail, kidnapped and sentenced to eighteen years of solitary confinement: Mordechai Vanunu, the nuclear hostage, who told the world about Israel’s massive, secret nuclear weapons program, which not even the Israeli Parliament knew about. Every day we read about global interdependence, and every day we’re admonished to act as responsible global citizens. When he had to choose, Mordechai Vanunu took his duties as a planetary citizen seriously. He was not interested in making money—he asked for, and was paid, nothing by the Sunday Times of London, which published his information—but in revealing a dangerous and destabilizing military secret. His continued imprisonment is an outrage, and we are working for his release. I’m glad to say that it now looks as if his brother Meir may soon get the U.S. visa which he has until now been refused. He hopes to set up a campaign to free his brother and to work for a nuclear-free Middle East in this country too.

This year our honorary, non-cash award (which usually goes to a group in the North or a person in the North who doesn’t primarily need the money), went to the Finnish Village Action Movement, which has revitalized two thousand eight hundred villages in Finland, getting people who had left the villages to return, reviving the old village tradition where people get together, without payment, to do something for the good of their community, like building a center, repairing a road or old people’s home, campaigning to stop the government from closing the post office, etc.

This year’s cash awards have gone, firstly, to two people working to reveal the truth about the Chernobyl accident and its terrible consequences, to expose the cover-up by the international nuclear lobby: Professor John Gofman from the U.S.A. and the journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya from the Ukraine, now working in Russia because of the difficulties which have been put in her path in her native Ukraine. John Gofman, a respected nuclear scientist, has warned against the dangers of low-level radiation for many years, as a result of which he has had his research grants terminated. This happens to those scientists who come to conclusions which don’t suit the establishment. For example, Alice Stewart, another award recipient, who discovered the dangers of X-raying pregnant women and then went on to discover the health risks faced by nuclear power workers and their children, also found her grants cut off.

Another winner of this year’s cash award is Helen Mack from Guatemala. (It’s a remarkable coincidence that the Nobel Peace Prize also goes to a Guatemalan woman this year!) Helen Mack’s sister was a sociologist who was doing research on the situation of the Indians when she was brutally murdered. Helen herself started the first broad-based campaign against “impunity” in Central America, attempting to end the “tradition” that political murders go unpunished. She has succeeded in having one of the main suspects extradited from the U.S.A. and put on trial and in getting high-ranking military officers to testify. Her courage is exemplary. Her own life is, of course, in danger, and we hope that the award will contribute to her safety.

Our final award recipient this year is a health center in Bangladesh founded by Zafrullah Chowdhury, a doctor who initiated his country’s unique policy on medical drugs. The policy, based on the guidelines of the World Health Organization, includes an import ban on useless and expensive foreign drugs and encourages the domestic production of cheap and safe generic drugs. Zafrullah Chowdhury is facing great problems now as the weak new democratic government comes under increasing pressure from the Bangladesh Medical Association and the international pharmaceutical lobby to drop this policy.

In 1984 I helped found another “shadow” institution, The Other Economic Summit (TOES), which shadows the Group of Seven (G-7) summit of the major industrialized countries. Every year we have representatives from all over the world who, I think, are more representative than those attending the “world” economic summit, as the G-7 call themselves. The G-7 represent not a “new” world order but the old order of greed and short-termism which has lost all credibility today but which still clings to power. There are thousands of bored journalists running around the secretive G-7 summits, and TOES provides them with information from the perspective of an “economics as if people mattered,” to use Schumacher’s expression. As you may know, there was a TOES in Houston a few years ago; last year it was in London and this year in Munich. In December we are also arranging another kind of “TOES,” The Other Europe Summit, in Edinburgh, at the same time as the European Community (EC) summit.

Recently I introduced another, smaller initiative in the country where my father’s ancestors lived for eight hundred years, Estonia. I was quite horrified that after the collapse of communism there, the only new role models—especially for young people—seemed to be black marketeers. Marxism has been replaced by “marketism,” which is also supposed to automatically create paradise on earth. I have set up the Estonian Renaissance Award to bring forward those who are actually doing something useful for their country and to give them a standing, give them an award and a bit of financial support. It’s very exciting, and we are going to present the first awards on February 24th, Estonia’s National Day.

Where do these initiatives lead? It’s clear that all our work so far has not managed to significantly impede the destruction of our ecosystem. In Europe, the EC study on the anticipated environmental consequences of the Single Market concludes that, despite twenty years of environmental action programs, the environment of the EC continues to deteriorate. That is, they haven’t even stabilized the situation. Elsewhere it is, of course, no better; often it is much worse. The helplessness of our authorities can be summed up by a report to the Swedish government which concluded that the extent of soil acidification today was not even imaginable at the end of the 1970s. Those who warned of such dangers long before, only to be denounced and ridiculed, can, of course, feel justly outraged at such official blindness and at policies which remind me of the words of Mark Twain: when they had lost sight of their goals, they redoubled their efforts.

Today the seriousness and urgency of our predicament are affirmed even by those political and scientific elites who only a few years ago accused us of extremism. If you read such statements as the Final Declaration of the Council of Europe Environmental Conference in Vienna, 1990; the Hague Declaration of seventeen heads of state, 1989; the report of the Bergen Environmental Conference which preceded the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); the U.S. Academy of Sciences and Royal Society of the U.K. Joint Declaration, 1992; and, of course, Al Gore’s excellent book Earth in the Balance—these all sound the way Green fundamentalists did a few years ago. But to quote a recent report from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the research institution set up as a result of the Stockholm Environment Conference, “No government in the world has made any major change in policy designed to convert the unsustainable to the sustainable” (Holmberg, Bass, and Timberlake, Defending the Future. London: IIED, 1991).

The gap between what urgently needs to and can be done and what is being proposed and implemented is now so vast as to threaten the credibility and the legitimacy of our entire political system. Instead of making, in the words of Al Gore, the “rescue of the environment the central organizing principle of civilization,” we are appeased with promises of too little too late. There is a failure—and not just in politics but also among the population at large—to face up to what is happening. In a survey published in The Futurist magazine a few years ago, students and adults were asked to predict their own future and that of the planet. A 75% majority expected an environmental breakdown or a nuclear war within ten years at most, and a 75% majority, when asked about their own future, also expected long, happy, contented lives. The respondents were not prepared to make the connections.

The worst problem today in the so-called free world is censorship by sound-bites. You cannot express a complex idea, a new idea, in thirty seconds; but you can, of course, mouth conventional platitudes in thirty seconds flat. The present global order recognizes only those needs it can satisfy, sees as real only those problems to which it can offer solutions.

This shortsightedness is exemplified by the current negotiations on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which, designed to circumvent democratic institutions, will create a framework for the global economy totally at odds with the needs of the poor and the environment. Laws for the protection of people and the environment are to be restricted and localized, while laws for the protection of corporate profits will be globalized. The opportunity to ban weak pollution controls and other externalizations of environmental costs as unfair trading practices has been rejected, thereby ensuring that national problems will be globalized and thus more difficult to solve. We urgently require an environmentally responsible global order which involves pooling sovereignty, but the current world economic order has already abolished sovereignty as governments have given up the power to control capital. It is instructive to compare the GATT proposal on imposing automatic sanctions for non-compliance with its trade rules with the current cumbersome process of reaching environmental accords, which have to be negotiated and implemented one by one and which can do no more—to quote Dr. Mostafa Tolba, the head of the United Nations Environment Program—than bring non-compliers to the attention of the public.

One solution could be an international body to implement environmental accords, with a status comparable to that of GATT’s proposed Multilateral Trade Organization (MTO). According to the draft of the final text, the MTO shall “enjoy in the territories of each of the members such legal capacity, privileges, and immunities as may be necessary for the exercise of its functions.” The alternative to such a decision-making body may well be an environmental breakdown which would cause a political and economic upheaval more fundamental than that which happened recently in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Neither democracy nor the market economy would be likely to survive the ensuing confrontations as minorities would try to protect their privileged access to ever scarcer environmental resources at the cost of the livelihoods of the majority. If we were “lucky,” we would get “Eco-Stalinism,” with strict rationing of resources.

There is an increasing realization that such a breakdown may occur much sooner than expected, not in decades, but in years. It is therefore imperative that we begin to create the foundations for a sustainable world order without delay. This implies, to quote from Al Gore’s book, “[putting] in place a policy framework that will be ready to accommodate the world-wide demand for action when the magnitude of the threat becomes clear.” We also must provide, I believe, some scenarios as to how this transition can actually occur.

Environmentalists have largely ignored this issue, apparently expecting those who have led us into our present mess to undergo a joint sudden conversion. But I think it is very naive to expect that existing institutions can be made to perform with any degree of success tasks diametrically opposed to those for which they were created. Whatever their achievements, neither UNCED nor the Rio Global Forum, the largest-ever gathering of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), managed to produce an action plan coming anywhere close to what is required, namely, to cite Al Gore yet again, “an all-out effort to use every policy and program, every law and institution, every treaty and alliance, every tactic and strategy, every plan and course of action–to use, in short, every means, to halt the destruction of the environment and to preserve and nurture our ecological system.”

The economic crisis of the 1930s and the horrors of World War II brought together the international community in 1945 to set up a new range of global institutions capable of preventing a repetition of these catastrophes. They did not just amend the League of Nations! The threats we face demand an initiative of at least similar boldness. It is absurd to expect the unprecedented challenges of today to be met by cosmetic additions to the institutions of the 1940s and 1950s, when threats to the environment and limits to growth were nowhere on the agenda.

I think that for both practical and psychological reasons we need a new start. Just as different institutions represent us in our roles as citizens, producers, consumers, etc., we now need an organization which represents us in our role as members of the living earth and sets the sustainable boundaries within which human activities can function. Just as we accept restrictions which deprive us of the freedom to harm others, so we need institutions with the power and legitimacy to defend us against global lawlessness. For no society can realistically debate and set social or political priorities and goals when these increasingly have to operate under and compete with the overriding threat of global environmental collapse. Climate change, for example, makes nonsense of most large-scale and long-term projects.

The new institutional framework required must, I believe, encompass all levels from the local to the global. The global level is crucial, not only because pollution knows no boundaries, but because the present global power structure is making local and regional action increasingly difficult. The new world order of GATT, the EC single market, etc. actually outlaws activities which conflict with it in fields as diverse as environmental conservation, national legislation on patents, and cultural protection. All such activities can be considered impediments to trade and be overturned by powerful sanctions. For example, Indonesia has been told that if it imposes an export ban on tropical timber, it must also prevent its own people from using the timber; anything else would be discrimination. Brazil and India have been told by the U.S. that unless they strengthen their patents legislation to make sure it protects multinationals as well as U.S. patents legislation does, this will also be regarded as an unfair impediment to trade.

Therefore, ignoring the issue of the new global institutional framework that we need and want means allowing the transnational corporations, GATT, and the World Bank to set the global rules under which we all operate. The noted Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva argues that “democratizing the global is the next step. An earth democracy cannot be realized with a global domination by undemocratic structures.” Community empowerment and self-reliance become rather meaningless unless we succeed in safeguarding the global level. Local, regional, and national democracy presupposes that the global level either cannot or will not routinely interfere with or overturn decisions made through its process. Today this is no longer the case. This does not mean, of course, that local and other activities should be neglected, but another element needs to be added: a broad-based coalition for a new institutional world order. We can no longer just campaign for what should be done while leaving the how and by whom to others.

There are several possible strategies, none of which are mutually exclusive. All will meet with strong opposition and attempts at co-option and will require massive popular education and mobilization. A number of proposals have been presented on how to make the United Nations system more effective and accountable. These range from internal re-organization to the creation of new bodies. The UNCED process is expected to generate new advisory and monitoring institutions, but it is likely that such bodies will lack the necessary powers to stand up to vested interests. It is not good advice which is lacking today but the political will to do what is needed. Governments have, in the words of Vandana Shiva, become “contested ground,” no longer the guardians of the common good and the longer view but vainly trying to placate conflicting special-interest groups.

The UNCED process offered NGOs unprecedented access, but their input was ignored. Even the recommendations from the U.N. Center on Transnational Corporations were ignored and the Center abolished, hardly a hopeful sign for U.N. reform. The recent study by several U.N. organizations of the Chernobyl disaster, which flatly denies the widespread health effects, has caused the U.N. to lose standing on environmental issues in Eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. And placing the major funding vehicle for the transition to sustainability, the Global Environmental Facility, with the World Bank–whose chief economist, Lawrence Summers, still believes that “there are no limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to [materialize] anytime in the foreseeable future”—is hardly a recipe for credibility.

Recently in Eastern Europe, broad-based popular movements coalesced into a force able to withdraw legitimacy from the institutions of state power, take them over, and transform and recreate them around “Round Tables.” The Rio Global Forum illustrated the problems anyone would face who tried to repeat this strategy elsewhere. Yet the risk that the credibility of existing authorities may collapse completely in a sudden environmental catastrophe has to be faced. The events after the Seveso accident in Italy provide a pointer to what could occur on a much larger scale. When the official experts in Seveso were unable to provide satisfactory answers about the toxicity and effects of the leaked dioxin, the evacuated local population decided that the whole event was part of some corrupt plan to take over their homes, and they fought pitched battles with the police to re-enter the exclusion zone. Facilitating and strengthening cooperation and joint action among relevant popular movements is an urgent priority, both to prevent another Seveso and to ensure that recognized, credible institutions exist if prevention fails. This will not be easy. As one recent study noted, “Mergers of NGOs are few and far between.”

There is now a growing tendency for corporations to try to reach direct agreements with large environmental NGOs. The reason is obvious. The German chemical industry, for example, has been forced into costlier production changes by shifts in consumer preferences and boycotts triggered by environmentalists than by laws and government regulations. Reaching agreement with a major opponent enables corporations to plan more securely and enhances their public image.

While such dialogues have many positive aspects, the outcome is not unproblematic. Unless the arrangements are made legally watertight, the NGOs will be forced to maintain a level of mobilization and vigilance which may prove very difficult once an agreement has been reached. Also, the credibility of public institutions could be weakened further as the strongest private players reach agreements which show NGOs to be more capable than governments of extracting concessions from the corporate sector.

Many traditional societies had a dual power structure, with a chief running day-to-day “politics” and wise elders looking at the longer term. The latter would, of course, not have the same unquestioned standing in modern societies. But I believe there is a place for an independent group of respected environmentalists to pronounce on urgent issues of planetary survival and equity. Such a group could have considerable moral force and, with members such as Wangari Maathai, José Lutzenberger, and Lester Brown, could provide a different and welcome point of reference for those exposed to the propaganda of the consumer society. Professor Johan Galtung, one of our recipients, has proposed, for example, that there should be an automatic right of reply to advertisements, putting the case for not buying the product in question.

My work has convinced me of the value of shadow institutions in giving prominence to other values and providing new role models. But this is only the first step. There are obvious advantages in co-opting and identifying with the “winning” ideas of today, namely democracy and global interdependence. I believe that no strategy which ignores or replaces, rather than extends, informed democratic choice will succeed.

That is why I have proposed a People’s Council for Global Sustainability. This Council would restore the balance between who we really are and what we are doing to ourselves, our neighbors, and the planet. It would give a voice to those parts of ourselves which otherwise do not get to choose or vote, and would work to strengthen those shared human bonds and values which even Adam Smith regarded as the necessary restraining context of the market society. It would set a framework for responsible entrepreneurship. To acquire the necessary legitimacy, the Council should be democratically elected. For practical reasons, it would consist of a proportionally-elected assembly which chooses the Executive Council. Such elections would take place region by region or continent by continent. They could be held today in Europe, for example, to elect a European Sustainability Council, which would then send members to the global council. Similar elections could be held in North America and South America, Australia and the Pacific, and probably in Africa, without many problems. In Asia, it’s realistic to envision a number of regional councils. The prospect of being excluded from the Council, or offered only a reduced role in it, should act as a powerful impetus for countries to enact democratic reforms where these are still outstanding.

But there is no need to wait. Any nation or group of nations can take the first step by announcing their support for the Council and calling a conference to draft its constitution. I suggest that in the spirit of global community, candidates for election would not have to be nationals, nor would exclusively national nomination lists be allowed: candidates would need to obtain a minimum number of signatures in several countries in order to qualify. Considering our children’s stake in an undamaged environment and the extent to which their interests have so far been marginalized, it seems only fair to lower the voting age limit for these elections. The term of office should exceed that of national parliaments to encourage a longer-term view. To fulfill its tasks, the Council should have independent financial resources: for example, the right to levy certain taxes on pollutants and armaments.

The new Council should be part of the U.N. family, which has so far been missing a much-needed third leg based on popular sovereignty, in addition to the one based on nation states (General Assembly, Security Council, special agencies) and the one based on money (World Bank, IMF). The campaign for such a council could unite those in the South and North who want to reform and democratize the U.N. as well as all those working for sustainability and fairness. Ideally, U.N. organizations already active in this field, like the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Development Program, would be linked to the Council, providing experience and expertise, as would the new commission on Sustainable Development. The People’s Council for Global Sustainability would develop environmental adjustment programs to ensure that countries pay their environmental debts. It would also ensure that the global majority can no longer be ignored. Interference would not remain the privilege of the North: if we told the South to stop cutting its forests, it could tell us, for example, to stop building motorways.

As long as the global commons concept appears to the South as a new trick by the rich to appropriate their resources, global accords will not work and the South will continue to attempt to emulate the North, with disastrous consequences for all of us.

The Council would codify and enforce treaties and conventions embodying environmental rights. It’s interesting to note that one of the initiatives the U.S. government took in Rio was to weaken attempts to have environmental treaties reviewed and to expose why they were not being implemented. For example, the final declarations of the 1972 Stockholm conference and the 1975 Helsinki conference both commit the signatories not to harm the environment of other nations, yet no action has been taken to enforce these commitments.

The Council should have the power to impose fines and sanctions on countries who fail to implement commitments freely entered into. It should also promote a global crash program of energy conservation and mandate product efficiency standards. An independent court should be set up under its auspices to try crimes against ecological security. But the Council would be no world government. While its decisions would be felt in many areas, it would be more akin to an independent central bank set up to ensure economic rectitude; i.e., it would set the sustainable boundaries. While it should be able to intervene directly in emergencies, the Council should have no power monopoly. It should be made subject to jurisdiction by a body such as the Hague court, for example, in case of complaints that it had overstepped its powers.

Finally, I want to emphasize one point. We are often told that we must be positive, but in many areas what is needed first of all is to stop what is happening, or, as the Chipko Movement advocates, to initiate “counter-development.” Once you have stopped the giant dams, of course, you may still need small dams, but these can be built by local people: the knowledge is there. The destructiveness of the present path is so great that just interfering with and blocking it is not negative but very positive, for it enables nature again to pursue its own path and humans to work in line with nature.

Opinion polls show that the environment is the one issue where large majorities are prepared to support a strong international organization. In the U.K., a recent Gallup poll found that nine out of ten favored setting up an international body to solve global environmental problems. This applies not just to the rich countries. There is a study by the U.S. futurist Peter Schwartz called “The Global Teenager” which found that even in very poor countries, the top concern of teenagers was the continued deterioration of the environment.

The basic question we face today is simple: will we continue to demand, vainly, that the existing order change its spots, or will we focus our energies to create a true global community which safeguards our future?


Publication By

Jakob von Uexkull

Jakob von Uexkull is a writer, lecturer, philanthropist, activist, and former politician. He is the founder and chair of the Right Livelihood Award (1980), often referred to as the Alternative Nobel Prize; co-founder of The Other Economic Summit (1984); and founder of the World Future Council (2007). He was a member of the European Parliament … Continued

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