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October 2004
Politics from Across the Pond

The Satya Interview with Harry Ram


The Ecologist is a British monthly environmental magazine known worldwide for its comprehensive and thorough coverage of the most pressing environmental and social issues of our day. Not a publication that holds back in its rather opinionated editorship, The Ecologist has published scathing reports on companies and industry practices from dairy production to Nike’s greenwashing of sweatshop labor, and titles such as “Starbucks is the devil’s work” are not unusual. It is fiercely against corporate domination of our lives and believes in decentralized government down to the community level, and has been sparking debate and raising awareness since its first issue in 1970. It is now read in over 150 countries and in 2001 received Utne Reader’s Alternative Press Awards for both General Excellence and Best Science and Environment Magazine.

The Ecologist has not changed much in philosophy since the days Founding Editor Edward Goldsmith spoke of planet Earth as “unique in our solar system in displaying those environmental conditions required to sustain complex forms of life,” and described man’s effect on Earth as ‘cataclysmic’—and has proudly been a key player in major environmental campaigns against GM crops, rainforest destruction, climate change and the impact of globalization.

Rachel Cernansky was in the UK last month and dropped by The Ecologist’s office to have a hearty politics chat with Managing Editor Harry Ram.

What are some of your thoughts on the state of U.S. politics, Bush, and the upcoming election, and is The Ecologist going to cover the election at all?
In the November issue, we will probably have an essay or a comment saying why it’s so important that Bush is kicked out. At the very least we’ll publish his resumé again, which is worth doing, because it’s just shocking. Even you guys must get bored with American elections, they just go on for so long. To be honest, as far as The Ecologist is concerned, anything’s better than Bush, but Kerry doesn’t look much better.

That’s a weird dynamic I think—Kerry is better than Bush; the problem is that that’s not saying much. He’s nothing close to perfect, but with Bush, across the board there’s just no issue that I agree with him on. Kerry at least gives you something to work with.
No you’re right, there isn’t one redeeming feature of Bush. Kerry wants to give America energy sovereignty, doesn’t he, and he wants to reduce the dependence of Americans on foreign oil imports—which has to be a great start. Bush has ripped over 400 environmental laws, rolled all legislation back, all the clean air acts, everything. All the clear-cutting of forests to stop forest fires, I mean it’s so blatant, the greed is so naked, the paybacks are so obvious—the companies give him money to get him elected, and then once he’s elected, all the paybacks just come rolling in. It’s flagrant, just completely astonishing.

It’s exactly the same in this country and I think across the western world. Powerful corporations are dictating what the politicians do, and the belief in the free market and privatization reflects that. Both sides believe that if we can hand over all our public services to the free market they will run them more efficiently, more cheaply. In effect the government is off-balancing—basically saying, ‘Well, we can’t afford it, we’re spending so much of your taxes on arms, we’re going to have to hand over your public school system and your health and everything to private hands and get you guys to pay the rent, abdicating our responsibility, abdicating government responsibility.’ Having said that, from an Ecologist point of view, we don’t believe in central government, we’re madly against it; I say decentralize power as much as we possibly can.

What do you think are some of the most effective ways of achieving the changes conscious folks like us seek?
Have you seen “The Meatrix”? Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. If I wasn’t working for The Ecologist, that’s the kind of thing I’d be trying to do, because it gets to so many people—it’s such an amusing, well put-together piece, it gets the message to people who’d never pick up Satya or The Ecologist. But they see this and think, ‘that’s amazing,’ and hopefully a bit of it will sink in.

There’s a guy who’s now writing a monthly column for us, Max Keiser, who set up this thing called KarmabanQue (—an index of bad companies based on something he calls a “vulnerability ratio.” He’s ranking the companies according to how much dissent there is against them and how vulnerable they are to a boycott; a good example being the Greenpeace ‘Stop Esso’ campaign (‘Exxon’ in the States). He argues that was a stupid campaign because their market capitalization is the same as their sale. So if you boycott an Exxon/Esso petrol station, for every one pound (or dollar) you withhold, you only affect the market capitalization by one pound, one dollar. Whereas Coca-Cola trades at five times that, so for every one pound you withhold from Coke, five pounds comes off market cap—so it hurts Coca-Cola that much more. Max is trying to get the whole boycotting community to focus on companies that will be really affected. Because he says, and I agree, if it doesn’t affect the bottom line, companies don’t listen—they don’t have to, they can ignore it. We’ve got to talk their language. And I think the green community, the environmental community have not got that message yet, we still think that we can make people change because things are wrong. But, that’s not what they’re employed to do. As we know from [the book and documentary] The Corporation… We’re going to reprint a big chunk of the book in our November issue, because it’s such a powerful indictment of corporations. And let’s face it, that’s the core of everything that’s going wrong.
Although, in that film there is an exception, Ray Anderson of Interface carpeting. [See Satya’s August 2004 interview “Analyze This! On the Couch is The Corporation.”]

Impressive, but he admits himself that he’s on his way there, he’s trying to turn it around but it’s still [about] growth, and that’s the real problem. We can’t really invest in the stock market because we’re investing in growth, and growth is the thing that’s killing us. Max is trying to get a hedge fund involved to sell these stocks short in the companies; basically this means, let’s say Coke is currently trading at $50, you sell the share at $50 in the hope that the share price falls, and then you buy it back when it’s falling. You are then making money from the destruction of that company. Which is a very neat kind of green money laundering. It’s turning money off these guys and you actually make money out of their destruction, which I think is fabulous. It’s two birds with one stone—we get more money, and they get screwed. Brilliant.

People, American and non, are looking to this election as hugely significant for the rest of the world. Is that an arrogant point of view? Or is it really that important?
Absolutely, and the world is fully aware. There’s been one superpower now for 20 years, since the collapse of the Cold War and the Soviet Bloc. And everybody’s crystal clear [on] it—I think these four years of Bush have focused people’s minds. It’s been so flagrant, the abuse and the bullying. We saw it before under Clinton, but he was a kind of benign dictator, and we all were kind of being helped by America, or America was fueling the world economy and wasn’t being too intrusive or too manipulative. I mean, of course they were, from an Ecologist point of view—the export of monoculture, the Americanization of other people’s cultures has been insidious and horrific. But I think everyone’s become very aware of American culture and it’s left people very very angry, and it’s nothing to do with small pockets of fundamentalists. I think it’s across the board. People aren’t comfortable, they just don’t like being pushed around; and that’s what it feels like. To go into a war completely alone, apart from the usual stooges. That’s why I think everybody’s looking to November.

And that was before Michael Moore’s film [Fahrenheit 9/11]. That would have had an impact of course and we hope it has, we all pray it has, but he made it very clearly for the American market, everybody can see that.

I had high hopes for that film, but I think a lot of the people who felt affected were already anti-Bush.
Yeah but that’s good—you won’t convert Republicans, there’s no way because like anything else if you believe a certain thing, even if you watch it, you’ll just be picking at the holes in it. I think what it will do—brilliantly—is get the Democrats who might be sitting at home angry, and get them to vote. They don’t think they can make a difference; that’s often the problem. So if you can reinvigorate those people, fantastic.

Do you think there’s an understanding abroad that in the States, we don’t all stand behind Bush and his policies, and that actually there are many of us vociferously against them?
Very much. Our broadcasting has certainly been muted or tamed (by the whole Hutton inquiry over the alleged dossiers and all that), but is certainly not as bad as Fox. Whenever we hear a report, they invariably show a Democrat and then a Republican, and you get the feeling of anger on both sides. It’s also boosted the Republicans because they feel under threat and actually believe in this war on terror—so it’s real gung-ho flag-waving nutters against people going, “I’m really embarrassed by my country, this is not what America’s about.”

The other thing is there is a lot of ignorance about the U.S.—I’m sure within the States—but also outside. Because a lot of the information you get from America is television, and so it is this façade. And most people switch off to politics in this country, let alone American politics. So people aren’t really up to speed with what’s going on, there’s quite a level of ignorance, but Bush has turned into very much a figure of hate, as well as his stooges, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz.

And Blair?
For a lot of people Blair is seen as unhealthily close to Bush; has questioned nothing that Bush has done. He says he has, but most people don’t believe him. This country’s very very angry with Blair indeed, and the war. There’s been lots of commentary, about who would suit Blair better—Kerry or Bush? Who cares? I want to get rid of Blair, I want to get rid of Bush. [laughs] That’s the important thing.

What are your thoughts on activists working from within the system? For example, Kenya’s Green Belt Movement pioneer Wangari Maathai being in government.
This is the big debate—can you do more change from within or without? My feeling is, without is the only way. Because once you’re within, you immediately start horse trading, and I just don’t know how you avoid that. Personally, I also think it’s much more fun being on the outside. Wangari is an amazing woman, so if she tries it and she can’t do it then the whole experience will be fascinating for everybody else because she’ll just go, ‘We really need systemic change.’

What do you think Americans should be doing—besides voting?
Well, exactly—the immediate thing is to vote Bush out, no question. I think the second thing is to stop using WTO and NAFTA to force American goods onto other countries. To stop using, under the pretense of free trade, the world as their resource base, and actually really live within their own means. Stop investing in harm. And look to yourself.

I think on more of an ecological level is the whole notion of subsidiarity, that power should be as local as possible, devolved to state level, and then further down into communities so that the communities can dictate who or what can use their resources. So, [for example,] the bottling of water [by] Coca-Cola plants should be dictated at the local level, to say they don’t want Coca-Cola; Coke can’t then do deals with governments to override the local. I think it’s growth, we’ve got to change the money; the global economy’s got to collapse, which it will do. It can’t go on.

There’s a very good guy, Julian Darley from the Post Carbon Institute. His big three things are gas, oil, and the dollar—GOD as he calls it. These are underpinning the economy, and are the three things that are going to collapse. The dollar without question is going to collapse. Oil may peak within the next five years as supply starts decreasing—the price is going to go through the roof. And gas, similarly, this notion that we can just switch from oil to gas—well none of the infrastructure has been built in the States. So the immediate concern for America is, where is this energy going to come from?

I think it’s true of a lot of countries, we just need to look to ourselves. We need to stop taking advantage of the rest of the world. And not believe in technology, which is another of our major bog-downs. There are no techni-fixes; we still can’t create water, we can’t create air, we can’t create soil—the three fundamentals for life on this planet. People say, ‘Oh water—desalination.’ Well we’re not creating it, we’re just changing it from saltwater to freshwater—not particularly clever.

Is there an issue that most concerns you personally, one that’s been nagging at you?
It’s a great question, there are so many. I think the one that worries me most is climate change—and it’s the hardest to convey because it’s on a world scale. If you saw The Day After Tomorrow, the special effects are great—the one problem was it didn’t point any fingers. It was never going to, but there are clear people causing this, and they have to be stopped.

Nobody denies it anymore, especially with regards to pollution. But we’re certainly heading for very bleak times indeed—[in] 20 to 30 years, we’re going to be living on a very sad planet. And I’m not sure what we can do about it, to be honest—gonna fight like hell to try and reduce the impact; or make it [last] longer, that’s the big thing isn’t it, to try and slow it down. Because the change is inevitable, but at the moment it’s the speed that’s really going to screw us.

Otherwise, what tends to get me most angry is abuse of the animal world, whether it’s factory industrial farming, captive dolphins, moon bears, which are kept in small cages and have a catheter put into their bile duct to milk their bile, [which] they use in Chinese medicine. Thousands of bears are kept in cages—we shouldn’t be doing that.

Are you vegetarian?
I’m not, no. We’ve got a debate in the October issue between Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, one of our famous cooks who rears his own meat and veggies and everything, against a professor of Bioethics at Oxford University, a vegetarian. It’s really interesting.

There’s no question we consume far too much meat, and it’s destroying the planet. I don’t eat a lot of meat; my main thing is, when I do, I make sure that animal welfare is paramount, that they’ve lived the best possible life. But I do fundamentally believe that humans are meat eaters. So I’m happy to eat meat—provided that animal hasn’t been abused.

Any last thoughts, or a final message, for Satya readers?
To your readers? Direct action. Get out there. It’s not good enough to read it in the magazine, you’ve got to get out, whatever your cause is—the smaller the better—whatever it is, just don’t [be silent].

There’s all this talking and it’s fine, but it’s not doing anything, we’re not achieving anything. And voting once every four years is not good enough. We can’t deal with this in four year cycles, we’ve got to really deal with this now.

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