Connections to Global Inequality
By Redwood Mary
Recently I visited a clear-cut area here in Northern
California. Freshly cut redwood trees were lying along steep slopes.
This areaonce alivewas now quiet and devoid of wildlife.
Even the birds avoided the area. I was stunned. I can no longer walk
into a clear-cut and remain unaffected. I also realized that this destruction
is not just made by men and their machines, but by all of our combined
Earlier this year I attended the Commission on Sustainable Development
sessions at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. A delegate from the
representing her rural organization, spoke at one of the sessions.
I will never forget her words: "I look at all these [conference]
papers that will be thrown away. You would not see that where I live
in my country. We use everything, nothing is wasted...even paper is
used again to wrap food."
There were also women in attendance that I had met at the 17th Session
of the U.N. Commission on Human Settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. I had
visited the communities in which they lived, in one of the 96 slums
that surround the city of Nairobi. Now, here they were in the "land
of plenty." How could I explain to them: why we Americans have
so much while they struggle daily to survive with so little? The benefits
of globalization have not trickled down to them.
Out of the famous "Earth Summit" that took place in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992, came Agenda 21. This document, signed by nations from
around the worldincluding the U.S.stated: "The major
cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the
unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in
the industrialized countries, aggravating poverty and imbalances."
Molly O. Sheehan, a Worldwatch Institute Research Associate, says, "Although
the world economy pumped out nearly $41 trillion [worth] of goods and
services in 1999, 45 percent of the income went to the 12 percent of
the worlds people who live in western industrial countries."
This wealthy minority is largely responsible for the excessive consumption
that drives environmental decline and global economic imbalance. Moreover,
economist John Kenneth Galbraith observes: "the worlds richest
countries make up only a fifth of global population. At the other end
of the spectrum, the poorest fifth of the worlds populationmore
than one billion peoplestill lack food, shelter, housing, water
and sanitation, and access to electricity. Given these extremes, todays
global pattern of consumption remains structurally skewed in favor
private affluence and public squalor."
Solutions to unsustainable consumption exist and we can set an example
for leaders to follow. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and
Development points out in a 1997 document: "Governments have the
primary responsibility for putting in place the framework that shapes
consumption choices and have a profound steering role through utility
regulation and public expenditure in many critical clusters, such as
food, energy, water and transport. Yet, in secular, post-industrial
societies, most governments have so far been reluctant to show leadership
and stimulate public debate on the wider vision of welfare in which
the satisfaction of needs, rather consumption per se, is the aim."
We must press government to shift subsidies to reward and support
those enterprises that are creating environmentally-friendly and innovative
alternatives. We can create jobs with solar energy technologies and
have clean food provided by bio-dynamic and organic farming. The root
problems that face our human settlements are not detached from economics.
We must return to an economic system that values life and life-giving
systems. To quote a remarkable colleague of mine, Julia Butterfly Hill, "We
as humans are guided by our value systems. We have placed our value
systems on the dollar and base that value on dollars of exploitation,
extraction and destruction of our environment. It is time to take our
dollars back and place [their] value on the protection of the earth
instead of its destruction."
Many times I have acquired "office supplies" by retrieving
things like discarded folders and half-used notebooks out of garbage
piles. As consumers we do not always think about the source of what
we are consumingthe earth. Nor are we always mindful of what
we throw away.
Our nation once used hemp for oil, rope, paper, clothes and numerous
other purposes. Paper was made of cast away rags. Now, trees that were
once used for limited purposes, such as housing, are used for throw-away
products: paper towels and napkins, cups and plates, computer paper,
newspapers, books, three-foot thick government reports, envelopes, throw
away advertising and junk mail, and packaging of every kind. Our high-tech
wizardry has conditioned us to overlook low-tech solutions. With forestry,
for example, cutting no more than what the forest can grow back is not
only a logical investment in the future, nature will do all of the work
if we allow it to. Most of the standing wood in the U.S. is in houses.
Any time a demolition occurs, materials can be salvaged and recycled.
In New Orleans, local government in partnership with a non-profit group
created such a solution and jobs as well. Another example can be found
in Berkeley, California, where a lumber yard sells reclaimed wood and
wood from companies that practice sustainable forestry.
Another positive trend that could be accelerated is organic farming.
Organic farmers replace agrochemicals with a greater diversity of crops
and natural pest control strategies. Organic farming can reduce groundwater
pollution, threats to wildlife and consumer exposure to pesticides.
Farmers in Europe, for example, have doubled the area cultivated with
organic methods to four million hectares in only three years. In Italy
and Austria, the share of certified organic agricultural land topped
ten percent in 1999.
Here in the U.S., we have the power of spending money. We can tell
corporations like the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic that we will
them with our dollars until they respect human rights and stop the
exploitation of sweatshop labor [see Starks piece in Satya, August,
2000]. We can
tell the Fisher family, who owns the Gap clothing empire and who purchased
redwood forests, to stop the destruction of these damaged ecosystems
in Northern California. Whether it is workers rights or survival
of our forests or the species that share the earth with us, we must
continue to stand together, raise the standards, and defend human and
environmental rights. As Vaclav Havelauthor and former President
of the Czech Republicsays: "We must not be afraid of dreaming
the seemingly impossible if we want the seemingly impossible to become
To find out more about Redwood Mary and the Plight of The Redwoods Campaign,
For information on the new video "The Timber GAP," visit www.havc.org
or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.