18 August 2002
'BLAIR IS THE ENEMY OF THE GREENS'
Zac Goldsmith interview
'Blair is the enemy of the greens'
The Observer online, Sunday August 18, 2002
Online extra: Zac Goldsmith of The Ecologist spoke to Mark Townsend about how green activists feel on the eve of the Earth Summit. In these extensive quotes from the interview, he explains why the summit is likely to fail, why the evidence shows that time is running out and why he now believes that the Labour government is the least green government ever in Britain.
Labour's green record: ...email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
On the scale of the environmental crisis
My hope is that the natural world is more resilient than we give it credit for, and that we still have enough time to act. But with actual events overtaking predictions, particularly in climate, and with each new depressing report, I have to admit it's dwindling.
In the last few weeks, the UNEP, WWF, and even the National Academy of Scientists have all warned that the Earth's capacity for regeneration is either passing or has passed. It's the biggest news there is, and yet an amazing number of papers didn't even mention it. It's as if planetary survival is a niche issue that only magazine's like mine should cover. But even without these reports, the news itself should be enough to convince us. Over the past few weeks, we've seen total climatic volatility everywhere, with massive floods all over Europe, massive draught in Southern Africa, giant pollution clouds hovering over Asia. At what point, you've got to ask yourself, are these problems going to be taken seriously? When will our decision-makers notice?
We're facing problems, which unless we move fast, will simply not have solutions. What are we going to do when hundreds of millions of people are driven from their homes by floods and droughts? Who's going to feed them and home them? They're not going to sit down and starve. They'll try to survive, and if that means turf wars, so be it. Just a half meter rise in sea levels will wipe out Holland, and leave its 17 million people landless. The crisis is happening. It's bigger than anything in our history. It makes World War II look like a schoolyard squabble, and yet no one is taking it seriously.
Can Johannesburg achieve anything?
There's never been such a need for a summit like Johannesburg. But its chances of achieving anything remotely useful are practically zero. Like at the preceding summits in Rio and Stockholm, the agenda has been utterly derailed by global corporate interests. At the last two, they succeeded in removing from discussions any mention of their own involvement in the world's growing problems. This time, they've engineered the debate so that all they can expect by way of checks and balances are voluntary codes of conduct whose goals they will set themselves, and whose accomplishments they will also assess. The effect is a conference on the reduction of poverty and environmental destruction that is guaranteed to increase both.
But it's not simply a case of bad America versus good everyone else. It's a case of bad versus worse. The Americans have definitely corrupted the entire draft agenda. You only have to look at the documents to see that they have deleted anything remotely thoughtful within it. Even utterly benign comments like "Globalisation is yet to benefit the world's poor", have been scratched out by their lobbyists. But the whole underlying thesis of the summit is flawed, and all members are responsible for that. You can't expect to arrive at the right answers if you ask the wrong questions, and that's exactly what they're doing.
There's all the will in the world to pursue policies that meet with the approval of corporations, as long as they're dressed up as solutions to poverty and environmental chaos, but there's zero will to recognise the real causes and act on them.
If Johannesburg were genuinely about poverty and the environment, it would call on nations to safeguard their local economies and communities, rather than expose them to the brutality of the global economy. It would call for an overhaul of the World Bank and IMF, so that instead of pouring hundreds of billions into making the developing world dependent on fossil fuels, it would focus on building decentralised, clean and cheap alternatives. It would call for a re-writing of the global trade agreements that fundamentally subordinate the environment, local economies and cultures to global trade. And it should at the very least address the unprecedented and quite awesome powers enjoyed by a tiny cluster of giant corporations, to the detriment of democracy the world over.
On Labour's green record
The current British government is in my view one of the worst we've had. Greens were fooled into trusting it, not least because of Michael Meacher who's clearly a good man, but who has no mandate. On every important issue, the government has either lied or U-turned. Blair promised no new nuclear power plants. He's now promising the opposite. On climate change, agriculture, biotechnology, planning - you name it - he's become the enemy of the greens. Behind each and every decision his government makes you can smell the greasy hand of a giant corporation. And what's worse, he has virtually no regard for democracy itself. Insidiously and cleverly, he's managed to remove powers, one by one, that have enabled people to fight for their rights on all these issues. Public enquiries about major development projects are a thing of the past. Biotech campaigners are seeing laws change that make it almost impossible to combat biotechnology legally. And the government is getting away with it. Why? Because it has a huge mandate and has mastered the art of fooling the public. It's always the same pattern: you want ten new industrial airports, you propose fifty. The compromise figure of ten makes the public feel that they've won a serious compromise.
What makes this government much worse is that they have fully acknowledged the scale of the climate problem, and yet they've failed completely to act on that knowledge. What's worse, they pursue policies with great zeal that will accelerate climate change, not least through their obsessive promotion on behalf of the giant corporations, of more and more trade in basic goods.
It's hard sometimes to know why certain leaders behave in certain ways. Clare Short for instance only months before taking office described the World Bank and IMF as 'malfunctioning' institutions of the global economy. Immediately after becoming Secretary of State for International development her tune could not have changed more dramatically. Mr Blair was deeply sceptical of the anti democratic thrust of the European Union, as were a number of his cabinet. Things have radically changed there as well.
It's not good enough to select a party because it seems nice, or fluent. We need a party that is willing to question basic assumptions. We've never faced a crisis like that confronting us today. A particular world view is responsible for the problems. Applying the same world view to the solutions can only exacerbate them.
"Just what will it take to persuade the Government that it is disastrously
wrong over genetically modified crops and foods? Scarcely a week goes by
without devastating new evidence emerging of threats to health and the
environment, or without the disclosure of breathtaking bungles by the GM
companies or the regulatory authorities... The trials for GM crops are
coming to an end. This will be the moment for the Government to concede
that it has followed a mistaken policy on GM crops. The time has come to
abandon plans to grow genetically modified food in this country."
Leader, Independent on Sunday, 18 August 2002
"The minister could not have been blunter. "There is enormous international
pressure to allow GM crops and seeds in this country... from the biotech
companies. They are going through national governments and the world trade
organisation and pressurising the EU." Thank you Elliot Morley, from the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, for your honesty on
the Today programme over genetically modified crops."
Leader, Saturday August 17, 2002, The Guardian
ngin bulletin archive