New Internationalist

What next?

April 2007

‘I’m not pessimistic. I’m angry!’ US writer James Baldwin’s quote neatly sums up the collective feeling at the end of a visionary WSF session entitled ‘What next? New Global Challenges, Trendlines and Alternatives’. The event brought together leading activists who set out what they think is going to happen over the next 30 years. The results were pretty scary…

A wave that will drown the poor

Pat Mooney, Canadian activist on new technologies, outlined some of the extreme technofixes to climate change that Western governments have in the pipeline. According to Mooney, governments realize that the Kyoto Agreement won’t work and carbon trading is ‘a joke’, and think the only solution is to give corporations a free rein to develop new ‘geo-engineering’ technologies.

These extreme engineering strategies are now possible because we can work at the ‘nano-scale’ – at the level of the atom. Mooney revealed plans to ‘manipulate the ocean’s surface to absorb CO2, mitigate against temperature change and divert hurricanes, and pollute the stratosphere to deflect sunlight. Hard as it is to believe, this is actually a serious conversation in places like the White House. By 2015 the US predicts the global nanotech market will be worth $2.6 trillion – about 15 per cent of the entire world economy.’

This is a very risky game. As Mooney puts it: ‘Technology strikes humanity like a wave, and drowns the poor. The rich see it coming, and can ride the crest of the wave. We see some waves coming that are extraordinarily dangerous... Corporations are patenting the periodic table, taking ownership of the basic building blocks of everything. Different technologies are now converging, making the pace of change much faster than before... [this] will outstrip the ability of even corporations to keep up.’

Things are changing

Walden Bello from Focus on the Global South in Bangkok argued that if you look at global political trends there is cause for hope. ‘I think the crisis of power and direction the US is currently going through will continue. Iraq is impacting on the US ability to intervene in other parts of the world. We will see a worsening of the crisis of multilateral institutions: the IMF is looking for a new role, because developing countries are not going to it any more; the WTO is unravelling and won’t recover soon. I hope that corporate power will be increasingly questioned and civil society will create new global institutions that hold governments and multinational corporations to account.’

Just an idealistic dream? Not according to Bello: ‘While it is healthy to retain some scepticism about the role of “civil society” today, genuine people’s movements are making a very big difference. They have altered the balance of power between empire, neoliberalism and the people. Things are changing. In Latin America: civil society movements have been able to bring governments to power who are open to the kind of changes that reverse corporate power. They are providing lessons on how to bring real participative democracy to our countries.’

Technological totalitarianism

‘“Technology” is going to be the most used and abused word of the next decades,’ predicted Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, outlining a worrying trend. She said that states were increasingly governing by military means in order to take land and other natural resources by force.

‘They say it is necessary for technological development, or it is necessary to contain terrorism. But in fact élites and corporations are trying to seize the remaining resources of the poor by any means necessary. Take water privatization: the World Bank is financing the rerouting of entire rivers to suit corporations.’

We have to fight against this ‘technological totalitarianism’, according to Shiva, and create a ‘technological democracy’ where what belongs to all of us is treated as a public good.

This column was published in the April 2007 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 399

New Internationalist Magazine issue 399
Issue 399

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