Today we launch the GEEBIZ challenge – a new, and hopefully central feature of our Road to Rio+20 preparations. All the links are at www.geebiz.biz - but in making this launch, my mind is filled with comments from two of the most interesting figures in the preparatory process for Rio+20. The first was from the highly respected political economist, Dr. Maja Göpel, Director, Future Justice at the World Future Council and one of the leading proponents of ‘Intergenerational Justice.” She wrote:
Although their definition tagline sounds great, I think the Green Economy as UNEP defines it until now simply does not work: I have huge problems with the absence of any criticism of the exploitative market structures of Goliath against David corporations which are already far too big in comparison to governments. The top 500 corporations have to be broken up for any meaningful level playing fields in competition that markets are supposed to be… the old domination and exploitation patterns have to be cracked. The big corporations must finally start paying taxes and for their externalities in a meaningful way. Also, I totally disagree that simply turning from using coal to using bio-tech will get us out of the mess unless we tackle our consumerism and growth fetish.
Though I feel that the UNEP Definition of Green Economy simply does work (“A Green Economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities…”) – and that ‘breaking up the top 500 corporations’ is an aspiration that no G-20 government is likely to embrace this century, her points are valid and raise justifiable concerns. Concerns which Pavan Sukhdev, who led the preparation of UNEP's 'Green Economy Report,' clearly shares:
Whilst I do not disagree with any of the 12 points you set out for Rio+20(see my Blog of 27/2/2011) - I doubt if they are "sufficient" for the change we seek. The reason is "Today's Corporation".... a cost-externalizing monster that is the main economic agent for three-fourths of the global economy, and which is built on the principle that "the purpose of the Corporation is its own self-interest" (a legal principle - Dodge vs. Ford, 1919)
Until the goals of today's main economic agent become congruent with the goals of society, all your 12 changes, and indeed the economic arguments presented in UNEP’s Green Economy Report, become "necessary but not sufficient." Because of their cost-externalizing, consumerism-promoting, volume-fixated, quality-agnostic, societally-dysfunctional behaviour, "Today's Corporation" must continue to prevail. Indeed, such is the power of self-interest, that Corporate lobbies will resist many of the changes you suggest (eg : Taxes, Oil prices, etc.)
We need a movement to reform the Corporation and evolve it into "Tomorrow's Corporation", or what I call "Corporation 2020" - because I really believe we have no more than 10 years to introduce this new species....
So why on earth is Peace Child International promoting the generation of young green capitalists with its GEEBIZ Challenge? How would a Green Economy Capitalist be any different from the ‘cost-externalizing, consumerism-promoting, volume-fixated, quality-agnostic, societally-dysfunctional’ Brown Economy Capitalist? The answer lies in how you define – and envision – the word ‘Economy.’ The famous Sheridan line about how having a ‘husband disrupts the whole economy of my bed’ – points at the original meaning, which is very much more than a concept embracing money, markets, hedge funds, banks etc. The word comes from the Greek, OEKOS – meaning household; and NOMOS – meaning management with a sub-meaning referring to thrift. So – for me, a Green Economy is all about green, thrifty household management – living lightly on the earth, and being as resource efficient and carbon zero as possible.
As I say, I seriously doubt that any government has the power to break up today’s vast and powerful corporations. As Maja says, many of them are bigger than the governments that supposedly control them. But – in these times of economic austerity – it is surely possible to persuade governments to STOP giving the fossil fuel corporations the $600 – to $700 million dollars in annual subsidies which enable them to engage in the kind of purchasing of democratic results to which Pavan refers. They are dinosaurs – and like dinosaurs – they will eventually die out. Probably not before 2020 – but hopefully by 2050. And they will die out and become extinct precisely because of the kinds of business that the GEEBIZ contest challenges young people to dream and think about.
Micro-generation and feed-in tariffs in Maja’s native Germany are already showing a way to power generation that transcends the massive corporate behemoths. This trend will surely continue building a green economy based on local power production (often as local as house-by-house, school-by-school, factory-by-factory.) Likewise, as green values are embedded in the hearts and minds of rising entrepreneurs, they will see the value of SME corporations that do not shackle themselves to the treadmill of quarterly returns to share-holders, but rather repay their loans to banks, make payroll and distribute salaries to working directors. Also, as consumption fatigue becomes endemic and youth tire of the constant challenge of keeping up with the latest fashion brand or trend, corporations peddling life-style products will see markets decline. The Gandhian principle of making enough for people’s needs – but not for their greed – has to take hold, and the playboys of Monte Carlo in their powerboats which use a ton of fossil fuel every hour to take part in their high-speed (and extremely dangerous) races will become like the incredibly un-cool follies of another era.
For let us be clear: at some point, humanity has got to kiss goodbye to the Brown Economy which has brought civilisation to this point: peak oil, peak coal – peak everything! – dictates that this be so. And the intelligent point at which to bid farewell to it and greet the dawn of the green economy – is next year: at the Rio+20 Summit. The general public, and youth themselves, as they begin to get used to bike hire schemes city centres, electric scooters and – soon – electric cars – are ready for this change. The popularity – and ‘cool’ – of the Toyota Prius is a signal of this trend.
So – as the world gears up to greet that dawn of the Green Economy, GEEBIZ lays down the Challenge to the rising generation to ‘re-invent the Corporation’ – to make companies and products that support a Green economy, and have sustainability as a core purpose. As more and more of these corporations fill the market place, the Tim Jackson / Herman Daly dream of ‘prosperity without growth’ and ‘steady state economics’ – will be realised. And the banks, the hedge funds, the stock-markets and the ‘cost-externalizing, consumerism-promoting, volume-fixated, quality-agnostic, societally-dysfunctional’ will be heading the way of the Dinosaurs.