There is an incalculable number of vexing issues that relate, directly or indirectly, to sustainable human development. It is not unlike a ball of hair that defies combing. Hair threads (human issues) must be disentangled before they can be combed (issues resolved).
The working hypothesis that emerges from this series is that the "ball of hair" can be disentangled if, and only if, two issues are resolved: divisive gender inequalities and greasy fossil fuels. Gender inequalities are the most universal source of disunity and hostility in human affairs. In today's world, fossil fuels provide the grease that makes the "ball of hair" sticky and practically impossible to comb.
When the original unity of man and woman was broken, thereby breaking their "unity in diversity," social entropy (disunity, disorder, violence) ensued in human affairs. Energy is required to sustain all human activity, and social entropy requires additional energy to sustain social cohesion. In today's world, the use of fossil fuels as a source of "cheap" energy also exacerbates physical entropy (resource depletion, GHG emissions, climate change) throughout the human habitat.
It is proposed that cross-gender solidarity and clean energy enable each other and, combined together, would bring social and physical entropy to a sustainable level. This proposition is analyzed in several dimensions and summarized as a concept to foster the transition toward global solidarity and environmental sustainability.
"The quintessential revolution|
is that of the spirit."
Aung San Suu Kyi
There is more to human life than panem et circenses (bread and circus). Thus the aim of human development is not merely to meet basic human needs - a necessary starting point - but integral human development (IHD). It is generally agreed that, beyond food and water and other basic (physical) human needs,
humans must grow intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually. Human development attains
the highest degree when a person is capable of finding herself by giving herself to others. This happens primordially
in nuptial intimacy, when husband and wife submit to one another and share
the gift of love and the gift of life.
From the family, the gift of love and the gift of life must radiate outward in ever expanding circles that, in fully mature
human persons, embrace the concrete totality of humanity and the human habitat. This is the kind of
that might be required - in greater abundance - for the transition from consumerism to sustainability. This is not only
an individual process of ascending from day-by-day survival to life-long self-actualization. History confirms that,
when spiritual growth is lacking or is suppressed by the burden of excessive material wealth, persons and societies
become incapable of practicing human solidarity and often become propense to the use of violence in ways that
exclude the most vulnerable members of society from a decent share of natural resources and constraints them to
live in abject poverty, barely surviving from one day to the next. Sustainable human development then becomes
a practical impossibility.
Social and Economic Dimensions
The rarity of human development beyond physical consumption of goods and services is the root cause for social issues such as poverty for many, mostly due to lack of distributive justice, and extravagant consumption by the few who can afford it and do not have the slightest concern for restorative justice.
The World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 2010) produced a People's Agreement (also known as "Living Well, not Better than Others"). The document touches on both distributive and restorative justice and points to the way things should be, thereby implicitly identifying what is wrong with the global short-term-profit-driven economic system we now have:
- "harmony and balance among all and with all things;
- "complementarity, solidarity, and equality;
- "collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all;
- "people in harmony with nature;
- "recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own;
- "elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism;
- "peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth"
Anyone who has any doubts about the urgency of seeking distributive and restorative justice should take a look at this recent article. Additional evidence can be easily found by visiting the The World Top Incomes Database of the Paris School of Economics as well as the latest UN data on the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index. The purpose of examining these data should not be to assign blame. The purpose is to reflect on all the factors lurking under the data and the mindboggling complexity of interactions among them.
This brings back to mind the metaphor of the seemingly impenetrable "ball of hair" formed by these issues as they interact overtime. There is no way in the world that all the underlying issues can be analyzed - at the local, national, and global levels - in order to produce an all-encompassing synthesis of policies to foster (democratically or any other way) attaining the eight goals listed in the People's Agreement. Humanity will have to "muddle through" the transition from where we are to where we want to be, and human behavior while "muddling through" will determine how great - and how painful - the transition will be. Collective human wisdom will be the most crucial factor if the transition is to be attained in a civilized manner. Fostering a global citizen movement will be instrumental for collective human wisdom to be heard.
Collective human wisdom also can be heard if we listen attentively to the so-called "signs of the times." If there is a sign that is peculiar to this point in human history, it is the extraordinary emergence of the movement for gender equality, which is no longer restricted to overcome the patriarchal subjugation of women but seeks full equality (equality, not uniformity) along the entire "gender continuum." Is collective human wisdom telling us that this is the key issue or at least one of the key issues to be resolved - in both society and religion - in order to disentangle all the other issues and make visible how to attain the transition from consumerism to sustainability? It is reasonable to think that this is indeed the case and, as Arundhati Roy has pointed out, "Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
Ecological and Technological Dimensions
Pachamama - Mother Earth
"All flesh is grass."|
"Is it not enough for you
to feed on the good pasture?
Must you also trample the rest
of your pasture with your feet?
Is it not enough for you
to drink clear water?
Must you also muddy
the rest with your feet?"
Climate Change - UNFCCC
The rarity of integral human development is also the root cause of the current ecological crisis. The conference of Cochabamba, and the ensuing People's Agreement, were motivated by both social and ecological injustice. Thus the text of the People's Agreement includes a careful balancing of human rights and the rights of Pachamama ("Mother Earth" in Aymara and Quechua, the indigenous languages of the Andes):
"In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not possible to recognize rights only to the human part without provoking an imbalance in the system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth. For this purpose, we propose [that the following be included in a] Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth:
- "the right to live and to exist;
- "the right to be respected;
- "the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration;
- "the right to maintain their identity and integrity as differentiated beings, self-regulated and interrelated;
- "the right to water as the source of life;
- "the right to clean air;
- "the right to comprehensive health;
- "the right to be free of contamination and pollution, free of toxic and radioactive waste;
- "the right to be free of alterations or modifications of it’s genetic structure in a manner that threatens it’s integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
- "the right to prompt and full restoration for violations to the rights acknowledged in this Declaration caused by human activities"
To read the entire proposal, click here. For another insightful analysis of the impending ecological crisis, see The Stockholm Memorandum. These documents admirably describe where we are and where we want to go. But they beg the question, how to go from here to there?
In today's world, fossil fuels provide the grease that makes the "ball of hair" sticky, hard to disentangle, and impossible to comb. It is kind of a solidified disorder that is impossible to reorder without first diluting all the sticky stuff, and the recent debacle in the Gulf of Mexico showed how difficult the diluting process is. Damaging disorder is nothing new in nature or, for that matter, in human affairs. This issue continues the series on gender equality and clean energy. There is an incalculable number of vexing issues that relate, directly or indirectly, to sustainable human development. It is not unlike a ball of hair that defies combing. Hair threads (human issues) must be disentangled before they can be combed (issues resolved). Sometimes a few streams of hair can be found that make the disentangling and combing easier. Else, combing can be achieved only at the expense of losing some hair threads; an option that is undesirable if human rights are to be preserved.
The working hypothesis that emerges at the end of this series is that combing the human development "ball of hair" is made easier by first untangling two issues: divisive gender inequalities and greasy fossil fuels. Gender inequalities are the most universal source of disunity and hostility in human affairs. In today's world, fossil fuels provide the grease that makes the "ball of hair" sticky, hard to disentangle, and impossible to comb. There is an intrinsic nexus between gender equality and clean energy: both, taken together, are necessary and sufficient to sustain human activity.
When the original unity of man and woman was broken, thereby breaking the integrity of their biological "unity in diversity," social entropy (disunity, disorder, violence) ensued in human affairs. Energy is required to sustain all human activity, and social entropy requires additional energy to sustain social cohesion and "keep the peace." In today's world, the use of fossil fuels as a source of "cheap" energy also exacerbates physical entropy (resource depletion, GHG emissions, climate change) throughout the human habitat. It is proposed that cross-gender solidarity and clean energy enable each other and, combined together, would bring social and physical entropy to a sustainable level. The following working hypothesis, based on
human male-female biology and the second law of thermodynamics, is offered for consideration:
Attaining gender equality in all human affairs,|
and transitioning from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy,
are both necessary and sufficient for sustainable human development.
Consider the following (click here for biological and psychological substantiation):
Each human person is unique, but all human beings share one and the same human nature.
Indeed, there are significant (and not only genital) differences between men and women.
But gender differences do not cancel the fundamental "unity in diversity" across the gender continuum.
Biologically, in terms of statistically significant propensities, men are generally "wired" to invade and conquer, while women are generally "wired" to nurture and stabilize.
Psychologically, there is woman in man ("anima") and there is man in woman ("animus").
Healthy masculinity and femininity are mutually complementary, but not mutually exclusive.
Human development leads men to become more nurturing and women to become more aggressive.
However, for the vast majority of men and women, biology prevails over psychology in driving behavior.
Thus the criticality of gender balance in roles of responsibility and authority in both society and religion.
The transition from patriarchy to gender equality would significantly improve harmony and collaboration between humans, and between humans and the human habitat, thus decreasing the amount of entropy generated by human activity. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy would have inter-industry impacts that would also mitigate the amount of entropy during the transition and, furthermore, restructure the entire economic system so as to sustainably reverse the remaining entropy generated by human activity. If these two propositions turn out to be correct, then the above hypothesis isolates two threads in the "ball of hair" that, if untangled concurrently, would pave the way for untangling all the other threads. Surely, panacea is not to be expected as a result, but it should be easier to deal with two sources of entropy than an infinite number of sources; and there is good visibility on what specific actions should be taken to foster gender equality and clean energy.
While we wisely pray for an "act of God" and (probably not so wisely) wait for some earthshaking technological breakthrough to get humanity off the hook, due diligence calls for action on gender equality and clean energy, and sooner rather than later. But practically all forms of action must be filtered via the political process: this is "where the rubber meets the road" and it is duly noted in passing that both rubber and asphalt (among many other things) are byproducts of petroleum.
Finally, the rarity of human development is the root cause of the pathetic lack of political will to face critical issues - such as the impending ecological crisis - in a diligent and civilized manner. With very few exceptions, denial and/or scapegoating are the methods of choice by politicians when they cannot avoid facing the music. In some countries, corruption is rampant and both monetary and fiscal policies are used to enrich government officials. Even in the most "democratic" industrialized nations, most politicians are subservient to the vested interests that fund their lamentably expensive election campaigns. The "socialist democracy" - a democracy in which every citizen and every politician recognizes that working for the long term common good is good for everyone in the long term - is yet to be invented; and we cannot look to the past for guidance, for even Plato's Republic would be an undesirable utopia. Who wants to be at the mercy of "philosopher-kings"?
Both gender equality and clean energy are politically sensitive issues. In the United States, the Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, has yet to be passed. The United States has the dubious distinction of being one of the few nations that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. And, the United States of America also has the shameful distinction of being the only industrialized nation that refused to endorse the Kyoto Protocol for reducing GHG emissions. Why? Because it is "bad for business." This juxtaposition of resistance to both gender equality and clean energy in the richest and most powerful nation on earth may or may not be coincidental, but is worth noting.
Resistance to gender equality is mostly cultural and to a significant extent rooted in religious patriarchy - which is the most difficult to overcome. Regardless of all the patronizing tactics and rationalizations, the exclusion of women from roles of religious authority is the worst attack on womanhood; even more so now that it can be recognized as such by anyone willing to see the nefariously violent consequences (for both men and women, boys and girls) of the patriarchal mindset that preceded all the major religions - and all human languages - and biased them all from the very beginning. Old habits die hard, but overcoming religious patriarchy might be mercifully expedited by cancelling tax exemptions and public subsidies to religious institutions that persist in excluding women from authoritative roles in official teaching and public worship. They are free to keep doing it, but tax payers should not have to support gender inequality in religion - and it is well known that religion has an enormous influence on culture.
Resistance to clean energy is mostly economic - a direct consequence of the obsession for short-term financial gain regarless of long-term consequences and the common good. There are well known remedies, such as financial speculation taxes and resource value taxes - both of which are adamantly opposed by powerful vested interests that politicians cannot ignore. The ecological economist Herman Daly provides a good summary of what should be taxed and what should not be taxed in a recent article (see also this ecological economics tutorial). Setting these taxes at the right levels would allow subsidizing the commercialization of clean energy, eliminating taxes on income, and instituting distributive justice measures such as the guaranteed basic income. The task is now to transform these politically impossible solutions into politically inevitable actions, and to do so before it is too late.
Both in the USA and worldwide, the best chance of getting this done is by supporting global citizen movements such as The Widening Circle. Whether or not these groups share the same strategic and tactical priorities doesn't matter much. It is suggested, however, that they all play the game according to some core principles: nonviolence, social justice, gender equality, harmony between humanity and the human habitat. Consensus on these basic principles is still evolving and must be allowed to mature by experience "on the ground." At the moment, open flows of ideas and initiatives are more important than specific strategies or tactics. The rules of the game will coalesce as the circles become wider and richer in nested circles; and as Mother Earth cries louder for breathing room. If the reader is already active in one of these groups, press on; else, write to the editor who will be happy to put you in touch with some good circles.
TRANSITION STRATEGY AND TACTICS
In the previous section, it is stated that attaining gender equality in all human affairs, and transitioning from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy, are both necessary and sufficient for sustainable human development. Needless to say, this statement is not to be taken as one of mathematical certainty. Nothing is certain about the future of human affairs. The hypothesis that gender equality and clean energy are "necessary and sufficient" drivers for the transition to sustainability is about degrees of certainty and degrees of pain:
- NECESSITY - Unless significant and timely progress is made in both gender equality and clean energy, it is highly uncertain that humanity can survive the transition without experiencing a high degree of pain.
- SUFFICIENCY - If significant and timely progress is made toward both gender equality and clean energy, then it is highly certain that humanity can survive the transition with a moderate degree of pain.
This is a working hypothesis that may or may not stand the test of time. But it is a useful working hypothesis in that it enables identification and time-phasing of concrete policy decisions - and implementation actions - pursuant to testing the hypothesis and, hopefully, eliciting alternative hypothesis that might be better. It is time to go beyond merely describing the sustainable development paradox. It is time to start untangling the "ball of hair" even if we get our hands dirty with millennial dust and greasy oil. This is the challenge going forward in the 21st century: "Caminante, no hay camino; se hace camino al andar" (Antonio Machado, Spain, 1875-1939).
Where do we go from here? Preliminary versions of the following time-phasing of policy decisions/actions have been offered for consideration in the June 2011 and July 2011 issues of this journal. Another "working draft" is presented below. Nothing will be final until the transition is accomplished. The reader is cordially invited to consider this proposal, pick it apart, and come up with better (more certain, less painful) alternatives.
Note: The following acronyms, and terminology are used in this transition concept and subsequent discussion:
A brief synopsis of each phase of the transition concept is provided below. For specifics see Supplements 3 and 4.
Financial Transaction Tax (FTT)|
Global Citizens Movement (GCM)
Human Development (HD)
Human Development Index (HDI)
Human Development Report (HDR)
Integral Human Development (IHD)
International Standards Organization (ISO)
Land Value Tax (LVT) or Resource Value Tax (RVT)
Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs (MASLOW)|
Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
Principle of Solidarity (SOLIDARITY)
Principle of Subsidiarity (SUBSIDIARITY)
Principle of Sustainability (SUSTAINABILITY)
Sustainable Development (SD)
Sustainable Human Development (SHD)
Triple Bottom Line (TBL)
There are four phases in this transition concept:
- The first phase (2011-2020) is concientization to enable incentivation
The objective is to create widespread popular support for the required revisions of tax codes and energy subsidies. In other words, the first phase is about creating a collective mindset of global citizenship and social responsibility, strong enough to translate into political will to face the inevitable transition and implement required reforms. Gender equality is key.
- The second phase (2021-2030) is incentivation to enable redistribution
The objective is to reform tax codes and energy subsidies to expedite the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. Applicable reforms include shifting taxes from earned income to the usage (extraction) of unearned resources and the release of pollution, as well as taxing financial transactions of dubious social value.
- The third phase (2031-2040) is redistribution to enable democratization
The objective is to institutionalize democracy with distributive justice. Applicable reforms include adopting a Universally Guaranteed Personal Income (i.e., a basic minimum income rather than a minimum wage) and a Maximum Allowable Personal Wealth (i.e., an upper limit on financial wealth accumulation) that can be democratically adjusted periodically.
- The fourth phase (2041-2050) is worldwide democratization
The objective is democratization of global, national, and local governance with widely institutionalized implementation of the solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability principles. Decisions are to be made at the lowest possible level consistent with governance capabilities and the common good of the global commonwealth.
Supplements 3 and 4 summarize the strategic and tactical resources that could make a positive contribution to carry forward this transition. It is proposed that this transition is feasible - but not by either technological fixes or financial funding alone. In fact, it is anticipated that success or failure will depend mostly on human attitudes, human behavior, and the collaborative effort of governments, educational and religious institutions, and global citizens.
The Time is Now
"Will we be remembered|
as the generation that
turned our backs in a
moment of global crisis?"
Humanity does not have an infinite amount of time to change course in pursuing infinite growth in a finite planet. Infinite growth, yes; but infinite growth in human development, not in material consumption and the accumulation of widgets. That a radical change in human behavior and priorities is needed has been made evident in recent climate meetings in Copenhagen and Cancún, where nothing tangible was accomplished in matters of distributive and restorative justice. Instead, we have witnessed the sad spectacle of nations pointing fingers at each other and trying to evade the real issues by playing silly games such as "carbon credits." Recent news about financial problems in the European Union, and the current gridlock in managing the outrageous national debt in the United States, do not bode well for the future of humanity. Greed begets greed and, as Gandhi once said, "the earth has enough for everyone's need but not for anyone's greed."
The combination of gender equality and clean energy has been proposed as a necessary and sufficient driver for the transition from consumerism to sustainability. It is an eclectic combination pursuant to concrete policy decisions and actions, and it is offered for consideration as the most promising way going forward albeit without any presumption of mathematical certainty. For more information on strategies for the transition, click here. For more information on tactics to foster the transition, click here. It is time for all global citizens to start "muddling through" this transition, unprecedented in human history.