April 24, 2011

Green Capitalism: A Failure

The following is a powerpoint of a presentation that I did at the Left Forum 2011.
The outline is very condensed and I will be glad to respond to any requests for additional information.

April 16, 2011

What Happened to the Arab Spring? Ask Saudi Arabia.

The Arab countries, each and every one, have the distinction of being ruled by undemocratic and illiberal regimes. This has been the case at least since the era of independence that started almost a century ago. Even prior to WWI the Arab Middle East, under the Ottoman rule, did not experience a major revolutionary movement demanding sovereignty, and personal liberty despite the fact the Turkish rule was ruthless and exploitative.

Many a study has concluded that the Arab countries have failed to actualize their potential and that the region as a whole has trailed practically all parts of the world in economic, political and social development save for sub Saharan Africa. This is why so many in the region as a whole and in the rest of the world were elated when the Tunisian popular uprising was followed by the one in Egypt. These promising and exciting developments led so many to talk about an Arab Spring that has finally arrived to transform the region and deliver on the promise of economic, social and possibly environmental development.

The euphoria was contagious. Demonstrators went to the streets of Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. The last four weeks have even witnessed popular movements all across Syria. Is the Arab Spring here to stay? Is it a historical moment similar to the annus mirabilis of 1848 in Europe?

The Arab Spring appears to have been overwhelmed by a deep frost that might just kill all of the revolutionary buds. With the exception of Tunisia the revolutionary zeal has been either co-opted by the old established ruling class, Egypt is currently ruled by a 75 year old general who has never shown any predilection for democracy and individual freedom. The army has actually imprisoned a blogger for having assumed that it was his natural right to express his point of view.
In Libya it is even worse, much worse. The Libyan dictator or mad man Qaddafi would rather carry a civil war, orders the army to strafe civilian protestors and unleash savage artillery bombardments of those that dare ask for an end to the cult of personality rule. Colonel Qaddafi’s efforts to subdue brutally civilian demonstrators were halted, at least temporarily, by the United Nations Security Council who came to the rescue of the besieged civilians. The French, British and US aerial support has given way two weeks ago to NATO who has not been able to keep up the pressure on the Qaddafi loyalists. It appears currently that what looked to be another victory for the popular masses has been brought to a standstill. Qaddafi might still be defeated but this does not mean that democracy and freedom are about to follow.

Then there is Syria and Bahrain. Two nascent revolutionary movements struggling with established dictatorships. In Syria the Assad regime of the Baath party has promised a modicum of reforms, not the least of which is the lifting of the emergency rules that have been established almost half a century ago. The demonstrators in Syria were initially encouraged by the UNSC resolution on Libya calling for the protection of the peaceful demonstrators. These hopes were squashed when Saudi Arabia in conjunction with Hillary Clinton gave the present regime in Syria the moral support that it needed to deal brutally with the demonstrators. Thanks to the efforts of the Saudi King, the world s’ sole absolute monarchy, the aspirations of the people of Bahrain and Syria have been dealt a serious setback.

Under the best of circumstances, the chances for an Arab Spring were never overwhelming. But the possibility of success has been dealt a major blow by the unholy union of reactionary forces led by Saudi Arabia whose king was not in favour of even allowing the Egyptian masses to remove the corrupt Mubarak regime in Egypt. Unfortunately these reactionary forces cannot be dismissed since Saudi Arabia controls the daily production of 10 million barrels of oil in a world described best by Peak Oil scarcities.

Yet, despite all of this, the blame for the failure of the Arab Spring does not lie totally on the shoulders of the reactionary Saudi regime and the dictatorships that it supports. How can the Saudis support democratic representation when they are the antithesis of such societal make ups? The real ultimate reason for an Arab Spring is the same one that has haunted the Arab world for centuries. It is the lack of a strong personal commitment to the ideas of personal liberty, freedom, equality and secularism. It seems that we are destined to continue offering our allegiances to local tribes instead of cultivating the notion of citizenship and equality.

April 04, 2011

Ecological Footprint of the Arab World: Disasterous.

It is so common to speak about environmental degradation but unfortunately no country or group of people seem to be willing to do anything meaningful about the single most important challenge that humanity has ever faced. The problem does not manifest itself in the area of prognosis. A large number of studies by individuals, universities, governments and the UN have concluded as a result of numerous detailed studies that the world is full and that business as usual will only lead to disastrous outcomes, possibly collapse, and total collapse of civilization.
Furthermore if collapse is to be the outcome then it would not be the first time that the human inability to take decisive corrective action has resulted in ruin. Just ask the Incas , the Mayans and the inhabitants of Easter Island..
Obviously the adoption of meaningful sustainable measures is in everyone’s interest. But yet we have failed to undertake a single measure anywhere in the world that would move us in the right direction. Why? The answer is very simple. Capitalism cannot accept a no growth economy irrespective of the fact that all our studies tell us that the world is full and cannot accommodate any more growth. Actually we know that the present level of economic activity is beyond the carrying capacity of the globe and so sustainability demands major significant cuts in the level of economic activity if we are to have a shot at preventing a climate change of over 2 degrees Celsius.

One of the most common measures of sustainability is that of the ecological footprint. That is simply an estimate of the resources consumed by each person in order to lead the average life style in each country. Studies have shown that at the present the global resources available per person are less than 2 hectares. It follows therefore, that whenever the average footprint per capita of the citizens of a nation is above 2 hectares then that country is operating at a global deficit. This simply means that these citizens are maintaining a life style that we cannot afford, as a planet and that this state of affairs can only result in disastrous outcomes for everyone. That is the message of the Tragedy of the Commons that Hardin has popularized almost fifty years ago .

The Arab world appears to be split into groups. The oil producers in addition to Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia consume at a level that much above the global average. Ironically, the largest ecological footprint in the world belongs to the UAE with approximately about 16 hectares per person. The 3rd highest footprint belongs to Kuwait with 10.31 hectares per person then Saudi Arabia ranks 17th in the world with 6.15 hectares per capita. Lebanon ranks 52nd in the world with a footprint of 3.19 hectares per capita.

Not all of the Arab countries belong to the group of overconsumption. Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco have a per capita ecological footprint that ranges between 1.79 and 1.56 hectares. This implies that each of these countries could increase slightly its level of consumption and yet stay within the global carrying capacity. Sudan on the other hand has an ecological footprint of only 1.14 hectares per capita.
A simple calculation of the total deficit created by the Arab world as a whole reveals the uncomfortable fact that we are in a deficit of about 200 million hectares annually. If we , as a region, are to take our responsibilities towards a sustainable world seriously then we have no choice but to :
(1) adopt strict population policies that would result in decreasing the size of the human population of the region. Stabilizing the population is not acceptable and to continue , unchecked, the current rates of growth in population are immoral and irresponsible.
(2) The level of consumption in the region as a whole is excessive and steps must be taken to limit it to levels that would correspond to a sustainable level.
(3) No doubt that a few are consuming too much and many do not have enough and this calls for strong redistribution efforts.
(4) And lastly we have to confront head on the question of whether any of the above can be realistically achieved under capitalism?

Since it should be clear that the answer to #4 is clearly a resounding no and since we will not change the current societal structure then we should not be surprised when the inevitable collapse takes place. We have no one to blame but ourselves.