Friday, December 11, 2009

World 'leaders' in short supply

We are told by the media that the world’s leaders are gathering in Copenhagen. But what does the term “leader” mean in this context?

An event organised by A World to Win at the Whitechapel Gallery in London looked at the lessons of the revolutions of 1989 that brought down the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe. One key point made, was that without the leadership offered by Mikhail Gorbachev and the group around him, events could not have happened in the way that they did.

Maintaining the status quo of bureaucratic power and the one-party state was not their priority; nor did they believe it was the only route open to them. The hopeless war in Afghanistan, the crisis in the economy and the civil corruption represented by the Chernobyl disaster were straws in the wind that Gorbachev understood. As a result, he created a break in the Stalinist wall, through which the masses of Eastern Europe poured.

Is this the type of leader that is present in Copenhagen where, it has been suggested, the future of the planet is being decided? Clearly not. The maintenance of the capitalist status quo is their be-all and end-all. They have watched it descend into economic chaos, on a global scale, and yet they are determined to carry on.

Their sole commitment is not to democracy, or “the people” or the earth’s environment, but to the global corporations and the fossilised perspective that they represent the only possible economic form available to humanity.

Capitalism - by its nature - must eventually process the whole substance of the eco-system, into profit. It is an anti-evolutionary system, dragging nature backwards from abundant, evolving life to the brink of no-life, as the latest update of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species shows.

The list reveals that 21% of all known mammals, 30% of all known amphibians, 12% of all known birds and 32% of all known gymnosperms (conifers and cycads) are threatened with extinction. Sea shellfish and molluscs are threatened by the increased acidification of the seas, with serious impacts higher up the marine food chain. Data from the conservation organisation BirdLife shows that over 400 bird species have already suffered climate-driven impacts.

“The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “January sees the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity. The latest analysis of the IUCN Red List shows the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss will not be met. It’s time for governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it’s high on their agendas for next year, as we’re rapidly running out of time.”

Outside the official conference in Copenhagen there are many people who recognise these realities. One the emerging figures of the Conference is Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat who said: "We will not walk out of the talks at this late hour, because we will not allow the failure of Copenhagen. But we will not sign an inequitable deal; we will not accept a deal that condemns 80% of the world population to further suffering and injustice."

Let’s see if he means it, if any of these leaders – including those for whose countries climate change represents a threat to their very existence – have the courage to walk away from a dirty political deal, as these African delegates and campaigners demanded.

Is there is any chance of a break down of the “business-as-usual” consensus inside the conference, which would greatly help those of us trying to break the status quo outside? We shall see. But with it, or without it, we must seek answers to climate change outside of the existing capitalist structures because they are the problem and not the solution.
Penny Cole
Environment editor

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