Tuscany Spring Conference
Speech to a conference of businessmen (from tape). by José A. Lutzenberger Mankind finds itself in an absurd situation today. 20 per cent of us humans, that is, most of the so called First World and the rich in the rest, live a suicidal life-style, consumerism, a life-style that is not sustainable, not even for this minority. It can only be maintained by raping the Earth. There is hardly a patch that we are not yet in some way exploiting or getting ready to exploit. We are now interfering with, degrading, poisoning the last wildernesses, we are messing up all the life support systems. This cannot continue very much longer.
It will take us to collapses that would certainly mean the end of Civilisation and would cripple Creation irreversably. Yet, the prevailing doctrine says that this life-style should be extended to the whole of the planet. When you listen to the big managers of big business today, for instance the big bosses of the automobile industry in Germany, they are now rejoicing in anticipation of the enormous new markets for cars that they are convinced will open in China and in India and all over the Third World. They really think that our life-style can be extended to all of Humanity.
Let's just make a very simple extrapolation. Today, we have 500 million cars, personal cars, without including trucks and other utility vehicles worldwide. If only the Chinese had as many cars, one or two cars per family, as we have in the UK, Germany, France, Canada and the US or Japan, and even among the upper classes in Brazil (where I live in Southern Brazil we are First World, too), it would already be an unbearable situation, and if the whole world had the same rate of cars to people, we would have something like 3 billion cars and we would probably all be dead. The Earth cannot take it. Fortunately, there are not enough resources for that. But this is the aim of the prevailing economic doctrine, so there is something fundamentally wrong with our aims. It is really amazing, how this kind of thinking can still be adhered to by the powerful. I know only one government in the world that does not think in terms of extending this life-style to the whole planet - Butan.
All our economic thinking and financial and tax policies for development are based on the premise that the whole planet can be like Germany or Holland. It is really amazing how intelligent people can accept this kind of thinking. Maybe it is because we have a very absurd contradiction in our present global culture. Our present global industrialist culture is based one hundred per cent on science and technology, but most people, over 90 per cent, even among those who consider themselves cultured, are total illiterates in natural science and technology and almost all those who know something are specialists. They know very much in one particular field and are illiterate for the rest.
Also, the way progress is measured by our economists and the powerful in government, the public administrators, is by what they call the "Gross National Product", also called Gross Domestic Product or Gross Internal Product. Well, when the GNP is used, as it is, as a measure of progress, it is the most stupid, the most absurd, the most pernicious index that could ever have been thought of to measure progress by a discipline that calls itself scientific, and economists seem to think that they are being scientific.
But, what is the Gross National Product or GNP? It is only the sum of all the money that flows in an economy, without asking what that money flows for, what it causes in its flow. So, this measurement, this index, the GNP, when it was conceived (I think it must have been immediately after the last World War, before that nobody ever talked of Gross National Product, as far as I can remember) was seen only as an index of national income. It just added up all the incomes. Whenever money changes hands, somebody has an income. But this, of course, says nothing about what that income is for. When robbers and bandits cause money to move, it also increases GNP. When a plane crashes, suppose a 747 crashes, that will move a lot of money in the economy. When the airline receives the money, probably something like 40 million dollars, from the insurance, that increases our GNP by 40 million dollars. When they buy a new plane later, it grows by the same amount again and if there are survivors, all the costs of medicine and hospital and so on will also increase the GNP, as will the bills of the undertakers who bury the dead. So, the more accidents we have, the better. The more calamities and so on, the better in terms of GNP. Economists and governments see progress...!
I don't really see how this index could still be used to measure progress. It was meant only as an index of national income, but even then, it tells us nothing whatever about social justice. In my country, in Brazil, we have a Gross National Product of something like 3,500 dollars per capita per year. But, we have people making hundreds of millions of dollars a year, mostly from subsidies from government, steeling the people, and we have a lot of poor guys, millions of them, having to make a living with not much more than 500 dollars a year and having to feed a family of ten or fifteen on that. So, what does 3,500 dollars mean? It means absolutely nothing. It is as if I were to say »I am feeling quite comfortable, I have my left foot in liquid nitrogen, 200 degrees below zero and my right foot in liquid tin, 230 degrees above zero - average 30º C, I am OK.« That is what the Brazilian Gross National Product does, or the Gross National Product of India, that is below 1,000 dollars. They have people making millions there and others who don't have enough to eat.
So, GNP means nothing in terms of social justice and absolutely nothing in terms of true national wealth, because it adds up everything, all movement of money is added up. Suppose you are the owner of a pub and you buy a barrel of beer at a price X and after you sold the beer to your customers in single glasses, you had a turnover of 2 X and you had a lot of expenses, too. A sane businessman, and I am a businessman myself, would take the 2 X minus X and minus all the expenses. He would add up all his income and deduct all his costs and then, if there is something left, he knows he made a profit. But what do governments do? They add the X (the cost of the beer) plus the 2 X, the income from it, plus the expenses. Yes, the Gross National Product is that kind of index. They add everything, income and costs, because they go from the idea that every time money changes hands, somebody is having an income. But they don't ask what that income is doing to the economy. I might as well, if I am the owner of that pub, buy beer at 2 X and sell it at 1 X. With that kind of calculation I would have a high turnover and would feel great, but I would be broke. Unfortunately this is the kind of calculation that most governments are making today. It tells us absolutely nothing about social justice, it tells us nothing about real national wealth.
Take our situation in Brazil. We are flooding thousands of square kilometers of pristine rainforest to make electricity for 3 aluminium mills that export aluminium to the First World, so it can make such absurd, obscene things as aluminium beer cans for one use - and then - garbage. Well, in our national accounts the foreign currency that Brazil earns from the export of the aluminium is added up into our Gross National Product, but nowhere do we deduct the loss of the ore in the mountains, the demolition of the whole mountain, the 100 thousand square kilometers of forest that were destroyed in another operation to make it possible to export cheap pig iron to Europe, which is made with charcoal. The whole state of Minas Gerais, something like 400 thousand square kilometers, was razed. Nowhere do we deduct anything of that sort in our GNP. When the US will have pumped out its last barrel of oil from the ground, they will feel richer. But in fact, they are poorer. It is as if I went to my bank, took money from my account, spent it in orgies or silly things, and then considered myself richer afterwards. But I am poorer! There is less money on my account. But governments don't see that, they see only the flow of money.
So, really, I would say we need a completely different index. Instead of GNP, we should make the kind of balance that a business does. In a business, I add up, as I said before, all my income, plus my existing capital and deduct all my costs and my depreciation. Suppose, I have tractors and trucks and cranes and cars in my company, when a car breaks down I deduct it from my capital, and my machines, as they age, are written off. But there is no write-off in our national accounts. Every country today is poorer than it was only 10 years ago. The US and all other countries are infinitely poorer than they were 100 years ago, but we all consider ourselves richer. It is really incredible to see what economists and public administrators call growth. Most of it is demolition - the demolition of Nature, the demolition of life supporting systems. Look at this valley here. By now, there is hardly any free space left. How much growth can there still be, before there is no more place to grow crops to feed the people? Holland has about 20 per cent of its national territory covered by buildings and pavement. There was a doubling in the last 20 or so years. When I first saw Amsterdam in my life - that was in the early 50's - it was such a marvellous city. It is still beautiful, in a sense. But then, it was almost the old city only. Today, when driving out of Amsterdam to the airport, it is at least 20 km of something, I don't know what to call it, it looks more like you are in the US than in Europe. The most ugly type of development, big factories and supermarkets, and most of it totally ugly! Thousands of hectares of previously agriculturally productive land covered by buildings and factories. How many times can this doubling continue? Twenty per cent, forty, eighty and that's it. But our politicians and the Dutch too, want this kind of growth to continue indefinitely.
The basic dogma of our present economic thinking is that an economy is only healthy when it grows. An economy that doesn't grow is a sick economy. But how long can something grow? When I was born, I grew at the rate of doubling my weight in the first three months, every baby doubles its weight in the first three months, but in the second three months it cannot double any more and then less and less. But, imagine, if I, with my 68 years of age, had doubled my weight every three months, I would had doubled 272 times. Figure that out on a modern pocket calculator - many, many times the size of the known Universe.
So, there is something fundamentally wrong with our basic economic doctrine. Our economies simply cannot keep on growing in terms of money flow only. We need a different index. We should figure out something like Net National Wealth, where we would deduct everything that we destroy or lose. When we make a new superhighway and cover one thousand or two tousand hectares of pristine forest or of agricultural land with pavements and so on, we would have to deduct that from our capital, including all future productivity lost. Like in the balance of a company, we must deduct from the capital whatever is lost or sold.
Also, one of the other important postulates of our present economic thinking is that there is no limit to demands. Well, how many TVs can I have in my house? One in every toilet, one in the kitchen, one in the living room, how many more? But economic thinking today is based on the principle that there is no limit to needs.
The British American Buddhist philosopher, Alan Watts, characterised our present culture as not being materialist. We call ourselves materialists but that is not true. If we were true materialists, like the Indians and the forest people who value material things and see the forest as sacred, then we would know limits to what we want. I can have one, two, three cups of coffee for breakfast but not 25! I cannot even desire 50 cups of coffee. So, if I am a true materialist, I know true limits to things. But we are abstractionists, we are more interested in numbers on accounts than in true things. When, what we want is bigger numbers there is no limit. After a million, there comes a billion and a trillion and quintillion and so on. I can write a gugol and raise the gugol to another gugol, there is no limit to numbers, but there are very definite limits to things. Most of all, to the span of our lives.
There is another dogma in economic thinking. I heard it repeated many times here in the sessions I attended in the last two or three days. We seem to think that we have to convert all the remaining countries that are still different, that are still genuine, that still adhere to old traditions. We think that we have to take them into the market economy. So, the Indian in the Amazon who is still in his intact culture and who has a GNP of zero, because he doesn't even know what money is, we have to bring him into our consumer society. We call him backward. When we still see people somewhere in the world running around naked in the forest, we say - »My God, poor people, how backward they are. We have to do something about civilizing them.« We don't ask, »are they happier than we are?« Just like the Christian missionary doesn't ask whether the religion he is going to replace, the mythology he is going to destroy, is any better than his. This is another important aspect. Our global industrialist culture that has conquered the whole Planet, which actually is a fanatic religion, inherited from Christianity its worst and most pernicious trait. The urge to go everywhere as a missionary. We are the only ones who are right and all the others are wrong. We have to teach them our ways. Modern Industrial Society does exactly what the old missionaries did, whether Christian or Muslim.
And now there is a new dogma, the economy must be globalised.That is what we have all those common markets for, the European Common Market, NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Association). Now, on the southern tip of South America, we have MERCOSUL, which includes Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina and, it seems, soon Chile will join. Then, we have organisations such as GATT and the World Trade Organisation and IMF and so on, and the tendency is to globalise the economy. Everything must be produced where it can be produced cheapest. If something can be produced cheaper in Australia than in Holland, then the Dutch should import it from Australia. Fortunately, this is not happening yet, but almost. We in Brazil already buy Dutch beer and the Dutch buy Mexican beer. The tendency is for this kind of situation, to become totally globalised.
Also, the basic doctrine of this religion is never explicitly stated. All previous great religions and political movements had explicit doctrines, explained in their catecisms, holy books or manifestos. But, modern industrialism has no prophet and no holy book. Its doctrine is presented only implicitly. But, it is presented to us in everything that politicians say and everybody accepts it as common sense. So, when people still call themselves Catholics, or Protestants, Jews or Moslems, that is mostly folklore. The true religion is Consumerism. We all want bigger cars, better TVs with bigger screens, better and bigger houses, more and more of everything, more even of new things we cannot even imagine yet. The powerful want us to confuse this attitude with common sense. It is in their interest.
And now, we are faced with the increasing globalisation of the economy. The last 50 to 100 years were a catastrophe for most of Mankind. Well, this type of disaster will now get even worse. If globalisation is taken to the extremes envisioned by the powerful, if we allow that to happen, then, in the next 20 or 30 years, not a few hundred million people but, maybe, two or three billion people will be uprooted. In the last 50 years or so, several hundred million people were driven off their land. Why is it that cities like Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Manilla, my home town, Porto Alegre, the capital of the southernmost state in Brazil are all exploding? When I was a young man, in the 40's, Porto Alegre had three hundred thousand inhabitants. We had no slums. Workers, at the time, lived a modest life. They were not rich, they were humble in lifestyle, but they had their own pride and they had a humanly satisfying life. They owned their own house, usually it was a wooden house, something like the old Russian datchas, and they owned their own lot. Then, from the end of the 40's and the beginning of the 50's, overnight, we had what we then called the "villages fallen from the sky" (vilas caídas do céu), later the word applied in Rio de Janeiro, "favela", took over. It all started with industrialisation and with modern agriculture.
About a year and a half ago, I was invited by a farmer's organisation in India to speak at a Congress in Bangalore. The day before that Congress opened, there was a demonstration - it had to be outside town, it would not have fitted into town, a demonstration of five hundred thousand people, five hundred thousand farmers, from all over India, from Pakistan and Bangladesh, from Sri Lanka, from Taiwan and Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, from the island countries, the Philippines and Indonesia, all the way to New Guinea, and there were also some South Americans, Central Americans and Mexicans present. What were they protesting against? They were protesting against GATT, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank, the IMF, biotechnology. I don't know to what extend you know what is happening in biotechnology, now, that it was appropriated by the chemical industry to make the farmers still more dependent, to take away from them the little that is left, their own seeds. But, I am not going into detail now. Well, these people were also demonstrating for something, for organic farming, because they know that that is the only way out. Farmers must again become self-supporting.
Before I came here, I spent a week in Austria, with Austrian farmers, who are now scared stiff after their country, their politicians, against their will, decided to enter the Common Market. What will happen now? Thousands of Austrian farmers will have to give up. This is already happening and is continuing, even in Germany, today. Last year, in October, I was in the Mosela Valley. There you can see all over, on the higher slopes, the vinyards that are going into scrub. When you talk to the old people who are still harvesting, they say, »well, when we retire, our children will not be able to continue.« Traditions, hundreds of years old, are disappearing. Not only are the wine growers giving up, all the artisans, the ones who make the barrels, f.i., the coopers and others are giving up.
All over the world today, all historically and organically grown social structures that are humanly significant, that give people a feeling of belonging, of meaningfulness in life, that are ecologically sustainable, all these social structures, whether they be peasants, small farmers, artisans, fishers, nomadic people, whether they be rubber tappers in the Amazon or other forest dwellers, all the tribal, indigenous or aboriginal people, they are all being disempowered, demoralised, uprooted, when not directly annihilated, as is still happening in some places in the Amazon. We call this "progress". There really is something fundamentally wrong with our present industrial culture. If progress means increasing wellbeing, more contentment, happiness, harmony, a feeling of belonging and so on for a growing number of people, then, what we witness today has nothing to do with progress. We must really redefine, »What do we mean by progress? What do we mean by development?
We are today 5.6, maybe 5.8 billion people in the world and about three billion are still rural, living in traditional social structures. If the globalisation of the economy continues, as is desired by the powerful today, another billion people will be uprooted in the next ten or twenty years. This will have awful consequences, it will lead to uncontrollable mass migrations. We must realise that all these common markets and GATT and so on are not conceived by people for the people. They are conceived by the powerful for the powerful. The transnational corporations need them to further their purposes. They need these global markets, not only to get cheap resources from the Third World, but also to destroy within their own countries the social conquests of their workers. In the case of Mexico, the Indian peasants in Chiapas who rose against NAFTA know they will end in the shanty towns of the cities as soon as Mexican borders are opened for the products of American agri-business. American industrial workers also protested against NAFTA because they know that, with increasing misery in Mexico, American jobs will be exported there.
The situation is, of course, much worse in the Third World than in the First. When a German farmer in the Mosela Valley has to give up, when Spanish and Portuguese and French farmers and British farmers, or even American and Canadian farmers, have to give up, it is bad enough for them, it is a personal catastrophe and it is a sad thing to happen, because the wisdom of those people will be lost forever and their farms will have to be given up or will be taken over by big business. It is bad enough, but at least they remain in their own culture, in their own language and their traditions. When the Indian peasant in Chiapas has to give up and lands in the slum of the big city, it is cultural genocide, it is much much worse. Every one of these Indian cultures, in every one of those valleys, speaks a different language, has different traditions, different dances, different music. Unfortunately, most of them have already been Christianized, but even in Christianity they have different interpretations and different combinations of their own mythology with Christian mythology, and so on. When they go to the slum and their village is taken over by the rancher, the culture is gone, the language is gone, and a language that disappears is like a species that disappears, it will never, never come back. It is the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of human history, just as a species is the accumulated wisdom of millions of years of natural evolution.
So, what we are witnessing today is really the greatest disaster, I would not say in human history, it is the greatest disaster in the history of Life on this planet. In 31/2 billion years of evolution of this fantastic process, the symphonic process of organic evolution, that put us here (we are one species among, I don't know how many millions of species, all of them important for the functioning of the whole, of the living planet, Gaia), never, in the history of Life, has there been anything like what is happening today. Every year, thousands of species are being lost forever. The life support systems are being demolished. Creation is being killed.
We really must look at the basic tenets of our present economic thinking. Let's take the market. After the collapse of the repressive systems in the East, most people seem to think that the forces of the market will rapidly fill the shelves with merchandise. It is true that the forces of the market are a very good cybernetic instrument for finding a balance between opposing forces, because, after all, there is no such thing as true value. A lump of gold may be worth a lot of money in a jewellery shop, but if I am starving or dying of thirst in the desert I would give a lump of gold for a glass of water. But, the market is only a socially just and ecologically reasonable instrument when all the forces are present on both sides. But, this is never the case. Most of Mankind is not present in the market. Take the guy who dies on the sidewalk in Calcutta in the night and whose only wealth is his loincloth and, maybe, a dirty turban, and whose corpse is then collected in the morning by the garbage truck. He has tremendous necessities, but he has no money. The market doesn't see necessities. There are billions of people who have tremendous necessities, but they are not present in the market because they have no money. So, the market is blind to true human necessities. The market is also blind for future generations. Imagine, if our grandchildren had something to say in today's markets. My God, they would not allow us to do ten per cent of what we are doing today. But, they have no power in today's markets, they are not even present, and they cannot be present. So, there is something very seriously wrong in the way we handle our markets.
Even worse than the absence of future generations, Creation is not present in our markets. If we allow Creation to be destroyed, then there won't be any future generations. Today's markets do not see Creation. When a Brazilian rancher goes into Amazonia and clears ten thousand hectares of pristine rainforest to make pasture for cattle, in his eyes, that fantastic ecosystem has a negative value. He spends money to get rid of it, but what if the apes and the spiders and the birds and plants that live in that forest had anything to say. For them the forest has an infinite value. For the Indian it has an infinite value, too. Because for him it is sacred. For us it is just an impediment to progress. There is something really basically wrong in our thinking.
Not only do we have to rethink what we mean by progress, to rethink the fundamental tenets of our economic thinking, to rethink the market and so on. I think we must go much much further. Modern Industrial Society is based on an absurd worldview, a worldview that we inherited from our remote Judeo-Christian past, from Genesis, where we see the world as belonging to us, where we have been given the order to conquer and to exploit Nature, when in fact we are only part of it.
We need a moral revolution. We must abandon our present anthropocentric worldview and go back, actually go forward, to what was there in all those cultures that we call backward, whether tribal or some of the high cultures, such as Budhism or Hinduism and Taoism and a few others, where the world was a unity, a holistic oneness, and where everything was sacred and we humans were part of this total sacredness. Today, for us, Nature is just resources, it is just an object for our exploitation.
Either we learn to look at Nature, at Creation, as something sacred, of which we humans are only part, or we have no future. Even based on exact and disciplined science only, we do have a new view, actually a very old one, it was given back to us, the view of the earth as something alive - the Gaia Concept. Our planet is the only living planet we know, and we know only the planets of our solar system, from Mercury to Pluto. There may be other planets in other solar systems and in other galaxies, but we will never go there.
The view of the Planet as a spacecraft, which became popular in the last two decades, which is already a better view than seeing the planet as only a heap of resources, is still not a good metaphor. In a ship there are passengers, in an organism there are no passengers, my heart is not my passenger! It is part of an indivisible, functional unit, a single wholeness.
So, either we realise that we are part of Creation and that everything is sacred, and treat Gaia with reverence, or we will disappear.
Thank you very much.