£10,000 million devoted annually to halting the
wanton destruction of these rich ecosystems would be a drop in the ocean compared with
their 'worth', yet arguably an adequate start on the road to sustainability. The
money might best be given to NGOs with a track record of global reach, increasing their
budgets more than tenfold in the first year.
What price a privileged lifestyle? One difference between energy
conservation and sustainable development is that the former can be neutral or positive on
the 'status quo' economy - you can (up to a point) create more jobs than you destroy by
using less energy and transferring wealth to be consumed elsewhere. Notwithstanding
official double-speak, sustainable development is far more about questioning the need to
produce and transport so many unnecessary products rather than merely addressing narrow
aspects of the efficiency of these processes. For this reason it is more
challenging, and less likely to be seriously addressed by government.
Yet even sustainable development could be implemented without compromising core
services. Ample surplus money exists in the world and is utilised in the purchase of
an increasing range of frivolous goods by people whose only desperation in life is what to
buy next. There are nearly 60,000 people whose individual investable wealth
(excluding property) exceeds £20 million. Their total wealth is nearly £6
trillion. One in every 850 people in the world is a millionaire (in dollar terms and
again excluding property). As noted above, the problem is getting sufficient
money deployed to critical sustainability areas before it is too late. Assuming
that governments will continue to vacillate, this could (on paper) be achieved by
convincing rich people that their lifestyle is seriously at risk from the global
instabilities and conflicts that might result from widespread environmental degradation.
£10,000 million is the GNP of the world for a few hours, and about £1.50 per head.
If only the 60,000 richest people were made (or asked) to contribute, they would need to
sacrifice less than 20 minutes per week of their wealth. As a class, the rich have
become richer and far more numerous. Yet the conservation movement seems mired in
the raffle ticket age. It needs to set its sights on a huge and rapid increase in
global achievement. Urgent first steps include credible programme formulation,
warning of the dire consequences of failure and outlining just how painlessly the money
could be obtained.
The author is an environmental scientist living in Sidmouth, Devon, UK . During
his years in the Civil Service he met a range of ministers and mandarins. His
opinions of them have not changed.
© Copyright 2002