The Imperatives Of Ecological Democracy

The challenge of an ecologically sustainable form of global social development is to safeguard what remains of the biological heritage of the planet. In addition, the task is to provide people all over the world with a broad mix of stable jobs, goods, and services that meet human needs in ways that promote equity, efficiency, and environmental protection. This goes well beyond recycling "green" products, building ecological business parks, conserving rainforests, controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and so on. The current proliferation of mass extinction indicates that the contemporary global model of development is socially and ecologically unsustainable. As the 1987 Brundtland Report notes, the conventional model of development cannot but "compromise the ability of the future generations to meet their needs."64 The dominant geoculture is out of synch with ecological reality.

Experts continue to debate whether there are limits to the supply of natural resources. In either case, the global reach of Western TV, films, video, and advertising means that unprecedented numbers of people are now constantly aware of all the commodities they do not have. To assume that the poor will accept their subordinate position indefinitely would be naive. Nationalist, fundamentalist, and paramilitary movements are increasing in most countries, and increasingly their leaders will have access to nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponry. Hence, providing sustainable development for all is not merely a matter of protecting the environment; it is essential to regional and global security.

Despite this bleak outlook, people committed to ecological democracy refuse to accept ecocide as a fait accompli. William Greider has proposed a number of intermediate steps governments should take in order to avert the looming catastrophe:65

• Moderate the flow of goods by imposing emergency tariffs to rectify trade deficits, change labor practices in developing countries, and allow labor to share in the ownership of capital

• Restore national and regional controls over global capital

• Restore a progressive tax system

• Stimulate an ecologically responsible form of global growth by boosting consumer demand from the bottom up

• Compel trading nations to accept more balanced trade relations and absorb more surplus production

• Forgive the debt of the poorest countries in the global South

• Reorganize monetary policy to confront the realities of a globalized money supply both to achieve greater stability and to open the way to greater growth

• Defend labor rights in all markets and prohibit sweatshops

• Reformulate the idea of economic growth to escape the wasteful nature of consumption

• Defend social policies against free-market fundamentalism

Wangari Maathai, a feminist human-rights campaigner and founder of the Kenyan Greenbelt Movement, also sketched out some principles of ecological democracy.66 Emphasizing "issues vital to building environmentally sound and socially equitable societies," she challenged her audience to implement the following tasks:

• eliminating poverty

• establishing fair and environmentally sound trade

• reversal of the net flow of resources from South to North

• recognition of the responsibilities of business and industry

• changes in wasteful patterns of consumption

• internalization of the environmental and social costs of natural resources use

• assuring equitable access to environmentally sound technology and its benefits

• redirection of military expenditures to environmental and social goals

• democratization of local, national, and international political institutions and decision-making structures

In similar fashion, the following list of broadly construed guidelines drawn up by the rainbow coalition-based International Green Movement may further serve as a useful vision for global social movements intent on realizing global ecological democracy.

• Ecological Wisdom

• Personal and Social Responsibility

• Post-Patriarchal Values

• Decentralization

• Grassroots Democracy

• Respect for Diversity

• Community-Based Economics

• Global Responsibility

There is a growing recognition that a democratization of the economy and the state is a necessary precondition for solving the worldwide social and environmental crisis of the late modern era. A feminist, green, and social justice-oriented vision would be sensitive to the needs of the planet and all its species, including humans. It would champion the perspective of those who are already suffering through racism, sexism, poverty, and exploitation. Such a commitment would be "green" because of its vision of creating an ecologically sustainable society; it would be democratic in its support of a more egalitarian society; it would be feminist in its realization that most human beings who lack basic needs are women. The imperatives contained in ecological democracy seek to preserve people's right actively to participate in decisions that affect their lives. The right to participate and deliberate in political matters resides only in the individual; it should not extend to cor-porations.67 The minimum standard of dignified human life should not emerge as an appendix of economics; politics must be restored to the center of human interaction. Indeed, basic needs are not mere physical; they include emotional and intellectual dimensions as well. Along those lines, social thinker Manfred Max-Neef has identified nine basic needs:

• Subsistence

• Understanding

• Participation

The continued viability of our planet's biodiversity, including that fragile species known as humans, will critically be predicated upon the emancipatory project I call "ecological democracy."

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