Torre David – A taste for what’s to come?

Such an inspiring idea from Caracas. I see this model of development as a likely taste of what is to come.

Torre David is the largest squatted building in the world, a failed real estate development, “invaded” by people with no homes to go to. Following Venezuela’s financial crash the large shiny office block in down town Caracas has become home to 2,500 people, each family conducting their own organic appropriation of the space, and with locally organised security.

“this 150 meter tall building is currently hosting about 2500 squatters who find in it, a good way to dwell in this housing crisis time. This skyscraper that was originally supposed to become an architectural symbol and an economically operative building of the Financial power never finished its construction because of the national financial crisis in the late 90′s.

The Torre David is an interesting trend, considering Caracas’ large numbers of slum dwellers, and at the same large failed real estate ventures. In the context of rising unemployment, and diminishing national budgets, I think this is a trend that could become more widespread. In Rio de Janeiro for example there is the perverse situation of huge and empty failed condominiums for aspiring upper middle classes side by side with the slums.

The combination of abandoned structures and people in need of housing seems to make a good match. Caracas has a housing shortage of 40,000 units, and twenty other sites like Torre David have been occupied.

Iwan Baan’s photos of life in Torre David

This sort of development leads me to imagine not only dark Bladerunner like future scenarios, like something our of the new Judge Dredd film, but also has visions of wonderful demonstrations of human capacity to innovate and appropriate space. At the moment Venezuela’s prestigious architectural team Urban Think Tank are thinking up ideas of how to help with the space.  Urban Think Tank’s founders Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner argue that:

“the future of urban development lies in collaboration among architects, private enterprise, and the global population of slum-dwellers. Brillembourg and Klumpner issue a call to arms to their fellow architects to see in the informal settlements of the world a potential for innovation and experimentation, with the goal of putting design in the service of a more equitable and sustainable future.”

At the moment there is no lift, some residents have to climb 45 stories of stairs to reach home, and there are all sorts of problems that could be solved with a bit of ingenuity. Perhaps we could have in the future a system where governments support this sort of initiative. From a cost-effectiveness and sustainability perspective, it makes sense government could help providing technical support, and renovations of buildingsto make them more liveable. Perhaps encouraging vertical gardening, a biogas powered lift system, an application of the whole ‘intelligent building design’ with a bottom line of being cheap and cost-efficient?

Human settlements in the shell of the office tower

Torre David’s rooftop gym


A family living room in the Tower, re-programming architecture

Organisational structure of the Tower

The importance of being Mal-Adjusted

Read my essay on why we aren’t maladjusted enough here

Martin Luther King said:

There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament. The alternative to absolute suspension of nuclear tests. The alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. This is why I welcome the recent test-ban treaty.

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment–men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation would not survive half-slave and half-free. As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery would scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, “We know these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator certain unalienable rights” that among these are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who could say to the men and women of his day, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.


Martin Luther King – Proud to be Mal-Adjusted

Through such maladjustment, I believe that we will be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice. My faith is that somehow this problem will be solved.

Pam Warhurst – Voluntary Citizen Led Transformation of cities

“What should a community do with its unused land? Plant food, of course. With energy and humor, Pam Warhurst tells at the TEDSalon the story of how she and a growing team of volunteers came together to turn plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens, and to change the narrative of food in their community.”



On 19 July last year, 68 countries joined the Kingdom of Bhutan in co-sponsoring a resolution titled “Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development,” which was adopted by consensus by the 193-member UN General Assembly.

In follow up to the resolution, the Royal Government of Bhutan is convening a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” on 2nd April 2012 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

This meeting will initiate next steps towards realizing the vision of a new well being and sustainability based economic paradigm that effectively integrates economic, social, and environmental objectives.

Intended outcomes of this meeting include:

  • A statement on the new economy for voluntary signature by all the participants
  • Building a global movement and action networks to promote implementation of the new economy
  • Voluntary specific policy recommendations for consideration by governments in the short, medium, and long term
  • Establishment of an independent expert Task Force to elaborate the details of the new economic paradigm
  • A strategy to present the new economic paradigm at the special event to be hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan during the Rio+20 summit in June this year
  • A strategy for effective communication of the new economy to reach the widest possible audience.

This landmark gathering on 2nd April will be attended by a select but representative group of top government representatives, by all United Nations missions, and by leading economists, scholars and spiritual and civil society leaders, representing both developed and developing nations.

Beware the Rio + 20 Green Economy Initiative

I was just on a listening conference call with Anil Naidoo, of The Blue Water Project who warned that:

Big banks such as Deutschebank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, and many other powerful corporations and interests are pushing policies that will increase the access of corporations to the earth’s resources at the expense of people and the environment. These policies would negatively impact current efforts to promote the rights of communities over their own resources and to stop land grabs, big dams, water markets, extractives, false climate solutions and other corporate grabs – across the broad spectrum of natural resource and global economy issues. LINK.

During the call a 2009  document from Friends of the Earth’s Michelle Chan was recomended as very relevant regarding the upcoming RIO + 20 Earth Conference.  Naidoo also mentioned that ‘the humn right to water’ has been so far removed from the Rio +20 working document for discussion. Chan was questioning that the carbon trading model could become a new derivatives market:

“Should we really create a new $2 trillion market when we haven’t yet finished the job of revamping and testing new financial regulation?” she asks. Chan says that, given their recent history, the banks’ ability to turn climate change into a new commodities market should be curbed…LINK

The danger is a ‘Financialisation of Nature’, brought in under the Trojan Horse of The Green Economy, a phrase which draws no criticism, and ‘must be good’ because it has the word Green in it. The Tragedy of The Commons is the argument used by advocates of the Green Economy, as a way of justifying the privatisation of natural resources.

The explanation was simple. The fenced area was private property, subdivided into five portions. Each year the owners moved their animals to a new section. Fallow periods of four years gave the pastures time to recover from the grazing. The owners did this because they had an incentive to take care of their land. But no one owned the land outside the ranch. It was open to nomads and their herds. Though knowing nothing of Karl Marx, the herdsmen followed his famous advice of 1875: “To each according to his needs.” Their needs were uncontrolled and grew with the increase in the number of animals. But supply was governed by nature and decreased drastically during the drought of the early 1970s. The herds exceeded the natural “carrying capacity” of their environment, soil was compacted and eroded, and “weedy” plants, unfit for cattle consumption, replaced good plants. Many cattle died, and so did humans.

The rational explanation for such ruin was given more than 170 years ago. In 1832 William Forster Lloyd, a political economist at Oxford University, looking at the recurring devastation of common (i.e., not privately owned) pastures in England, asked: “Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures?”

Lloyd’s answer assumed that each human exploiter of the common was guided by self-interest. At the point when the carrying capacity of the commons was fully reached, a herdsman might ask himself, “Should I add another animal to my herd?” Because the herdsman owned his animals, the gain of so doing would come solely to him. But the loss incurred by overloading the pasture would be “commonized” among all the herdsmen. Because the privatized gain would exceed his share of the commonized loss, a self-seeking herdsman would add another animal to his herd. And another. And reasoning in the same way, so would all the other herdsmen. Ultimately, the common property would be ruined. LINK.

I see paralels between the Green Economy Agenda and the shift from The Washington Consensus to The Post Washington Consensus (PWC),  in that the justification is the same –  what we did was working but we didn’t do it enough – structural adjustment didnt work because there was not enough liberalisation and market allocation. In the same way the environment is degraded because there is too much government intervention. Also both The Green Economy and the PWC used a certain type of language that sounded like concessions were being made to the critics of the Washington Consensus (an admission that it didn’t work), while actually working to deepen the neoliberal agenda. Christophe Aguiton writes:

In the 1980s, faced with a crisis of profitability, capitalism launched a massive offensive against workers and peoples, seeking to increase profits by expanding markets and reducing costs through trade and financial liberalization, flexibilisation of labour and privatization of the state sector. This massive ‘structural adjustment’ became known as the Washington Consensus.

Today, faced with an even more complex and deeper crisis, capitalism is launching a fresh attack that combines the old austerity measures of the Washington Consensus — as we are witnessing in Europe – with an offensive to create new sources of profit and growth through the “Green Economy” agenda. Although capitalism has always been based on the exploitation of labour and nature, this latest phase of capitalist expansion seeks to exploit and profit by putting a price value on the essential life-giving capacities of nature.

The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 institutionalized important bases for international cooperation on sustainable development, such as polluter pays, common but differentiated responsibilities and the precautionary principle. But Rio also institutionalized the concept of “sustainable development” based on unlimited “growth”. In 1992, the Rio Conventions acknowledged for the first time the rights of Indigenous communities and their central contributions to the preservation of biodiversity.  But, in the same documents, the industrialized countries and corporations were guaranteed intellectual property rights to the seeds and genetic resources they stole throughout centuries of colonial domination.

Twenty years later, in 2012, the plunder continues. The “Green Economy” agenda is an attempt to expand the reach of finance capital and integrate into the market all that remains of nature. It aims to do this by putting a monetary “value” or a “price” on biomass, biodiversity and the functions of the ecosystems – such as storing carbon, pollinating crops, or filtering water — in order to integrate these “services” as tradable units in the financial market.

The “Green Economy” considers it essential to put a price on the free services that plants, animals and ecosystems offer to humanity in the name of “conserving” biodiversity, water purification, pollination of plants, the protection of coral reefs and regulation of the climate. For the “Green Economy,” it is necessary to identify the specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity and assign them a monetary value, evaluate their current status, set a limit after which they will cease to provide services, and concretize in economic terms the cost of their conservation in order to develop a market for each particular environmental service. For the “Green Economy,” the instruments of the market are powerful tools for managing the “economic invisibility of nature.”

The main targets of the “Green Economy” are the developing countries, where there is the richest biodiversity. The zero draft even acknowledges that a new round of “structural adjustments” will be necessary: “developing countries are facing great challenges in eradicating poverty and sustaining growth, and a transition to a green economy will require structural adjustments which may involve additional costs to their economies…”.LINK.

Pehaps it is worth remembering leading mainstream economist and World Bank Economist Lawrence Summers’ candid remarks about the right to a clean environment being something which the poor should not necessarily have access to, because market allocation should only ‘give’ access to a clean environment to people who make the ‘decision’ to invest in living in a clean environment, Jim Valette of Counterpunch wrote out the contents of Summers’ memo in 1999:


“DATE: December 12, 1991 “TO: Distribution “FR: Lawrence H. Summers “Subject: GEP

“‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

“1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

“2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

“3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

“The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.”

…His 1991 memo can be considered a working thesis behind this decade’s dominant global economic policies. LINK.

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Water and Inequality

Water and Inequality

“People, as they become wealthier, tend to use more water. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency put average American household water consumption at about 100 to 150 gallons per day per person, by far the highest in the world. Compare that to an average of 74 gallons in Europe, just 35 gallons by the Swiss and 23 gallons by the Chinese. Africans use just 17 gallons. Now, think of all the double-head showers being installed in tony condos throughout China and India.”


A glimpse at the Xavante 

This is the story of one afternoon’s visit to an Indian Aldeia in Mato Grosso, Brazil. While on holiday there, I had the opportunity to visit a Xavante Indian reservation. Normally visiting the Indians is tricky, because FUNAI (The Foundation for the Indian, the government agency which looks after Indian Affairs), requires a heavy bureaucratic procedure for you to get approval to see the Indians.

I know that FUNAI is protecting the Indians from would be exploitation by foreigners, and to preserve the indigenous culture, but I  also feel that the Indians are kind of ring-fenced off from citizens and tourists – they are the perpetual ‘other’, and ‘we’ don’t know anything of the Indian’s plight.

Anyway, our guide knew the local Cacique – Jaako – personally, and agreed to take us there.

TWe were told that Xavante are funny with visitors and need lots of presents, and that these presents should be dispersed slowly, not at the beginning of the visit, because after the Indians have received everything they lose interest, and get bored and irritated with the visitor. It is normal that a present exchange takes place with the Indians giving handicrafts and the visitors giving sacks of food sweeties, and other bits and piece.

We drove to the nearby town of Barra de Garcas, went to an electronics shop and bought an antenna that you can plug into a mobile phone and therefore get service. This is what Jaako had requested on a previous visit our guide Mauro explained , as there is no phone signal in the Aldeia.

Aldeia Sanguedouro lies off of the BR 70 between Primavera del Este and Barra do Garca, an arterial highway that runs through Mato Grosso and the central states of Brazil.

The Sanguedouro reserve is quite big, and is next to industrial soya farms on one side, and cattle grazing ranches on the other. On the highway Toyota Hiluxes and Lorries full of Soya whizz past us. As the BR 70 actually runs through the middle of the reserve, the Indians are involved in a fight with the motorway agency, because they want compensation for the highway and some structural reforms to let pedestrian passage happen easier. Through frustration and a sense of ownership, the Indians have been known to set up check point tolls, on the highway demanding money from motorists and trucks. The Indians have also been known to hold up lorries too.

Em menos de 24 horas é a terceira interdição da rodovia
Xavante check-point / toll on BR 70

We roll off the highway and drive down to the reserve, the first thing we see is an old colonial set of buildings – not very indigenous –  we are told its the offices of the Salesian Missionaries, who are either: (a) educating the Indians; (b) bringing the Indians to God; (c) staying at the reserve because there is Catholic development money earmarked for the area; (d) a main cause of the dependence of the Indians, maintaining them docile through free food, undermining the Indians way of life.

The Salesian Mission at Sanguedouro

We round a corner drive a bit more and come to a settlement; it is like social housing for Indians, concrete huts with metal windows and big satellite dishes arranged in a big horseshoe shape with an open field in the middle. Lots of kids, lots of girls with babies, and the kids are playing an Indian cricket game between two empty coke bottles for wickets. The Indian huts all have satelite dishes and the TVs are on blaring out Globo telenovelas andfootball. Most of the huts also have a car parked outside. The Indians wear clothes and look like nondescript Brazilians, except for the little sticks that they all have through their ears.

The middle of the Indian village

The place looks reminded me of a sad favela in Rio, the mangy dogs lying around,  the kids, the expressions on some of the Indians faces made me reflect that perhaps this was the reason that FUNAI prefers that ordinary non specialists not come here.

The houses in the Aldeia
Satellite dishes in the village

We drive to hut number 39, Jaako’s hut, and meet a smiley Indian Jaako, he works at the local Indian school teaching in the Xavante language, and his dad is a Chief. Our guide’s nephew is immediately given a bow and arrow and strings with feathers by Jaako’s dad.  Elizeu, Mauro’s nephew is a kind of favourite of the old Indian. He receives a big slab of rapadurra (a Brazilian Sweet) in return.

Elizeu getting a bow n arrow present
The chief receiving Rapadurra from Elizeu
Jaako’s house

We get back in the car, with Jaako, and drive to Aldeia de Sao Jeronimo. This is much smaller than the previous one and all the huts look like Indian ones. The place has a view of a big soya field. I observe Jaako’s fathers, a strong backed 96 year old looking at the Soya field. It is perhaps a bit too close, and the agro toxins from their pesticides probably run off into the Indians water supply there. The village is small, empty like a frontier outpost.

Aldeia de Sao Jeronimo
Sao Jeronimo

We present the Indians with our antenna, which they seem genuinely pleased with. One of the little kids even had a quick wash and put on his red paint to look Indian for us.  Judging by the state of the public telephone we could see why they needed it.

Presenting the antenna to Jaako
The local telephone booth

We walked down to the local stream to have a look at the water pump which an Italian NGO had put in, a nice shiny waterwheel, but which didn’t work because it hadn’t been oiled or greased.

The Xavante Indians are a warrior tribe, and were enslaved as the portuguese arrived in Brazil in the 17th century, for this reason they avoided contact with the whites for as long as possible, and then suffered mass relocations in the last half of the 20th century following contact with them in the 1940s, with the implementation of government policies to open up Brazil’s hinterlands to development. Where we were for example was a relocation project of a Xavante original location 600 km away, however a deal had been made between the Brazilian Air Force, Brazil an Government and the Indians to ‘loan’ the land to the Vatican for 50 years. Thus some 600 Indians were put on Brazilian Airforce plains and landed in the middle of the Cerrado, a very different more arid territory than the lush one that the Vatican had its eyes on. The Vatican turned the land into the biggest cattle ranch in Brazil, ‘The Pope’s Farm’. When the Xavante were due to return, the best land had been taken over by illegal squatters, one of whom I am told was Jose Alencar, Lula’s vice president. This legal battle is ongoing, with the Governor of Mato Grosso alleging that the Indians made the story up, while the Federal Government says the land should be returned.

We drive back to the first settlement to drop Jaako off and buy some ‘authentic’ necklaces (twice the price of the gift shop in town). The Indians were distributing big cardboard boxes of meat with the Sadia logo on it. Earlier in the day the Indians had crashed and robbed the truck, and were distributing and selling the meat boxes. We think we saw an exchange of meat for bear and drugs taking place coincidentally while we were there.

The packs of meat from Sadia
caught on camera

Alcohol is a big enemy of the Indians, together with cannabis and crack. The Indians are quite integrated with the nearby town of Primavera, a town built on selling combine harvesters, pesticides, four wheel drive trucks and the industrial processing of soya and cotton. The Indians have jobs, and work there, mixing with the more marginalised elements of the town.

one too many

Indians drive cars – black market cars acquired through a system called Finan, where cars that other people have bought on credit, are then sold on to third parties who stay with the cars until or if the car is re-appropropriated by the owner. As the Indians are protected, they cannot be stopped by the State Police , only by the Federal Police, who are few and far between, so in a way the Indians are untouchable, hence the links with crime, if the Indians do the crime they can get away with it, as they are considered legally as on a par with minors.

I left the Indian reservation with more questions than answers. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the FUNAI administrators, to try and think how to approach the Indian question.

Technology, Sustainability and Belief

Technology, Sustainability and Belief


Questioning our blind faith in technology – the belief in science’s inherent Innovative capacity?

‘Hi-Tech’ is desirable and taken for granted, but its inner workings a mystery. What goes on inside a mobile phone? How does the internet actually work? Knowing how and why things work is understood by the few, and ignored by the many.

Technology has advanced exponentially in the last century, following the revelations of quantum physicists and the inventions of Tesla and Edison for example. An economic system based on consumption, and supply and demand facilitated the transfer of these ground breaking insights into daily use in our lives. Entrepreneurs could perceive the market value of these concepts so supported financially their transformation into buyable things.

Today, most of us live surrounded by the fruits of these path breaking scientific discoveries. At the same time, our understanding of the science behind them is very limited. How many of us who have a TV understand the science behind it? How many people who use mobile phones understand how they work, what are their internal workings? How does Wifi work? Electricity is what exactly?

Is it the complexity involved in these things understandable to the few only? Is it that education systems have not been able to adequately teach these subjects? Or are there are traces of intent by ‘the powerful’ to maintain our ignorance of the workings of science, to maintain an illusion of wonder and mystery? Keeping the workings of the ever present technology out of popular discourse.

It is a paradox that the mundane things we use so much we understand so little about. Technology has an essential role to play in the sustainability of human existence. We need our cutting edge technology to be employed to address the issue of human sustainability.

The dawning of the mechanised age was accompanied by Jesus and the Devil hand in hand. For huge numbers of citizen’s (of country’s rich enough), it has brought momentous advances in terms of labour saving, health, leisure, a generalised  easing of life’s difficulties, the emancipation of women from domestic chores. This allowed humans to focus on enjoying life, and gave us the free time to advance our knowledge in a myriad of ways.

However, these advancements occurred within a commercial system based on perpetually creating and then satisfying consumer demand, and the virtue of perpetual ‘growth’. Within such parameters, science and technology made more and more things, bigger and bigger things, and accustomised us to luxurious amounts of energy, cheap. Our mechanised way of living has a voracious appetite for natural resources, and excretes an obscene amount of material to be processed. It is dawning on us though that there is simply is not enough resources in the world to continue supplying this appetite or space for this excretia.

We are a bit like frogs in pan of warming water, or Easter Island residents when they saw food was getting scarce yet did nothing to change or escape their fate. We seem unable to address the fact that our way of life is destroying the very things that allow us to live. At the same time, in terms of scientific and technological advancements, we are living at a peak. Scientists have unravelled the secrets of DNA, the universe, and harnessed the power of the atom.

We marvel at science and technology’s cleverness, whether it is broadband internet, stories in newspapers about cloning, unravelling DNA or latest developments at CERN. We don’t really understand any of it. Scientific advancement is part of the fabric of our lives, it is always happening. We hold blind faith that science will solve any difficulty because, conveniently, we don’t understand it. This allows us to cling to the hope of a miracle that our mechanised way of living is sustainable.

The political and economic mainstream’s optimism about our scientists’ abilities to innovate over current and predicted environmental hurdles is never specific about how scientists will actually achieve this. It is always to take place in the perpetual future. It stems a belief in technology as having an abstract quality of overcoming obstacles under pressure. ‘When the time is right science will find a way’ is an unsubstantiated belief. In seeking truth, our faith in a given hypothesis must be flexible enough to be swayed upon presentation of un-repudiated fact. Belief on the other hand requires blind trust in faith, by its nature unquestioning. It is time for us to be scientific about the limits and possibilities of our science. De-mystifying and rationalizing our understanding of it.

A true optimism about the future must stem from the recognition of the capacity our civilisation has for technological innovation. Recognition that our technology already has the solutions to the difficulties we face. However, this awareness must be tempered with the strongest sense of immediacy. A trust in the abstract capacity of innovation is akin to believing in the imminent return of the Messiah. What we need is honest assessment of the future, and the widespread implementation on a wide scale of what we already know.


Is this essay really about a belief in science’s inherent innovative capacity? The belief in science’s inherent capacity to innovate beyond limits.

I say science is like a belief not from some sort of anti-Darwinian critique; it is specifically the belief in science’s capacity to innovate that I attack. I am saying that the belief, (typically found in discourses informed by mainstream economics) that science will always be able to innovate around ecological limits or whatever difficulties humanity may face in the future, is an unscientific belief inherently.

The innovations of modern technology are wonderful things, and I marvel that all have been created by human minds in more or less the last century. These scientific breakthroughs need to be democratised. The  theory behind scientific advances needs to be more available (such as electrical-engineering, solar power for example) in order to have more socially useful innovations all around us. Socially useful inventions which are not necessarily informed by the profit mechanism but by necessity and social utility.

A more democratised understanding of science would also make citizens more aware of ‘big  scientific discourse’ such as energy policy, as well as alternative, more democratic and socially useful ways of using finite resources in an ever fuller world.

However, while the inner mechanics of technological machines remain understood as a ‘very complicated and difficult’ body of knowledge, which is restricted to qualified scientists (this is where I got the idea for science as a church and the scientists as priests analogy), humanity / we / the citizens remain mere consumers of machines, without questioning their efficiency, or social utility. Also, from a developmental perspective, peoples are kept from their potential by scientific secretism from innovations which could otherwise have a direct and positive impact on their lives.

Scientific innovation is all around us, there are wonderful things that are happening at the moment and have been for the decades, but, because we are principally mere consumers of machines, these ideas remain as prototypes because there is no profit mechanism to drive the research and development needed to scale them up, or to distribute them. Also, it is undeniable that because there is so much money and vested interests involved in current technology (the oil economy is an easy example), there is active suppression of potentially path breaking inventions and technologies by the corporations and shareholders who have the most to lose. As we are on the whole uninformed, such losses to humanity pass by unnoticed.

The case of WIFI in the Congo is interesting. Kinshasa has 100% wifi coverage, the UN put it in, and it was easier to provide 100% coverage than to try and create a market (and because it was Kinshasa, it was also perhaps not interesting enough, or profitable enough for an energy market to be created. It is somehow wonderfully ironic that Kinshasa has 100% free wifi by virtue of its poverty and under development.

I think Ivan Illich was on the right track when he wrote that we need to re-conceptualise the benefits of industrial mechanisation according to use value rather than exchange value, but such a re-calibration would require a radical socialisation of technological education, as well as a socialisation – control and regulation of the industrial mechanical mode of production.

From a philanthropic perspective, in a Utopia, perhaps a Foundation could be established which promotes popular understanding of technology and science in different spheres:

  1. Pro-poor practical technological innovations – Teaching practical technological innovations and (creating a new market even). Using and offering practical innovations, and providing their basic components (and supporting entrepreneurs involved in this area of actuation)
  2. Children and Youth supplementary education – A widespread supplementary education for children and youths on understanding technology and technological perspectives as well as practical capacity-building.
  3. A programme of support for governments, states and municipalities interested in developing non-traditional and sustainable technological innovation. The programme offers ideas of programmes to be implemented, practical support. For governments it offers policy advice on how to put together an incentive/penalty programme regarding technological innovation and the creation of new markets.
  4. A very well funded global benchmarking project on technological innovation. Radical in that it sets to buy socially useful patents, and release them to the public domain, or through targeted pro-poor interventions. Also benchmarking and cross pollination project of research on existing innovations.
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On development trajectories, and possible futures

This essay questions whether countries can advance sustainably by following the prescriptions of mainstream approaches to modernisation. It questions where we are aiming to go when we talk about ‘development’. Mainstream development is questioned from a historical, social and sustainability perspective. A structural view on the inherent impediments for the prosperity of poor nations is offered. The social effects of modernisation in developed countries are discussed, and the instability of mass consumption based economies presented. Ideas for a sustainable future for humanity are presented based on global citizen cooperation and awareness of the necessity for lowering aggregate eco-systemic consumption levels.

On development trajectories, and possible futures

The science of governing a country is governance; it can be defined quickly as what democratically elected and accountable leaders do with the pooled resources of the citizenry and the collective patrimony of the contents of the national territory in order to provide things for the common good. This steering of a country is defined through economic policy, which refers to the management of resources and upkeep of things deemed to be essential; roads, pipes, schools, hospitals, courts, money, and so on. Economic policy as a subject burgeons out into everything that nation states provide, for example; government spending and tax policy, monetary policy, trade  policy, industrial policy, environmental policy, financial and industrial regulation, and strategies for growth.

Over the last century, questions of what a nation state should be and what it should provide became of critical importance. Especially after the Second World War, capitalism and socialism promoted very different understandings of how states should function. As decolonization movements succeeded, and monarchies were overthrown, the number of new nation states multiplied from 69  nations in 1950  to 192 in 2002 (Rotberg 2003). In this shake up, newly formed states emerged within new ‘ecologies of context’ within which to operate. The issue of what governors of nation-states should do, and how, became of critical importance.

Due to the difference in histories of nations, economically the world at this time, and more so today can be seen on aggregate as economically and socially polarised, with a comparatively rich and powerful Northern Hemisphere, and poor and weak Southern Hemisphere. In the post WWII period, the leaders of Southern nations looked to the Northern nations as ideal examples in terms of political and administrational organisation, and the perceived prosperity of their citizens, and sought to imitate their trajectories.

From a Northern perspective, both socialist and capitalist interests were keen to win political allies and secure natural resources from the Southern countries. Both the capitalist side represented by The United States and Europe and the socialist side represented by The Soviet Union and China, altruistically offered incentives and assistance in exchange for political alliance, while at the same time having agendas for securing strategic resources within these countries for themselves.

Within this context, ideas of how countries could prosper surged forth. New subjects specifically relating to how these countries could progress emerged, Development Economics, Modernisation Theory and Industrial Development. We can call a general theory of how countries can prosper ‘Development Studies’.

‘Development Studies’, arising from this historical context is clearly not an impartial scientific discipline. The technical recommendations North on what the governors of Southern nations should do in terms of economic policies and economic assistance have mostly had Trojan Horses-like effects on these nations.

‘Development Studies’ rarely concerns itself with ‘development into what?’. This weakness in Development Studies is fundamental, as it is implicitly assumed that to develop in the moulds of Northern nation circa 1950 to now, is a virtuous objective. This point is very relevant given the environmental degradation caused by Northern consumer goods markets, and the growing social inequalities which Northern economic policies have generated in their own countries.

Furthermore, given the fact that in general the Northern states achieved their Development by means of exploitative commercial relationships with the South, imitating development trajectories of Northern countries would also require the establishment of exploitative trade relationships with other counties.

(Walt Rostow showing the President something on the map)

The promise of ‘modernisation’ in the Western mould to poorer countries was an important part of Great Game between The Soviets and The United States played out following WWII.  The United States felt threatened by Soviet influence, and sanctioned ‘by any means necessary’ approaches to beating back the perceived Soviet menace. The core text of modernisation theory in the West, Walt Rostow’s ‘Stages of Economic Growth, A Non-Communist Manifesto’[1], published in 1960 must be seen as a product of its times. It explains the stages that countries go through to become modern, and it puts an idealised projection of the contemporary American economy as the final goal. The stages a country must pass through are:

Stage (1) traditional society,

Stage (2) the preconditions for take-off,

Stage (3) the take-off,

Stage (4) the drive to maturity,

Stage (5) the age of high mass consumption.

Rostow’s position was that ‘traditional societies’ could achieve take off very quickly, if assisted they sided with The West, through: ‘the diffusion of Western culture, know-how, and capital, to overcome legacies of economic and cultural stagnation.’ (Proyect 2008).

The text was written towards the end of the 1950’s at the height of the cold war, at the time Rostow was advocating that the US Government Administration should pay more attention to interventions in developing countries (in order to make sure that they sided against socialism) for strategic reasons.

Naturally, Rostow’s vision for the ultimate state of development was ‘The Age of Mass Consumption’, which was the economy of The United States at that time, with high domestic consumption levels, and high rates of energy use. Development Theory is to this day delineated by this goal. That the goal of development should be to reach the ‘age of high mass consumption’ is pervasive within the discipline.

1950’s America did have elements of a Golden Age about it, the fruits of technology were making domestic chores much easier, freeing women for domestic servitude with vacuum cleaners, electric irons and washing machines for example. At the same time, because of The New Deal economic policies, people could afford their own homes and energy saving devices, and have enough leisure time to enjoy them.

However, the age of high mass consumption (i.e. high aggregate consumption levels and access to cheap electrical products at prices within the reach of salaried workers) is only possible through securing cheap resources from overseas in order to keep prices low. Einstein pointed out; “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption” (1949), thus the consumption in one area affects the production in another. Periphery countries were encouraged only to export primary commodities at a low cost.  For example, remember that around this time United Fruit Company was deposing Central American countries’ governments in which they owned plantations who sought to raise the export price of bananas. Even today, we are seduced by mobile phones and computers and most of us want to change model every year, this built in obselition is good for the economy, as consumer spending stays high, but is not so good for Congo, where the Coltan for the chips is extracted for at a very low cost. If the Coltan was not so cheap we would not be able to afford the hallmarks of being ‘high mass consumers’. The high mass consumption model inherently requires a periphery with whom it can interact symbiotically, pulling in cheap inputs, but at the same time causing detrimental effects to peripheral economies.

(Coltan mining in Eastern Congo)

The 1950s American lifestyle available for those with steady jobs, characterised by the big bungalow, car, and electric appliances, within reach of the majority of the population is impossible, planet wide, in terms of sustainability. We cannot all live in this ‘high mass consumption’ mode, because the world has finite resources.  Ecological Footprint analysis points out that if all the individuals on the planet had the consumption characteristics of Americans, the planet would need the resources of six Earths to meet this demand. Sustaining US consumption levels requires a constant influx of cheap raw materials to keep products within reach of customers. However, as a developmental goal for nations, it is hardly an example of best practice as it is clear that this way of life is not sustainable in terms of Earth’s resources. A new stage of development best practice is needed which offers leaders a virtuous and sustainable goal to orientate national policies around.

An alternative perspective – Development as Neo-Colonialism

Kwame Nkrumah, leader of Ghanaian independence and the Pan African movement asked if the ‘extended tentacles of the Wall Street octopus’ really rule Great Britain, France Germany or The United States rather than their Prime Ministers of Presidents. (1965). In Nkrumah’s speech, the real rulers are the ‘Invisible Government’ a network which arises from Wall Street’s connections with Intelligence Services.

Nkrumah problematizes the way the Rostowian development takes place by contextualising the development of the newly independent states within their historical context.  Nkrumah questions how independent the post-colonial states were, considering the continued ownership of the old colonials over key sectors of the economy, and influence over economic decisions. For Nkrumah the ‘neo-colonial’ powers perpetuate the developing countries’ weakness, rather than assist them to ‘take-off’. For Nkrumah this continued domination is maintained through international capital’s control of the world market, the high rate of interest for developing countries’ borrowing, the subtle policy influence of the small print of ‘multilateral’ aid deals, the neo-colonial control of 90% of shipping lanes, and Coup d’états and political assassinations. Hollywood, the monopoly press and Evangelism, play a complementary role, deepening the ideological penetration of neo-colonial norms in the minds of the masses. Nkrumah’s observations belie the fallacy of Rostow’s mirage of modernisation.

Nkrumah stated that the above are not as a sign of imperialism’s strength, but signs of its last desperate gasps. He counsels that it can be defeated only through unity.

Where are we now?

It is currently in vogue to refer to ‘developing’ countries and ‘advanced’ countries.  Where is this path, on which some are developing and others advanced, leading to? We now live in a world where millionaires control 39% of the World’s Wealth.  In 2011the total number of billionaires reached a record 1,210, with a total net worth of $4.5 trillion (Frank 2011).

In a leaked 2006 Citigroup investors report, it was stated that the greatest challenge to the continued prosperity of the top 1%  is the pressure that the ever growing number of disenfranchised citizens can put on their elected representatives to change the rules of the game towards a more proportional division of wealth (Kapur et al 2006).

‘The balance sheets of the rich are in great shape and are likely to improve’

‘What could go wrong?’

The most potent and short term threat would be societies demanding a more equitable share of wealth’ (Op. Cit.)

Emblematic of this is the gold plated, T-Rex bone inlaid yacht[2] of a Malaysian business man which cost £3billion. This is more than triple the combined GDPs of the ten poorest countries.[3]

Table 1:  GDP’s of the Ten Poorest Countries, compared with price of a Golden Yacht

Burundi … $90 million
Rwanda … $210 million
Ethiopia … $110 million
Democratic Republic of Congo … $110 million
Liberia … $110 million
Malawi … $160 million
Guinea-Bissau … $160 million
Eritrea … $190 million
Niger … $210 million
Sierra Leone … $210 million
Gold Yacht $4.7 billion

Modernisation and development have not lead to increased prosperity for all, rather to  the current situation of extreme imbalance between ever more concentrated wealth in the hands of a few, and a decline in material wealth at minimum and unprecedented poverty at the extreme end for the rest.

Jewel of the sea ... gold-plated yacht has been sold for £3billion

(The Golden Yacht in question)

(A scene from Burundi)

A future scenario

As the Plutocracy Symposium document notes, the challenge for the ultra-rich is populations revolting against these mind-boggling sums of riches in the hands of individuals who spend it on playthings. One future scenario shows the ultra-rich separating from state in order to ensure their private wealth by setting up their own kingdoms. ‘The Sea-Steading Institute’ is researching luxury dwellings using  oil rig platforms as bases, where the super-rich can live, ‘free’ from any social responsibilities.

According to its main backer Peter Thiel , Sea Steader dwelling will be a “kind of floating Petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage and few restrictions on weapons. ” (Moser 2011).

Modernisation and high mass consumption

The fallacy of ‘High Mass Consumption’ as a goal (which is the fundamental basis for modernisation theory) should be seen as the dangerously outmoded concept that it is. Unfortunately elected leaders still cling to it.

Accelerating into a mode of being characterised as ‘high mass consumption’ is an untenable goal for any country, as ecological degradation evidence shows. However, the logic of orthodox development theory is that to become a high consumption nation is the right thing to do, and thus has the common good as its guiding principle. This position is flawed because it is modernisation in this mode is not applicable to all humanity at the same time. In order to be ‘high resource consumers’ we need some other place to appropriate resources from. Thus as a model it has an intrinsic hypocrisy, as there always needs to be some under-developed people and places from whom to get our stuff from.

‘Advanced’ industrial fishing methods lead to fish species extinction. ‘Advanced’ agricultural practice leads to nutrient depletion, soil erosion and contamination and aquifer depletion.  At the same time Britons throw away out half the food that the country produces.[4] For every gold ring produced, twenty tons of mine wastes are also accrued[5]. This sort of global economy is the sort of governance that ‘advanced’ industrial nations

It is therefore a sad state of affairs when we see that the BRIC countries are pursuing this goal, we can see that their policies will inevitably deepen the existing social and ecological degradation of the world. The modernising goal for their citizens which they are pursuing requires the citizens of elsewhere to use less, and their ecosystems be depleted, in order to pursue the high mass consumption dream.

The American modernisation was not sustainable in the United States even for more than a few decades. For example, following the debt crisis, it is reported recently that one quarter of Houston’s youths are currently food insecure. It seems that developed countries are modernising towards a future social reality that is more in the image of a Jakarta, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro or Lagos, than a Paris or a Frankfurt.

“As many nation-states of the northern hemisphere experience increasing fiscal meltdown, state privatization, corruption, ethnic conflict, it seems as though they are evolving southward, so to speak, in both positive and problematic ways.”[6]

‘We’ citizens of the North would be advised perhaps to learn from innovations and survival strategies of the global South, given the current trend. On reflection who is this ‘We’? It means ‘We’ the non-billionaires and non-millionaires, the ones without the golden yachts, the better we can work together for an alternative.

Towards a sustainable future for humanity

It is becoming clear that a path of global solidarity and unity among citizens is the only way to overcome the many structural challenges to ensure the survival of the human race before elements within it destroy the race’s life support system.

Today structurally embedded relationships of exploitation between countries are acute and vast distances separate the populations of these countries, who interact with each other in trade and politics in such an unequal way.  Achieving solidarity between the citizens of these disparate places is an essential step.

We have common factors which unite us. For example, ‘We’ the citizens of the richer areas feel that we have been exploited in the same way as the majority of citizens in neo-colonial client states. The structural adjustment plans implemented in the third world were also implemented in the USA and Britain, leading to the on-going financial crisis, lack of jobs, and current protests. The same hand that corrupts third world leaders corrupts the political leaders of the richest countries. There is an awareness that ‘we the citizens’ o have as much in common with ‘we the citizens’ of all other countries than we do with the elites of our own countries. This consciousness is key to establishing the global unity required to implement environmental and economic policies which truly benefit the common good.

To achieve a sustainable modernity, resource use by the richest countries will have to decline, and terms of trade of the richer countries will need to be more fairly balanced with the poorer countries. In this way poorer countries’ environments will be less exploited, and hopefully become more prosperous. For this change to occur however, rich country electorates must be convinced to lower their resource use out of compassionate concerns for the imbalance in regard to the poorest countries. The only way that the population of a rich country would willingly accept this, would be if somehow quality of life discourse could be positioned above the importance of perpetual economic growth. A new concept, relating to happiness, through belonging and harmony could be established which emphasises self-sufficiency in energy and low energy use. I look forward to a change, that in light of the growing general malaise with the fruits of modernity; the feelings of isolation and oblivion that consumer-workers of the rich countries are feeling, a new way of living will is sought out.

It is now glaringly obvious that the elected leaders in all countries pay mere lip service to democratic protocol and serve the interests of the very rich almost without exception. This occurs at all levels of government, from the local to the national. The Sage of Bandiagara, Tierno Bokar pointed out the consequences of a country having a bad leader:

“When the opportunity to assume the role of leader comes to a coarse soul, he only knows how to set up a megalomaniac dictatorship. Instead of establishing a reign of peace for all, this will be the beginning of a dark terror. Scoundrels will become bankers and rogues will mint money. Morality will toss dangerously on the raging sea of unleashed passions.” (Hampate Ba 2008: 155)

(Tierno Bokar)

We are governed by bad leaders, and feel impotent to change anything. Better leaders must be demande. I hope that soon the criteria for choosing leaders will be personal integrity and courage, as hypocrisy will not be accepted. In order to have some form of roadmap for the next few decades, should we not also ponder what ‘developed’ has to means and what we ‘modern’ must be if these are to be concepts which truly reflect the common good?

Ivan Illich’s comment “free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle” (1978: 6) is every day more pertinent, on a global scale.


Einstein Albert, (May, 1949), Why Socialism, The Monthly Review  retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Frank Robert, (May 2011), Millionaires Control 39% of the World’s Wealth , Wall Street Journal – The Wealth Report , retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Hampate Ba Amadou, (2008), Spirit of Tolerance: The Inspiring Life of Tierno Bokar,  Bloomington, Indiana: World Wisdom Inc

Illich Ivan, (1978), Towards a History of Needs, New York, Pantheon. Retrieved November 11th 2011 from

Kapur Ajay, MacLeod N, Levkovich T,  Buckland Robert, Stubbs Jonathan,Fujita Tsutomo, Mohr Patrick, Rosgen Markus, Wignall-Blundell Andrian, Tarditi Alison, Liodakis Manolis,  Miller Keith (September 29th 2006), The Global Investigator The Plutonomy Symposium — Rising Tides Lifting Yachts, Citigroup retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Moser Whet, (2011 August 18), Milton Friedman’s Grandson to Build Floating Libertarian Nation. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Nkrumah Kwame,  Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism,  (1965). Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Proyect  Louis (9th of September 2008), Paul Baran as dependency theorist. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Rostow Walt Whitman, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (1960). Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Rotberg, Robert (2003) Failed States, collapsed states, weak states: Causes and indicators. In: R. Rotberg (ed.) State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror. Washington DC: Brookings Institute Press, pp. 1–25.

Rufca Sarah, (2011 August 25th), Study shows more Houston families struggling with hunger, Culture Map Houston. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Gallery: The Richest People on the Planet (2011). Forbes. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

Knowledge and Value in a Globalising World Conference, University of Western Australia ( 2011). Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

£3bn golden yacht is world’s most expensive, (2011, June 20th) The Sun. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

No Dirty Gold Fact Sheet 2010, (2010). Retrieved 30th of October 2011 from

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The £20bn food mountain: Britons throw away half of the food produced each year, (2008 March 2nd), The Independent. Retrieved October 30th 20011 from

[2] The Sun Newspaper, 20th if June 2011, “£3bn golden yacht is world’s most expensive”,

[3] The Top Ten Poorest Countries, Maps of, available at (based on 2004 GNP per capita in US$)

[4]The £20bn food mountain: Britons throw away half of the food produced each year, (2008 March 2nd), The Independent. Retrieved October 30th 20011 from

[5] No Dirty Gold Fact Sheet 2010, (2010), Retrieved 30th of October 2011 from

[6] Knowledge and Value in a Globalising World Conference, University of Western Australia, 2011. Retrieved October 30th 2011 from

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