Which  Way  Forward?     

A review essay by David Orton                        

               Manifesto For A New World Order, by George Monbiot, The New Press, New York, 2003,
               274 pages, hardcover, ISBN: 1-56584-908-6 (hc).

                       Our task is surely not to overthrow globalization, but to capture it,
                       and to use it as a vehicle for humanity’s first global democratic
- G. Monbiot

                       Thanks to the pernicious impact of the localization agenda, some
                       campaigners in the rich world have been perceived by the citizens
                       of poor nations as their enemies.
- G. Monbiot

                       We must live at a level that we seriously can wish others to attain,
                       not at a level that requires the bulk of humanity not to reach.

                       - Arne Naess


            The Manifesto For A New World Order is an intelligently written and important book with some new
        ideas by a progressive journalist of the British Left, although I do not agree with the overall thesis. The thesis
        urged on us is to take over and democratize globalization. He wants a “free trade” world. (p. 219) The two
        above quotes from George Monbiot show the two main policy messages being sent out by this book. The
        quote by Arne Naess shows an alternative direction to that urged by Monbiot.

            Monbiot has a detailed knowledge of global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary
        Fund. He shows how the United States government exercises its dominance over such institutions, seriously
        undermining the work of the United Nations — which, Monbiot urges, needs major change. There is an overall
        economic literacy which can lead even the attentive reader sometimes trailing in the dust. But there are also
        taken-for-granted assumptions: “Trade is the only likely means of distributing wealth from rich nations to
        poor ones.”
(p. 188) Monbiot accepts corporations and wants that “the market begins to work for the
(p. 227) There are erroneous environmental views (see later), and a basic unchallenged human-
        centeredness permeates the entire book. There is a “know-it-all” and somewhat condescending tone in the
        writing, especially about the alleged failings of movement activists and towards the readers of the Manifesto.
        There is a totally bizarre comment, that radical North American or European activists have in their hearts,
        “a residual fear of the Yellow Peril, of the people of other lands, who do not share our world view,
        becoming too powerful.”
(p. 105) But this book is important because there are some new provocative ideas
        being put forward which demand our attention and thoughtful consideration. If such ideas are not to be
        embraced, then they need to be rebutted. The book deserves to be read (even if the book’s binding breaks

            What attitude to take towards the rush everywhere to globalization, has to be on the deeper green agenda.
        Left biocentrists like myself, and those generally influenced by deep ecology, “believe that bioregionalism,
        not globalism, is necessary for sustainability.”
(See point 5 of the 1998 Left Biocentrism Primer.) The
        Manifesto For A New World Order argues strongly against orienting to “localization,” and notes that
        such orientations “have been adopted as policy by several national green parties.” (p. 52) Greens in
        North America have been sensitized to the importance of place by aboriginals, who have always asserted
        place as intrinsic to their collective identities and to their nations’ Creation stories. Through the concept of
        Self-realization — that is, expanding personal consciousness so that it comes to encompass the Earth —
        deep ecology-influenced greens have seen the importance of localization or being grounded in a particular
        place, both for personal and societal consciousness and, most importantly, for the active defense of existing

            Andrew Dobson the British Left deep ecologist, wrote in his book Green Political Thought, first
        published in 1990, that the economic practices of dark green societies "would be built substantially
        around protectionism."
(third edition, p. 90) This is also a position that I have advocated as an ecocentric
        green. But localization or protectionism has to be coupled with the redistribution of wealth. Left biocentrism,
        has expressed this as follows in point 4 of the Left Biocentrism Primer:
               Left biocentrists are concerned with social justice and class issues,
               but within a context of ecology. To move to a deep ecology world,
               the human species must be mobilized, and a concern for social justice
               is a necessary part of this mobilization. Left biocentrism is for the
               redistribution of wealth, nationally and internationally.

            We need to support the general organizational principle that "nothing should be done at a higher level than
        can be done at a lower level," hence being biased towards participation at the local level. Yet ecocentric
        greens realize that negative ecological and social issues often have national and international manifestations and
        causes. Greens must, notwithstanding their primary localization focus, be prepared to intervene at wider
        ranging levels. This is an entirely different position from what Monbiot is suggesting.

            Monbiot directly opposes localization, which he seemingly redefines to exclude the redistribution of wealth.
        The author goes so far as to equate market fundamentalists with what he terms “localizers,” because both,
        according to him, have imposed “a single, coercive system upon everyone, or, more accurately, upon the
        poor nations.”
(p. 220) The book must therefore be considered a direct challenge, and was obviously
        intended this way, to what have been considered “traditional” green protectionist ideas: localization,
        bioregionalism, being grounded in place, the importance of “place” for ecocentric consciousness, “small is
        beautiful,” etc. But Monbiot sets up a straw person to demolish, in saying that localization campaigners are
        uncaring about social justice and the world’s poor.

        What is being advocated and inconsistencies

            Monbiot summarizes the four principal projects to harness globalization for people, as opposed to the
        interests of Capital, as follows:
               A democratically elected world parliament; a democratised United
               Nations General Assembly, which captures the powers now vested
               in the Security Council; an International Clearing Union, which
               automatically discharges trade deficits and prevents the accumulation
               of debt; a Fair Trade Organization, which restrains the rich while
               emancipating the poor.
(p. 4)

            The arguments in this book for the first two principal projects I found had a lot of merit and were easy to
        follow. Although, for example, it is hard to see how voting in a democratic General Assembly at the United
        Nations would not only reflect population numbers but the “democratic legitimacy” a nation possessed.
        (p. 133) The last two of the four projects listed, seem to require some degree of economic sophistication on
        the part of the reader to understand. Two quotes from Monbiot are illustrative:
               Corporations are slowly turned into our slaves. Instead of driving
               down standards, they are forced to raise them...only the nice guys
(p. 234)

               If the aim of a Fair Trade Organization is to permit the poorer nations
               to catch up with the rich ones, then the poor nations must be
               permitted to sustain a trade surplus across several years. The rich
               nations would, between them, have to sustain a corresponding deficit.

               (p. 237)

            The Fair Trade Organization, according to the author, would enforce standards as a licensing body to
        which corporations needing to trade internationally would have to conform to.

            Overall, this book is human-centered and the needs of other life forms are not on the agenda. Ecocentric
        justice is not considered as a necessary, crucial, and overall defining dimension within which social justice must
        be situated. Monbiot furthermore conveys a misleading optimism that the Earth’s bounty is sufficient for the
        human species, indefinitely into the future. (He also seems to assume a high consumption lifestyle as the model
        for everyone’s aspiration.) The conventional non-ecological Left viewpoint is advocated, that the basic
        problem is one of distribution.
               The world possesses sufficient resources, if carefully managed and
               properly distributed, to meet the needs of all its people, possibly for
               as long as the species persists. It is only because they are badly
               managed and poorly distributed that so many human beings are
               deprived of the means of survival.
(p. 181)

            What struck me about this book is how bourgeois democracy (not called this by Monbiot) becomes equated
        with ‘democracy’: “all those who live in democratic nations today...” (p. 82). This is quite shameful for a
        writer of the Left. We of the Left are expected to articulate a view of democracy that includes adequate health,
        education, housing, and employment for all who seek it. It would also include the possibility for all citizens to be
        able to contribute to political, cultural and economic decision making, as well as being able to periodically
        turf out governments at elections which are not corrupted by money or media bias. Ecocentric democracy,
        which encompasses all species of animal and plant life, and which does not privilege humankind, is not even on
        the discussion agenda in this book. For this author, it seems that holding elections mean a country is democratic.
        While flying the liberal democratic flag, Monbiot sees no inconsistency with stating, “To be truly free...we must
        be prepared to contemplate revolution.”
(p. 253) Is this to let us know that, at heart, Monbiot is also a
        revolutionary? The book takes for granted the basic existing capitalist paradigm and does not challenge this in its
        overall argumentation:
               As those nations which are poor today became rich, they would be
               obliged to start to liberalize their economies to the same degree as
               the countries with which they had caught up.
(p. 218)

            But near the end of the book, the author then does an anti-capitalist about-face, to bail out from this position
        and declare a position that deeper greens could easily embrace:
               None of the measures proposed in this book are sufficient, however,
               to address a far bigger question, that of the curtailment of the world-
               eating and mathematically impossible system we call capitalism and
               its replacement with a benign and viable means of economic exchange...
               Because capitalism is built upon the lending of money at interest,
               capitalist economies are driven by the need to repay debt, which is why
               survival within this system is contingent upon endless growth. Endless
               growth is physically impossible.
(pp. 238-239)

            Another inconsistency is Monbiot’s thrust is to embrace and encourage global trade, while trying to direct it
        towards the poor and dispossessed. Yet he can also profess to be concerned about global warming and the
        enormous contribution of transportation to this:
               Perhaps the gravest problem the world now confronts is climate change,
               and the sector whose contribution to climate change is growing most
               rapidly is transport. The movement of goods around the world is
               extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient...
(p. 210)

        Shallow (and erroneous) environmental views

            I have already noted the basic anthropocentrism of this book. It is the well-being of the human species which
        is on Monbiot’s global agenda. To bring globalization to heel, argues the author, the people must take control
        and displace the existing global elite and their institutions, through which the elite’s dominance is enforced. Along
        the way support is given for so-called intellectual property rights — although they can be overridden in particular
        circumstances (pp. 208-209, 218); non-banned pesticides (p. 228); the assumption that consumption is more
        important than population growth (p. 19); and carbon emissions trading (pp. 102, 105, 232-233, 237). I would
        also argue that in practice, reservations not withstanding, support is manifest for unlimited economic growth and
        its corollary increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, because of the capitalist economic global
        trading model that he embraces and works with.

            The extensive support for carbon emissions trading by Monbiot, plus his attack on Green localization and his
        taken-for-granted human-centeredness, show that this book is seriously environmentally flawed. Yet it only fair to
        note that other Left leaning writers and green parties like the federal Green Party in Canada in its 2004 election
        platform, have expressed support for carbon trading schemes. Perhaps not thinking through a position on
        emissions trading is being overridden by the sentiment that at least this is a small step in the right direction. But is
        it — where it seems that the Earth enemy today must don the cloak of decency to continue the old destructive
        industrial capitalist ways?

        What is the problem with Carbon Emissions Trading?

            Emissions trading is put forward by its proponents as a serious attempt to put some curbs on greenhouse gas
        emissions. Governments, by accepting this concept, have given themselves the right, within a “market”
        framework, i.e. buying and trading for a price, to pollute in order to come into compliance with the 1997 Kyoto
        Protocol to the UN Framework on Climate Change. (Those countries which have signed onto the Protocol,
        which is now in effect, if they are “industrialized” must reduce their output of greenhouse gas emissions to below
        1990 levels by 2008-2012. For “developing countries” like China — which is second behind the US, the top
        emissions producer in the world — and India, the commitment is voluntary to develop ways in which the growth
        of emissions can be limited.) The accord states that “emission permits” are granted to utilities and companies
        that are pouring out polluting greenhouse gases. Each country has been allocated a fixed number of credits. The
        permits are then subject to trading in an open market. It means that plants which fall below the output ceiling of
        their polluting greenhouse gases can sell their “credits” to plants which have exceeded their emission permits.
        The market for these emission permits is potentially world-wide. For example, industrialized countries which
        proportionately have released far more carbon into the atmosphere than so-called Third World countries, can
        now further oppress such countries by utilizing them for carbon credits by such schemes as creating “carbon-sink”
        forest plantations. This is basic social injustice, whereby the powerful industrialized nations can continue, in the
        short term, their Earth-eating high consumption lifestyles. Is not this also an example of the acceptance of a
        “market fundamentalism” which Monbiot rightly rails against?

            We need to see the atmosphere as part of the global commons. Emissions trading is just a continuation of the
        ongoing enclosure movement, the attempt to assert “private property rights” over the commons by the rich and
        the powerful. We also know that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that greenhouse
        gases must be cut by 60-80%, so the Kyoto Protocol is tokenism and essentially a scam in terms of what really
        needs to be done. There is no new path forward here out of the ecological crisis.

            Canada no longer has an independent energy policy but, through NAFTA, is integrated into the US (which has
        not signed the Kyoto Protocol) energy market. Currently about 60 percent of Canada’s oil and gas is contracted
        through this treaty to the States. We in Canada cannot reduce the amount of energy we send to the States,
        without also reducing our own consumption. Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has agreed to
        reduce its greenhouse gases by 2012 to 6 percent below 1990 levels. According to newspaper reports (Globe
        and Mail
, March 26, 2005), Canada has agreed, as part of signing onto Kyoto, to reduce greenhouse gas
        emissions by 270 million tonnes a year by 2012. Each country is free to meet their assigned targets anyway they
        think is necessary. It is clear that Canada, under this protocol, could vastly increase the actual greenhouse gas
        emissions being discharged into the atmosphere. This is the actual situation, as emissions are far above the
        threshold of 1990: some reports say approximately 20 percent above 1990 levels. By the purchase of carbon
        credits, which are for sale in other countries, Canada can still theoretically come into compliance with what it has
        agreed to, under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. The federal government in Canada has fixed a Ca$15.0-a-tonne
        cap on the payment by business for the purchase of carbon credits. We have also seen in Canada, within an
        acceptance of the carbon emissions trading scheme, that there is a basic unwillingness to take the necessary
        real steps to meet the 6 percent reduction. Instead, we have government ministers and industry spokespersons
        promoting increasing fossil fuel extraction, e.g. Alberta Tar Sands, East Coast and Northern oil and natural gas
        extraction, plus a number of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, all with ‘normal’ state subsidies of one kind
        or another. At the same time these spokespersons are asking for bookkeeping credits, so as not to have to
        meet the 6 percent reduction in carbon emissions — by counting in forest “carbon sinks”, credits for selling
        “clean” nuclear CANDU reactors, or credits for so-called clean renewable energy from hydro plants,
        biomass and windmills. Carbon emissions trading is a harmful diversion which stops the needed societal
        mobilization and cannot be supported by those who have an ecocentric consciousness. It is fraudulent as a
        means to basically change global warming. It is the fossil fuel based, human-centered industrial capitalist
        society itself, which global warming should be calling into question. This is the message which global warming,
        which is well underway, conveys. Yet Monbiot’s support for carbon emissions trading covers all this over.

            Manifesto For A New World Order is a very interesting book. I agree with George Monbiot that for social
        peace, we need a “global economic levelling.” The author see this being brought about by what might be called
        a people’s capitalism, that is, by capturing and transforming existing global institutions and creating new ones
        where necessary, as some kind of transitional program to a better world, with a hint of an eventual anti-capitalist
        agenda. I see this vision as a classic social democratic/Realo position which, in the past, has led to absorption
        to the industrial capitalist status quo. The example of the acceptance of carbon emissions trading is illustrative in
        this regard. Monbiot’s basic assumption regarding globalization is, ‘this is the way it is, therefore this is the way
        it has to be.’ I totally disagree with this. Industrial capitalism cannot be harnessed and tamed, and then put to
        ecological and social justice ends. This book ignores essentially the ecological question which is primary. Also,
        as has been said before, there are no jobs on a dead planet.

            Tim Flannery points out in his wonderful 2001 book, The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of
        North America and Its Peoples
, that “without increasing consumption, capital can have no increasing
(p. 353) Capital does not recognize ecological limits. There are no new ‘frontiers’ left in the 21st
        century. The globalized trade model pursued by Monbiot must promote an expanded global consumption
        of the Earth, which is in the intrinsic interest of capital itself. It is not the interest of the Earth itself, or in the long
        term, of its peoples.

            The harmful thrust of this book is that it sets itself against the green movement’s emphasis on the importance
        of “place” for changing consciousness in a more ecological direction, (and of living much more simply in place),
        so we come more into harmony with the natural world. This is characterized as “pernicious” localization, e.g.
        bioregionalism, and falsely said to be directed against the world’s poor. Yet a sense of place must be coupled
        with social equity, or wealth redistribution. The promise of communism regarding redistribution of wealth must
        be part of  a contemporary ecocentrism, along with population reduction, so other species also have the space
        to unfold their potentials, as do humans. Like Naess says, in one of the quotations which introduces this review,
        we in the present affluent countries must live a lifestyle that others in this one world can also attain. We must
        reject the industrial globalization model, not embrace it and try to tame it, as this book urges.

                                                                                                                                                    April 2005

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