The Need of a Moral Tribunal and a Colorful Economy

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I wonder: Is some kind of global governance possible at all?

The United Nations University (UNU) organized a side event on Global Governance Mechanisms for Boosting Green Innovation at the RioCentro conference center. I was surprised by the poor quality of some of their PowerPoint presentations, specially at such high-level events. Luckily enough, a good PowerPoint presentation is not central in conveying a valuable message.

This was underlined by the fact that the only speaker without a PowerPoint presentation was the one with the best speech. Professor Cristovam Buarque is the Senator of the Brazilian National Congress, head of the Rio+20 Senate Commission, Brazil, and Member of the UNU Council. He spoke of the need of innovating the concept of progress; of innovation to find a new word besides ‘development’ to describe what we want. According to him, a starting point would be to ask ourselves what do we want to consume and which kind of technologies should we develop to produce what we need.

Dr. Buarque emphasized that we need ‘over-sovereignity’ to define what to do with the world’s natural resources, namely forests, rivers, oceans, etc, and the need to internationalize them, possibly through some sort of green tax policy. If left up to each country to carry out the policy independently, he feels that the system may not work. But it cannot be denied that the creation of an international institution with sovereign power is closer to science fiction than to reality. He proposes instead the creation of an international moral tribunal (not a legal one though, as it is probably not possible) in order to evaluate and collaboratively judge projects and policies that threatens humankind and its future. These crimes against humankind that would be judged by the tribunal would fall into five categories:

  1.  Crimes that degrade nature and threaten future generations
  2.  Crimes that foment inequality
  3.  Crimes that threaten the unity of the human species
  4.  Crimes that manipulate information
  5.  Crimes that disrespect cultural diversity

The proceedings of the tribunal would see a group of world leaders choosing a case or project to be judged. After they issue a preliminary finding, a query would be launched on a global scale to judge the finding issued by the leaders.

The concepts of internationalizing natural resources and of creating an international tribunal might seem impossible to many. I personally think that while anything like this at an international level would be easy to find in George Orwell’s or Aldous Huxley’s books, reality is still very far from it. Even though his ideas are to contribute to the improvement of humankind and the environment, I can not see the way this could be implemented. Just look at the development of the Rio+20 negotiation – if policy at an international level is already so complex and difficult to achieve, how could this kind of tribunal would be able to judge in an agreed way?

The economy needs many other colors than green. 

Dr. Cristovam Buarque was also present a day later at the welcome ceremony at the conference of International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), taking place at a not-very-well-equipped Windsor Hotel. There, he suggested a ‘five color economy’, arguing that a Green Economy is not sufficient to achieve ‘the future we want.’

The reason for proposing such colorful economy is the synergy crisis due to realization of ecological limits. Dr. Buarque said that the interaction between economic growth, social welfare, scientific and technological advancement, and political democracy has been considered before but without accounting for ecology, sustainable development cannot be achieved. Indeed, a rethink of the way sustainability is tackled is needed; otherwise, the collapse is just being postponed instead of providing efficient and proper solutions. The example he provided was about transportation: some countries are changing from using gas to ethanol in an attempt to be “sustainable” but to do it without addressing the related issues of the infrastructure and traffic makes no sense. Rather, it is about changing from private to public transportation. It has to do with changing our mindsets, our culture.

The five colors of the economy that he proposed and his explanations for each of the colors are the following:

Green: In terms of the consumption of resources. The green economy is the famous one at Rio+20.
Red: In terms of the distribution of production. Economy should be social, it should be there for everybody, not only to serve the interests of a few.
 Yellow: In terms of science and technology production. Technology should be for everyone, and should serve humankind. Important is to note that ethics should always be placed above technology.
White: In terms of peace. Imagine what could be done with the money spent in wars, and with the human capital and the infrastructure destroyed.
Blue: In terms of well-being. The well-being of humans should always be placed above production.

Again, he urged to make progress in the concept of progress and to create new indicators to measure the different aspects of the five-colored economy. At the end, he highlighted the importance of education, as education is there to change minds, and therefore, to change cultures. More important than having a green economy, he explained, is to have a green culture. “The revolution we have ahead is a revolution of human mind for a better humankind.”

The concept of the ‘five color economy’ is as colorful and beautiful as a rainbow, but as far as I know, the pot of money at the end of it is impossible to reach. Unfortunately, while Dr. Buarque’s speech was nice, it lacked concreteness. He did not give many insights on how this ‘five colors of the economy’ could be achieved, or which specific actions must governments take. Furthermore, he did not mention how an international tribunal could be created, and how would they address all the political challenges that this could provoke. I am curious to know which of his ideas are already part of a framework and who is supporting them. Are there any interests behind, or is this pure philantrophy?

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