Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oceans of debt

On 13 Oct I moderate a discussion titled Saving the oceans: What needs to be done?, taking place in Lübeck [1].

A moderator's job is to help things run smoothly -- to facilitate firmly but to be inconspicuous. But if, as I have been asked, I am to say something at the very start, I may try to articulate a question that, I guess, is in many people's minds -- viz. how, if at all, might the current financial crisis influence prospects and opportunities? [2]

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek thinks this crisis has a silver lining:
Amid all the difficulties and hardship that we are about to undergo, I see one silver lining. This crisis has—dramatically, vengefully—forced the United States to confront the bad habits it has developed over the past few decades. If we can kick those habits, today's pain will translate into gains in the long run.
Turning to the natural world, Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of a recent report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, has said:
Whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.
But what of the human debt to the oceans? How many get-out-of-jail-free cards are we relying upon them to gives us (as, for example, climate buffers and/or new and so far unregulated resource for exploitation such as"elsewhere oil")? And how many inescapable penalties are we incurring as a result of a "consume now, pay later" approach?

The Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood invites us to re-examine our attitudes to debt:
It is told of Nelson Mandela that, after much persecution, and when he was finally freed from the prison where he'd been put by the apartheid government in South Africa, he said to himself that he had to forgive all those who had wronged him by the time he reached the prison gates or he would never be free of them. In other words, the antidote to revenge is not justice but forgiveness.
Finally, some words of inspiration from two sons of Lübeck. Willy Brandt:
Could we not begin to lay the basis for that new community with reasonable relations among all people and nations, and to build a world in which sharing, justice, freedom and peace might prevail? (Brandt Report, 1983)
and Thomas Mann:
The beautiful word begets the beautiful deed. (The Magic Mountain)

[1] This is part of the XVII Malente Symposium: More than Water - Oceans and Global Responsibility.

[2] Added 13 Oct: In the event I also mentioned the U.S. Presidential election -- another issue front centre of global public concern, and contrasted these words of Sarah Palin's with the clarity of Jacqueline McGlade.

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