WHAT'S NEW IN INES?
Dateline: November 30, 2000
This is the weekly electronic information service of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility
Editor: Tobias Damjanov, e-mail:
INES homepage: http://inesglobal.org
INES International Office
INES Chair: Prof. Armin Tenner
CONTENTS of WNII No. 37/2000
MEMBERSHIP AND PROJECTS' NEWS
"INES Newsletter" No. 31 out now
The "INES Newsletter" No. 31/November 2000 has the following contents:
The "INES Newsletter" is edited by Armin Tenner, Buziaustraat 18, 1068 KN Amsterdam, The Netherlands Tel/Fax: , e-mail: A pure ASCII version is available for distribution by e-mail. Ask the "INES Newsletter" editor to put you on his distribution list. The "INES Newsletter" is also available at: http://inesglobal.org
New Zealand: Engineers for Social Responsibility (ESR) Newsletter November 2000 (Vol. 16/No. 5) http://www.esr.org.nz
The latest ESR Newsletter carries the following main articles:
Newsletter Editor: Neil Mander
Russia: Letter of interest from Prof. Varshavsky
Russian INES member Prof. Alexander Varshavsky who works at the Central Economics and Mathematics Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in Moscow, has sent the following letter of interest:
I and my colleagues could participate in some joint projects on the following possible topics:
You can contact Prof. Varshavsky at:
Hartwig Spitzer: Report on the INES conference 'Challenges for Science and Engineering in the 21st Century' (For new INES members: Prof. Spitzer, Hamburg/Germany, is a former INES Chairperson and a major initiator and co-organizer of this conference)
The International Network of Scientists and Engineers for Global Responsibility (INES) organised the above mentioned conference which took place in Stockholm, from June 14 to 18, 2000. The core question addressed by this meeting was "What can people do to help human society to develop sustainably?". With other words: "What is the answer to Groucho Marx's question 'What has the future ever done for me?'"
Here are a few impressions, entirely subjective and incomplete: What initially impressed me most, aside from the magnificent beauty of Stockholm, was the relatively large number of students participating in that conference. Almost one third of the participants were between 20 and 30 years old. Of course, if young people were not interested in sustainable development, who would be? The first real thrill for me was Susan George's talk titled "Confronting and Transforming the International Financing System." What I first expected to be a lecture on the basics of international financing and economy, turned out to be a flaming speech against globalisation. I couldn't remember all the facts and figures, but one issue was quite remarkable: a non-negligible number of transnational corporations has already reached an economical size comparable to small and medium sized nations. Only, that TNCs are not controlled democratically! The effect of this becomes quite evident when one remembers the influence of some of the larger TNCs on our (the German) government. According to Susan George, there is only on step left in order to abolish the last obstacles of a global economy: an international agreement on the regulation of investments. With the "Battle of Seattle" this "mutual agreement on investment" could be impeded temporarily. Nevertheless, the TNCs, aided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) have enough elbow room to grow further by free international trade. If permanent growth is sustainable at all is a valid question and was another topic of the conference. I must admit, the real impacts of globalisation are still a bit foggy to me. Still, as a physicist, there is an analogy that was almost forced upon me by the scenario of a totally free and globalised economy: if a suchlike complex and highly interconnected system like the world economy loses its inner damping (or friction), small local fluctuations can have an unexpected and possibly massive impact on a global scale. Are the recent events in east Asia an indicator of the beginning of this "de-damping?" Bearing this in mind, the natural strategy to counteract this global destabilisation appears to be to conserve and strengthen the local structures.
Accordingly I opted for the workshop "Local strategies in response to economic globalisation." For starters we extended the discussion with Susan George regarding globalisation and were able to clarify some of the terms that were used within this context (and which were more or less obscure for me). There were the "Davos-People" for example, or more precisely the "World Economic Forum," a gathering of WTO, IMF, World Bank, NGOs and some TNCs. This forum is not especially focused on issues of sustainability, but rather on growth (which should not imply these two were mutually exclusive). One tool to slow down the unregulated international financial flows of the global market is the "Tobin Tax" on all international transactions, proposed and named after James Tobin, Nobel laureate for economics. This would have a limiting effect on speculative (destabilising) investments while it would hardly affect the build-up of industry, trade and infrastructure (e.g. in developing countries) by foreign investors. But what is it, that makes the current state of the global economic system so non-sustainable? According to Richard Douthwaite (chairman of the workshop) it is the need for constant growth. This can be easily comprehended: no system can grow infinitely. Bacteria cultures that try this simply die after having consumed all of their food stock. Thus, Douthwaite argues, the most important criterion for a sustainable economy is that it is not forced to grow. Building on this, he develops a definition of sustainability that "lends a cutting edge" to the traditional definition from the Brundtlandt report. According to Douthwaite, the main characteristics of a sustainable economy are therefore:
The image of a mature eco-system came to my mind (like a forest for instance), that exchanges only small amounts of matter and energy with the environment and eventually grows only little or not at all. Can this be a role model for our economy? Colin Hines in his talk then described the maxim of globalisation with the words "maximise the profit!" which usually is rephrased as "international competitiveness." Indeed, this also seems to be one of the major concerns of German politics and industries. The fact that the further opening of the market towards global free trade and investment leads to the reduction of social standards and social welfare in almost every country is far too often neglected in the "Location Germany" debate. Hines even concludes that international competitiveness is not even necessary for an economy's survival. Instead, it should be produced locally, what can be produced locally. One way of implementing this idea could be, to have a "a site here to sell here" policy that only allows companies with a production site in the country to sell there. If this is really acceptable at all remains to be discussed, of course. Maybe decision makers should heed Keynes' warning "Never trade basic goods and NEVER lose control over your financial system!"
One of the important issues of the conference was of course the advancing resource shortage. First of all the fossil fuels: since the discovery of new repositories peaked in 1972, the peak in production is expected to be around the year 2000. Does that mean the problems associated with fossil fuels will simply disappear because soon they will be just too expensive? I do not suppose so, since the actual problems are not so much associated with the shortage of sources but with the shortage of sinks. The earth's capacity for emissions from the human population is limited, and it is quite likely that we have reached that limit already. The exact limits, e.g. for CO2 emissions, are of course hard to define. However, the increasing global warming probably means that we should not push this button much further. The production and distribution of food seems to have large saving potentials in this context. According to Folke Gunther, 60% of the primary energy demands of this sector could be saved easily. Of course, this too would result in a localisation of the food industry. The key word "Localisation" quite generally seemed to describe THE problem solving strategy.
The greatest surprise for me in this context was the concept of local currencies. But to fully understand this tool, I first had to learn how our money actually comes about. Many of you will know this mechanism, but I was quite astonished to learn how the financial means of the industry and private households are created. In any state the central bank distributes money to private banks by issuing loans. The private banks then issue credits to companies and private persons. The total volume of credits they can issue is limited (typically ten times the amount of there own money supply). This, in principle, assures that the overall amount of money can not grow infinitely. Yet, interpreted differently, it is not the state that creates most of the money but the private banks. After all, 93% of the total money supply stems from private loans and not from loans issued by the state. According to David Heathfield, the English banking system has currently reached somewhat of an absurd state: the restriction on the amount that a bank may issue as a credit to customers was lifted. This more or less enables the banks to "print their own money". Formerly, banks were some kind of mediators between money lenders and borrowers, now they are more like "money producers." In reply to Heathfield's question about who was now actually controlling the money supply in the country, he received quite curious and evading answers. The most remarkable one being that he should not ask such questions in public, since he would shatter the citizens trust in the national finance system. But indeed, if there was only a comparably small number of people who wanted to withdraw all their money from their accounts, many banks would have to declare themselves bankrupt. With the growing amount of private loans this critical number is even getting smaller. Fortunately there is the statutory assurance (at least in England) that the state will pitch in, if the banks should become insolvent. How comforting!
One way of creating a sustainable economy in a country or region is, according to Alf Hornberg, to introduce local currencies. These would naturally only have a limited regional validity and would co-exist with the natural currency. Trading local goods and services would be done using this local currency and would therefore be independent of fluctuations of the national currency, which would still be used for trans-regional and international trade. It is still a bit unclear to me as to how this would actually lead to a more sustainable economy, but it would definitely shield the regional economy from shifts on the foreign exchange market and counteract destabilising speculations. The introduction of local currencies was one of the main topics of this workshop. The general idea behind it is the belief that you cannot pay for different values and effects in the same coin. Take for example the deforestation of a piece of rainforest which is transformed into pasture. Assume you sell this piece of land for a xy dollars which you spend in turn on buying Coca-Cola. Yet, the destroyed value of the rainforest is in no relation to the value of the acquired Coke. In the framework of a sustainable economy, one would have for the rainforest a different currency than for the Coke since there are different effects associated with its acquisition. One member of the workshop compared having only one currency to having only one letter: in order to transmit information, you need at least two. Douthwaite even suggests four currencies. I don't remember all four of them but there was at least one for non-sustainable energy consumption (measured by the CO2 emission) and one for human labour.
Especially in the banking and financing sector there are quite a few local approaches to sustainability which should result in higher stability. There is, for example, the JAK bank in Sweden offering interest free banking. This means no interest on savings but also no interest on loans! At least this relieves companies, which are financed by loans, of the pressure for growth. Loans are only given to customers who accumulated money in their savings accounts. How much they can take out as a loan is derived from the amount saved by multiplication with a "savings rate" (depending on the funds on the savings account and the time the money had been deposited there). If one needs a bigger loan, one is obliged to save a corresponding amount while paying back the loan. For me, who knows as much about banking issues as about breeding pigs, this idea came as a big surprise: banks should give up on interest? Voluntarily? Nevertheless, the JAK bank experiences are quite encouraging; more than 2000 customers are currently helping themselves to interest free loans. This concept is of course especially interesting for small and medium sized businesses, since they usually find bad conditions for loans in the traditional banking system.
I was yet even more surprised by the idea of local currencies. To stick with the metaphor: now it even seemed to rain pigs from the blue sky! A working example for a local currency "from below" is the Treque from Argentina. It all started some years ago with some unemployed citizens of Buenos Aires exchanging goods and services and keeping track of the transactions by writing them down in little notebooks. When this method became to cumbersome, they started printing little vouchers: the Treque was born. It quickly developed into a popular currency since with these vouchers you could buy a large number of goods and services within the region. In the meantime the Treque has spread to all of Argentina and is used everywhere (in its respective local form) as a second currency. One would expect a whole variety of difficulties with this alternative: counterfeit money, inflation, uncontrolled growth of the money supply, intervention from the state (after all, the Treque generates some sort of a black market). But all this has not been happening yet. On the contrary: the value of the Treque has not changed noticeably since its introduction, money counterfeiters have hardly any chance of staying undetected (since the currency is only valid locally) and the state also seems to have no objections. The poor and unemployed population sectors, on the other hand, have regained a motivation to work for themselves and their families and to create markets for their products. This is without, a doubt, a success for social sustainability.
The concept of local currencies is not limited to South American countries, though it had its biggest successes there. Also in London people are thinking about local money, since, for a long time, there has existed a well-established trade and exchange system in France and similar movements are beginning to appear in the Netherlands and Germany. There is still the question about the benefits for the economy. For Argentina, I suppose there is a positive effect, since the local currency counteracts poverty and unemployment directly. But what would the effects be in a country like Germany? Do we actually need a local currency here? I don't know the answer to this, but maybe there are some pig-experts out there who do?
The conference still had another surprise for me: never before had I heard so many scientists and engineers use the word "spirituality." It is a very important issue for me, but so far I had always been confronted with a lack of understanding and even being laughed at. The reason for this? Usually spirituality is considered a non-provable and non-rational attachment to religious values. My belief (and that of most of my conversational partners at the conference) however, is that spirituality is ONLY accessible via proof and demonstration. Of course, these proofs are not objective but are rather supplied by "subjective experimentation" which leads to the experience of a growing and extending self. An immediate consequence is to protect and preserve this enlarged self. After all, you would also not cut your own hand, would you? Having experienced spirituality in this fashion, it becomes quite "rational" to cut down on consumption, to respect all fellow human beings and to live sustainably. As mentioned before, quite a few scientific thinkers seem to agree on this, which supports the thesis that science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. In my eyes, spirituality is even the highest science since it leads to self-realisation. And when you have found yourself, what remains to be discovered? Let me finish with a quote by an Indian mystic, Sant Kirpal Singh: "Spirituality is a mystic science, a matter of practical self-realisation and not a matter of philosophical debate or intuitive perception." Further sources of information: INES Website: http://inesglobal.org Conference: http://www.ines2000.org (some papers there, too) Susan George: http://www.tni.org/george Richard Douthwaite: http://www.douthwaite.net Local currencies: http://www.ex.ac.uk/~RDavies/arian/local.html JAK Bank: http://www.jak.se Spirituality: too many, please search for yourself ;-) Prof. Spitzer can be approached through:
Abolition 2000 homepage: http://www.abolition2000.org Grassroots News: http://www.napf.org/abolition2000/news/
National Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace set up in India
The "National Convention for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace," which was held in Delhi, the Indian capital, from 11th to 13th November, brought into being a "National Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace." I have collected the following articles and documents of this Convention which you can obtain from me in one rtf-formatted file:
T. Damjanov, Editor Email contact of the Coalition:
Dr David Krieger has just made available the Nagasaki Appeal from the Nagasaki Global Citizens' Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, adopted on 20 November 2000. If you wish to obtain this Appeal, contact or the WNII editor.
Member of Knesset on Israeli Nukes and Vanunu
Egyptian INESAP member Bahig Nassar has just made available a very interesting speech by Issam Makhoul, member of Knesset (Israeli Parliament),on the dangers of Israeli nuclear weapons and for the release of Vanunu, imprisoned by Israel after revealing its nuclear weapons' secrets 14 years ago. It was delivered at a meeting held in London on November 18, 2000. If you wish to obtain this document, contact Bahig Nassar at or the WNII editor.
VERTIC Briefing Paper 00/6: Verification of the Kyoto Protocol
"Verification of the Kyoto Protocol: A Fundamental Requirement" is the title of the VERTIC Briefing Paper 00/6. Edited by Clare Tenner, it refers to the "Key Issues for the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Climate Change, The Hague, November 2000." For orders, contact:
"Focus On Trade"
"Focus On Trade" is a regular electronic bulletin providing updates and analysis of trends in regional and world trade and finance, with an emphasis on analysis of these trends from an integrative, interdisciplinary viewpoint that is sensitive not only to economic issues, but also to ecological, political, gender and social issues. Your contributions and comments are welcome. "Focus On Trade" is published by Focus on the Global South, an autonomous programme of policy research and action of the Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI) based in Bangkok. Contact "Focus On Trade" via http://focusweb.org
INES WEB AND E-MAIL SERVICE
No new or changed email or web addresses in this issue. All INES e-mail addresses and homepages are available upon request from:
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