By Michael Jessen
The study of history teaches us one important lesson: if we don't learn from it, we're doomed to repeat it.
Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was only trying to convey that history lesson in his now infamous comments last week at the United Nations and on CBC Television the night before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Chrétien's conclusion that there is a link between global financial inequities and the threat to security in the rich western world is hardly original or even startling. That his remarks should generate such a storm of protest in Canada is baffling.
OK, so our Prime Minister doesn't appear to speak from the heart very often these days, preferring instead to read scripted doublespeak with lame jokes. But any time our country's head of state speaks like a real human being, does he have to endure the hisses and boos from the likes of Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, Republican Party spokesperson Brian Mulroney, and a good part of the news media?
I was actually proud of the man I watched being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge. Chrétien's statement that the Western world must accept some responsibility for the terror attacks of last September will get no argument from me. His revelation that developing nations look at the Western world "as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits" is both sad and true.
Economic resources are not distributed according to some inexorable economic laws, but through political -- that is, human -- choices.
As Ruth Savard pointed out in her report "World Military and Social Expenditures," the cost of developing one intercontinental ballistic missile could feed 50 million children, build 160,000 schools and open 340,000 health care centres. We all know the world has chosen the former thousands of times in the past.
"In the economic sphere, US national product accounts for 31 per cent of world production," writes Adam Daniel Rotfeld in the introduction to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's (SIPRI - www.sipri.se/) Yearbook 2002.
"This preponderance both tempts and permits the USA to act unilaterally," Rotfeld says. "However, security is based on interdependence rather than independence or preponderance. While this understanding is reflected in official US statements, in practice the US tendency towards unilateralism in decision making prevails. The world needs the USA as never before, but the USA needs the rest of the world, too. Neither domination and hegemony nor neo-isolationism offer an adequate response to the new challenges."
Riane Eisler, in her 1987 book "The Chalice and the Blade," wrote about the need to shift from dominator to partnership ways of life. "The dominator model," she said, "ranks one part of humanity over the other. In the partnership model, diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority." Eisler's scholarly research led her to found the Center for Partnership Studies (www.partnershipway.org). Her recently published new book is "The Power of Partnership."
Chrétien seems to have "gotten" Eisler's message and so have many other Canadians. Francie Ducros, Mr. Chrétien's communications director, said the Prime Minister's Office had received more than 200 messages by Friday the 13th, 82 percent of which were supportive. You can send him your opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now if only Chrétien's critics would read Eisler's books.
Some environmental groups could also stand to go back to these books. They were highly critical of the partnerships developed by business and government at the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa.
But again, let's look back at history. World governments alone have not been able to provide the food, water, medicines, work opportunities, shelter, sanitation, and education so desperately needed in almost one half of the planet's countries.
"No one government or organization can afford to work in isolation," says Rt. Hon Clare Short MP, United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development. "We need to recognize the different strengths and capabilities different organizations have: non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, the private sector, donor, governments and the faiths. We need to build partnerships and networks at the national and international level, which make the most of these different strengths."
Ms. Short is one of the most outspoken members of Tony Blair's cabinet. She has refused to support the bombing of Iraqi civilians as desired by U.S. President George Bush.
Business Action for Sustainable Development (www.basd-action.net) is an initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. A three-year program to study, support and promote strategic examples of tri-sector partnerships (those involving business, government and civil society) resulted in a report entitled "Putting Partnering to Work." See www.basd-action.net/initiatives/trisector_partnership.php.
One of the more interesting partnership initiatives includes the Canadian office of J. Walter Thompson (www.jwt.com), the world's oldest advertising company. It has partnered with the Canadian federal departments of Industry and Environment and UNESCO to help communicate sustainability around the world.
This initiative will innovate informal means of education to help global audiences understand and respond to the value of sustainable development the same way they respond to the ideas, messages, and symbols of the most prominent global organizations. It will empower and enable people in developed and developing nations to make well-informed choices about sustainability and to positively affect how local and multi-national business leaders make decisions.
Some environmentalists have chosen to respond to initiatives like this with scepticism.
But in order to achieve progress, we need to take chances with new ways of doing things. The old way of thinking has brought us to the brink of destroying our planet. We need to seize these opportunities to build a better world.
We cannot have a just political and economic system while the politics of domination and the economics of exploitation remain commonplace. We will build a safer world when we have a more just world. Let's get on with it.
Michael Jessen is a Nelson consultant who specializes in helping companies and communities become more sustainable. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by e-mail at Michael@zerowaste.ca. His business -- Zero Waste Services -- has an award-winning web site at www.zerowaste.ca.
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