Speaking at the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations (23 April 2008) Bolivian President Evo Morales called on indigenous peoples’ delegates to recognize the importance of ancient traditions and knowledge held by Fourth World nations as the essential ingredient for reversing the adverse effects of Climate Change.
Morales, according to Climatewire, said “Climate change offers proof that the world must undergo a fundamental realignment of its economic system.” The alternative to persistent consumption, according to President Morales is the balance between human need and natural reproduction provided by Fourth World cultures–the knowledge and practices rooted in intergenerational experience.
Economies centered on capital accumulation are the cause, not the cure for global warming, food shortages, massive refugee movements, fuel shortages and the perpetual impoverishment of most of the world’s people. The goal of capital economies, market economies, is accumulation and concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a very few; impoverishing the many and raping the natural world. Capital economies install the vast human population as consumers while limiting the number of producers in massive corporate conglomerations. The basic assumption and necessity of capital economies is that nature’s wealth is a commodity essentially free for the taking and that human labor is a commodity that must be kept at a minimum. The constant emphasis on capital growth assumes endless natural wealth and human labor. This is a fundamental error in thinking. Nature has limits and human labor cannot long sustain abuse.
Modern subsistence economics, based on the concept of life renewal and natural balance is now essential as a corrective for more than four hundred years of intensified capital growth and consumption. Economies centered on subsistence where human need is balanced against the capacity of the natural world to reproduce can reverse global warming and stabilize global climate. Subsistence affirms life as the central concern of human economic activity while ensuring that more of human societies become producers and consumers of their own produce. The goal of modern subsistence economics is the replenishment of life and respectful use of the natural world. Subsistence economics is deeply embedded in the cultures of Fourth World peoples throughout the world. (For a thorough and insightful discussion of the subsistence perspective read Maria Mies and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen in their excellent book “The Subsistence Perspective,” Zed Books: London. Professor Mies emphasizes that her book along with Claudia von Werlhof and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen discusses the “subsistence perspective” and not an economic model. Mies argues that the subsistence perspectives emphasizes the economy and society, culture, history and all other aspects of life. While I agree with this analysis, I suggest that economics is indeed about all aspects of life just as it is true that culture is about all aspects of life.)
Many Fourth World nations, like the states governments of India, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and others have turned their backs on their own culture, their own knowledge, to become acquisitive societies. These nations have joined in the headlong rush to consume the natural world in excessive ways. They have become contributors to global warming, food shortages, and all the rest. These indigenous peoples believe they have long been denied the “fruits of progress,” and have waited too long to become consumers like metropolitan populations. These nations are making the same mistake as the consumer, commodified populations. These Fourth World economies are showing the same signs of widening gaps between rich and poor, sharply reduced natural wealth, and wild swings between enrichment and impoverishment.
US President Bill Clinton proclaimed in the early 1990s “It’s the economy stupid” to call attention to a political point of emphasis in that electoral campaign. The phrase is now the point to understand why climate change, fuel shortages, food riots, desertification and deforestation are a product of the capital economy Mr. Clinton then lauded. Capital economics assumes perpetual growth and consequently perpetual consumption. It is argued that the capital based economy and environmental balance can go hand in hand by generating “green jobs” and “green technology.” The problem with this thinking is that it essentially no different from the constant growth and consumption emphasis of straight capital economics. Technology is supposed to save the environment and prosper the population. There is no evidence that such an approach has any legs.
On the other hand, there is powerful evidence supporting the notion that subsistence economics is the appropriate alternative that can reverse the sins of the last 400 years. Now it is up to Fourth World nations that still have confidence in their own cultures to persuade modern states like the United States, Germany, China and India that they must adopt the tried and true practices of modern subsistence economics. By so doing, President Morales’ urgent call for an alternative to the greed of capital economics that solves the problem of climate change, food shortage, fuel shortages and more will indeed be realized and Fourth World nations will resume their place in the global dialog for human life.
A fundamental shift must take place in the way human beings transact the distribution of goods and services. We must reclaim localism, and restore human productivity as well as human access to land. These are essential elements of the subsistence perspective and of these the most immediate change that must take place in the relationship between people and the land. Restore land to those who have become landless owing to state and corporate confiscations of land. People must have access to the land to produce food and life. Changing the economy in this fundamental way can restore the balance needed to reverse the calamities now confronting the world’s peoples.
(c) 2008 Center for World Indigenous Studies