An unbreakable link
Events around the world are demonstrating more clearly than ever the unbreakable link between issues of social justice and the big environmental questions that will determine humanity's survival.
From the Darling River to the jungles of the Amazon, environmental questions are proving insoluble without closely linked economic answers. How are the cattle and cotton farmers of the inland river systems to continue making a living without destroying the rivers? And if whole industries must be closed down or severely curtailed, who is to pick up the economic and social cost of such adjustments?
It's clear environmentally sound policies can't be imposed without majority support, even if that were desirable. Huge vested interests oppose such policies and can buy politicians and even governments. In most cases, their horizons extend no farther than next year's balance sheet.
Solutions are available, ranging from planting more forests to introducing shorter working hours to fight the unemployment which drives too many to forget the larger questions in their desperate daily struggle for survival. But for the moment, the power to get things done rests with those whose short-term interests lie in changing in the wrong direction. How can we change this? How can we place real power, as opposed to the illusion of power, in the hands of the majority?
Individuals and organisations around the world are grappling with these questions, and the answers don't come readily. However, there are some things we can say on the basis of experience.
To start with, militant, united, tactically flexible struggle is a potent weapon against even the most powerful forces. Just to take one example, in the past year the Chaelundi forest was saved from powerful logging companies in alliance with the state government through a complex mix of civil disobedience, legal proceedings and electoral politics.
Secondly, there is great potential for socially just, environmentally responsible politics if all the forces which agree around the big issues can put these issues above old prejudices, grudges and personal ambitions. Perhaps the New Zealand left and green forces offer an example here, with their recently formed alliance. One thing is certain: the coming year must bring further progress on these issues if we are to have any chance of winning the big battles that will determine whether humanity is to have a future.