G8, consumption, equality

Documents of the G8 summit are up, including the historic 40 page statement ‘Responsible Leadership for a Sustainable Future‘.

This is woefully inadequate for the times.

Climate change begins at paragraph 63. The idea is to use market mechanisms, new technologies and a global financial effort from all but the least developed countries to prevent a rise in global temperatures of over 2 degrees. Capacity-building for contingencies are also on the cards. And then there’s mitigation efforts such as addressing deforestation and clean, efficient energy (including nuclear).

There are nice words about financial integrity (there’s a determination to look past the crisis though) followed by more good noises about worker rights and the “social aspect of globalisation” – inclusive globalisation is the order of the day. There’s a commitment to refrain from protectionism and other barriers to trade. Conservative noises about digital intellectual property. There’s a biodiversity target, and food security plans. Water and sanitation for all. Peace and security in Africa, studiously ignoring the Middle East.

Reducing poverty – good. But nothing about reducing inequality – the first I noticed “equitable growth” was in a directive aimed at developing countries. Gender equality gets a few mentions, but this is no substitute for more general social equality. Ditto “health as an outcome of all policies”. Health and equality are related. And there is nothing about reducing consumption.

Social epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket, authors of The Spirit Level, argue that most social ills have one root cause, which is inequality. Individual consumption, for example, is strongly related to status anxiety, which in turn is related to inequality. They mount (to my dismally unstatistical eye) a robust and evidenced argument to this effect. Thatcher did for equality in Britain and Blair and Brown kept us unequal.

I think it’s fine to stress where the responsibilities of individuals end and those of institutions begin, but what is not fine is to make out that we can consume our way out of this hole. Most people who seem to me to want the right thing – like Fairtrade co-founder Ed Mayo, for example – are sure that we cannot buy our way out of this crisis and that we need to create the circumstances to consume less. And yet it is absent from this G8 statement.

This is a taboo that will turn us on each other when the strain our day-to-day lives places on the climate, the environment and resources becomes impossible to sustain.

We need more equality, beginning with a global commitment to cap pay.


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