Of peaks and valley

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
7 March, 2017
Editorial: 78
Fecha de publicación original: 1 julio, 1997

Date of publication 01/07/1997. Editorial 78.

Lots of a little makes a lot

The 2nd Earth Summit in New York ended up as a gentle slope. Five years of globalisation at the hands of the liberal economy has done away with the globalisation of the environmental problem. The meeting at the UN, which was attended by 53 heads of State, highlighted a compelling truth that will not be solved by half measures: States, their present governments, the administrations they engender, industry and the decision-making processes that all these imply, are not capable of addressing the serious environmental challenges facing the planet. Which is the same thing as saying that they are incapable of dealing with the real lives of their inhabitants. In Rio de Janeiro, five years ago, they were given a cheque (practically a blank one) to put the post-industrial society on the right road and change the dangerous direction it had been taking. However, this period of time has only served to make it evident that they are not equipped — above all mentally — to fulfil such a task. The reasons are, of course, multiple and complex. But this does not detract one bit from the gravity of the situation. What happened in New York can be read in many ways. Although one version it seems to me, shines out above the rest: decision-making is either based on the actions of citizens, at a grass roots level, or the dictates of a “free” market will lead us on a suicidal course into dangerous waters of hitherto unimaginable depths. This diagnosis is not the result of a simple expression of good intentions. While the fuse was sputtering out in New York, a flame was being breathed into life a few kilometres away from the US metropolis, in Toronto, where thousands of grass roots organisations from all over the world at the Global Knowledge Conference demonstrated that it was still possible to take leading action.

More than 2000 people “in situ” (500 of them from developing countries), joined by thousands around the planet, gathered at real and virtual conferences to debate the role of knowledge in sustainable development. The meeting became a condemnation of the idea that telecommunications can develop based on the same criteria which had stifled the Earth Summit i.e. the profitability of economic investment and the subsequent need to put a “free” price on each and every commodity. In this stranglehold, it would have been impossible for communities, organisations and people, working in direct contact with the problems which the world must try and solve, to be able to place the question of knowledge in a cooperative environment via the Net, as the most valuable commodity that humanity has for finding new ways out of the present situation.

The Toronto Conference was very explicit as to the challenges which face us, but, implicitly, it also sent a clear message about economies based on solidarity, self-management and the generation of wealth based on the thorough exploitation of their own resources, in the first place human ones. Subjects such as gender roles, family structure, education, the financing of domestic markets, etc., formed part of an agenda which New York completely ignored, not so much because it despises them as part of a regime mobilised by a different dynamic, but because they are materially incapable of access to these problems given their terrestrial perspective. From the heights of political and industrial hierarchies, these are questions to be resolved by juggling statistics. Figures are always useful for masking faces and daily realities and the powers-that-be cling to this carnival assiduously.

Before, during and after the conference ended last weekend, participants enthusiastically exchanged opinions and began outlining a plan of action for the end of this century and the beginning of the next, a real Agenda 21 managed by the actors involved themselves, the only people with sufficient dynamism to get such a project off the ground. All this trafficking in life experiences took place with the help of the resources which the Net offers, from web pages for “rich” and “poor”, e-mail, the transfer of files and the creation of electronic archives which show all the signs of becoming the libraries of the future. The epicentre of the debate was community development, as well as the necessity for establishing multi-directional communications between people and taking full advantage of the possibilities that the new electronic means of communication offer, particularly the Internet.

Within this multitude of debates, open to all those interested by a simple subscription, the need to help universities in developing countries to establish communications networks to bridge the traditional problems of physical and economic distances suffered by countries in the South, was broached. Universities, it was thought, should become the driving force in education to which school systems could then attach themselves by encouraging the participation of teachers, parents and students, as well as technical training colleges dedicated to development.

What was discussed in Toronto is a very different reality to that discussed in the world where telecommunications operators navigate. In a few years time, the industrialised nations will have to solve the grand dilemma of our age: incapable of formulating sustainable policies to palliate, at least, the most serious imbalances that they themselves have brought about in the environment, they can do one of two things: either they make them even worse by deploying increasingly aggressive market strategies in developing countries in the field of telecommunications, or, on the other hand, they give in to the necessity of sharing the most obvious benefits of applying environmental criteria to their telecommunications policies. Either they keep the tools to themselves only to choke on them, or they hand them over in their best condition in order to change the course of events which they themselves have fostered.

​Translation: Bridget King