Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 3 - Page 221


 

 

The Democratic Basis of Global Housekeeping
 
CHARLOTTE WATERLOW
 
 
My theme is that a directly elected world parliamentary assembly, with executive organs and judicial systems responsible to it, is essential to the solution of the global environmental and developmental crisis called by the Club of Rome the “problématique.” Voltaire said: ‘‘Those who believe in absurdities will commit atrocities.” We can turn this round and say that those who believe in the right principles will create the right systems and institutions.
First, to note very briefly the main dimensions of the “problématique”, the world’s population of 5.4 billion is expected to double by the year 2050. At present 77 per cent live in the Less Developing Countries (LDCs); by 2050 the figure is projected to be 90 per cent. The world’s wealth is very unevenly distributed. The 77 per cent in the LDCs create only 15 per cent of the world’s GNP and have a net outflow of 50 billion dollars in repayment of a debt amounting to 1.3 trillion. One billion people live in abject poverty – a figure which has doubled in the last ten years. The two billion people in India and China have an average income of $300 a year, while the average income of the Americans and the Japanese is $20,000 a year. The world’s resources are being rapidly depleted and polluted. Oil reserves, according to British Petroleum, will be exhausted in 40 years; the tropical forests are vanishing, and with them their gene bank. A third of the world’s arable land will be lost by the year 2000. The fresh water situation is dangerous. Pollution is threatening the climate in ways well known to this audience. In a joint statement the British Royal Society and the United States’ National Academy of Sciences recently declared that: ‘‘The future of our planet is in the balance. The next 30 years may be crucial.” Some experts, such as the British environmentalist Norman Myers, place the time factor at ten years.
What must be done? I shall try to answer this question from the point of view of a World Federalist and a woman. In their new book, “The First Global Revolution,” the members of the Club of Rome have tried to solve “the problématique” by what they call “the résolutique.” I shall suggest a model based on a more homely term: Global Housekeeping.
Let us imagine that the men have called in a group of housewives to get the Global Housekeeping organised. The first thing they will do is to assess the human family’s basic needs – both immediate needs, then the projected longer term needs of their grandchildren’s time. Before 1945 statistics for most parts of the world did not exist. The housewives will be surprised to find that since 1961 the U.N. and its Specialised Agencies have been working on “social indicators” for all parts of the world. In 1976 the International Labour Organisation, representing governments, employers and workers of 121 countries, produced the “Basic Needs First” strategy, assessing basic needs and calling on all governments to adopt policies which would ensure that the basic needs of all were met; and arguing that this was not being fulfilled by the “trickle-down” theory of capitalist investment. They were thus demanding the implementation of Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the right of everyone to an adequate standard of life. Similar work on social indicators, emphasising the factor of the quality of life as well as the quantity of material goods, is being done by NGOs, such as the New Economics Foundation in Britain founded in tribute to Fritz Schumacher, author of the famous book “Small is Beautiful” which President Carter kept on his desk. This book has the significant sub-title: “Economics as if people mattered.” What is now needed is to remould the U.N. and its Agencies into an integrated body which can co-ordinate all this work into a global, unified approach, which takes account of industrialised and developing countries alike.
Having assessed the basic needs of all, our housewives assess the resources available to meet these needs: land, water, minerals, fossil fuels, and skilled scientific manpower. Knowing that only 6-7 per cent of the world’s active scientists and engineers are working in the LDCs, they arrange for the half million scientists who are working on military matters to be assigned to projects, such as genetic engineering and solar fusion and hydrogen energy, which could help to solve the Problématique.
Then comes the first crucial task: drawing up the Global Housekeeping Plan. It may be necessary to include some drastic measures, such as restricting meat-eating, since one cow consumes enough grain to feed ten people, and restricting the use of arable land for luxury crops such as tea, coffee, tobacco and possibly wine. For the global management of the world’s minerals, whose deposits are concentrated in four main regions – North America, Russia, Southern Africa and Australia – the housewives can evoke the crucial principle of “the common heritage of mankind”, which has been applied by the Law of the Sea Treaty of 1982 to the minerals in the deep oceans (alas, the Treaty is not yet in force), and the Treaty of 1991 which safeguards the minerals of Antarctica from exploitation for 50 years. They may note that in 1969 the United States’ National Academy of Sciences called for international action to explore, conserve and manage the world’s mineral resources in the common interest.
As for energy, the need for world planning is urgent. The world stands on the threshold of a completely new energy era, when wood and fossil fuels must be abandoned and nuclear power presents huge uncertainties – just when three quarters of the world’s people are struggling to industrialise. Yet no U.N. Agency exists for promoting and co-ordinating national energy policies. France derives 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear power, while neighbouring Italy has renounced the nuclear option. The present world energy situation is an alarming absurdity.
The key concept for dealing with these resources – agriculture, minerals, energy – will therefore be management and sharing on the principle of basic needs first. The phrase which today rings so often in British ears – “profitability is the bottom line” – has become an absurdity in relation to these resources. But there would be no need to dismantle many existing bodies; managers could be companies with NGOs, U.N. guidelines and supervision, elected regional bodies, etc.
Now we come to the crucial question. What international body should authorise, supervise, legislate for and enforce the Global Housekeeping Plan? The United Nations’ General Assembly in its present form? The answer must be NO! For the Assembly is based on a fundamental contradiction. It claims in its Charter to represent the implementation of human rights, which include the right to democracy (see Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the right to have an education directed towards “the full development of the human personality” (Article 26). But in fact it represents sovereign states of enormously varied population and size, each given one vote. This is its first absurdity. There has been much discussion about dealing with the U.N.’s “democratic deficit” by setting up a Second Chamber, by instituting weighted voting (including perhaps a property qualification), based partly on national GNP (the so-called Binding Triad), by making it representative of national parliaments – as in the Parliament of the Council of Europe, and as was the Parliament of the European Community before direct elections were held in 1979. But in my opinion the absurdity of giving the General Assembly a structure based on national sovereignty and the function to promote the human right of individual persons can only be resolved by basing the election of the Assembly itself on the democratic principle of one person one vote. CAMDUN has calculated that a system of organising this would be to give each country a quota of seats related to the square root of the number of millions of population. This would produce an Assembly of about 550 seats – a standard size. This reform would be the only way to secure democratic acceptance of the Global Housekeeping Plan.
The second absurdity of the General Assembly is that it has no effective powers: to control the absurd Executive, the Security Council; to make and enforce international laws, as distinct from passing nonbinding resolutions; or to levy taxes – a world income tax system was proposed in the Brandt Report of 1980 and in Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Populorum Progressio of 1967. I think that it is only through turning the General Assembly into a real parliamentary body that it will be possible to implement the Global Housekeeping Plan.
But there is one enormous snag, which has been well expressed by an American advocate of a U.N. Parliamentary Assembly. He points out that if votes were allocated on the basis of regional population, Asia would have 60 per cent, Europe 13 per cent, Africa 12.5 per cent, North America 8 per cent, South America 5.5 per cent, and Oceania 0.5 per cent. ‘‘This,’’ he says, “raises the question for many Americans of whether they really want democracy on the world level.”
The huge LDC majority in the World Parliamentary Assembly is perhaps the only means which could peacefully ensure the redistribution of wealth and the reversal of the growth ethic of the industrialised countries from “big is marvellous” to “small is beautiful.”
The gravity of the problématique, the urgency to implement the résolutique, the Global Housekeeping Plan, may therefore be the goad which will bring about the transformation of the General Assembly from absurdity to rightness, and thus save the world of man and nature from disastrous atrocities.

 

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