PCDForum Column #4,    Release Date November 15, 1990

by David C. Korten

Conventional wisdom tells us that accelerating economic
growth is the key to eliminating poverty and restoring the
environment. The global crisis of poverty, environment,
and violence is real, but it will not be resolved through
actions that further concentrate economic power and
increase overall demand on environmental resources.

Perhaps our best hope for resolving this crisis is the
global people’s movement that is emerging around a
realization that the necessary goal of development is a
transformation of our values and institutions to realign our
relationships with one another and our planet in ways that
achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of life of
all people. It is a movement that may ultimately align the
interests of contemporary social movements concerned
with environment, peace, life style, social justice, human
rights, consumers, and women’s issues. While still in a
formative stage, its agenda will certainly diverge significantly from that of most existing development institutions.
For example:

Peace and demilitarization: Military expenditures
consume a substantial portion of earth’s ecological
resources for purposes that contribute little to human
well-being. State sponsored violence, including state
sponsored terrorism and insurgency, is a leading cause
of human suffering. Military forces are often leading
human rights offenders. We all have a stake in repudiating violence as an instrument of national policy and
seeking a drastic reduction in arms expenditures,
international arms trade, and military assistance.

Life styles: Ultimately each community and nation
must learn to live within its own environmental means,
with minimal dependence on importing environmentally extractive resources or on exporting its wastes and
pollution. Particularly in the overconsuming nations,
we must work for dramatic changes in life-styles,
recycling practices, and the organization of agriculture
and industry.

  Asset ownership: All people have a basic human right
to share access to the productive resources required to
achieve a humanly decent livelihood and an obligation
to serve as stewards of these resources. They are
denied this right and absolved of their obligation when
these assets are controlled by massive, impersonal state
bureaucracies, and stateless, non-accountable transnational corporations. Redistributing ownership and
control over environmental and other productive assets
to reduce absentee ownership, advance economic
democracy, promote local control, and enhance a sense
of stewardship responsibility will make a major
contribution to economic justice, environmental
sustainability, and sense of community.

International political and economic relationships:
Transformation depends on citizen action within self-governing communities consistent with the principles
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights–which
itself establishes that sovereignty resides in the
citizen, not in the state. Every citizen of this interdependent world has the right and obligation to insist
that full diplomatic recognition and UN membership
be extended only to states whose leaders are freely
elected and committed to protecting these principles.
No government that imposes and maintains its rule by
force merits acceptance as the legitimate representative of a subjugated people in the community of nations. Similarly, we must see that international trade
and investment agreements: (1) enable local self-reliance in meeting basic needs; and (2) assure the right
of citizens through freely elected governments to
regulate their own economic affairs and to set minimum standards for their health, safety, and environment.

Advanced Technology: Information has the distinctive quality of being a resource that is non-polluting
and is enhanced rather than depleted by use. Advanced information-based technologies are an essential key to improving our quality of life while reducing our collective burden on the environment. While
there must be adequate incentives to insure continued
research to develop such technologies and their
application, the world’s people cannot allow a few
countries or corporations to monopolize the fruits of
that research. We should seek reforms in international
law and practice to assure that beneficial technologies
are widely shared and readily available.

The end of the cold war and the new global concern for
environmental issues have helped bring this agenda from
the realm of fantasy into the world of the possible. A
growing alliance of contemporary social movements
could make it a reality.


David C. Korten is founder and president of the People-Centered
Development Forum, and the author of Getting to the 21st Century:
Voluntary Action and the Global Agenda
(West Hartford, CT: Kumarian
Press, 1990). This column is contributed by the People-Centered
Development Forum.

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