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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, May 15, 2005
    On ecological debts
    Now I'm no economist (ie, I can't explain why my credit card bill is so high after just one trip to Borders this month) and I'm not especially interested in the normal outputs of writers on economic issues, but I do support the New Economics Foundation because they seem to offer creative solutions to practical - financial, social, environmental - problems. Their out-of-the-box approach makes sense to me, usually otherwise out-of-my-depth in this area. These are the folks who championed time banks (where people trade abilities and interests not cash) and developed the first UK Measure of Domestic Progress (an alternative to GDP which accounts for social and environmental well-being as well as money).


    With climate change and Africa set to head the agenda for this summer's G8 summit in Britain, a new book, Ecological Debt - the Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations, by Andrew Simms, nef's policy director and one of the original Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaigners, published by Pluto Books, says that the ecological debts of rich countries are a bigger threat to global poverty eradication than the foreign debts of poor countries.

    Like so many NEF ideas Ecological Debt is a simple but potent idea, easily explained:

    "Imagine opening a letter from the bank over breakfast to be told that, instead of your usual overdraft, you had an ecological debt that threatened the planet," says Andrew Simms, "Chances are that if you live in a rich country like Britain or the United States you’re due such a letter, even if the bank to issue it doesn’t yet exist."

    While countries of the South have struggled to deal with their (highly questionable) financial debt problems, Simms challenges rich Northern countries to adjust, or compromise their lifestyles, in the light of very real ecological debts. And like most NEF writing, Simms doesn't stop there, but offers firm proposals as to how this may be achieved. The book proposes that a group of 'ecological creditor' countries from the developing world draw up 'adjustment' plans for rich countries to follow, 'turning upside down decades of global economic policy designed in Washington, London and the other capitals of the G8.'

    And the book lists some specific recommendations for dealing with ecological debt, including: Legal recognition and protection under international law for environmental refugees displaced by climate change and ecological degradation; Rich countries to pay the cost of the rest of the world having to adapt to global warming; Trade sanctions to be used against non-Kyoto states such as the United States and Australia; Cancellation of the unpayable conventional debts of poor countries in the face of rich countries' ecological debts; Gas guzzling urban 4x4 cars to carry environmental health warnings like cigarette packets; and compulsory therapy for key decision makers to to help them deal with their denial about the scale of action necessary to deal with climate change.

    All make perfect sense. In an out-of-the-box, admirably ambitious, deeply humane, kind of way....