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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