28 December, 2019

Disband The Fourth Wall

A few weeks ago, I wrote an op-ed called “Disband the UN.” A former senior UN official wrote to me and said he disagreed with my thesis. Had I looked at the possibilities of reform within the UN? I explained that my reasoning went beyond looking at the possibilities of change within the UN—the time for that is long past.
What I am asking for is a radical rehaul of our contemporary financial system. This system is based on colonial underpinnings of Western countries exploiting the economies of the East, and forms a complex, invisible mesh of international financial modalities which underpins the present inequality of nations.

This drama of inequality is kept in place by a “Fourth Wall” which maintains the illusion, rather than a theatrical play, of a just international system. This play is embodied by the UN (“the actors on the stage”), and the reality of twenty-first century poverty (“the spectators”). Much like a play, it is funded by benefactors which have political leverage and financial clout, as we saw in the COP25 meet in Madrid this week. Protesters and advocates against climate change were the spectators, while the actors on stage maintained the Fourth Wall with the illusion of international legality.

As the COP25 drama unfolded, oil producing state Qatar proudly tweeted its support of the UN, saying it is one of its biggest financial contributors. How can a system whose survival depends upon the financial support of oil-producing states be expected to pass a global fossil-fuel ban? Which is what the COP25 should have done—hand down a 2030 deadline for the phaseout of exploration, extraction and distribution of all fossil fuel worldwide.

Yale University’s 360 website published “The Plastics Pipeline” by Beth Gardiner on December 19, 2019. The article discusses how Exxon, Shell, Saudi Aramco and other big petroleum companies are gearing up for massive plastic production in expectation of lower demand for fossil fuel. A fracking boom has led to high production of ethane, and they need a way to dispose of this feedstock. Millions of tons of new plastic is in the pipeline.

Plastic is the most destructive product we have ever invented. It clogs up our waterways, soil and air. It is found in every living being on earth. Birds, whales and deer are found dead with their stomachs full of plastic. Plastic should be phased out as soon as possible. We should not be talking about “recycling,” a feel good euphemism that rich people in the West use for dumping their trash. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed disappointment in the COP25 outcomes—but disappointment is an inadequate response for a crisis in which the survival of humankind as well as all of life on the planet is at stake.

It is clear that the planet can no longer be governed in this manner—with opaque financial networks, TNCs and special interest nation-states dictating the terms of international policy and law. With the effects of climate change exploding across the planet and tearing through the lives of millions of people, we can no longer ignore the reality of a handful of destructive corporations which have chosen to deceive people and destroy the planet.

Australia has been burning with bushfires for the past few months. About 7 million acres of land have burnt in 2019. Lyn Bender, a 72 year old psychologist from Australia writing in Independent Australia.net, says “The human race is engaged in a murder-suicide pact of gigantic proportions.” She states the old methods of grief management is no longer adequate for this moment: “As someone who has worked with grief and trauma, I now find the age-old concepts of grief management hopelessly puny and inadequate. The enormity of the growing evidence of environmental destruction is now unfolding worldwide.”

In Nepal, the Himalayas are melting with each passing year. Each winter is warmer than it used to be. A billion and more people depend upon spring melt water from the Himalayas for drinking water, cooking, irrigation, washing, laundry, animal husbandry, and other daily needs. When snow no longer covers the mountains, there will be mass migration of people seeking more livable environments, as Marty Logan (“Mt. Everest is Melting: Are you Moved?” December 20, 2019) pointed out in the Nepali Times. We are already starting to see this in our lifetime.

With certain environmental apocalypse awaiting us in 30-50 years time, it is genocidal to allow a capitalist system which sees petroleum profit as “wealth” to dictate what money is, what value it should have, how it circulates, and where it ultimately ends up. As a post in the Extinction Rebellion blog recently pointed out, the valuation of Saudi Aramco as the world’s most valuable company literally equates planetary destruction as capitalism’s most profitable endeavor.

We need a radical overhaul of the financial mechanisms that underpin the inequality of nations. The Bank of International Settlements, the World Bank and IMF, the opaque financial committees and gatherings, all of this needs to be examined and disbanded. Why do some nations get to print trillions for war and trillions for their citizens, while other countries can only print enough to sustain starvation and death? Surely there is a Fouth Wall between “actors” and “spectators” here that we need to dismantle. Only then will we be able to halt our current lethal apocalyptic stride towards planetary destruction.

Annapurna Express, December 27, 2019