November 25, 2017

Edward Goldsmith: the Green Revolutionary – Part One (transcript)

This is a transcript of Part One of Edward Goldsmith: the Green Revolutionary: “The Problem: industrial society”, in Channel 4’s Fragile Earth series. Goldsmith argues that the planetary crisis facing us today cannot be solved by further economic progress and technological innovation but only through the cooperative efforts of ordinary people guided by their faith in traditional wisdom.

The film is written and presented by Edward Goldsmith. The Producer/Director is Nicholas Claxton, who also composed the original music. The Associate Producer is Nicola Ebenduall and the Assistant Producer is Jack Pizzey. The film is a Goldhawk Production for Channel 4 in association with Turner Broadcasting System Incorporated. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in January and August 1990.

Part 1: The Problem—industrial society

Introductory words: The Founder of the Global Environmental Movement explains his involvement in the campaign to stop humanity destroying our planet. Edward Goldsmith travels to India and the USA to examine the contrast between agrarian and industrial ways of life. He explores the problems, solutions and future implications for human and planetary survival.

It is but a question of decades, before the bulk of humanity inhabits slums such as these. A truly terrifying prospect.

Goldsmith: (at global media press conference, New York, 19 September 1989) “The natural world is dying. This may sound dramatic, but I think it is a perfectly realistic statement to make, and I’m not the only person who makes it. And it is dying fast. So fast, that at current trends, much of it will cease to be capable of supporting complex forms of life like human beings in a matter of decades. That is why we, the representatives of the World Rainforest Movement & ECOROPA [European Group for Ecological Action – pressure group founded in 1976, fighting to save the Earth from environmental catastrophe] hereby declare a state of global environmental emergency.”

Picture: Wheelbarrows carrying bundles of petitions through New York streets.

On September 19th, 1989, I came with leading environmentalists from all over the world, to the United Nations in New York. Our purpose was to demand an extraordinary General Meeting of the United Nations to discuss our plan to save the world’s rainforests. We brought 3 million signatures from 23 countries, backing our demand.

Goldsmith: “All I can do now is to thank you for coming to see us. We’re very grateful.”

We asked to see the Secretary General, but his Assistant told us he was too busy. Apparently, he had more pressing concerns than the survival of our planet.

Goldsmith: “What are his priorities? And to do that, I think he should possibly come down, just for 1 minute to see us. We won’t ask him to stay all day because we know he’s a busy man. But we’ll stay here (until he comes).”

Picture: Goldsmith in his library, selecting anthropological book I Saw You From Afar from the shelf (also World Futures).

This is the story of my part, a small part, in a crusade to bring an end to the destruction of our global environment. It has taken us 25 years to get this on the agenda, during which time, I have asked myself, almost daily, what is driving us on this suicidal path? And how can we stop it? Today I am convinced, there are no magical solutions. I believe we need a new society, one that fully respects the natural world. One that also provides a more fulfilling way of life.

Picture: black and white family photos from the 1920s

I was born in Paris in 1928. My father ran a chain of luxury hotels – most of them in the South of France. As a child, I spent every Winter with my brother Jimmy, and living it up in Cannes and Monte Carlo. Today, Jimmy is a well-known business tycoon. He and I were destined to follow very different paths. Looking back, it was an unlikely upbringing for someone of my subsequent pre-occupation.

Picture: Goldsmith walking around the gardens and cloisters of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Forty years ago, I had the privilege to spend 3 years here at Magdalen College, Oxford (1947-1950). I met a lot of very very interesting people, and I had a wonderful time. But what did it really reach me – I think that the main lesson was that the picture of the world that scientific knowledge paints, is wrong. Partly at least for that reason, I spent very little time with my studies and devoted myself to something absolutely different – gambling.

Why is the picture of the world painted by conventional knowledge all wrong? As I realised much later, it is wrong because it is designed to justify the industrial system, and it is the industrial system itself, which is the source of the global environmental crisis, we face today. Little did I realise 40 years ago, that it was these thoughts that would preoccupy me for the rest of my life.

Picture: black and white photo of Goldsmith in a suit, followed by photo of Goldsmith at an evening gathering with red wine on the dinner table.

As a young man, I tried my hand at business in Paris. I was not very successful, and I spent most, but not all, of my evenings trying to write a book proposing an alternative way of seeing the world. Thank God no one ever published it.

Picture: a rocket taking off into space.

Crackly voice: “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . lift off . . . we have lift off.”

I remember the 1960s as a period of technological euphoria – there was no limit to what man could achieve.

Picture: Astronauts dismounting Space-craft: “It’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But the incredible technology and billions of dollars that put man on the moon, seemed incapable of solving the growing problems that faced humanity. In India, millions faced starvation. Modern technology was creating its own problems – in Japan, these Minamata victims were poisoned by mercury from a local chemical plant.

Picture: deformed victims of the Japan disaster.

In Britain, the Torrey Canyon oil spill alerted us to the dire threat of pollution hanging over industrial society.

Picture: film footage of a sea bird, covered in oil, staggering to reach the shore.

Horrified at the brave new world we were creating, I asked myself, could nature survive it, indeed, could man? My personal response was to retreat from the modern world to a small farming community in Cornwall. With a number of friends I started The Ecologist magazine in 1970. This was out first edition. In those days, Ecology was almost unheard of. Naively, we believed that if our political leaders were told about the destructive implications of their policies, they would change them. Two years later, we produced, A Blueprint For Survival.

Picture: front cover of The Ecologist, A Blueprint For Survival Volume 2 Number 1, January 1972 and front cover of A Blueprint For Survival books, and Paul R Ehrlich quote: “We can expect that the publication of Blueprint for Survival in the US will generate a storm of outrage from the righteous defendants of the status quo”.

We wanted to warn people about the grave environmental problems being created by industrial society. The Blueprint put forward a plan for a less destructive and more sustainable way of life. We seemed to hit a nerve. It sold half a million copies in 16 languages.

Picture: Stockholm Environment Conference, June 1972.

Speaker: “First we must recognise, that economic growth in the developing countries. . . .”

Concern with environmental destruction was now growing throughout the world. So much so that the United Nations organised their first international conference on the human environment.

Speaker: “So our task I think, is not to create an idealic environment for poor man, our task is to create a decent environment for all men.”

Picture: Protestors outside the Conference.

The Conference was seen by many as heralding the dawn of a new era. Disillusioned young people with eyes full of hope, thronged there by the thousands. We were sceptical about the promises made by governments. And 20 years later, how empty their words seemed. In Britain, the Blueprint For Survival helped give birth to the Green Party, or the People Party, as it was first called. I stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1974.

Picture: poster: A Future for your Children? Vote Goldsmith. People Party. Candidate For Eye.

Picture: Goldsmith sitting on a train travelling to India.

Frustrated by my own society’s blindness, I was drawn to India and the teachings of Mahatma Ghandi. Looking for a new social model, an alternative to industrial society, I was attracted by Ghandi’s conviction, that the simple way of life is best. Mahatma Ghandi, opposed industrialization. His vision was an India of largely self-governing and self-sufficient villages. For him, the charkha, or the spinning wheel, was the symbol of this way of life.

The vision of community life in self-sufficient community villages inspired me in my search for an ideal society. But in spite of Ghandi, I saw that India was bent on rapid industrialization. Not even agriculture was to be spared. Food shortages were attributed to ‘backward’ farming practices. The solution, was to introduce the high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice, recently developed by Western scientists. It seemed that modern technology would triumph yet again.

Picture: Henry Kissinger: US Secretary of State at UN World Food Conference, Rome, 1974.

Kissinger: “We must proclaim a bold objective, that within a decade, no child will go to bed hungry, that no family will fear for its next day’s bread, and that no human being’s future and capacities, will be stunted by malnutrition.”

The technology that offered an end to malnutrition was christened the Green Revolution. The scientist responsible for the new high-yielding wheat was Professor Norman Borlaug. For this, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Picture: Professor Norman Borlang: Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1970, in greenhouse.

Borlaug: “In 1974, when Mr Kissinger, at the World Food Conference in Rome made the statement that by 1990, no children in the world will go to bed hungry, I was shocked. I was horrified. Because I knew that the magnitude of the problem was such that this could never be achieved. That, was a political answer. But I did say, that we had three to four decades to try to bring better balance into population growth and our ability to provide the basic needs for a decent standard of living.”

Picture: rice cultivation in India.

But is the Green Revolution really the answer? Today we know, that the high-yielding varieties – that require ever increasing amounts of expensive fertilizer, pesticide and water – are sucking the fertility from the soil. With its emphasis on maximising production, the Green Revolution has encouraged farmers to sacrifice their land for a quick profit. The results have been devastating.

Picture: dried out farm land full of cracks and scattering of hardy weeds.

Millions of small farmers, forced into debt, and unable to farm their degraded land, have migrated to the cities. Most end up here, in the slums. There’s little chance of ever getting out. Everywhere, you can see for yourself, there’s dirt, and stagnant water, cesspools, choked up drains . . . significantly enough, next to it as a garbage dump.

Picture: Goldsmith standing with massive slums in the background.

These people don’t reside here out of choice. Most are here because of so-called ‘development’. Some 20 million have been forced into slums by large dams that have flooded their lands. Others are here because logging and deforestation have caused their springs and wells to dry up. For others still, it’s the Green Revolution. These people are development refugees.

It is but a question of decades before the bulk of humanity inhabits slums such as these. A truly terrifying prospect. The slum, I think, can be regarded as the ultimate symbol of the industrializing world. It is the human garbage dump.

Picture: eerie, tense music, panoramic shots of slums, then New York’s skyscrapers, fire escapes, highways, decaying buildings and man-made skyline. Goldsmith standing at the New York waterfront.

In the late 1970’s, I came to the United States, the citadel of modern industrial society, and the richest nation in the world. Could this really be the model for all other countries to emulate? Before me was New York, with its ‘great’ material wealth and architectural wonders – the most impressive creation of scientific, technological and economic progress.

Picture: Goldsmith, dressed in a white suit looking out, from a bridge, across to the city at dusk.

But, I asked myself, was this real wealth? Just a few miles from New York City, on Statton Island, is Fresh Kills Landfill – the world’s largest garbage dump, spread over 5 square miles.

Picture: flocks of sea gulls fly above the mountains of trash.

Most of New York’s domestic waste, ends up here – some 22,000 tonnes a day.

Picture: huge bulldozer scooping up massive volumes of garbage.

The stench is unforgettable. Vast amounts of rotting food, and plastic waste, aluminium cans, TVs, refrigerators . . . all waiting to buried and forgotten. Just as we dispose of all this, so do we also consign our used cars to the scrap heap – cars which modern man can no longer live without. In the United States alone, 7 million cars are junked every year.

Picture: machine crushing used cars into huge piles of scrap metal.

In our new age, of ever increasing consumption, nothing is built to last. This is the material wealth, by which our industrial society measures success and happiness, but what we don’t see is the great natural wealth brutually sacrificed to produce it.

Picture: book The Global 2000 Report to the President: Entering the 21st Century. [Commissioned by Carter, disregarded by Reagan.]

Ten years ago, the Global 2000 Report, commissioned by President Carter, raised a spectre of increasing environmental destruction. A leading critic of the report was Professor Julian Simon, co-author of The Resourceful Earth. Simon’s book claims that Global 2000 got it completely wrong.

Picture: book cover, cutting to Professor Julian Simon.

Julian Simon: “We’ve been getting richer, rather than poorer, by every single measure; resources having been becoming MORE available, rather than less available – that is the prices of every single natural resource have been getting cheaper, rather than more expensive, since the Global 2000 Report, as well as all throughout history – totally contradicting these very reasonable sounding theories. Even our environment has been getting cleaner – our air and our water, in the United States and in Great Britain – have been getting cleaner, rather than dirtier, for decades – just the opposite of the predictions that were made by Global 2000.”

Goldsmith: “Well it seems, very much from reading your books, that you believe that science and technology, can solve all our world’s problems, and create a better Earth. Is that so, Julian?”

Julian Simon: “The issue isn’t whether I think that science and technology can solve our problems, but rather, the evidence of all history is, that science and technology has been giving us, a progressively better life, rather than a progressively poorer life, in all kinds of material ways – whether or not the theory seems to suggest that. That is, science and technology have been giving us longer life, better health, richer lives, more resources, a cleaner environment – all the material goods of life. And there’s no reason why they should not continue to do that forever.

And there’s a mechanism that explains this. And the mechanism runs like this: more people on higher income proves problems – just the way you say they do – but then something happens – people respond to those problems as an opportunity – as an opportunity for profit, or for fame or for whatever – and they look for solutions to these problems. Some people fail, a few succeed in finding solutions to these problems. And the results of their solutions – and this is the amazing part – leave us better of than if the problems had never arisen in the first place.”

I cannot believe that science and technology really leave us better off. The so-called solutions that have given rise to our modern world, also cause atmospheric pollution and global warming. Technology cannot solve these critical problems. Industrial society, by it’s very nature generates pollution. It is industrial society itself, which must be faced out, to make way for a simpler, less destructive way of life.

By the end of my journey to the United States, I realized that the ultimate questions was: were we born into Paradise on earth – or are we creating Paradise with our science and technology? Is man’s design really superior to God’s?

Picture: Sinister urban landscape. Goldsmith walking around a computer games arcade full of children and adults – and then cuts to a game of enemy warfare – all to the overwhelming sound of comuter generated explosions, screams, punches, and pinball chimes – as Goldsmith walks down the New York street at night, full of alienated people, the atmosphere is tense, police sirens sound, and the film cuts to various images of New York – such as the big display board showing America’s National Debt, increasing by hundreds of dollars, by the second; followed by a cinema display listing disturbing movie titles; and a billboard poster for The American Dream.

In this meaningless world, of pinball allies, even pleasure is dispensed by machines. Pleasure derived from tension and violence.

Picture: children playing in rural village in Sri Lanka. Traditional farmign scenes.

In my search for a more fulfilling society, one in which nature and people are valued, I went in 1979 to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I found a country, not too affected by economic growth. Here was a high quality of life. Today, despite the Civil War, many village communities are still entact. A rich spiritual and ceremonial life makes this possible.

These young people are helping a neighbour thresh his rice. No money changes hands – but the neighbour and his family, can, in turn, be counted upon when their help is needed. The work is joyful and convivial. This is social wealth. The tractor is no substitute for the bullock, which fertilizers the field, as it ploughs – but expensive and often destructive machines are already taking over from these ‘age-old’ methods. What particularly impressed me were the lush forest gardens which cover much of the country. Half an acre will feed an entire family. This is ecological wealth.

A source of inspiration to me on my first visit to Sri Lanka was a small farmer called Tereku. Today, he leads a campaign to keep alive the ancient traditions in a rapidly modernizing world.

Picture: Tereku sitting under tree by big river, singing a mournful song.

Tereku: “Who knows the taste of milk, knows mother. Who knows the taste of rice, knows father. Who knows the taste of fruits, knows Earth. Anybody who don’t know these three, for what he was born?”

Goldsmith: “In the last 10 years since I’ve seen you, have things got better or worse? Is the life of the farmer easier or more difficult?”

Tereku: “During the time that you met me, I was doing the traditional agriculture. And, after introducing the new way, modern methods . . . what happened? We had to leave the village. I had to leave the village, because of the modern agriculture. People have to spend much more money for this modern agriculture, for importing fertilizer, and pesticides . . . everything. And also, our habits, have already vanished now. The problem, people, like myself, say, because the Western methods, people who taught us from the West, the new way of living, is a disaster.”

Western experts would dismiss this traditional rice ceremony as irrelevant. But the villagers believe that the ceremony ensures a plentiful harvest – and it does – by strengthening the sense of community, the ceremony encourages essential co-operation between the farmers. I asked Tereku, how many varieties of rice and wheat are grown today.

Picture: Tereku sitting under tree by big river.
Tereku: “We can find nearly 20, 30 varieties, here in Sri Lanka, now.”

Goldsmith: “How many were there?”

Tereku: “In the past, more than 300 varieties.”

Goldsmith: “What affect have all these changes had on the community?”

Tereku: “We have 3 wills. Children is the first. Secondly the forest. Thirdly the animals. Children – we have to teach them the tradition, otherwise we can – no use of having children – they must learn their tradition and follow the forefathers – and protect the forests – and protect the animals. Live with them. We used to get an ant from the house when we were small children, when were playing – take it in to the park and we were playing . . . [sings] . . . please, dance with me, and he was dance to.”

Goldsmith: “You’re talking to the ant?”

Tereku: “Yes, talking to the ant. We played with them. We had a relationship with them.”

Edward Goldsmith: “Wonderful.”

Tereku: “And now we are breaking that.”

Goldsmith: But the social and ecological wealth that Tereku is trying to preserve, has no value in the light of modern economics. Sri Lanka, officially classed as one of the world’s poorest countries, is rapidly being led along the path of economic development.

Picture: Goldsmith standing to the side of the Victoria Dam and Hydro-electric project in the heat of the sun – with the deafening sound of the water cascading.

This is the recently completed Victoria Dam – financed by Britain’s aid agency – the ODA – it’s the largest of four dams, on the Mahaweli – Sri Lanka’s main river. And as you can see, it’s very impressive indeed – you might even regard as a monument to modern engineering skill and ingenuity.

But it has it’s costs. Ten years ago when I came here with a close colleague of mine, there was no dam, and no reservoir. Instead, there was a beautiful and very, very fertile valley, with small towns, villages, gardens, woods, plantations and ancient Buddhist temples along the river bank. All that had to go. It had to be drowned, to make way for the reservoir. And the people who lived here – and I think there were about 30,000 of them – had to be re-settled elsewhere – in this case, admittedly, with considerable care, and sensitivity, by the Sri Lankan government.

What is the justification for this? The answer is, to provide electricity, for the countries industries and cities. But it can only do this for a short time: perhaps 40 or 50 years. And one reason is, that rivers like the Mahaweli in The Tropics, carry a heavy burden of silt, which is basically soil that’s come down from the slopes behind, you see, caused by deforestation and erosion. And this silt builds up, behind the dam, until eventually, the reservoir is full up, and the dam has to be abandoned.

It is these thoughts that led my colleague and myself, to undertake, a detailed study of the Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams, and the more we learnt about this issue, the less it appeared worthwhile, to destroy so much real and natural wealth, just in order to obtain, a few decades of electricity, after which, all that is left, is an abandoned concrete hulk – a monument to our misguided priorities – a monument set in a muddy wasteland, where once a fertile soil, nourished happy and sustainable communities.

Picture: Printing press at work.

I came back from Sri Lanka determined to fight large development projects like dams. The only way was to challenge the international aid agencies that fund them. In 1985, we brought out a special edition of The Ecologist on the destructive development promoted by the World Bank. Today, the World Bank claims to have gone ‘green’. But has it?

Picture: Dr Kenneth Piddington: Director, Environment Department, The World Bank.

Piddington: “The actual lending for environmental components, environmental projects is on a rapid upswing. So I think, what has happening in the bank is that the change of policy has led to a change in the composition and quality of the lending programme. Now that doesn’t mean to say, and you would be the first to point out, that big projects don’t come to a grinding halt, and suddenly get dropped off. But they do change qualitatively as these changes take place in the Bank.

But I think the best answer to give you is the analogy of the supertanker, that when the captain says that a supertanker will change direction and gives the order, there is a delay of some considerable space of time while that manoeuvre is completed and the tanker is actually on the new course. And I would typify the Bank at this point as being beyond the half-way point of that turn.”

Goldsmith: “I’m personally not at all convinced that it’s possible to have economic development without environmental and social destruction. What’s your answer to that?”

Piddington: “Well. I respect your viewpoint because I can see at a certain level when I look at development in the industrial countries. And I think there is absolutely no way one could replicate that in developing countries, and throughout the world, and look to a future that is sustainable. But I’m telling you that the signals in Bank are that there are a number of Third World countries who have accepted the fundamental proposition that their development will not succeed unless they move towards a sustainable pattern. And as you know, sustainability means that we move – and it will take time, and it’s extremely difficult – to different patterns of resource management, particularly in respect of soil and water in the Third World.”

I’ve heard the bank’s rhetoric before, but the bank is still spending $20 billion a year on the same expensive and destructive projects. No amount of money spent on environmental measures can make these projects any less destructive. For me, the only answer is to drastically reduce the Bank’s budget. Better still, close the Bank down.

End of Part One – Part Two


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