Introduction by Croakey: Health advocates joined other climate justice groups protesting at Shell’s annual general meeting in London this week in a tuneful rendition of ‘Go to hell, Shell’ (sound up).
The protest followed a series of events highlighting the impact of the fossil fuel company’s operations upon people and ecosystems, according to a statement by the People’s Health Movement and other organisations supporting the People’s Health Tribunal.
Days earlier, a panel of environmental justice leaders convened by the Tribunal found Shell’s operations in Africa guilty of activities “extremely harmful to the livelihoods, health, right to shelter, quality of life, right to live in dignity, quality of environment, right to live free of discrimination and oppression, right to clean water, and right to self-determination of the impacted communities”.
Dorothy Guerrero, head of policy at Global Justice Now, said in the statement: “Today Shell’s investors are gathering to count their winnings from a profit windfall that defies belief. As the world approaches 1.5C of heating for the first time, and people even in the richest countries can’t afford to live due to spiralling energy bills, a company which bears massive responsibility for these two crises is making monstrous amounts of money.
“Something has gone seriously wrong in our world for Shell to be able to continue profiteering from such destruction. We have joined today’s protests to help send a message that the climate justice movement will fight this company every step of the way.”
The reported impact of these protests is a reminder of the importance of coalitions, social movements and civil protests at this point in history, even as governments in Australia and other places move to suppress civil protest.
Meanwhile, Dr Mark Diesendorf, co-author of a new book, ‘The Path to a Sustainable Civilisation: Technological, Socioeconomic and Political Change’, argues below for “citizen-based environmental, social justice, public health and peace groups to form alliances to challenge the overarching issues of state capture and flawed economics ideology”.
It’s a timely message for the health community and its growing focus on the commercial determinants of health, as more and more examples of state capture come to light.
The tweets below refer to just two recent examples, the embedding of consultancy firms within government, and concerns about the conflicts of interests of climate policy advisors.
Mark Diesendorf writes:
Collectively we are driving Earth and civilisation towards collapse. Human activities have exceeded planetary boundaries. We are changing the climate, losing biodiversity, degrading land, contaminating freshwater, and damaging the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles upon which we all depend.
We ask how this could happen. Also, why democratically elected governments ignore the wishes of the majority of their people. Why some governments continue to export fossil fuels despite commitments to climate mitigation. Why some go to war in distant lands without any debate in parliament or congress. Why some give tax cuts to the rich while those on the dole struggle below the poverty line.
The answers to these questions all come down to one thing: decision-makers and influencers are captured by vested interests.
That is the inconvenient truth revealed in our new book, ‘The Path to a Sustainable Civilisation: Technological, Socioeconomic and Political Change’. But these forces can be overthrown.
We argue it is not sufficient for citizen organisations and governments to address specific environmental, social justice and peace issues. It’s certainly necessary, but we must also struggle for systemic change. This means challenging the covert driving forces of environmental destruction, social injustice and war, namely, “state capture” and the dominant economic system.
It’s 90 seconds to midnight on the Doomsday Clock, so there’s no time to waste.
Confronting state capture
Political scientists and political economists argue governments, public servants, the media and indeed the majority of decision-makers and influencers become captured by vested interests.
This is known as state capture, where state means the nation-state. The captors include fossil fuel, armaments, finance, property and gambling industries.
State capture can also involve foreign governments. There is justifiable concern in Australia and elsewhere about subversion by the Chinese Communist Party.
Yet there is little discussion of the fact that, since 2015, six “retired” US admirals worked for the Australian government before the AUKUS announcement on nuclear powered submarines.
State capture could explain why Australia’s defence is being shifted to the South China Sea under US sovereignty.
Confronting state capture involves reversing several undemocratic practices. Of particular concern is the funding of political parties by corporate interests as well as the revolving-door jobs between government and corporate interests.
There is also the concentration of media ownership and the influence of so-called “think tanks” funded by vested interests.
The first step is to set up coalitions or networks to oppose the power of vested interests. This would bring together diverse civil society organisations with common interests in democratic integrity and civil liberties.
One example is the Australian Democracy Network, which campaigns for “changes that make our democracy more fair, open, participatory, and accountable”. The Network was founded in 2020 by the Human Rights Law Centre, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Social Service.
• Dr Mark Diesendorf is Honorary Associate Professor, UNSW Sydney, and this article was first published at The Conversation, under the headline, ‘Saving humanity: here’s a radical approach to building a sustainable and just society’.
Previously at Croakey
Improved integrity and transparency in Australia’s democracy would also be a win for health
How diverse commercial interests are threatening the world’s health. And what to do about it.
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