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Worldview from the 'Anti-Global' South: On the Relationship between Poverty, Global Warming, and the Illusion of Creating Wealth

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Type: Working Paper
Author: Trawick, Paul
Date: 2006
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/3968
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: Central America & Caribbean
Subject(s): globalization
climate change
indigenous institutions
economic growth
farmer-managed irrigation--case studies
Abstract: "This paper examines the relationship between global warming and the poverty prevailing today in the global South, arguing that both result from affluence and economic growth as they have been defined and measured historically in the North. The capitalist economy that emerged in the pursuit of such 'growth' is based on the increasing per capita consumption of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources, both as primary energy sources and as raw materials. That economy thus forms a largely closed system which, despite the massive daily flows of solar energy coming to the planet as a whole, is governed by the laws of thermodynamics. In such a system, material wealth consists of complex configurations of matter/energy that are neither created nor destroyed but merely transferred or converted from one state into another less-ordered form, leading inevitably to the buildup of waste, heat and entropy on the planet. Global warming and seemingly endemic poverty are argued to be the main forms that this disorder now takes, in an economy where the material and energetic costs of doing business are neither distinguished correctly nor weighed accurately against the supposed benefits. This confusion is reinforced ideologically by a quasi-sacred fiction that denies the underlying material reality and provides the central pillar upon which the dominant culture of over-consumption rests: the idea that people 'create wealth'. An alternative closed-system worldview, based on the proposition that economic growth is a destructive 'zero-sum' process, has long coexisted alongside the capitalist orthodoxy in the classic formulations of dependency theory and in the traditional worldview of peasants, who widely subscribe instead to the concept of 'limited good'. This perspective is now clearly undergoing a cultural resurgence, prevailing today throughout much of South America and lying at the heart of an anti-globalization movement increasingly backed members of 'international civil society'. The author briefly examines local economies that are constructed according to a closed-system or 'limited-good' model--i.e., farmer-managed irrigation systems in the Andes and other parts of the world--exploring the potential of such a model for bringing about positive and truly radical change."

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