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Where Is George?

He’s on vacation—not at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, where other world leaders think he should be

While leaders from more than 100 nations will be attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development next week, U.S. President George W. Bush will be wrapping up vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, a decision that has angered world leaders and environmentalists, who claim that this is typical of U.S. global environmental policy.

Although Secretary of State Colin Powell will lead a U.S. delegation to the United Nations-sponsored conference, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4, many are angered that Bush will not be attending.

On Aug. 18, the French newspaper Le Monde reported the aggravation of Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zuel, German minister of cooperation. “During the international summit in Johannesburg,” said Wieczorek-Zuel, “it must be clearly signified to the United States that their boycott of the Kyoto protocol is unacceptable.”

Similar skepticism regarding the administration’s lack of concern for environmental issues is shared domestically.

“The Bush administration is not engaging much of the rest of the world on important issues like climate change,” said Mark S. Epstein, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy organization the World Federalist Association. “Our hope is that the summit can be used to get the Bush administration to pay more attention to the priority that nations in Europe and around the world are paying to climate change.”

A press release from Powell’s office said the secretary would attend the conference for the final two of its nine days. Frederick Jones, a state department spokesman, said the United States sees the summit as an “opportunity for the developed and developing countries to build a shared vision to end poverty and foster sustained development.”

Epstein said the announcement of Powell’s attendance was positive, and the WSSD will still be beneficial regardless of Bush’s decision not to attend.

“The most important message is having a global summit that recognizes that the most important environmental issues of our time need to have a global response,” Epstein said. “There are expectations that Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin and other leaders will be there even if President Bush will not, and they are putting the environment as a first priority for their countries and the global agenda.”

While the discussions on sustainable development will take place a world away, the issues are relevant to the Capital Region, according to Mark Dunlea, vice chairman of the New York state Green Party.

“Worldwide, about a billion people have no access to safe drinking water, and in the Northeast, particularly Upstate New York, we are known for our water resources,” Dunlea said. “With access to clean water in the rest of the world declining, there will be pressures for more development to make water a major export like oil.”

This most recent earth summit follows the United Nations’ 30-year tradition of hosting international conferences to discuss and implement plans of action to better the global environment through sustainable development.

“Development that does not utilize natural resources faster than the planet can produce them would be considered sustainable,” said Dunlea. “Dependence on petroleum products when we only have a supply for another 100 years would not be considered a sustainable system.”

In Johannesburg, national leaders will look to shore up agreements made at prior earth summits and move forward with new ones. There is hope for discussion about a global regulatory body to ensure that nations follow the actions of the various treaties signed at these conferences. According to Epstein, action to strengthen the United Nations’ Commission on Sustainable Development, the group currently charged with pushing nations to conform with globally agreed-upon treaties, is long overdue.

“The CSD can only cheerlead and support change,” said Epstein. “Compared to the World Trade Organization, which has the ability to enforce trade treaties and force countries to react to WTO edicts, there is no equivalent on the environmental side of the equation, and that is a glaring gap.”

As Epstein and others look forward to the Johannesburg summit as the next step in the international agenda, many are critical of the global environmental movement.

“The focus is going to be on these public-private partnerships and using corporations to solve environmental problems, which we are very cynical about,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of energy and environment programs for the watchdog group Public Citizen. “I think we need to have more of a grassroots focus, and really that’s why we are participating at all. It’s not for the summit, it’s for the strategy and the networking with other civil society groups.”

Hauter said citizens of the developed world need to be wary of the kinds of policies being implemented by their governments. Concerned citizens should make sure further actions are not continuations of resource depletion and exploitation of the Third World, like creating a profitable industry for transnational water companies from the need for access to clean drinking water.

“A lot of what’s done under the guise of sustainable development is really about going in and raping and pillaging countries,” Hauter said. “[We’re] letting foreign corporations have access to the resources of those countries and saying this will provide jobs and income, but that income usually only goes to the very top strata and doesn’t benefit people.”

—Travis Durfee

Green on Green

Comptroller candidate Howie Hawkins announce financial-reform platform

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for New York State comptroller, was in Albany last Wednesday (Aug. 14) to announce his plan to protect taxpayers against what he calls undue influence by campaign contributors.

Standing in front of the New York State Business Council in Albany, Hawkins—joined by Kathy Curtis, Green Party candidate for New York State Senate, and Pete Looker, Green Party hopeful for the New York State Assembly—unveiled his three-point program, which will, he said, clean up the state comptroller’s office.

“The comptroller’s office,” said Hawkins, “has been the vortex of the legalized bribery system and kickbacks that have come to characterize New York policies at the state level.”

Hawkins said his three-point program would work to eliminate such corruption by first disqualifying campaign contributors from being eligible to receive contracts through the comptroller’s office. He pointed out that the comptroller has been a target for campaign contributions from businesses, who in return want contracts with the office. “It has been documented that shortly before or after those campaign contributions are made, those interests get contracts,” said Hawkins. “Even if you can’t get proof that there has been a ‘pay-to-play’ contribution, it creates an aura of legalized kickbacks and bribery.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission has proposed similar plans on multiple occasions, but Presidents Clinton and Bush both have killed the proposals.

Second, Hawkins added, he would like to see a democratically elected pension board. “With over $100 billion in that pension fund, it’s the only fund of that scale where there is just one person who is the trustee,” he said. “Rather than have the comptroller, who is an easy target for corruption, run the pension plan, why not have an elected board totaling nine people: six elected by public workers and retirees and three by the general public.” The New York Common Retirement Fund is now worth $112 billion, he said.

The last proposal presented by Hawkins calls for a Clean Money, Clean Election campaign reform bill, which would provide public financing to anyone who agrees not to take private contributions. “This would be a way for people to run their campaigns, have enough money to run their campaigns, without being dependent on interests that are trying to buy influence,” said Hawkins. “The comptroller is a target for these interests because he is the single largest investor in the world.”

Hawkins said that the problems with “crony/gangster capitalism” require structural alternatives, not just more regulations. And he thinks his plan could work.

“Crony capitalism easily degrades into gangster capitalism, where criminals in suits have the same mentality of taking advantage of people as criminals on the streets,” said Hawkins. “This has now been exposed for all to see with the scandals at Enron, Arthur Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco, Adephia and the others.”

Beyond a three-point plan, Hawkins is also calling for a package of progressive tax reforms that would raise taxes on the richest 10 percent and on environmentally damaging products, while lowering taxes on low- and middle-income people and on ecological products.

Hawkins, who works for the United Parcel Service and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, lives in Syracuse. He was the Greens’ candidate for comptroller in 1998. He cofounded the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance in 1975 and the Green Party in the United States in 1984.

Hawkins may face off against Alan Hevesi (D/L/IP/WF), Bill Mulrow (D/WF), John Faso(R/C/IP), James Eisert(LIBT), John Berry (RTL) or Garifalia Christea(RTL) in the November election, depending on the outcome of the various party primaries.

—Nancy Guerin

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