"Imagine," Gavin Chait writes today over at WhytHawkRatings, "imagine the happy day that an alien culture brings the light of their superior technology to Earth. Imagine for a moment that the Martians, resplendent in their latest fashions, meet with our leaders and indicate their willingness to trade with us." That's the opening paragraph of his thought-provoking piece titled We're from Mars and we want to help: four lessons in development.
i was cruising through the article, savoring every bit of Gavin's wit until i hit Lesson N0. 3 where he instructs the Martians (the wealthy nations of the earth) to:
...share the stories of how [they] developed and what was important for that development so that they may learn; don’t keep these stories just to the elite but work with media organisations to disseminate that information; asymmetrical control of information creates problems.
Actually, there are already quite a lot of stories, most of them told already by the Martians themselves essentially admitting major failures of their development model. Such stories suggest that we the people of the earth (developing countries) should not do what the Martians did to get where they are today. One of them, a Martian prophet by the name of Lewis Mumford writing as far back as 1934, tells the story in his book--Technics and Civilization--of how their development process led to a "sulphurous atmosphere...the starvation of the senses, the remoteness from nature and animal activity..." Industrial society exhibited a tendency toward "environmental disregard and degradation." It treated the environment "like most of human existence"as an abstraction. "Air and sunlight, because of their deplorable lack of value in exchange, had no reality at all."
We are now suffering from these consequences, a point noted by John Byrne and Daniel Rich in Energy and Environment: The Policy Challenge long before the IPCC report confirmed that human activity is the cause of climate change:
...[G]lobal environmental problems have largely been caused by the industrialized countries (including Eastern Europe and what was formerly the Soviet Union). Together, they account for nearly two-thirds of the "greenhouse gas"buildup, and over 55 percent of the sulfur and nitrogen oxide pollution (the principal precursors of acid deposition and lower atmospheric ozone pollution), and they are almost entirely responsible for the "ozone holes" in the upper atmosphere (Byrne and Rich, 1992: 3).
So yes, we would like to know the stories of how the Martians developed, but only as an example of what not to do. Besides, the developing countries need not be trapped in perennial dependence on unpredictable subsistence farming, poverty, ignorance and disease. Rather, there is growing evidence that these countries can follow alternative and more sustainable pathways to the 'better life.' One thing we try to do on this blog is to tell or point to new stories of how this is happening in Africa and elsewhere. We also track good ideas on how to produce more of these stories. Speaking of which, Gavin does have some really good ideas and advice for the Martians on how best they can assist developing countries in this regard:
1. Infrastructure development: ensure that local skills exist to build the necessary infrastructure so that they can move their manufactures to market - this would also include the telecommunications infrastructure necessary to move intangible products (such as stories, services and ideas).
2. Education: set up universities and colleges and academic programs to develop local school syllabi - create bursary programs for the most desirable skills; bursary recipients will be required to work their fees off at two years for every one of study in an industry that develops their country
3. Know-how and experience: share the stories of how wealthy nations developed and what was important for that development so that they may learn; don’t keep these stories just to the elite but work with media organisations to disseminate that information; asymmetrical control of information creates problems.
4. Governance: ensure total disclosure of everything that the state does; any donations and the recipients must be easily available to anyone; work hard to develop civil society movements that act to counterbalance the power of the state (from newspapers, to NGOs, to independent judiciary, corruption investigators, and police).