What Next: Trendlines and Alternatives

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trendlines and alternatives

The What Next Report 2005–2035
By Pat Mooney – ETC Group and the What Next Project Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation

Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation pays tribute to the memory of the second Secretary - General of the UN by searching for and examining workable alternatives for a socially and economically just, ecologically sustainable, peaceful and secure world. In the spirit of Dag Hammarskjöld’s integrity, his readiness to challenge the dominant powers and his passionate plea for the right and sovereignty for small nations to shape their own destiny, the Foundation seeks to examine mainstream understanding of development and bring to the debate alternative perspectives of often otherwise unheard voices. By making possible the meeting of minds, experiences and perspectives through the organising of seminars and dialogues, the Foundation plays a catalysing role in the identification of new issues and the formulation of new concepts, policy proposals, strategies and work plans towards solutions. The Foundation seeks to be at the cutting edge of the debates on development and security, thereby continuously embarking on new themes in close collaboration with a wide and constantly expanding international network.

What Next
The world at the beginning of the 21st century is deeply contradictory. There is among many an increasing disaffection with the state of humanity and a growing concern about the unprecedented damage being done to Planet Earth. At the same time, there are numerous examples, at different levels of society, of action for positive change. In order to analyse the present situation and what we may be facing in the future, and to propose bold and innovative alternatives to the predominant development trajectory, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation has initiated the What Next project. Carried out in close collaboration with scholars, activists and policy makers around the world, What Next aims to take stock of major social and political trends, identify and analyse emergent global challenges and explore strategies for social change.

The What Next Report
The What Next Report summarises major debates and critical issues raised in the What Next process. It provides a civil society perspective. Together with a set of other What Next publications it reflects the discussions held at What Next seminars and meetings around the world, where a great number of concerned people, such as civil society activists, academics, national and international policy-makers, civil servants and media representatives, have participated. The What Next process has been guided by a Core group, which met three times in the period 2002–2004 to provide direction and advice, and, more recently, by an extended drafting group – partly identical with the Core group – which have discussed various drafts of the report over the last eight months. The author of the Report, Pat Mooney of the ETC group, refers to it in the text as the ‘What Next group’. The group does not necessarily subscribe to all its analyses and conclusions but has provided a dynamic sounding board. This is a pre-publication version of the What Next Report. It is presented to the What Next Forum as work in progress with the hope that it will trigger discussion, debate and generate comments. While the stories – the different ‘takes’ – introduced in the beginning and the end of the Report are close to their final form, material will be added to the middle section.

Main author: Pat Mooney Editors: Niclas Hällström Olle Nordberg Wendy Davies Robert Österbergh Design and layout: Mattias Lasson

The What Next Report 2005-2035 trendlines and alternatives
By Pat Mooney, ETC Group and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation’s What Next Group

Introducing the What Next Report: 2005–2035 What’s ahead? – Taking the trendline – China Sundown What’ Ahead? – Endnotes to the trendline What If ? – Other ‘takes’ on tomorrow What if ? – Take 1 – Rights: Stockholm syndrome or Geneva Watch What if ? – Take 2 – Resistance through the African Forum What if ? – Take 3 – Resilience in the Andes Taking Stock Taken together – Reflections in the old house 4 7 29 45 47 59 73 87 93

Introducing the What Next Report 2005–2035
The What Next project was organised 30 years – a full human generation – after What Now, the inspiring 1975 process that deserves good grades for its prescriptions but fared worse on its predictions. Not surprising, since its authors were more focused on ‘now’–the immediate steps ahead – than ‘next’. Thirty years on, a new group of people, concerned about the future of the world in their roles as civil society activists and scholars came together at the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre and began their discussions by asking the question: What Next? What is a likely scenario for the next thirty years and what are alternatives? To deal with the complexity and unpredictability of the task, the artifice of a fictional scenario was adopted to explore the processes that might be involved in taking humanity from 2005 to 2035. The scenario was developed, building on debates and discussions – face to face, by e-mail and in conference calls – in a four-year What Next process that took us from Mexico City to Dehra Dun (India), to Porto Alegre (Brazil), and to Miami (USA), Ottawa (Canada) and Uppsala (Sweden). If the world continues on its present course, it was concluded, the fictional scenario China Sundown that follows is unnervingly reasonable and not at all sensational. In developing and debating the scenario, the group fought for accuracy in detail and for logic in analysis. Although technology is clearly at the centre of the discussion, there was a deliberate effort to highlight the central issues of power and control. The events related to in the story that took place before September 2006 have happened. Nothing is invented. Many of the story’s events that occur after September 2006 have also already taken place. Others are based on the understanding of trends or situations that can reasonably be anticipated. Following the trendline scenario, we take three clusters of issues from the story, centred on new technologies, the changing environment, and governance and the shifting relationships between social forces. In this pre-publication version we summarise some of the key points in each cluster, while the fi nal version will include more elaborate and substantial discussions of each point. These clusters are not comprehensive. The purpose is to present new and emerging issues that are largely sidestepped by policy-makers and overlooked by the media. Space and time have made it impractical to address everything desirable in this What Next publication. Even within the clusters addressed, many critical areas are omitted in favour of bringing light to those new ones that have the possibility to profoundly change our future.

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In the fi nal section of this report, we look at three alternative ‘takes’ on the next 30 years. How might things unfold differently from the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario? What are the possibilities for intervention, social change and creative organising that could really make a difference? Each one of the ‘takes’ has an autonomous origin from a particular set of actors and issues. We hope the different examples point towards constructive possibilities for civil society. Because we do not intend to be prescriptive, the scenario approach has been used here, too, so as to explore the nuances of social change and the complexity involved in the interrelationship of issues. Unjustified optimism and recourse to miracle solutions have been avoided. Perhaps the energy and commitment of civil society to make greater change in a shorter time-scale have been underestimated, and perhaps some readers will be disappointed that the stories are not more far-reaching and visionary. However, their strengths lie in their realism, and that, taken together, they in combination with the many other possible stories would lead to significant change. In the concluding section, these three different stories are brought together in what is, hopefully, not too unrealistic a debate about the central role of civil society. We hope this report will be stimulating reading. Now for our fi rst ‘take’ on the road from 2005 to 2035...

What’s ahead ? Taking the trendline

China Sundown
In 2035, Suyuan Woo didn’t look in her early 60s – still with hair more black than grey and with just enough wrinkles to draw passers-by into her warm, sardonic eyes. Half a foot shorter than the younger generation, she not so much walked as punched her sturdy little frame down Beijing’s congested streets. With her politically incorrect Mao cap flipped backwards over her forehead and her oversized backpack pregnant with books and papers, the old journalist resembled a tiny, funky, teddy bear as she ploughed her way – late as always – to some urgent meeting. In the ancient city, reborn with new buildings and new arrivals every day, the famous blogger was met with affection in the capital’s tea shops and book stalls and could be heard, if not always seen, laughing too loudly – she had been deaf since birth – or haranguing her companions on the missed lessons of history, a subject that haunted her. With her voluminous humour and bustling drive, Suyuan Woo first intimidated and then charmed children who – on a chilly Beijing evening, with hardly an invitation – would wriggle onto her lap and into the folds of her blue woollen overcoat. Although her friends knew her for her politics, wit, and warmth, they were disturbed that in December 2035, she lived alone, and the sadness of that sometimes stifled her laughter and stooped her body so that even new acquaintances sensed tragedy…
split the country. The National Democratic Alliance – the political party in power – had tried to delay the election, insisting that the country would be better served if the outcome of an independent judicial enquiry were known prior to the vote. The old-line opposition Communist Party demanded that the election be held on the constitutionally required date. After all, they argued, it was the government that had set the enquiry in motion and had given it a timetable that overran the date of the election. For the most part, the media sided with the Communists. Each week brought fresh revelations of political malfeasance, and public anger soared. By the week of the vote, the National Democratic Alliance, which should have swept back into power with ease, looked like it could tumble to a Communist-led coalition of centre-left and far-left parties. The country could have a minority government. For the first time in 16 years, China would be led by so-called Communists. Only in the last days before the vote, did the ruling party’s fortunes improve. Suyuan Woo, a highly respected investigative journalist at CINA, the China Independent News Agency, uncovered a sequence of e-mails that showed that the scandal had begun while the Communists held office and that three ministers in that regime had directly supervised the transfer of the Tibet deal to their successors after losing the election In its effort to gain exclusive access to the Tibetan Biodiversity Database and cell line repository, Zhou Xī, a large domestic conglomerate – an affi liate of the pharmaceutical giant, Numan Corp – had bribed

Election Day, November 2035: The election had been a cliff hanger. So intense were the emotions during the 21-day campaign that the media were beside themselves, trumpeting that the result could

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the leadership of both parties as well as numerous Tibetan officials. With two days to go before the vote, the Communists furiously denounced the e-mails as political sabotage inspired – or directed – by Indian government interests in Tibet. The party accused Suyuan Woo of being in collusion with the governing party. The people believed the reporter. In a ridiculous demonstration that appeared to be solely for the world media’s benefit, the Supreme Court called out the army on election day, and Beijing’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras provided home-viewers with non-stop images of squads of bored young men in urban warfare uniforms marching purposelessly through the empty streets to ensure a ‘safe and fair’ election. Suyuan Woo found the exercise ludicrous – and the presence of troops almost comedic. Writing in her syndicated blog the day after, the journalist acidly observed that the election opened and ended in less than one hour in the cities and not much longer in the countryside where some voters had to go to their neighbours to code in their Internet ballot (voting was not compulsory but non-voters couldn’t claim social services benefits). ‘Who were the troops protecting?’ Suyuan Woo asked her readers. As the journalist fi led her story, however, news reached the capital that a team of Chinese climatologists had been massacred on the Zimbabwe/ Zambia border by famine-stricken villagers who mistook the scientists for land surveyors. Claiming fear of ethnic reprisals, which the government itself seemed to foment by its alarmist reactions and its tolerance of racist diatribes on nationalist blogs, Beijing’s tiny African diplomatic community was urged to stay off the streets – and the troops were again sent out on patrol. The Africans were as dismayed by the troops as by the rumoured bands of youth seeking revenge. Suyuan Woo was sarcastically cynical about the latest election outcome: the last-minute decline of the Communists had resulted in a centre-centre coalition of middle-sized parties gaining control of the Congress. ‘They’ll keep on tracking the trendline,’ she announced. ‘No government – even over two or three terms – can untangle the contractual economic web that binds China to the global corporations. Numan Corp’s local partner (and thereby Numan Corp itself ) will get control of the Tibetan repository,’ Suyuan Woo predicted. ‘No other corporation – or, rather, consortium of genomic and data-processing enterprises – can handle the project.’

The journalist was marginally more sympathetic to the new crew of politicians that would take over the reins of government. After 40 years in journalism, she knew many of them personally. ‘They are reformers,’ she conceded, ‘and some of them have good hearts. But, left, right, or centre, most of these politicians are the same. Once they are in office, they fi nd the margins for making change so narrow that they accept the status quo hypothesis of reality. A few become corrupt. Most are mesmerised by the illusion of influence and tinker at the edges of reform.’ The journalist had earned her cynicism. She had been a hopeful, politically committed teenager belatedly trying to make her way to the pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989 when news of the horrific suppression reached her in a suburb of the city. Shattered, Suyuan Woo went underground, studied English, and briefly became a US sympathiser until the fi rst Bush’s Gulf War yanked her back to reality. Eventually, toughened by three years mostly on her own and in hiding, she manufactured a safe history for her absent years and worked her way to Hong Kong and then to Singapore, where she cut her teeth as a print journalist for Rupert Murdoch. Not identified as a dissident, she returned to China in 2005, still working for News Corp. In the years that followed, she documented the intense rural unrest and growing suburban frustration among China’s ever worldlier middle class and tracked the neo-liberalisation that, despite its authoritarian top-down introduction, created confusion and confrontation throughout the Communist Party. She was, this time as a reporter, in Tiananmen Square that fateful December night in 2019 when the Communists coyly bowed to the well-scripted calls for multi-party elections. In her heart, she knew that history had made this kind of electoral democracy anachronistic.

If for no one else, the sea-change year for Suyuan Woo had not been 2019 but much earlier: in 2005, the year she moved to Beijing to pursue her career with News Corp. Her fi rst overseas assignment after the move was to the G8 summit held at Gleneagles, Scotland. Most of her journalist colleagues of that era still remember Gleneagles as the summit where terrorists bombed London’s transport system. The series of explosions overshadowed the summit itself and dampened ardour for the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign

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staged by development NGOs and assorted rock and fi lm stars. Suyuan Woo remembered the G8 meeting as the fi rst in a series of extraordinary events that went on to include the New Orleans and Texas hurricanes, the immigrant riots in the suburbs of Paris, the moral betrayal at the UN’s Millenium Development Goals review in September, culminating in the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong at the end of the year. Gleneagles was where the US administration (led by the second Bush) fi nally admitted that there was, after all, such a thing as human-induced global warming. It was also the summit where the G8 talked about ‘pro-poor science’ and participants pledged themselves to use new technologies to end poverty, hunger, and disease. Short weeks after Gleneagles, the US announced a coalition with Japan, Australia, China, India and South Korea to use new technologies to sidestep global warming. And, a few days later, with New Orleans and much of the Texas coastline evacuated and flooded, the demand for a climate techno-fi x became shrill and relentless. As some activists said at the time, it seemed as though technological silver bullets were the solution to every social problem, ‘Make poverty Chemistry,’ they chided. The final straw for Suyuan Woo came at the close of 2005 in Hong Kong when covering the sixth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization. Because she was squirrelling away her per diem to buy a flat in Beijing, she got a room in the same cheap hotel that anti-globalisation activists were using as their headquarters. They were a peculiar species, she thought, one minute lighthearted and almost cavalier; the next minute, unbearably pretentious. They were undeniably smart but she couldn’t decide whether they were actors or audience – masters of diplomacy, masters of minutiae, or merely masturbating. They did a great job sharing information but there was no apparent strategic plan. In the bars in the evening – often very late – and with a wonderful self-deprecation, she heard them joke about the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ but she understood only that it was some kind of psychological protective dependency and couldn’t make the connection to Hong Kong or the WTO. Over time, the journalist became aware of a tension between the social movements – especially farmers and trade unionists – and NGO activists…friendly but distant, saying much the same things but rarely in unison, the NGO leaders acting like social movement wanna-bes. Something to consider another time, she mused. During a street confrontation led by South Korea’s impressive farmers, a young Brazilian farm organ-

iser named Joao Sergio scooped her up along with a Swedish couple and their teenage daughter and got them safely in a doorway as the police stormed past. When it was safe, the little group found a tea stall and the Brazilian farmer regaled them with the exploits of a farmers’ committee in northwest China which had mobilised national opposition to the government’s land takeover by creating their own Internet blog. Somehow the blog escaped the attention of Chinese surveillance and the farmer scored at least a short-term victory. The subversive use of blogs stuck with the journalist.1 That evening, the farmer convinced the journalist and the Swedes to sit in on a CSO seminar on new technologies. The panel of speakers was trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to persuade their audience that the confrontation with capitalism was moving from trade to technology. ‘Technology trumps trade’ was not only the seminar’s title but the mantra of most of the panel. One speaker focused on the convergence of physics, chemistry, and biology at the nano-scale (one-billionth of a metre, she learned) and warned that all of nature and, more importantly for the WTO negotiators, all of manufacturing and commodity supply were threatened by convergence at the scale of atoms and molecules. The lead speaker, a passionate, heavily-accented Uruguayan, spoke of molecular self-assembly and warned of the risk of a major reduction in the trade of raw materials and its implications for economies of the South. The woman emphasised the importance of patents and argued that intellectual property was no longer a tool for innovation but a strategy for global corporations to create exclusive technology alliances among themselves and to escape national anti-competition laws. Focused on trade, the distracted audience gave the panel a round of polite applause and drifted back to their e-mail. She soon realised that hanging in with the activists was not a smart career move. Hong Kong was rife with security people and identification with the anti-globalisation movement wouldn’t help her. Suyuan Woo retreated to the security of a still cheaper and even less comfortable hotel some distance from both the World Trade Organization meeting and the activists. From there, she chronicled yet another cliff-hanging, ambiguous conclusion, masking another defeat for the South. No surprises there. It was in Beijing a few days after the WTO meeting, when she was writing an overview of the year, that the significance of technology in many of the events she had covered struck home. Suyuan Woo dashed off an angry column, which

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News Corp – as quickly – refused to print… ‘Within hours of the G8 bombings,’ she wrote, ‘London’s half-million surveillance cameras had sorted through thousands of faces to identify the likely terrorists. Fourteen hours after the bombings, London’s Bobbies were studying 450 cell phone photographs of the blasts posted on Flickr. com.2 Before the week was out, the suicide bombers had been named, thanks to technology. The only reason, she went on, that George W. accepted global warming – even after the Gulf disasters – was that industry had a way to use technology to profit from it. Technology could ‘manage’ poverty and hunger. Technology would win the War on Terrorism. Technology would allow the rich to continue driving their SUVs.’ Thinking back, there was a part she hadn’t got. She distrusted using technology for solving every problem but she didn’t make the connection between the corporate control of technology and the government’s role in facilitating their control. When News Corp rejected her piece, she decided to resign. Not so hard to do, she admitted to herself; her savings and frugal lifestyle guaranteed her enough money for at least a year in China. The prospect of buying her own flat would have to be put on a back burner.

over the little journalist, and dressed with meticulously casual elegance, Qi Qubìng was funny, single, totally occidentalised and would have much preferred the company’s headquarters near New York’s hip-hop scene than life in the repressive environment of southern China. Suyuan Woo found Qi politically detestable, almost clinically fascinating and hopelessly entertaining. From their fi rst encounter, the Chinese-Canadian scientist insisted on calling her ‘Su’– a shortening only her occidental friends at News Corp had adopted. They spent most of the cocktail party jousting and jesting at each other’s expense – and hugely entertaining the other party-goers. Nor could she resist their frequent encounters as she tracked Numan’s wheelings and dealings around China. While the journalist knew why she sought out the scientist, it was never clear why he always looked her up when he was in the capital. Guilt, she wondered? Affi rmation of his ideological superiority? They often met and debated in Qi’s favourite Beijing pizza joints. Friends clamoured to come along for the entertainment, and total strangers in the restaurant often joined in applause when one or the other struck a particularly telling or witty blow. Truth to tell, she privately admitted, the two laughed as much as they fought.

Suyuan Woo hadn’t stayed unemployed for long. About a month after she returned from the WTO ministerial, she developed her own blog, and a year or so later the blog was syndicated by the fledgling China Independent News Agency through news services in Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Singapore. No mean feat – by 2005 there were well over 160,000 blogs in China and the numbers seemed poised to double annually without end.

It was at a cocktail party thrown by Numan Corp that the journalist met Qi Qubìng. Suyuan Woo had right away decided that the youthful-looking scientist was quite a piece of work. Born in Vancouver, the son of Szechwan immigrants who had fled China during the Cultural Revolution, he had a Ph.D. in medicine and a specialisation in genomics. Because he spoke Southern Mandarin fluently and had many family connections in the mountainous regions of Sichuan province, Numan had snapped up the young graduate and posted him back in his parents’ homeland. Numan had built a research station in Chengdu, and Qi Qubìng lived there, travelling to Beijing frequently to deal with the government. Towering

Their most acrimonious debates were saved for the subject of the journalist’s deafness. Qi took Suyuan Woo’s lack of hearing as an insult to medical science. He brought her the latest audio enhancement implants as quickly as they came on the market. Accustomed to deafness all her life, Suyuan Woo was offended by Qi’s presumption of her ‘defectiveness’. Dinners with Qi were doomed to combat whenever the issue arose. Still, they somehow managed to end even these dinners with sufficient cordiality to allow Qi to pick up the bill and for Suyuan Woo to berate him for Numan’s extravagant expense accounts – a contradiction not lost on either of them.

For the rest of the world, it is the summer of 2010 – not the Chinese journalist’s apocryphal 2005 – that is remembered. Scientists insisted that it was only an extreme El Niño event that actually began in 2009 and lasted until late 2011. The crest, however, was in the heat wave of the temperate zone summer of 2010. So hot had the previous year been that, in June and July 2010, unbelievably large glacial chunks were splitting off

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Greenland into the North Atlantic.3 One weekend, Parisians took picnics to the Brittany coast to catch sight of rogue icebergs drifting south to the Canaries. A vast, squat iceberg, larger than Luxembourg, dubbed ‘Big Mac’ became a satellite television superstar as millions of viewers tracked its monstrous progress towards the Canary Islands.4 The Spanish Air Force was ready to bomb Big Mac into ice cubes when a sudden tropical storm made the mission too risky. Vacationers on Isla de Alegranza awoke the next morning to the crunching sound of Big Mac ripping up their coastline and rattling windows 80 kilometres away in Porto del Rosario. The heat wave was relentless. Whether it was in steamy Paris walk-ups, swanky New York highrises, or dismal London east-end flats, the sick and the elderly died by the thousands. Blackouts and brownouts swept across North America. Poetically, the worst electricity failure struck the US eastern seaboard just before the July 4th weekend leaving thousands trapped in subways and elevators for three days, combining with the heat wave to cause hundreds of deaths, and – no surprise – few births nine months later. Power systems also collapsed – though less frequently – throughout Europe and Asia. Tokyo closed its subway system. British bankers cycled to their offices. When the hurricane season struck the Caribbean that year, 30 million Americans were on a six-month 24-hour alert to evacuate their homes. The freakish weather fi red up the fundamentalists of every religion and spawned predictable prophecies of world doom. The US administration, despite intense pressure from its far right agreed that the September session of the UN General Assembly must address global warming. Throughout the summer and into the autumn, the media was inundated with well-timed scientific reports offering new climate disaster scenarios. Many of the studies went on to propose technological fixes. A panel of corporate scientists commissioned by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development – in partnership with the UN Secretary-General – tabled its report two weeks before the General Assembly. The panel concluded that current policies and initiatives to curb global warming, including the moribund Kyoto protocol with its carbon market and stillunmet targets, could not reverse the trend. The industry experts recommended a Manhattan Projecttype initiative to develop new technological fixes in place of proven failures like reforestation. They proposed iron nanoparticle arrays that, if spread on the ocean’s surface, could nurture plankton, absorb CO2 and lower temperatures. Reflective nanopar-

ticle arrays, the experts opined, should be spread in the stratosphere to shield the planet from ultraviolet (UV) rays and prevent further atmospheric deterioration. The industry panel theorised that – rather like a Venetian blind – ‘smart‘ nanoparticles could be manipulated from the ground to control when, and to what extent, the sun’s rays would be allowed to reach the earth. By the time the General Assembly sat down in September, the media and the public were whipped into a frenzy over climate change. The Venetian blind – or ‘solar umbrella’ – became a cause célèbre. In his speech to the UN, the US President pledged his country’s technology to restore the environment. He further promised to work with industry around the world to harness the best possible scientific know-how to this end. The speech was met with an applause rarely accorded US presidents – although, privately, some European and Southern delegates expressed skepticism. Some years later, it was learned that as far back as September 2001 the Bush administration had convened a meeting of climatologists to explore the possibilities of protecting the planet, ranging from a 600,000 square-mile stratosphere screen (using 20 nm aluminum particles5) to fleets of ocean-going turbines to throw up salt spray into clouds to improve their reflectivity.6 By the time heads of state met in New York in 2011 two consortia of presumably rival global companies had been created. Sonybishi, RT Minerals, China’s Zhou Xi conglomerate, BritishBASF Energy and Numan partnered to form the Terra-Forma consortium. The second grouping, cobbled together by Exxon GE Corp, India’s giant Tata-Pharma and MicroIBM, was called AtomSphere. Political observers worried that India and China – the burgeoning new superpowers – were lined up in opposing consortia. But, the two consortia pledged to pool their vast technological prowess on behalf of the world community if governments would modify their anti-trust legislation to allow the companies to share their patents and trade secrets exclusively between the groups. The companies also demanded that governments insulate Terra-Forma and Atom-Sphere’s activities from liability, or agree to underwrite their liability insurance. Because of the risks involved, the consortia also insisted that governments guarantee shareholders annual returns equal to the performance of each year’s top-tier NASDAQ listings. Finally, the consortia wanted guarantees that they would not be held responsible for any accidents under the terms of the mid-1970s ENMOD treaty against the hostile use of ‘environmental modification‘.7 With remarkably little opposition

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or debate, countries acquiesced. ‘It’s not “terrorism” the world needs to panic over,” Qi Qubìng smirked, twirling his wine glass after dinner one evening, ‘it’s terra-ism. Beware the Weapons of Mass Construction!’ Suyuan Woo sensed something in his tense posture Tash heard in his disconcerting giggle.

Both the public alarm over global warming and the rapid response, from industry and the US government, left the environmental movement in a state of ideological chaos. Although perfectly aware that the immediate crisis was only partially attributable to global warming, many environmentalists welcomed the media spotlight. Those horrified by the notion of ‘geo-engineering’ (fundamental planet restructuring) nevertheless found it difficult to articulate credible alternatives. Mainstream environmental organisations – offering no real critique of technology and power – saw geo-engineering as the only, albeit deplorable, solution to a devastating loss of biodiversity in the sea and on land. Indeed, at a global CSO environment congress held in Stockholm in late 2009, as the unsettling El Niño events got underway, the environmental movement’s leading players were split over an industry-supported resolution endorsing earthengineering experimentation. In the years that followed – when a clear environmental voice was most needed – the fallout from Stockholm rendered the movement inarticulate and ineffective. ‘So, is this the Stockholm Syndrome’8 the activists were joking about?‘ Suyuan Woo wondered in her blog.

‘If the sky is falling you need something wide and huge to answer the crisis. Climate change is the ultimate con,’ Suyuan Woo told her readership, ‘but, even more, it’s a wonderful excuse to do everything else. Climate change gives governments permission to control society. Political collusion makes it viable for corporations and governments to create the problem – global warming – and then demand more power to solve the problem.’ Outside the General Assembly, uninhibited and almost unmonitored, the Terra-Forma and Atom-Sphere consortia soaked up huge government research grants. Terra-Forma began experimenting with what the group’s PR department called ‘synthetic biology’ – novel, non-ferrous nanoparticle arrays that might gobble up pollutants on the ocean’s surface and/or dissolve contaminants into harmless molecules to litter the seabed. Shortly after the experiments began, however, the media uncovered a series of microparticle experiments, two decades before, which had had disquieting results. In one, the US government had seeded iron particles into the Humboldt Current off the Chilean coast. Another experiment, by Scripps Institute of Oceanography back in 2002, had dumped three tons of iron fi lings into the Southern Sea below New Zealand. Yet a third particle plume was dumped by the Canadian Government off Vancouver Island. In each case, the intention was to provide nutrients to feed vast plumes of CO2-consuming plankton that would lower global temperatures.9 The experiments were varyingly successful but stirred scientific alarm that further dumping could actually sterilise tropical seas or have other uncontrolled results. ‘Give me a half-tanker of iron,’ one of Scripps oceanographers had bragged, ‘and I will give you an ice age.’10 The consortium’s CEO announced that Terra-Forma would not be using crude natural resources or genetic engineering in its experiments. Instead, the group was engineering specially designed microbial materials built from the bottom up – unique compounds with quantum characteristics whose atom-by-atom construction guaranteed that the organisms would only activate under specific environmental conditions in highly prescribed ocean ecosystems. There was no risk that their experiments could drift away. The particles’ properties would anchor them to the surface and make them more effective absorbing pollutants. Atom-Sphere started work to reconstruct the stratosphere, experimenting with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles, which had proved effective in UV- blocking sunscreens.11

El Niño or not, the soaring temperatures of 2010– 2011 morphed into the pageant of record-breaking ‘hot’ years fi rst noted in the late 1980s. When the UN General Assembly met formerly to conclude the Millennium Development Goals process in September 2015, the blatant ‘development’ failure was hardly mentioned, by the South or the North, so dominant was the alarm over climate change. From the General Assembly’s podium, those heads of government who deigned to attend stressed their fi nancial commitment to resolving global warming and conserving biodiversity. Presidents and prime ministers argued that the importance of this work made progress on other MDG targets less important. Money for climate change control, many argued, should be seen as a contribution towards official development assistance.

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Criticism of the project was surprisingly muted. People had unknowingly applied transparent nanoparticle sunscreens to themselves and their children for decades. No one wanted to think now what the risks might be. More importantly, governments and industry had a long history of tampering with the stratosphere, going back to US efforts to seed rain clouds in the Vietnam War, and including more convincing experiments in ‘hygroscopic cloud seeding’ in countries such as Thailand, South Africa and Mexico. According to the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, 26 governments were already conducting weather-altering experiments before the consortium got underway.12 Although US voters were alarmed, the consortium happily advised them that if the 2005 hurricanes that devastated New Orleans and Texas were to strike the Atlantic seaboard, the bottom half of Florida would disappear and Athens, Georgia, would become a seaport.13 Less clear was the military potential for the consortium’s work. Indeed, a US Air Force report some decades earlier, entitled ‘Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the weather in 2025’, had concluded: ‘…the weather will be our most powerful weapon’.14 As though to make their point, two Chinese cities came close to war as they both tried to alter local weather patterns and rainfall by blasting salt particles into the troposphere. The city downwind, Suyuan Woo reported, accused the city upwind of stealing its weather.

they also talked about trade in plant germplasm. Ethiopia and China had extensive crop genetic diversity and the company had the gene-mapping tools for commercial exploitation. While Numan was clearly interested in the Chinese (but not the African) market, it wanted to partner with Africa’s fragile scientific institutions to identify commercial crop genes and human gene sequences. Tibet – and the Himalayas – came up frequently in the conversation. At the Delhi conference, India and China were vying for access to Africa’s human and plant genetic diversity. ‘Su’ was only half paying attention. She was already hopelessly in love. The younger woman was brilliant and beautiful and apparently as attracted to the journalist. She, too, found Qi funny, unbearable and addictive. Three months after that fi rst dinner they discreetly – Beijing was still a repressive society in those days – bought a condo together in the heart of the city. Ever the irritating and boastful matchmaker, Qi latched onto the two women as though they were family. He had done post-doctoral research in Addis Ababa and – much to Su’s irritation – would sometimes chatter away in Amharic with her partner, leaving the journalist to clean up the remains of the dreadful pizzas the Numan scientist invariably forced upon them. But, Qi also brought old Alfred Hitchcock DVDs that Su hated herself for loving. He became a fi xture in their tiny apartment whenever business gave the partying scientist a chance to visit the Chinese capital.

It was two years after the fall of the Communist government that the ever-irascible Qi Qubìng introduced the journalist to Alitash Teferra, a young Ethiopian trade attaché based in Beijing. By then, Qi was Numan’s national research director. ‘Tash’ was part of the African Union’s trade mission. Her job, beyond the futile attempt to increase exports of African manufactures to China, was to establish public-private partnerships between Africa and the growing ranks of China-based multinationals. Qi had met the diplomat at a trade conference in Delhi and had been instrumental in persuading her to apply for the AU post in Beijing. Over dinner, the three discussed the use of nanotechnology (that word again!) to tweak single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, the bits of DNA that indicate genomic diversity harvested from human cell lines to develop new diagnostic kits and drugs. China – and Africa – wanted access to Numan’s genomic technologies to reduce health care costs. Because Numan had agribusiness subsidiaries,

Along with his insufferable arrogance, Qi was one of those conservatives who imagined himself a world-wise liberal. He took every opportunity to criticise Su’s blog for what he considered to be its political naivety. Moreover, Su’s deafness obviously offended Qi’s scientific sensibilities but the journalist wouldn’t consider using the cochlear implants he tried to foist upon her. When Qi tried to get Tash to take his side, it nearly ended the threesome. For reasons Su herself didn’t understand, she couldn’t tell Qi that she had tried hearing implants under pressure from friends. She had rejected them all. She read lips, and, more importantly, she read people’s postures and movements. The hearing devices created chaos for her. Rather than helping her to understand, they distracted her and dulled her other senses. Qi thought she was a stubborn luddite.

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Meanwhile, intergovernmental relations were shifting on other fronts. Suyuan Woo’s syndicated blog had become an almost untouchable national icon by the time the Technology Transfer Treaty (TTT) came into force. At one level, the treaty gave legitimacy to the technology-sharing consortia established by Atom-Sphere and Terra-Forma. Under the pretence of facilitating technology transfer, the treaty actually endorsed exclusionary technology cartels. Additionally, the treaty fi nally established a truly global patent regime – doing away with the patchwork of national and regional laws that had complicated international intellectual property deals in the past. The treaty purported to be ‘pro-poor’ by establishing regional identification systems that made it at least theoretically possible for developing regions to access the patented technology of others for domestic purposes while preventing the reexport of the products into industrial markets. To make this practicable, the South had to attach (or insert) invisible tags, nano-sized barcodes, on all products using ‘donated’ patents. But, at a more important level, the treaty acknowledged that technological convergence at the nano-scale was such a potent force for the environment, the world economy and military security that special international regulations were needed to safeguard society. Following ratification, patent infringement became a criminal offence capable of engaging national police forces and even Interpol. Governments would bear the (formerly corporate) burden of patent protection and ensure ‘appropriate royalty revenues’ even at a cost to government coffers. These treaty elements were dutifully debated by the international media. However, far beyond the euphemism of ‘technology transfer’, the treaty’s real purpose was to recognise that the world had moved on beyond the World Trade Organization – where trade was king – to the TTT where (as the CSO panel back in Hong Kong had predicted) ‘technology trumps trade.‘ Prompting the treaty were huge scientific advances. Feverish research from Beijing to Boston to Berlin had, by 2024, made industrial-scale molecular self-assembly a commercial reality. Governments and industry agreed that most international trade would quickly become unnecessary as those who possessed self-assembly patents manipulated the periodic table so that ‘raw materials’ or ‘commodities’ would become inconsequential in production costs. To prevent

a technology-induced economic crash or a hot war over technologies – the USA, Europe, India and China needed the treaty. The TTT protected their own economies and maintained their dominance over other regions and markets. In addition, as Suyuan Woo reported in her blog, the threat of converging technologies at the nano-scale forced down the valuation of Africa’s minerals and fossil fuels and of southern South America’s vast Botucatu Aquifer. Even before it was significant in the market, the spectre of nanotechnology gave the consortia greater global economic control.

It was also the TTT that gave formal recognition to India’s and China’s status as superpowers, although the designation had lost much of its lustre in a world where corporate consortia had more economic clout than individual governments. At the turn of the millennium, most economists had thought it would be China’s cheap labour – its ability to produce most of the world’s manufacturers at incredibly low costs – that would take the country to the top tier in global power. The same economists had predicted that India would rise to superpower status on the basis of its service industry. Well before the quarter-century mark, China had smoothly eased over from manufacturing to services and India had pivoted off its service base into manufacturing. Both countries were annually fielding more Ph.D. scientists and engineers that either Europe or the United States – and, no surprise – there were now more English-speakers in both China and India than in the USA. China’s and India’s intellectual dominance did take Europe and the USA by surprise. It was Qi who had pointed out to Suyuan Woo that even in the fi rst decade there had been more scientists working on nanotechnology in Beijing than in all of Western Europe, at one-twentieth the cost of a European scientist. Recognising their own shortcomings in raw materials – and their potential dependence on Africa and other regions – the two Asian giants had embraced nanotech and its related technologies with passion and had succeeded in competing with the EU and USA in developing molecular self-assembly. Their shared concern for raw materials and their drive for technology markets made India and China uncomfortable neighbours. At times they cooperated together in UN meetings to assert their leadership over the Group of 77 in order to bully other Southern governments into countering OECD states. At other times, their fierce competition for materials and markets split the

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Group of 77 and forced weaker countries to take sides. Often, Tibet in particular, and the Himalayan region in general, threatened to become a battlefield over which the two giants fought for control of the region’s resources. It was some time after the treaty came into force that the so-called ‘developing’ regions of sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America became aware that the treaty ensured that China, Europe and the USA retained control of molecular self-assembly for environmental and military security reasons. The North advised that the technology was just too powerful to be allowed into the hands of less sophisticated economies or more volatile political regimes. Back in 2024, the Chinese media – with Suyuan Woo a rare exception – was pro-TTT, in keeping with the Chinese government. The same held true for most of the world’s media including her old employer, News Corp. In her column, Suyuan Woo caustically observed that all three media conglomerates were tied up in consortia, with the companies controlling nanotechnology. Nanotech, in fact, was leading to major cost-savings in telecommunications. Although parts of the treaty were hotly debated – even in national elections – voters were confused, and all major parties ultimately sided with the TTT and only promised (if elected) to fight for certain national exceptions and modifications. In the end, of course, the treaty was ratified without amendment. Su had a fight with her partner and the Numan scientist over dinner in their Beijing apartment. ‘It’s not who votes that counts, it’s who has control of the technology,’ the executive opined, ‘Thomas Edison’s first invention was a vote-counting machine. The last thing politicians wanted was something that automated an election. Edison figured it out and went back to ripping off other inventors and making sure his patents were the ones used by industry.’15 Qi chuckled into his wine glass. ‘Who wrote that old ballad?’ he asked, knowing full well that the two women had no idea what he was referring to. He grinned, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose! Democracy is only offered when those in power have sufficient control of the decisionmaking apparatus – political parties, media, and campaign finances – that they can determine the choices available to the voters. When voting becomes irrelevant, democracies flourish. As long as politicians are a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledum-dum, the illusion is all that is necessary.’ He looked satisfied with himself. Su was furious. She didn’t need an introductory course in political science from a corporate sci-

entist. The 2019 toppling of the Chinese Communists had been more a generational change than an ideological transformation. A stodgy old guard was supplanted by a cosmopolitan nouveau regime (China’s ‘metro-sexual mandarins’, Suyuan Woo dubbed them) possibly no more accommodating than the Communists to foreign industry, but more sophisticated in addressing the social ferment in the provinces. Cynical though she was, the old reporter continued to have faith in the people.

By the mid-2020s, everything was getting worse. Regardless of the treaty’s provisions, nanoparticle proliferation – the ubiquitous presence of manufactured particles – and ‘smart dust’ nano networks were already out of control. To be fair, as Suyuan Woo conceded in her blog, the cause – or causes – of the unraveling health and environmental crisis were never absolutely clear. The popular scapegoats were the two consortia and their nanoparticle arrays. Although the field trials were shrouded in patent-imposed secrecy, the public perception was that Terra-Forma’s seeding of ocean currents with contaminant-absorbing ‘nanobots’ was simply adding to the pollution; and, that Atom-Sphere’s experiments with the Venetian blind was directly responsible for a scary increase in lung and skin cancers, autism, asthma and allergies. Poets and commentators also noted that – though the skies were duller – the sunsets were more spectacular and the rain seemed almost fluorescent sometimes. The consortia mounted a massive public relations blitz, pointing their fingers at the ongoing fallout from the early chemical industry of the 1940s– 90s, ignoring the fact that many of the consortia’s most prominent members were the same (namechanged, face-lifted) chemical companies. Many observers – Suyuan Woo among them – suspected that both the older chemistry and the new were at fault. Suyuan Woo also wondered if AtomSphere’s other very well-funded and publicised initiative – the construction of 24 new pressurised-water (PWR) nuclear power reactors16 – also contributed to the sickness.17 Opposition to nuclear power had all but disappeared in the panic over climate change. There had been fewer than 450 nuclear power plants in 2005, now more than 800 were either operational or under construction.18 Again, most environmental groups had been muted – preferring the risk of nuclear meltdown to the certainty of climate collapse.

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Whatever the causes, the US Centers for Disease Control and the Geneva-based World Health Organization concurred that for the fi rst time in almost 200 years life expectancy in industrialised countries was on a discernible decline. Worse still, the World Health Organization reckoned that the number of ‘well-being’ (sickness-free) years had dropped at least 5 per cent since 2000. Looking grandfatherly – and as if they wanted to give their world television audience a ‘warmfuzzy’, the president of the United States, China’s premier, the prime minister of India and the CEOs of the two consortia appeared together, assuring everyone that the troubles were shortterm and the consequences of past failures and not of current experiments. Viewers were urged to ‘stay the course’ and trust in science. Scarcely a month after the global news conference, on the eve of the North Atlantic hurricane season, a luxury yacht was towed out of the Sargasso Sea into Miami’s harbour, with all on board – crew and passengers – dead. The vessel was quarantined to an industrial section of the docks far from tourists and journalists as a SWAT team from the Centres for Disease Control, wearing space suits, performed a forensic search for clues as to the cause or causes of death. Foul play was said to be unlikely. Unconfi rmed rumours circulated that the people had suffocated from some unknown bacteria or virus. The Sargasso Sea, after all, was famous for its floating seaweed, its dubious link to the Bermuda Triangle, and legends of ship-engulfi ng slime. In time, with no hard news emerging, the US media were distracted by a bizarre Hollywood sex/ murder scandal and abandoned the Miami docks for Tinseltown. The European press, however, reported that sailors on Portuguese and Spanish trawlers crossing through the Sargasso Sea had stories of a slime that almost glued itself to the ocean’s surface but was, luckily, too shallow to threaten their underwater vents. There was a brief flurry of interest, at least Europe, when eel reproduction in the Sargasso Sea slumped suddenly the same season. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) had already killed off Europe’s domestic eel population years before and the mid-Atlantic eels were the only hope for fi ne dining. As Parisians searched their menus in vain for anguille florentine, trawlers searched the Sargasso for the eels’ unknown spawning ground.19 At the hurricane season’s end, the White House gleefully announced that not a single US life had been lost. The presidential communiqué went

on to somberly restate the USA’s condolences to the families of the 80,000 people from Jamaica to Trinidad who had drowned, or buried in mud slides. Peculiarly, the hurricane centre had shifted sharply into the South Atlantic. Brazil was once again battered by unexpected storms.

A decade after China shed its vestigial tail of communism for democracy the steady downward curve in global human and environmental health dipped sharply. The pandemic sprang most unexpectedly – not from a new form of avian influenza or a yet more vicious HIV variant or any other of the 30-plus new diseases that had slipped out of the evaporating rainforests into the world’s farms and cities – but from a new strain of schistosomiasis, the ancient freshwater snail fever that causes severe fatigue and, if left untreated, death in its human victims.20 At least two different strains of schistosomiasis were common in China. But, until the Three Gorges dam closed its gates in 2003 and Poyang Lake began to fi ll, the strain in Sichuan Province above the dam had not mingled with the strain in the lake below. The highland variant mainly affl icted humans and resulted from the use of human faeces as fertiliser. The lake strain mostly affected water buffalo and was less harmful. Before the dam created the super-schistosomiasis, infection rates in the mountains ran as high as 60 per cent. In 2005 – even as the dam was fi lling – the World Health Organization saw the new species as a major threat – not just in China but throughout the tropical world. Then things got much worse: hydatidosis, caused by a parasitic worm found in canine faeces, and native to the Tibetan Plateau and western Sichuan, contributed genes to the schistosomiasis strain and a full-blown pandemic was inevitable. In 2005, hydatidosis itself had infected 600,000. In 2021, the hybrid disease attacked 60 million in China, and the World Health Organization was reporting outbreaks as far away as Mumbai and Nairobi. Two years after that, the super-bug proved its super-flexibility by hopping from dogs and buffalo to birds and pigs. Around the world, government health officials were tight-lipped and guardedly optimistic. Suyuan Woo knew that the world had never encountered such a virulent multi-species epidemic. It was, Suyuan Woo often felt, the cumulative combination of environmental and health pres-

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sures that made it so hard for politicians and civil society to come to grips with the deteriorating living standards around them. Under pressure from Britain and the United States, and supported reluctantly by China – the World Health Organization formally established public health zones that attempted to quarantine the new diseases in their continent of origin by . The result was a drastic decline in South–North travel and trade. Although waves of technogenic migrants washed about South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, a medical curtain came down across the frontiers leading to the industrialised world. In her blog, Suyuan Woo speculated that the health quarantines were at least partly economically motivated because they allowed the North to impose impossible trade conditions on the South. The trade barriers, she told her readers, were really to protect the struggling molecularassembly industry that was encountering major technical problems and unexpected costs in scaling up their manufacturing facilities.

Political instability in the South had spilled over into the North. Suyuan Woo reported that the generation of young people around her would almost certainly live shorter and more brutish lives than their parents. This is not what governments had promised. In the midst of despair and frustration, fundamentalist movements won new recruits and new ethnic and religious divisions began to eat away at the social fabric of even the most successful economies. People wanted explanations.

It was at this time that Alitash Teferra decided to have a baby. Much older, Su favoured adoption but ‘Tash’ was not to be denied and the journalist conceded that artificial insemination would be OK. As always, Qi Qubìng was full of advice. Numan had developed a series of human performance enhancement (‘HyPE‘) drugs and implants and the company was happy to make these available to a valued colleague ‘at cost’. These ‘well-people’ drugs, Su knew, were the company’s blockbuster profit-makers and its prime research target in a deliberate strategy that had begun in the mid-1970s. Drugs and implants for well people had overwhelming advantages. Well people didn’t get sick and lose their jobs. Well people could afford to pay and they didn’t get sympathy from media or politicians forcing companies to drop their prices. Not only did well people not die but they also never got better. Once they were on a medical regime, they tended to stick with it for years. From cosmetic surgery to lifestyle drugs, such as Viagra and the anti-depressants of four decades ago, the pharmaceutical industry had moved on to market enhancement products to improve memory, hearing, sight and a list of cognitive functions designed to give parents and their children a head start in a world economy where full-time employment was far from guaranteed. Wellness drugs were playing a big role in the new implants that upgraded hearing, seeing and physical endurance. Dismissed as old-fashioned by Qi Qubìng, Su opposed the company’s offer to enhance their baby. She fumed that the drug industry was creating twotiered humans – those who wanted and could afford the implants – and those who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to be enhanced. In their increasingly regular fights, she demanded to know why the drug companies weren’t solving the real health problems that plagued most of the human race. The antibiotics that had given the industry

Faced with new diseases, ongoing climate change, and the disappearance of export markets, ‘failed states’ in the South became their own pandemic. While the North looked the other way, military dictatorships replaced paper democracies. The defence industry – also charter members of the two leading consortia – provided the dictatorships with the latest weapons nanotechnology could offer. Not only was the new generation of weapons vastly more powerful and efficient – nanotechnology, particularly, made monitoring dissidents inexpensive. Only on rare occasions did armies from the North intervene in internal or regional confl icts. Since the 1970s and the Vietnam War, television had made large troop commitments – and their attendant body bags – politically problematic. If the next generation was in danger of forgetting, the Iraq War at the outset of the millennium rendered major ground wars overseas impossible. However, the North’s citizens were not opposed to the use of high tech weaponry that made urban guerrilla warfare suicidal. According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, more people died in confl icts in Africa and Asia between 2005 and 2030 than had died in all the wars of the bloodthirsty 20th century. Consumed with their own problems, most of the ‘local’ wars went almost unnoticed in the industrial zones.

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its early credibility and profits almost a century earlier were collapsing under the onslaught of resistant super-bacterial strains. The big poverty diseases – malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, dysentery, etc. – were still there, killing millions, and ignored. Somehow, the journalist and the drug executive segued into their favorite topic – democracy. ‘How can there be democracy,’ Qi pontificated, ‘without privacy? Haven’t you noticed how little of it you have? Sure, all the so-called democracies have strong privacy laws that protect your medical and other personal information but, as quickly as the laws were passed, the people gave up their rights by volunteering the information – even paying us to take it.’ He was enjoying this, ‘When the pharmaceutical industry ran into trouble years ago with drug recalls, we were able to argue that if people paid for – and then surrendered – their personal genome maps, we would be able to determine whether or not the delisted drugs were safe for them to use. We guaranteed that the pharmaceutical company would only use the information to help the individual – and for research within the company. But, given the technology consortia involved, that meant the information went everywhere. People couldn’t sign over their maps fast enough!’ The journalist found herself agreeing. ‘Something similar happened with all the new communications technologies. At the beginning of the century we all thought that the Internet and cell phones would democratise information and strengthen people’s activism. For a while, they did. But, ultimately, the Net and the cell phone made it easier for governments not only to track what we were doing but to create communications maps of who we were doing it with. All the so-called ‘public domain’ technology made it simple for them to monitor everything. Su thought ruefully about her visit to the UK in 2005. Some of the activists at Gleneagles were promoting the idea of people’s maps. Around the UK, people with GPS cell phones were constructing incredibly detailed maps of their communities including information about local people and events. Then, all the maps were stitched together and posted on the Internet.21 The maps were supposed to be democratising but – way beyond the reach of satellites (whose capacities were always exaggerated, Su was sure) – they provided government with access to a huge reservoir of socioeconomic and political information. Qi loved it, ‘We never learn. There was the same euphoria about the telegraph in the 19th century and about the radio in the early 20th century. Each time, the poets and activists announced

a new era of transparent truth and real democracy. They thought governments could never control the airwaves. Look at my field – medicine. The human rights activists and the bloody civil libertarians spent decades fighting for – and getting – strong health privacy laws about genomic testing and data management and then IBM came up with the Genographic Project inviting people to pay USD 100 each to buy a DNA test kit that surrendered their genomes to IBM. Millions bought the kits happily!’22 ‘The people were wrong,’ the scientist’s voice was caught between a laugh and a sigh. ‘The people united will always be defeated,’ he chanted. In keeping with most of their recent fights, Tash went off to bed in tears after bidding goodnight to Qi Qubìng, and the journalist reached for her laptop and pounded out another blog. Suyuan Woo’s blog was about the failing water desalination technology that was creating clean water shortages and diseases from the South China Sea to the Mediterranean. Nanotech-based fi ltration systems were crumbling. The year before, fi ltration plants from Accra to Lisbon were forced into costly replacement of undersea intake pipes, nano-sensors, and fi lters as ‘something’ in the sea either clogged or ate through their systems, depending on whether the city was in the North Atlantic or the South. This year, the problem had spread into the Indian Ocean, confounding city systems from Calcutta to Colombo to Mumbai and Mombasa – and across the Atlantic to contaminate the water supply from Recife to Buenos Aires. But it was the clean water crisis in Miami, Atlanta, and New York – and the skin diseases reported by Florida vacationers – that catalysed international action. While Washington claimed that it was an unexpected side effect of another El Niño event complicated by climate change, the Chinese journalist was convinced that it was the Terra-Forma consortium and its manufactured nanobots that was causing the problem. She couldn’t prove it but she was sure that the bots’ quantum characteristics had catalysed cross-breeding between sea-going micro-organisms.23 As the problem spread, international political attention was drawn to the almost-forgotten Botucatu aquifer that lay under the pampas and savannas of Southern South America. Scientists believed that in the future the aquifer would be one of the world’s most important sources of fresh water. In New York – at the United Nations and, more significantly, further down Manhattan on Wall Street – diplomats and investors demanded access to the aquifer.

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Less than a month after her ‘water’ blog, Suyuan Woo was in a farm settlement in Paraná, Southern Brazil. She had taken advantage of an invitation to address the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre. Decades earlier, the journalist had seen the global and polycentric fora as being among the few instruments of political organisation available to civil society. However, after the amazing beginnings and unbelievable growth in the early days of the millennium, the World Social Forum became the punching bag for political factions – each vying for control. The fi rst real split came at the Mumbai forum of 2004 when a competing forum was held in the same city, at the same time, contesting turf with the ‘official’ Social Forum. As much as Suyuan Woo sympathised with some of the more progressive political elements around the WSF, especially those wanting a more activist posture on anti-globalisation, she recognised that the ‘public space’ – or pluralistic environment – for social debate was essential if civil society was to have the numbers and coherence it needed to challenge the government/industry establishment. It was not to be. By 2010, a lethal cocktail of ideology and ego had dissipated the movement into warring camps of lesser theme fora that could never regain the numbers or momentum of the original WSF. The Porto Alegre Forum of 2034 represented a desperate effort by Brazilian farmers and other Latin American social movements to regain the lost opportunity squandered almost a quarter of a century earlier. While attending the forum, she connected up with an old friend. At the Hong Kong World Trade Organization Ministerial, Suyuan Woo had made friends with a young farmer in MSTBrazil’s landless movement, one of the most powerful social movements in Latin America. They had kept in touch. Now, Joao Sergio was fi rmly in the MST leadership and it was he who brought her to one of their liberation settlements in Paraná. In 2006, the settlement had been a Syngenta experimental station where there was illegal trialling of GM soybeans. MST had occupied the land, forced the Brazilian government to fi ne Syngenta half a million dollars and, further, to surrender the land to MST. Now, as she walked through the fields of vegetables with her old friend, there were young groves of trees everywhere and the fields were fi lled with families and their draft animals who, once again, had land to share. Since 1987, she learned, MST had liberated over 20 million hectares – most of it by occupation. ‘We got tired of waiting,’ Joao Sergio told her. ‘The government kept promising

and passing laws and doing nothing. We thought things would get better when our revolutionary party came to power in 2003 – they even held a global land reform conference in Porto Alegre in 2006 to announce their commitment to land reform – but they never delivered. We realised we had to do it ourselves. Now, in the liberated areas, communities make their own decisions, run their own schools and health clinics, and operate under their own market rules. Their organic foods are the most popular in Brazil and many of their communities are doing very well.’ Pausing to suck on his ever-present mate gourd, the burly leader smiled warmly, ‘but we still don’t trust government. Every land occupation is still a fight.’ Su thought she could guess what had happened to the missing teeth in Joao Sergio’s bright smile. With the help of the farmers, and a full moon, Suyuan Woo made it across the border to the Gran Chaco region of Paraguay and to the refurbished US military airport at Mariscal Estigarribia, just 250km from the Bolivian border.24 The reason for the airport’s reconstruction back in 2005 had never been clear. Some claimed from the outset that the base was there to assert US authority over the aquifer that lay below. Others interpreted it as pressure put on the pseudo-left-wing governments that sprang up with national opposition to globalisation and regional trade deals at about the same time. When Bolivia elected a progressive indigenous president in 2005, many argued, George W. Bush had panicked and ordered the US Army to be ready to intervene. Whatever the origins, the United States was now the largest military presence over the aquifer. For five days, aided by a counterpart organisation to MST, the journalist talked to local farmers and villagers about the military base and about their own water and economic conditions. Chinese visitors being rare, it was not long before her presence became known to the US forces and the journalist beat a hasty retreat back across the border into the safe hands of MST. Not that she was at risk, she knew, but she was jeopardising the safety of the farmers she visited. When the time came to say goodbye to her old friend, Joao Sergio, Suyuan Woo warned him that the liberated settlements around the aquifer might never be allowed access to the water. Gracing her with another of his toothless smiles, the farm leader told her they were already tapping the aquifer – though minimally. ‘We have our own ways – our own technologies,’ he laughed, ‘Don’t worry, if the cities and great powers collapse, we will still be here on their periphery,

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farming our land – and, those of us on the periphery will be the only ones able to feed the world and care for the environment.’ From Brazil she flew to La Paz, Bolivia, and then travelled on a succession of local buses to Rosetta, high in the Altiplano, to visit a famous and curmudgeonly old farmer, Marta Flores – an old ally of Joao Sergio’s and someone Tash’s Ethiopian parents had visited years before. A week later, back in Beijing, Suyuan Woo was convinced that the US government was still confident that their geo-engineering and water fi ltration systems were on sound scientific footing. The Paraguayan military base remained ‘Plan B’ for the United States, although it was becoming life-ordeath for a growing portion of the rest of the world. ‘The US is not going to allow the aquifer to be tapped unless it becomes vital to its own domestic needs. The rest of the world can gargle Coke,’ she told her readers. Before the year was out, however, the US used its control over the aquifer and the region’s desperate need for water to break the Latin American regional bank established years earlier by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The bank was based on the region’s oil and natural gas reserves. Chavez had dreamed of establishing a peso standard for the region, linked to the euro. In its fi rst years, the peso bank was successful in destabilising the dollar and weakening US influence in the region. Political support for the peso bank declined over time, however, and US pressure forced central banks in Latin America to acquire dollars as well as euros. Lacking broad popular backing, the US was able to quietly threaten to withhold water until the Latinos returned to the dollar standard. The threat worked. As they had agreed, while the journalist was in Latin America, Qi accompanied Tash on her duty travel back to Addis Ababa where the diplomat was to brief the African Union on its trade prospects with China. For Qi, it was an opportunity to visit old friends and get updated on some research he had been involved in years earlier. Tash’s real interest, of course, was to visit her family and to arrange for her insemination. She and Su – despite the vociferous objections of Qi – wanted the father to be African. Qi was adamant that if Tash was to remain in China the child would be better off with Chinese features. Addis was as dusty and turbulent as ever. The sporadic food riots that had terrorised much of the city for the past several years were at a temporary lull. Yet, the military ‘pill-boxes’ at every

important intersection were disconcerting. Despite their outward calm, people in the street seemed tense and angry. Following four days of intensive governmental meetings, Tash and Qi climbed into an aging Mercedes and Tash’s uncle drove them the long and rugged road into the hills above Aksum where Tash’s parents and sister were living. Her family had retreated into the highlands when Tash’s parents retired from their civil service jobs and when the rioting in Addis came too close to their neighbourhood. The family came from the little village and still had land and relatives in the surrounding countryside. Both trained as agronomists, Tash’s father and mother, Teferra and Sophia, thrived on their return to farming. Although her parents had fled for their own safety, they had not expected to find their old village and neighbours so well and so organised. Climate change had certainly not served the Ethiopian highlands well, but the community had shown itself to be resilient – and was even prospering. While Qi, the irrepressible entertainer, regaled her father with stories of the absurdity of Chinese culture – and showed off his Amharic in the process – Tash walked the farm fields with her mother and visited friends. Back in the late 1980s, the Ethiopian gene bank in Addis had formed a relationship with a Canadian NGO making it possible for the gene bank scientists to reintroduce traditional teff and sorghum varieties into the local villages. The original intention had been for conservation of plant genetic resources but, in the mid 1990s, Ethiopian farmers and scientists had gone well beyond conservation and were engaged in energetic plant breeding. Farmers wanted all the diversity they could lay their hands on in order to adapt their original seeds to meet the new challenges of global warming. Despite setbacks, including governmental pressure and corporate intervention, the farmers had persisted and extended their network of informal germplasm exchange across the entire Ethiopian highlands. But, if seeds had been the base for the network, the traditional structure of rural communities and farmer organisations had expanded with necessity and opportunity to encompass livestock breeding and marketing strategies that didn’t rely on governments. While the bureaucrats in Addis grew weaker and shriller as the socioeconomic impact of globalisation devastated the national economy, the highlands network of farmers organisations kept their people fed and relatively safe. When the multi-party democracy in the capital defaulted into an informal oligopoly, the customary decision-sharing democracy of the highlands grew even stronger. As an agronomist, Tash’s mother had been welcomed by the villag-

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 21

ers. But, she had also been humbled. ‘They know so much,’ she told her daughter. ‘When your father and I worked in Addis we saw farmers as illiterate and conservative. In fact, they have a strong “land literacy” that lets them understand and use the ecosystem more efficiently than we could ever hope to do. Far from being conservative, they are simply careful because they are judging new innovations in an ecosystem context. I’ve seen more innovation here in these farms and villages than I ever saw in international science centres.’ Her uncle’s old Mercedes wasn’t up to the journey back to Addis, but Tash’s family arranged for an old friend, Abebe, with his own trucking business to take care of them. Tash sobbed for much of the ride. Qi – on his best behaviour – tried not to show his relief at getting back to the restaurants and nightclubs that were still sprinkled through the capital’s international hotels. Two days later, they were back in Beijing waiting for Su to return from Latin America. Alitash Teferra had been artificially inseminated. Her pregnancy was confi rmed within hours. The expectant mother seemed more depressed than ever. Tash was distraught not only for the future of her baby but for her continent. Had the resiliency she saw in the highlands spread? Were farming communities and other parts of Africa showing the same strength? Often, in the evenings, she thought of returning to her family to have the baby. Yet, she understood that she might not be allowed to return to Beijing and to Su as the health quarantine became ever more rigidly enforced. Trade between Africa and the Asian super-power was deteriorating. It was increasingly clear that China saw Africa as a back-up reservoir of fossil fuel, soil and mineral resources that could be tapped if nanotechnology failed or spawned unacceptable consequences. Every message from Tash’s colleagues in the African Union increased her anxiety. The three ‘friends’ – Su, Tash, and Qi – had been walking in the perennial and always sparkling Beijing rain. Despite the glitter – as it was in the 1970s and 1980s – the sky was dimming. Atom-Sphere insisted this was a sign of success. The journalist believed it was a sign of nanoparticle pollution. Alitash, now seven months along and radiant in her pregnancy, was trying to keep healthy by walking regularly. Su wasn’t at all convinced that the outdoor air would help. The reporter wanted to know why Numan and other drug companies weren’t on top of the schistosomiasis outbreak and the new skin and respi-

ratory diseases. Didn’t they have an ethical obligation, she demanded? ‘Our obligation is to our shareholders,’ Qi insisted. She was irritated to see Qi and Tash glancing at one another and Tash muttering to the scientist in Amharic. ‘We have to make them the most money possible.’ Then, in an obvious attempt at diversion, the infuriating dandy went on, ‘The truth is, new technologies don’t have to be successful to be profitable. All we have to do is convince regulators and consumers that they need our technology. Remember biotech? Companies like Monsanto promised to feed the hungry if governments would allow them to introduce genetically modified seeds. Look what happened. Genetic engineers routinely used antibiotic resistance markers because they were a cheap and easy way to fi nd out if a new gene had been successfully transferred to a plant cell. That means GM plants carrying antibiotic resistance genes! Think of it, antibiotic resistance in the soil – and then back into the food chain! How dumb was that? The startup biotech boutiques were so desperate to prove to Wall Street that they could get a product to market that they took short cuts. The consequence was massive GM contamination around the world, destruction of some centres of crop diversity – remember maize in Mexico? – and no decline in hunger.’ He jabbed his fi nger at her triumphantly: ‘But the companies turned a profit and, more importantly, took control of a highly fragmented market.’ ‘I remember back then we thought the GM contamination was deliberate,’ she responded, ‘a way for the companies to impose Terminator technology – the suicide seeds – to contain the contamination.’ ‘The big companies aren’t smart enough for that,’ he retorted, ‘and, if they were, you’d have found them out! Besides, they had a winwin on their hands. If the technology worked – great! If it sucked – they had still monopolised the market!’ Qi was warming up, ‘Look back to the origins of the chemical industry in the last century,’ he went on, ‘We now know that the chemicals created as many problems as they solved – asbestos, DDT, CFCs – got us to the mess we’re in today. And, just like today, all industry had to do was make sure that the regulatory system was sufficiently compromised so that the politicians were as keen on a cover-up as the companies.’ Later that night, Su had another fight with Tash over Numan’s offer of cheap implants and thera-

22 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

pies. She couldn’t sleep. She was still enraged by the scientist’s – now silenced – offer to ‘orientalise’ the foetus. Qi had insisted that an African child in China would face lifelong discrimination. The old journalist knew that he was right and resented him all the more for it. Early in the 21st century, the drug industry had experimented with gene therapy, with largely disastrous results. It turned out that gene and germline therapies rarely worked. While this was partly due to some major misunderstandings about the role of proteins and the nature of RNA and so-called ‘junk DNA’ in disease, the more profound problem was that climate change, the reconstruction of the earth’s environment – along with the old chemicals and new nanoparticles – were mounting new threats to human health beyond the capacity of conventional human genomics. A handful of companies had learned the lessons of 30 years before and had opted to develop atomically modified organisms (AMOs), rather than genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Exquisitely sensitive adjustments to the atomic structure of DNA looked like offering solutions to new environmental stresses and illnesses. Numan was at the forefront of this work – including some amazing research developing six-letter DNA – and was rolling out a series of nano-mechanical implants. Suyuan Woo knew that Qi Qubìng was also trying to domesticate a high-altitude caterpillar fungus, found only in Tibet and Bhutan, which strengthened the human respiratory system and made people more resistant to airborne diseases. The fungal remedy had a 2000- year history, but had become a fad in China after athletes, in the country’s national games in the early 1990s, attributed their medals to its use. 25 By the 2030s, bionic retinas, eardrums, limbs and other organs, bones and tissues (from living and non-living compounds) were commonplace – even if they were not always successful. Suyuan Woo chronicled each new scientific breakthrough with a mixture of awe and horror. Few of the inventions were covered by governmentfunded public health programmes. Only the rich could afford them. Rich taxpayers resented providing social services to poor people who either could not afford – or who refused to accept human perfornace enhancements– HyPEs.

Ethiopian origins), the reporter and her partner were no longer together. Alitash had accepted Numan’s offer of two implants – one to enhance memory and the other to strengthen the baby’s tolerance to CO2 and ultra fi ne particulates. In June, the baby almost died when Numan’s ‘respirocytes’ – the artificial blood cells that enhanced brain performance – overheated.26 It took severe chemotherapy to expunge the renegade cells and restore the little boy to health. The hospital blamed the competing implants. Numan Corp blamed the inadequate training of the public hospital’s surgical team. Not long after the election, Suyuan Woo had an early lunch with Qi, pizza at his favourite trattoria. His invitation was not unexpected and she assumed he wanted to talk about the baby and, perhaps, to forestall any legal action. Possibly too, he wanted her to know that his company’s bribery actions had been undertaken at a level well above him and that he had nothing to do with it. She knew that already. After a brief and awkward meal, Qi, looking as elegant as ever but strangely solemn, handed her a packet of papers and discs. He said she would know what to do with them but asked that she wait a week before writing about the packet’s contents. He was returning to Canada, he said, and would be resigning from Numan in a day or two. What would he do, she wondered? Maybe go to Geneva for a while, perhaps to the World Health Organization, Qi mused distractedly. He wanted to be out of China when she wrote her blog. For some reason, when he awkwardly offered her his hand in the glittering rain outside the restaurant, she gave him a hug. Under his fi nery, Qi seemed thinner, she thought. She watched as he climbed into a taxi for the airport and his midday fl ight back to Chengdu. Su hadn’t got far with reading the contents of the packet later that afternoon – her feet up on the sofa and one hand wrapped around a cup of green tea – when she had a text message from her former partner. Qi Qubìng had been killed in a car accident just outside the Beijing airport. The taxi had been crushed by a large transport lorry. Qi and the two drivers were dead. The police had found her partner’s phone number in his pocket. The journalist ordered Alitash to go immediately to stay with mutual friends in the country. She would be in touch in a day or two. Then Su ordered a seat on the high-speed train [keep] to Chengdu. She contacted a colleague at CINA and explained that she would be in Chengdu for a few days and to watch for messages.

Post Election Day, 2035: By the time the baby boy was born (bearing almost no hint of his mother’s

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 23

The papers – and the accompanying discs she reviewed on her laptop – took her almost the entire journey to fi nish. Then she went back and reread several sections. Numan, along with several oil majors, was a partner in Terra-Forma. The consortium was developing nanoparticle arrays to absorb pollutants on ocean surfaces. It was also exploring the methods and locations for sequestering CO2 deposits in deep sea caverns. According to the company’s own papers, however, the scientific credibility of these initiatives was hotly disputed. Undisclosed technical reports argued that the project would never work. First, the nanoparticles on the surface were slipping through the cells and DNA of the marine life around them. Confidential reports spoke of dozens of species mutations. Second, the cavern idea wouldn’t work. Under the intense pressure from the ocean above, the CO2 in the caverns acted like helium in a carnival balloon. It was only a matter of time – and how suddenly? – before the CO2 escaped. The consortium was reminded of the night in 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon when carbon dioxide seeped under the lake. The lake bed suddenly fl ipped, unleashing 100,000 to 300,000 tons of CO2. Heavier than air, the CO2 flowed down through two valleys, asphyxiating 1,700 villagers as well as thousands of livestock.27 The research teams couldn’t guarantee that the same thing wouldn’t happen below the ocean’s floor. But Numan – and Terra-Forma – had a technology-sharing agreement with Atom-Sphere. Moreover, Atom-Sphere had a big problem disposing of the unexpectedly volatile wastes from its 24 super nuclear power plants. If the CO2 couldn’t be sucked into undersea caverns, nuclear wastes could. As she read on, Suyuan Woo learned that AtomSphere’s Venetian blind project was also in difficulty. Not only could the consortium not control the diff usion of nanoparticles in the stratosphere – leading to the suspected cancers and respiratory diseases on the ground – but some of the experiments were clearly even contributing to global warming. Under intense pressure from the US President, in 2024, Terra-Forma reluctantly agreed to spray its experimental ‘carbon-catcher’ microbes on the surface of the Sargasso Sea. The United States was close to panic over the pending hurricane season. Evangelists had stirred their elderly Florida congregations into a frenzy that the apocalypse would begin by wiping out their beachfront

property values – and them along with it. Another ‘New Orleans’ could kill thousands, consume hundreds of billions in reconstruction, and dash any hope that sitting politicians would get re-elected. Qi Qubìng’s papers drew the obvious link with the tragedy of the yacht and the sightings of the fishing trawlers that season. Numan clearly knew that its consortium was at fault. In the fi rst decade of the century, Dr J. Craig Venter, the synthetic biology entrepreneur, had taken his Sorcerer II yacht into the Sargasso Sea at the start of a round-the-world cruise crudely imitating Darwin’s expedition that led to ‘The Origin of the Species’. As Venter sojourned, his crew scooped up buckets of water to assay the species diversity. Even in the Sargasso Sea, Venter had been astonished by the genetic diversity available in the fi rst fathom beneath the surface. Using his famous genome synthesisers, the scientist added 1.2 million novel genes (including nearly 800 new photoreceptor genes) and 1,800 new species to the record book.28 At the time, Su had speculated that Venter – funded by the US Department of Energy – was looking for information about photosynthesis (hence collecting only close to the surface) and that the goal was either to farm the ocean as a food source if climate change made the US midWest into a desert – or to turn the new photosynthetic genes into landlubbers. According to the papers, however, the US Department of Energy (DOE) was even then concerned about the risks of using iron fi llings to lower the earth’s temperature. Su speculated/theorized that DOE wanted Venter to engineer new aqua system-specific life forms containing iron that could still nurture plankton and sequester CO2. Not only would the micro-organisms stick to their immediate habitat, the theory went, they could also be programmed to multiply only when sea level temperatures threatened to spawn hurricanes. Much to the amazement of Numan Corp, the 2024 trial was a smash success. But hurricane suppression in one place had only shifted the pressure further south. The Caribbean and Brazil had been devastated. Terra-Forma, in response, began experimentation with other of Venter’s microbial collections to construct similar life forms adapted to the South Atlantic and the Caribbean. It was an unending cycle. Passing on storms and stealing other people’s weather made for indelicate politics. Terra-Forma’s manipulations on the ocean’s surface were also creating chaos for

24 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Atom-Sphere’s experiments in the stratosphere. And, as Suyuan Woo read on, the new genetic constructions – incorporating artificial nucleotides (not just A, C, G, T – but six-letter DNA combinations) – were leaking into the genomes of other species.29 One memo, seemingly a photocopy of a photocopy, from a Numan researcher in New York, speculated that the company’s six-letter life forms had become an ‘adventitious presence’ in SAR11. The simplest and most ubiquitous single-celled microbes in saltwater, SAR11 were found in every ocean at almost every depth – and were a gluttonous connoisseur of CO2. Any mutations in SAR11, the memo concluded, could transform the ecology of the seven seas in a matter of decades. Late in 2024, alarmed by the cascading crisis and political pressures around them, the two consortia had held a meeting to try to resolve their mutual difficulties. It was obvious from the papers that, despite a public appearance of cordial cooperation, tensions ran deep between them. Terra-Forma’s dominating partners were Chinese and US-based and had resolutely clung to the dollar despite Latin American and European pressures to, at least, balance the dollar with the euro. Conversely, Atom-Sphere’s principals were European and Indian, and the consortium had sided with the euro. More important than the currency differences, the burgeoning power and resource concerns of India and China – including their designs on the Himalayas – spilled over into the internal politics of the two industrial groups. On the eve of the meeting of the two consortia, a memo from a senior Numan executive wondered if the Chinese and Indian companies would be able to overcome their ‘narrow cultural and nationalist histories to achieve the greater goal of inter-consortia profit’. As the journalist read on, it became clear that the companies had overcome their national biases. Climate change had always had an up-side for somebody. At the very least, global warming would open the Northwest Passage to summer shipping. A warmer Arctic would make oil and gas exploration easier. That was important because the Arctic holds 25 per cent of the planet’s remaining oil and gas reserves. Natural gas hydrates, ice-like crystal solids trapped below the permafrost, contain more energy than all conventional reserves of oil, natural gas and coal combined.30 Atom-Sphere’s research into nanoparticle arrays would allow Terra-Forma’s energy companies to access the crystals economically while the warm climate would make it possible for supertankers to transport the energy to mar-

ket. If the two consortia worked together, they could solve each other’s problems and probably escape outside criticism. From her reading, Suyuan Woo was surprised that this arrangement didn’t seem to have been the consortia’s original strategy – both had thought their chances of success were reasonable – it had been a risk-avoidance ‘Plan B’ devised along the way. So much for long-range corporate conspiracy, she thought. Although she searched, the reporter couldn’t fi nd anywhere an explicit acknowledgment that converging nano-scale technologies were a failure. In fact, some more modest developments were possible. But, the consortia had little interest in developing these less commercial areas. She could fi nd explicit acknowledgment that the stratosphere would continue to deteriorate and that the new diseases – because of the direct impact on humans and on biological diversity – would be devastating. Working on behalf of both groups, Numan was searching for UV-resistant human genes among high-altitude populations in the Andes and the Himalayas. Numan was also on the lookout for stress-tolerant crop and livestock genes that would allow industrialised countries to maintain their food security as the stratosphere degraded. There were exhortations from Numan’s New York headquarters for its field scientists to ‘look to the peripheries’, especially remote farming and pastoral zones where animals and plants were bred for their resilience. It was in reading about Numan’s activities in the Himalayas that Suyuan Woo came across Qi’s link with Alitash Teferra. The journalist hadn’t realised that Qi had done his Ph.D. research on schistosomiasis in Ethiopia. Nor that, back in the 1990s, he had championed the investigations of two Ethiopian scientists in using endod, a traditional herbal remedy31, to kill the snails. When the University of Toledo commandeered the Ethiopian’s work and patented the technology to protect Great Lake shipping from zebra mussel infestation,32 Qi had become disillusioned and joined the multinational pharmaceutical giant. Because of his Chinese ancestry and his facility in Mandarin, Qi wound up not only in China but in the Himalayas. In 2005, when the two schistosomiasis strains merged below the Three Gorges Dam, the papers showed that Qi had warned his company and the Chinese government that a further cross with the Tibetan worm was possible and even probable. Heavily into HyPEs, Numan had no interest in sick-people drugs – especially drugs for the poorest of

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the poor in Tibet and Ethiopia. Concerned with their own political survival, the Chinese Communists were alarmed by the spread of the disease but seemed unable to focus on solutions. Nevertheless, the company tolerated Qi’s research on schistosomiasis because it could be appended to his high-altitude Tibetan research on the caterpillar fungus and on human genetic diversity. Qi had used his Numan and Ethiopian connections to get Alitash posted to Beijing and, in the days before the quarantines, the Ethiopian diplomat had facilitated the transfer of endod germplasm between Ethiopia and Tibet. Su saw a contract in which Qi committed Numan and himself not to commercialise the endod material without Ethiopian approval. She wondered if Numan ever knew about the agreement. Two years earlier, in 2033, Qi had succeeded in adapting Ethiopian endod to Chinese and Tibetan conditions and was able to extract a yet more potent toxin from the plant that destroyed the super schistosomiasis. Local villagers – who had worked closely with him in his research – could easily grow and process their own compound, applying it to the rivers and lakes around them with almost 100 per cent effectiveness. The packet contained a congratulatory letter from Qi’s superiors in New York City, telling the scientist that patent lawyers from the head office would be in touch shortly. There was another letter from Qi back to New York containing a copy of his contract not to commercialise the product. The journalist had her answer. Numan was furious. The company had no interest in producing the drug. In fact, Numan was concerned that public pressure would be exerted to produce a low-cost generic product. Qi was admonished not to discuss the matter with Chinese officials – or with the World Health Organization – but to leave follow-through to the company. From the correspondence, Suyuan Woo could see that Qi kept up pressure on Numan but his bosses put him off. Finally, Numan had a ghost-writer prepare an article for an obscure, peer-reviewed journal. Qi had been furious because the journal was unlikely to be read by either the World Health Organization or Chinese researchers and because the title and text offered no indication of the utility of the research in preventing schistosomiasis. The article only gave the company ‘plausible denial’, if it was ever accused of suppressing its discoveries. Then, astonishingly, there was a memo from the head of Numan’s synthetic biology unit suggesting that her scientists might be able to synthe-

sise endod’s active ingredient and culture it in a highly experimental yeast production strategy the company was already exploring. The process would allow the company to patent the process (side-stepping its commitment to Ethiopia), mass-produce the drug in a single facility in China, and – by adding any one of a number of standard ‘boosters’ – to reduce the risk of the disease mutating around the active ingredient while potentially extending its patent monopoly into the next century. Most attractive of all, according to the research director, the company could easily persuade private US foundations to fi nance the whole enterprise as a ‘poor people’s drug’. The free research money, she went on to explain, would bankroll Numan’s basic research in several related – and more profitable – areas of synthetic biology. As long as the WHO could be convinced to endorse the ‘pure’ drug over the uncertain efficacy and processing capabilities of the farmers’ whole plant, endod, there was money to be made. Qi shot back a warning that the experimental yeast process might fail and would only divert fi nancial support from the assured and decentralised farmers’ process in order to subsidise the company’s research on other drugs. Further, Qi argued that the ‘whole plant’ approach negated the need for synthetic ‘boosters’ and had the huge advantage of eliminating the drug’s distribution costs since every village could grow its own medicinal plants. Su found no answer to his memo. Sifting through the stack of e-mails, it was evident that Qi had been on the verge of resigning but was persuaded to stay on by his New York bosses with the offer of further research on the high-altitude fungal respiratory drug. Qi, as the journalist read, saw the drug as a rich man’s band-aid for a condition created by the drug company’s participation in the geo-engineering consortia. Despite this, the scientist thought the research important and was keen to take it on. There was a brief note from Qi directly to her. Qi had been the sperm donor for Tash’s baby. He had convinced Tash that an African-looking child would face discrimination if the mother and baby were to remain in China. Although it was not illegal, regulations made it almost impossible for Africans to marry or receive artificial insemination from Chinese citizens. With his Canadian passport and Numan’s connections, Qi was able to get around the bureaucracy. The scientist apologised to Suyuan Woo for the secrecy, explaining that he and Tash had been worried

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that she would resent his donation. His note also expressed remorse for putting pressure on Tash to accept the implants. Su realised that the pangs in her stomach weren’t from Qi’s involvement but from fear for Tash and the baby. Just after office hours, when it was already dark, she got down from her train in Chengdu. The journalist hastily addressed an envelope to Tash and dropped the packet of papers and disks into a mailbox and took a taxi directly to the Numan research centre. The main gate was closed but there were several cars still in the driveway and she noted lights burning in the windows of the centre building. A side gate had been left open. Suyuan Woo walked through the small entrance and approached the offices. The surveillance cameras had no difficulty identifying her. The security guard pocketed his mobile and stepped purposefully from the shadows behind her. She didn’t hear his order to stop. Neither did she hear the warning shot from his Piezer stun gun.

Nor the shot after that…

Postscript – December, 2035
The Nobel Peace Prize was unusually controversial. Some members of the Norwegian Parliament refused to attend the ceremony. To celebrate, Atom-Sphere, this year’s Nobel sponsor, had arranged that the venerable award be given to that great prophet of synthetic biology, J. Craig Venter. Venter was to receive the prize for his tireless efforts to feed the world’s hungry by creating new photosynthetic organisms for both agriculture and aquaculture. Atom-Sphere predicted that the age-old scourge of hunger would soon be vanquished. Cynics noted that the Nobel Prize for chemistry had, in 1919, gone to the German scientist who invented synthetic nitrogen fertilizer as a byproduct of his development of poison gas in World War I. In 1949, they added, the Nobel Peace Prize went to a British nutritionist who failed to convince governments to place hunger above the marketplace at the UN; and that the 1970 Peace Prize had gone to the Father of the Green Revolution for wiping out genetic diversity and creating chemical dependency in the Global South. Given this track record, the critics pronounced the flamboyant Venter a worthy recipient. Convalescing in her Beijing apartment and still painfully unable to recall recent events clearly, Suyuan Woo found herself laughing bitterly.

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 27


Lovell, Julia, The Great Wall – China Against the World 1000 BC-AD 2000,Viking/Penguin, 2006, p. 342. The 19 August 2006 edition of New Scientist reported that two new blogs went up on the Internet every second from somewhere in the world. Dowdell, John, 2005, ‘London surveillance [online-personal blog]. JD on MX [July 8, 2005]’, <http://weblogs.macromedia. com/jd/> Original Wall Street Journal article <http://,,SB112077340647880052cKyZgAb0T3asU4UDFVNPWrOAqCY_20060708,00.html> In 2005, between 220 and 239 km3 of ice melted or broke off the eastern side of Greenland into the North Atlantic. There is consensus among experts that the stability of Greenland’s ice mass became imbalanced around 2000. If – or when – the entire ice mass melts, sea levels will rise 6.5 metres around the world. Marshall, Jessica, ‘Glaciers headed for point of no return’, New Scientist, 19 August 2006. McNeill, J. R., Something New Under The Sun, An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World, Norton & Co., New York, 2000, p.110. ‘In 1995 a chunk of the Larsen Ice Shelf, 200 m thick and about the size of Rhode Island or Luxembourg, plopped into the sea.’ Teller, E., Wood, L. and Hyde, R. Global Warming and Ice Ages: I. Prospects for Physics Based Modulation of Global Change. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, CA, 1997. <http://www.> Behar, Michael, ‘How Earth-Scale Engineering Can Save the Planet’, Popular Science, June 2005. < aviationspace/3afd8ca927d05010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html> According to the US State Department (on their website, 28 November 2005) the US and the Soviet Union introduced identical treaty texts at the UN in 1975, and the treaty came into force on 18 May 1978. The strongly worded treaty bans all military and other hostile efforts at environmental modification but does not preclude beneficial modifications. To date, 51 countries have ratified the treaty including almost all major OECD and Southern governments except South Africa and Mexico. See Mooney, Pat. ‘Stop the Stockholm Syndrome! Lessons learned from 30 years of UN summits’, Development Dialouge, no 47, June 2006. Dr James Bruce, formerly an assistant deputy minister in the department of the environment in Canada confirmed, in a private communication of 17 September 2005, that Canada spread iron filings in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island in the 1990s. The bloom lasted two days and then disappeared.

dreams - Not yet off the drawing board’ Feb 23rd 2006 19 New Scientist, ‘PCBs are killing off eels’, 11 March, 2006. 22 McNeill, op. cit. supra note 4, p.211. ‘Of the 30 or more infections that emerged after 1975, almost none were genuinely new: they were merely new to humans, or even to particular populations of humans.’ 21 Knight, Will. ‘The new pioneers of map making’, New Scientist Tech, March 19, 2005. <>. Please see OpenStreetMap <> and LondonFreeMap <> as examples as well as Google Map. 22 In its first 12 months of operation, 135,000 people paid $100 each to submit their DNA sample to the Genographic Project during 20052006 according to Bio-IT World, May 2006, p.28. 23 Recent scientific studies show that quantum effects can have an impact on the toxic character of conventional H2O at the nanoscale. (Matthews, Robert, New Scientist, ‘Water, the quantum elixir’, 8 April, 2006.) 24 Le Monde Diplomatique, ‘Bolivia: The Military Plan and Wait.’ English edition <> February 2006. 25 Hooper, Rowan. ‘Chinese Fungus Fad Poses Eco-threat.’ New Scientist, September 3, 2005, electronic edition. <www.newscientist. com> 26 United Nations University, 2005 State of the Future, Executive Summary. Washington DC: American Council for the United Nations University. 2005, pp. 6-7. 27 Socolow, Robert H. ‘Can We Bury Global Warming?’ Scientific American, July 2005. pp. 45-59. 28 J. Craig Venter Institute, Press Release, IBEA Researchers Publish Results From Environmental Shotgun Sequencing of Sargasso Sea. Discover 1800 New Species And 1.2 Million New Genes. Including Nearly 800 New Photoreceptor Genes, Mar 4, 2004. <http://www.> 29 Marris, Emma. ‘DNA gets a fake fifth base,’, March 16, 2005. Researchers at Scripps Institute in California created an artificial base (known as 3FB) that can be added for the four naturally-occurring bases of DNA (A,C,G,T). Researchers in Florida added a second artificial letter. 30 Doyle, Rodger. ‘By the Numbers: Melting at the Top.’ News, Scientific American, February 2005, p 31. 31 Endod (Phytolacca dodecandra) is thought native to Zimbabwe but grows throughout sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Latin America, and Asia. Growing to a height of 2 – 3 m, endod is a climber with hanging branches bearing fruit twice a year. In Ethiopia, endod’s small berries are dried, ground and mixed with water for use as a laundry soap and shampoo. Incidence of shistosomiasis are low in communities along waterways where the foamy detergent is common.







8 9

10 Behar, Michael, op. cit. supra note 6 11 Sunscreens containing transparent titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles are already on the market around the world.

12 Pendick, Daniel. ‘Cloud Dancers: Will Efforts To Change The Weather Ever Attain Scientific Legitimacy?’ Scientific American, 2000, pp 64-69. 13 This scenario was first drafted a few weeks prior to the New Orleans and Texas hurricanes and, in its original version, warned that insurance agencies estimated that the damage to New Orleans of a hurricane equal to the 1927 storms that struck Florida would cost $75 billion. Actual estimates for the New Orleans recovery now run to $400 billion. 14 Ravilious, Kate. ‘Kicking up a storm with the cloud seeders’, New Scientist, 16 April, 2005, pp. 40-43. 15 Bodans, David. Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched On The Modern World. London, U.K.: Little, Brown, 2005, p.41.

32 ETC Group Communiqués – two endod-related patents based upon the research of Ethiopian scientists were granted to the University of Toledo in the 1980s. Ethiopian scientists were told they could have a license to the patents for US$50,000.

16 The Economist, ‘British dreams: Britain’s nuclear enthusiasts see hope in Tony Blair’s re-election.’ May 19th 2005. <> 17 McNeill, op. cit. supra note 4 p.312. 18 The Economist, ‘The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership: Reactor

What’s Ahead?

Endnotes to the trend line
Suyuan Woo’s story is closer to the truth than most people like to think. As the What Next group struggled to construct a realistic scenario to the year 2035, some argued that people should be frightened into action, by a story that ended in cataclysmic collapse. After all, it is undeniably true that catastrophes could befall humanity any time in the next 30 years. In fact, it seems more conceivable everyday that some kind of ‘tipping’ could send the ice caps tail-spinning into liquid H 2O; or, that an accident with a particle accelerator today, or a molecular assembler tomorrow, could see our planet winking out of existence in a matter of hours. But, as the saying goes, we are more likely to exit with a whimper than a bang. Civilisations seldom undergo cataclysmic collapse. Declining societies merge or change into something else. Historians, after all, are still debating the decline of the Roman Empire. The only thing they are sure about is that the Empire didn’t crumble quickly, and while a few at the time predicted its end – most didn’t know it was happening. Neither historians nor environmentalists can state with certainty how the Mayan Empire collapsed or, for that matter, what all the factors were that pushed Europe into dominance in the Indian Ocean five centuries ago. Both the rise and the decline of civilisations are complicated affairs. Unless the planet is hit by an asteroid or there is some massive technological breakdown the cause of humanity’s demise is likely to be the gradual spinoff effects of exacerbated inequity and irresponsible consumption and production. In a historical context, humanity’s - and earth’s - deterioration seems rapid and unrelenting but for those of us just trying to muddle through each day, the deterioration doesn’t seem clear. The likelihood – unless significant social change takes place – is that many trends will continue. It could well be argued that the China Sundown story is a reasonable extrapolation of such trends: the current model of economic globalisation propelled by ever more complex technology systems supporting and encouraging militarism; the gap between the elite and the marginalised widening; ‘terrorism’, and not the least the paranoia about terrorism, increasing, along with ethnic and religious fundamentalism, and governments continuing to sidestep climate change and ecosystem deterioration. Thirty years back, at the time of What Now, nobody had heard about HIV/AIDS, corporations were blithely selling asbestos products, genetically modified organisms were only scattered pieces of basic research, climate change was not on the map and the demise of the Soviet superpower in the foreseeable future would have seemed a joke.

30 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Looking 30 years into the future, it’s clear that the only thing we can be sure of is that we will be surprised. Certainly there will be new major challenges and threats. Many of these are impossible to predict with any degree of precision. Yet, learning – with hindsight – from the lessons of the last 30 years should also enable us to discern overall patterns of what is likely to await us, unless the world acts with foresight, responsibility and precaution in unprecedented ways. The following pages highlight and summarise some of the trends and developments in China Sundown that urgently need to be addressed and brought into the public debate. In the fi nal version of this publication, these themes will be further elaborated and substantiated.

What next for technology?
Trendline: • In 1975, the fi rst Atari home computer kit went commercial and Bill Gates patented his fi rst software. In 2005, home play stations have more computational power than NASA astronauts 30 years before. In 2035, a USD 1000 laptop computer exceeds the computational (and cognitive) capacity of the human brain. • In 1975, it took a year to sequence 11 DNA base pairs; it took six years to sequence the fi rst gene; the fi rst private biotech company (Genentech) was incorporated; and microbiologists held the Asilomar conference in which they convinced governments to let them self-regulate genetic engineering. In 2005, biotech companies can sequence DNA for a ‘buck-a-base’; map a microbe in two weeks; and synthetic biologists held a conference expressing concern about government regulation. In 2035, it is possible to map an individual's genome in minutes for a few dollars and corporations are urging governments to regulate anti-corporate behaviour. • In 1975, no scientist had seen an atom. In 2005, scanning tunnelling microscopes see – and move – atoms, and scientists can string together carbon nanotubes the length of two football fields. In 2035, desktop molecular self-assembly is commercially practical, although publicly prohibited and legally controlled by industry-government consortia. Policy line: • Acceleration: Technology reaches the ‘knee’ joint - the sharp upward curve that propels transformation at a rate beyond the capacity of policy-makers or civil society to respond. Based on the precautionary principle, society must reaffirm its right to say ‘no’ or ‘go slow’. • Convergence: Biology, physics, and chemistry move towards convergence at the nanoscale of atoms and molecules – the ‘little BANG theory’. • ‘Simlife’: Synthetic biology blurs the distinction between living and non-living materials and between human and other species. Time for a No-patents-on-nature movement? What next? • Rights: Responsible scientists and civil society could join forces to form a Slow Science Movement, which, among other actions, could negotiate an International Convention on the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT).

32 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Expontential technological change
To many, the China Sundown story may seem a technology-biased way of looking at current and future trends. It is and it isn’t. While the What Next group agreed that technology will play a major role in shaping our future – or ending it – many in the group felt that technology is only a tool for the exercise of power and the creation of wealth for some, not a determinant or an independent force central to understanding the future. Looking at technology in isolation from the social structure of power and control is dangerous. It leads us to assume that technology is a one-dimensional, pre-determined ‘force of nature’ – an assumption that is both defeatist and absurd. Instead, every culture has developed and uses technology, and our technologies constantly adapt to changing circumstances. Even as some technologies are created, others are abandoned or – more often – deliberately destroyed. There is always a choice. Others in the What Next group took a somewhat different view. There had been, they argued, more technological innovations in the last 20 years of the 20th century than in the previous 80, and still more dramatic innovations were happening in the fist decade of the 21st century than had occurred in the previous 20 years. The explosive curve of technological transformation is taking place now and is difficult for us to see – or understand. Technology is out of the control not only of civil society and social institutions but also, increasingly, of society as a whole.1 As climatologists are telling us there could be a ‘tipping effect’ that could render the collapse of an ecosystem irreversible, and medical researchers are warning us that avian influenza or some other disease could come out of a Laotian village and ‘tip’ into the human bloodstream, causing a global pandemic, other scientists are forecasting a technological ‘tipping’ that could speed the pace of change beyond recognition. As if that weren’t enough, these ‘tips’ are likely to happen more or less at the same time. But sparked off and recorded in unconnected ways, governments and societies have trouble detecting the pattern. We are, clearly, in a time of exponential technological change and growth. The President of the UK’s national academy of science, the Royal Society, Sir Martin Rees, in a 2003 book, bet his readers that some time before 2020 at least a million people will die as the result of a technological mishap. He went further, to wager that the likelihood of humanity surviving the 21st century was only 50-50.2 China Sundown points towards ‘runaway’ technological development as a reality, but yet deliberately refrains from exploring several real but more scientific-like technological developments that are underway.

This new ‘bottom-up’ technology, which works at the nano-scale of atoms and molecules, looms in the background of many of the scenes and scenarios in the story. It is not an optical illusion. In 2005, almost all of the Fortune 500 companies (the world’s biggest multinational corporations) had investments in nanotech research and hundreds of products – from foods and pesticides to cosmetics and clothing – are already on the high street. Nanotechnology offers industry two new qualities: first, the possibility of building products atom by atom from the bottom up rather than breaking raw materials down to size; second, by working below the 100 nanometer range (a nano is one billionth of a meter) companies can take advantage of quantum effects - the characteristics of the chemical change profoundly when moving down in size. A chemical’s electrical conductivity, colour, elasticity, and response to pressure and temperature all change continuously and sometimes dramatically as the size slides downward, for example, from 100 to 50 to 5 nm. But it is a third quality of nanotech that may be especially important to consumers. A 70 nm particle may be able to slip into human cells while a 50 nm particle could possibly pass deep into body organs and a particle at 20 nm or less could slip through the blood/brain barrier or the placenta. It is too small to be detected by the immune system.3 Already, a major debate on nanoparticle toxicity and its implications for human health is emerging.

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 33

In China Sundown, Suyuan Woo attends a seminar, ‘Technology Trumps Trade’ during the WTO ministerial in Hong Kong in 2005. Panelists at the seminar contend that nanotechnology will sharply reduce commodity markets and the demand for raw materials. Trade will become much less important as molecular manufacture takes over. In reality, such a seminar was held, hosted by the South Centre, with the ETC Group presenting a study on nanotechnology’s likely impact on commodities markets.4 China Sundown’s Technology Transfer Treaty is pushed by the superpowers because of their progress in molecular self-assembly of nano materials, the next level of nanotechnology, in every field of manufacture. Being able to build at the nanoscale means that industry will need far fewer raw materials. Because nanoparticles have different characteristics, industry may well be able to swap one material for another with huge savings in cost. For example, it may be possible for carbon to replace copper and nickel to replace platinum. We aren’t there yet. But, nanoparticles are already commercially available in several hundred products from foods and pesticides to cosmetics, drugs, textiles, and car parts. According to US investment analysts, the global market for nanotech is expected to top USD 2.6 trillion by 2015. This will equal the combined informatics and telecommunications industries and amount to 10 times the market for biotech.5 In China Sundown, nano formulations of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are sprayed into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight. As far as we know, that’s not happening – yet. But these same chemical compounds - as nano sunscreens - are in the shops today. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, one nanotech start-up was offering to use its proprietary nanoparticle arrays to soak up ocean oil pollution (the particles absorb 40 times their weight in oil) – or, at least, to help detoxify wildlife.6 Is this risky? At the end of March 2006, 77 people in Germany became suddenly ill – and six were hospitalised – with respiratory ailments traced to an aerosol spray for cleaning bathroom tiles and toilets. The cleaning agent, ‘Magic Nano’ was the nanoscale formulation of old chemicals previously approved by governments. ‘Magic Nano’ was hastily taken off the shelves and the nanotech industry held its collective breath, praying that none of its several hundred other nanoparticle products, such as sunscreen protection for children, textiles and car tyres would flush their new industry down the toilet.7 As of September 2006, no nanotech product anywhere in the world requires regulation if its chemical compound has already been approved for use at the micro and macro scale.

Synthetic biology (nanobiotechnology)
The notion that life is Lego, that DNA is little more than oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and carbon, that building living organisms is hardly more complex than designing electronic circuits came to the fore as the What Next group discussed synthetic biology at its meetings in Uppsala.8 In China Sundown, a luxury yacht is towed into Miami harbour after its passengers suffocate – ostensibly as a result of some biological pollutant from the Sargasso Sea. The story darkly hints that a deliberately-released transgenic organism has bled into the ubiquitous SAR ocean microbe and is spreading out of control in all seven seas. This, of course, hasn’t happened – and may never – but the SAR11 microbe is not a fiction and neither is the scientific interest in modifying the biological surface of the ocean. As reported in China Sundown, Dr. Craig Venter has received funding from the US Department of Energy to collect photosynthetic genes from microbes in the Sargasso Sea.9 And, ‘red tides’ of naturally occurring aerosol particles of neurotoxins do seasonally invade the throats and lungs of Florida vacationers, sometimes causing serious health problems.10 Synthetic biologists such as Craig Venter see life as a matter of designing the pieces and connecting them together. Scientists in Florida and California, for example, have gone beyond earth’s four-letter DNA (A,C,G,T), adding a fi fth and sixth letter and, possibly, as many as a dozen letters.11 Twelve-letter DNA could give scientists more unnatural biodiversity in a test tube than there is natural biodiversity in the Amazon. We are talking about ‘extreme genetic engineering’.12

34 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Technological convergence
China Sundown suggests that biology, physics, and chemistry are coming together in a science ‘singularity’ that reduces everything to atoms and molecules. The US National Science Foundation calls it NBIC – Nano(technology), Bio(technology), Info (informatics technologies) and Cogno (neurosciences).13 The European Union calls it CTEKS Converging Technologies for the European Knowledge Society.14 By whatever name, the ‘take-home message’ for civil society is that government regulators and industry see nature as reducible (and marketable) at its lowest common denominator – atoms and molecules. The technology development and commercialisation spurred by Atom-Sphere and Terra-Forma are the predictable result of this kind of thinking and research.

What next for environment and health?
Trendline: • In 1975, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) was adopted to halt ‘biopiracy’. In 2005, at the UN Convention on Biodiversity, it is admitted that two-thirds of all critical ecosystems are imperiled and species loss is accelerating. In 2035, we are told biodiversity is no longer necessary. • In 1975, the CIA warned of ‘global cooling’ and British scientists first discovered an ozone hole over Antarctica.15 16 In 2005, the reality of human-caused global warming is accepted by the G-8 and entrenched in the public psyche. In 2035, 75 per cent of the world’s population – those living near seacoasts – live in fear of storms and sea-level rise. • In 1975, plant geneticists call for support for crop gene banks to conserve vanishing genetic diversity. In 2005, synthetic biologists propose a digital DNA bank for the electronic storage of all living organisms in case they are ever needed. In 2035, the need arises but the digital database is only accessible to selected scientists. • In 1975 we were breathing in approximately 320 CO2 molecules per million. In 2005 humanity is inhaling 380 CO2 molecules per million. By 2035 we are sucking down 440 CO2 molecules per million. Policy line: • Climate: The failure to address climate change gives industry and governments the chance to impose carbon trade/sequestration and geo-engineering. CSOs could challenge government acceptance of nuclear power and geo-engineering with consumption reduction and re-contextualising this as a justice issue. • Chemicals: The cumulative impact of the old chemical revolution and the new nanoparticles revolution accelerates environmental destruction and devastates health. CSOs must take on the full implications of both. • Curtains: International travel and climate change combine to alter ecosystems and incubate/mutate novel pathogens. CSOs could challenge governments’ acceptance of a global medical curtain and human performance enhancement as the wrong responses. • Crash: Carbon offsets, biofuel plantations, and geo-engineering devastate biodiversity and erode the food security and traditional medicines of marginalised peoples. The tendency shared by governments and CSOs to view all global issues through the climate change lens must be challenged. What next? • Resistance: Convene a community-to-global Bogeve II meeting 20 years after the fi rst CSO biotech meeting in France in 1987.

36 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Climate change
The threat to the Greenland glaciers, the risk that the warm Atlantic current will drift offshore, turning Western Europe into another Siberia and the likelihood of more ferocious hurricanes and sea-level rise are all self-evident and probably offer no surprises to readers. China Sundown treats global warming as the central feature in everything else that’s happening. While no one in the What Next group would challenge the reality of global warming, most of us are uncomfortable with it being presented as the central issue, justifying drastic counter-measures that may lead to new and as serious problems. We already see this happening with the new carbon trading scheme being set up17 and we see another logical example in the form of geo-engineering. It is increasingly likely that industry and government will focus society on climate change in ways that will allow exercise of political authority to make massive socioeconomic and environmental renovations. As dangerous as climate change certainly is, the solution is not a technological ‘fi x’. The need to reduce consumption and to share resources equitably cannot be set aside but must be the starting-point for solving the climate crisis.

The most apparent threat facing Suyuan Woo as she and Alitash make their way to 2035 comes from geo-engineering. Less than a week after the fi rst draft of China Sundown was completed, New Orleans and an impressive stretch of the Mississippi Gulf Coast were destroyed by hurricanes. The North Atlantic’s 2005 hurricane season sent a shock wave through the US government. Days after Katrina, President George W. Bush’s six-nation deal to use new technologies to counter climate change was headlined in media. Among the heralded strategies, geoengineering and carbon dioxide sequestering.18 Nine months after the New Orleans disaster, US government scientists and policy-makers met in Florida to evaluate alternative ways of controlling hurricanes. According to the meeting’s co-chair, one of the strategies included the possibility of restructuring the biological surface of the ocean. As this contribution to What Next goes to press, a Weather Modification Act has passed through the US Senate and is being fast-tracked through the Congress.19 The White House science adviser has told the bill’s proponents that it could have worrying implications for US foreign relations and even contravene the UN Environmental Modification Treaty. Will cooler heads prevail? The bill’s sponsor is a Republican senator from Texas and a political ally of the president. The North Atlantic’s 2006 hurricane season began with a modest whimper, encouraging the conservative media to argue, once again, that climate change is a tropical illusion. Half a world away, however, out of sight, out of mind for Washingtonians, the storms have never been more violent.20

The multiple threats to health in China Sundown are not exaggerated. The two strains of schistosomiasis have, in fact, converged below the Three Gorges Dam, and the caterpillar fungus and the canine parasite do lurk in the Tibetan highlands above – but the parasite has not merged with schistosomiasis. Other possible pandemics are waiting to be unleashed. It is true that Africa’s endod berries are a defence against shistosomiasis used by Ethiopian women for generations. It is also true that two Ethiopian scientists, working with the women, advanced endod as a major step in disease prevention around the world but

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 37

that the University of Toledo (USA) took out two patents on endod that harshly curtailed Ethiopian research. When asked for license access to the patents, the University told the Ethiopians they would have to pay USD 25,000 for each patent. The Ethiopian scientists received the Right Livelihood Award in the Swedish parliament but the shistosomiasis remains a major disease threat.21

Toxic cocktail
The potential for a global pandemic is extremely high according to the World Health Organization – but the threat may never come from schistosomiasis or China. Whether it will be schistosomiasis or mutating six-letter DNA, GE SAR11 microbes or something else, the fact is that we’re facing a crisis and a ticking bomb. The world is confronted with a cancer – and chemical – epidemic. Even though modest steps have been taken to curb the use of carcinogenic chemicals, the pace at which new chemicals enter the marketplace overwhelms the capacity of government regulators to track them. Then, too, many of the banned chemicals still show up in the South and many other chemicals continue to have an accelerating impact on our health and the environment and will do so for several more decades before their presence recedes. There is, in truth, a chemical war being waged from the old technologies of the 1940s to the 1970s. And through the continous manufacturing and spread of new chemicals – including nano-particles and other new materials – the toxic cocktail is becoming even more complex and dangerous.

Health erosion
As China Sundown suggests, there is real evidence of global health deterioration – not only in the former Soviet Union and Africa but also in OECD countries. There is a decline in life expectancy not only in Russia and sub-Saharan Africa but in more than 30 countries including lower-income people in some OECD states. Even as we make progress in some health areas new problems and diseases break out elsewhere. Many of these health problems are directly or indirectly environmental. Air pollution in cities increases respiratory ailments. Skin cancer is on the rise. With global warming, pests and diseases migrate from their traditional habitats to colonise new territory. Some old diseases are coming back with a vengeance. So-called diseases of the affluent such as obesity are becoming epidemic and have spread well beyond the well-to-do. In 2005, for the first time in history, the world had more overweight people than hungry people. This does not signal an improvement in general health. The confident predictions of the 1970s - that humanity is on its way to solving most of its health problems has not proved to be correct. In fact, one of the great triumphs of medicine, according to the pharmaceutical companies – namely, the development of antibiotics - seems to be backfiring. Antibiotic resistant pathogens are more virulent than ever and mainstream medicine doesn’t have a solution. Despite massive investments in medical research, much of the health improvements of the last several decades have actually come from policy initiatives related to water, sanitation and basic public health services. Much of this infrastructure is in danger of collapsing in China Sundown.

In China Sundown, Su and Tash break up over Tash’s decision to genetically enhance her unborn infant, and Qi tries to convince Su to accept a cogular implant that would improve her hearing. We are already in an era where governments and industry are emphasising human performance enhancement technologies (HyPEs) that are intended less to solve health problems than to create a generation of artificially enhanced people. There are already dozens of products in the marketplace and hundreds more be developed. We

38 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

are indeed moving towards an era in which there might be two kinds of humans: those who can afford - and want - to be enhanced; and those who can’t afford - or don’t want - to be enhanced. In a world of enhancements, the ‘well’ could always be ‘better’. Soon, we may all be perpetual patients. Some of the enhancements being developed relate directly to the human brain. There has been more progress in neurosciences than in nanotechnology in the last few years. Increasing numbers of scientists and others worry that science is tinkering with the fundamentals of what it means to be a human being. Medical technologies not only enhance memory and other cognitive functions but could also be used to shape how society thinks and performs. These are deeply disturbing issues that CSOs must address.

What next for governance?
Trendline: • In 1975, the most challenging answer to What Now was from the Group of 77 intertwined with the New International Economic Order. In 2005, the world is most interested in George W. Bush’s answer. What Next?’ in 2035 is a question for the CEOs of AtomSphere and Terra-Forma. • The value of global annual corporate mergers in 1975 was approximately USD 20 billion. In 2005, it was USD 2.7 trillion. In 2035, mergers are negligible because corporations will work through global consortia. • In 1975, governments began negotiating the UN Environmental Modification Treaty prohibiting hostile climate modification. In 2005, the US Congress fast-tracked a Weather Modification Act. In 2035, climate management is supervised by the four superpowers and the two geo-engineering consortia. • In 1975 US regulators forced Xerox to surrender its exclusive photocopy patents as anticompetitive; almost half of all US patents contested for ‘obviousness’ were overturned; and Exxon was attempting to overturn the historic prohibition against life patents by claiming a genetically-engineered microbe (granted in 1980). In 2005, fewer than 5 per cent of patent challenges on ‘obviousness’ were accepted and multi-genome patent claims are commonplace. In 2035, lifetime patents are available on all natural or unnatural discoveries and will be protected by criminal law. • At the UN General Assembly in 1975, OECD states reaffi rmed their commitment to the 0.7 per cent of GNP foreign aid target. At the Millennium Development Goals assessment in 2005, some OECD states reaffirmed their commitment to the MDGs and to the 0.7 per cent target. At the UN General Assembly in 2035, no mention is made of either. Policy line: • National security concerns combine with health and environmental issues to encourage closer government/industry collusion. Governments protect their markets while seeking others’ raw materials should nanotech fail. CSOs could encourage technological diversity; continue their challenge to the patent system; and argue for the restructuring of anticompetition policy to protect against cross-industry monopolies. • Defence: The focus on terrorism means that the threat can come from anyone, anywhere allowing governments to monitor everyone, everywhere. CSOs must move the battlefield from terrorism to justice. • Dissent: New developments in neurosciences combine with new surveillance technologies to stifle democracy. CSOs must reaffirm the right to dissent. What next? • Resilience Create a local-to-global Commons Front among progressive food, health, educational, cultural, and environment communities.

40 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

Corporations and governments
In China Sundown, governments continue to represent power, but they act as the agents of multinational industry. Suyuan Woo argues that the trade, technology and fi nancial linkages between industry and government make it impossible for governments to act independently. The scenario may seem extreme but it is not. Within the What Next group, this description seems modest. Corporations are already treated as ‘persons’ under law and can – and do – make ‘treaties’ (contracts) with governments. Many bilateral treaties involving the United States, for example, guarantee corporations rights that would have been unacceptable three decades ago. Many of these treaties oblige governments to defend corporate rights and do not preclude the exercise of force. As the size of government shrinks, government dependence on corporate information – especially technical information – increases. The increasing concentration of corporate power and ever-larger corporations has been a clear trendline since the time of What Now in 1975. The value of corporate mergers has increased hundredfold over these 30 years and the sales of the top 200 companies comprise today nearly a third of the economic activity of the world.22 Mega-consortia such as Atom-Sphere and Terra-Forma are not that far away.

See-through societies
Within a year of the publication of What Now the United States had joined with Britain, Canada and Australia to establish Echelon, a global telephone surveillance system. Today, government has moved far beyond Echelon. In almost perpetual motion overhead, satellites and, even, lowly airplanes, equipped with remote-sensing devices, monitor national sovereignty, high-flying toxins, errant fishing trawlers, drug traffickers and economic refugees. Our electronic communication is monitored and most likely stored somewhere for possible use or analysis now or in the future. As disturbing, perhaps, is the collusion in China Sundown between governments and industry to curtail democracy and destroy dissent. Suyuan Woo makes her break from News Corp after the London subway bombings when she recalls that people in the UK had posted just about everything about their lives on or one of the many digital map sites. Governments don’t need to spy on us, she reasons, if we do the job ourselves. And the ways of obtaining information are diversifying faster than we can understand. As Qi Qubing cynically claims in China Sundown, as fast as privacy laws are erected, neuroses or narcissism will have us surrendering everything for a pittance – or however much we can afford to pay. In 2005, 150,000 people paid USD 100 each for a kit that would let them send their DNA for analysis to IBM’s Genographic Project. On its third anniversary (29 August 2006) Skype – the voice-over Internet ‘telephone’ - boasted 100 million members, with as many as 7 million members on line at any given moment. Many think this is the most secure way to communicate. If they’re not wrong now, they will be shortly. In 2005, – where people voluntarily surrendered their most intimate factoids – became the second most popular website on the planet (220,000 new members a day in 2006, with more than 61 million members already23) and was sold to Suyuan Woo’s old boss, Rupert Murdoch of News Corp.24 Whatever didn’t make it to MySpace could probably be found on one of the two blogs per second being launched on the Internet every day by the end of 2005.25. Apparently, if Big Brother wants to know something, he need only ask. It is not only surveillance we need to fear – also self-surrender.

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 41

Militarism, new weapons and the massively destructive individual
Militarism and violence are still some of the worst problems the world is facing and traditional forms of war and confl ict appear in various parts of the story. Apart from interstate confl icts, there are growing tensions between those living in prosperity and those who are not. ‘Medical curtains’ that further restrict travel and migration, and a ‘fortress North’ that erects higher walls while using other parts of the world as a backup for raw materials, add to the inequities. The world in China Sundown moves even more into a state of ‘global apartheid’. Overlaying these inequities, tensions and confl icts the development of new military technology aggravates an already serious scenario. Perhaps the most worrying part is the likely appearance of new weapons of mass destruction which may be controlled by both states, and independent groups or even individuals. ‘We are entering an era,’ Martin Rees says, ‘when a single person can, by one clandestine act, cause millions of deaths or render a city uninhabitable for years… Indeed, disaster could be caused by someone who is merely incompetent rather than malign.’26 He’s right, of course. And the political policy effect of the Massively Destructive Individual is for society to surrender its rights to government and accept universal surveillance. If anyone can do anything then government will demand the authority to do anything to anyone.

Intellectual ownership and patents
China Sundown argues that the need to control powerful new technologies forces governments and corporations to work together more closely than ever. This trend is already clear in the patents being granted for nanotechnology. Decades ago, for example, the US government allowed patents on ‘man-made’ elements in absolute violation of patent law. More recently, patents have been granted in the United States on the nano-scale use of literally dozens of elements used in any of a dozen industries.27 For the first time in history, exclusive monopoly patents are being permitted that could cut across the entire economy.28 Even in the ‘old’ technology field of biotech, sweeping patents are pending that would give one company exclusive monopoly over a DNA sequence involved in plant-flowering. While the original claim relates to rice, the patent claims leave open the question of control over any of 40 plant species that utilised the same DNA sequence - accounting for most of the world’s food supply. Politically, of course, the claim was indefensible and the company - Syngenta - was forced to promise not to exercise the patent if it is ever granted.29

Neo-liberal economics, privatisation and new forms of commodification
Underlying the China Sundown is a system where economic globalisation continues to fuel concentration of corporate power and individual wealth. Neo-liberal economics provide the rationale for further privatisation and the commodification of new areas of life and matter. For example, the emergence of human performance enhancement technologies turns the human body and mind further into a market, where everything is tradeable. To compete successfully for employment and careers, people enhance themselves - or their children, as Tash do in the story - with improved memory and cognitive powers. The market rules. On a macro-scale the global economy undergoes significant changes, as the Technology Transfer Treaty come into play along with a number of bilateral agreements, and with the WTO losing some of its earlier standing. However, the underlying notions of main-

42 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives


stream, neo-classical economics such as the primacy of economic growth, market ‘efficiency’, and individualism prevail and provide the rationale for many of the polices being pursued. More holistic approaches to ec onomics which values community, ecological sustainability and equity play no part in the centre in China Sundown - but can, however, be glimpsed at the periphery…

The concept of ‘relinquishment’ was popularised by Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, in an article in Wired Magazine in 2000. Joy suggests that certain technologies – such as molecular self-assembly – might have to be slowed or rejected for social/ safety reasons. Dr. Martin Reese, President of the UK’s Royal Society, supports Joy’s ‘relinquishment’ proposal in his 2003 book, Our Final Hour. Although these sentiments are appreciated, civil society has the right to reject negative technologies. Rees, Martin, Our Final Hour – A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century on Earth and Beyond, Basic Books, 2003. ETC Group, ‘A Tiny Primer on Nano-scale Technologies and The Little BANG Theory, 1 June 2005. ETC Group, The Potential Impacts of Nano-Scale Technologies on Commodity Markets: The Implications For Commodity Dependent Developing Countries, South Centre Research Paper, Trade-Related Agenda, Development and Equity, Geneva, November, 2005. The paper was presented during the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial at a seminar sponsored by the South Centre on 12 December 2005. Anonymous, Lux Research, ‘Revenue from nanotechnology-enabled products to equal IT and telecom by 2014, exceed biotech by 10 times’, 25 October 2004. As cited in ETC Group Report, Nanogeopolitics – ETC Group Surveys the Political Landscape, July/August 2005, ETC Group Special Report – Communiqué No. 89, p.4. Nano Science and Technology Institute, ‘In the Wake of Hurricane Katrina, Nanotechnology Provides Innovative Solution to Environmental Clean-Up’. <> 13 September 2005. ETC Group News Release, ‘Nanotech Product Recall Underscores Need for Nanotech Moratorium: Is the Magic Gone?’, 7 April 2006. In June 2006, Scientifi c American made synthetic biology its cover story with the title ‘Engineering Life – genetic circuits will revolutionize medicine, energy, and biotech’, and The Economist in its edition of 2-8 September 2006 headlined ‘Life 2.0: Prepare for synthetic biology’ in both an editorial and a special report. J. Craig Venter Institute, Press Release, ‘IBEA Researchers Publish Results From Environmental Shotgun Sequencing of Sargasso Sea. Discover 1800 New Species And 1.2 Million New Genes. Including Nearly 800 New Photoreceptor Genes’, 4 March 2004. < 2004_03_04.php> Concentrations of brevetoxin 3, a neurotoxin produced by Karenia brevis – the major cause of Florida’s ‘red tides’ – are 50 times greater as aerosols in the windblown surf than in the water. Eighty-five per cent of the aerosol particles end up in the upper airway, causing nose and throat irritation, but 6 per cent reach dangerously into the lungs. Source: New Scientist, ‘Killer algae throw neurotoxins into the air’, 7 January 2006. Marris, Emma, ‘DNA gets a fake fi fth base,’ news@, 16 March 2005. Researchers at Scripps Institute in California created an artificial base (known as 3FB) that can be added for the four naturally-occurring bases of DNA (A,C,G,T). Researchers in Florida added a second artificial letter.


3 4








pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 43


At the time of writing, a special report by the ETC Group, titled ‘Extreme Biology’ and examining the socioeconomic and scientific impact of synthetic biology, is being completed. It will be available at www. Roco, Mihail C and William Sims (eds.). Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognative Science. Bainbridge, National Science Foundation, June 2002, Arlington, Virginia, USA (pre-publicartion online version of report). Nordmann, Alfred, rapporteur, ‘Converging Technologies - Shaping the Future of European Societies’, European Commission, August 2004 McNeill, J. R. Something New Under the Sun.: An Environmental History Of The Twentieth-Century World, Norton & Co., New York, 2000, p.357. Flannery, Tim, The Weather Makers – How We Are Changing The Climate And What It Means For Life On Earth, Harper Collins, 2005, p.214. Lohman, Larry, ‘Carbon Trading: A critical conversation on climate change, privatisation and power’, Development Dialogue, Special Report, No. 48, September 2006. Crystall, Ben. ‘Clean Energy Special: The Big Cleanup.’ New Scientist, 3 September 2005. <http://www.> Weather Modification Research and Technology Transfer Authorization Act of 2005 http://www. ication_Research_and_Technology_Transfer_Authorization_Act_of_2005 At the time of writing, the hurricane season in the Atlantic is underway and is, thus far, relatively calm. But calm in the eastern Atlantic (where most hurricanes originate) can mean storms in the western Pacific since both ocean basins are connected through winds, currents, and El Niño events. In early August 2006, Typhoon Saomai – the most powerful typhoon in China since records began – struck land with winds of 260 kilometres per hour. So far this season, several hundred people have died from Asian typhoons, potentially making 2006 one of the worst years in memory. Source: Barry, Patrick, ‘The calm before the storm for America’s hurricane coasts’, New Scientist, 23 August 2006. The ETC Group’s Communiqué on the endod case is available at Today there is a parallel case in the use of China’s wormwood shrub as a defence against malaria. Chinese farmers have historically grown the shrub for this purpose and it has been proved to be effective by the WHO. Currently, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Novartis, is contracting to purchase the global war ?? wormwood crop in order to commercialise the malaria drug. Synthetic biologists in the USA, at the same time, are working to synthesise the active compound in order to sidestep farm production. Meanwhile, a health-oriented NGO has shown that the wormwood shrub can be farmed in most parts of Asia, Africa and South America where malaria is a problem. Rather than concentrating production in one or two industrial plants and then trying to overcome the huge distribution problems and costs of getting the synthetic drug around the world’s tropics, the NGO proposes to decentralise production to the village level, making distribution easy and inexpensive. In this way, the benefits of production accrue to small farmers not to big pharmaceutical compa-

nies. For details, see the ETC Group’s special reports, ‘NanoRx’ and ‘Extreme Biology’ (to be published in September 2006) at 22 Cavanagh, J., and Anderson, S., Top 200. The Rise of Corporate Global Power, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington D.C., 2000. Rubel, Steve, /03/myspacemania.html March 30, 2006. The Economist, ‘News Corp. – Old money new media – Can Rupert Murdoch adapt News Corp. to the digital age?’, 19 January 2006. New Scientist, 19 August 2006. Rees, Martin, Our Final Hour – A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future in This Century on Earth and Beyond, Basic Books, 2003, p. 61. When Harvard University’s Charles Lieber obtained a key patent (US patent 5,897,945) on nano-scale metal oxide nanorods, he didn’t claim nanorods composed of a single type of metal – but instead claimed a metal oxide selected from up to 33 chemical elements. Harvard’s claims on nanorods include those comprised of titanium, zirconium, hafnium, vanadium, niobium, tantalum, chromium, molybdenum, tungsten, manganese, technetium, rhenium, iron, osmium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, cadmium, scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, a lanthanide series element, boron, gallium, indium, thallium, germanium, tin, lead, magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium. In a single patent, Lieber’s claims extend to nearly one-third of the chemical elements in the Periodic Table – spanning 11 of the 18 Groups. Patent lawyers have identified Harvard’s patent (licensed to Nanosys, Inc.) as one of the top 10 patents that could influence the development of nanotechnology. When the ETC Group examined the 700-plus patents that the US Patent and Trademark Office had identified as nanotechnology patents as of 25 May 2005, it was not surprising to fi nd that the patents had originally been assigned to all of the major patent classes including electricity; human necessities; chemistry/ metallurgy; performing operations and transporting; mechanical engineering (lighting, heating, weapons, blasting); physics; fi xed construction; textiles and paper. ETC Group News Release, ‘Syngenta Claims MultiGenome Monopoly’, 10 January 2005.


23 24


25 26











What If ? Other ‘takes’ on tomorrow
Despite the alarming developments in the story, China Sundown should not leave us without hope. In fact, as is also apparent in the story, there is always resistance, opposition and work for change wherever there is injustice and violence. The story introduces us to civil society activists, progressive academics and many others working for social change in Bolivia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Switzerland and Ethiopia. That their struggles for change do not significantly alter the course of events, however, underlines the urgent need for civil society to redouble its efforts, drawing on all the creativity and courage at its disposal. If we are going to bend the trendline upward – even gradually – or if we are to survive the next 30 years and begin to build a better world we are going to have to make tough choices – discard some things, reorganise, get a little less romantic and a little more realistic.

• Rights: We have the right to say ‘no’. Civil society must reclaim its authority to reject powers, processes or technologies that undermine community, livelihoods and ecological sustainability. • Resistance: By working through our communities in highly decentralised but networked activities – and by adopting long-term and complex strategies – we can use our modest resources effectively to overcome huge obstacles. • Resilience: History shows that big changes often come from the periphery, not from the centre. We must focus our work on strengthening those physical and cultural communities that ‘live on the edge’ – far from the centres of power.

Three other ‘takes’ on tomorrow: There are a million ways to make a better world, and tens of millions of people to undertake the process. Below are three stories that envisage departures from the status quo. The fi rst starts from the perspective of a small global-level activist NGO trying hard not to be co-opted by the UN system and to make real changes within the UN and elsewhere. The second builds from the World Social Forum and the combined energies of the Peace Movement and other social movements. It starts in Africa but spreads around the world and involves both direct interventions for peace and mobilisation to influence an international treaty. The third ‘take’ begins with an agrarian movement in the Andes that spreads from this ‘hinterland’ far from metropolitan power to join with other alternative health, educational, economic and environmental movements to occupy positions of power. We are not recommending these specific strategies as solutions. They are presented in this fictional style to bring out some of the nuances of CSO organising and to point to the potential we have when we work together. All three ‘takes’ are discussed in a final meeting in an old house somewhere in Sweden.

What if ? take 1

Rights: Stockholm syndrome or Geneva Watch
2011, Geneva, Switzerland
2011 – Geneva, Switzerland: The fi rst time that Anil Patal, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, realised he might have a problem was that late Friday afternoon in February when he was taking the newly-appointed Ethiopian health minister on a ‘walkabout’ from the meeting at the Palais des Nations up the hill to WHO’s headquarters. As they neared the building, the DG saw university-aged youths, wearing blue T-shirts and carrying blue boxes, taking sheets of paper from WHO employees as they left for the weekend. The scene was almost furtive, he thought. The staff darted past, depositing the sheets without looking up or talking to one another. When they spotted the DG with the minister they scattered. The minister (on his fi rst visit to Geneva) wanted to know if it was true that the Palais was nicknamed the horizontal Tower of Babel. Stretching well over half a kilometre from end to end, the rambling old League of Nations edifice contrasted unhappily with WHO’s stubby 1960s tower. He was clearly not impressed by WHO’s edifice. Irritably, the Director-General pointed out how much more efficient the WHO building was and ushered the minister into the organisation’s state-of-the-art restaurant for a glass of wine. He made a mental note to fi nd out about the kerfuffle on the sidewalk. Only on Monday morning did Anil Patal realise what he had witnessed the previous Friday. The International Herald Tribune posted a front-page story with the banner headline, ‘WHO staff reject incumbent DG.’ The article reported with unconstrained gusto that 94 per cent of WHO employees who responded to an e-mail ballot had voted against the Director-General being granted a third term. Patal ranked last among the five candidates rumoured to be seeking the top job. Out in front by a narrow margin was the former Australian Assistant Director-General who had left her position to challenge her boss. Running second was the former Jordanian Minister of Health who had moved on to represent the Arab League in New York. The real shock for the Director-General, other than the revelation of his own unpopularity, was that a Brazilian public health worker – not even a doctor – with almost no international experience was neck-and-neck with the Jordanian. An anonymous diplomat was quoted as having said that the informal staff poll meant little since the real voting decision would be a ‘horse-trade’ made by presidents and prime ministers in the South and, at least, by Cabinet ministers in the North – not anybody in Geneva. Others predicted that African support for their Indo-Kenyan ‘favourite son’ would split, with some votes going to the Jordanian, but the Lusophone and Francophone vote going to the Brazilian.

48 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

How Next: Are we – civil society activists – ‘movers’ or merely ‘shakers’?
Shaken – not stirred We seem to have the capacity to shake things up but not to stir society to action. Perhaps the problem is our weak linkage with social movements. Perhaps the best CSOs can do is to draw attention to issues and hope that the political opportunity will allow others to adopt our positions. Sometimes we expect too much from our little groups. Sometimes a great motion We have had successes: the peace and anti-nuclear campaigns; progress on debt and land mines; the code on breast feeding; pesticide protocols; seed treaties; GMO/Terminator moratoria; and effective intervention in military conflict Moving time We can do much. We use resources very effectively and we have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and networks that should make it possible for us to design long-term political strategies that can really make a difference. We’ve grossly underestimated the ability of the Third System – the people – to effect change.

Anil Patal convened his election ‘war cabinet’. Phone calls were made. There was damage. More then just embarrassing, the informal staff poll was ammunition for WHO’s critics to argue that the UN agency was out of touch with the real world. If Patal’s supporters became concerned that the incumbent threatened the future fi nances of the organisation, they would jump ship. The damage could be contained, the DG’s war cabinet was persuaded, but the Great Man’s travel schedule was reviewed and it was decided that the DG should visit the more easily influenced member states in the Pacific and the West Indies. They also examined the backlog of appointments to middle and senior posts that had been deliberately delayed for just such emergencies. Among them were some trophy positions countries would be eager to negotiate for. Not much could probably be done, they agreed, about WHO Watch – the CSO consortium that had orchestrated the poll. A discrete call was made to the Swiss authorities, asking them to look into a possible breach of WHO security and seeking their assistance to ensure that unauthorised personnel were kept off the property. However, this would have no effect. WHO Watch was not a legal entity and its consortium members were all headquartered outside of Switzerland. The damage was done. Neither could they retaliate against WHO’s unions since they had not been formally involved. It was while the Director-General was in Trinidad that the other shoe dropped. In early March,

WHO Watch issued a news release announcing that WHO had paid in excess of a quarter of a million euros to advertise, in The Economist and other international journals, posts that had either already been promised to specific candidates or were hereditarily ceded to certain countries. The news release listed recent posts with the names and nationalities of the outgoing and incoming officials. The Geneva diplomatic community was quoted (anonymously) as being outraged by the waste and corruption. Bastards, the Director-General thought, the practice of fi xed or ‘hereditary’ postings was a venerable UN tradition. But he was mortally-wounded and he knew it. When WHO Watch hosted the fi rst of its series of candidate debates in late March, the Director-General was nowhere to be found. Pressing affairs of state, his war cabinet said – sprucing up their resumés. In that fi rst debate – well-attended by diplomats and flooded with the international press following the scandals – the Jordanian shot himself in the foot by pandering too much to the United States and showing an abysmal lack of knowledge of both WHO and African health priorities. The Aussie front-runner – a woman and a scientist – did well. She knew the organisation and its work, and she would be the fi rst OECD Director-General since the ‘jolly fat Dutchman’ lost the job way back in 1975. The Brazilian community health worker also did well. Nattily dressed in an obviously new Italian suit, his poise and bearing assured the diplomats. Although he was rumoured to speak adequate English, he

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 49

clung to his native Portuguese, forcing everyone else to use their headsets. This sufficiently stifled his message as to leave him trailing the Australian by the end of the evening. There were also rumours that while Brazil officially championed their candidate the government wasn’t exactly pulling out all the stops to get him elected. Not revealed until much later, the story of how the back country health worker became Brazil’s candidate for Director-General is an intrigue of its own. Brazil’s President back then was the popular head of a much less popular coalition of centre and left-wing parties. While he had swept to personal power on a wave of protest, his government quickly took on all the conservative trappings and corruption of every other IMF debtor and G8 wannabe. In the years since the election, the coalition had been faced with growing opposition from trade unions, farmers’ organisations and poor consumers. With new elections less than two years away, the president was looking to restore his progressive image. Thus, when the Brazilian members of WHO Watch came to him one evening after a rally in Rio Grande do Sul, he was inclined to listen. A Latin American had never held the top job at WHO. Back in the 1990s, a potentially successful Latino delegate was outmanoeuvred by the Kenyan candidate. The current incumbent, WHO Watch insisted, was vulnerable and the post could go to a Latin American this time. If the president could offer up a progressive left-wing candidate WHO Watch could throw its support behind her or him. Other Latin American countries would support a clear Brazilian proposal. WHO Watch would do the rest. The Brazilian civil society groups came with a short list of possible candidates. Three were especially interesting. Over the next few weeks the president’s staff and the CSOs met to discuss the list and make enquiries. Finally they reached agreement. The candidate should be an organiser from Brazil’s increasingly militant public health movement. The president loved the idea. The organiser was less enthusiastic. Precious days were spent convincing the health worker, Dino di Gaspar, not only that the job was obtainable but that it was worth fighting for. The president announced his candidate at a meeting of the Organization of American States and the race was on. The second debate – just weeks before the May election – was very different. WHO Watch reported what the media should have already suspected – the Australian candidate had been Assistant Deputy Director-General at WHO during the scandals. In fact, several posts in her division

had been bartered to European governments in return for programme contributions and she herself had signed off on a number of perfectly useless job advertisements. She spent most of the debate defending herself and trying to explain that all the decisions had been made by the Director-General’s office and that she had had little or no say in the matter – not the best defence for someone seeking to take over the organisation. Meanwhile, the Jordanian blathered on, alienating more countries. When questioned about his lack of knowledge of WHO, the Brazilian organiser responded – testing out his charmingly accented English – that the real problem was that WHO didn’t know anything about community health. He knew how to organise, he said, and he knew how to support healthy, resilient communities and maintain strong public health systems. There was prolonged applause. The election was one of the best covered media events in WHO history. Not that the outcome was much in doubt. The members of the European Union abandoned the Aussie candidate en masse and divided their votes clumsily between the Brazilian and the Jordanian. Latin America and Africa went overwhelmingly into the Brazilian camp. Although many of the Asian countries stuck with the Jordanian, there were a few deserters in favour of the community health organiser. When it was over, many Northern governments were properly horrified at what they had done. Not only were they about to lose their mechanism for sidelining redundant civil servants into WHO but they had lost their best chance to re-capture the Director-General post in many years. Worse still, they had surrendered the organisation to an almost complete political unknown backed by a government of unreliable political persuasions. It was some time later – in the sober reflection afforded by the summer break – that governments and WHO insiders identified the biggest change of all: the new éminence grise at WHO was not a Director-General confidante, nor a country, but WHO Watch.

2005, Ecuador
The genesis for WHO Watch, Anita Krishna always maintained, was the 2005 People’s Health Assembly in Ecuador. But it was Anita’s fi rst journey beyond the borders of India and the shock and thrill of being in Latin America, perhaps, crowded her memory with too many fi rsts. She was among the few in the Asian contingent who

50 pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives

deliberately spent social time with a huge Latino crowd and tried out the Spanish her laptop CD taught her on the long fl ight from New Delhi to Frankfurt to Caracas and fi nally Quito. There is, in fact, nothing in the annals of the Health Assembly to back up Anita’s contention. But the tiny, enthusiastic young Indian nurse has a point. It was at the Health Assembly that she fi rst met Marta Flores from Bolivia and Pancho Tomas with the Chilean community NGO. Though both Marta and Pancho came from farming communities, Pancho worked withperi-urban Mapuche in the hills above Temuco and had some kind of degree in public health administration. Marta, apparently, had attended courses given by Pancho and his colleagues in Temuco and was trying to marry her agricultural and health interests in her work on the Altiplano. The People’s Health Assembly was also where Anita met Dino di Gaspar. Di Gaspar was a shy – almost invisible – man until you put him up on stage and gave him a microphone. There, he blossomed. Anita could see why he was such an inspiration to the Brazilian health movement and why the communities he worked with in northeast Brazil had become a model for public health in the Americas. He often embarrassed the pharmaceutical industry and PAHO – the Pan-American Health Organization. One of the Assembly’s sessions was meant to be a sort of primer on the international institutional structure of the global health system. New to it all, Anita listened avidly. She understood that WHO stood at the intergovernmental apex for health. Strangely, the organisation seemed almost resented by the NGOs and social movements in the Assembly. Indeed, the session spent more time discussing the structure of the pharmaceutical industry oligopoly than it did WHO. In their social time together, with Pancho translating and interpreting for Marta and Anita, the Indian nurse learned that the big drug companies dominated the medical profession, and that the companies used the medical establishment to dominate national health policies and the work of WHO. Neither Pancho nor Marta had much interest in the going-ons of the remote Geneva agency, however. The Brazilian health movement, Anita learned, had a slightly different take on WHO. With a somewhat more flexible government, the Brazilian movement had become big enough and influential enough to wield some power, especially in the towns and smaller cities. Their broad approach to public health and their emphasis on

low-cost health services were attractive to municipalities always starved of resources. Occasionally, Brasilia invited members of the movement to join the national delegation to WHO. For the most part, those chosen came home with horror stories about the absurdity and unreality of the meetings – but they also often returned with important information, documentation and strategic ideas for further domestic work.

2007, Geneva
The truth is, Anita probably would have been eager to attend the WHO conference regardless of her Ecuadorian experience. After all, her only other visit to Europe had been seven hours in Frankfurt airport, harassed by airport security and immigration agents. Coming from the plains of New Delhi, all she knew of Switzerland came from the National Geographic magazines donated to her high school library. It took some considerable work for her to arrange for others to take over her tasks in the public health clinic but, in the end, she was on the plane to Geneva, as one of the People’s Health Assembly observers to WHO’s annual meeting. There were two health activists from Brazil but di Gaspar was not among them. Looking back on the meetings years later, Anita reflected that that was probably just as well, since it was there that they hatched the formal strategy of WHO Watch. All they needed was the money. Before the end of the year, Anita was back in Europe, this time in Germany, meeting with German foundations and church agencies and talking up the notion of WHO Watch. She had taken advantage of an unexpected invitation to Stuttgart to turn her honorarium into a Eurail pass, giving her 15 days to barnstorm around Germany, Switzerland and Holland. To her own surprise, Anita turned out to be an engaging spokesperson for the WHO Watch idea. She also had a facility with languages, had turned her basic Spanish into a workable tool and was on her way to doing the same with French.

Anita moved to Geneva and to her apartment/ office for WHO Watch as the heat wave scalded the pavements of Europe and North America, causing blackouts and brownouts in major cities. Even Geneva, usually cooler in the Alps, with

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 51

winds blowing off the lake, was close to unbearable. As someone who grew up in the slums of New Delhi, Anita weathered the brutal summer better than most. And it was a busy summer. As the sole staffer for the non-existent WHO Watch, Anita’s fi rst task was to build bridges to other networks. It was with this in mind that she took a long train ride to Stockholm to attend an international environmental conference. She knew little about environmental organisations but she did know that the conference was debating the merits of new nuclear power plants as a ‘clean energy’ defence against climate change. In a rare moment of courage and clarity, the WHO Assembly – back in the early 1990s – actually asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague for confi rmation that nuclear weapons constituted an unacceptable threat to human health. A ‘no-brainer’, Anita would have thought, except that the nuclear powers fought the resolution tooth and nail. Some of the members of WHO Watch thought it possible to bolster the WHO position against nuclear weapons into a position against all use of nuclear power. Were big environmental organisations to come out on the side of nuclear energy, the struggle would be much harder in Geneva. The young Indian health worker found the Stockholm conference devastating. Not only could the delegates not affirm their opposition to nuclear power – meaning that they effectively acquiesced – but they actually entertained a thinly veiled industry proposition to geo-engineer the planet as the best hope for mitigating global warming. From then on, WHO Watch maintained an active fi le on geo-engineering and its potential risks to human health. The only thing useful coming out of the Stockholm conference was the contacts she made with other activists from the peace movement. Especially, she valued the friendship she struck up with a young Swedish trade unionist and lawyer, Inga Thorvaldson, who was actually seconded to the ILO down the street from her in Geneva.

time ricocheting between Geneva and New York with side-trips to Paris, Vienna, Rome and Nairobi. WHO Watch’s success also translated into more fi nancial support from enthusiastic European NGOs and US foundations. It took over a three-bedroom apartment a short walk from the front gates of the Palais. Before long, there was an FAO Watch, an UNDP Watch, and a UNESCO Watch. WHO Watch itself morphed into a de facto ‘Geneva Watch’ looking beyond WHO to the entire gaggle of Geneva-based UN agencies and commissions. The strategy remained the same. Develop close connections with friendly like-minded people in the Secretariat, share information with the local unions, keep in close touch with government delegations, and avoid any formal fi nancial or programme connection with the UN agency itself. WHO Watch never had observer status in a UN agency and never took the microphone in UN meetings. Others – social movements and NGOs – took on that task as they thought useful. WHO Watch was the ‘tough love’ side of civil society, keeping UN agencies honest and – relatively – transparent. Although it was never formalised, the various ‘Watches’ maintained close – occasionally competitive – cooperation.

Anita Krishna, now in her early 40s, was tired of the UN bureaucrats and longing for India. Then, one day, she had a text message from a Chinese journalist she had met at the World Social Forum. Suyuan Woo had someone flying to Geneva she wanted Anita to meet.

‘The people united,’ yawned Qi Qubìng, in his most infuriating metrosexual flamboyance, ‘will always be defeated!’ Suyuan Woo could barely restrain herself from reaching across the table and strangling the man. They were, once again, in Qi’s favourite pizza place just down the road from the main Beijing monorail station. As always, the conversation had hopped around between Chinese politics, corporate criminality, and the latest health or environmental scandals. Tash, who loved the debate but detested the tension, retreated further into her wine glass. These fights were not quite what they used to be. Something had gone out of them. Qi, to be sure, was as arrogant and cynical as ever – but his de-

WHO Watch’s surprise success in the election of the Director-General gave the tiny organisation huge credibility among international NGOs monitoring UN agencies. Anita Krishna found herself in demand and was spending half her

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fence of Numan Corp, even of the pharmaceutical industry, even of capitalism, in fact, lacked its old ardour. Now, where Su and Qi fought most bitterly was over the significance of civil society. Although she would hardly describe herself as an optimist or an idealist, the journalist maintained a conviction that not only a better world but world survival was only possible if civil society became a coordinated coherent force in local and global politics. Qi just didn’t get it. To him, as a scientist and a corporate executive, social movements and NGOs were entertainment. Their glibly simplistic answers were funny. Their passion was precious. Getting through the occasional blockades they threw up in front of his research centre or at airports made for an interesting challenge. Yes, perhaps they had served a utilitarian purpose in correcting some of the worst abuses of the UN system but, he assured himself, fi lling his wine glass, governments would have got around to that eventually. CSOs were a ‘back-drop’, bitplayers and scene-setters on a stage they couldn’t even see clearly. Fearing that the dinner would dissolve into irretrievable acrimony, Tash forced herself to intervene, ‘Tell her about endod,’ she instructed the scientist. Qi looked irritated. ‘That’s confidential to Numan,’ he sniffed. Tash ignored the rebuke. Leaning forward in her chair, she grabbed the journalist’s hand to get her attention, which, until then, was fi xed angrily on Qi Qubìng. ‘He’s trying to cure the new strain of shistosomiasis,’ she told Suyuan Woo. She went on: ‘He’s working with farmers in Ethiopia and the Himalayas to test out strains of endod that could be grown to purify water sources.’ Then, almost as an afterthought: ‘The Ethiopian government is helping but the Chinese government knows nothing about it. Numan is trying to stop the research.’ Qi skulked into the corner of the booth, scowling, and pretended to be admiring the two women in the booth behind Tash. ‘Why?’ asked Suyuan Woo. ‘Why is Numan trying to stop him?’ Tash asked. ‘No,’ Qi interjected from his corner, ‘Why am I doing it?’ ‘I know why Numan would want to stop you. There’s no money in environmental cures for schistosomiasis. The company would invent an

obligation the world would expect them to finance at a break-even price. Otherwise, countries would claim ordre publique, confiscate the patents, and set a dangerous precedent for more profitable medicines.’ Su, lifted a piece of pizza with her fork, considering it carefully. ‘But, why is our ‘merchant of medicine’ here, suddenly championing lost causes?’ Qi came out of his corner, ‘I don’t suppose you would believe that the iron hand of capitalism occasionally dons a velvet glove?’ Tash giggled. Su snorted. As both women knew, before Qi joined Numan he had undertaken research in Ethiopia. It was there that he encountered the endod plant and learned how local women used the plant as a soap and shampoo to protect their children from the river snail that carried shistosomiasis. When an American university purloined the relevant patents, Qi pulled up stakes and accepted a long-standing offer from Numan. When the two strains of the disease merged below the Three Gorges Damn in 2005, the scientist reconnected with his Ethiopian colleagues and local farmers to try to fi nd a solution. ‘So, now what?’ the journalist asked. ‘I’m not sure,’ Qi answered with uncharacteristic frankness. ‘This all relates to climate change. Numan has asked me to participate in a scientific subcommittee of the Terra-Forma consortium. It’s pretty interesting work, but if I take it on I will have to abandon my research in the Himalayas.’ Imperceptibly, the tensions at the table softened. In a few minutes, all three got up and the women protested politely when Qi took the bill and treated them to dinner. He always did this. Suyuan Woo always protested mildly but was, privately, quite prepared to let the corporate scientist pay. A week later, Qi was back in town. Numan was sending him as an observer to a climate change conference in Geneva. He and Suyuan Woo met for coffee across the street from where he could catch an express to the airport. With impish excitement, Qi handed her a brown manila envelope stuffed with papers and CDs. ‘You can do what you want with this,’ he told her, ‘but wait until I am out of Geneva and on my way to Vancouver.’ Almost as an afterthought, he asked, ‘I’m going to drop in on the WHO. Do you know anyone there I should talk to about shistosomiasis?’ Su did.

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Reluctantly, Anita met Qi Qubing at the airport. He wasn’t hard to pick out. Tall, Chinese-looking, impeccably turned out, as though he had just dressed after stepping out of the shower rather than having spent the better part of a day on an airplane, the man pranced to the luggage carousel, pulled his leather bags (fi rst off, of course) from the tumbling heap and swept through customs into the main hall, bestowing a kiss and a packet of disks on the startled activist. Suyuan Woo’s description was dead on. Qi had come early to Geneva to spend the weekend. Colleagues at Numan assumed he either had a girlfriend or was hoping for some latespring skiing. Instead, the scientist and the activist spent the weekend wandering the streets of the old town, sipping coffee in the mornings and wine in the evenings as they talked. At fi rst, Qi - genetically programmed to be ever-charming and ‘on the make’ – blended his charm with passive belligerence. Anita was, after all, one of those civil society dreamers. Sunday morning, however, he woke up trusting her. That might have had something to do with her lying there beside him, he admitted, but he knew it wasn’t. WHO Watch’s record, and Anita’s encyclopaedic knowledge of WHO and the politics of the pharmaceutical industry, convinced him that they could be allies. Qi attended the climate change conference at the Palais. Initially, his mind was on other things and he could hardly wait for the meeting to end each day so he could catch up with Anita. But, this too changed with time. He was part of the Terra-Forma delegation observing at the intergovernmental meeting. The consortium was constantly consulted by OECD country delegations for technical advice. The advice the consortium offered, Qi knew, was either partial truth, obfuscation or, occasionally, outright lies. Over lunch, the consortium’s vice-president for intergovernmental affairs, a bright and charming Belgian woman, fi lled him in on the conference politics. Qi already knew that geo-engineering was turning into a debacle. Panicked by the massive hurricanes earlier in the century, the US Department of Energy had opted to send out research vessels to collect microbial biodiversity on the oceans’ surface. The theory was that the most efficient micro-organisms might be genetically engineered to improve their photosynthesis, thus making them into a better food source for plankton. In turn, the plankton would

sequester CO2 more efficiently (in the long term) and lower ocean temperatures in the short-term. And lower temperatures meant fewer – or weaker – hurricanes. The public and private sector scientists, who got into the Department of Energy’s purse early, quickly concluded that genetic engineering was not subtle enough. They began working with atomically engineered micro-organisms constructed from the bottom up, atom by atom. Such fi nely tuned, newly created life forms might be both more efficient and less likely to meander beyond their set environmental limits. Ocean organisms with unique traits that could drift from sea to shining sea posed an enormous planetary risk. The Belgian executive, who proudly showed off photographs of her two teenage children at the Friday night reception, calmly informed the scientist that the atomically engineered life forms had already infected a number of other species living in the oceans and that it was probably only a matter of time before the most ubiquitous micro-organism of all, the SAR11 microbe, would also succumb. Terra-Forma’s task was to protect its shareholders, restructure its geo-engineering work to spin off companies, and then carefully dis-invest from these companies and reinvest in conventional fossil fuel companies already exploiting the warming polar seas. Qi and Anita spent the weekend in the French Alps – much more of it talking then he would have liked – before the scientist flew off to Vancouver to visit his parents. The president of Numan-China Corp. had just received Qi’s faxed resignation when their Brussels office forwarded the headline story in the International Herald Tribune. Not surprisingly, Numan Corporation’s attempt to suppress endod research was only a minor item in major newspapers and on television newscasts. But he scandal of Terra-Forma’s roving artificial microbes, the threat they posed for the environment, and the complicity of the US (and other) governments dominated headlines for weeks. The smell of blood galvanised the normally somnambulant news agencies to extend the investigation to Atom-Sphere, and more stories of scientific adventurism and failure entertained the public well into the temperate-zone autumn. The way the story broke caused a rift between Qi and Anita. WHO Watch hadn’t wanted the story to break until they were ready with a fol-

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low-through plan. Anita hadn’t realised that Suyuan Woo already had information and directions from Qi to make everything public once he reached Vancouver. For his part, Qi revelled in the media attention and became a most unlikely hero – the ‘whistleblower’ who brought down the two consortia. WHO Watch, and its partners in New York and elsewhere, scrambled awkwardly to turn the scandal into a political strategy. WHO Watch and its namesakes had been following the massive effort by farmers and trade activists fighting against the Technology Transfer Treaty, or TTT. As best she could, Anita fed information on the Geneva negotiations to Via Campesina. For weeks on end, her living room and spare room were full of farmers who had come to Geneva to track and trash the negotiations. The health movement had allied itself to the food sovereignty movement, as well, at the community and municipal levels. Among those who slept on her floor and raided her refrigerator were friends of her old friend, Marta Flores. She got to know João Sergio this way. With the latest scandals, the TTT was in real trouble. Anita knew that a coordinated push by the social movements and CSOs could lead to victory. Meanwhile, Dino Di Gaspar offered the renegade Canadian scientist a newly created post as director of the shistosomiasis campaign. Qi accepted with caution. He would have preferred an academic career in Vancouver, but, then again, Anita was in Geneva. Although the rift between them had healed by the time he moved to Geneva, Qi and Anita never completely rekindled their former relationship. But, there was good news on other fronts… Within 18 months of Qi’s arrival at WHO, the endod varieties bred by farmers in Ethiopia and Tibet were being widely grown and distributed in Africa and Asia and were rapidly pushing back the disease threat.

Latin American states. China was silent on the concept. Europe was divided and North America was sullenly opposed. Technically, ICENT was an amendment to the TTT – but this amendment included a name change and a whole new approach. As a show of propriety, some clauses in the treaty did indeed talk about technology transfer but the overwhelming thrust of the amendment was to create a mechanism for the international community to monitor the development of new technologies, to prohibit those that threatened public goods and to fast-track those that supported constructive social goals. Alitash Tefare summarised the treaty for her colleagues in the African Union. ‘At its worst,’ she told them, ‘this treaty will reinstate the old UN Center for Science and Technology for Development that was set up in the late 1970s and killed off in the early 1990s. Some clauses in the treaty will also allow us to monitor corporations but this is nothing more than what we used to have when there was a UN Center for Transnational Corporations. It, too, was killed off in the early 1990s. At best, its provisions will guarantee our access to a diversity of technological choices while allowing us to accept or reject powerful technologies on the basis of careful social and scientific evaluation.’ The treaty caused a division among civil society organisations. Some just wanted a policing mechanism that could monitor and prevent geoengineering and other potentially catastrophic experimentation. Others wanted to turn the treaty into a kind of environmental and anticorporate Interpol with the ability to haul offenders before the International Criminal Court. Yet another faction, the one with whom Anita most sympathised, argued that any treaty that would get the approval of governments would be a treaty not worth signing. Where WHO Watch and these critics differed, however, was that Anita and her colleagues thought the UN debate would encourage stronger national laws. At one angry session in the dining room of Geneva’s Hotel Mon Repos, the tiny Indian activist told the other campaigners that she didn’t really care about the outcome of the UN debate as long as it forced national governments to take action themselves. An old Uruaguyan activist – with a long history of technology battles – still disagreed. ‘That’s what we thought when we pushed for a biosafety protocol three decades ago,’ she told Anita.

Anita and her colleagues had sorted out how to turn the TTT negotiations into an entirely different treaty. Working with the farmers and environmentalists, they cobbled together the International Convention on the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT) and won support for the treaty from the majority of African, Asian and

pre-publication what next - trendlines and alternatives 55

‘We got a terrible protocol and all it did was allow industry to stuff biotech down the throats of national governments. Aid programmes were turned into ‘capacity-building’ exercises to train the South’s best scientists to become regulators so that governments could convince their citizens it was safe to introduce genetically modified crops. The protocol was a Trojan horse that made biotech OK.’ Others disagreed. ‘But, now,’ a young Filipino organiser interjected, ‘no one is monitoring anything nationally or internationally and there’s nothing to stop companies from introducing new technologies anyway they want. How could things get worse?’ In the end, the ICENT Campaign group stayed together and agreed to push for ICENT while leaving open the possibility that the group might abandon the initiative if the negotiations went sour. Late one evening, Anita was on the Internet searching Wikipedia – the popular user-edited online encyclopedia – when the strategy struck her. The Internet encyclopedia was the result of the collaboration of tens of thousands of users who edited, initiated, and elaborated more than two million entries. The users establish their own moderators and mediators in a constant effort to improve the quality of the encyclopedia. Begun in 2001 – the same year as the World Social Forum – Wikipedia quickly grew to match (some said, exceed) the quality of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Why not make tech-

nology monitoring and assessment an interactive Internet process open to everyone everywhere, she wondered? Within four months, an exploratory grant from a small US funding consortium paved the way to a substantial three-year grant from a geeky billionaire in the Bahamas. Once established – maintaining the interactive website would not be expensive but the really big cost was the time and energy needed to draw in an initial set of credible contributors prepared to work in the background to give Technopedia enough content to attract large numbers of visitors and other contributors. That process took the better part of three years and five dedicated workers. The TTT Campaign Committee, following the defeat of the Technology Transfer Treaty, had morphed into the ICENT Campaign Committee and it was this consortium that took on Technopedia. The strategy was to fi nesse the intergovernmental machinations of treaty negotiations by establishing a much higher civil society standard for technology monitoring and evaluation. The campaign team was counting on anonymous government regulators and industry and science institution insiders to contribute to the work of CSO activists in making the website accurate and influential. After all, if a transparent multi-lingual technology tracking system could be on the Web, updated instantly, soaking up contributions about a social economic, health, and environmental implications of a new technique, it would be politically difficult for government regulators to operate much below this public bar.

How Next: Is there a place for compromise and dialogue?
Death through a thousand conferences Multi-stakeholder dialogues are inherently elitist and divisive, creating distrust within the CSO community, draining resources, diverting attention, and confusing our goals. Don’t do it. Just ‘open sourcing’ Transparent, high-visibility multi-stakeholder negotiations can attract media attention and donor support – and create opportunities for diverse national CSOs and social movements to come together and organise. Allies might also be discovered in government or intergovernmental sectors. Fifth Column As long as the ‘inside/outsider’ alignment is clear, multistakeholder meetings can be an excellent opportunity to obtain useful information and develop sophisticated strategies. The decision to participate depends on the state of the issue and the needs of CSOs at that specific point. A dialogue is a tactic – one to be used sparingly.

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Even if ICENT devolved into a non-binding code of conduct, political reality would force a high level of compliance to the CSO standard.

It worked. Technopedia was unveiled on the opening day of the third meeting of the intergovernmental ICENT negotiating committee with a news conference at the Church Center for the United Nations across UN Plaza from the General Assembly and made the front page of the business section of the New York Times – and just about every other major business and fi nancial newspaper. The unveiling, unfortunately, was not civil society’s best-kept secret as rumours had been circulating for months that it was about to be launched. Industry countered immediately with a hyperbolic critique of Technopedia’s creators and the Campaign Committee that bankrolled the exercise. Despite this, a well-orchestrated procession of former regulators and Nobel science laureates pronounced Technopedia to be accurate and commendable. As they developed Technopedia, the CSO team were handed – or uncovered – a half-dozen wonderful examples of technical failures, regulatory faux pas and government/industry corruption. Shrewdly, Anita counselled the team to keep the scandals to themselves until the website’s launch. Then, the stories were released on Technopedia’s website – two a week – for the full three weeks of intergovernmental negotiations. Technopedia became the Web’s brightest star, with the highest number of hits for a non-entertainment site in Internet history .

ports based upon public hearings and, yes, the working group did have some money and modest staffi ng to do its work. Yes, too, there was a commitment to ensure technological diversity – to make sure that the world did not place all its eggs in one technological basket – and funds to safely archive retiring technologies that might some time in the future be shown to be useful again. But – surprise surprise – the treaty had no teeth. It could monitor; it could advise; it could even suggest that certain technologies should not be allowed into the marketplace or should be withdrawn – but there was no legal authority behind any of this. Still, the treaty carried considerable moral authority and Technopedia was hard at work 24 hours a day, keeping the public alert and the regulators honest. National governments would defy ICENT’s advice at some risk. Along the way, the old mid- 1970s treaty prohibiting the use of environmental modification as a weapon was expanded to prohibit environmental modification by any state without the express approval of a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly. That, Anita acknowledged, was worthwhile. WHO Watch was happiest with the number of national laws – so far, 37 and rising – that had been adopted and that actually had the power to lay criminal charges.

Dino de Gaspar took over the post of DirectorGeneral in January 2012. He was re-elected in 2017 and retired from office in 2024. During his tenure, many things changed. Most apparent to staff in the Geneva headquarters was that the dais that raised his desk a foot above everyone else in his fourth floor office was removed. On his second day in office, de Gaspar lined up for lunch in the fi rst floor WHO cafeteria. In his 12 years in office, de Gaspar – an intensely shy man – was able to claim modestly that he had eaten more meals in the cafeteria than anywhere else in Geneva. The US delegation was apoplectic, however, when the new Director-General spent a small fortune renovating his headquarters while most of the staff was on holiday. The buildings were literally gutted so that the long impersonal corridors disappeared and were replaced by a more open and collegial office environment that encouraged people to talk to one another. The US indignation was fi nally squashed when their own citizens on the

2030, New York
For all the initial media hype and governmental enthusiasm, Anita had almost given up on ever seeing the treaty come into force. When that day fi nally came – seven years after negotiations got underway – she had to pinch herself as she stood in the audience section of the General Assembly applauding, with everyone else, as the Secretary-General proclaimed the treaty. Why she was standing, she couldn’t decide. She sat down as quickly as she could without being too obvious. It was, after all, the lousy text she had anticipated. Yes, there would be an intergovernmental working group that would monitor new technologies and provide public re-

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staff demonstrated their support for the change by hosting a birthday breakfast for the DirectorGeneral in their new lounge. Progressive historians have rightfully criticised de Gaspar for having promised more on the policy and programme front then he could deliver. More sympathetic folks say that while the Director-General did not swing WHO’s programmes and policies as far to the left as some might have wished he at least swung the doors open. Indigenous peoples and their organisations, urban and rural health coalitions, NGOs monitoring the pharmaceutical industry, women, and especially the disability rights movement were encouraged to take an active role in WHO intergovernmental debates and programme formation. WHO began to take an aggressively proactive role in encouraging new policy debates. It also became an active defender of the connection between health and food and, consequently, surprised governments by endorsing food sovereignty, the People’s Health Movement, community shared agriculture and others. In international trade negotiations and in human rights committees, WHO staff became encouraging – though sometimes clumsy – allies of movements that espoused community resilience and fought corporate globalisation. Di Gaspar himself was unhesitating in pointing the fi nger at governments that failed to meet the needs of their people or to respect international health covenants. After the fi rst year or so of honeymooning, the North got tough on the WHO budget and began reining in the Director-General. Over the years they had some success. Between budget cuts and constant sniping from the various intergovernmental committees, the Director-General sometimes lost his sense of balance and occasionally gave in too easily. Just before

his retirement, however, de Gaspar managed to push through a UN agency first – a ‘Freedom of Information’ policy that gave civil society – in every member country – the right to monitor and challenge intergovernmental decisions to an extent never before seen. From the outside WHO Watch continued to be a constructive critic. De Gaspar and Anita Krishna locked horns often. There were periods – lasting well over a year sometimes – when they didn’t speak. When the old man retired, however, Anita and the CSOs gave him a standing ovation from the balcony. It was only the third time Anita had ever been in the chamber, di Gaspar knew. When the next election rolled around, however, WHO Watch actively sought out good candidates from five continents. WHO’s critics of course like to point out that the ILO, UNESCO and FAO adopted CSO friendly policies without the pain and pressure that befell WHO. By 2035, the entire UN system had adopted a style more reflective of national governments in the 1970s. In 2028, when the old Secretary-General had to resign due to a stroke it was unquestioned that the UN General Assembly and Security Council would adhere to a transparent electoral process complete with CSO scrutiny. Although many criticised the UN system for having adjusted its style and not its substance, many others found it an important forum for introducing new issues and candidates. To his dying day, Anil Patal defended his record. In a biography written and published only a few months before his death, he continued to maintain that his election strategy and hiring policies were customary in the UN from at least the 1960s. He was, he proclaimed, an innocent victim of the world’s second great superpower.

Postscript – 2035
Qi Qubìng hit the remote and the scene of the Stockholm ceremony faded from his TV screen across the office. He felt good. He looked down at the piles of red-tagged folders covering his desk and sighed. He had promised to fly to Sweden for the weekend to visit old friends. The peace activist, Inga Thorvaldson, was having a party for the Right Livelihood Award (RLA) recipients at her home in Uppsala. Established more than half a century earlier, the RLA (its organisers liked to call it the Alternative Nobel Prize) had become the premier global CSO acknowledgment of good work. Each December, the day before the Nobel Peace Prize was presented, RLA recipients were honoured in the Swedish Parliament in a ceremony presided over by the national monarch. Anita, who knew Inga since her ILO days, had told him she might see him there. The chair of her board was receiving an RLA on behalf of WHO Watch. Qi swivelled in his chair and gazed out of the window across the lake as the city lights sparkled in the clear December air. After a few moments, he jumped to his feet and strode to the doorway. He was hungry and the cafeteria would still be open. By his nature, Qi didn’t eat in the cafeteria as often as the previous Director-General, but they served pizza on Fridays.

What if ? take 2

Resistance through the African Forum
2005 – Aksum, Ethiopia:
Even as a young child, Abebe Jideani knew that he was special. He loved it. His mother and father took extra time with him. More than his two older sisters, they carried him about, cuddled, and played with him until his siblings drew close to jealousy. Of course, the girls understood that he was carried because he could only move about on his own by crawling. But, the connection between ‘carrying’ and ‘not walking’ was never explicit in his mind. The boy knew that strangers considered him ‘deformed’ because his legs went only as far as other people’s knee joints and he had no feet. His mother, he knew, blamed the leaky pesticide warehouse that had butted up against their old house when the family had lived on the main road. She had a book that explained the toxic risks in pesticides. Not long after he was born, they moved as far away as they could manage – and, not long after that, the warehouse burnt down. Abebe’s father owned a truck and drove it everywhere in Ethiopia, carrying agricultural equipment one way and food the other way, and people whenever he couldn’t fi nd produce. Sometimes he was gone for weeks. At home in Aksum, Abebe’s mother – a schoolteacher – taught her children to read and write in both Amharic and English. By his eighth birthday, Abebe’s special family duty was to read aloud to his sisters and mother as they were preparing food, cleaning or sewing. Even when they realised he could do these chores as well, they kept him on top of a cupboard, where the window light was best, reading them whatever book or newspaper their mother had brought home. If there was nothing to be read, he would make up stories or turn his cupboard vantage point into a podium to harangue his sisters on the issues of the day. Abebe loved to tinker. When his father was at home, he helped him repair his truck, moving cat-like over the vehicle on his hands and leg stumps. When his father was away, he would go down to his uncle’s garage to help out the mechanics by fetching spare parts and tools.

On his 13th birthday, the mechanics made him a wheelchair, cobbled together from old bicycles and car parts. One evening, not long after, his father hoisted him up on his shoulders and the two headed off into the hills above the town. These evening excursions – when it was cooler

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and work was done for the day – were Abebe’s favourite times. ‘School’s no use to you,’ his father announced. ‘Your mother has taught you how to learn and you can learn everything else you need from books on your own. Why don’t you become a lorry driver like me?’ He adjusted the boy on his shoulders. ‘In fact, why don’t you become my co-driver? I’ll teach you the trade as we work.’ Abebe was ecstatic. But how would he drive? For the answer, he and his father visited his uncle’s garage where Abebe’s friends, the mechanics – with uncle and father – were already solving the problem. The vehicle modifications – through trial and error – took the better part of six months, but, in the end, the family truck was transformed into a machine his unconventional limbs could master.

He was released later that same day but spent another two weeks negotiating with the relief committee for a replacement truck. Good luck and a particularly kindly Ghanaian quartermaster got him a new truck just off the train from Djibouti. It took another week for local mechanics to adjust his jerry-rigged system to the new vehicle. Then, promising his friends he would be safe, Abebe made the eight-day journey back to his mother and sisters in Aksum. The memorial ceremony was held at the Coptic Church. Two days after, Abebe drove into the vegetable market to load up for the trip to Addis. The local farmer’s cooperative hired lorries every week for the journey. His father – though not always able to make it – was their preferred driver. The manager of the co-op had been at the memorial ceremony but he was surprised to see the boy. His hesitation was only momentary. ‘Load him up,’ he told the farmers, and an hour later, Abebe Jideani was on the road.

Father and son travelled the highways and byways of Africa. Their reliability and skill as a team became famous among lorry-drivers and contractors. First, Oxfam, and later, World Vision and CARE hired them for emergency relief convoys. Abebe Jideani and his dad became expert at travel anywhere from the Horn of Africa to Southern Africa. Before each trip, Abebe’s mother stacked the lorry cabin with books. Whoever wasn’t driving was charged with reading whatever the driver wanted to hear. As the months and years rolled by, the two worked their way through the fiction and non-fiction sections of every library and bookstore from Khartoum to Harare.

Not a year after his father’s death, Abebe was back in the Darfur region of the Sudan leading convoys for the UN emergency relief programme. Each UN team leader, in turn, had to adjust to the sight of the ‘gimpy’ lead convoy driver who had to crawl into his truck. But, as one team leader replaced another in the rotating cycle of UN organisation, each new boss was advised to follow Abebe Jideani’s lead. Jeff Tolbert of ABC – the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – claims credit for having been the fi rst to ‘discover’ Abebe Jideani. Even Tolbert, however, admits that Abebe was discovered more than once. One of his camera crew, during a documentary fi lming in one of the Sudanese relief camps, caught Abebe clambering into his truck and signalling for the convoy to follow. The cameraman didn’t notice him until he was reviewing the fi lm that night, when he brought it to Tolbert’s attention. The next afternoon, following an interview with the local UN agency quartermaster, Tolbert mentioned the driver and asked if the officer knew anything about him. Indeed, the Ghanaian did. Three days later, Jeff Tolbert caught up with Abebe when he returned to the relief camp with more supplies. The crew clambered into the back of his truck and Jeff took the passenger seat. By the time they arrived at the base station, Tol-

Abebe Jideani’s father was killed during a relief convoy to Darfur that had become a regular route for them. Because of his father’s experience, their lorry was leading the convoy when it struck a landmine. Abebe owed his life to the metal paraphernalia on the floor of the cab that allowed him to drive. Not so for his father who was dozing in the passenger seat. The older man had his legs blown off and was flung through the open roof onto the roadside. The rapid blood loss was impossible to stem and he died, shivering, in his son’s embrace. The boy, barely 17, had the presence of mind to extricate his driving contraption from the twisted wreckage before the UN peacekeepers carted him off to a mobile medical station 100 km down the road.

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bert knew he had a good story and his crew was desperate for beer. They spent hours editing out Abebe’s most picturesque English expletives that punctuated every second sentence as the young driver diluted commands to the convoy through his radio phone. Behind the wheel, Abebe was a fist-thumping, fast-talking road warrior. Away from his truck, he was charming and humorous with an infectious smile. The fi lm footage, not unexpectedly, was picked up in several countries and Abebe Jideani had his 15 seconds of fame. One of those who watched the human interest footage, beer in hand, on her television set at home in Sweden, was Inga Thorvaldson. National vice-president of the Chemical Workers’ Union, Thorvaldson was in charge of her union’s international relations including their development fund. Each union member contributed 0.7 per cent of their wages to the fund. Thorvaldson was also an executive member of the coordinating committee of social movements and NGOs that facilitated the World Social Forum.

was arguing that it was Africa’s century. The vicissitudes of climate change for both the Sahara and sub-Saharan parts of the continent had been brutal and almost entirely unpredictable. At the same time, international demand for Africa’s abundant mineral resources and extensive plantation crops, were on a sharp decline. The combination, for many states, meant near-collapse, massive unemployment, hunger and disease.

The television image was long forgotten, however, by the time Inga Thorvaldson attended the World Social Forum (WSF) planning meeting in Addis Ababa a year later. The African Union was pressuring the WSF to hold its next global Forum in Zimbabwe. The last Forum, in Bangkok, had drawn 200,000 participants and the organisers were eager to maintain the momentum. Many felt that an African venue would severely dampen attendance because of the high costs of travel, especially for Africans. In the best carrot-and-stick tradition, the AU officials promised subsidised air travel (fi nancially supported by the EU) and an impressive electrified tent city arrangement close to the airport. Only one other global Forum had been held in Africa almost two decades earlier and the AU negotiators hinted that any declining of their offer would be discriminatory. In the end, with obvious misgivings, the WSF executive agreed that the next Forum could be in Harare, Zimbabwe. As a cautious proponent of the Harare venue, Thorvaldson felt obliged to join the organising committee and committed half her working time to that task in the year leading up to the gathering. If it could be debated whether the 21st century was America’s century or China’s, but nobody

On the record books, the fi rst three decades of the 21st century described a gradual, though often disrupted, trend toward multi-party democracies and (relatively) free elections. Yet, somehow, democracy on paper didn’t translate into social policies or planning that offered any benefits to the almost 500 million rural peasants and urban unemployed that made up the majority of the continent’s population. With the deterioration of domestic affairs came increased violence. An ever larger share of socalled ‘foreign aid’ came to Africa in credits to purchase police and military hardware. The same nano-scale technologies that were wreaking havoc in Africa’s raw material exports became one of Africa’s leading imports as governments sought surveillance equipment including cameras, sensors and monitoring networks for border security, and – increasingly – to keep tabs on opposition politicians and social movements. The new, light, tough and supposedly non-lethal weapons that had become fashionable in the North were also in demand among the fashionconscious oligopolies of Africa.
After one of her infrequent visits back to the African Union’s capital, Alitash Teferra, noted the paradox in her report. She also questioned the ethics and effectiveness of the new technologies in testimony before the AU’s committee on international trade. ‘In general,’ she told them, ‘these new systems are too sensitive and too sophisticated for use in rugged environments. The “smart dust” sensors that guard the border between the United States and Mexico react to everything from dust storms to bird droppings. Three years ago, unusually strong north winds forced migrating monarch butterfl ies on their way into the United States to fly so close to the ground they were picked up by the sensors. The Texas National Guard was called out and the whole southwestern air force command was scrambled before someone thought to fly along the border in a Piper Cub, proving that a million or more Mexicans were not actually charging the frontier. The nanocameras that were experimentally placed at eve-

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ry intersection in Prague last summer were designed to be ultra-sensitive to infra-red light. The cameras spent the entire summer focused on their own infra-red lights, in effect, spying on themselves, while the citizens and crooks went about their business totally undetected down below. It cost the Czechs almost as much to remove the cameras as it did to buy and instal them.’ Tash saved her deepest scorn for the Chinese army’s experiments with Piezers. ‘The ultra-light, ultra-thin rifles turned out to react erratically to temperature swings. In colder climates – or even after the sun goes down – the electrical charge seems to boost itself. Soldiers who set their guns to “stun” in battle simulations wound up killing one another. When they adjusted for temperature, they found that even the heat and sweat on the hands of infantrymen was enough sometimes to drop the electrical charge to the level of uselessness.’ Suyuan Woo had told her of one riot in a rural market town not far from Beijing where the police had given up shooting with the Piezers and had grabbed the barrels and used the super-strong nano material as an old-fashioned bludgeon. ‘In sum,’ the young diplomat told the committee, ‘Africa is once again being used as a dumping ground for China’s and Europe’s fi rst-generation technological experiments. These weapons will, at best, work adequately half the time – which means they will put down about half the riots and revolts. African governments would put down a lot more riots and revolts if the foreign aid money were spent on agriculture and health.’ Her partner, Suyuan Woo, had done a wonderful job disassembling the new military technologies in her blog. The dramatic difference between lab and battlefield conditions – the so-called ‘fog of war’ – almost always meant that adventurous new technologies would take a decade or more to be practically useful. In the fi rst Gulf War, for example, the US air force had bragged about its smart bombs that could be fi red from an aircraft at 40,000 feet down the smokestack of a munitions plant. Only when the war was over did the statistics show that these smart bombs were hardly more accurate than conventional Vietnam-era bombs. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were also far from technological triumphs. Their conversation about new military technologies had taken place over dinner – much to Qi Qubìng’s grumpy displeasure – in a Chinese restaurant serving Chinese food. Poking at his plate with his chopsticks, Qi rose to the defence of the

new technologies. ‘So you’re saying we can just laugh at nuclear weapons?’ he asked. ‘We haven’t had them for so long and they are almost untried under battlefield conditions! A hundred years ago, armies in the Spanish civil war used horses and bayonets until Germany got into the act, experimenting with tanks and aircraft. It may take time, but technologies have made a major change to how we conduct our wars. Look at the impact of night vision goggles’ – he stabbed his food – ‘US troops and airplanes had a ball picking off targets when they were the only ones who could see in Iraq and Afghanistan. What about those daisy-cutter bombs that can kill everything living thing within a 1000 metre radius?’ he demanded. ‘Or, the bunker-buster bombs?’ he grinned triumphantly. Against her own will, Suyuan Woo contributed to his argument. ‘It’s true that the new technologies – especially nanotechnology – have made the notion of tactical field nuclear weapons more acceptable. Whether they actually work or not, having them on the battlefield changes just about everything.’ ‘Maybe, it’s a matter of perception,’ Tash contributed. ‘We never see change close-up. We’re like the frog on the lily pad in a pot of water as it begins to boil. When he notices, it’s too late.’ They ate on in silence for some time, Tash looking in a restaurant mirror at the three of them, thinking maybe they were friends after all.

Alitash and Suyuan Woo managed to arrange their schedules so that Tash’s briefing to the AU meeting in Johannesburg coincided with the journalist’s participation in the Harare World Social Forum. After years of being ignored by the world media, the huge Forum was fi nally gaining the attention it deserved. Suyuan Woo attended both as a reporter and as a speaker. In fact, she had become one of the Forums ‘stars’. The journalist frankly acknowledged, however, that she met more interesting people and learned more at the WSF than in any other place or time. For Inga Thorvaldson, the organisation of the Social Forum had been a 12-month nightmare of internal petty CSO politics mixed with the deteriorating geopolitics of Africa, in general, and southern Africa, in particular. Since the AU had arm-twisted and guilt-tripped them into holding the event in Harare, the Zimbabwean gov-

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ernment had got itself entangled in border clashes with Zambia over control of the water flow in the Zambezi river. Both countries were sabre-rattling and buying arms. Tensions between the two countries had run high for a decade when mining company geologists first discovered seams of copper and platinum running deep under the Zambezi river border line. Each country had expelled tribal populations feared to be disloyal and refugee camps had blossomed on either side of the bridge crossing at Chirundu. Weeks before the Forum was to begin, organisers feared they were flying a couple of hundred thousand people into the jaws of war. The United States was advising its citizens to stay clear of the region. Everyone else was hoping the United States would stay clear. Britain, Australia, and New Zealand followed suit. Ever since 2003 and the mass demonstrations around the Iraq war, the WSF saw itself as the embodiment of the ‘other superpower’ as the mass mobilisation was dubbed by the New York Times. Peace demonstrations were always a major part of national, regional, and global Social Forums. The largest demonstrations involved Israel and Palestine but the crumbling economies of most of the South gave the peace activists ample opportunities for expression. By 2025, the whole psyche of the WSF phenomenon was ready to do something more… The mood suited Inga Thorvaldson. As a teenager in Hong Kong in 2005, she had marched with her parents and the impressive South Korean farmers carrying a huge family-designed banner calling for George W. Bush to get out of the Middle East, on one side, and for the WTO to get out of agriculture on the other. Beside them marched a loud Chinese journalist named Suyuan Woo, arm in arm with a Brazilian farm organiser. But, her ‘hippies from the ’60s’ parents were, more than anything else, peaceniks. She had it in her genes. Although she did not consider herself a Christian, Inga left university in her second year to take a turn with a Christian peace witness brigade in Baghdad. She came home six months later with what the doctors described as a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder after two of her Christian colleagues were killed. Her experience only hardened her commitment to peace and her passion for resistance. By 2020, Thorvaldson was a labour lawyer interning with the International Labour Organization in Geneva. The excitement of working

for a United Nations agency wore thin quickly and, before long, Inga moved down the hill to the headquarters of the International Red Cross. Tiny for a Swede, and with unconventional dark-brown hair and eyes (her passport insisted on describing her as ‘dark blonde’), she was recognised by her superiors for her energy and toughness and she became one of the Red Cross’ top troubleshooters when negotiations with governments or warring factions got rough. Although the work was real and relevant, she found the rule-bound Red Cross restrictive. On a visit home to her parents in Stockholm one Christmas, she stayed on to talk with old friends in the trade union movement. By spring, she was national vice president of the Chemical Workers’ Union and part of the Swedish government’s observer team in Khartoum, Sudan. This was where she fi rst met Abebe Jideani. The Swedish mission in Khartoum had hired him, sight unseen, on the advice of a UN military officer, to take the observers on an inspection tour of the Darfur region. Once they got over the initial shock of Abebe’s wheelchair, they found their guide and coordinator to be all his Ghanaian mentor said he would be. Sitting beside Abebe in the lead lorry, Inga loved his storytelling and found herself laughing through the boiling sun and sweat and dust storms as the five-vehicle convoy lurched from one refugee camp to the next. On the third day out, Abebe, with the aid of his GPS device, brought the convoy to a halt in the middle of nowhere. Responding to Inga’s look of inquiry, the young man said, ‘Smart dust. There’s a strip of land ahead of us maybe 10 metres deep, covered in nanomonitors.’ Inga knew about Smart dust – invisible nano sensors that were networked into an array to send back real-time information to whoever had distributed them. ‘Do they belong to the government?’ she asked. Abebe answered that they did and that they were supposed to send a wireless coded message to Khartoum before passing through the network in order not to trigger an attack. ‘But,’ Abebe told Inga, ‘this field was deployed at least a year ago. The other side must already know about it and they will have compromised the network so that it also serves as a border patrol for them. The thing about Smart dust is that each individual nano module is not so smart. Telling Khartoum that what we’re going through also tells the other side that we are coming.’

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‘What do we do?’ she asked. With a helpful boost from Inga, Abebe scampered into the back of his lorry returning with what looked like a pesticide spray backpack. It was. Minutes later, following Abebe’s instructions issued in the shadow of his truck, Inga was hiking along an imaginary border spraying a live microbial pesticide into the stone and dirt beyond. She did this for about 100 metres before the tank emptied and she returned to the truck. ‘How can you be sure I didn’t cross into the sensors and set off alarms?’ She asked Abebe, dropping down beside him in the shade. ‘There’s not enough of you,’ he grinned. ‘You have about the same-sized footprint as a hyena or big bird. The sensors may report you but their watchers will ignore you. Meanwhile,’ he added, ‘that microbe spray is creating chaos. All of the sensors are screaming at one another. Both sides will risk the energy loss of calling up real-time photographs sent from the sensors so that they can figure out what’s going on. When they examine the photos, they will see nothing and conclude that there is some sort of insect swarm causing the problem. We’ll wait an hour or so and then cross. The sensors will still be going crazy but the watchers won’t pay any attention.’ A week later, they were back in Khartoum and Inga had persuaded the Geneva-based Anti-War Mobilization Committee to hire Abebe Jideani on contract as their operations manager in the Sudan and Horn of Africa. Abebe had another 15 seconds of fame on Swedish television when the observer team returned to Stockholm. Inga Thorvaldson was not so much surprised as delighted to meet Abebe again during the Sudan peace negotiations. The young man’s charm and facility with languages had made him an excellent go-between for the warring factions. He was trusted by all sides. By the time another fragile ceasefire was brokered and announced in the media, Abebe had flown back to Khartoum to drive his lorry home to Aksum to care for his aging mother. His two sisters, by this time, were married, living in Addis, and – with young children of their own – couldn’t always tend to their mother who was too stubborn to leave her home town. The very day the WSF executive resigned itself to holding its next Forum in Zimbabwe, Inga Thorvaldson contacted Abebe Jideani and asked him to be the lead member of the Swedish trade union’s contribution to WSF preparations. It would mean moving to Harare and turning over

his lorry business to his uncle and cousins for the year. Abebe was hesitant but, over a dinner with Inga – who drove to Nazaret to persuade him – he agreed. Looking back, neither Inga nor Abebe can quite remember where the idea came from. It could be argued, of course, that there weren’t many options. The AU was making noises that – because of the border tensions with Zambia – maybe the Forum could be postponed. Scouts for Fox and CNN and BBC were already in the capital, hiring trucks and helicopters, and booking hotel rooms in the event that the border skirmishes blew up into real entertainment. After returning from an early dinner with Abebe one evening, Inga got onto Skype and began calling anti-war colleagues from New York to Stockholm, Bangkok and Cairo. Abebe, meanwhile, got into his truck and drove the short distance to the cathedral. The next morning, Abebe was at the corner of the market where lorries were hired, negotiating with drivers. Inga visited the emergency relief NGOs to talk about their trucks. (CARE and Oxfam now maintain that their drivers didn’t steal the trucks but only took them before the final written clearances from headquarters had been received due to the lack of time.) Despite the tensions and apprehensions, the opening march of the World Social Forum was estimated – by both police and media – as numbering at least 100,000. Although far short of the record, the organisers were nervously enthusiastic and the vast tent camp on the outskirts of Harare was overflowing with the young and old from every corner of the world. It was at the opening rally that Inga Thorvaldson – with Abebe Jideani contributing – took the microphone and told the sea of activists that the Zimbabwe and Zambian governments were at the point of war and that the battlefront where both armies were massing – on opposite sides of a bridge crossing the Zambezi River – left two of the largest refugee camps in southern Africa smack in the middle. Trucks, she told them, would be waiting at the tent camp at 4 a.m. the next day for those willing to take the Forum to the refugee camps as a human shield to protect the camps and keep the two armies apart. Even as she spoke, Inga couldn’t be certain that they would have the vehicles they needed for the 366 km trek.

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The uproar was immediate and international. Fox and CNN – who usually did their best to ignore the WSF – had a story they couldn’t resist. The Zimbabwe government went ballistic. During the night, soldiers and plainclothes agents searched through the tent camp looking for Inga and Abebe without success. At four o’clock in the morning, the trucks – which had been dribbling through the brush to the camp throughout the night – were surrounded by police and soldiers who attempted to keep the Forum activists from the vehicles. They couldn’t. Short of tear-gassing the entire Social Forum in full view of the BBC World Service’s cameras, they had to stand down and let everyone crowd onto the vehicles. Seen from the air, in the early morning haze, the ragged procession was not so impressive. As impressive were the number of lorries that dropped out along the roadside – also picked up by the television cameras – as engines broke down or ran out of petrol. At most, the BBC estimated, 20,000 or 30,000 activists had found places on the trucks. While another band of perhaps 10,000 were threatening to walk the several hundred kilometres to the refugee camps, no one took them seriously. Talking by satellite phone with friends back in the tent city, Inga and Abebe wondered if their ‘Children’s Crusade’ – as Fox had begun to call it – was destined to failure and humiliation. ‘Why doesn’t the air force just swat us?’ Thorvaldson demanded of Abebe as she involuntarily slouched in her seat when a military helicopter buzzed overhead. ‘They might,’ the young man responded, ‘but not without at least the tacit permission of the Northern governments that arm them. We’re on the North’s periphery; we’re not really important to them; we can only cause problems if we attract too much attention.’ Then he added softly, ‘Interesting isn’t it? This may be their periphery but it’s my heartland.’ They drove on in silence, heading north through the arid Zambesi valley of western Mashonaland. Back in Harare, the WSF was in turmoil, with everyone gathered in whatever shade they could fi nd to listen to their radios and hear the gossip from people with mobiles. At mid-morning, a man in clerical robes drove up to the main stage in the ubiquitous old Mercedes and asked one of the organisers if he could address the crowd. Who was he, they asked? The bishop of a local Christian church, he told them. He fi rst spoke in excellent English and then repeated his statement in French. He was going to join the activists at the refugee camps. On be-

half of his church, he was asking all bus drivers in Harare to fi ll up with petrol and come to the Social Forum to take whoever wished to go with the bishop to the camps. Before the government could shut down the media coverage, the news spread throughout the city. The crowd in the Forum whooped and cheered. By late afternoon, at least another 40,000 were on buses, starting the eight-hour drive to the border, and the world media had the camera images they needed to make a major story. Some say it was the young Dalai Lama who contacted the cleric. Others say it was the other way around. The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches got into the act on her own and it was she who telephoned a number of influential Mullahs and the Pope. As the fi rst African prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Gregory was an arch-conservative. Nevertheless, he was also African and this was a peace movement on his continent. The day after the buses joined the trucks in the refugee camps, the leadership of seven major religions – working hard to look like leaders rather than followers – were on their way to be with the peacemakers. The war was averted. The two armies pulled back from little Chirundu – the village that straddled both sides of the bridge and serviced the two refugee camps. Before the Social Forum would have normally ended, the armies were recalled to their barracks. The government in Harare fell peacefully and a coalition government was formed to prepare for elections. A few days later, the Zambian government also resigned and elections were called. The provisional governments in both countries announced that they would take their dispute to the World Court. Following the last meeting of the WSF organising committee in Harare, a news conference was held where the chair of the organising committee, the MST organiser from Brazil, who had befriended Thorvaldson’s family in Hong Kong so many years before, announced the committee’s decision, ‘The World Social Forum,’ he declared, ‘will continue to be an open place for discussion and dialogue for the progressive forces of civil society. But, above all else, we are a Forum that is for peace and against poverty.’ (These last words had been negotiated over many hours.) ‘From now on, as we join hands with the antiwar movement, we will take our marches and our Forum not just into the streets of friendly cities and not simply to protest against power, we will use the power of civil society to take direct action in the midst of war zones, as we have here

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in Africa, and we will block the manufacture and transport of munitions among the countries and corporations that fuel war and oppression.’ The WSF’s admittedly modest victory on the Zambian border nevertheless imbued the peace movement with a confidence and an energy they had never felt before. Civil society – from climate change activists, to the Community Shared Agriculture network, and public health coalitions – rallied in common cause with the peace movement at every opportunity. The WSF model, which had been growing steadily since its beginnings in 2001, exploded into municipality, national, continental, and world meetings. As its power grew, the ‘other superpower’ also had its weaknesses. Hardly had the WSF organisers boarded their fl ights out of Harare, when the political manoeuvering began – between the social movements and the super egos – to get to the top of the public pyramid. ‘Where there is power, there is fighting,’ Abebe told Inga over dinner one evening in Geneva. The internal politicking and public bickering almost sank the Forum as the peace movement’s warring factions fought for control of the agenda. It was out of the near-debacle and the fear it could all collapse that wiser heads and broader interests prevailed and order was restored. ‘Well, if not order,’ Suyuan Woo commented to Tash, ‘at least the constructive chaos we have grown used to.’ Back in Zimbabwe – in the farms near Chirundu – things did not exactly return to normal. What was to have been a battlefield – the lands around the two refugee camps – became farmland once again and, gradually, as farm families

grew confident that the soldiers would not soon return, crops were planted. The radios were full of warnings of land mines but the choice was between certain starvation and the possible loss of a limb. Every day brought new stories of death or dismemberment somewhere in the former battle zone. There was nothing to do but go on with the business of farming. A young girl who threw a stone that detonated a mine a few meters away from where her mother was about to start planting became another 15second hero on the international news – mostly because a South African fi lm crew happened to be in Chirundu conducting a post-mortem on ‘the battle that never was’. What didn’t make the news was what the child found after the detonation. Although all of the village’s children had been told to stay out of the field, the search for momentos was irresistible. The day after the explosion, she retrieved a metal shard bearing a serial number and, almost at the same time, her eye fell on a scrap of paper probably left behind by the decamping soldiers. The paper was a map of the region and it bore the logo of a giant mining company. Proudly, she brought her trophies home, intending to place the shell fragment prominently on the doorpost of their home. The paper she gave to her father who, she was sure, knew people who could read it for her. To her dismay, her father took both the fragment and the paper to a farmer’s meeting a few days later and gave them to one of the organisers. Several days later, the organiser went to Harare for another meeting. It was at least a month before someone in the Harare farm office pointed out the paper and the shell to Abebe Jideani. The

How Next : Is there a place for collective long-term strategic organising?
Actually, no Even pseudo-formalised CSO collaboration over the long term would lead to elitism and/or intense distrust. Any attempt at formalisation would waste vast quantities of scarce time, energy, and money. Intuitive foresight Although far from perfect, the level of collaborative strategic planning (mostly in the shortterm, however) is increasing significantly. Progressive CSOs are evolving a ‘shared vision‘ and working together, as needed, in symbiotic strategies. It is difficult to imagine formal processes that would actually work. Actually, yes The current level of collaboration is neither long term nor consistent, but it is nevertheless personalised, elitist and subjective. A more formal long-term strategy would be institutional, less personalitydriven and transparent (within the CSO community).

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trucker had returned to Harare to retrieve his lorry which had been badly in need of repairs after the Forum. Abebe had dropped in for tea and a visit with the president of the farm organisation before taking the long journey home to Aksum. Abebe knew that the manufacturing of land mines violated an international treaty established three decades earlier. Thinking that the serial number might be traceable, he took both items to an acquaintance at the Swedish embassy. The map was still more interesting. Clearly a high-quality computer-generated geological map, it encompassed the two refugee camps and surrounding territory. Although they couldn’t make sense of the map’s symbols, it was evident that there was something important in the terrain around the camps. What Abebe was sure of was that the mining company was part of the Terra-Forma consortia – one of the two huge multinational industry consortia addressing climate change. Lacking the time and resources to investigate, Abebe asked the friendly diplomat to send both items to Inga Thorvaldson. The packet was waiting for her when Inga came back from a union convention in Uppsala. If it had come from anyone other than Abebe Jidean she would have relegated the package to the heaps of paper on her desk never to be seen again. Instead, she enlisted the help of one of the chemical technicians on the union’s staff. The serial number was useless but beneath it was a detectable nanoscale RFID transmitter the technician easily decoded. The transmitter had been incapacitated by the mine’s explosion but it was still possible to read its signal instructions. The tag networked to a family of satellites built by TerraForma, presumably, to monitor ocean currents. A quick search on the Internet confi rmed that the map had been constructed by the Chinese subsidiary of the vast mining conglomerate that was also one of the four lead partners in TerraForma. The map’s symbols – so inscrutable to Abebe – were the Chinese character for platinum.

in Geneva, having a glass of wine before heading downtown to dinner. In the weeks since her union had identified Abebe’s treasures, Inga had hardly had time to think about their implications. She had told Alitash mostly for the sheer fun of ‘conspiracy theory’ than because she believed it had any significance. Tash was interested, ‘If that fragment was part of a land mine then the company is in violation of the UN treaty,’ the Ethiopian diplomat said thoughtfully, ‘but, maybe it’s just something a survey crew uses to blast into rock to make tests. It may have had nothing to do with the military at all.’ ‘My technician says it’s a land mine,’ Thorvaldson interrupted. ‘He saw a lot of them in the second Gulf War...but I suppose we can’t be sure.’ Inga and Tash were attending a strategy meeting convened by the World Council of Churches to consider the South’s and civil society’s response to the proposed Technology Transfer Treaty (TTT). Officially, the TTT parentheses fi rst introduced for negotiation in 2024) were the inspiration of the US government supported by China. Unofficially, everyone knew that the real pressure to establish the treaty was coming from the TerraForma and Atom-Sphere consortia. Ostensibly, the treaty was to facilitate the transfer of critical technologies from OECD states to the global South. But, the draft TTT negotiating text had embedded clusters of provisions that not only legitimated multi-industry cartels but also sanctioned technology monopolies that absolutely denied access to countries deemed to lack the competence to ensure safe use. Other text clusters gave countries the authority to close their borders on a national or regional basis to the people or products of countries or regions that might compromise their technological security. Some of the provisions would have been thought extraordinary a decade or two earlier but were now accepted almost without question. For example, the TTT established a global intellectual property regime at US acceptance standards – and backdated patent protection for two decades in countries where such protection had not previously existed. In one stroke, the TTT would make patent infringement a matter of criminal law rather than civil dispute and Interpol and the International Criminal Court could be brought in to defend corporate interests. As advertised, of course, the TTT did promise

‘Coincidence?’, Inga asked Alitash Tefare. It was about a month later and the two women were sitting in the lounge of the John Knox Center

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to make useful technologies available to developing countries and to waive patent licensing fees where the technologies could be considered vital to the health and well-being of countries. In return for this, however, recipient states would be obliged to RFID-tag all products using donated technologies so that they could not bounce back to the North and bite the patent-holder in its home market. In effect, the provisions consigned the poorest countries to local markets and virtually prohibited exports. ‘The thing is,’ Inga said as the two women walked down the hill into town, ‘the map found next to the mine shard shows that there are significant platinum deposits in the border zone between Zimbabwe and Zambia – right where the refugee camps are located. The mining company could have wanted to remove the refugee camps and make sure that one of the two countries had clear sovereignty over the region before they negotiated access.’ ‘Why would they want platinum at all,’ Tash asked, ‘it still has ornamental value but its industrial properties are becoming irrelevant. Platinum used to be irreplaceable in batteries but now nanoparticles of nickel can do the same job at a fraction of the price. Platinum costs USD 840 an ounce – nickel costs about the same per ton.’ ‘Well, you don’t have mining companies searching for something they don’t want in war zones,’ Inga said thoughtfully. ‘The mine shard and the map didn’t just blow in on some accidental trade wind.’ Before she turned in that night, Inga sent off an e-mail to the union’s technical expert in Stockholm, asking for more information about the use of nickel in replacing platinum in batteries. Nickel and platinum were hardly burning issues for the chemical union but the whole intrigue was just too delicious not to pursue. She caught up with Tash as the CSO crowd was leaving the Geneva Ecumenical Center two days later. The strategy session was over and the results were inconclusive. There was universal agreement that the TTT was to be challenged country by country and at the United Nations. A coordinating committee had been identified and tasked to fi nance a war chest at least for the UN lobby exercise. Yet, the activists were having trouble pinpointing the media focal point in the complex treaty that could give them the best political leverage. At the closing session, the sense of frustration and defeat was palpable.

‘You’ll probably think this is silly,’ Inga told Tash, ‘but my union has been digging into the nickel versus platinum nanotech thing.’ Tash grinned, ‘I love mysteries.’ ‘Nanotech companies have been predicting for decades that cheap nickel could replace expensive platinum in virtually every industrial market including batteries. We’ve found corporate hype about this going back almost to the beginning of this century. In 2010 or 2011, in fact, a couple of companies actually introduced batteries that only used nickel. They were pulled off the market two or three years later when it became obvious the batteries couldn’t perform as advertised.’ Inga was almost whispering. ‘Meantime, of course, the platinum market had collapsed – prices were at an all-time low. But,’ she folded her arms, ‘that didn’t stop the biggest mining companies from gobbling up smaller platinum companies at bargain-basement prices and taking over their mineral stockpiles.’ ‘You’re incorrigible,’ Tash told her, ‘Nanoparticle formulations of nickel are back in batteries today and the industrial market for platinum is down again. You’re right, generation one of the nickel particles was a failure but they seem to have solved the technical problems now. All you’re telling me is that the mining conglomerate’s made a bad investment.’ That evening, a group of the TTT activists sat outside on the lawns of the John Knox Center drinking wine and chatting. Most had early fl ights the next day. Tash asked Inga to tell the group about her union’s investigations. Two glasses of wine helped the lawyer to overcome her natural caution. When she had fi nished, a Filipino – who worked with an NGO training centre for union organisers – added to the conspiracy. ‘The problem with nickel nanoparticles a couple of decades ago,’ he told them, ‘wasn’t that they didn’t work in batteries, it was that the batteries – when thrown away – allowed the particles to seep into the water table. Batteries are bad enough by themselves but nickel nanoparticles were so durable and persistent that they killed off important soil microorganisms and fi ltered into the nervous systems of every vertebrate they encountered. The companies pulled the batteries off the market, citing technical problems, rather than face charges from regulators and consumers that they were poisoning the water supply.’ He added, ‘A 70 nm particle can enter your cells and stir up free radi-

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cals; at 20 nm, nickel cannot be seen by the immune system and particles can pass through the blood-brain barrier and the placenta.’ From her position, lying on the grass a short distance away, an Indonesian human rights worker chimed in. ‘We hear rumours about problems at the nickel mines in Sulawesi, and Halmahara,’ she told the group. ‘The mine workers are OK but the people working in the manufacturing facilities think they are being poisoned. The conglomerate says they’re hallucinating. After all, the manufacturing facility is almost 100 per cent automated; people are only needed for quality control and labelling shipping containers. We’ve tried to look into it – but not very hard. It didn’t seem like such a big issue. Maybe we should look again.’ She squinted through the darkness at her colleagues. By the time they had all wandered to their rooms, an informal working group of the TTT campaign had come into being. Inga was to exploit the technical resources of her union further, to gather more information on nanotechnology and nanoparticle substitutes for raw materials. Tash was to survey African governments for recent developments in mining company activities and mineral markets. The human rights activist from Indonesia committed herself to going back to the workers for more information and the Filipino organiser offered to dredge through the archives on nanotechnology products and processes. An emergency meeting of the TTT resistance campaign was hurriedly put together a few months later. Now, it was winter, and the John Knox Center was delightfully blanketed in crystaline fluff. Because the World Council offices were crowded with other meetings, the Center’s breakfast room was converted into their meeting space. The young kid from the Philippine NGO chaired. Inga had persuaded Greenpeace – trying hard these days to cosy up to social movements – to cough up the travel money for Abebe Jideani. Missing only was Tash who couldn’t arrange her AU permits and travel documents in time. WHO Watch, in the form of Anita Krishna, joined them at Inga Thorvaldson’s urging. The Filipino kid ran through the basics: yes, the metal fragment and map uncovered in Zimbabwe were both the property of Terra-Forma’s mining partner. Any doubt that the metal shard belonged to a land mine were gone. It was the illegal product of a Chinese subsidiary of the mining conglomerate. About a half-year before the

border dispute developed between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Atom-Sphere had had a crew in the region of the refugee camps investigating what they described to the government as ‘seismic abnormalities ‘ that could affect sensitive monitoring devices queued to their stratosphere nanoparticle arrays. Preliminary reports from the investigating team indicated the need for further research. Even as the TTT campaign group was meeting in Geneva, the mining conglomerate was doing follow-up analysis of the anomalies suggested in their fi rst study. Here alone were grounds for Human Rights or Criminal Court proceedings, the Indonesian lawyer interjected. The Indonesians, the lawyer went on, had other news. Union workers in the nickel mines there had contacted their counterparts in Canada and found that each group was dealing with unexpectedly high frequencies of lung inflammation and cancer. Most – but not all – of the cases reported were after the mining conglomerate had introduced its semi-automated nickel nanoparticle processing facilities. There was also evidence of major health problems among workers in battery-cell factories using nickel particles. Meanwhile, unionists in the Canadian industry were picking up rumours from middle management that some mines and facilities might be shut down due to ‘production irregularities’. As each member of the working group reported, the picture that unfolded was one of a collapsing technology being shored up by government subsidies and industry propaganda. Rather than reducing energy demand, the cost of manufacturing nanoparticles – although lower – continued to be exorbitant. As once the nuclear power industry had promised to make electricity too cheap to monitor, nanotechnology – ‘the peaceful use of the atom once more with feeling’, the Filipino kid joked – was too expensive to meet the world’s needs. And, like the nuclear industry, the health and environmental risks were proving much harder to handle than anticipated. It was not clear whether the two global consortia had actually anticipated these technological problems – or, whether they were simply scrambling now to survive the fallout if the technological failure became irreversible. What was clear was that the world’s governments and fi nancial markets were continuing to assume that nanotechnology was a success. With this assumption, raw material markets were depressed as were the stocks of those mining com-

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panies still clinging to the old technologies. Terra-Forma and Atom-Sphere were taking advantage of the buyer’s market to pick up companies and mineral reserves. Under the guise of searching for seismic faults, Terra-Form’s mining partner was surveying and acquiring the vast mineral deposits of central and southern Africa. Similar efforts and acquisitions were taking place in the Andes and the Himalayas and across the vast archipelago of Indonesia. ‘Those bastards are using the TTT to give themselves immunity,’ Inga Thorvaldson exclaimed, pounding the breakfast table. ‘And to gobble up all the old-line companies, technologies, and resources at bargain-basement prices,’ Abebe added. There was more information from WHO Watch. Anita Krishna’s team had a ‘Deep Throat’ – someone inside one of the consortia – who had written evidence of the consortia’s collusion and their prior knowledge of nanotech’s environmental risks in the stratosphere and on ocean surfaces. WHO Watch couldn’t disclose details yet, but the working group was assured that the documentation would unleash a media hurricane. It was after midnight before the group felt able to adjourn to their beds. There was more research to be done and conversations to be had with a number of governments and UN officials, but – unless something unexpected turned up – an action plan was in place.

Secretary-General announced a two hour delay in the proceedings. Alerted in advance, most of the OECD countries were nowhere to be seen on UN Plaza and the Delegates’ Lounge on the UN buildings second-floor was fi lled with excited gossip as G77 ambassadors and aides mingled and munched away the time, waiting for further news. The opening session was rescheduled two more times before the Secretary-General fi nally entered the old Trusteeship Council chamber to announce that – following deliberations in a hastily convened Friends of the Chair group – it had been agreed that the timing for negotiations was not appropriate and that the meeting would be postponed to allow delegations to consult their capitals and other governments. No future date was established but the Secretary-General allowed that it was unlikely that consultations could be completed before the Temperate Zone summer began. It wasn’t until they were leaving the Secretariat building that most delegations became aware of the huge demonstration on First Avenue. With the full support of the World Social Forum, the TTT Campaign had text-messaged and emailed to everyone on the eastern seaboard who had ever attended a city, national, or global Forum. More than 15,000 people were in the street, blocking traffic and chanting slogans against the TTT and the global consortia. The ambassadors gave the crowd ‘thumbs-up’ and the protesters roared their support. It was some months later – at another meeting of the UN General Assembly – that the TTT was officially buried. But those who were on First Avenue and UN Plaza that evening knew it was dead even then.

Not long after the New Year, the African Union – led by Zambia and Zimbabwe – fi led a suit against Terra-Forma before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Atom-Sphere was cited as an accessory to criminal liability for theft, extortion and warmongering. On the same day, the TTT Campaign Group – led by the trade unions and WHO Watch – laid human rights charges before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The United States, China and the European Union, along with the two consortia, were charged with violating the human rights of all the world’s peoples and with violation of the Environmental Modification Treaty of 1978. A few hours later, when the UN General Assembly subcommittee on the TTT was scheduled to begin its latest round in New York, the

By the mid-2030s, the peace movement had virtually shut down the arms trade from Europe and Canada and had orchestrated a massively effective boycott against US arms manufacturers to the point where even the US government was forced to agree to the establishment of a permanent UN peacekeeping force and a succession of treaties and treaty amendments that bound every government not to initiate war without the approval of the UN General Assembly. In her blog reflecting on the Harare success years later, Suyuan Woo mused that the really great victory was the conviction in civil society that peace was possible; that war was unacceptable;

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and that ‘we, the people’ were the only force who could bring about peace. It was that sense of power, the journalist insisted, that allowed the WSF movement to change gears to take on the TTT and win again. Over the years, somehow, almost unbeknownst to its participants, the Forum had moved from passive to active. It had become a network of interlocking movements. ‘The people – in their diversity – can unite on

many fronts,’ she concluded. Abebe had long since gone home. When Alitash Teferra and Qi Qubìng hitched a ride with Tash’s old family friend for the rough road back from Aksum to Addis, Abebe had just been visiting his mother – now living with his uncle (her younger brother) and his family. He had given up his lorry business to his uncle to work full time with

Postscript – 2035
That year, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize was unusually controversial. The Norwegian parliamentary committee unanimously agreed that the Prize should go to the World Social Forum. There had been a movement to give the WSF this award ever since the defeat of the TTT nine years earlier but Norwegian officials conceded that it was just too undiplomatic to grant a peace prize to a movement that had overturned the will of most industrial countries. In 2035, however, the WSF was nominated again for the demilitarisation of Latin America’s Southern Cone and the successful negotiation of the international treaty governing the aquifer underneath. The United States – whose military base had been closed down in Paraguay as part of the treaty agreement – protested vehemently against the award and boycotted the ceremony. But while most of the world enthusiastically supported the Nobel committee’s decision, the real controversy raged inside the WSF itself. In the end, the Forum organisers advised the Norwegian parliament that, because of their policy of keeping their distance from governments, the WSF could not accept the honour. The WSF committee, however, happily accepted a nomination for one of the Right Livelihood Awards presented in the Swedish Parliament the day before the Peace Price. Suyuan Woo liked that.

What if ?take 3

Resilience in the Andes
2010 – Rosario, Bolivia
Marta watched him coming from almost the bottom of the mountain. With his broad white cap protecting his pallid pink skin and his ridiculous safari jacket with the countless pockets, he stood head and shoulders above the peasants around him. His walk was laboured. He wasn’t used to the altitude and was uncomfortable in navigating the rocky terrain, she thought. Another reporter, the woman wondered, eyeing the camera slung across his chest – or maybe an anthropologist? When he fi nally got to the village after bumbling about from shop to shop and old Chavez pointed in her direction, she sent, Maria, her nine year-old granddaughter, to fetch her husband from the slopes above. ‘Good day,’ the man said in awkward Aymara, ‘I’m looking for Ignacio Flores. Maybe he’s your husband? I’m a photographer,’ he added awkwardly holding up his camera for her inspection, ‘and, sort of, an agronomist,’ he concluded blushing. Marta, cross-legged on the stony earth in front of her home, inspecting potatoes spread out on her ample skirts, couldn’t help warming to the man. As bad as his Aymara was, it was at least the equal of most of the provincial bureaucrats. After all, this man was a gringo. Also, he had looked kindly on her grandchild who had returned panting and triumphant from the field. Ignacio would be with them shortly. The reporter fiddled, instinctively, with his camera but – on reflection – decided to leave it in its case. ‘I am his wife,’ she replied, ‘and my husband is coming.’ Upon invitation, the man, who professed himself to be a Dutch photo-journalist by the name of Jaap Vissar, set himself gingerly on the proffered stoop and attempted to engage her in conversation. He wanted to learn about the local work being done on quinoa, he told her haltingly.1 His wife was Bolivian and they were in La Paz visiting her family when he noticed the bright purple quinoa variety in the market and had brought it to his wife’s sister for dinner. He had been drawn by the vibrant colour. Purple was not unusual for quinoa but the seeds of the false cereal were spectacular. Never had he tasted a better variety. His relatives served it up in salads and in soups, and mixed the quinoa in with potatoes. ‘I asked around,’ the photographer told her, ‘and people told me this variety only comes from here. The people down there said to talk to you folks about how your husband found it.’ ‘Found?’ She asked, more offended by the notion that somehow her community had tripped over their quinoa than that the stranger thought her husband to have been responsible. With little regard for his imperfect Aymara, she launched into a sharp rebuff and a quick history of the community quinoa. ‘First,’ she told him, ‘it’s not a single,

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uniform variety; it’s a breeding line we are constantly adapting. Second, it is far from a discovery.’ ‘Third,’ she advised, smacking her hands on her knees to emphasise her point, ‘I’m in charge of the breeding around here – whether it’s kids or quinoa.’ As Vissar struggled to keep up, Marta recounted the seed fairs she had taken part in, from Cuzco to La Paz, and the quinoa exchanges she had made with fellow farmers so far away she only knew that she would have to leave her beloved mountains and even cross oceans if she were to visit them all. ‘Plant breeding is a community effort,’ she announced. Her own role was as convener of the women’s quinoa assessment committee. It had taken the local women’s years of delicate breeding to put together the genetic combination this man’s family had boiled up for dinner. From talking with other farmers at the seed fairs, she knew that the variety had genes from not only the Andes but from as far away as Ethiopia and Tibet.2 The result was a hardy, succulent and proteinrich variety that women in the community used to bring down their milk after childbirth and as a weaning food later on. As important, the variety flourished under the increasingly adverse soil and climate conditions of the Altiplano. Vissar was incredulous. ‘Are you part of some HIVOS or church project?’ he asked. She knew what he was implying and she demurred. ‘Is there some kind of local NGO involved? No,’ she told him. Relenting slightly before his confusion, she went on. Her family, as members of the regional municipality – and, also, as part of the farmers’ trade union – was linked to the entire Andean Aymara nation and connected through La Via Campesina to other farmer-researchers around the world. But these were not, she insisted, NGOs. Vissar’s questions came out in serviceable textbook Aymara. Marta’s answers were clear and informative. Yes, most of the quinoa breeders were women but that was not true for all crops. No, they did not go through government-sponsored research trials because these were hostage to the multinational seed and processing companies that only wanted quinoa for the upscale breakfast cereal market in Germany and Japan and who usually dictated regulations to governments. Yes, that meant that the farmers did sidestep phytosanitary controls – not because they wanted to – but because the risks of importing or exporting diseases were less than the likelihood of GM contamination3 that came with the global corporate marketplace. One of the big Swiss seed

conglomerates – she shook her fi st theatrically – had genetically engineered the sacred quinoa herb with kaniwa genes to construct a semidwarf type that yielded better in the US Rockies and Scandinavia. Ten years ago, the transgenes showed up on the Altiplano. It had taken her committee most of the decade to eradicate the contamination. Yes, that did mean that WalMart would probably never buy from them. But, she insisted, their goal was not to sell to WalMart. It was to feed their families, barter with their neighbours and sell to the towns around them. Yes, they did have access to the Internet down in the city. They used it as often as they could. They also had a community cell phone that old Chavez kept in a locked box under the stool in his food stall. With it, they kept in sporadic contact with the world beyond. (Marta omitted that the mobile’s solar battery failed regularly – not helped much by spending most of its daylight hours in a box – and that, much of the time, the news arrived on foot.) Did they benefit from the work of scientific researchers? She bristled at the question. Their own breeding work was ‘scientific’, she retorted, and it was highly experimental and fully evaluated within the community. Still, she conceded, they would take diversity from wherever they could get it. But, by and large, she and her fellow-breeders found the offerings of the international scientific establishment too focused on seed protein yield and not enough on quinoa’s spinach-like leaves. We breed for the whole plant, Marta informed her inquisitor. By the time her Ignacio slumped onto a stoop beside them, he was yesterday’s man. Vissar was feeling light-headed – and not from the altitude. Marta calmed down. She was rightfully proud of their quinoa and this was an opportunity to tell the story. Her guest made it easy, pressing her eagerly for details. With the husband present now, the camera was out and clicking away almost as rapidly as Marta was talking. Vissar – who had abandoned agronomy for his camera years ago – found the story almost too counter-intuitive. Compounding his problem, the story was delivered in staccato bursts of Aymara laced with Spanish – by a storyteller who took his awareness of Andean Cosmo-vision and farm culture for granted. It was only when he returned to La Paz the next afternoon, exhausted and dirty from eight hours in the back of an open potato truck that he was able to piece together what he had learned.

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Lima, Peru
Jaap Vissar, a few days after his visit with Marta, over after-dinner brandies with the DirectorGeneral of the International Potato Centre at the DG’s residence in Lima, likened the communitybased research strategy to ‘P to P’ – peer-to-peer distributive network systems on the Internet and in biosensors. The Director-General, a swashbuckling Aussie, was dubious but Vissar – rednosed from his second brandy – was oblivious. ‘We’ve always known that farmer selection increases yields, sometimes by as much as 1 or 2 per cent per harvest,’ he insisted. ‘We’ve also known that such yield increases would not be sufficient to meet the calorie requirements of a population growing at 2 or 3 per cent per annum. But the old farmer selection strategy thrived almost entirely on regionally available germplasm.’ Yes, of course, community breeders did exchange seed and sometimes over long distances, but for the most part, neighbours swapped varieties with one another. ‘What if ’ – Vissar punched the air with his fi nger – ‘farmer-selectors are able to evaluate germplasm from around the world and adapt their research to their own fields? What if – instead of breeding for them – we simply encourage them not only to select but to experiment with other breeding strategies?’ Vissar was full of enthusiasm. ‘Instead of having a few dozen potato or quinoa breeders work for a few million farmers and trying to do the impossible – pretending to breed varieties appropriate for hugely variable agro-ecological zones – we concede that farmer-led research is cheaper and more effective and give farmers whatever germplasm they want to experiment with. Not only will yields go up but the diversity created will be better adapted to local fields.’ Despite his doubts, next morning the DirectorGeneral called up data on farmers’ use of the potato tissue culture collection. Tracking farmer access had begun when the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources came into operation in 2004. The spreadsheet showed a substantial increase in farmer-driven germplasm demand, rising until about two years ago when requests began to taper off. At the same time, the Centre’s statistics showed that potato yields and local nutrition had improved significantly from some time before then and was continuing to grow. In its own fundraising efforts the Potato Centre had taken credit for improved nutrition and yields when it talked to Northern governments. They had assumed – quite reasonably, the DG reassured himself – that the benefits had been a result of their own breeding.

The Aussie decided to keep his data review to himself. His photo assignment completed, Jaap Vissar and his wife went home to Wageningen. The DG was relieved to see him go. The man had become something of a pain.

Temuca, Chile – 2005
Shortly before Christmas 2005, an NGO in southern Chile had invited Marta to Temuco for a meeting with Mapuche women and other indigenous farmers of the Andes. Mostly they had talked about farm economics – market problems, farm credit, the ever-sensitive land tenure issue, and the growing encroachment of government regulators. However, in the fi nal days of the meeting, the visiting farmers were invited to join with the local women and eleven chefs from the most famous restaurants (she was to learn) in Chile. Together, they had all climbed into the fields and forests above the city and, under the direction of the locals, had gathered up fruit, vegetables, and nuts for a huge feast. The chefs were amazed by what they were asked to collect. Their amazement turned to bedazzlement when they saw their hosts preparing a meal from the unlikely pickings. The bedazzlement became delight when they fi nally dug into the banquet placed before them. Marta, too, had been impressed. True enough, her mother had taught her how to use many of the same or similar species back in Bolivia, but 1– overtime, she and the other women were using less and less of the local plants and more and more of the processed foods from the market. Nationally televised in Temuco’s fi nest hotel the feast was called a ‘biodiversity banquet’.4 It was the discussion Marta had with the other women around the dinner table, however, that stayed with her the longest. The women not only collected biodiversity for use in the kitchen, they were also actively breeding the most important crops. This, too, was not – of itself – surprising. Her mother and her neighbours had always bred potatoes and quinoa – selecting the best seeds and tubers from each harvest for the next planting and experimenting in the kitchen garden with varieties from their neighbours’ fields. Marta was ashamed to admit that this was a disappearing practice. But the women in Temuco seemed to have carried the breeding idea several steps further. Not only were they drawing from the diversity of their community fields, they were also aggressively making demands of university and

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government scientists to fi nd them breeding material from gene banks throughout Chile and the entire Andes. Always methodical, the Mapuche farmed out the exotic germplasm they received to test accessions under different soil and slope conditions and at different altitudes. After harvest, they gathered for a community test. Not only did they assess how well their families liked the taste, but also vital qualities like yield, storability, disease-resistance, and fuel efficiency – a real concern on the Altiplano where fi rewood was scarce. The results were there for Marta to taste. The women told her that their home-bred varieties were far more disease resistant and coldtolerant. All factors considered, field productivity had almost doubled over the past five years.

The seeds campaign had not always gone smoothly, Marta had warned Vissar. Some of the communities feared biopiracy and refused to exchange seed. But after a time, and flushed with the success of their own breeding efforts, they began to exchange germplasm with other communities. Occasionally, communities were lured by local entrepreneurs and dreams of El Dorado and applied for patents. They rarely recouped their legal fees and they almost always got ripped off. Here and there along the way, a corrupt scientist would steal germplasm from the women and apply for his own patents. Over time, however, the movement expanded and the low-key – sometimes surreptitious – exchange of breeding stock spread. Marta was the fi rst to acknowledge the value of communications technologies. Because of their trust in La Via Campesina, languages and distances were a nuisance but not an impenetrable barrier. Information flowed relatively freely. News of the success of specific varieties spread like wildfi re across the Internet from mountaintop to valley from Africa to Latin America. Seed fairs and shared nursery trials turned into crosscultural festivals as farming communities celebrated their diversity and successes. Joao Sergio of MST in Brazil wrote that this farmer-led technology strategy should be known as ‘wide tech’. Lab-based scientists, he opined, sought micro solutions to macro problems. They would develop a gene or a trait conferring some quality that might be applied in one or many ecosystems. This high-tech approach could, occasionally, provide valuable traits that farmers could adapt to their own conditions. But problems arose if the gene or trait was locked inside a seed or a breeding strategy that couldn’t be unpacked by communities. Farmers developed macro technologies for micro environments. Communities invented complex ecosystem approaches to agricultural problems – ‘wide tech.’ There had been occasional disastrous mistakes. In 2020, a farm organiser in Botswana attempted to cover up an experiment with cassava that had gone terribly wrong. Because of the secrecy, the paralysing cassava variety was exchanged with farmers in South India a year later. The crop was abundant but hundreds of people were paralysed. The leader of the Botswana peasants’ movement, about to face re-election, accused the South Indians of mishandling the cassava. For a while, as national farmers’ movements lined up on either side of the dispute, it looked like La Via Campesina’s entire seeds campaign was in jeop-

Caracas,Venezuela – 2006
In January 2006, Marta was among a dozen community leaders in the Andes invited by La Via Campesina to attend the Farmers’ Forum held in conjunction with the polycentric World Social Form in Caracas, Venezuela. Before 25,000 onlookers in the main stadium, they presented the fi rst fruits of their global seeds campaign.5 The farmer-breeders attending from around the world were mostly indigenous people and mostly women. They offered baskets of seeds displaying the vast diversity of their own fields and handiwork.6 Although Marta didn’t fully understand it at the time, she was witnessing the early days of a global intra- and inter-community network that was transforming agriculture in their communities. The delegation of the Bolivian farmers persuaded Marta to be their spokesperson in the forum. By the time the four-day event ended, she had also been placed on the global coordination committee for future forums. From that point on, she was embroiled in the fractious debates over the direction of the forum movement – whether it should remain pluralistic or should be tightly focused on specific outcomes. Her instinct was for the tight focus but, as the years went by and as different forces held sway, she came to appreciate the more laissez-faire pluralistic position. The battle between general and specific came to a head in one of the African forums a few years later and almost destroyed the movement. It was only when all parties recognised how close the movement was to collapse that they agreed to accept a pluralistic model.

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How Next:What role should an NGO play vis-à-vis social movements?
Eminence grise The priority – by far – is to support and strengthen social movements. NGOs must transform themselves into specialist services that can provide unique resources (money, information, strategy) to make social movements more effective. Bete noire Mass-membership NGOs can have expertise and political influence in a specific area (peace, environment, health, etc.) that should not be muted or marginalised by social movements that often act out of unenlightened selfinterest. Agent provocateur The relationship should be ambiguous and flexible. Supporting progressive social movements should be a priority for NGOs but social movements – with a natural tendency to become conservative over time – require a revolution every generation and a half. NGOs share this tendency but the loss of a progressive social movement is much more serious.

ardy. Things calmed down when the movement brought in a team of Latin American farmers who helped sort out the technical problems. Despite the organisational, political, and territorial obstacles, the movement grew stronger. Marta and other women even took classes in breeding techniques and disease-testing offered by La Via Campesina in La Paz. The instructors were something of a shock…a husband and wife team – one a geneticist and the other a breeder – and both Ethiopian. Africans were hardly a standard sight on the Altiplano. The man, Teferra, had retired years earlier and volunteered as adviser to farmers’ organisations. Sophie, his wife, had just retired as Ethiopia’s national new crops expert. Although Sophie and Marta had never met, they had exchanged quinoa breeding material for years. Despite the language barrier – the lectures were translated from English into Aymara and Quechua – Marta and the Ethiopian women formed a close friendship as they worked through the nursery plots, evaluating varieties bred by farmers from the Himalayas, the Ethiopian highlands and the long spine of mountains and plateaus running from southern Chile to Colorado. For years afterward, the two women exchanged photographs on their birthdays – each sending pictures of their daughters as they grew up and of their quinoa. Sophie and Teferra, Marta knew, had a daughter in China, of whom they were very proud. Marta’s own daughter was a farm organiser in Sucre and Maria, her daughter, was often left with the grandparents when her mother travelled.

In retrospect, Marta saw that one of the greatest threats to their success had been NGOs. Development and environmental NGOs had tried to take over the community-driven experimentation. Some had proposed certification systems to guarantee ‘quality’ in the exchange process. Others had tried to convince the communities to orient their research towards organic markets in the industrialised countries. Organic food products, they argued, were more profitable. Other NGOs seemed desperate to take credit for the farming community’s success, to persuade their own membership and foundation funders to give them more support. All this had caused tensions, but none of this prevented the communities from going ahead.

The NGOs had talked of ‘mainstreaming’ or ‘scaling-up.’ With La Via Campesina, the debate had gone on for more than 20 years as some of the Latin Americans pressed to take their underground food sovereignty movement into municipalities and local agricultural schools. Local institutions could be transformed into allies, they insisted. If municipal governments and educational bodies were not transformed, they’d also argued, the long-term struggle for food sovereignty would be jeopardised. Other members of La Via Campesina resisted. National farmers’ organisations in Africa didn’t share the same municipal history. Asian farmers’ organisations felt the heavy pressure of massive urban sprawl and wondered if it were not too late to seek local government allies.

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By 2015, Rosario, a half day’s rough ride from the provincial capital, numbered up to 20,000 souls in a municipal region whose population the national government underestimated at 150,000. The impoverished town, nevertheless, supported an old agricultural college, a new medical training facility and an almost grandiose town hall – which, in more orthodox times, had been a convent.

New York
The September meeting of heads of government attending the UN General Assembly in 2015 went almost unnoticed on the AltiPlano. The North’s failure to meet its Millenium Development Goals (MDG) commitments had been taken for granted at least since the mid-term review in 2005. The Venezuelan president used the General Assembly summit, however, to press his proposals for a Latin American peso bank based on the region’s oil and natural gas reserves – mostly in Venezuela and Bolivia. The MDG failure made it harder for the United States and its supporters to oppose the move. What really upset the US was that the peso bank would hold its foreign reserves in euros not dollars. US hegemony in the region was threatened. La Via Campesina and rural municipalities throughout Latin America threw their support behind the peso bank. While municipal fi nancial backing was economically significant, the support demonstrated by towns and farmers working together gave the regional bank political clout and popular momentum. The blossoming ‘food sovereignty’ axis of farmer/food, health, education and cultural networks used their collective influence over the municipal tax base to build wider bridges to political parties and urban union and consumer movements. The coalition came together just in time to confront the Technology Transfer Treaty (TTT).

non-registered plant varieties. These plant varieties couldn’t be registered unless they were legally maintained or patented by an enterprise with inspected facilities and liability insurance. Legal (rather than agronomic) standards for size, shape and colour were prerequisites for registration. ‘Produce,’ Marta told her incredulous plantbreeding committee meeting by lanternlight late one night, ‘could not be marketed – even between farmers – unless certified and labelled.’ Marta had just returned from a hastily called Via Campesina meeting in La Paz and had demanded a night meeting with her committee. Certification was impossible without the use of specific pesticides and herbicides. Labels were impossible without proof of purchase of specific seeddrilling, cleaning and harvesting equipment. From the hills above Aksum to the prairies of Saskatchewan and the rocky plateaus of Rosario, revolution was in the wind. For the farmers around Rosario, resistance was somewhat easier. Ever since the so-called ‘agricultural agreement’ struck during the Hong Kong meeting of the World Trade Organization in 2005, Marta and the rest of the leadership in the Bolivian farm movement had worked hard cultivating relations with the municipal government and the agricultural school. Over the two decades they had devoted to work at this level, members of the farm movement had – more often than not – occupied the Mayor’s chair and had usually dominated the council chamber. Using the resources provided by naïve but enthusiastic European NGOs, the farmers strategically supported classroom materials, seminars and speakers at the agricultural school. Often, the farmers proposed joint research initiatives with the school’s teachers and were able to come up with the money that made the school’s participation possible. When things came to a head in the mid-2020s, it was not hard to convince the municipality to side with the farmers. Deliberately obstructive bylaws were passed that confounded agribusiness and supported local production. When the farmers organised highway blockades, the mayor refused to call out the police or request army intervention. Long-forgotten transport and sanitation laws were creatively interpreted to support the farmers against the companies. When the capital sent troops to Rosario to clear the roads, the mayor rushed to the blockade and informed the irate colonel in charge that the farmers were a road repair crew hired by the municipality as part of a ‘food for work’ project. And, Rosario was connected to the world. Before dawn one Saturday morning, the mayor got out of bed to participate in a video conference

The global debate over the TTT brought matters to a head and actually played into the hands of the nascent global coalition of alternative movements. The TTT became the step too far. If the WTO hadn’t been bad enough, the TTT seemed bent on enforcing what the Geneva-based trade agency had ignored. In the name of public health and safety, multinational agribusiness was wiping out, through regulation, seeds and foods that could not meet rigorous protocols for distinctiveness, uniformity and long-term stability. Farmers would not be allowed to save or grow

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call with other farm-based cities throughout the world that were supporting their farmers. Over the call, the mayors and farm leaders answered questions from the international media. Huddled in the pre-dawn light of the mayor’s office lamp – and interrupting regularly in explosive half-Spanish, half-Aymara – was Marta. Suyuan Woo was among the hundreds of journalists listening at the other end. Six months of demonstrations, road blockades, and joint farmer/consumer boycotts on every continent forced the TTT to back down and make exemptions for farmers’ rights and food sovereignty. The farmers enjoyed unexpected support from urban consumers. Alarmed by the coordinated opposition, national governments – usually fi rmly in the control of their local elites – agreed to hold referendums on the TTT. The referendum concession spelled the beginning of the end for the TTT. Despite a ‘gagging order’ from the global media/entertainment corporations, the ‘indy’ (independent) movement of musicians, poets and writers joined forces with artists and actors to create an astonishing demonstration of resistance, diversity and artistry. In every plaza and square, street mall and street corner, and in every village, the marginalised cultural spirit of a dismissed generation inspired the protests and led the marches – fi rst of tens of thousands and then of tens of millions. The fi rst results from Africa, Latin America and Asia were an overwhelming rejection of the treaty. With breathtaking speed, the revolt spread to Europe and North America and governments everywhere were in retreat. By the end of the year, the TTT was dead and pundits were predicting the revival of the United Nations as the only credible forum for political discourse.

Old Chavez’s solar cell phone had worked that day and Marta Flores received the news of the death of her husband before the midday meal. That evening, she sat on the bare earth under the open sky sorting through their quinoa seeds – with her committee members murmuring gently around her – rocking rhythmically with Maria’s head in her lap. Opposition to the TTT had coalesced the energies of a number of social movements that had always known of one another; occasionally cooperated, but had rarely seen themselves as a common force for coordinated change. At least as far back as the mid-1970s, farmers on the periphery of urban centres had struck up associations with concerned families, local food co-ops, food banks and alternative restaurants. Over time, these loose arrangements morphed into regional, national and then global partnerships known by organisations such as the Seikatsu clubs in Japan, Pergoa in Holland, AMAP in France and Community-Shared Agriculture in North America. With consumers buying ‘shares’ in the farm family’s harvest from the beginning of the growing season (and sometimes contributing in kind as well, through labour), the Community-Shared Agriculture associations (CSAs) made it fi nancially viable for more farmers to wean themselves off synthetic chemicals and go into organic farming and made it much easier for local families to access (and afford) organic fruits, vegetables and meat.7 For decades, the CSAs had an intensely ‘local’ focus – though the members always saw themselves as living in a global framework. When GM crops popped up in the fields in the mid-90s, support for CSAs and organic food exploded in industrialised countries, from less than a quarter of a million CSA family consumers in North America when GM crops hit the grocery store to more than 10 million families at the time of the TTT. The CSA’s Japanese counterparts shot up from 5 million members in the 1990s to almost 40 million. At the same time, consumer demand for organic foods jumped from around 2 per cent at the turn-of-the-century to 20 per cent and, in Sweden, whose government had set as a national goal that 20 per cent of farmland would be for organics by 2010, consumer insistence on organic products was bordering on 50 per cent.8 Early in the new century, Community-Shared Agriculture9 made its natural link to the Slow Food Movement, which, by then, had spread from its Italian roots into a worldwide (if sometimes ‘yuppie’) network of restaurants and food activists.10 As much as the Slow Food folks were criticised for their snobbish magazine and style,

Bolivia: The road to victory had, tragically and inevitably, been stained with blood. Around Sucre, Bolivia’s constitutional capitol, the municipality took an unexpectedly hard line against farmer blockades. Troops were called in. Marta’s daughter, the farm organiser, put out an appeal for support from other districts. Old Ignacio had been among the busload of farmers, rushing to the defence of their compatriots, forced off a cliff by the advancing army convoy.

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the restaurants served as an important mediabridge into consumer consciousness. An OECD connection, fi rst made by the SeedSavers Exchange in Iowa, had also spread to the hillsides of Austria and the sunny farms of Australia into a global seed exchange network. Within this movement were those who prized the conservation of plant genetic diversity above all else as well as those who insisted that this diversity served the nutritional and economic needs of real-time farmers and urban gardeners. Even in Canada, on the harsh winter weekends of February and March, scores of towns and cities had turned ‘Seedy Saturday’ and ‘Seedy Sunday’ into a festive meeting ground between farmers, gardeners, and consumers as seeds and stories changed hands and joined hands with the CSAs and Slow Food Movement. The North’s web of interlocking interests spread from food and agriculture into the health and urban planning movements. Increasingly alarmed by the explosion in obesity, diabetes, allergies, asthma and autism, municipal and regional health systems – spurred on by an equally desperate need to cut medical costs – reached out to their neighbouring farmers and local restaurants to coordinate a real sea change in social thinking. Beyond urban gardens in vacant lots, social movements pushed hard for back yard, front yard and boulevard gardens and pressed schools to remove fast-food vending machines and replace them with Slow Food – local food cafeterias – and to change the landscape of barren school grounds into orchards and gardens. Before long, new all-weather cycle (and, in the north, ski) paths wound through organic gardens where – short years before – only sterile grass lawns soaked in herbicides had greeted passers-by. What for the North had become an essential lifestyle change was, for the South, a still more immediate matter of life and death. The seed fairs and forest harvests of rural peoples had long since reached into the towns and cities to fi nd new markets and to make common cause with money-starved schools, hospitals and, especially, medical and agricultural training institutes. For its own needs as well as for export, Latin America embraced organic agriculture – or agro-ecology – with tens of thousands of farmers and still more hectares of land sown to organic crops or pasture in Argentina, Uruguay and Costa Rica, with Brazil, Bolivia and Peru not far behind. In Latin America organic farming was explicit resistance to multinational agribusiness. Latin America’s political energy was contagious: the number of

organic farms in Europe jumped from 167,000 in 2005 to over 300,000 at the time of the TTT. Asia, with only 130,000 registered organic farms in 2005 had more than 10 million 20 years later. Despite enormous macro-economic pressure against them, the 12,000 organic farms in North America in 2005 thrived and grew to make up half of all surviving family farms.11 The sometimes autonomous movements in the North and South became bound together as climate change spurred everyone towards innovation and experimentation. The natural link was the seed. As farmers always knew – and the rest of the world learned – the genetic diversity of major and minor food crops was almost entirely in the South. As global warming shifted crop territories and created new pest and disease challenges, the demand for crop genetic diversity grew greater and greater. Exchanges that had previously taken place only within countries or continents suddenly became global. Though they never met, the farmers of Rosario, Bolivia, found themselves working with their counterparts in Aksum, Ethiopia, Bern, in Switzerland, Brandon, in Canada and Rasua, in Nepal. The need for farmer-led agricultural research became evident with global warming. The panicky efforts of the US government and TerraForma to avert disaster by seeding iron nanoparticles and nano-engineering ocean organisms had been joined by European efforts – abated by Atom-Sphere – to keep the warm ocean currents that bathed their Atlantic shores from drifting out to sea. Washington’s efforts confl icted with those of Brussels and, together, their (something other than butterfly) wings beat an unpredictable climate chain reaction that threatened the survival of Northern agriculture. It was at that time that the town of Rosario grew used to Northern visitors clambering through the hills and valleys in search of farmers and farm diversity. Not surprisingly, the high altitude crops of the Andes, the Himalayas and the Ethiopian highlands became the best hope for a good dinner in Europe. When the Northern scientists arrived, however, the so-called ‘periphery’ – the diverse webs of cooperation from farms and cities around the world – had consolidated.

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La Paz, Bolivia – 2029
Marta Flores and the Aussie Director General met at the 35th anniversary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity held in La Paz, Bolivia. Marta had long since grown resistant to travel and was content to remain with her daughter and grandchild at home. But old friends among the Mapuche and much-loved but unseen friends around the world in La Via Campesina convinced her to make the day-long bus journey to her nation’s capital. On behalf of La Via Campesina and her community – and following long hours of debate not only at home but among farmers around the world, she had – with quite uncharacteristic shyness – agreed to accept, on behalf of the global peasants’ organisation, the World Food Prize. That year, the Aussie Director General had become Chair of the nominations committee. The award, however, had been determined by the previous committee whose outgoing Chair was too ill to travel. The prize was normally presented in Des Moines, Iowa, in the US, but Marta had been unable to convince US embassy officials that she was not a Weapon of Mass Destruction and had been denied a visa to attend the ceremony. With considerable embarrassment, the awards committee had moved the event to the Bolivian venue. Afterwards, Jaap Vissar – who was there on assignment for a Dutch magazine – opined that the International Potato Centre’s collapse could have been avoided if the old Director General had not tried to link the success of farmer-breeders to the outreach work of the Washington-based Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Marta had simply exploded on stage. Worse luck too, her Spanish had improved and the translator, exuding empathetic enthusiasm, picked up every insult and invective. By the time Marta marched off the stage, leaving the medal still in the DG’s trembling hands, the potato centre was history (although it didn’t know it until the next funding cycle) and the CGIAR was moribund.

every growing season. That battle had been waged over almost 15 years, moving painfully from public condemnation to informal moratorium to global ban. Now, however, the world’s three largest seed companies – with 80 per cent of the commercial seed market – had a strategy that let them side-step the Terminator ban with even greater profit. The sterile seed ban achieved in 2010 had a loophole. In the CBD’s technical language, ‘variety genetic-use restriction technologies’ were banned but ‘trait genetic-use restriction technologies’ were allowable. Companies could market varieties where a specific trait would die at harvest; nevertheless, the seed could still be planted a second time without the trait. If farmers wanted the trait they would have to buy new seed. CSOs, at the time, warned that the results would be the same – the suicide trait would be too essential to think of growing the seed without it. Public pressure had kept up a de facto moratorium against trait control until th previous year. Then Numan Corp’s seed subsidiary announced a new trait conferring major nutritional benefits that only stayed active from season to season if farmers coated the seed with the company’s proprietary chemical cocktail. Among other confidential ingredients, the cocktail included nanocapsules of herbicides and insecticides, which, Numan claimed, eliminated the need for fieldspraying. La Via Campesina dubbed the technology the ‘Lazarus’ seed. Geneticists studying the company’s patent concluded that while the coated seed would remain fertile after harvest, farmers wouldn’t want to plant it. ‘The plant, in its second year,’ Marta told her committee, ‘would be a spindly hopeless creature not worth eating.’ A farmers’ organisation in India offered the sharpest analysis: ‘The drawback to Terminator – from the company perspective – was that they still had to multiply, ship, warehouse, advertise and distribute seeds. If farmers can be made to save their seed themselves and have it rejuvenated via the company’s chemicals – which farmers also have to buy every season – all those costs evaporate and farmers either have to go to the chemicals to have their seed coated or purchase the cocktail and do the coating themselves.’ ‘In fact,’ the analysis continued, ‘Numan could even reduce or eliminate its breeding and other R&D programmes since farmers will be trapped. The other two multinational seed companies have already announced their own versions of the same technology. Governments will let them get away with this because they are not violating the Terminator ban and, once again, seed companies are

It hadn’t been hard to convince Marta Flores to come to the UN Biodiversity Convention (CBD). On the CBD’s agenda was an African initiative to ban Lazarus seeds. A quarter-century earlier, Southern governments had joined indigenous peoples and farmers in establishing a global ban on Terminator technology – genetically-modified seeds that committed ‘suicide’ at harvest time, forcing farmers to buy new seed

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promising to feed the world with a more nutritious crop.’ The meeting of the Biodiversity Convention became a classic encounter between civil society and the corporations. The seed companies (and their pharmaceutical masters) were everywhere on the delegations of OECD governments and were also well represented within many of the so-called Mega-diverse Countries including Mexico and Brazil. Because it was a meeting of governments, the ‘official’ supporters of Lazarus were the USA (which finally joined the CBD in 2012), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Constrained by its EU membership, Britain had to hold back – and the USA was constrained by its historic superpower status from being the obvious bully on the block. In the end, Canada and Australia carried the corporations’ can for them. Outside the conference hall, 7,000 farmers demonstrated daily in the streets and a thousand more indigenous people and farmers clogged the conference corridors, buttonholing delegates, holding lunchtime side events and demonstrating in the plenary hall. For all the hoopla in La Paz, the real battle was fought in national capitals where farm unions joined with urban unions, environmentalists, development activists and consumers to lobby their individual governments. For every CSO activist that went to Bolivia, another hundred were back home contacting parliamentarians and organising letter-writing campaigns. During the CBD itself, the campaigners in Bolivia kept in constant touch with their partners in the capitals and every move by delegates was recorded and reported for parliamentary debate back home. In the end, most of Africa (but not South Africa) and Latin America (but not to Mexico or Brazil) and much of Asia joined the protesters and forced a vote. The loophole was closed on trait control and Lazarus was fi rmly interred. Marta was jubilant.

centre each night. As always, despite the unending succession of negotiations, groups came to Bolivia to piggyback a score of other agendas and meetings around the edges of the main event. This, in part, was what drew Anita Krishna and WHO Watch to La Paz. WHO Watch was adamantly opposed to Lazarus on the health grounds that nutriceuticals or so-called functional foods would divert funds and fields away from more effective solutions. But, WHO Watch was also testing the waters over another initiative – introduced by China but supported throughout the South – a United Nations Summit on Environmental Justice and Development, better known as the Climate Change Conference. Tropical and subtropical states were receiving the brunt of global warming. China’s proposal was popularly seen as a solidarity move to focus world attention on the crisis. The colossal and highly public scandal around Terra-Forma and Atom-Sphere’s geo-engineering attempts increased societal distrust of untested technologies. The South hoped to turn the temporary confusion in the North into a new development strategy. WHO Watch was skeptical. Marta Flores knew something about global warming. The Andes had been hit hard with long droughts and deadly rains that drove the soil and people down the hillsides into the towns. When she fi rst heard about the Summit proposal during the CBD protests, she thought it might be a good idea. ‘Get all the leaders together, lock the door, and don’t let them out until they have an action plan,’ she told Anita over breakfast one morning. ‘China and its corporations are as deep into geoengineering as the USA and Europe,’ the Indian activist replied. ‘This is just another approach designed to look pro-South.’ ‘I wouldn’t trust anything China proposes.’ An environmentalist from Jordan dropped into the seat beside Marta juggling a breakfast tray. ‘In return for doing something some time in the future, maybe, the superpowers will convince the South to make a lot of concessions now,’ he added shovelling sugar into his coffee cup. Anita automatically switched into interpreter mode to give Marta the gist of the Jordanian’s opinion. ‘What I’m told,’ she added in Spanish, ‘is that they will offer fi nancial support to buttress seacoasts in return for “voluntary” controls on migration. They’re also going to propose some kind of super-disease monitoring system that will make it easier for them to draw a

Climate change summit
The Bolivia conference was a two-week marathon encompassing dozens of agenda items spread over parallel committees and commissions that left little time for rest. CSO monitors met to set their strategies before breakfast each morning and usually gathered somewhere at the back of the plenary hall before leaving the conference

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“hospital curtain” across disease-prone tropical regions. The hospital curtain overrules trade if a country suspects an epidemic.’ She paused to translate for the environmentalist. The climate change side-meeting was about to start so the three hurried to fi nish their breakfasts in the awkward silence of colleagues confronted with a language barrier. After several false starts, the groups anxious to discuss the Climate Change Summit only managed to get together on the Sunday morning ending the first week of the CBD. They gathered off the breakfast room in one of the several CSO-dominated hotels downtown. Someone from the African Women’s Caucus offered to chair. Because the China proposal was for the summit to be held in Canton, CSO custom dictated that someone from another region should lead the discussion. The meeting barely had time to lay out the issues: mainstreaming versus marginalisation (of course), governments’ political and financial commitment to follow-through, the need for representation beyond the climate change/environmental movement. From the outset, it was clear that all the issues were divisive and – with the possible exception of the Chinese CSOs – most organisations were undecided. They agreed to meet again in the upstairs bar of the same hotel the next evening. For reasons no one could quite understand, the bar closed promptly at six each night but the hotel management had no objection to it being used for other purposes. In the elevator on her way up to drop off her backpack before that meeting, Anita eavesdropped (imperfectly) on a conversation in French between two African passengers. They were talking about climate change and money. For the past two decades, government and philanthropic funders had thrown their weight behind global warming work, virtually to the exclusion of everything else. Governments wanted to pay for studies, alternatives to fossil fuels, early warning systems, and photosynthetic strategies to maintain food production. The mainstream foundations only wanted to hear about ‘cutting-edge’ research or ‘type-2 partnerships’ – business–government or business–CSO projects. Even the progressive foundations, development NGOs and government ministries wanted to put their money into supporting the participation of indigenous peoples and other social movements in intergovernmental meetings addressing, guess what, climate change. In short, if climate change wasn’t in the title of the grant proposal the likelihood of funding was poor. The Africans’ resent-

ment was palpable in the elevator. The scramble for funding was blatantly distorting the goals of development and environment NGOs and had created a handful of new climate change NGOs which had been quick enough off the block to corner funds in the early days. Not much of this was new to Anita Krishna. The CSOs that hung around the World Health Assembly and WHO had also learned to put a climate spin on their work. Nevertheless, until then, she hadn’t fully grasped the extent to which the climate agenda had overwhelmed everybody’s work. She missed her floor and decided that, rather than be late, she’d ride back down to the bar with her backpack. The second meeting was three times the size of the fi rst (Sunday mornings never being popular with CSOs) and the hotel manager, astutely, kept his bar open. The bar tables and chairs were pushed into a rough circle around the several posts in the low-ceilinged room. The Kenyan chaired and gave the floor to the Chinese representative of a global climate change organisation. Wisely, he criticised the Summit and darkly critiqued the intention and ulterior motives of the Beijing government. Predictably, though, he wound up supporting the Summit, putting an oriental spin on the conventional CSO argument…. CSOs would use jujitsu, he told the packed room, ‘We’ll use the weight and momentum of the superpowers by moving with them and redirecting their energy towards our own goals.’ Marta, relying heavily on Anita’s whispered translation, couldn’t judge who was buying or rejecting the man’s analogy. Among the forest of hands that shot up, the chair picked out the Jordanian. ‘I live in Amman,’ he told the bar, ‘but my parents grew up on farms near the Dead Sea. No one can farm there now. In Jordan, we know all about global warming. As an environmentalist, I’m fighting to protect our lands and people. But every time we have a Summit, we suck the media’s attention into the theatrics of summitry and away from the practical realities. China and the other superpowers know all about jujitsu. They’ve already figured out the moves and countermoves. They see the summit as a smokescreen to let them get their way on other fronts. The only thing we can do is boycott.’ He sat down to scattered applause. The battle see-sawed back-and-forth for more than an hour. Anita – and Marta with Anita’s help – jumped in and out of the increasingly rancorous debate, both finding themselves opposing the

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summit. After a Maori woman politely suggested that the climate change battlefront was at the national level now – after decades of failed effort at the international level – the Chinese environmentalist interrupted dismissively: ‘Flora and fauna don’t know national boundaries. Climate change is wiping out biodiversity everywhere. National laws can’t protect birds that fly halfway around the world every year. Who’s going to speak for the pandas and the whales if we don’t?’ ‘I want to answer that.’ The Jordanian was on his feet struggling for composure. ‘No one speaks for other species or for the environment.’ Someone with a British accent at the back muttered, ‘He thinks he’s bloody Dr. Doolittle!’ The remark caused as much confusion as laughter and the Kenyan Chair, looking desperate, called for quiet. The Jordanian held the floor: ‘Pretending you can speak for other species is an insult to the rest of us. All we can do is speak for ourselves. If we can listen to the most marginalised in our countries and understand what they want, we’ll do better than pretending we have a special relationship with dolphins.’ There was table-thumping and the Brit at the back let out a whoop. The Chinese man was on his feet, demanding to reply. A tall francophone African quietly stood up in front of him. The chair gave her the nod. Later, Marta learned she was from Mali. A second woman, sitting beside the speaker, translated. ‘We need to decide where we place climate change on the agenda,’ she said firmly, ‘No one denies – not even the United States – that we are in the middle of global warming nor that it’s disruptive for all of us and disastrous for most of us. They call it the battle of the century.’ The woman looked over her shoulder at the Chinese environmentalist: ‘They’re wrong. In the 20th century, we were told that the battle was over ideology – capitalism, communism and fascism. Now, the new battle is about terrorism and climate change. Terrorism lets the North take over our lives; climate change lets them take over the planet. The real issues of the 20th century were poverty, discrimination and the environment. In my organisation, women are less subtle: poverty, patriarchy and pollution!’ Marta’s sonic boom in the front row left no doubt who was speaking next. Anita fought to keep up. ‘Exactly,’ she translated her friend. ‘The only way to solve climate change is to end injustice. Any other approach…’ Anita paused more for effect than out of shyness, ‘…is bullshit!’

The meeting could have ended then. The issue was resolved. CSOs would boycott the summit and try to dissuade their governments from participating if the summit went ahead. But, in the time-honoured tradition of CSOs, the debate meandered on for another half-hour. The Chinese CSOs did win agreement to meet one more time later in the week to deal with ‘outstanding issues’. In the days that followed, the big climate change and environmental organisations – already committed by their public or private fund-raising to summit preparations – fought a constant rearguard action to protect their funding. At a poorly attended meeting at the back of the CBD hall on the fi nal day, they tried to get other CSOs to let them act as a monitoring body on behalf of the wider group. The Mali woman – joined by the Jordanian and Marta – flatly rejected the proposal as a backdoor attempt to be the de facto spokesperson for the group if the summit went ahead. When Marta left the plenary hall on the final night, the Jordanian walked her to the CSO bus and cordially thanked her, through a Mexican translator, for her role in opposing the Summit. Marta crushed the bottom half of him in a huge hug and left him smiling and a little embarrassed at the curb.

The battle over the holding of the Environmental Justice and Development Summit waxed and waned for close to two years before fi nally withering away in a subcommittee buried in the basement of the UN Secretariat building. When Indian and European CSOs joined forces with their Latin American and African colleagues, their governments were dragged along. It took some time for China and the USA to admit that they couldn’t pull off a summit on their own. The global geopolitical battle woke up the more progressive funders and, over time, they swung their support behind the summit’s opponents and those CSOs taking on the underlying iniquities manifested by climate change.

It was the videoconference call that Marta had dominated during the TTT strike that brought Suyuan Woo to Rosario after her visit to Brazil and Paraguay. Joao Sergio, some months before her Latin American visit, had answered the jour-

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nalist’s e-mails about the impassioned woman farm leader high in the Andes. It had not taken the blogger long to realise that this was the same woman Tash’s mother occasionally wrote about. From the slopes of the Andes to the savannas of East Africa to the paddies of Mindanao, farming communities and farmers’ organisations had quietly strengthened their expertise. For the most part, governments wisely steered clear. Although corporations occasionally pushed politicians to

intercede, they usually avoided direct confrontation. As a result, a highly scientific and extraordinarily interactive research dynamic connected farms and villages, sellers and buyers in a strategy that not only increased yields and nutrition but also encouraged biological diversity. The rightwing bioethicist, Deter Panger, warned Wall Street that the greatest threat to capitalism would not be found in the cities or in governments but among the small, renegade farms of the Global South. For once, the bioethicist was spot on.

Postscript – December, 2035
The Right Livelihood Award was controversial. The United States had tried to pressure Sweden’s Queen not to confer the award. Together with Australia, the UK and Kuwait, the US ambassador boycotted the ceremony. Marta had insisted on starting her journey from Rosario – as ever – in the back of an open potato truck. She had swept aside the remonstrations of the Swedish ambassador – who wanted her to accept a chauffeured embassy car – in her politest Spanish, asserting that enclosed vehicles made her puke. Her whole committee, led by Maria – plump and beaming with child – climbed aboard for La Paz. Joao Sergio joined her in São Paulo where she changed planes and they flew on together via Lisbon to Stockholm. Once again, the prize was for La Via Campesina but the farmers were insistent that Marta and another farm leader from the Philippines represent them. Jaoa Sergio was asked to accompany Marta to help with translation. Standing in the wonderful old chamber, Marta Flores looked tiny and uncharacteristically shy. Her audience sometimes had to strain to catch her words. In the closing of her short acceptance speech, the flash returned: ‘The people,’ the old farmer told them, ‘in their diversity, will never be defeated!’ Watching the webcast from their hotel room in Uppsala, Tash applauded happily, and Suyuan Woo, slightly distracted by their baby pulling at her face on her lap, smiled. Qi Qubing – nodding and smirking – watched it all on the TV screen in the corner of his office overlooking Lake Geneva.


The botanical name of quinoa is ‘Chenopodium quinoa Willdenow’ Family: ‘Chenopodiaceae’ U.S. National Research Council, Lost Crops of the Incas - Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation, Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation Board on Science and Technology for International Development, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington. D. C., 1989, p 159. U.S. National Research Council, Lost Crops of the Incas - Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation, Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation Board on Science and Technology for International Development, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington. D. C., 1989, p.150. In 1989, a U.S. government study speculated that biotechnology might be able to transfer genes from Kaniwa to Quinoa to confer increased hardiness and dwarf stature. U.S. National Research Council, Lost Crops of the Incas - Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation, Report of an Ad Hoc Panel of the Advisory Committee on Technology Innovation Board on Science and Technology for International Development, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington. D. C., 1989, p.135. This event did taken place but in 2001 under the leadership of CET-Sur, an NGO headquartered in southern Chile. Camilla Montecinos coordinated the pro-

gramme. Marta, a fictional character, did not attend. 5 6 7 This event took place in January 2003 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre Brazil. This event took place in January 2002 at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Accurate global statistics on the number – or percentage – of organic farmers are not reliable. To the extent that Canada is ‘typical’ of OECD countries, in 2004 about 1.5 per cent of all farmers were certified organic. This number is increasing significantly each year. The Canadian figures are from, Anne Macey, ‘Certified Organic Production Canada 2004’, November, 2005. All references related to organic production and consumption and to Community-Shared Agriculture and its counterparts related to 2006 or earlier are accurate. Projections beyond 2006 are estimates. Estimates of the number of CSA farms in North America, for example, circa 2005, range from 1300 to 3000.





10 From its small beginning is heatedly it 1986, the Slow Food Movement grew to more than 800 ‘convivia’ (clubs or associations) with 83,000 members in 50 countries with offices in seven countries by 2004. 11 Figures for the number of organic farms in each region are actually 42004 as reported in ‘World Organic Farms in 2006’.


Taking Stock

Taken individually, none of these three What If ‘takes’ will quickly end corporate globalisation or overturn the US, Chinese or Indian empires. Looking at them a generation down the road (30 years) their successes seem disappointing, perhaps. And, as modest as they are, it could also seem a titch too ‘romantic’ (or, at least, convenient) that the characters in each story have some connection with one another. In a world brimming with 6.5 billion people, is this really credible? Yes it is. These modest stories need not be played out separately. Many other ‘takes’, with equal or greater foundation in reality, could come together and create faster and greater changes. Each modest step can be accompanied. Likewise, the fact that the people in each story know of, have contact with or collaborate with each other, is not surprising either in 2005 or in 2035. Their connectedness is not only through the ‘miracle’ of information technology – or, not exclusively so. Each character in each ‘take’ is fictional but the members of the What Next group know these people – or, at least friends like them. These people are not ‘superheroes’ – they are to be found in the ranks of civil society everywhere. We meet them often – under the steaming canopies of Porto Allegre, under the banners of a Hong Kong protest, or across the jerryrigged tables of an impromptu working group in Geneva or Johannesburg. Differently from 1975, we are coming to know one another. This makes a difference.

Take 1
Just as the China Sundown is reasonable and even likely, ‘What If? Take 1’, is well within the realms of possibility. The rudiments of WHO Watch already exist in New York and Geneva and there is a close parallel in the IPC (International NGO/CSO Preparatory Committee for the World Food Summits) network monitoring FAO in Rome. Quite by coincidence, not long after we completed this scenario in a drafting session in Uppsala, FAO’s union reported on an internal staff survey that showed that the overwhelming majority of all respondents were unhappy with their Director-General and his plans for restructuring the organisation. Simultaneously, the Dutch Assistant Deputy DirectorGeneral resigned, many believe, to run for the boss’s job in 2011. Anyone who follows the machinations of UN agencies will recognise the petty and grand corruptions that haunt intergovernmental organisations. It is not difficult to see how civil society organisations could improve the governance of UN agencies.

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Nor is it a ‘stretch’ to take a cue from Wikipedia, to build Technopedia. In fact, it may only take an augmentation of the technology section of the online encyclopedia to turn it into a technology monitoring and evaluation system. Could such an open-source assessment mechanism really influence government regulators? Wouldn’t industry counterattack by hacking into and compromising its credibility? Yes, to both questions. But, the opensource movement has shown itself to be hugely resilient and remarkably creative. There is a chance – worth taking (and harder to avoid!) – that this kind of electronic assessment could embarrass governments and industry into behaving at least marginally better. More importantly, this global social collaboration could foment the desperately-needed critique of technology and progress that has been missing for several generations. Finally, does the corporate world yield up people like Qi Qubang with sufficient regularity that this aspect of the ‘take’ is only dumb luck? Actually, yes it does. The nuclear and tobacco industries have the bruises to prove it. The Chinese Canadian scientist was written into the scenario as a conundrum – a warning about the Stockholm subversion – the risk of CSOs getting too close to industry. But, Qi also stands as an argument to look harder for his counterparts. Qi was not the perfect candidate to become the next WHO Director-General. As charming and as basically sympathetic as Qi is, we’d like to think that Anita Krishna and her little group at WHO Watch would have come up with a better candidate and would have opposed Qi’s election. Still, Qi is probably a better DirectorGeneral than most of those who have held the office in UN agencies. The standard went up with the pressure of WHO Watch. Is it better to have an International Convention on the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT) than nothing at all? The debate between WHO Watch and the Uruguayan technology activist is quite real. The parallel with the Biosafety Protocol is reasonable. It would have been better for there to be no biosafety protocol, and for governments to have to debate the technology head on, country by country, than to have the pitiful protocol – essentially a facilitating mechanism for GM contamination – that environmentalists accepted. But that doesn’t mean that ICENT can’t have a different outcome. Certainly, global negotiations can stir up a global debate and lead to more useful national consequences. Certainly, too, monitoring – even if it is not legally binding – can sometimes be useful.

Stockholm syndrome
Many in civil society would argue that the big issue raised by Take 1 is whether or not this kind of UN strategy feeds into the Stockholm syndrome or breaks the syndrome and gives civil society the useful tools it needs to work at the global level. Just after the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment – and three years before What Now – a bank robbery in Stockholm went wrong and led to the robbers taking some of the bank employees hostage. By the time the bad guys were captured and the hostages released, three of the hostages appeared to have fallen in love with their captors. One was even engaged. Psychologists came to describe this as the ‘Stockholm syndrome’. It’s not so complicated. Survival chances increase if a captive can elicit compassion from her or his captor. Many CSOs working at the UN level have fallen victim to the Stockholm syndrome and have lost their ability to see beyond the priorities of UN bureaucrats. We need a healthy debate in civil society about this problem. Is WHO Watch captive or captor?

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Take 2
Perhaps the hardest thing for many of us to accept in ‘What If… Take 2’, is the simplicity of the World Social Forum intervention on the Zimbabwe–Zambian border and the complexity of the CSO strategy to overturn the TTT. That these two different initiatives play out involving some of the same organisations and individuals we have already encountered possibly adds to the incredibility of the story. Yet, it is not such a leap from the mass global demonstrations of 2003 to the ‘human shield’ in the African border confrontation. More than anywhere else in civil society, the peace movement has demonstrated the courage and resourcefulness to do big things. We need this – more often and more creatively. Neither is it unlikely that the World Social Forum – however it might play out in the decades ahead – can bring together such diverse social activists and social movements, which could cooperate and support one another on several fronts. The message is that we in civil society can walk and chew gum at the same time. We need to recognise and take advantage of our diversity and flexibility to come together at strategic moments to do big things. We’ve demonstrated this in Seattle and Cancun and Hong Kong. After all the emphasis on the importance of technology in world affairs – especially in the three decades ahead of us – is it really true that nanotechnology will fail and corporations and governments will have to return to the old raw materials industries? We can’t be certain. Yet, it is certain that the hype around nanotechnology exaggerates its speed and efficiency. There will undoubtedly be failures. Even if the technology is scientifically successful, industry will probably only get it half-right. We should not abandon the old technologies or the old resources on the assumption that they are no longer important. In agricultural biotechnology, after all, although the companies produced miserably poor results they still succeeded in gaining control of the fi rst link in the food chain. As we’ve already argued, it is not necessary for the technology to succeed for industry to flourish. But, the big challenge in Take 2 is to take advantage of the regional and world social fora, not to make dramatic changes in the fora themselves but to build a wider sense of shared identity and common cause in the struggle for peace and the fight against globalisation. Can we overcome our egos and institutions to make this happen?

Prediction: Multinational do-gooders in 2035
Northern CSOs will have morphed and merged into five ‘Big Box’ development NGOs: Big Boxfam will top the charts of secular multi-functional development NGOs, and faith-based NGOs will be enfolded under the not-so-dovelike wing of World Fusion. In the Star Wars battle for emergency relief and celebrity support, the Red Cross will emerge victorious and change its name to RCU2. Losing ground to the Red Cross, CARE will succumb to a friendly takeover bid by a private company to blend its famous CARE package logo into the company’s top brand under the new name, TupperCARE. Following its campaigns to bring all OECD states up to the 0.7% aid level, the world’s leading advocacy NGO will change its name to Fraction Aid.

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Take 3
Finally, in ‘What If… Take 3’, we have what some might regard as the most unrealistic scenario of all. The notion that small rural communities on the periphery of the metropolitan powers could actually weave a network of grassroots strategies that could challenge the powers-that-be might seem absurd to those who have lived their lives in urban centres. It doesn’t seem absurd, however, to farmers or indigenous peoples and their organisations. Neither does it seem absurd to those struggling with health or education issues in local municipalities. Not only is the periphery likely to be ignored by the elite, it is also highly organisable. Rural communities on the periphery already have high levels of organisation. They are already more self-sustaining than urban communities. There is already a huge potential for farm organisations, organic growers, urban gardeners, Community Shared Agriculture, and even the Slow Food Movement to unite with concerned consumer organisations to challenge the industrial system. One of the best responses to What Now in 1975 was the establishment of the Alternative Nobel Prize in 1980. Every December since, the Right Livelihood Awards (RLA) have brought together leaders from three or four CSOs in a ceremony in the Stockholm parliament. Every year it seems less surprising that the award recipients know each other – or, at least, have heard of one another. It is not at all surprising that the people in the three What If scenarios should bump into one another at the RLA. They could also meet at the global or regional social forum. They might meet at a WTO or peace demonstration. Such eclectic groups have often found themselves sitting around together at the Dag Hammarskjöld Centre in Uppsala. And, whenever and wherever such people gather, there is reason for hope.

Asilomar II or Bogève II?
In 1975, a group of scientists gathered at Asilomar, California, to examine the possible health and environmental risks associated with genetic engineering. With a perfect sense of media management, they announced they were taking all the necessary steps – as responsible scientists – to ensure that the new science would proceed with great care and caution and enormous social benefit. Here and there around the world, the Asilomar statement was greeted with anxiety or, at least, great skepticism. But each of us read the news reports and studied the technology in isolation. We didn’t know each other – didn’t know of each other – and had no common forum for communication and cooperation. It took us 12 years to put together the first international meeting of civil society activists concerned about biotechnology. The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation convened a meeting in Bogève, France, in 1987 and we all produced the Bogève Declaration warning the Asilomar scientists that, beyond health and environmental issues, there were socio-economic, cultural and military concerns as well. It took civil society another nine years to awaken at least some of the public to our worries and launch the great ‘GM’ debate over genetically-modified organisms. History has yet to confi rm whether or not we were too late. Thirty years later, in 2005, another band of young scientists gathered in a conference they called Synthetic Biology 1.0. With vast confidence and enthusiasm, they discussed how it would be possible to create a ‘spare parts’ shelf of living modules of DNA that could be clamped and soldered together to create entirely new life forms. This time, civil society was paying attention and we were organised. Already, in 2001, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and ETC Group had organised a global meeting in Uppsala on nanotechnology – including its most controversial area – nanobiotechnology

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or ‘synthetic biology’. On the eve of Synthetic Biology 2.0 at the end of May 2006, 38 organisations, including major players in the environmental movement, trade unions, farm organisations, anti-globalisation activists and scientific unions sent an ‘open letter’ to the Synthetic Biology scientists, warning them not to proceed with their proposed Asililmar II Declaration – a short manifesto cobbled together by the scientists themselves to fend off government regulators and other critics in advance of their research. The ‘open letter’ worked. The scientists backed down and – as this volume goes to press – national and global discussions are underway on how best to build a people-led dialogue process to evaluate this extraordinarily powerful new technology. The most important thing about this change – the change between Asilomar I and II – is that the 38 diverse organisations (headquartered in almost as many countries) actually got together by e-mail and telephone over the course of one week. In the brief space of a few days, individuals and organisations were able to adopt a strategy and agree on a text that represented their common views. The work was done without formality. That group of people was every bit as diverse in their background and experience as the people in our stories.

Terminating a technology
This was not an isolated experience. Less than three months earlier, in Curitiba, Brazil, more than 6,500 farmers, at least a thousand indigenous people and several hundred activist NGOs faced off the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand at a meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – and won. The fight was over Terminator technology – what the media called genetically modified suicide seeds and what Via Campesina called genocide seeds – because the inability to save and replant seed will wipe out crop genetic diversity and small farmers around the world. Pushed by Monsanto and other multinational seed companies, four governments were trying to overturn the UN’s de facto moratorium against the use of Terminator. Going into the meeting, all sides were betting that the United States and Monsanto would win. Nothing more than the sheer energy and persistence of the people turned defeat into a huge victory. By the end of the UN meeting, the de facto moratorium was universally recognised to be a real moratorium and the corporations and their pet countries retreated into silence. One moment turned the tide against the US and Monsanto. At a critical juncture in the middle of the vast intergovernmental meeting, about 50 indigenous women farmers stood up from their places in the back, lined themselves along the front of the podium, lit candles, and held up hand-written placards warning against Terminator seeds. The silent vigil won the thanks of the Chair and the applause of the delegations. Of course, there were also huge marches and protests, and all contributed to the corporate defeat. But in the end what worked was the close collaboration, in their national capitals and in Brazil, of NGOs and social movements – many of whom hadn’t planned to work together until they found themselves in Brazil – and a single demonstration by 50 women. Taken together: For all our defeats and pseudo successes, civil society is stronger and more capable today than ever before. We can do a lot. We can make things happen. We can change the world.

Taken together Reflections in the old house
December, 2035
The day after the Right Livelihood Awards, Anita met Qi at Arlanda airport and the two raced to catch a late commuter train to the little university town not far from the capital. Qi crashed into the carriage corridor so forcefully that he almost bounced Abebe Jideani from his wheelchair. The Ethiopian was with Alitash Tefere, Suyuan Woo and their baby, waiting for a gaggle of Stockholm commuters to clear the aisle so they could stow his wheelchair. In the end, Tash plunked the baby in Abebe’s lap and joined Anita on the seats facing Qi and Suyuan Woo. The WHO Director-General spent the 40-minute train ride grumbling that the Swedish government had offered him a limo that would have been much more convenient for everybody. Suyuan Woo did her best to make his journey as miserable as possible, elbowing him as she fussed with the baby and talking with Abebe, whom she hadn’t seen since the World Social Forum in Harare. Getting down from the train in the old town, Abebe eyed the long line of tiny taxis dubiously until Suyuan Woo happily volunteered Qi to push the wheelchair the half kilometer route up the hill. Qi muttered something unintelligible. ‘I suppose you’re going to lecture me about the wonders of the new artificial legs,’ Abebe demanded, turning to see Qi over his shoulder. Carefully putting on an elegant pair of leather gloves to protect against the December cold, Qi frowned down on him, ‘We have ways to make you walk,’ he minced menacingly. Sweden was making global warming a liar this winter. There was an unusual amount of fluff y snow for early December and it seemed inclined to stay around. The little band of foreigners trudged across the bridge, up the hill, and passed the castle surrounded by a city preparing for the Festival of Santa Lucia. Passersby were obviously enjoying the weather. There were lights in the old house when they reached the top of the hill and crossed into the courtyard. Inga Thorvaldson was already there in the downstairs kitchen putting together a drink tray. ‘Not upstairs?’ Abebe pleaded. ‘Not again?’ ‘You need the exercise,’ she chided him, ‘you’re getting fat,’ leaning down to give him a hug. To Qi’s immense dismay, Abebe popped out of the wheelchair and scampered cat-like up the staircase. There were sounds of laughter somewhere up above. The old house, built in the early 1700s, was the office of an institute well-known to its visitors and – for the last half decade – led by Inga after her brief sojourn in national politics. The travellers followed Abebe up and walked through the conference room to the cosy little salon at the rear of the building. Someone had lit candles to soften the darkness outside. This time of year, this far north in Sweden, the sun was setting by three in the afternoon and didn’t make another appearance until late the next morning. Marta Flores and João Sergio were already there. They had accepted a ride from the Right Livelihood organisers earlier in the day. Marta was drinking tea. João Sergio was admiring the bottles on Inga’s tray.

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Qi made for the sofa and patted the empty seat beside him, looking at Anita invitingly. She smiled back sweetly and folded herself into the wicker chair opposite. Suyuan Woo, with the baby once again, commandeered the remainder of the sofa and immediately poured herself and Qi a hefty dollop of Scotch. Qi scrutinised the game bird on the label apprehensively. ‘It’s the best blended Scotch there is,’ the journalist told him. ‘That says it all,’ Qi sighed. For a time, the bottle floated from hand to hand, with the quiet broken only by the clatter of ice cubes and the soft snores of the sleeping little boy. ‘To farmers!’ Inga raised her glass. ‘To farmers,’ they agreed as Marta tentatively hoisted her teacup. They were eight, in all – friends, old friends, and those who just knew of one another by reputation or organisation. João Sergio had resigned himself to a long evening as Marta’s interpreter but, as it turned out, Qi and Anita were both fluent in Spanish. It was a little stilted at fi rst but, before long, the reception began to feel like a reunion. On the coffee table and the side tables, and in every nook and cranny in the salon were books and papers. Next to the little clearing made for the drinks tray, one document caught Suyuan Woo’s attention. ‘What’s this?’ she asked no one in particular. ‘From shareholder to stakeholder – reshaping the corporation… Where did this come from?’ ‘It’s that Ginger group in Oxford, working on grand challenges,’ Inga Thorvaldson answered. ‘Very cutting-edge,’ Qi chimed in, ‘I like their stuff. They’ve been looking at ways to push the global consortia on disease research to the next level.’ He paused to translate for Marta. ‘So, they’re apologists for the corporations?’ Joao Sergio asked, reaching for the bottle bearing the game bird. ‘Maybe they’re just realistic,’ the WHO official snorted. ‘Rather than complaining, rather than hanging around waiting for Nirvana or the revolution, they’re trying to make a bad thing better!’ Alitash Tefare took the paper from her partner, ‘They did a workshop at the African Union a couple of years ago,’ she offered. ‘Interesting. They argue that head-on attacks and campaigns against specific corporations or industries are

getting us nowhere and that we have to strike at the core of the corporation – challenge the notion that they can occupy public space solely for the profit of their shareholders. They’re saying that we need to reinterpret the role of stakeholders in the corporation and instil the legal concept that every stakeholder is equal. By their reckoning, shareholders are only one element alongside those who work for the company, those who represent the workers through trade unions and those who provide natural resources, technologies or environmental services for the corporation. By restructuring the concept of the corporation and who they answer to, they hope to wind down destructive capitalism and replace it with socially-oriented public/private production.’ ‘It’s a little simplistic,’ Qi added, ‘but at least it’s an effort to get things moving – and its shortterm strategy is to promote public/private partnerships that have immediate benefits, like drugs for poor people. As all the stakeholders build up their experience with these partnerships, they think the government and the companies will have to accept growing public opinion that the corporations must change.’ ‘That’s bullshit,’ snapped João Sergio. ‘It’s worse than bullshit,’ Suyuan Woo boomed from her corner of the sofa, ‘it’s bloody destructive.’ The infant beside her – startled – coughed, and settled again. Anita planted her feet on the ground and leaned forward. ‘What it does is help governments persuade the public that companies are good publicspirited citizens even when they do nothing. The last time the Secretary-General launched a round of Global Compact partnerships, barely five of the 500 agreements announced actually made it past the talking stage. The companies just got lots of free publicity and the critics lost ground.’ ‘But,’ Qi interjected, ‘they have donated some patents and they have supported some drug research. No one is saying they do this out of the goodness of their heart but at least they’re being forced to do something.’ ‘However did you get elected?’ Anita wondered. ‘I have friends in low places,’ Qi giggled. ‘The unions are mostly compromised,’ Inga told them. ‘They want to increase their stake in cor-

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porate governance, of course, but they really don’t want to share power with a bunch of activist NGOs that don’t depend on the success of the company for their pay cheques.’ ‘They’ve got a point,’ Suyuan Woo conceded. ‘NGOs are great at staking out the moral high ground and not caring if the stake is driven through someone else’s heart.’ The journalist turned to Marta and João Sergio. ‘Farmers’ organisations have had their problems with NGOs too, haven’t they?’ Anita translated for Marta as Joao Sergio replied. ‘When I was a kid in the movement, NGOs didn’t even know we existed. We’d go to meetings, and the NGOs, the governments and the scientists would sit around talking about us and about food security as though we weren’t in the room. I remember one meeting of that big international scientific network that Marta fought with…’ He paused and consulted with Marta. ‘At one meeting, someone said, “Why don’t you invite farmers to be on your management committees?” Someone, I think from Rockefeller Foundation, said it was a good idea but farmers didn’t have time.’ The MST organiser lifted his arms as those seeking divine understanding. ‘It’s like any farmer would have to be home by nightfall to milk the cows.’ He paused again for another exchange with Marta. ‘But the NGOs were worse. They insisted on speaking for us and when we tried to get fi nancial support for our organisations they did everything in their power to be the intermediaries between ourselves and donor aid agencies in the North. The more we organised, the more they felt threatened.’ The dam burst. Marta – who, until then, had maintained an unnatural calm – threw herself into the debate. ‘João Sergio is an old man,’ she said affectionately. ‘By the time I came along – attending social forums and those terrible meetings with the Biodiversity Convention – NGOs were trying to be our best friends. They acted like they were our advisors – experts – the political strategists and the ones who really knew what was going on. These were the same NGOs that a few years before didn’t even realise that farmers were carefully saving more seed diversity than governments and that we were doing more plant breeding than scientific institutions.’ ‘Hey,’ Anita laughed with a tinge of awkwardness, ‘I’m part of an NGO. We don’t all act like that.’ For a moment, Anita disappeared, enveloped in Marta’s huge hug, ‘Of course not – not you. The worst were the really big environment

and development NGOs.’ As Anita sucked oxygen back into her lungs, Marta went on, ‘Those big NGOs act like the big corporations. They only care about their bottom line in fund-raising and in getting publicity. Of course, they have some good people and do some good work but they’ve lost sight of their goal.’ ‘In Ethiopia,’ Abebe Jideani added, ‘we used to make fun of them. We joked about how all of the big development NGOs would merge into one multinational monstrosity. ‘I love it,’ Qi chortled. ‘How about I arrange a merger with Anita – we’d call it ‘WHO/ Witch’?’ ‘I thought we were talking about corporations,’ said Suyuan Woo, suppressing a chuckle. ‘Let’s just agree that within the civil society orbit, NGOs and social movements have some serious talking to do.’ ‘Sure, back to corporations,’ Inga agreed, ‘but I want to make the point that big social movements – whether they’re farm organisations or trade unions or whatever kind of mass membership structure – have an inherent tendency toward conservatism as they become stronger. Rather than get into bed with them, activist NGOs have a role as outside agitators and friendly critics.’ ‘The NGOs can grow conservative, too,’ João Sergio insisted. ‘They have no constituency – no one to answer to. They could become arrogant or they could fall apart when they’re needed.’ Inga nodded. ‘So, the answer is not to depend on them. If they fall down or screw up, the social movements and communities should be able to select other allies. Fundamentally, NGOs are replaceable. Good social movements are hard to fi nd.’ João Sergio stirred water into his Scotch and stared reflectivly at Inga, ‘In the early days of the union movement, we let ourselves be divided by corporations and by industry. We should have stuck together. The same has been true for civil society in general. Some work on water, some work on global warming, some are peace activists… We have NGOs concerned only about forests or dams and others that work only on literacy or health or human rights. We’re missing the point. We all realise it’s the companies and their pet governments that have to change. We need to work together to fight the damned multinationals.’ His hand slapped the coffee table. The

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game bird hit the floor running and the baby cried anxiously. ‘If you’re talking about creating a super-activist CSO,’ Abebe snapped, ‘forget it. We’re smart dust. We work better as smart dust. We need to be self-sustaining but we also need to work together whenever the synergy is necessary. Of course, we could network better – more consciously and consistently – but we’ve been improving on that for a long time now. We don’t do so badly,’ the truck driver concluded. ‘United you fall,’ Qi said softly, ‘divided you stand.’ There was his trademark giggle that never quite made it to his eyes, ‘The people united...’ ‘Shut up,’ Anita and Suyuan Woo snapped in unison. Qi ignored them and turned to Abebe. The two men had met several times before… fi rst with Tash in Aksum and then often when the scientist visited Ethiopia on duty travel working for WHO. He had persuaded Abebe Jideani to serve on a disability rights advisory panel. ‘So, what can civil society really do about multinational corporations and their dominance of the government agenda?’ ‘Do what Marta and João Sergio have taught us. Stay small, stay diverse, stay on the periphery, stay connected. Don’t make an easy target.’ ‘Then, why not add to that diversity by allowing this Oxford group to knock the corporations’ legs out from under them by shifting ownership from shareholders to stakeholders? Do you think they deliver pizzas this hour of the night?’ Qi added, without pausing. Suyuan Woo wanted in. ‘You don’t fight corporate collusion by joining it,’ she insisted. ‘Triangular partnerships between governments, corporations and civil society are always based on a technical fi x where the companies provide the expertise. This plays to their strength. It just makes it easier for them to make demands on government and the rest of us. Look at Atomsphere and Terra-forma. Their problem wasn’t to sequester carbon dioxide or shield us from ultraviolet rays or lower the temperature of the ocean surface, their problem was to convince governments and society that already-giant corporations should be allowed to merge across every sector of the economy and that they should be able to monopolise the periodic table to the exclusion of others. The big environmental NGOs

almost let them get away with it. They almost got what they wanted.’ The tide of debate ebbed and flowed around the candle-lit room – swinging from a tax on corporations to jabs at civil society and swirling around the need to build resiliency and community. More papers were moved and sifted. There were times when Qi Qubang and Suyuan Woo seemed on the verge of war and – as the hours progressed – more times when the anger in her voice harmonised with the sadness in his and the two seemed close to agreement. Occasionally, the conversation splintered as Abebe, Marta, and João Sergio compared notes on rural organising or as Tash pulled Anita and Inga into strategies for some upcoming UN conferences they would all attend. Most of the time, they argued and laughed together – as often gossiping as organising. But Anita and Qi had to be at Arlanda airport early in the morning and Suyuan Woo and Alitash not much later – and the little baby was awake and hungry. With a happy tiredness, they helped Inga clean up the salon and wash the dishes in the kitchen. Those who weren’t staying with Inga were putting up at a little hotel hard by the river. As she sometimes did after such evenings, Inga proposed a fi nal toast. João Sergio grabbed the game bird by its neck and poured for everyone. As they stood together in the entranceway with their coats on, Inga raised her glass to the formal portrait adorning one wall. ‘To the boss,’ she said simply. They clinked glasses, drank briefly, and forged their separate pathways through the bright clean snow.

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