Hervé Kemph is a French environmental journalist and a student of global capitalism. His book, How the Rich are Destroying the Planet has caused a bit of a stir thus far, and will likely have more impact once translated into English. Some will call Kemph's writing just another extremist environmental rant. Others, like me, will welcome it as an opportunity to examine ourselves and our culture. We will no doubt be hearing more about Kemph as time goes by. In the meantime, we have a couple of Truthout.org articles to draw from. In part:
The Rich Stand Accused, Louis-Rilles Francoeur, Le Devoir, (via Truthout.org, 01/07/07): …"We cannot understand the simultaneity of the ecological and social crises if we do not analyze them as two facets of the same disaster. This disaster derives from a system piloted by a dominant social stratum that today has no drive but greed, no ideal but conservatism, no dream but technology. This predatory oligarchy is the principal agent of the global crisis," writes Kempf. "The present form of capitalism," he adds in an interview, "has lost its former historic ends, that is to say the creation of wealth and innovation, because it has become a financial capitalism, disparaged even by capitalist economists. This capitalism, which destroys jobs by rationalizations, new technologies and globalizations, overall and everywhere increases the disparities between rich and poor within each country and between different countries," the journalist observes.See also: How the Rich Are Destroying the Planet: A Review by Leslie Thatcher, Truthout.org, 03/15/07
…This oligarchy he targets is not satisfied with blindly consuming and wasting the planet's material resources with its big cars, its airplane trips, its unbridled consumption of living products, its uselessly vast houses, its unrestrained energy wastage. It has also, adds Hervé Kempf, spawned a model of hyper-consumption that the lower and especially the middle classes now attempt to imitate, just as developing countries try to imitate Western countries - even though, whether instinctively or rationally, everyone clearly knows that "this ideology of waste" and its drain on planetary resources will inevitably come to an abrupt end. …
… Although he does not address the impact of unchecked [human population growth] on the decline of the planet's "biological services" in his essay, Hervé Kempf immediately acknowledges that this factor certainly has an impact that is greater overall than any hyper-consumption by this oligarchy, composed of several hundred thousand millionaires and billionaires who control the bulk of income and of financial capital. However, he explains, it's this oligarchy that creates an unsustainable model for the planet, the indirect impact of which on other social groups exceeds its direct consumption. "And," he says dryly, "not all humans have the same impact on the planet at birth: a Westerner carries more weight in the planet's fate than a baby from Niger or from India."
It's to put an end to this ostentatious consumption that he advocates radical control of wealth through "a ceiling on maximum salaries and on the accumulation of wealth," a sort of matching piece for the minimum wage, but on the upper side.
"Everyone," Kempf comments, "knows that China will never be able to reach a level of consumption per inhabitant comparable to that of the Americans, with two cars per family, three televisions, four computers and cell phones, a house three times too big for its inhabitants, which generates energy consumption that would be sufficient to the needs of ten, even twenty people on other continents." The environmental chronicler proposes that a reduction of its consumption be imposed on this oligarchy that has globalized poverty, so that it no longer feeds this unsustainable dream, which numbs the critical faculties of the entire planet to the point that it closes its eyes to the wall into which it is careening full speed ahead. …
… [K]nown for his rigor and level-headedness, [Kempf] nevertheless concludes: "It is still necessary for ecological concerns to be based on a radical political analysis of present relationships of domination. We will not be able to reduce global material consumption if the powerful are not brought down and if inequality is not combated. To the ecological principle so useful at the dawning of awareness - "Think globally, act locally" - we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: "Consume less, share better."
Ecologists, he adds, have not often conducted an inquiry into the "ecological misery" that parks the poor next to industrial neighborhoods, polluted and at risk, next to highways or noisy activities, in the most insalubrious houses and in sectors generally the least well-served by public services, including public transportation. It is wrong, he says, to act as though the economic system must grow more to bring these people out of poverty or to allow more poor people to attain greater wealth. The economic system works in the other direction, by monopolizing wealth and power at the expense of those who have the least, and of the middle classes that dream - ever more vainly - of hoisting themselves into the cocoon of the present financial oligarchy, Kempf maintains.
That's why, he says, we must "bring down the rich" rather than pull up the poor, in order to begin to respect the thresholds of irreversible deterioration of the planet's resources.
He takes aim, moreover, at the concept of sustainable development and the alibi it now constitutes for governments and companies that use it to justify other drains on resources in the name of this new rationale that is supposedly harmless for the planet. Sustainable development, he writes, has become "a semantic weapon to remove the dirty word, 'ecology.' Moreover, is there any need to still develop France, Germany, or the United States? The concept has meaning, he concluded in an interview yesterday, but only in developing countries, because it can help them to avoid a development as brutal and lawless as the one we have effected in the West. But in the West, he says, the first of our environmental responsibilities "consists of reducing our consumption of material goods" to attain a level of well-being based rather on values, knowledge, in sum on immaterial, but nonetheless very real, riches.