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David Miliband Interview with the BBC - 18 May 2008
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The British Foreign Secretary David Miliband
interviewed by the BBC's Newshour

This quote:
    ... third priority, which you say is encouraging a transition to a high growth low carbon economy. Now of course what that largely boils down to is finding some way to limit global carbon gas emissions without harming the prospects for economic growth...
illustrates the prevailing ideology and the narrowness of the response.

First and foremost, normal logic forbids continued growth in a finite environment, as we have explained in detail at various occasions (e.g. anniversaries).

Secondly, a "low carbon economy" is usually linked to a host of ideas on how to reduce carbon emissions and still maintaining our present exuberant lifestyles. Some of these ideas are feasible, like increasing energy efficiencies. But insulating houses and building well-insulated new building takes much time before it generates a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions - time that we don't have.

Thirdly, any emissions reductions will be undone by the effects of economic growth and population growth.

One conclusion is that environmental debate must urgently be democraticized, to include input from independent scientists, organisations like Greenpeace, and the normal public.
We should break the normal non-democratic format of frontal addresses by conventional "specialists" who are mostly commmitted to and biased toward the prevailing growth ideology. The public has the democratic right to voice their opinions and arguments in a balanced way.

Presently, the ritual of short questions and long answers actually hinders a real debate. It helps maintaining the status quo and the suicidal growth policies.

Helmut Lubbers
ecological psychologist and
environmental scientist
20 May - 1 June 2008

Also see
  • "Hostility to the notion of limits to growth" (with readers' comments)
  • "A world bursting at the seams" - Jeffrey Sachs
    Environmental developments:
  • The day of "Peak oil", i.e. the highest daily amount of oil extracted, is approaching. It is expected within one to twenty years. Thereafter petroleum will be used for prioritary applications. (compare fossil energy developments)

    Your comment or question
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    The Interview

    Foreign Secretary, we are going to your third priority, which you say is encouraging a transition to a high growth low carbon economy. Now of course what that largely boils down to is finding some way to limit global carbon gas emissions without harming the prospects for economic growth, particularly in countries like China and India.

    Now you were in China recently and our diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams was with you, so let's hear his report.
      A diplomatic and media possy on a well-trodden path along the Great Wall of China. A chance for David Miliband to absorb a little history. His guide, China's Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi:
      "It has been restored to a good condition. [Yang Jiechi]"
      And it's a symbol of China's strength or its integrity and unity, what is the symbolism, what would you say?
      "I think it's a symbol of the Chinese people's strong will, their wisdom. [Yang Jiechi]"

      Here, on the last leg of Mr Miliband's first visit to China, the diplomacy looks and sounds familiar enough. Formal visits, a little culture, and some carefully phrased remarks about human rights. Too carefully phrased for some, although this was before the latest events in Tibet. But this has been an unusual trip, the Foreign Secretary apparently eager to influence China's global role, his keynote speech all about what China with Britain can do to meet the challenges of climate change, failing states, global insecurity.

      "So responsible sovereignty is about how you treat your own citizens but responsible sovereignty is also about you relate to citizens around the world. [Miliband]"

      It's China's own future of course that's driving everything. In Shanghai we're given a virtual tour of the city in the future. Bright shiny images projected all around us as we hurtle through this hi-fi vision.
      "It stays an amazing tour of Shanghai. [announcement]"

      It's a wet and foggy morning. You can see the thirtieth floor but not the sixtieth floor of the skyscrapers in front of us. What about, Helen, a forty-five minute architectural introduction before we get down to work.
      "Right. This whole area is waiting to be redeveloped. It's the prime land of Shanghai."
      Showing us around is Erward Dennison, an architectural historial, based in Shanghai. We're looking out over the river at Pudong, a city of eight million people that sprung up in just fifteen years. Impressive certainly, But says Edward, more fragile than it looks.
      "The city itself is build on alluvial soils. So there is no bedrock in the city, So there's a city that boasts 4000 skyscrapers in the last four years, obviously facing pressure beyond just sea level rising. And the name itself Shanghai means above the sea. So we'll wait to see what that rings through in the future."

      The themes of climate change and sustainable development dominate our visit to a city, which more than anywhere else, illustrates the blistering pace of China's growth. It seems entirely appropriate that David Miliband's climate change guru is with us.

      "I'm John Ashton. I'm David Miliband's special representative fo climate change. You can't conceive of a successful response to climate change that doesn't include China moving very quickly to a low carbon economy. And the real conundrum is what's the passway that will enable China to keep on delivering prosperity to its people, while at the same time moving to low carbon."

      The consequence of China's urban explosion has been the arrival of millions of migrant workers from the countryside, many of them bringing their family with them. And so our trip takes us to a construction site in Chong Chin, deep in the Chinese interior. "... construction companies are all state-owned large enterprises... [announcment]". The city plans to attract a staggering 10 million people in from the countryside over the next five years. Appartment blocks are rising everywhere, teams of migrant labourers working around the clock.

      "Hi there. Hello. Is that Mi yu?" "And so there are eight men is this room. Is that right?" David Miliband wants to know more. He's just pledged British support for the area's development. On the construction suite he visits a tiny spartan dormitory home to migrant workers, to hear from the men themselves.

      "In the past, did you work as an agricultural labourer?"
      "in the past I did farming at home."
      "And does he want to back to live in the rural area or does he want to move his family to the city?"
      "My ideal is to come to the city."

      Just imagine what that desire expressed by millions of migrant workers across this huge country actually means. Traveling by car, using more electricty, placing a heavier burden on the environment. and all of these changes happening with breath-taking speed. There's no stopping any of this. But David Milliband really believes Britain has a role to play in mitigating the global consequences of China's headlong growth.

      "Hellooo...!" Chong Chin has been designated a pilot zone for a series of new policies, including giving the children of migrant workers access to education for the first time. At the nearby experimental school the children are curious about this visitor from another world.
      "What are you usually doing in England?"
      "What do I usually do? I see. My job is to be the Foreign Minister. So I try to represent the United Kingdom in working with other countries on some of the big problems that face the world.
      What do you want to do when you leave school? What's your aspiration for the future?"
      "I want to be a boss."
      "A boss. You want to be the president of China."
    Well, that was the Foreign Secretary in China recently. The report was by Paul Adams.

      And back here in London, Foreign secretary, the problem you have is that you're keen to engage with the Chinese on issues like sustainable development, achieving economic growth without increasing climate change concerns. you also know that there are very wide-spread concerns about their human rights records. How do you reconcile those two things?

      I think by speaking plainly and honestly, in respect to climate change there has been a big change in the last ten years because the changing climate is now seen as a threat to Chinese stability and actually to Chinese Growth. I don't think that there is any incompatibility between speaking plainly about cooperation on those issues and at the same time speaking plainly about human rights in general and specific issues in particular which I did on my visit.

      You don't think that you have to soft-paddle on human right if you want them to take seriously what you say about development?

      That's not my experience. No. I think the most important thing though, is that we are consistent about what we say on Human rights and that we say the same thing in public as we say in private, that we don't posture with a megaphone, that we actually engage seriously.

      Let's move on then to your fourth priority, forming the international system. Gordon Brown was talking about it in Boston not léong ago. He called for new global agreements and strengthened global institutions. He identified the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund as the sorts of institutions that he had in mind. But as you will know there are people who do wonder if reforming bloated international institutions really is the best way to make the world a better place.

      David Miliband, if I were a Chinese diplomat or a Russian diplomat and you started talking to me about a rules-based system in international institutions, I would say to you: Where was your belief in that when you went to war in Iraq? Where was your belief in that when recognised Kosovo?

      Well, Kosovo. Let's take that case. Resolution 1244, passed in 1999 in ruins of the former Yugoslavia, established the process that led to the independence of Kosovo, including a UN backed plan 14 months in the gestation from the former president of Finland, Mr Atasari. So I would say we followed the rules. We acted on the basis of international law. We acted on the basis of principle and pragmatism. I don't see the two as opposed and of course any country will say, well why should we listen to you. What I'm trying to say is there should be common cause here, whether you're a strong country or a weak country in having institutions that have a legitimacy and credibility from being aligned with the nature of the modern world, not with the world as it was, whether it's the Unietd Nations, the European Union or the International Monetary Fund. They were set up in the post second world war period for a different world, a world of the cold war. and the cold war is gone. There are new problems. There is a new distribution of power in the world that needs to be reflected.

      David Miliband, thank you very much.

      Thank you.
    That was the British Foreign Secretary speaking at length to Newshour's Robin Lustig. You are listening to the BBC World Service. I'm Julian Marshall with Newshour. (Feedback to Newshour: overtoyou @

    Transcript: Helmut Lubbers, 19.5.2008.