Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wealth: water or diamonds? What is worth more to the thirsty and hungry?

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Ed Miliband drew on the well known Oscar Wilde quote ‘What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ in his first conference speech as Labour leader. Strange coming from a man who directly equates ever increasing money flow through our economy (GDP growth) with progress and wellbeing. Ed, along with Tory David Cameron and Lib Dem Nick Clegg, supports and advocates a corrupted notion of wealth which is narrow, materialist and cash-value centred.

Wealth creation has come to mean the stockpiling of affluence, running down finite natural resources, wasting and mismanaging potentially renewable resources like water such that many people around the globe struggle even to get enough to drink and wash. What is worth more to the thirsty and hungry – water or diamonds?

‘Value’ is largely what can be bought and sold if you have Ed’s (and Dave’s and Nick’s) view. The rich continue to hoard, deny the poor, and build for their leisure, recreation and luxury. The poorest around the globe continue to be unable to meet their basic needs such as decent public clean water supply and healthy sewage disposal systems. In fact the rich (and relatively speaking that’s most of us living in the Western hemisphere) are rich precisely because others are poor – GDP growth, Ed’s, Dave’s and Nick’s primary focus, has been very large over many decades and in many countries but numbers unable to meet basic needs are also very high!

We are GDP growing out of proportion to the proper, healthy working of life support systems. These systems include: those that can continually supply rainwater; those that keep our climate in a reasonably stable balance; those that process our soils, keeping them productive; many that keep ecosystems in a diverse state. Furthermore, we are sapping the energies and threatening the existence of the whole interconnected water, air, soil and biodiversity system – yet this is the source of our resources and the basis of our lives and thus is our true wealth.

We are also GDP growing out of proportion to the healthy working of socio-economic systems. Acting on the notion of wealth creation as increasing money flow through our economy has resulted in relatively small numbers of individuals and institutions with inordinate, concentrated cash and property. This inequality and unfairness decreases quality of life and as time passes is increasingly destabilising. Very strange, then, that Ed – and Dave and Nick – talk so much about building a fair society.

To benefit people and planet, GDP growth needs to pass tests of: efficiency; renewability; respecting environmental limits; building stronger local communities; meeting needs now and in the future; local and global fairness; health, wellbeing and quality of life. This means taking a very different view of wealth.

For more on water and related issues see:

Oxfam 'Sow the Seed' of hope event on College Green

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Bristol political leaders join top chef to urge action on climate change Oxfam South West stages event at College Green to call on world leaders to ‘Sow the Seed’ of hope

Political leaders from across the political spectrum in Bristol were joined by one of the city’s top chefs at College Green this morning, to urge more action from world leaders on climate change.
Council leader Barbara Janke, deputy Labour leader Mark Bradshaw, Green Party Councillor Tess Green and Liberal Democrat councillor Anthony Negus said they were delighted to support Oxfam South West’s ‘Sow the Seed’ campaign.

Meanwhile, one of Bristol’s finest and most respected chefs – Chris Wicks, from Bells Diner in Montpelier, which has just been named as one of Britain’s top 100 restaurants – came along in his chef’s outfit to back the campaign.

More than 100 ‘Sow the Seed’ labels were planted in the ground outside the Council House, bearing Oxfam’s call for the international community to help farmers in the world’s poorest countries deal with the devastating effects of climate change.

Speaking at the event, Barbara Janke said: “Speaking as someone from Bristol in the center of a major food-growing area, we are more sympathetic than most to the effects of climate change on farmers in the developing world.

“We’ve seen in Pakistan floods the most recent dramatic effect of extreme weather, but this is clearly affecting people around the world, where climate change is already affecting food production and their ability to be self-sufficient.

“We need to address climate change as a global problem and raise awareness of how important this is.”

The event is part of a global week of campaign events that aim to highlight the devastating effects of climate change on food production in the world’s poorest areas.

In Pakistan, for example, up to 40 per cent of households in the flood-affected areas lost all food stocks. Fodder for livestock has also been lost, so even families who have been able to save some of their animals are struggling to keep them alive.

Mark Bradshaw said he was delighted the campaign was happening in Bristol and that the effects of climate change were something that we “cannot ignore”.

He also called for the introduction of a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on banks to pay for the world’s poor to adapt to and survive climate change.

“In the current tough economic times it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the climate change agenda. Now more than ever do we need to invest in tackling it.

“That’s why it’s so important to introduce a Robin Hood Tax so that the financial industry pays its full contribution to addressing climate change.

Chris Wicks, whose restaurant – a fixture in Montpelier for more than 20 years – prides itself on using locally sourced produce, added: “In my restaurant it is important for us to do our bit by using local products to cut down food miles. But it is essential that we help poor farmers develop their own industries.”


For press information contact: Christopher Brown at Oxfam South West on 0117 916 6474 or 07887 632 658 or

Notes to editors: The Sow the Seed event at College Green is part of a series of events around the world during the week, highlighting the strength of the campaign to fight climate change. See:

Picture caption: Back row, from left: Cllr Anthony Negus, Chris Wicks and Barbara Janke. Front row, from left, Mark Bradshaw and Tess Green

Oxfam works with others to overcome poverty and suffering
Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International and a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 612172.Registered office: Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford, OX4 2JY.A registered charity in England and Wales (no 202918) and Scotland (SC 039042)