Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Beware of the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development

Sharon Beder's classic book "Global Spin" has many examples of how conservative forces distort public opinion, and also lists cases of misleadingly named lobby groups, which purport to protect the environment, but actually are fronts for ongoing environmental destruction, such as the "Wise Use Movement".

Now there is a entire journal which appears to be acting in a similar way - called the "Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development" .

You might think, with a name like that, that this open-access (thus well-funded), peer reviewed journal would work in the interests of sustainable development. But after reading most of the articles in the current issue, I think exactly the reverse is true. The current issue focuses on the population debate. It has an article by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, which warns of the peril which civilisation faces. I was a reviewer of this paper, and I am in broad agreement with it. (See: The Return of the Population Bomb for a shorter version, including the brilliant proposal for a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior to globally examine and publicly discuss the failures of cultural evolution to direct society towards sustainability - something not in their longer article.

However every other article in the current issue of this journal is much more dismissive of any Limit to Growth. It is true that there is good scholarship in some of the articles. But there is also much bias - particularly revealed by what is not mentioned. For example, the paper on the global food prospect has no discussion of climate change or surface level ozone - two enormous risks to food security especially in the tropics and polluted parts of China and India. Nor does it hint at the worsening current food crisis - the number of people with protein and energy undernutrition is now thought to have passed a billion.

The essay is far too optimistic.

Who is funding this journal? The answer is that it is a co-production of International Policy Network and the University of Buckingham

This university offers 3 year degrees in 2 years, which always makes me suspicious. There is no free lunch. The International Policy Network is supportive of free markets, including presumably, the market forces which have allowed Goldman Sachs to make US$1.58 million in profit per hour, despite the spreading gloom of unemployment in the US and elsewhere.

In fact, an essay by Matt Taibbi published two days ago in Rolling Stone brilliantly describes Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money".

The financial resources available to those who oppose sustainability, and who deny limits to growth are vast. Profits from destroying nature and enslaving people can be used to pay for lobbyists in order to manipulate the law and the application of the law (eg by threatening libel) in order to keep doing the same, that is to keep taking money from the poor and from the future. A tiny amount of this money can easily find its way to support journals such as the Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development, thus also providing academic evidence to support more of the same.

In short, my suspicion is that this journal is deeply subversive, but in the wrong (unsustainable) direction. I haven't read the two earlier issues of this journal, but advise caution. On the positive side, though, this journal does include at least one paper which recommends we take great care of the Earth, including by slowing the rate of human population increase.