portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article

Pressure on Corporations

In this interview with Thilo Belo, leader of Greenpeace Germany, the role of citizen organizations is emphasized. Business as usual to the auto industry, Belo says, is 30 percent increase in pollution in the next decade.
Pressure on Corporations

Interview with Greenpeace leader Thilo Bode on the Role of Citizen Organizations and a Deal with the Auto-Industry

[This interview originally published in: DIE ZEIT, 05/2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de/2001/05/Wirtschaft/200105_interview_bode.html.]

DIE ZEIT: Shortly before the Davos meeting, the Internagtional Committee for Climate Change (ICCC) intensified its warning about the consequences of the warming of the atmosphere. At last year's world economic forum, the participants agreed that the greenhouse effect was the most urgent problem of humanity. Will we now see deeds?

THILO BODE: In Davos, the whole industrial elite of the world including the automobile industry is meeting. Business as usual in the auto-branch could mean an increase in CO2 emissions from 30 to 50 percent in the transportation sector within the next decade. The climate summit of Kyoto urged a 5 percent reduction of emissions. This shows the urgency of a change of course.

ZEIT: Have the auto-managers understood this?

BODE: The auto industry is prepared for a dialogue with Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in which we want to reach agreements on certain ideas.

ZEIT: Where must the corporations change?

BODE: The heavy gas guzzlers must be abandoned for a mobility that is environmentally-friendly which includes higher gas prices.

ZEIT: Many consumers depend on upgraded four-wheel drive.

BODE: For a long time, the automobile branch massively supported this dependence through advertising. The ads never admitted that car driving is dangerous for the climate.

ZEIT: That the new US president George Bush is not convinced doesn't make the problem easier.

BODE: Nowhere does the economy dominate politics as strongly as in the US. Therefore policy ultimately depends on the corporations.

ZEIT: Can you seriously expect that effective steps will be taken?

BODE: A process must be initiated. An advertising that emphasizes emissions instead of emotions is part of environmentally-friendly mobility. The branch may not only talk green and seek to undermine advances through classical lobby politics. The most recent example for such schizophrenia was the attempt of the automobile industry in Germany to defeat the eco-tax.

ZEIT: What do you see as the result of the demonstrators in Davos who are staging a globalization festival?

BODE: The emissions of carbon dioxide could be reduced with public support of the goals of the climate summit in Kyoto. Davos offers a unique opportunity since the whole branch is assembled. Industry emphasizes that it prefers voluntary steps. This assumes that all corporations will follow suit and take seriously their global responsibility.

ZEIT: The angry demonstrators and globalization opponents reproach you for wheeling and dealing with the powerful of the world. Isn't that embarrassing for Greenpeace?

BODE: No. It is part of the logic that NGOs are only allowed when the general public exerts pressure. Creating an opposition between outside and inside is a misunderstanding.

ZEIT: Thus protest outside is necessary.

BODE: John Browne, head of BP/ Amoco, asked me: Why must you attack us publically when we can speak civilized with one another?" My answer: "Without our actions against your oil project in Alaska, we would not be sitting here together."

ZEIT: Can acts of violence be possibly justified?

BODE: We distance ourselves from groups that commit violence against persons and objects. They are harmful because important matters are undermined.

ZEIT: Is there a chance of winning militant globalization opponents who believe that only force can help to the course of Greenpeace?

BODE: The best way to avoid acts of violence is to induce change. Big business seems more interested in stock prices and mergers than in solving global problems. Money and commerce have become values dominating everything.

ZEIT: Greenpeace destroys genetic rice fields and blocks plutonium routes. Aren't these violations of the law?

BODE: The courts decide who violates law and order. We do not claim any kind of moral right. We defend the right of future generations to the protection of their foundations for life and seek the further development of environmental law.

ZEIT: Governmental authorities see this differently.

BODE: We believe that the state dreadfully neglects this responsibility. Essential environmental changes which led to new national and international laws first came about on account of our campaigns.

ZEIT: Can you give an example?

BODE: The protection of the last temperate rain forest in Canada. After an action against cutting down the Canadian rain forest, I spent a week in jail in 1993. Now the area has been adopted as a bio-preserve of Unesco with a strict impact ban.

ZEIT: Are action and dialogue the carrot and stick for the powerful of the world?

BODE: Both belong to the strategy. The tactical question is then how much time should be spent inside or outside? Whoever only acts inside loses time for important actions. From the perspective of Greenpeace, direct nonviolent actions are central.

We don't break any law but in grave cases accept legal infractions to defend overarching rights - for example, resistance to immediate dangers. The courts decide at the end. The state and economy have no monopoly in defining justice and injustice. Don't you believe that Europe's governments concerning BSE have considerably violated the rights of third parties?

ZEIT: Isn't there a communication problem because the strategy of Greenpeace is too complex for angry young persons?

BODE: I think the strategy is very simple.

ZEIT: How important is Davos?

BODE: In terms of influence and power, compared to the world economic forum, a UN plenary assembly is like a community parliament. Therefore we attempted to use the Davos meeting for our goals.

ZEIT: For a long time, Davos was largely informal.

BODE: The powerful of the world fool around with important subjects here. For a long time, representatives of civil society were mostly excluded. This year we see a chance of driving in a peg.

ZEIT: The expected agreement with automobile industry.

BODE: Davos could be transformed to a meeting that pushes developments that aren't only in the economic interest. In Davos, global environmental problems could be discussed, not only political questions or important business deals.

ZEIT: Clearly the preservation of the world is only possible with corporations.

BODE: Logically but only when they are constantly under pressure. If we can't encourage the great plays to rethink, whether out of insight or as a result of campaigns, we cannot advance.

ZEIT: What happens when the conflict of interests sharply explodes, around the exploitation of the arctic oil reserves in Alaska? Will the civil dialogue with John Brown and BP end?

BODE: No. Most corporations have learned to live with conflict and dialogue. We are not at war. We argue publically to make our points. We at Greenpeace name our goals openly and ask the corporations whether they agree. If they don't change their business strategy, we must put them under pressure.

ZEIT: Has the conflict on the executive floors become greater?

BODE: I believe so. They follow shareholder value and profit maximization and at the same time strongly praise to the skies their global responsibility. Greenpeace and other NGOs must be anxious that they take this responsibility seriously.

ZEIT: Your last appearance as Greenpeace head occurs with Davos. What are your feelings?

BODE: At the end one tries to influence as much as possible which is ultimately illusory. At the same time, one distances oneself more.

ZEIT: What are your plans?

BODE: The destruction of our world through profit-seeking and self-interest will not let me cool down in the future.

The Welfare State, Globalization and the Rule of the Market

By Christoph Butterwegge

[This introduction is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.sozialextra.com/konfi/skizzen/butterwegge.htm Christoph Butterwegge is a professor of political science in Koln.]

For a long time, the welfare state has been in the crossfire of criticism. The welfare state hinders the economic upswing and can no longer be financed at least in its past form, it is said everywhere. "Globalization" is a key term of the social-political discussion which for many participants includes a certain development of the welfare state. When the economies grow together, the world market dictates the policies of nation states and societies only function as economic locations whose competitiveness decides over the level of everyone's prosperity. The social cannot play a great role any more.

Questions press which were not previously answered either by the governing politicians or their advisors. Does world market integration of more and more economies necessarily lead to the reduction of social achievements in welfare states like Germany or is it a product of political decisions and hierarchies of power? In other words, do interested circles of the business camp misuse globalization as a battle cry for their frontal attack on the social security system? What are political alternatives for breaking the downward spiral with regard to profit taxes, social- and environmental standards and the general level of prosperity (mass income)?

The welfare state systematically regressing since 1974/76 and intensively since 1982 must be reformed, democratized and decentralized. Bureaucratization tendencies and encrustations can be broken without attacking its substance. The neoliberal positional logic must be refuted, solidarity reestablished and the welfare state rebuilt and developed according to its key role for the development of a democratic and social civil society. In the long-term, the system of social security cannot be tied to paid work and the falling wage rate (declining since the 80s). If all citizens in Germany were seized by the social security obligation and protected from elementary life risks by a needs-oriented basic security, poverty as a mass social phenomenon would be removed for ever. Germany could exist without inner fracturing through growing income disparities.

homepage: homepage: http://www.geocities.com/marc_batko
phone: phone: 503-229-0628
address: address: 310 NW 6th Ave., Portland