Big business trumps the planet, every time

December 30th, 2011 atam Posted in Building, Climate change, Greenwash, Peak oil | No Comments »

The Chief Executive’s words to the US consul general – that “the great fear in Hong Kong is not taxation without representation, but `representation without taxation’ in which the non-taxpaying majority would dictate [terms] to the taxpayers.” – is so haunting in light of the announcement that the “people of Hong Kong” are in favour of a third runway at the airport.

Never mind the environmental impact, the air traffic situation in the region, or even aviation carbon emissions. Can we afford to spend HK$136.2 billion on a third runway when healthcare cost alone, which stood at HK$68 billion in 2004/05, is projected to rise to 26.5% of GDP by 2030, according to the government’s own favourite think tank, the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre?

Or put it another way: why are we being asked to pay for mandatory health insurance when so many are already struggling to cope with mortgages/rates/management fees, ever-rising food prices, etc; when there ought to be plenty of money in the kitty for providing the necessary healthcare to an ageing population if silly money wasn’t being spent on unnecessary hardware?

Why are the priorities all wrong?

The answer, of course, is that big business wants it that way. Big business wants the hardware to secure its profits, the needs of ordinary people be damned. If we look at the big business that went out of its way to support the third runway, we’d see a host of companies with a nice record of “corporate social responsibility”. Companies that plant trees, send their staff to volunteer for NGOs and sponsor climate change conferences.

The trouble is, the damage caused by their pursuit of profit, whether it’s the planet or the sustainability of the local socioeconomic system, is so much more than their positive contribution. It’s so easy to make a billion and donate a dollar. I’m reminded of the various world religions that invariably have a parable comparing the offering of a rich man vs that of a poor one. Why is it that the holy ones always value the latter’s humble offering so much more, even though in practical terms it’s so much less? Because it’s all she’s got. And yet, most likely, the priest will kick her aside while welcoming the rich man with many kowtows.

Thus it is that while the poor who pay little or no tax may break their backs to make sure the cogs of this city keep turning, scant attention is ever paid to their well-being.

That huge amount is being spent on top of other huge amounts, all designed to make Hong Kong less, not more, resilient in a very different world. The year 2012 is likely to mark not just the start of a global downturn, but the pressing reality of climate change, peak oil and high inflation. What’s being done to help us cope with them?

“As pollution, financial instability, health problems, and inequality continue to grow, and as political systems remain paralysed, capitalism’s future might not seem so secure in a few decades as it seems now.”

Mark those words of Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University and former IMF chief economist.

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