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20th Anniversary Rendezvous - Ralph Nader

Developing a sustainable, efficient global economy is going to require a geometrically higher level of urgency in the next 20 years, than in the past 20 years. The past 20 years documented the need for converting to sustainable energy, the need for recycling, the need for efficient use of natural resources, the need for reduction of harmful consumption, and the need for a better allocation of natural resources for the world's poor. These were all marched for, but little implemented. The next 20 years, if only because of the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, increasing shortage of water, and massive deforestation, will produce a crossroads culture which will either discernibly begin to disintegrate or begin to recuperate.

The biggest step to recuperation is.converting energy away from nuclear and fossil. The second step is distributing simple tools for protecting and restoring the environment in a very highly decentralized way. The third step is a more efficient consumption pattern; for example, less solid waste, more degradable materials, more mass transit, and more than one person in a car going to work. The Jeremiah-type time span is too limited. The issue is not whether there is enough oil and gas left. We can't burn it if we had a million years' worth left.

The problem is that for every thousand exhortationists there's only about ten organizers. And that's not going to do it. There's just too many people exhorting and throwing the caveats all over the place, and not enough rolling up their sleeves and organizing, or training organizers. That's what does it. Especially training the young. Ecologists and sustainable-economics types have forsaken the younger generation. A whole new learning has to pervade our culture. Our youth are learningfor a world that doesn't exist.

The best way to exemplify the learning in schools today is to just stand in front of a vending machine and contemplate it. School vending machines are the symbol of our culture. From nutrition, to solid wastes, to misallocation of resources, to monopoly pricing, to the infiltration of the school with the mercantile mentality, to the inability of the schools to educate students to turn their backs on this kind of food and drink, to the willingness of the schools to allow school property to be used for private purposes, to the bribing of the school athletic fund by the vending machine companies, to the vulnerability of the senses of the teenagers who have turned their tongues against their brains. You couldn't ask for more of a Rorschach test for our culture.

In contrast, what is needed is, first, a civic education. The highest status of an educated person is one who knows how to be an effective citizen. Secondly, a collaboration of personal and social values. You can no longer just live the acquisitive life and not affect society adversely. For example, we have the highest pool of capital the world has ever seen, the highest reservoir of technology, and it's being vectored increasingly into parasitic, speculative, and worthless economic activity to the detriment of applying these massive resources to uplifting the standard of living on the globe. Students should be obliged to analyze this consumption, so that they realize that what they consume has enormous consequences. As a by-product you'll get the three Rs. The thing I would have done differently in the last twenty years is to have put far more emphasis on training young people.