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Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for helping to bring the Cold War to an end. He is now president of Green Cross International.

By Mikhail Gorbachev

MOSCOW -- Market-driven globalization tends to enforce the notion, derived from neo-liberal theory, that gross domestic product indicators are the only measure of national wealth and progress. Capital accumulation and individual consumption are given a higher status than social and spiritual values or cultural heritage.

The cumulative results of all the individual decisions based on this logic lead in the long run to unforeseen and dangerous consequences for both the environment and society.

The sponsors of this ideology -- notably the United States -- benefit most from its spread across the planet.

One often comes across the argument that globalization, as we know it, is a fait accompli, a process entirely outside our control.

Particularly vociferous with this argument, unsurprisingly, are those who want to instill in the public mind the futility and pointlessness of any opposition to globalization.

But globalization, like all other economic regimes, is a political choice.

That politics lies behind globalization is unquestionable. In recent years this has been clearly illustrated by the pursuit of an imperialist policy of force by neo-conservatives in the United States who seek to take advantage of globalization to impose their will upon the rest of the world.

Why has the factor of force come to the fore? There are a few simple facts.

Natural resources are finite. Their use has already exceeded a critical point. For a smaller (and decreasing) portion of humanity to capture the lion's share of resources means depriving the rest of the world (and the growing majority) of equal access to those resources and, in many cases, to the essential means of subsistence.

By recalling the U.S. signature from the Kyoto Protocol and opening hostilities against Iraq based on false intelligence, in breach of international law and bypassing the U.N. system, President George Bush has demonstrated blatant disregard for world opinion and the interests of others.

In the first two years of his presidency, under the pretext of liberating business growth, Bush made several major changes to national environmental policies that have substantially undermined the central pillars of ecological legislation in America established during the previous four decades. Yet he did not think twice before spending billions (not to mention thousands of human lives) on the war in Iraq.

Such a course of action is fraught with danger, not only for the environment but also because it exacerbates the global conflicts between the North and the South, between the rich and the poor. The terrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, were a graphic display of what can emerge from deep disparity.

Is there any alternative? Yes.

History is not predetermined. There is room for an alternative in any situation. It was this pursuit of an alternative model that led to the elaboration of a sustainable development program for the world back in 1992.

Agenda 21 was supported by the United Nations and endorsed by the heads of state and government of most states in Rio. For the first time in history, the world community managed to map out and agree on a strategic plan designed to address the twin problems of poverty and ecological disruption.

However, serious obstacles emerged as implementation moved forward. By and large, the governments of the industrialized countries chose to retract their commitments, in particular those regarding development aid contributions, in favor of the philosophy of economic liberalism, deregulation and accelerated economic growth.

In the meantime, opponents of the sustainable development paradigm have spared no effort in trying to discredit the idea in the public mind. And yet, the interest is still there. The so-called "anti-globalization movement" (in effect, a movement against market-driven fundamentalism) is in favor of an alternative development model. Its motto is "Another World Is Possible!" International social democratic parties, rural slow food and "green" movements worldwide as well as thousands of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) representing millions of members also stand behind the sustainable development principle. Together, these groups and movements are a powerful force whose pressure is being increasingly felt by the ruling elite.

So, what can we do to make a difference? First of all, we need to bridge the gap between our moral consciousness and the challenges of our time.

Consumerism and national egocentrism continue to pose a serious threat to achieving sustainable development goals. A turnaround will not be possible unless the gap between the objective need to reverse currently prevalent behavioral patterns and the subjective unwillingness of states, communities and individuals to do so is closed. This turnaround must begin with changes in the human spirit through a reprioritization of our value system.

Today I am convinced that the citizens of the world need a reformulated "glasnost" to invigorate, inform and inspire them to put the staggering resources of our planet and our knowledge to use for the benefit of all. We must not go back to the days of prolific military spending and fear of people whose ways are different from our own. Once they know that they have the power to change it, people cannot long tolerate living on a planet where millions of children have no clean water to drink and go to sleep hungry.

Glasnost could serve as a catchall phrase for all means and methods in the struggle for global awareness. Glasnost is a demanding, long-term process of awakening that inevitably leads to calls for fundamental changes.

Such a process is urgently needed to address the dominance of short-term interests and lack of transparency at the level where the planet's fate is being decided.

I have faith in humankind. It is this faith that has allowed me to remain an active optimist.

E2004 The Optimist/Nobel Laureates Plus. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/30/04)