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Maude Barlow: “The World Has Divided into Rich and Poor as at No Time in History”

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As world leaders gathered in Toronto for the G20 summit last week, leading activists from around the world joined thousands in Toronto’s Massey Hall to oppose the G20 agenda. Maude Barlow was one of the key speakers at the event. She heads the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest public advocacy organization, and is a founder of the Blue Planet Project. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: …And that was just hours after, or he assumed, he and thousands of other people packed into Toronto’s Massey Hall, the largest in Canada’s largest city, to oppose the G20 agenda. Among those who spoke was Maude Barlow. She heads the Council of Canadians, Canada’s largest public advocacy organization. She’s founder of the Blue Planet Project. This is a part of what she had to say.

    MAUDE BARLOW: On the eve of this G20 gathering, let’s look at a few facts.

    Fact: the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history. The richest two percent own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest ten percent hold 85 percent of total global assets. And the bottom half of humanity owns less than one percent of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest forty-eight countries.

    Fact: while those responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis were bailed out and even rewarded by the G20 governments’ gathering here, the International Labor Organization tells us that in 2009, 34 million people were added to the global unemployed, swelling those ranks to 239 million, the highest ever recorded. Another 200 million are at risk in precarious jobs, and the World Bank tells us that at the end of 2010, another 64 million will have lost their jobs. By 2030, more than half the population of the megacities of the Global South will be slumdwellers with no access to education, healthcare, water or sanitation.

    Fact: global climate change is rapidly advancing, claiming at least 300,000 lives and $125 billion in damages every year. Called the silent crisis, climate change is melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban centers. Almost every victim lives in the Global South in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and not represented here at this summit. The atmosphere has already warmed up a full degree in the last decades, several decades, and is on course to warm up another two degrees by 2100.

    Fact: half the tropical forests in the world, the lungs of our ecosystem, are gone. By 2030, at a present rate of extraction or so-called harvest, only ten percent will be left standing. Ninety percent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise, there is no blue frontier left. Half the world’s wetlands, the kidneys of our ecosystem, have been destroyed in the twentieth century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian science, we are headed toward of biodiversity deficit in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than nature can replace them with new ones.

    Fact: we are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, two million tons of sewage and industrial agriculture waste are discharged into the world’s water. That’s the equivalent of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. We are mining our groundwater faster than we can replenish it, sucking it to grow water-guzzling, chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities who dump an astounding 700 trillion liters of land-based water into oceans every year as waste. The global mining industry sucks up another 800 trillion liters, which it also leaves behind as poison. And fully one-third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. Nearly three billion people on our planet do not have running water within a kilometer of their home, and every eight seconds, somewhere in our world, a child is dying of waterborne disease. The global water crisis is getting steadily worse, with reports of countries, from India to Pakistan to Yemen, facing depletion. The World Bank says that by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40 percent. This may sound just like a statistic, but the suffering behind that is absolutely unspeakable.

    Fact: knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the Global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geopolitical ramifications. Rich countries faced by food shortages have already bought up an area in Africa alone more than twice the size of the United Kingdom.

    Now, I don’t think I exaggerate if I say that our world has never faced a greater set of threats and issues than it does today. So, what are the twenty leaders who have gathered here, some already here and the others coming in tonight, what are they going to talk about over the next two days? By the way, their summit costs a million dollars a minute. And, by the way, we figure that it’s going to be closer to $2 billion when it’s finished, and the annual budget to run the United Nations is $1.9 billion. I assure you, they are not going to tackle the above issues in any serious way. The declarations have already been drafted, the failures already spun. Instead, this global royalty, who have more in common with one another than they do with their own citizens and are here really to advance the issues and interests of their class, are also here just to advance the status quo that serves the interests of the elite in their own countries and the business community or the B20, the new term, a community that will get private and privileged access to advance their free market solutions to these eager leaders. The agenda is more of the bad medicine that made the world sick in the first place: environmental deregulation, unbridled financial speculation, unlimited growth, unregulated free trade, relentless resource exploitation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to Social Security, and a war on working people — in other words, savage capitalism.

    Now, let’s look at our own country here and the assault that has been launched on the work of generations of Canadians toward a just society. Stephen Harper’s government has cut the heart out of any group that dissents, from First Nations people to women, to international agencies and church groups like KAIROS, Alternative, and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.

AMY GOODMAN: Maude Barlow, one of the major speakers at the event at Massey Hall on Friday night. Three thousand people packed into the Toronto event. This was at the same time the G8 and then the G20 met. Between 900 and a thousand people are believed to have been arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history — among them, many journalists. More than a billion dollars, it’s believed, were spent on so-called security, the most expensive security event in Canadian history.

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