We’ve always operated from the premise that everyone on earth pretty much wants the same things: peace, love and happiness, a chance to live a productive, fulfilling life, good health for their children, clean water, nutritious food. We all want these things but not everyone is lucky enough to have them, or even the chance to get them. One of the primary reasons we decided to create Plenty is that we were troubled by the realization that human life, at its most basic levels, wasn’t fair. Certainly when it comes to the availability of land, food, clean water, peace, all the essentials, where you are born can mean everything, including your chances of survival past the age of five. We have no idea how the location of a birth gets “decided,” but if we’re going to have any hope of addressing the conditions of poverty, we need to assume that where you’re born is an accident none of us can take credit for. Some of us get lucky. That assumption implies some responsibility on the part of the lucky to try and make the world more fair, more just. Everybody knows what’s fair and, in our experience, most people try to practice fairness in their lives. We believe that practicing fairness is the key to eradicating chronic poverty for, as Gandhi reportedly said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” We have a motto: “In all fairness there is enough to go around, plenty.”
I remember in the early days of Plenty, mid 1970s, we used to talk about how the US had 6% of the world’s population but used 30% of the world’s resources. I did a little research and learned that those numbers haven’t changed very much except the US now has 5% of the world’s population but still uses 30% of the world’s resources. We also manage to contribute half of the world’s solid waste, according to the Sierra Club. Then there is the matter of how we use that 30% of the world’s resources. According to the Washington Post, the US spends more on its military and defense than the next 13 nations combined. Meanwhile, not to beat a dead horse (no animals were harmed during the writing of this sentence), US per capita average annual carbon emissions are twice the per capita global average. Heck, we’re blowing up Appalachian mountains to get at the coal! But here’s some good news: the US now gets more of its energy from renewables (wind, solar, hydro etc.) than nuclear plants and more so every year since 2011.
These days, in the development circles that we are tuned in to, there’s a school of thought that says, directly helping individuals, families or communities is a waste of effort, and what really needs to happen are efforts to bring about structural change because, as things stand, the game is rigged in such a way that the rich and powerful pretty much get their way, a way that too often acts like a boot on the necks of the poor. Another school, and one that Plenty more or less belongs to, is the “Small is Beautiful,” “Local Self-Reliance,” “Think Globally, Act Locally” school. That’s not to say we don’t completely support the structural change school; we just don’t have a lot of sway in that one. Recently we’re seeing that the IMF is starting to realize that their traditional strategy of forcing governments receiving IMF loans to cut spending drastically in order to immediately reduce debt and interest rates has actually caused more harm than good. Glance at some of the newer World Bank publications on their website and you will see language that might just as well appear in a Plenty Bulletin, talking about grass roots, village-scale development, global warming, inequality, moral imperatives, and sustainable technologies. Good words but the IMF and World Bank have a hard time walking the talk due to their huge size, top/down governance and lack of transparency. Nonetheless, we welcome the suggested evolution.
We need both schools to be fully engaged and, from our vantage point, it certainly appears that there will be more than enough work for both for the next seven generations and beyond. So be of good cheer! It’s not going to be boring.
In the new Bulletin we touch on some of the program highlights in 2012 and the first quarter of 2013. These programs will remain active for the foreseeable future. We are exceedingly grateful to get to do these things with people we love working with, and that includes, as our dear Onaway friend John Morris liked to say, “your good selves.”