5. THE STOCKHOLM CONFERENCE
Hippies from the US sat naked in the sun at Sergel Square, in the centre of Stockholm. It was the summer of 1972. The United Nations was holding a conference on the environment in Stockholm, and the delegates had decided to stop whaling. The Americans in the square believed that human beings too should be placed under protection. Stop the killing of human beings for 10 years! Escorted by the police, they made their way through the city. They called themselves the Hog Farm.
The General Secretary of the conference, Richard Nixon’s friend, Maurice Strong, left the conference to speak to them. He agreed with them, he said. We should love each other, and not kill each other. He promised to present that message to all the UN delegates.
A member of the public grabbed the microphone. Why was the genocide and the war against the environment in Vietnam not on the conference agenda? "Human love sounds good, but now the US has got to get out of Indochina!" The mood among the Hog Farm turned sour and they tried to silence the speaker. Let’s not go on about politics here, when life is at stake.1
Among the protesting American hippies was the US chief negotiator Russel E. Train. He had instructions to manoeuvre the conference away from all subjects that concerned the war in Vietnam. His placard read, "Save the whales!" The newspapers reported that this was a new type of demonstration, "no violence at all, no chanting of socialist slogans in unison."2
The Hog Farm camped at Skarpnäck Field, 10 km from the conference. Fifty hippies from the US were assigned by the authorities to control the young people. The social services supplied them with a soup kitchen and military tents. People sleeping on the street and people with drug problems were gathered up and put in the care of the Americans, and hash was sold at half-price. The local police wanted to intervene, but were ordered to keep out.
Maurice Strong came out to them one evening, protected by the Hog Farm leader, Stewart Brand, who was dressed in traditional Indian clothes and a top hat. The microphone rested against the conference General Secretary’s tie, and flood lights shone in his eyes. He smiled. It was a "wonderful evening".
"I’d rather stay here with you!"
The audience was overjoyed. Maurice Strong was a cool guy.3
The Hog Farm was allowed to camp at the Skarpnäck Field because of their previous experience at the Woodstock music festival. They were regarded as experts in crowd control. The newspapers wrote that Woodstock was a turning point, a retreat from politics. Now lifestyle was the important thing.
The Hog Farm people tried to monopolise the alternative activities around the environment conference in Stockholm. The left had united in an organisation called The People’s Forum. About two months before the conference, Stewart Brand turned up at a planning meeting. He was with David Padwa and a woman, both middle-aged hippies like himself. They represented an American organisation called Life Forum and offered The People’s Forum 200,000 Swedish crowns to finance the activities, which were to take place in the alternative conference building. Life Forum would then make a central office on the main floor, keep a record of all the participants and take care of all the in coming and out-going mail. The Swedish environmental activists declined the offer.
David Padwa worked for the J.M. Kaplan Fund, an organisation that had earlier acted as an intermediary in transferring money from the CIA to student organisations and anti-communist activity. According to Dagens Nyheter (the largest Swedish daily newspaper), Life Forum received money from the Kaplan Fund for its activities in Stockholm.4
Stewart Brand, a former army lieutenant, was one of the prominent figures in the hippie movement. He moved to California at the end of the 1960s and got involved with the cultural radicals who tried to expand their consciousness with drugs and new music. Many of his friends moved to rural collectives to live in symbiosis with nature.
Stewart Brand captured the essence of this new American dream in The Whole Earth Catalogue, a publication that sold millions of copies, primarily to youth, searching for a new lifestyle. The almost 400 pages of the catalogue were full of advertising for mail-order items and tips on tools, wind generators and organic farming methods. It also included recipes and instructions for drug addicts, notices on new publications and comments on social development.
In The Whole Earth Catalogue, the hippie ideal converged with the new ideological themes embraced by the top levels of society. Stewart Brand glorified technology and the post-industrial paradise, in the same breath as he warned about extinction of the human race from environmental catastrophes and the population explosion. He praised neo-liberal Milton Friedman and management philosophers, as well as mystics. Brand’s response to the slogan, "Power to the people," was, "All power to individuals!"5
Maurice Strong was honest in his delight about the activities of the Hog Farm. He realised that he and Brand were trying to channel people’s thoughts in a similar direction, namely, the myth of impending catastrophe and the promise of salvation within the framework of the current world order.
The ideology of the Stockholm conference was prepared by the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, an exclusive discussion club based in the mountains of Colorado and financially sponsored by the oil concern, Atlantic Richfield. The director of the Institute, Joseph Slater, and its chairman, oil magnate Robert O. Anderson, had discussed conservation organisations in the US a few years earlier, and concluded that they had many shortcomings.
Slater asked Thomas W. Wilson Jr. at the State Department to inventory the national interest in the environment. Wilson found activities budding everywhere. He wrote that the environment was not primarily a question of better sewage treatment or reduced exhaust emissions. These issues could be left to the experts. Political and economic harmony was at stake, and the Aspen Institute should therefore organise to defend that harmony on a global scale.6
In 1968, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN, Sverker Åström, had proposed that a conference on the protection of the environment be held in Stockholm. Joseph Slater was involved in the early stages of preparation. Maurice Strong, an acquaintance of both Slater and Åström, was persuaded to become the General Secretary of the conference. Thomas W. Wilson Jr. from the Aspen Institute became his personal advisor.7
Strong felt that the situation called for unconventional methods. UN officials did not have a wide enough perspective. He explained that he had been convinced of that for several years, and that governments and international agencies "must break down the old frontiers between ‘public’ and ‘private’ agencies and reach out to engage the leading talents of the non-governmental world..."8 He turned to the Aspen Institute.
Strong, Wilson and Slater discussed among themselves how the Stockholm conference should be prepared. Slater formed an international institute for environmental issues, The International Institute for Environmental Affairs (IIEA), now the IIED, which was established with money from Robert O. Anderson and Atlantic Richfield. Legally, the new organisation was independent from the Aspen Institute, but "a link on the policy level"9 was arranged through an interlocking directorate. The new organisation started to lobby governments and international agencies. A major theme was that national independence was contrary to the needs of the environment. Wilson compared the Earth with a spaceship steered by a dozen astronauts with different destinations. The crew needed a united leadership. Amongst other things, it was a question of "access to resources in critically short supply."10 It was tacitly understood where these resources were located and for whom they should be secured.
Maurice Strong stressed that the planned Stockholm conference needed an ideological framework. With money from the World Bank and Ford Foundation, Barbara Ward from the UK and René Dubos from France were hired to draft a book. It was sent out to 152 chosen "corresponding consultants", including well known conservationists and politicians, as well as leaders of large corporations such as SAS, Bayer, Shell, Merck and Nippon Steel.
The result was the book Only One Earth, which was translated into 15 languages and distributed to 19 countries before the UN conference. Maurice Strong wrote the foreword. He was satisfied. This was the ideological basis for the Stockholm conference.11
In the book Barbara Ward and René Dubos warned about environmental destruction in the rich countries. The alternative to the use of fossil fuels they proposed was nuclear power (internationally regulated as the government in Washington demanded), but otherwise they agreed with many of the demands made by environmental organisations. They criticised investments in private cars and insisted on bans and regulations for industrial discharges and state control of urban growth. They were also concerned about the gap between the rich and poor in the world. But their concern did not stem from any solidarity with oppressed people. It was Rockefeller’s picture of the street in Dacca. It was a fear of the people "down there".
"But suppose 7 billion try to live like Europeans or Japanese?"12
Hidden in this warning about a hypothetical breakdown in global over-consumtion was an urge to mobilize Western opinion against a real political spectre. People in the Third World were struggling to escape from poverty. They no longer wanted to be part of a world order where Western European and North American corporations gobbled up their natural resources and exploited their labour. That was the threat. The challenge from the oppressed nations was transformed into a myth of destruction.
Ward and Dubos explained, that the populations of Third World nations had developed a taste for the comfortable life complete with home appliances, cars and wasteful consumption. These ideals, which are damaging to the biosphere, had been spread to developing countries via radio and TV. People’s unfulfilled expectations evoked a "deepening and spreading trend towards violence and anarchy."13
Just as the people in Indochina were fighting for their national independence against half a million foreign soldiers, armadas of B52s, napalm, defoliants and splinter-bombs, Ward and Dubos found it unfortunate that poor people looked for dignity and identity in the State, expressing the judgment that, "many developing nations are too small for effective sovereignty."14 Above all, humanity, which at that time was "dominated as never before by separate nationalist aspirations and pretensions and by the promise of indefinitely rising material standards" should seek "the new moderation."15
They saw the growth of an environmental philosophy, "a new and unexpected vision of the total unity, continuity and interdependence of the entire cosmos".16 Prophets had dreamed for centuries about overcoming the divisions and quarrels in society and taming the evil urges of mankind. Now it was going to happen with help of the "ecological imperative".17
With the help of ecology, governments in developing countries should be taught the new moderation. They should realise that a policy that stopped population growth was just as great a "symbol of enlightened modernity" as investments in power stations, railways, and irrigation systems.18 Such a policy was also more profitable, since in contrast to workers in the rich part of the world, the marginalised people in the slums of the poor part of the world were not a resource:
"The untrained worker is not a net addition to a productive labour force or to a lively consumer market. He produces so little that even his minimal consumption represents an economic loss. He makes no contribution to his country’s growth or strength."19
That is how the world market and its managers measure human value.
Certainly, wrote Ward and Dubos, every new Westerner was infinitely more damaging to the global environment, but this assertion did not lead them to propose any campaigns to inform the affected governments about the "net loss to the world" that a Western stockbroker or PR person might be calculated to be.
Ward and Dubos conceded that "efficient development" of agriculture, industry and infrastructure was the "most successful form of population policy" for the poor countries.20 They supported a "radical transformation" of the whole traditional social system, but added: "The only problem is the cost and scale of the whole programme."21 With that, they came back to their original calculation: still, the most profitable policy was to stop new marginal people from being born.
Only One Earth was published at a time when the world order of the transnational corporations was being shaken by popular protests. The book was an attempt to find a stable, defence for Western capital. Ward and Dubos wrote about, "... the tragedy of increasing disparities between the wealthy ‘North’ and the poverty-stricken ‘South’."22 They saw "increasing disturbances" taking place if a compromise could not be secured at an international level. They thought that people in the Third World would adopt the new moderation and reduce their national demands, in return for promises of policies for global redistribution of wealth. But, they didn’t have anything more to offer than "the first faint sign," a goal of 1% of GNP allocated to development aid.23
The 1972 Stockholm conference did not take place without disruption. Olof Palme condemned the US environmental havoc in Vietnam, and representatives from the Third World criticised the demand for population control. However, the guiding principles for environmental management within the UN framework drawn up by the Aspen Institute and IEEA, found their way into the action plan adopted at the conference.24
Maurice Strong became the head of UNEP, Barbara Ward took over the newly established environmental organisation IEEA, and the Aspen Institute proceeded with seminars on energy supply. Environmental issues were thought to be under satisfactory control, and the "ecological imperative" promised to quell social unrest.
Now that the popular uprisings have foiled, Ward and Dubos’ vision of global unity is once again being brought to the fore. Western governments propose that the natural environment in the Third World be put under international, meaning transnational, supervision. In return, vague promises are made that a fraction of the riches extracted from the Southern continents will be returned as charity.
1. Dagens Nyheter, 15 June 1972.
2. Norra Västerbotten, 9 June 1972.
3. Dagens Nyheter, 8 June 1972.
4. Dagens Nyheter, 23 July 1972; New York Times, 27 April 1966; and The Nation, 11 September 1967.
5. The (updated) Last Whole Earth Catalog (1975), p. 3, 17, 22, 344, and 412; and Veckans affärer, 17 June 1985.
6. Hyman, Sidney, The Aspen Idea (Oklahoma 1975), p. 252 and 267.
7. Ibid., p. 270. In an article in Dagens Nyheter, 23 June 1993, Åström denies that he knew Slater at the time of the UN initiative. Hyman, however, writes in his official chronicle of the Aspen Institute that, "The picture within the General Assembly remained a model of congealed inertia until 1968, when Sverker Åström, the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations – with whom Slater had quietly worked - introduced a proposal for a UN conference on the human environment..." Was Slater so discrete that Åström did not notice him? In February 1989, I interviewed Åström over the phone. He did not deny the claims about earlier contacts with Slater, and he confirmed that Slater was involved in the preparatory discussion.
8. Ibid., p. 271.
9. Ibid., p. 272, 277.
10. Ibid., p. 275.
11. Barbara Ward & Reni Dubos, Only One Earth. The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet, Suffolk 1972.
12. Ibid., p. 47.
13. Ibid., p. 288.
14. Ibid., p. 260.
15. Ibid., p. 85.
16. Ibid., p. 69.
17. Ibid., p. 296.
18. Ibid., p. 219.
19. Ibid., p. 218–219.
20. Ibid., p. 220.
21. Ibid., p. 220.
22. Ibid., p. 295.
23. Ibid., p. 298.
24. Hyman, p. 289.
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© Mikael Nyberg 2001-03-29