The big problem with renewable energy is that it just doesn’t renew itself. The sun does not shine enough and the wind doesn’t blow enough to power the towns, cities, factories, hospitals and schools that make our lives so livable. No environmentalist would ever allow their child to be treated in a hospital fully powered by “renewables”. They would not take the risk that the wind might stop whilst their baby was on the operating table. They would insist that the hospital and the life support systems had a fossil fuel powered back-up.
And so it is with “sustainable development”. It just isn’t sustainable. At least it does not sustain a lifestyle that those who promote it would consider acceptable for themselves. But of course that is the key. Renewable energy and sustainable development are for “other people”. Even though environmentalists come from societies and very often families that became rich because of their use of non-renewable energy and unsustainable development they will not allow these opportunities to be extended to the poor in the developing world.
Environmentalists come from wealthy societies and families who cut down forests and burned coal and oil to make their families and societies healthy and prosperous. But, nowadays, for the poor in Africa and Asia and even middle America their path out of poverty must be “sustainable.” No fossil fuels or factories for them. But what this really means is sustainable poverty. It is a system that condemns people to a lifetime of drudgery and subsistence farming because modernity and industrialisation is “unsustainable.”
Which brings me to Bono, the lead singer of rock band U2 and more lately a campaigner for sustainable development in Africa, Asia and south America.
In 2005 Bono and his wife Ali Hewson set up Edun a clothing range that was going to prove there is a different way to end poverty. It was going to be a non-corporate and of course “sustainable”.
At he time MSNBC said it would be “clothing with a conscience”. Vogue magazine said Edun was going to “flip capitalism on its head”.
But now it seems that Bono has now discovered that big companies with their big carbon footprints are useful if you want to keep paying the wages and produce the goods and sell them. Last week the rock star announced he has sold out to LVMH, the worlds largest luxury goods company. Announcing the deal Bono all but admitted that his touchy feely version of capitalism and development just didn’t work. Selling out to LVMH was a great deal, said Bono, and would “bring greater and longer-term stability to our manufacturers and the communities they support”.
In other words my Clooneyesc view of business is plain wrong and I now have to admit that I can’t pay the workers salaries without a proper business running the company. They, with their international marketing skills and economies of scale will make the business truly sustainable – that is – they will ensure that the workers have work and a salary every week and for years to come.
It is an admission that capitalism works and is the only way to ensure a better future for some of the world’s poorest people. And now Bono’s clothes with a conscience will be marketed and sold by a company that also sells Louis Vuitton, Donna Karan and Givenchy. LVMH’s also make and sell the delightfully unsustainable Moët & Chandon, Dom Pérignon and Veuve Clicquot. It also makes and sells parfum Christian Dior and Givenchy and luxury jewellery and watches such as TAG Heurer, Christian Dior and De Beers Diamond Jewellers.
Neither side felt it necessary to say how much Bono got for selling half the company to LVMH. Edun has, in the past, made much of the company’s transparency. However it seems that the transparency only extends to poking our noses into what the workers earn. Bono and his wife are exempt from such questions. But good luck to them. It is really not important to know how much money they have.
But it is important for them to stop keeping people in poverty in the name of sustainability. We used our resources – we burned coal and oil and chopped down our forests. We drove our cars and flew our planes. We have used capitalism to conquer disease and poverty and as a consequence our children are the best-educated and healthiest in history.
But it seems that now some of these children want to stop the poorest on the planet from having what we have. Bono loves sustainable development but only for other people. U2’s latest album was recorded in separate sessions in France, the UK, Morocco, the US and Dublin. The band is now going on a worldwide tour to promote it.
This is not “sustainable” but it is necessary to keep people in work and to keep Bono’s bank balance healthy. And this is a good thing. U2 will provide employment for hundreds if not thousands through selling the album and going on tour. But it is being done the old fashioned way – through unsustainable but wealth creating capitalism.
If it is good enough for Bono and his band of Irish multi-millionaires then it should be good enough for the poorest on the planet.
Co-written with Ann McElhinney and originally published on May 20 at Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog.