Human Rights
UI Systems


and the Environment 
(Excerpts taken from Universal Income for a Sustainable future by Patrick Danahey copyright 2003)

This page is perpetually under construction and will be regularly updated as time allows. Last update Nov. 2003




Table of Contents

(click on bullets to access further listings)



bullet Future sustainability
bulletEnvironment issues and general sustainability concerns  

The role of universal income systems: general principles

bullet Overview of conventions on sustainability

Overview of benefits a universal income will have on the environment

bullet Outline of key benefits 

Sustainability and the environment

bulletIssues of bio-diversity
bulletReduction of greenhouse gasses



Design science approach to applying economic controls to solve environmental issues such as pollution:  R. Buckminster Fuller’s proposal

bulletNew directions: design science technologies
bulletGlobally linking world electric power grids to meet world's energy needs as well as helping to generate income for a global universal income for the immediate and long term future of our planet
bulletMetal mining obsolete
bulletOil roll-over crisis: need to move to alternative energy systems and more appropriate technologies immediately
bulletPopulation Control

UI and education


Participatory democracy

bulletIntroduction: participatory democracy
bulletPorto Alegre’s ten year experiment with participative democracy
bulletAarhus Convention


bullet Summary Statements 






Future sustainability

Critical reasons, today, for having a Universal Income System is that of future sustainability. This is the ability for the human race to be able to live in harmony with itself and with the natural environment while preserving the skills, foundation and structure of this harmony by passing it on to future generations.

The main factors at stake are the ability to produce enough resources to maintain present lifestyle and consumption levels as well as raising the living standards of people who have been thrown into states of poverty--a direct result of present consumption levels and practices--while conserving the natural resources that we are using for future generations. The effects of not having the balance right is demonstrated by the increase in violence, crimes, wars, pollution, depletion of the ozone layer, global warming, preventable diseases resurfacing and killing people, deforestation, people having to work more hours for less income while the disparity between the rich and the poor is steadily growing at alarming rates. (See " Distribution of wealth and income" on Economics  page.)

Our current economic models seek to resolve the issues of unemployment and poverty by accelerated growth or reducing earnings (5).

Both processes are destructive to life. Unimpeded growth/ productivity wreaks havoc on the natural environment necessary for future life. Job and benefit reductions cut back on people's ability to live in the present if there are no other means of distributing income.


Environment issues and general sustainability concerns

One of the most serious blocks to sustainable development is the mistaken belief that an individual or a small group of elite people can solve all of the inter-dyamics of the relationships involved with all critical aspects of life itself. Therefore all we would need to do is find the right people to solve all of our problems for us so we can go back to sleep mentally and just do what we are told. Economists, politicians, big business leaders have not been trained in design science technologies, biodiversity issues, chemical engineering, human growth and development models, direct access to unfiltered information, and the vast array of known and un­known disciplines that would be required to resolve our present global crisis. 

The effects of the almost incalculable inter-relationships of the voluminous amounts of chemicals--toxins and potential toxins--that are daily entering our environment and their interactive effects on the social/biological life systems of our planet are beyond the scope of any existing discipline, in isolation, to adequately assess, much less act upon effectively. Yet this needs to be done and acted on soon. At present we are only able to act on “politically correct” sustainability issues i.e. those issues to which at least some facts are allowed to be known. 

Many people that work in sensitive bio-security establishments are bonded and are under threat if they attempt to speak. They like other people that may be working in job environments that are negatively impacting on the environment cannot afford to leave their jobs. Without a correct assessment of the facts we cannot develop effective measures and priorities for solutions. We cannot assess information that is outside our sphere of observational influence; yet, the entire public, when fully empowered by being informed, resourced and free to act on their best sensibilities wherever they are, holds the best possibilities this planet has for doing so. 

It is a maxim in most traditional philosophies and sciences of sustainability that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. In all people and in all life forms there is a spark of light that animates them whose potential cannot be measured. Every single person on this planet is just as important as anyone else and has something to offer our world that lies beyond our ability to quantify, imagine, or assess. It is only, therefore, with an activated whole--a well-informed and empowered people that can freely work together inter-dynamically at all levels at the same time, where required, being able to modify and retain structures where needed, creating new efficiencies that we have yet to experience--that we have any real hope of developing a sustainable future. 

This is an important knowledge gained from consensus based, participatory democratic structures that have been passed down throughout history that we all need to help each other re-assimilate.  




The role of universal income systems: some general principles 

Overview of conventions on sustainability

Present western economic models are based, as presently implemented by most  governments, on the "fear of poverty" as motivation to keep people in servitude to the "job market". In other words the level of "social welfare benefits" are set at or below poverty level. No one wants to live in a degraded state of poverty. Therefore, everyone is struggling to stay in work and get more money so that some day they can retire with enough money to experience some independence and freedom. In short governments create and use poverty as a stick to beat its own people into acts of submission to serve the interests of the financial elite who dominate the job market.  This process is illegal (see International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Art. 11, and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-Preamble). Further, almost all of the international conventions on the environment since the Stockholm Declaration of 1972 have cited poverty eradication as one of the most critical factors to meet environmental sustainability  (see footnotes). RIO DECLARATION ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT 1992, Principle 5:

"All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development…" (see also Ibid 5:16).

This included delegations from 178 countries, heads of state of more than 100 countries, and representatives of more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations or NGOs. In essence, there were about 28,000 people attending. Article 3 from the Peoples Earth Declaration an NGO paper from this conference states, 

"We wish to remind the world's political and corporate leaders that the authority of the state and the powers of the private corporation are grants extended to these institutions by the sovereign people..." 

This reasserts the people's acknowledgement of their sovereignty and responsibilities. Also from their ethical commitments charter, "

"The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all nations cannot be insensitive to these cries of nature, and do not accept the concept of a sustainable development, that is used only to produce cleaner technology, while maintaining the same patterns of exclusive and unjust social relations, for the majority of the Earth's people." 

In the Poverty treaty from Rio it states  

"Social inequalities result from unequal access to resources and from people's exclusion from the political decision-making process". Also from the same Charter under “Actions” they "demand that governments respect and comply with the following treaties and international conventions": "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights . . ." 

For New Zealand this includes the International Bill of Human Rights, which is the ratified legal aspect of the UDHR. Further, international "human rights laws" legally supersede the national statute laws of NZ. (See Position Paper by UUI Action NZ)  

From the International Green Policy, ECODEVELOPMENT:

"1.1. Green policies are based on sustainable use and not on unlimited consumption. This means that the rich must limit their consumption to allow the poor their fair share of the earth's resources.

1.4. Eco-development has to be based on democracy, equity between men and women, the right of all people to express them and to participate fully in decision-making, which requires access to all relevant information and access to education"

It goes without saying that people must have the financial resources, and time to participate in these democratic processes as well. Sustainable development requires an equal access, participatory style democracy inclusive of all concerned people. People must be free from the "fear of poverty" in order to live harmoniously with nature. They have to be free to leave a job that they find is environmentally damaging, and have the resources to leave their work in order to pursue sustainability issues that concern them.

Governments can never hope to meet the requirements of sustainability with a system that is based on the fear of poverty. People can always easily be "bought off" and blackmailed in order to pursue the hope of buying their freedom from that same corruption. A universal income ensures that people will not have to live in the fear of poverty and can participate freely in decisions concerning their lives and the environment.





Overview of benefits a universal income will have on the environment.  

Outline of key benefits


                People will have enough money that they will not need to drive to far away jobs.


          Since people will have their basic living taken care of they will not all choose expensive lifestyles, as many will value their time over money and profits. Most universal income economic proposals are based on ameliorating the inequities of the given tax and income systems with effects that include the wealthy paying their fare share in taxes, which at present they don't. This will help reduce the over consumption of resources by the wealthy.


          All people can share cooperatively in the creation of the future that they most want to have for this planet and their lives.


          People will have the resources to explore new alternative lifestyles that are more compatible with their environment.


          People will have the skills, resources, and time to explore and develop new appropriate technology ideas.  


          Work can naturally evolve from the extrinsic merit or rewards models that we are presently using to one of working for the intrinsic values of what the job offers to society at large. See Token Economy and R. Buckminster Fullers economic model  and 2


          We will not need to waste money on useless job creation projects to keep people busy on jobs that are detrimental to the environment e.g. like road building through pristine environments. Governments were set up to help regulate institutions on behalf of the people. They were not set up to control and regulate the people on behalf of industries. As everyone would be the paid sovereign of that society, unemployment would no longer exist. There would also be plenty of jobs for everyone who would want them to supplement their income and pursue career interests. UI systems would reinstitute full employment without compulsory labour.


          People who work at environmentally sensitive jobs can work fewer hours to receive the same income. Loggers, for example, can reduce the amount of trees they cut down and preserve their way of life by not destroying all the trees. It will also be viable for them to use "selective cutting" practices as opposed to "clear cutting", in exotic forests, since it would be both in their economic as well as their aesthetic interests to do so. Land that has been "selectively cut" is still attractive to many tourists and trampers and is much healthier for the soil, air and the overall eco-system.  


          With the education and income resources for more people to choose and explore environmentally friendly lifestyles, utilising appropriate technologies, it will be possible to meet in a substantive  way our commitment to cleaning the air in alignment with the climatologic research and related agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. This mandates a move for the replanting of forests--in New Zealand's case, native forests--that are preserved, not only for their own sake, but also, to create carbon sinks that clean the air and can be supported in good faith by all.



and the environment

Critical factors involving sustainability and the environment are the issues of the constant impact of destructive human activity on the environment from out-dated job practices and the usurpations of the remaining resources by the few such that there aren’t enough adequate resources for the rest of life kind. (See also "UI and the environment" on page 95 1.)

Some of the international and national concerns for the environment elaborated in these conventions include:



"Every year millions of hectares of tropical forest disappear. It is estimated that between 1960 and 1990 more than 20% of these forests were lost (33% in Asia and 18% in Africa and Latin America). To make matters worse, this process of destruction doesn't show any signs of stopping. In fact, current deforestation of the Amazon proceeds at an even greater speed than in the 1980s, when the issue started to arouse worldwide concern. Nevertheless, there is still time to revert this process. Deforestation also implies serious impacts at the global level. Forests have important functions in relation to climate and their disappearance affects humanity as a whole. On the one hand, the vast forest cover helps to regulate the global climate regarding rain, temperature and wind regimes. On the other hand, they constitute an enormous carbon reservoir and their elimination contributes to the aggravation of the greenhouse effect (generated mainly by the use of fossil fuels).

When they are burnt or cut down, the carbon that had been stored up for centuries in the forests is incorporated to the atmosphere, thereby increasing the level of carbon concentration in it and thus aggravating the greenhouse effect."

World Rainforest Movement Maldonado 1858 - 11200 Montevideo - Uruguay

International interconnected-ness of environmental concerns

Deforestation helps to illustrate the international connections of environmental problems and their resolution processes with remote areas like Aotearoa NZ. Not only do we have forests that we need to protect but the deforestation of the planet’s forests affects us more than most other countries since we are closer to the hole in the ozone layer that is over Antarctica. NZ has one of the highest skin cancer rates per capita in the world. Certainly the people here who have very sensitive skin are at the most risk and yet there is very little or no consultation process going on with them at all.


Issues of bio-diversity

Seven billion pounds of toxins released by USA in the single year of 2000

The accumulations of all the ever-growing diverse chemicals and their interactions with other chemicals that we breathe and come into contact with daily affect us all. In the USA for the single year of 2000 there was a total manufacturing release emission of 7,100,816,264 pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment. This does not include domestic pollution from cars, households and so forth. (2)

NZ is the largest user in the world of Sodium fluoroacetate (1080)

In NZ the toxic release of the pesticide Sodium Fluoroacetate (1080) was started in 1964 in order to control possums. To date, 2003, there has been a release of an average of 3000 kg's per year, the total equalling approximately 12,000 tons. This would be enough to kill every man woman and child on the planet. 90% of all 1080 produced on this planet is sold to New Zealand. Most other countries around the world have banned its use as being too toxic and dangerous to release in their environment. (3)

It is almost impossible to know all the ramifications and interactions that can occur with new toxic chemicals in the quantities cited reacting with the multiplicity of other chemicals in the environment. It is surprising how little concern and awareness there is for these issues.


Reduction of greenhouse gasses

An important concern has been for the reduction of carbon dioxide, which is a primary greenhouse gas emission. Here in Aotearoa NZ a major emphasis has been placed on implementing carbon taxes.

Eco and resource taxes

Taxation systems that rely more and more on "flat rate" type systems such as "user-pay schemes" on public resources to fund a society, or the popularly misrepresented eco-tax system--as a viable "means" to lower income tax, are inherently unfair to the majority of that society's citizenship and achieve the exact opposite of what they purport. They progressively disadvantage the poorest on up to include slightly upwards of 75% of that population. A person earning up to $10,000 a year can be paying up to 1000% more of their income for the use of the same public resource or utility as a person earning $100,000 a year. They can be paying a million percent more than a billionaire for the use of the same resource! The net effect is that the taxpayer actually pays or subsidises the wealthy to use the resources while at the same time progressively disinheriting the public from their rights to land resources and control over their own country. Hence this can in no way be viewed as a deterrent to those who consume the most of society's resources: the wealthy. The principle will be illustrated later. (See " Who really pays for the public domain?" on the economics page.)


Eco-taxes as a means for lowering income taxes have the inequities as cited above. In effect they actually subsidise the wealthy such that they are "paid" to use polluting forms of resources--which of course defeats the whole purpose--since their income increases from paying lower taxes unlike the rest of society. Further, if we use carbon tax as an example of an Eco-tax--cars being a major contributor--we find that most people who are driving, especially low-income earners representing 50% of the population, are having to string multiple low-paying jobs together to make ends meet. Because they are at "base level survival" stage, they do not have a choice of where they work or if they will work. Most are already car-pooling where possible. Therefore taxing the average person will not reduce carbon counts but rather increase the disparity of income between rich and poor. The ideas of eco-taxes were valid proposals made by economists from more socialised and non-stratified economies where people had or have real choices about various forms of high-income employment. This is not the case for New Zealand. The purpose of the income generated from eco-taxes is not as a means for lowering the tax rate, but rather, to subsidise research or funding alternatives to the negative consequences resulting from what it is they are taxing. E.g., revenue from carbon tax would be earmarked for researching and development of alternative energy or transportation systems. Finally, if a resource tax were misappropriated for the purpose of lowering the income tax rate, society would then be funding its essential services such as health and education via monies derived from socially or environmentally undesirable industries. These same industries whose members would now be paying a lower income tax rate, and probably passing all the additional costs on to the addicted or entrapped consumer as well, would have even more power and influence over society since it is the income derived from their industries that would be funding the government's essential services: such as health and education. In sum, a Universal Income must be a precursor to any form of eco-tax system such as carbon taxes whereby people can have a choice not to pollute by changing locations of employment, and also have the time and resources to participate in the decision making processes that affect their lives and environment.

Reducing greenhouse emissions via the creation of carbon sinks

It is interesting to note that a major way of reducing greenhouse gases is to create, what are called carbon sinks.

A carbon sink is a natural or manmade reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period.

The main natural sinks are:

bulletAbsorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans
bulletPhotosynthesis by plants and algae

The main manmade sinks are:

bulletCarbon capture and storage proposals

So such relatively simple processes as the replanting of native bush, in general terms, along with tree panting around roads, in particular terms, can contribute greatly to helping reduce the effects of toxic emissions and greenhouse gasses. Combine this with the reality that close to half the population could stay home, rather than driving to a job that does not produce wealth for society, but rather costs wealth in terms of tax dollars: dramatic savings and reductions in emissions can be achieved in a very short while.

 Further, New Zealand desperately needs to actively promote alternative forms of transportations such as establishing a reliable electric rail system. We should also be staying away from the coal rail system that has been put forward. Coal has far worse carbon emissions; it gives off 25% more carbon dioxide than oil and 50% more than Natural Gas. In addition New Zealand has great unexplored potentials for solar and wind generation that cannot be overlooked.




Design Science approach to applying economic controls to solve environmental issues such as pollution:  R. Buckminster Fuller’s proposal.

R. Buckminster Fuller also provides a general overall solution to air pollution that can be generalised to almost any other type of pollution scenario. This is as follows (4):

We're going to have to gradually recognize that whatever our central government be... it is going to have to put in equipment to precipitate fumes--no matter what it costs. Companies must install the precipitators or be put out of business. No one will be allowed to put fumes into the sky or noxious chemistries into our waters ever again. We do have the well-proven physical equipment to deal with this problem today. At the end of the year, when we figure a company's taxes, we will rebate the company taxes by whatever the cost of the fume or chemical precipitating equipment and the cost of its operation may be. All companies will be able to compete on a fair basis despite the initial and operative cost of the equipment. But the valuable recovered chemistries must be turned over to the government by the companies. Society must become aware of the high value of these recovered chemistries. For example, the amount of sulphur coming out of all the chimneys around the world annually exactly equals the amount of sulphur mined from the ground and purchased annually by industry to keep its wheels turning. The...value of the recovered chemistries turned over to the government will more than pay back the cost of their rebates to the industrial companies. The reduction in cost of respiratory ailments and other deleterious smog effects brought about by elimination of the smog constitutes an out and out profit to society.

New directions: design science technologies

A direction that society needs to continue moving towards is one of generating wealth by aligning economic models along the principles of "doing more with less" at accelerated rates. R.Buckminster Fuller coins the label for this as Progressive Ephemeralisation and Acceleration. This is the direction that present "Design Science Technologies" leads, and political economic models must follow.

Globally linking world electric power grids to meet world's energy needs as well as helping to generate income for a global universal income for the immediate and long term future of our planet

People empowered and liberated with a Universal Income will have the opportunity to make and save money, wealth, and energy by working cooperatively internationally for such projects as globally linking the world’s electric power grids.

With this, it will be possible to link night and day so that the world’s deserts can be used to collect solar energy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, as well as accessing wind energy. On average, within a 100 mile radius anywhere on the planet there is an area with sufficient enough wind to generate power. With this, society will no longer need nuclear energy, which wastes nature’s capital, and can shift away from coal and oil, thereby cleaning the environment while saving money and generating more wealth for everyone.

Metal mining obsolete

International metal cartels dysfunctionally manipulate scrap metal prices to keep them off the market so that profits can continue to be made in mining. However, there are enough metals that can be recycled right now that would make mining almost obsolete. It is much cheaper to make high-grade alloys with recycled metals as they are far more refined than the mined raw materials. The saved money and resources gained from appropriate technologies can be used to create wealth and increase income for all while cleaning the environment.


Oil roll-over crisis: need to move to alternative energy systems and more appropriate technologies immediately

Most geologic experts that are willing to forecast it are predicting that within about a 20-year period the global oil reserves will roll over. This is the point when the world’s demand for oil outstrips its capacity to produce it. The U.S.A. had its rollover in 1970. At this point in time, Iceland is the only country prepared to deal with it by shifting to hydrogen power. However, they will not fully be independent of oil until approximately thirty-five years time. (See 6  and Appendix 4: " World oil roll over" on page128" UI for a Sustainable Future, P.Danahey op cit 1 .)

Population control

There has been a growing sense of unease with the current predictions by UN studies demonstrating an increase of the global population to 9 billion people by around 2040: see US Census

The eradication of poverty, decreasing growth rates, and the increased security of the people in old age, gained by the implementation of a UI, will organically give rise to the reduction of the world’s population. People in poor or third world countries typically have as many children as possible as a means of obtaining a social security investment in their future. Children help to take care of their parents in old age. As soon as people are more secure, history has shown, that around the world people have been found to reduce the amount of children they have. See population statistics for European countries e.g. Parent hood Policies in Europe: how governments around Europe are tackling low-birth rates, most of these governments are feeling compelled to encourage an increase in birthrates via some form of economic intervention due to the existing decline.

In a society where people are educated about their shared sovereignty, people will naturally want to secure their status and take care of their society with their newly acquired resources and skills. They will seek to maintain and increase their Universal Income and wealth in harmony with their natural environment, thereby creatively adhering to the above principles.




UI and education


        The research on how to motivate positive work behaviours as well as how to motivate responsible and sustainable citizenship revolves around redressing the inadequacies of the education system. This is the required paired counterpart to the economic right/income compensation aspect for a UI system that is a defining attribute of what comprises a UI system. 


The symbiotic relationship of an enhanced education system, where necessary, to reduce its emphasis on training people to “fit” into a system of servile occupations--that won’t be waiting for most when they get out--to that of emphasizing the provision of the knowledge, skills, and responsibilities of free citizenship and the people in their paid role of the shared sovereignty over their society is requisite for a full UI system to be effective. Combined, these two aspects of education and income will provide the necessary psychological, economic, skill and empowerment shift required to address the critical sustainability issues facing our society and world. 


As stated in our brochure the income is not a handout or a charity payment from those who “have” to those who “have not”; but rather, it is at the minimum, a minimum waged level income provided in addition to one’s existing income, to all members of a society including citizens and permanent residents for their jobs in the shared sovereignty over their society. Democracy means demos=people + kratos=rulers. Unemployment in a democratic society is therefore a contradiction in terms. How can the rulers, bosses, or sovereigns of a democratic society be declared unemployed and in need of meaningful work? As such, along with other social maladies, poverty and unemployment would by necessity be eradicated by the implementation of a UI. 


The recent changes in economic rights laws for common law countries have allowed UI systems to bridge the gap between the long standing debates. That is the debates between the dichotomies of Basic Income models allocating the money for “nothing” versus allocating it for conditional work requirements, such as the “work for the dole” or the so-called "Good Works" type schemes. Allocating the money for nothing is an almost impossible sell in a country like NZ that has had long-standing work requirements for even the “unemployment benefit”. Allocating the income for some conditional work requirement--or for unpaid work--is an argument for targeting and defeats the purpose for the universality of the income. However, allocating the income for a wage for a job that we all already legally share in a democratic society, that of it’s sovereigns (see UDHR Preamble for a summary), implies that the money is legally earned, a right—that can’t be taken away, and won’t be stigmatized by being labelled a handout. It also doesn’t fall into the category of compulsory labour since we all already have the job; further as everyone shares the legal responsibility of being the “boss” there is no one that has the authority to tell people how to perform their responsibilities. Everyone shares the equality of status attributed to the highest position possible in a democratic society: the paid sovereigns of a free and democratic society. 


With a Universal Income the concept of “full-employment” will be re-established in NZ or any other country implementing it. Full-employment is a very deep-seated part of the heritage of Aotearoa NZ and it is quite easy for the average person to relate to. People will still be able to work normally in their present jobs of choice; they will simply have more money, freedom, skills, knowledge, and resources to act on their best sensibilities. In sum the job requirements of the boss or sovereign are those that have legally passed from the monarch to the people. These include:


·         monitoring, educating, and securing human rights for everyone locally and abroad,

·         supporting a healthy environmentally sustainable economy, and supporting the expense, education, and well-being of the sovereign people,

·         promoting and passing on the skills for creating a sustainable future in which people would most like to live on to successive generations.


 Once people are treated inclusively as equal partners, sovereigns or stewards of the land--not just in word but in deed--they will naturally want to learn through education and modelling the skills, knowledge and behaviours that will allow them to be as effective as possible to create a sustainable future for all. This education aspect of a UI system meets the sustainability requirements of “poverty eradication” and “empowerment” necessary to address the participatory requirements of its entire people to be able to have the time and resources to engage in shaping the future that the people of a country would most want to live in. See the submissions to the Johannesburg summit as well as the findings in all of the conventions on the environment and sustainability from the Rio Earth summit back though to the Stockholm convention. These documents site that poverty is a principal obstacle that must be overcome in order to achieve the public’s participatory needs in order to get involved to create a sustainable future. These people who are most affected—and are an important part of the environment itself—are being systematically excluded from the decision-making processes which will shape their environment and their future. To this end there have been great movements across the planet to help make this reality possible: the International Bill of Human Rights, the international conventions on the environment and sustainability, the movements on the establishment of participatory styled democratic models such as those in Porto Alegre, as well as the recent Aarhus convention.




Participatory democracy

Introduction: participatory democracy

All the research from the UN conventions on sustainability and the environment place a high emphasis on poverty eradication and the establishment of more sophisticated forms of participatory democracy. That is, the active public involvement in the governance of a society in order to directly meet the needs of the people and to develop an effective sustainable relationship with the environment. Leading the way was the establishment in Porto Alegre of a successful participatory style democracy of this major Brazilian city.

Porto Alegre

Porto Alegre’s ten year experiment with participative democracy

Porto Alegre is the Capital of the State of Rio Grande do Sul, has one million two-hundred and ninety thousand inhabitants and is located in the centre of a metropolitan region with three million inhabitants. It has set up a parallel organisation operating alongside the municipal council, enabling local inhabitants to take real decisions for their city. And it works, especially for the least well-off for whom it offers a way to stake a claim on public funds normally spent on the more prosperous areas of the city.

The people have been able to invest in funding to clean up their slums and improve their education system. The successes have been outstanding and have become a vital resource for people around the world to study more effective principles of governance (7).

Background: Porto Alegre

The history of conceiving and executing public budgets in Brazil is marked by serious deformations related to power concentration, resource waste, political affairs and corruption. In Porto Alegre, this history has been changed. Seven years ago, the City Hall of Porto Alegre created an innovative and revolutionary system to formulate and follow-up the municipal budget.

In this system, named as Participative Budget, there are not only technicians and government leaders who, closed in their offices, decide on the collection of taxes and public money spending. It is the population, through a debate and consult process, who defines and decides on amounts of income and expense, as well as where and when the investments will be done, which are the priorities and which are the plans and actions to be developed by the Government.

The Participative Budget has proved that the democratic and transparent administration of the resources is the only way to avoid corruption and mishandling of public funds. Despite certain technocratic opinions, the popular participation has provided efficient spending, effective where it has to be and with results in public works and actions of great importance for the population.

Since its beginning, the projects decided by the Participative Budget represent investments over 700 million dollars, mainly in urban infra-structure and upgrading the quality level of the population.

The Participative Budget has also proved that the intention of having effective tools of participation and the commitment of the Government in doing whatever the population decides, is essential to cut the chains and the bureaucratic barriers that separate the society from the State, forming an active and mobilized citizenship. In Porto Alegre, today, the citizens know and decide on public issues, transforming themselves, therefore, in agents of their own future.

The Participative Budget is known by 60% of the population, according to a public opinion research and millions of people participate actively in the process in meetings, regional conventions or in specific thematic assemblies. Presently, all over Brazil there are at least 70 cities who are establishing the Participative Budget system, based in the past experience Porto Alegre has (8).


Aarhus Convention

In 1998 the Aarhus Convention was ratified in Denmark and brought into force 30 October 2001 with 18 member countries. It acknowledges the need for public participation in environmental issues and governance and marks the beginning of environmental democracy being recognised in international law. It also highlights the growing recognition around the world for more effective democratic structures along those of a participatory styled democracy.

Although regional in scope, the significance of the Aarhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizens’ participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities. As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of 'environmental democracy' so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations (9).

This convention provides the legal support for the public to confront their governments with effective democratic consultation processes on environmental issues.

In many ways the Aarhus Convention is a practical methodology for empowering people via stronger forms of participatory style democracies to effect positive changes in the interests of the people and the environment. The force of law helps people to make their local councillors and government officials be more accountable to the public. In NZ public documents and submissions as a rule fall on "deaf ears" and "done deals". If you agree with a given policy initiative of local councils and government, your ideas are integrated. If not, they are ignored or dismissed on misinterpreted and/or unfounded grounds, unless you are one of the elite rich. This convention opens the way for accountability on these entrenched and dysfunctional procedures.

What follows are the objectives, definitions, and principle of the Aarhus Convention as excerpted from its Implementation Guide.

Objective of the Aarhus Convention

Article 1 of the Convention requires Parties to guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, in order to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being.


In Article 2, the Convention defines Party, public authority, environmental information, the public and the public concerned. These definitions guide the reader’s understanding of these terms as they are used throughout the Convention.

The Convention primarily sets out obligations for Parties (contracting Parties to the Convention) and public authorities (government bodies and persons or bodies performing government functions). In addition to national government bodies, "public authority" can also refer to institutions of regional economic integration, such as the European Community, although it explicitly does not apply to bodies acting in a judicial or legislative capacity.

The Convention also sets out rights for the public (natural or legal persons, as well as organizations) and the public concerned (those who are affected or likely to be affected by or having an interest in the environmental decision-making). Non-governmental organizations need only promote environmental protection and meet requirements under national law to be part of the public concerned. Finally, environmental information is a concept that runs throughout the Convention.

The Convention gives environmental information a broad definition, including not only environmental quality and emissions data, but also information from decision making processes and analyses.


The general provisions of the Convention Article 3 set the general principles that guide all the other, more detailed and specific provisions. They cover aspects important for the implementation of the Convention, such as compatibility among its elements, guidance to the public in taking advantage of it, environmental education and awareness-building, and support to groups promoting environmental protection.

The general provisions make it clear that the Convention is a floor, not a ceiling. Parties may introduce measures for broader access to information, more extensive public participation in decision-making and wider access to justice in environmental matters than required by the Convention. The Convention also makes it clear that existing rights and protection beyond those of the Convention may be preserved. Finally, the general provisions call for the promotion of the Aarhus principles in international decision-making, processes and organizations.

The three pillars

The Aarhus Convention stands on three pillars: access to information, public participation and access to justice, provided for under its Articles 4 to 9. The three pillars depend on each other for full implementation of the Convention’s objectives.

Pillar I: access to information

Access to information stands as the first of the pillars. It is the first in time, since effective public participation in decision-making depends on full, accurate, up-to-date information. It can also stand alone, in the sense that the public may seek access to information for any number of purposes, not just to participate.

The access-to-information pillar is split in two. The first part concerns the right of the public to seek information from public authorities and the obligation of public authorities to provide information in response to a request. This type of access to information is called passive, and is covered by Article 4. The second part of the information pillar concerns the right of the public to receive information and the obligation of authorities to collect and disseminate information of public interest without the need for a specific request. This is called active access to information, and is covered by Article 5.

Pillar II: public participation in decision-making

The second pillar of the Aarhus Convention is the public participation pillar. It relies upon the other two pillars for its effectiveness: the information pillar to ensure that the public can participate in an informed fashion and the access-to-justice pillar to ensure that participation happens in reality and not just on paper.

The public participation pillar is divided into three parts. The first part concerns participation by the public that may be affected by or is otherwise interested in decision-making on a specific activity, and is covered by article 6. The second part concerns the participation of the public in the development of plans, programmes and policies relating to the environment, and is covered by Article 7. Finally, article 8 covers participation of the public in the preparation of laws, rules and legally binding norms.

Pillar III: access to justice

The third pillar of the Aarhus Convention is the access-to-justice pillar. It enforces both the information and the participation pillars in domestic legal systems, and strengthens enforcement of domestic environmental law. It is covered by Article 9. Specific provisions in Article 9 enforce the provisions of the Convention that convey rights onto members of the public. These are Article 4, on passive information, Article 6, on public participation in decisions on specific activities, and whatever other provisions of the Convention Parties choose to enforce in this manner. The justice pillar also provides a mechanism for the public to enforce environmental law directly.





Summary statements

Our present system is one based on poverty and the "fear of poverty": the big stick. Many governments on their own or those allowing themselves to be controlled by outside interests, have been systematically draining the resources of the many and giving it to the few; hence, the need for the big stick (see Economics page esp. Taxation). People need to be forced to work in servitude in order to regain the money that was wrongfully taken from them.  

It doesn't matter what kind of an economic system we subscribe to, if this process is allowed to stay intact, we will be continually wreaking havoc on our natural world.

Our current economic models seek to resolve the issues of unemployment and poverty by accelerated growth or reducing earnings.

Both processes are destructive to life. Unimpeded growth/ productivity wreaks havoc on the natural environment necessary for future life. Job and benefit reductions cut back on people's ability to live in the present if there are no other means of distributing income.

We will be the authors of our own destruction by conforming to this dysfunctional process: the devastation has been far to great already.  This violates everything that we know about human growth and development. All recognized human development theories say that punishment will only create unpredictable and undesired consequences.

How can we promote and provide a sustainable future via the inhumane processes that are the principle causes for it being unsustainable?






The bulk of the information cited for this webpage has been derived from the book Universal Income for a Sustainable Future by Patrick Danahey. The book has its references copiously cited. At present the footnotes for this page are not complete it is hoped that it will be completed in the near future. If you want to get the references sooner the book is freely available throughout the NZ library system. It is also in most of the university libraries around the country. If you wish to order it directly from the Universal Income Trust feel free to do so at the following address:

uitrustnz@xtra.co.nz or uitrustnz@yahoo.co.nz.

A new book will be available hopefully around March of 2004.

          1. Universal Income for a Sustainable Future, by Patrick Danahey 2003 

2. See the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 2000 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Data Release Report Executive Summary.

3. Environmental Risk Management Authority, Decision On Grounds For Reassessment Of A Substance, Application code: RES02001, Signed 12 March 2002.

4. See R. B. Fuller Critical Path, p 280.

5. See Philippe Van Parijs, A Basic Income for All, Boston Review, 2001, http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR25.5/vanparijs.html.

6. See L.B. Maggon, US Geologic Service http://geopubs.wr.usgs.gov/open-file/of00-320/.

7. See Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre: Toward a Redistributive Democracy, http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/santosweb.html.

8. The Experience of the Participative Budget in Porto Alegre Brazil, MOST Clearing House Best Practices Database, http:// www.unesco.org/most/southa13.htm.

9. Kofi A. Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, http:// www.unece.org/env/pp/.