sation of the entire universe. In the later Star Wars films (the ones we all saw, for some reason, before this one) Darth Sidious, who is also a Galactic Senator, has mutated into the Emperor who, with Darth Vader, his heavy-breathing sidekick, has managed to corrupt the noble ideals of the Galactic Republic for his own megalomaniacal ends. Amateur historians will note the rather obvious parallel with the decay of the Roman Empire.
Anyway, the rest of the film (basically a miasma of very expensive special effects and aliens with absurdly-shaped heads) trawls through the conflict between the Jedi, whose ideals are never anything less than pure, and the disingenuous Trade Federation. After a few minor wars, lightsabre fights and intergalactic spaceship races, the Jedi naturally triumph over the Federation. Of course, Lucas has another two films to make in this trilogy, so this is actually no more than a temporary setback in the plans of Darth Clinton/Sidious, who survives unscathed to conquer the universe at a later date.
So is George Lucas a closet environmentalist? Is his representation of little people against a vast, sprawling, armed bureaucracy bent on domination really a parallel with today's growing movement of little people (that's us) against the globalisation machine (that's them)? Since Lucas claims to have written the first draft of The Phantom Menace over
20 years ago, the answer is probably no. But all art is what you make it, and as anyone who has ever studied Shakespeare or T. S. Eliot can tell you, it's all about interpretation. So I personally choose to interpret this film as not only a fable but a battle cry for those of us who sometimes feel overwhelmed by the forces we are battling against. True, we don't have lightsabres or Jedi mind tricks (more's the pity) - but our victory is still assured.
This is not the end of it. Keen environmentalists may also spot other lessons, warnings and parallels throughout The Phantom Menace. For example, the centralisation of political power inevitably leads to world - and, eventually, galactic - government (some would say that the likes of Leon Brittan know this very well already). Such government is not only unwieldy and undemocratic by its very nature, it is also open to abuse - the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic himself is, before he is deposed in favour of Darth/Senator Sidious, deep in the pocket of the Trade Federation. Ring any bells?
Furthermore, economic globalisation, i f unopposed, will end in the horrors of not just a global but a galactic economy. Just imagine: butter from Mars costing less than butter from next door. Similarly, unchecked urbanisation could have horrible consequences for the future of society. The capital of the Galactic Republic, the planet Coruscant, is one
vast city - the entire planet is covered in what looks like a giant New York, its orange skies teeming with traffic jams that make the streets of LA look serene. It is truly hideous; its only redeeming feature being that, i f James Lovelock's Gaia theory is correct, it could never, in reality, be more than a giant special effect.
Then there's the threat of runaway technology. I f you think the NATO war machine is scary, wait til l you see what the Trade Federation's droid army thousands of identical robots all controlled by a faraway computer - can do in battle. Interestingly, though, this episode in the film is also a salutary warning to worshippers of technology the entire droid army is disabled by the Jedi when they destroy the Federation's master computer, bringing the invasion of Naboo to a grinding halt. The Millennium Bug has nothing on this.
Posing, then, as an enormously expensive, effects-heavy American blockbuster, The Phantom Menace is actually a parable, a fable for our times, and its message is a heartening one: those of us battling the forces of globalisation, centralisation and obsessive technocracy have right on our side. The battle may be hard, and the road may be long. There may even be a few gratuitous lightsabre battles along the way. But we'll get there, because the good guys always win in the end. Because The Force is with us.D
The Democracy Movement Enclosed in this issue of The Ecologist is an invitation to join the Democracy Movement - a group that campaigns actively against the Single European Currency.
The creation of a single European state, towards which the single currency is a major step, will serve only to further the scope and power of large corporations. It is these corporations which have called most persistently for a single currency, and it is they alone which stand to gain through the ongoing standardisation of European culture, taste and regulations.
There is an opinion that sees internationalisation of political authority as an appropriate, even necessary response to the growing power of transnational corporations. But this view ignores the incontrovertible fact that the further away government drifts from the communities it is employed to serve, the weaker its accountability becomes. Large, centralised and remote structures have proven highly susceptible to the kind of professional lobbying that all transnationals are expert at deploying, and it is unlikely that ordinary people will ever achieve access to our ever more anonymous corridors of power.
The introduction of Economic and Monetary Union represents a giant step towards a system of international
control by unaccountable, business-led global trading blocs. Ordinary people, small businesses, farmers, fishermen, communities - those who stand to lose their economic character and independence - will have no voice in this corporate Europe. Their status will be reduced to that of passive consumers, with little real control over the institutions which govern them.
The single currency will significantly accelerate the process of economic globalisation - a trend which artificially separates the producer from the consumer, people from their environments and distances us from the devastating effects our lifestyles have on the world around us. It is a trend whose consequences, as we have continuously documented in the pages of The Ecologist are disastrous.
Those who dissent from this future deserve our support. The Democracy Movement is Britain's largest truly grassroots organisation dealing with this issue. With over 150,000 registered supporters from all corners of the UK, across the political spectrum, it is, we believe, in the best position to effect a change in the questionable policies of our leaders. We urge you to sign the enclosed form, and to encourage your family and friends to do likewise.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999 One Bird - Ten Thousand Treasures By Mae-Wan Ho
Recently, while on a lecture tour of Japan, I was taken to visit an organic rice farmer who has developed an intriguing new way of controlling pests entirely sustainably. The contrast between his small-scale ecological methods and genetic engineering technology - the dangers of which I had been invited to lecture about - struck me very forcibly at the time.
In Japan, paddy fields seem to fil l every available inch of undeveloped land, and most of the plots are tiny. That was a surprise for me, who, like most people, imagined Japan to be a fully industrialised 'developed' nation. But, in fact, in the countryside, small-scale rice farming is still the norm, though the Japanese Government is seeking to change this, to make farming more 'efficient'. As elsewhere, the government is moving away from agricultural sustainability and towards dependence on the global market - for example, Japan was once self-sufficient in soya beans, but now 98 per cent is imported. This has enraged consumers, as soya is extensively used in Japanese cuisine and a lot of it now comes from the United States, the world's biggest grower of transgenic soya. The Consumer Union of Japan has collected 2 million signatures demanding compulsory labelling of genetically engineered soya.
The Furunos are a handsome farming couple in their forties. He is wiry and dark, with a winsome squint and sparkle to his eyes, which give him the appearance of being content with life, as he has every reason to be. She is lively, goodlooking and openly ebullient about their success - not in financial terms, but in their farming method, which, since its introduction ten years ago, is now spreading throughout South-east Asia. In Japan, about 10,000 farmers have taken it up and it has been adopted by farmers in South Korea, Vietnam, The Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Farmers have increased their yield by 20 to 50 per cent or more in the first year. One farmer in Laos increased his income three-fold. Without a doubt, their method is a boon to Third World farmers.
"We want to help," the Furunos told me, when I visited them recently. "Financial success is unimportant. We
Much of Japan's rice-farming remains small-!
did not patent the method; we just want it to be widely adopted." The method has been researched and perfected over the years in their own field. Mr. Furuno introduced me to one of the young men working with the family in order to learn the method. "There's always someone here who wants to learn, and every day I
The Aigamo paddy field is a complex, well-balanced, self-maintaining, selfpropagating ecosystem. The only external input is the small amount of waste grain fed to the ducks, and the output is a delicious, nutritious harvest of organic rice, duck and roach.
get several telephone calls from people needing advice," he told me.
The Furunos' farming method has been called a 'one-bird revolution'. "The duck is the key to success," Takao Furuno told me. "The secret is to release ducklings into the paddy fields soon after the seedlings are planted." According to Furuno, the ducks never eat the rice seedlings. "Agronomists say it's because rice seedlings have too much
The Furunos have made a very good video, complete with English narration, which shows how the ducklings readily take to the paddy field when they are led there to be released. About 20 ducklings are released per tenth of a hectare. The ducks are good for the rice plants in many ways, including the mechanical stimulation they provide by their paddling, which makes the plant stems thicker and stronger, as demonstrated by careful experimentation. Takao worked out his farming method by a combination of contemplation, inspiration and experimentation. He calls it the 'Aigamo method', after the Japanese name for the ducks themselves.
The ducks eat up insect pests and the golden snails which attack rice plants. They also eat the seeds and seedlings of weeds, using their feet to dig up the weed seedlings, thereby oxygenating the water and encouraging the roots of the rice plants to grow. You can clearly see the difference between the plants in the Aigamo plots and the control plots without Aigamo. In fact, the ducks are so good at weeding that Third World farmers who have adopted Takao's method now have time to sit and chat instead of spending up to 240 hours per hectare in manual weeding every year. Besides, 'pests' and 'weeds' have been miracu-
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 6, October 1999