By Clarinha Glock
Voices of opposition to the concept of “green capitalism” as a means of salvation for the environment echoed loudly in every discussion and street protest during the Thematic Social Forum that drew thousands of activists to Porto Alegre, capital of the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul.
In the face of the current global economic and financial crisis, the participants in this World Social Forum thematic event, held Jan. 24-29, called on governments to promote changes in the current system of production and consumption – although they do not expect commitments of this kind from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) taking place this June in Rio de Janeiro.
Edgardo Lander, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela and member of the Venezuelan Social Forum, referred to the so-called green economy – a central theme of Rio+20 – as “an attempt to recompose capitalism with a new façade: that of green capitalism.”
“The Rio+20 summit will take place at a time of a profound crisis for capitalism, when the severe problems resulting from reaching the limits of growth and the destruction of the conditions for life on the planet are more evident than ever,” Lander told Tierramérica.
In this context, “green capitalism” seeks a solution to the current critical situation, primarily for the financial sector, through the path of the growing “mercantilization” of everything, including education, health, and the knowledge of traditional peoples, he added.
What is really needed is greater effort to break with this model, stressed Lander.
Gathered at the same roundtable discussion in the auditorium of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, a member of the Occupy London movement, another from the North African Social Forum, a leader of La Via Campesina and activists from Brazil, France, Thailand and Venezuela symbolized this new historical era marked by popular uprisings, such as those of the so-called Arab Spring, and by one of the most acute crises ever for the capitalism system.
The situation currently facing the industrialized world could be compared to the crash of 1929, declared João Pedro Stédile, founder of the Brazilian Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) and member of the international civil society organization La Via Campesina. “But the difference is that for the first time it actually involves all of the world’s countries,” he said.
Stédile argued that international capital has no respect for the decisions made by governments. “Nobody places any importance on resolutions adopted by the UN (United Nations), which makes Rio+20 nothing more than a bad joke,” he maintained.
One part of the problem lies in “the eagerness of big international capital to protect itself for the next period of accumulation,” leading to a stampede to gain control over the world’s raw materials, land, water, oil and other resources, he said.
“They know that natural resources have the potential to be extraordinarily lucrative,” he added.
For his part, economist Marcos Arruda stressed the need to look for solutions in the short, medium and long term. One of these, he believes, is the expansion of networks like the one made up of 24,000 solidarity economy enterprises in Brazil, which currently encompasses at least 1.5 million people, according to a preliminary mapping.
“The solidarity economy is bringing about changes here and now, in the vital space of families and communities, and also at the level of governments, through the creation of new legislation to facilitate and promote cooperatives and similar associations,” he told Tierramérica.
“Ownership rights are determined by work, not by capital,” said Arruda, coordinator of the Institute of Policy Alternatives for the Southern Cone, member of the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating Committee for Rio+20, and one of the founders of the Global Network of the Solidarity Socioeconomy.
But Arruda fears that major environmental disasters will outstrip the population’s capacity for organization. And experience tells him that the changes needed will not come from the governments gathered at Rio+20.
“Our impression is that they (the governments) will come to this meeting once again without any real political will to take on commitments to meet targets for carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, anything that implies the obligation to produce concrete results,” he said.
Arruda used statistics from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to demonstrate, in general terms, how the global capitalist system leads to the concentration of wealth.
He cited as an example that at the original Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, statistics on income were graphically represented as a “champagne glass”, one which has grown wider and wider in the intervening years.
At that time, the wealthiest 20 percent of the world population controlled 82.7 percent of total global income. Today, 20 years of neoliberalism later, their share has grown to 91.5 percent. In the meantime, while the poorest 20 percent accounted for 1.4 percent of income in 1992, this figure has shrunk to a mere 0.07 percent, he stressed.
The increased wealth of an ever smaller minority is one of the two consequences of globalized capitalism. The second is growing destruction of the environment to pursue unlimited economic growth, pretending that there are no limits to nature and the planet, and that everything they offer us can be exploited forever, Arruda declared.
“Then the solidarity economy comes along and says, this is not possible! This is a suicidal world. We have to put a break on growth, and plan in such a way that our needs can be met and a decent life can be lived by everyone, taking into account the future generations and the importance of continuing to meet these needs,” he concluded.