In the bit of analysis below, sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos contrasts the recent World Economic Forum with the Thematic Social Forum of Porto Alegre, whose goal was to prepare popular responses to the upcoming Rio+20 Summit. The author argues that ” the proposals advanced [by the UN and its member bodies toward Rio+20] – summed up in the concept of green economy – are shockingly inefficient and even counterproductive: the aim is to persuade the always free, ever unrestrained markets that there are opportunities for profit in investing in the environment, accounting for environmental costs (externalities) and ascribing market value to nature.”
In contrast, the social movements stand for rights, resiliency, reparations, and, as always, resistance. — the GJEP team
Rio+20 and the Peoples´ Summit
by Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Cross-posted from Other News.
The treatment given by the major media to two events occurring during the last few weeks – the World Economic Social Forum of Davos and the Thematic Social Forum of Porto Alegre – speaks loudly of the interests presiding over world public opinion in our time.
The former attracted a lot of attention, although its discussions did not contribute anything new: the same old analyses of the European crisis and the same insistent ruminations on the symptoms of the crisis while concealing its true causes. The latter was totally ignored, even though it engaged in productive discussion of the issues that most decisively condition our future: climate change, water availability, quality and quantity of food resources in view of the threat of hunger and malnutrition, environmental justice, the common goods of humankind, and the worth of grassroots, non-Eurocentric knowledges in the pursuit of environmental justice. This kind of media selectivity clearly exposes the risks we run when public opinion is reduced to publicized opinion.
The objective of the Porto Alegre Forum was to debate Rio+20, that is to say, the UN Conference on sustainable development to take place next June in Rio de Janeiro, 20 years after the first UN Conference on the same topic, which took place in Rio as well. It was a path-breaking conference in that it called attention to the environmental problems we face and the new dimensions of social injustice they bring along. The debates focused on two major issues. On the one hand, the critical analysis of the past twenty years and how it is reflected on the documents preparatory of the Conference; on the other, the discussion of the proposals to be presented at the Peoples Summit, the conference of the civil society organizations taking place alongside the UN intergovernamental conference. Let us ponder each one of them in turn.
Rio+20: The critique
20 years ago, the UN played an important role in calling attention to the dangers that human and nonhuman life runs if the myth of endless economic growth goes on dominating economic policies and if irresponsible consumerism is not curbed: the planet is finite, the vital cycles for replenishment of natural resources are being destroyed, and nature will inevitably “take revenge” in climate changes soon to become irreversible and affect, in special ways, the poorest populations, thus adding more social injustice to the one already existing. The States seemed to heed the warnings and many promises were made in conventions and protocols.
The multinationals, those major agents of environmental deterioration, seemed to be on guard. Unfortunately, this moment of reflection and hope soon disappeared. The USA, then the main polluter and today the main per capita polluter, refused to assume any binding commitment toward reducing the emissions that cause global warming. Instead of decreasing, the emissions increased even more. The less developed countries claimed their right to pollute until the more developed ones agreed to assume their ecological debt for having polluted so much for so long. The multinationals successfully invested in the formulation of laws and international treaties allowing them to pursue their polluting activities with a minimum of restrictions. The result is glaringly to be seen in the documents prepared by the UN for the Rio+20 Conference. There is some relevant information about innovations regarding environmental care but the proposals advanced – summed up in the concept of green economy – are shockingly inefficient and even counterproductive: the aim is to persuade the always free, ever unrestrained markets that there are opportunities for profit in investing in the environment, accounting for environmental costs (externalities) and ascribing market value to nature. In the fantasy world in which these documents exist, the “market failures” are due exclusively to lack of information; as soon as these are overcome, there will be plenty of green investment and innovation. In other words, there is no other way for relationships among humans and with nature but the market and strife for individual profit. In sum, a neoliberal orgy in the North that seems now to be spreading to the emergent countries.
To read the rest, go to Other News.
*Sociologist, PhD, professor at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin Madison Law School.