By Clarinha Glock, IPS News (January 30, 2012)
Critical voices raised against what was dubbed "the gospel of green capitalism" resonated in every discussion and street march held during the Thematic Social Forum, which brought thousands of activists to the capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil.
Spurred by the global economic and financial crisis, participants at this year's thematic edition of the World Social Forum, which ran from Jan. 24th through the 29th, called on governments to implement changes in production and consumption, even as they were sceptical that a commitment along those lines could be secured at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), scheduled for June in Rio de Janeiro.
Professor Edgardo Lander, of the Central University of Venezuela and a member of that country's Social Forum, said there was "an attempt to rebuild capitalism with a new, green face."
"Rio+20 comes at a time when capitalism faces a profound crisis and when the severe problems arising from the limitations of growth and the destruction of the conditions that make life on the planet possible are more evident," he told Tierramérica.
In this context, "green capitalism" offers a solution to the severe crisis, primarily of the financial sector, through the increasing commodification of everything from education and healthcare to the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, he said.
Lander appealed to participants to act to shatter this model.
A roundtable in the auditorium of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul brought together a representative of the Occupy London movement, a member of the Social Forum of Northern Africa, a rural leader of La Vía Campesina, and Brazilian, French, Thai, and Venezuelan activists, symbolising this new period in history that is marked by popular uprisings, like the Arab Spring, and by one of the most acute crisis of the capitalist system ever.
According to João Pedro Stédile, one of the founders of Brazil's Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) and a member of the social organisation Vía Campesina, the situation faced by the industrialised world today is similar to the 1929 crash.
"But the difference is that for the first time the crisis touches every country," he said.
For Stédile, global capital no longer heeds the decisions of national governments. "The U.N.'s (United Nations) resolutions are not taken seriously, which is why Rio+20 is going to be a cruel joke," he said.
Part of the problem lies in "the eagerness of big global capital to protect itself until the next period of accumulation," Stédile added. There is a huge offensive by capital to snatch up raw materials, lands, water, oil and other resources, he said.
"They know that resources have an extraordinary potential for profit," he continued.
For his part, economist Marcos Arruda understands that short, medium and long-term solutions need to be devised. In this sense he hopes to expand networks such as Brazil's solidarity economy network, which currently involves 24,000 ventures and at least 1.5 million people, according to an initial assessment.
"Solidarity economy brings about change here and now, in the lives of families and communities, and also at the government level, creating new legislation that facilitates and promotes cooperatives and associations", Arruda told Tierramérica.
"The right to property is derived from work, not from capital," said Arruda, who coordinates the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone, is a member of the Brazilian Civil Society Facilitating Committee for Rio+20 and one of the founders of the Solidarity Social-Economy Global Network.
But this expert fears that great environmental disasters are advancing at a faster rate than the population's organizational capacity. His experience tells him that the necessary changes will not come from governments at Rio+20.
"Our impression is that they (the governments) are coming to this meeting once again without any political will to commit to carbon emission, greenhouse gas, and deforestation targets, as these would entail undertaking the obligation to achieve concrete results," he said.
Arruda used data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to show how, in general, global capitalism tends to concentrate wealth.
He illustrated this with an example from Rio 1992 (the Earth Summit held in that city in 1992), where global wealth distribution was depicted as a "champagne coupe," with the broad, shallow bowl representing the richest 20 percent of the world's population who have 82.7 percent of the world’s income, and the long thin stem representing the poorest 20 percent who receive only 1.4 percent.
Twenty years of neoliberalism have increased the share of the wealthiest 20 percent to 91.5 percent of the world's income. Meanwhile, the share of the poorest 20 percent plunged down to 0.07 percent of all income, he said.
The concentration of more and more wealth in the hands of an increasingly smaller minority is one of two major consequences of globalised capitalism. The second is the relentless destruction of the environment to achieve infinite economic growth, acting as if nature and land were also infinite and that all the resources they offer can be exploited, Arruda said.
"That is where a solidarity economy comes in and says 'No! We can't allow that! It's suicidal. We need to curb growth, plan according to our needs, and create decent living conditions and guarantee happiness for all, taking into account future generations and the importance of continuing to act according to our needs," he concluded.