Anti-globalization Movement and Challenges for Rio + 20

By Geneviève Azam and Michael Löwy

, by GRAP (Grupo de Reflexão e Apoio ao Processo Fórum Social Mundial)

Even as the elements of the roots of the current environmental and social crisis were already present at the Rio Conference of 1992, the consciousness of a finite and partially destroyed world, due to the irreversible character of the some phenomena (climate, biodiversity, resource depletion), was still by then relatively marginal and partially circumscribed to the circles of experts or used by these circles. Furthermore, at the beginning of the 90s, economic and financial globalization was still largely presented as “the insurmountable horizon” and the way towards progress for the whole human kind.

In this context, the Rio Conference of 1992 reassured sustainability through “sustainable development”. The ambiguity of this concept reminds us of the tensions that were already present in Rio: is it about guaranteeing the duration of a very exhausted model in order to guarantee the duration of societies and their ecosystems face to the pursuit of a predator development of natural and human resources? It is demonstrated that “development” is globally unsustainable: sustainability of societies is not compatible with the policies recommended by the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO and globally as a model of society centered around short term profitability and the massive exploitation of common goods.

Paradoxically, economic globalization, in its eagerness to expand the limits of the world for a widespread free trade, promising prosperity and growth through inclusion in global market, demonstrated the finitude of the planet and sustainably deepened social inequalities. But for global capitalism, social or natural disasters, such as climate change or the collapse of biodiversity, represent new opportunities, new markets – they are possibilities for a supposedly green economy and development. This is how pseudo-solutions arise, such as the markets for contamination rights, markets for biodiversity, including the promotion of biofuels and geoengineering projects – in a last attempt to keep alive a system that lead us directly to the abyss.

During a long time, it was thought that environmental issues concerned only rich countries and their upper classes: the instrumentation of the opposition between “the poor that need to develop” and environmentalists was weakened by the formulation of a popular ecology, an “ecology of the poor” (J. Martinez-Alier), through the defense of ecosystems and resources by populations at risk of losing their way of living.

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