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David Suzuki on Rio+20, “Green Economy” & Why Planet’s Survival Requires Undoing Its Economic Model

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now
… DAVID SUZUKI: The green economy will simply allow the corporations to make a shift. You can see it in Exxon. Exxon, one of the companies that have spent tens of millions of dollars denying climate change, denying any responsibility, taking government subsidies on a massive scale, now their ads are all about, we want a clean future, we’re looking at clean energy and all that stuff. Sure, the green economy is just about being more efficient, being less polluting, being less energy intensive, but still it’s a system built on the need to continue to expand and grow. The true economy has got to come back into balance with the very biosphere that sustains us. I think a lot of people just see the green economy as a different way of allowing the corporate agenda to continue to flourish.

We have got to change the economy and we have to do what we did in 1944 when governments came to Bretton Woods in Maine, and said we have got to develop an economic system for a post-war world. And they designed, they instituted GATT, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade. They invented the World Bank, the IMF. They tied world currency to the American greenback. But they left out the environment. It’s time for a Bretton Woods II. We have got to overhaul the economy. You cannot change nature, but you can change our inventions like corporations and the economy. They have got to change. So, greening the economy that is itself a totally destructive system because it is bent on exploiting resources unsustainably and growing forever, that is got to be overhauled, it doesn’t work.

… DAVID SUZUKI: Well, the thing we hear over and over again is that we need a paradigm shift. It has become a cliche. But, I absolutely believe this is a critical change, that all of the stuff that goes on will not achieve anything unless we ultimately see the world in a different way. You see, our beliefs, our values shape the way we look out at the world and the way we treat it. If we believe that we were here, placed here by God, that all of this creation is for us, it’s for us to go and occupy, dominate, and exploit, then we will proceed to do that. That is the paradigm we now exist within. We’re driven then by that sense that it’s all there for us. We need to shift that to a better understanding that we are part of a vast web of interconnected species, that it is the biosphere, the zone of air, water, and land, where all life exists. It’s a very thin layer around the planet.

Carl Sagan told us that if you shrink the earth to the size of a basketball, the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land where all life exists, would be thinner than a layer of toward the center then a layer of Saran Wrap, and that’s it. That’s our home, but it’s home to ten to thirty millions other species that keep the planet habitable. And if we don’t see the that we are utterly imbedded in the natural world and dependent on nature, not technology, not economics, not science — we are dependent on Mother Nature for our very well being and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets. Those are all human created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere. And the leaders in that should be the indigenous people who still have that sense, that the earth is truly are mother, that it gives birth to us.
(25 June 2012)

After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet

George Monbiot, Guardian
It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms – secured at such cost by our forebears – not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption.
(25 June 2012)

The Great U Turn: Rio plus 20

Vandana Shiva, ZNet
Rio de Janiero is a city of U turns. The most frequent road sign is “Retorno” – return.

And Rio plus 20 followed that pattern. It was a great U turn in terms of human responsibility to protect the life sustaining processes of the planet.

20 years ago at the Earth Summit, legally binding agreements to protect biodiversity and prevent catastrophic climate change were signed. The Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change propelled governments to start shaping domestic laws and policies to address two of the most significant ecological crisis of our times.

The appropriate agenda for Rio+20 should have been to assess why implementation of the Rio Treaties has been inadequate, report on how the crises have deepened, and offer legally binding targets to avoid a deepening of the ecological crises.

But the entire energy of the official process was focused on how to avoid any commitment. Rio+20 will be remembered for what it failed to do in a period of severe and multiple crises, not for what it achieved.

It will be remembered for offering a bailout for a failing economic system through the “Green Economy”- a code phrase for the commodification and financialisation of nature. The social justice and ecology movements rejected the Green Economy outright. A financial system which collapsed on Wall Street in 2008, and had to be bailed out with trillions of tax payers dollars, and continues to be bailed out through austerity measures squeezing the lives of people, is now being proposed as the savior for the planet. Through the Green Economy an attempt is being made to technologise, financialise, privatize and commodify all of the Earth’s resources and living processes.
(27 June 2012)

A tale of two conferences:
The social and ecological crises of capitalism

Chris Williams, Climate & Capitalism
Sometimes, the calendar of international conferences attended by global elites serves up potent lessons for the rest of us, when they shine a spotlight on the deliberately murky affairs of the people who run the system. As the 20 most powerful world leaders deliberate on economic issues in Los Cabos, Mexico for the G20 summit, representatives of the rest will be simultaneously converging on Rio de Janeiro to consider how to follow up on the original Earth Summit, 20 years ago this year.

At these seemingly separate gatherings, we in truth observe the two sides of the capitalist coin. Namely, how can the capitalist elite continue the necessary work of exploiting both humans and the natural world in the service of profit, while cloaking their intentions in the benign language of growth, development and sustainability? Fine words to cover nefarious ends. No doubt, as people’s livelihoods and world decay around them as a direct consequence of the system the elite oversee, and in response the flame of revolt is rekindled from Cairo to Athens, political elites in the two locations will reflect on the fact that it’s not getting any easier. From the other side, critics and commentators of the two conferences are missing an important and significant lesson when they consider them in isolation.

At the original Earth Summit in Rio, it was generally accepted that environmental questions could not be separated from economic ones. This year, the two conferences, occurring concurrently at different ends of the South American continent, bring to light how this thinking has been undermined.

Furthermore, they indicate with geographical and political precision where the priorities of the global elite lie. While the most important world leaders hot-foot it to Mexico to discuss global economic development, they send low-level delegates to Brazil to discuss issues they deem less vital; to be exact, planetary ecological crisis.

Indeed, so desperate were the Brazilian organizers of Rio+20 to cajole the British premier to attend, they changed the date of the conference so as to avoid conflicting with the much more important and worthy 60th anniversary celebrations of the Queen of England’s ascension to the throne. An attempt that proved ultimately and embarrassingly futile, as British Prime Minister, David Cameron, chose to cling to the coattails of President Obama and other G20 leaders in Los Cabos, as they calculate, connive and concoct the further dismemberment and disenfranchisement of communities of workers and peasants around the world.

In a further sad irony, to enhance attendance at Rio, Brazil is providing flights courtesy of the Brazilian air-force to those countries too poor to send delegates. It’s hard to imagine that the countries who can’t afford to send delegates to an environmental conference will have the financial capacity to take action to preserve biodiversity and a stable climate without international funding and technology transfer. But the concept or even use of the word “transfer” is exactly what the United States delegation is trying to excise from any document emerging from Rio+20.

In Los Cabos, 20 people wielding enormous economic power gather to ensure that nothing stands in the way of the international accumulation of money by their respective corporations; that capitalist growth continues, uninterrupted by paltry considerations such as democracy.
(22 June 2012)