Coming Out Of Rio: Green’s Dead, Movement’s Alive

Story and photo by Kari Koch

We all knew it, but now it’s official. The Green Economy and the green-washing of industry is not going to solve the global climate crisis, protect our communities from harm, or manage our common resources. Most importantly though, Rio+20 has made it clear that a Green Economy is not a transitional demand toward systemic environmental change.
The capitalists have taken the term Green Economy and pursued it under the same banner that they pursue something called sustained growth. The two phrases in the UN document coming out of Rio+20 are used interchangeably. I’ve often heard it argued, primarily by environmentalists in the US, that the Green Economy is better than nothing, and that it is a step toward actual sustainable economies. This is a lie, and it’s high time that we stopped believing it.

Easier said than done.

At the People’s Summit in Rio, the overall analysis was that capitalism and the false solutions that it generates, like the Green Economy, will cause more problems than they will solve, and that the people presently in charge of the economic systems are only concerned with quick profit-making and maintaining power. The US and its corporate allies conspire to avoid all commitment to regulation on industry and undermine any agreement that puts primary responsibility for global climate change on the world’s longtime biggest polluters (called “shared but differentiated responsibility” in UN speak).

Meanwhile, China, Brazil and other economies verging on becoming First World focus on fighting against any regulation that prevents them from using the same destructive mechanisms for development that propelled the US and Europe to our current stronghold positions, meaning coal, deforestation, oppression of indigenous populations and workers more generally. In the back of the room, developing nations – those with no voice in global policy making outside of the UN and barely a whisper inside the cavernous monument that houses the UN Summit – are fighting to keep their countries both literally and figuratively above water.

There is a block of nation states with modest economies that fight for some forms of justice inside the UN: Venezuela, Bolivia, and some of the morally-superior northern European nations. At the same time, they are still conducting power plays for their own advantage. In the case of Venezuela, their Green Economy is actually a petrol economy; in the case of Bolivia, they are building superhighways through communities for the transport of goods; and in the case of various European high-and-mighty nations, the Green Economy is based on market-mechanisms that simply move pollution around for a price instead of reducing it.

In the end, the UN process is ill-equipped to deal with development or climate change, because the nations of the UN and their corporate sponsors are primarily concerned with their own development and profit-making. It’s not a place to come to the table as a global front to deal with issues that require sacrifice. The UN is a place to come to the table to demand sacrifices of others for the benefit of the global 1%, while playing real-life political strategy games at the expense of the rest of the people and the Earth itself.

Until there is a strong enough global movement to force them to do so, the UN and its processes will not bring about any serious movement toward addressing either climate change or true sustainability. The way we demonstrated that power (or lack of it) in previous global convergences was through mobilizations and disruptions of UN space. This time things felt different. Certainly, there were marches, rallies, and disruptions, but the primary focus of the People’s Summit was on building. The ten days of the Summit were spent in workshops, plenaries, discussion forums, strategy meetings, assemblies, and relationship building. The global networks linked together to initiate conversations about international targets and campaigns that could unite our local struggles. The event planners prioritized space for a real solidarity economy to exist within the Summit. Organized social movements hosted plenaries where people could demonstrate, discuss, and dissect solutions that spanned from the very specific to the globally applicable.

This is a welcome, critical, and difficult transition for the global movement.

I saw this difficulty emerge throughout the Summit, particularly in the solutions plenaries where local organizers were supposed to be putting forward and debating tangible solutions to the Green Economy and all that it encompasses. The vast majority of people focused on the problems their communities face and the struggles in which they are engaged. As people who have rarely or never held true power, or felt the capacity to make fundamental change, adjusting to a mindset of being powerful enough to create solutions is a challenge. This is why we must practice. We need to spend time experimenting with solutions, trying out decision making models, and building relationships that can help navigate this global fight.

Capitalism is on the decline, though it is by no means dead. It is wiggling its way into a new phase – the Green Economy, where everything on Earth can be bought, sold, and traded for short-term profit. This is a critical moment for global and local movements to strike, when the system is weak, bloated, and failing to meet the people’s needs. In order for our attack to be effective we have to be ready to respond with some ideas and directions for what we do want, how we want to be structured, and what sort of economy will work. This is the direction that I saw at the People’s Summit, a clear move to the offensive.

The highlight of the Summit is that no one person or community has the answer; and looking for some person whose solo action or idea will move us towards victory is naïve. That person does not exist and the people who assume that role are causing more harm than good. The systems that I saw highlighted at the People’s Summit are about rerouting our decision making, action, and economies so that they are based in the collective and unique to local communities. Whether that is getting rid of corporate structures and needless bosses to implement worker collectives, dismantling politics of unaccountable leadership to instead build true participatory democracy, or overcoming patriarchy to develop societies of gender equity and respect, these are the dual power systems that peoples of the world brought to the Summit.

Additionally, while we can develop models to share around the globe, only our communities truly know what’s best for the people, economy, and environment in that place. People’s movements coming out of the Summit are working to develop networks and solutions that are interconnected globally, whether that is through open-source information, collective targets, or shared analysis. This is a high task, but the struggle is global, so must be the movement for justice.

While the world leaders sat on practical thrones on plush carpet in sterile air-conditioned arenas at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the global social movements came together on the beach under tents to start building a path toward just economies. It’s slow moving now, but as we saw with the Occupy Movement in the US and, as Lenin once said, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” The People’s Summit and the global people’s movements are building our readiness for when the storm comes and the rivers of change rush through our communities.

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