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<nettime> Rio+20 as seen from the UK
Michael Reinsborough on Thu, 22 Mar 2012 01:59:03 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Rio+20 as seen from the UK

Here are some of the issues identified (in response to a journalism question) by luddites200.org.uk in preparation for the London Teach-in this Sat Mar24th 10.30am-5.00pm  {AT} the London Feminist Library
  see https://network23.org/invite for details
   schedule at https://network23.org/invite/schedule
     reserve a seat at  http://t.co/o4ecIBlO
This teach-in is butted up against the Royal Society's technofix conference next week http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net<http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/>

From: Ned Ludd [luddites200 {AT} yahoo.co.uk]
Sent: 21 March 2012 18:20
Subject: Rio+20

Regarding researching/writing articles/journalism on Rio+20 [ http://www.uncsd2012.org<http://www.uncsd2012.org/> ] here are some issues you might want to cover:

Firstly from all the submissions from which the so-called "zero draft" is written there is now a 24ish page document "The Future we Want" at http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/futurewewant.html
Most of what civil society wants has been left out of this document.  The U.S. negotiators have apparently made an early statement that they want the final document down to 5 pages.  So it is clear from the outset that the strategy of the big powers is to reduce the UN process to a series of non-binding "political statements" of intention.  The most disturbing thing in the document is the role accorded to private enterprise to be an integral part of the solutions to ecological crisis.  Basicly this is writing in corporate interests to the eco-crisis round table of knights and more or less shifting the ecological problem into an opportunity for capitalism to jump start a new round of capitalist accumulation through transfer of the commons (air, water, forests, land, etc. as well as the genetic commons of biodiversity, an inheritance that all life on earth shares) to private interests.

So one approach to writing an article might be to contrast the traditional leftist internationalist hope that the UN process would bring about enlightened international relations to what is actually happening in the Rio+20 process.  Many people have invested their hopes that the United Nations would somehow curb the violent anarchy of selfish national interest in competition, of exploitation of poor by rich, would somehow be a path towards enlightenment values of equality and cooperation.  So for example the idea of technology assessment at the UN level was part of the original 1992 Rio Earth Summit discussions: a future promise.  Whatever the original rhetoric, the already marginal technology assessment mission that the UN had (Centre for Science and Technology for Development, United Nations Secretariat, New York) and a UN commission on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC), a monitoring division within the U.N. (for history see https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:0Gn7g
 FXlidUJ:www.unhistory.org/briefing/17TNCs.pdf+transnational+corporations+monitor+United+Nations&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESisfolZIkhUb0nbxz7yQJBtlPAhkgwg0KmBAz18MfcLnjOkXdbruyZ4FoGUgKDuY5wcQJQ1Ulv_rrPrDrZ5XD3hQ1caBPuZRTNsnH2jtooN1a1s1HtsQPtEWiRVikrKt7vzsAh1&sig=AHIEtbRpWM_nrzlSjHacO1E6dVIch-TkRQ ), were both done away with during the 90s.  This may seem like old news but I think it is key to understanding the hope that has been placed in the United Nations as a vehicle towards progress to recount what the leftists internationalist vision has been and why many people originally expected some of these things to happen now at Rio+20.  So it might also be good to look at what has come out of the original Rio negotiations- for example opinion varies on whether this was important because it was a first step and the rhetoric about what would be negotiated in the future was very hopeful, or others might say that none of what came out of the original rio was in any significant wa
 y a binding agreement to the governments concerned (for example how does agenda 21 stack up as a tool to fight multinational corporations?) so therefore rio wasn't significant or hope inspiring.  It's not necessary for an informative article to take a position but it might be helpful to provide people with enough information to know that there is a grassroots debate: abandon the UN processes because they are corrupt and distracting to real action by social movements or work to reform the U.N. processes so that they might have more teeth and the possibility of civil society/social movements intervention.  This is a decision for social movements to make but a writer can certainly stoke the fires of debate by providing people with information.  [ UN & climate http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3843 technofixes- http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3126 ]

Obviously the finacialisation of natural entities (forests, coral reefs, etc.) is part of the banker's carbon market imagination so defining commons and how finacialisation is an attack on what we all own together in common (with the other species on the planet) is useful to think about.  For an english audience the history of the enclosure movements, (levellers, diggers, etc) might make an interesting inclusion.  Even technology use by corporations is also a way to enable new types of enclosure: for example- Governments were given sovereignty over the genetic diversity within their own territory during the 1992 treaty.  This was described as Amazonian amnesia because it forgot the colonial history of the European and american powers removing species that had been cataloged and placed in zoos.  Northern powers stole it all and then had the 1992 treaty approve this theft. Is Rio+20 a chance for the superpowers of biopiracy to go back for the rest of that genetic diversity?  Co
 nsider that biological material is supposed to be very important to the economy and science during the 21st century - predictors say the genetic revolution will make the information technology revolution (by comparison) look like not much of a change!  Whether this is true or not only the future can say but the increasing importance of genetic information makes the legitimising of biopiracy sort of like saying its ok that the Spanish Empire could sail to the New World with a fleet of ships, plunder South and Central America and bring back hull-loads full of coffers of gold to their European home country to be paraded around the Royal Court as a new sign of wealth.  The finacialisation of nature obviously relates to the Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) which has been opposed by civil society during the previous climate treaty negotiations.

So the key theme emphasized in the London teach-in (rightly or wrongly) is the so-called "Green" Economy which we are describing as "greed" economy.  In the North, the Rio+20 is going to be a public relations battle to greenwash corporate seizure of commons.  As a global movement our approach in the northern wealthy countries is only slightly different to our approach in the global South.  Via Campesina is a good example of how our global movements are approaching "green" economy in the South.  Whereas they seem to be saying "Say no to the Green Economy" many in the Northern environmental movements here may be unwilling to cede the word "green" to the corporations and prefer to keep alive the idea of an environmentally compatible economy (jobs & environment)- a green economy by contrasting it to the proposals by corporate polluters which we describe as a "greed" economy or a "greenwashed greed" economy.  There is not much different in the content of the demands but the two wa
 ys to approach the same message has a nuance that is significant in our UK national and local politics.  The word green belongs to civil society.  When the so-called green economy hits, the public will discover it to be an expensive disaster that causes new economic bubbles.  If we let the polluters call their marketisation of nature a 'green' economy, we will only play into the significant (Northern) public cynicism and backlash against climate related mitigation costs which are sometimes seen as a sort of austerity or more green taxes, etc.  If 'green' means coporate greed, then environmentalism and being concerned about the climate will also be associated with corruption.  For Via Campesina, they primarily speak to their constituency (peasant farmers) who do not have difficulties understanding what is going on.  However the mass media audiences of Britain will need to be approached slightly different because here it will be a PR war.  Corporate polluters will associate th
 emselves with the word "green" [victory #1 if they can do it] and then when the later expensive failure of the 'green' economy becomes apparent to the public backlash and cynicism against all green issues will be directed against genuinely green environmental justice demands [victory #2 which follows from victory #1].  Lefty readers might be primed for this subtle PR war of words.

 *   So to summarize, it seems to us like the strategic intention of polluter nations and their corporate interests is to use Rio+20 as a moment to shelve international negotiations into a very short non-binding document of political intentions.  This will emphasize corporate involvement in finding the solutions.  There will also be lots of nice things (entirely non-binding) written in the document.  The nice things will be left aside and polluter nations will use the Rio document to justify and begin a new round of corporate involvement in 'solution' providing.  If Rio+20 validates corporate involvement, then these these private enterprise solutions can be begun without the U.N. process meddling in the way of polluter nations and their corporate clients.  The corporate solutions will be used to jump start a new round of derivatives trading in the stockmarkets of nature, none of which will actually help the biocrisis.  Any "reparations" money will be given to poor nations in 
 the form of contracts for Northern 'climate-solutions' providing corporations.  A sub-prime carbon bond market will eventually trip us into a new financial crisis but in the mean time the (same old) ecological crisis will still be here.  The sheer insanity of it will be apparent to some people; they will be quietly taken aside and told that GeoEngineering is the actual solution to the planetary crisis.  The Rio+20 political document will be used to legitimise corporate involement in resource grabs generally, including carbon trading scams, but also direct resource grabs.  The most notable resource grab is water privatisation.  This will be described positively as a solution to biocrises through better management and capital investment.

Regarding geoengineering it should be thought of as already functioning today (without yet being used) functioning today in debates in the same way that Nuclear Weapons function (without yet being used) function every day in foreign policy debates as a debt collectors threat.  Nuclear weapons are an implicit threat (without being used) so the debt economy continues.  Geoengineering (without being implemented) is an implict 'solution' to biocrisis, so the capitalist growth economy can continue.  Geoengineering is a false solution that allows profiteering economy to continue without addressing its insanity.  Without the "idea" of geoengineering the global carbon trading markets and capitalism itself would begin to seem to more and more people like an emperor with no clothes.  Geoengineering is an idea with no substance- it is the emperor's magic (i.e. invisible) clothes.  For the role of science in the Rio+20 look at the recomendatiosn that came out last week [See http://www.di
 gitalhen.co.uk/news/science-environment-17381730 and also see http://www.earthsystemgovernance.org/news/2012-03-15-navigating-anthropocene-improving-earth-system-governance ].  These scientists, the Earth System Governance project did a project mandated by those who organized the Planet Under Pressure conference (IGBP & the Royal Society).  Their recommendations include GEOENGINEERING, and SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY the so-called "extreme genetic engineering").  They also make suggestions to strengthen and centralize part of UN environmental governance.  This is a call to centralize we presume.  They suggest better role for CSOs.  We think their politics very niave.  The better role for CSOs will quietly be sidelined (We hear this sort of thing all the time but the UN is run by national sovereignty and CSOs will never be willingly given any more power than they already have) but more centralized governance might be taken up depending on who uses it how.  Re extreme genetics (a.k.a. s
 ynthetic biology) [ http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5232 & http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=3619 ] and geoengineering [ http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5217 ] see publications at http://www.etcgroup.org .  Synthetic biology means reengineering the metabolic pathway of one-celled micro-organisms so that they eat waste biomass, (cornstocks for example) and excrete something useful to the industrial economy, paint thinner for example or better yet petroleum.  This is the corporate biotech wet dream: designer bugs that eat cornstocks and shit out petroleum.  For a list of corporate baddies see particularly the new corporate partnership deals:  http://www.etcgroup.org/en/node/5296  [Wouldn't it be interesting to correlate which of these companies will be at the London olympics as Sponsors?  Dow Chemical for example is wrapping the Olympic stadium with their banner. Already there are calls from Indians to bring this banner down because of their 1984 Bhopal disaster where Dow poi
 soned to death a whole town in India  http://www.global-sisterhood-network.org/content/view/2654/59 How exciting it would be to link these demonstrated past safety failure disasters with Dow's new involment in "Green Economy" and synthetic biology! See piii "The New Corporate Galaxy" in ETCgroup report Who Will Control the New Green Economy? for Dow's links to BP, General Mills, Unilever, Chevron, the U.S. military, & now also Solazyme ].  Re Geoengineering the types of geoengineering that are most frequently advocated are putting nanoparticles up into the sky to block out light (a sort of venetian blind system), blowing up artificial volcanoes to put sulphites into the stratosphere and block out the sunlight, and ocean engineering to change the chemistry of the oceans.  Nanoparticles (including volcano sulphite nanoparticles) are carcinogenic.  They will eventually drift down from the stratosphere and presumably cause massive health damage to peoples.  Geoengineering of the
  ocean is also insanely dangerous- especially with engineered microbes (synthetic biotechnology- artificial bugs).  Geoengineering isn't just dangerous if it misfires.  Firstly it is already functioning as a last resort scenario in many people's minds so they can accept not immediately doing anything about climate overheating. Secondly it is likely to fail and very possibly fail badly, such that it makes things worse and has huge human health and ecological consequences.  Thirdly even it works or sort-of half works (ie. protects Northern rich countries even while poor countries fry) it will only allow a continuation of a greedy capitalist economy where the rich get richer and the rest of us are left to eat moldy bread or face violent expropriation.  The ENMOD treaty of the 1970s (from US attempts to use weather as a weapon during the Vietnam war) is relevant to legality of geoengienering debates as well as 2008 treaty negotiations (CBD, yes?) outlawing ocean interference for
  the purpose of geoengineering and perhaps all forms of geoengineering.  Despite its insanity and illegality geoengineering continues to be part of the conversation because so many capitalists need an excuse of last resort so that they can keep on capitalizing without having to confront the unsustainability of permanenat growth.  The Climate Justice slogan "You can't have infinite growth on a finite planet" will be familiar to many  people (it was one of three key messages by social movements during the COP15 in copenhagen).  Geoengineering is an attempt to fix the planet for being "finite" rather than fix the economy for being out of touch with reality.  Regarding science (instead of getting into a difficult pro/anti science arguement) it may be useful to contrast science -vs-"royal science" to say that royal scientists are a group of elites manipulating the scientific process to protect their wealthy friends.  For this arguement see https://network23.org/anarchistscience/v
 s-royal-science This description of the Royal Society shows how they have been stealing science for 350 years now, making sure it didn't fall into the hands of regular people or women.

Technology trumps trade!  This means that international technology treaties will eventually be more important for the balance of global power than any particular round of trade talks.  Until now much of anti- and alter-globalisation activity has focused on trade related issues, stopping the GATS, or the WTO doha round, etc.  However because so many of the economic possibilities for capitalism to continue rely upon technofix solutions to the biocrisis and also to their accumulation crisis (which to them is more important) we are now (or will soon be) entering a period where technology transfer issues are more important for maintiaining elite power than new trade agreements. [In Luddites200 we're still debating whether/if/when this is true but it is certainly something to consider whenever they start negotiating technology transfer clauses.]  Any type of technology transfer treaty pushed at the global level by the polluter powers will include careful intellectual property prote
 ction and mandatory purchase of their new technofix solutions.  The future of capitalism is entirely techno-zombie capitalism returned from the dead like a michael jackson biotech-cyborg-zombie thriller video.  The internationalist left who see in the U.N. hope for the future imagine something like an International Commission for the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT).  This was written into the 1992 Earth Summit text.  A lot of strategically minded people would value such a thing. At least it would be a speed bump slowing down the polluter powers mangle of communities and the earth.  The Rio+20 zero draft has nothing like this in it.  The polluter powers want to avoid any type of thing that puts ethhical strings on their technical power to manipulate future possibilities in whatever technological way they want.  Their version of a technology transfer agreement will not include accountability but it will focus on intellectual property and lock international aid and clima
 te mitigation money to the new technologies for which they own the profit rights.  Money promised to the global South would go from one Wall Street bank to another down the street (the intellectual property holders account) without the global South seeing a penny except on paper.

There is one suggestion in the rio documentation that there will be an environmental ombudsperson- don't know much about this.  Again a hierarchical U.N. position is only as good as who is assigned to the post and nation states make the decisions.  Nonetheless, many people are excited that this might benefit us.  At very least the person in the position can not ignore completely obvious criminal activity.  But it is something to bring up in an article on rio+20 because it seems to have captured the imagination of lots of lefties.  It might be worth investigating how this plays into/or possibly co-opts a rights of mother earth approach (such as advocated by the 2010 Bolivian summit)?

There are a lot of Rio+20 issues not covered in the London teach-in.  Rightly or wrongly, the London teach-in emphasizes issues around green vs greed economy and technology issues (particularly since it butts up against the http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net<http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/> conference on technofixes).  But many other things are being talked about at other teach-ins and public talks.  Many people are very hopeful about various sets of legal parameters to give rights to mother earth- as coming from the Cochambamba conference in the summer after COP15.  I can't imagine that won't come up during the open discussions in the London teach-in.  There are also a variety of corporate law/human rights issues particularly as relate to resource extraction (Prior Informed Consent (PIC) as per recently negotiated Nagoya Protocol, and various other laws affecting corporate responsibility to communities in relation toresource extraction/local states and or the abs
 ence of any effective local governance structures) that may be impacted by Rio+20.  SOAS had a seminar series but they seemed to not know precisely how Rio would impact, only that it could do so.  See http://www.soas.ac.uk/ledc/events/seminarseries/?showprevious=1 for list of topics and contact ledc {AT} soas.ac.uk<mailto:ledc {AT} soas.ac.uk> with questions.  she's grad student convening seminar series and may be able to answer questions or point you in direction of someone who could.  Also the speakers at the Occupy LSX discussion of Rio+20 had a very optimistic perspective on the potential of possible legal tools to come out of Rio+20.  The WWF and Oxfam speakers talked about planetary boundaries and how economics and inequality can be reconsidered from within a planetary boundaries perspective. Rights of mother earth were being pursued (sometimes at local level) in some of the legal cases discussed. See http://www.facebook.com/events/328744843842479 and click on "see more" to see 
 who the panelists were.  At Luddites200 we haven't focused on possible new legal protection tools. Recourse to legal action to protect the environment or human rights is limited not just because the existing legal and regulatory system prioritizes economic interests but also because the tremendous amount of legal expertise and costs needed to even participate in legal challenges often prevent people from being able to enter into legal dispute.  This is doubly true in highly technical disputes where expensive scientific expertise must be presented.  As example, nanotechnology is one of the high cancer risk technologies that would be used as part of a geoengineering strategy advocated by the scientists bringing their advice to the Rio+20 process.  The difficulties for civil society trying to use the law to fight high technology risks are documented in http://ejlt.org//article/view/93 (which is a case where many of us in the luddites200.org.uk originally came together) see espe
 cially the final section "Challenges for effective civil society protection".

These are some of the issues relevant to the Rio+20

Here's a few other important links with issues we haven't covered in this commentary:





Lastly, if dealing with the UN makes readers feel powerless here are some grassroots actions happening this spring which are "bottom-up" technology assessment alternatives to waiting around for the U.N. to decide whether it is going to save or not save or collective asses.  Actions, demonstrations, and direct action at the local level can be thought of as replacement&critique of the failing global U.N. processes or, equally, they can be thought of as leverage in forcing democratizion & improvement into the U.N. system thus making it possible to hold polluter nations accountable at global level.  Either way local grassroots action is something which people can do immediately and which have real effect regardless of whatever opinion they hold about the United Nations:

 *   May 27th http://www.taketheflourback.org/
 *   March 10th http://www.cnduk.org/about/item/1355
 *   April 21st http://stopnuclearpoweruk.net/content/sizewell-camp-2012

    -and these are just three actions which luddites200 network has been involved in supporting, obviously there are many other relevant actions going on in the U.K. that can help if you've got the UN process blues.  It might be part of a fledgling Rio+20 strategy to actively name our dissatisfaction with the polluter-nations dominated UN process as part of our publicity/press strategy for local actions.  But local environmental justice actions would continue to be locally concieved and have local objectives, much as the campaigns named above are.  A mass action in Britain against GM wheat trials is also a hit against the Rio+20 biotech agenda.  But people in Britain are taking action because we don't want biotech here.  Debates about international technology assessment are a bolted on extra meaning of local actions.  They could give local campaigns some international depth and an extra media moment. This would also allow our end of the UN negotiations to point to examples of
  the public rejecting a greenwashed greed economy dressed up as 'green' and sold with Royal Science pretending (as usual) to be real science.

On behalf of luddites200,

Solidarity & Autonomy,

Nedrick Ludd


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