Friday, July 6, 2012

Conceptual shortcomings of Rio+20

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

To say that Rio+20 was a success does not correspond to reality, since there was no binding measure, nor were funds provided for the eradication of poverty and mechanisms to control global warming. No decisions were made to accomplish the purpose of the Conference which was to create conditions for the "future we want." Not admitting failure is part of the logic of governments, but that doesn't make it any less so. Given the general degradation of all ecosystem services, not advancing means going backwards.

The bottom line: if the crisis is in growth, then the solution is obtained with still more growth. This specifically means more use of the goods and services of nature, which accelerates its depletion, and more pressure on ecosystems, already at their limits. Data from the UN agencies themselves report that since Rio 92 there has been a 12% loss of biodiversity, 3 million square meters of woods and forests have been felled, 40% more greenhouse gases have been emitted and about half of global fish stocks have been exhausted.

What is surprising is that neither the final document nor the draft show any sense of self-criticism. They don't ask why we have reached the current situation, nor do they perceive clearly the systemic nature of the crisis. Herein lie the theoretical weakness and conceptual shortcomings of this, and of other official UN documents in general. Let's enumerate some critical points.

The decisionmakers keep going within the old cultural and social "software" that puts the human being in an Adamic position over nature as its dominator and exploiter, a basic reason for the current ecological crisis. They don't see the human being as part of nature and responsible for the common destiny. They haven't incorporated the view of the new cosmology that sees the Earth as alive and human beings as the conscious and intelligent portion of Earth itself, with a mission to care for it and ensure sustainability. The Earth is seen only as a repository of resources, without intelligence or purpose.

They welcomed the "great transformation" (Polanyi) when they overrode ethics, marginalized politics and established the economy as the sole structuring axis of society. We have gone from a market economy to a market society, separating the real economy from the speculative financial economy, the latter running the former.

They have confused development with growth, the former as the set of values and conditions that allow the fulfillment of human existence, and the latter as the mere production of goods to be sold on the market and consumed. They see sustainability as a way to ensure the continuity and reproduction of the same, of the institutions, companies and other bodies, without changing their internal logic and without questioning the impacts they are having on all ecosystem services. They are hostages of an anthropocentric conception according to which all other beings are only meaningful insofar as they are ordered to man, disregarding the community of life that is also created, as we are, by Mother Earth. They maintain a utilitarian relationship with all beings, denying them intrinsic value and therefore their quality as subjects of respect and rights, especially the planet Earth.

By looking at everything through the lens of economics that is governed by competition rather than cooperation, they have abolished ethics and the spiritual dimension in reflecting about the lifestyle, production and consumption of societies. Without ethics and spirituality, we became barbaric, insensitive to the passion of the millions and millions of hungry and poor. This is why a radical individualism reigns. Each country seeks its individual good over the global common good which, at the UN conferences, prevents consensus and convergence in diversity. And so, happy and alienated, we are heading towards an abyss, dug by our lack of sensible reason, wisdom and transcendental sense of existence.

With these conceptual shortcomings, we will never get out of the crises that plague us. This was the cry of the Peoples' Summit that presented alternatives of hope. In the worst case scenario, the Earth will be able to continue, but without us. May God forbid that, since He is "the sovereign lover of life", as the Judeo-Christian Scriptures state.

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