World Social Forum - Day 3: "Earth Can't Sustain Capitalism"

Photos: Stephen Messenger

The principle theme of today's meetings on the third day of the World Social Forum was a focus on quality of life, the growing reach of Western capitalism, and the preservation of self-determination in developing nations. Not unlike the imperialism of previous centuries, which conquered people of life and land, the influences of modern consumerism are robbing cultures of their traditional values and the world of a sustainable future, argued several speakers at today's meetings. Meanwhile in the lush Brazilian countryside, thousands of participants from across the world descended upon the Forum's campground to create a 'model society' to demonstrate what a sustainable world might look like.The 'Good Life' Is Unsustainable
Ivar Pavan, a Brazilian parliamentary leader, was the keynote speaker today at a panel discussion entitled "Living Well." He pointed out that for more and more people in the world, the goals which would constitute a 'good life' are unsustainable, like buying cars, electronics, or consumer goods. The growing trend of consumerism particularly among previously contented peoples, he believes, is moving the notions of 'living well' out of the realm which Earth can support.

Likewise, South African activist Mercia Andrews noted that while much of the world is looking to material luxuries to improve their quality of life, there are many with far more modest desires. She spoke of her experience with people living in poverty and found that most still strive for decent farmland, schools for their children, medical assistance--or, in a word, dignity.

They were so low, just wanted equality and respect. However, capitalism can not meet these demands. To achieve a good life that we become aware and understand the simple things in life which we have had in the rural community.

None Are Spared from Greed
For the philosopher and leader of the Alternative Forum in Morocco, Zraih Abderkadel, initiating a more sustainable quality of life begins with the developed world changing their globalizing policies. Even for people of poorer nations who may otherwise be contented by more traditional lifestyles, their quality of life and self-determination is impeded by the consumerism of others, he argued.
The oppressed peoples can no longer be prevented from developing. There must be a change in values, a notion that living well is not due to the delay of other nations, that there can be social and environmental justice with full development potential of the people, respecting their sovereignty.

Capitalism Robs from the Future
Finally, Italian sociologist Marco Deriu outlined his thoughts on the true cost of the capitalistic system. For him, last years global economic crisis was simply a reminder that the world is on an unsustainable path:
We live in unpaid debts, we can not pay, we are investing in the future, a bill to let future generations pay. With a competitive and individualistic attitude, the increase in consumption led to increased pollution, the promise of a better future brought the exploitation of workers and the environmental impact.

WSF Camp: A Sustainable Model
The morning's discussions on the inevitable failure of capitalism and it's irresolvable social and environmental implications were discouraging--but only a short drive out of the city, thousands were gathered to create a society free of those troubles. Each year, the World Social Forum has hosted a 'model society' campground, which attracts thousands from all over the world to come and live sustainable, which describes itself as "an environment for dialogue between the diversity of individuals, movements and organizations that participate in its construction."

Spread out over about 20 acres, the 'camp' resembles a makeshift city, complete with organic restaurants, bars, stages for concerts, internet cafes, a community radio, multimedia production center, tents for workshops and cultural debates, and even a school for children.

Opening a 'Great Social Chain'
The nearly 3 thousand residents, who hail from more than 20 countries seemed accustomed to, if not well-versed in, the lifestyle afforded by their community. For example, when a light rain began to shower the tents and muddy the streets, more shirts and shoes were removed than umbrellas fetched.

Still, the community was quite cleverly arranged and well organized, with a number of anti-capitalist features, like a central market where items are not sold, but rather traded for other items. Also in the camp, organic produce and homemade crafts can be traded or bought with camp-produced currency.

According to the camp's guidelines:

In the camps are practiced fair economic relations and, above all, an economic education. The idea is to make the living day-to-day political practice, questioning and proposing alternatives on consumption, the origin of the products we consume. As well, observing the cycles of production and consumption, thus opening the great social chain, environmental and economic issue that involves.

A Sustainable Camp in an Unsustainable World
Much of the camp's emphasis is placed on being non-impacting to the environment it occupies. Color-coated trash bins helped separate the camp's waste--though from the looks of it, so little was produced that they were hardly needed.

In fact, the Forum's 'model society' seemed to be the perfect counter to the heaviness of the morning's discussions, and indeed presented a pleasant, peaceful, and spirited society--that could surely be sustained long after the Forum itself comes to an end, and happily:

All participants manage, decide and implement decisions on a level playing field, without a hierarchy of the process. Self-management assumes that all individuals are able to discuss public issues and develop solutions to problems that hinder the living.

(Special thanks to Emanuela Pegoraro for her help reporting.)
Check out coverage of Day 4 at the World Social Forum tomorrow.
More on the World Social Forum 2010
World Social Forum - Day 1: "Another World is Possible"
World Social Forum - Day 2: "Rich Nations, Clean Your Mess!"

Tags: Activism | Brazil | Consumerism | Economics | Global Climate Change


treehugger slideshows