World Social Forum - Day 2: "Rich Nations, Clean Your Mess!"

lula speech photo
Photos: Stephen Messenger

Noted political leaders and intellectual met today to discuss a range of topics on the second day of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Although the venues were scattered throughout the city and the issues ranged from economic injustice to looming environmental catastrophes, the antagonist at each was shared--Capitalism. But the highlight of today's Forum was a visit from Brazil's President Lula, who delivered a rousing speech articulating much of what was discussed earlier in the day, vowing that Brazil is prepared to take the lead on Green reform--and that other nations, particularly the world's biggest polluters, need to make up for the harm they've caused.

"You have to pay because you sent the greenhouse gas and now we have to stop it."
Resource Bubble Bound to Burst
The discussions held this morning linked the global economic meltdown with the current environmental crisis--which speakers likening earth's natural resources to a commodities 'bubble' that will eventually burst under the pressures of capitalism's runaway tendencies.

New York professor David Harvey--a vocal opponent of globalization--described the capitalist system as being based on "destruction and not construction," and that its "obsession" with economic growth comes at the expense of the environment being exploited to sustain it.

Susan George, a renowned fellow from the Transnational Institute, shared the same concerns as Harvey and outlined a dire future for a world that continues the capitalist growth model, warning that "society is submissive to the limits imposed by nature" and that seeking "immediate and blind" economic growth will impact on the ecosystem until the "time when it is impossible for life [to exist] on Earth."

crowds for lula photo

Crowds Gather for Lula
Later in the afternoon in another part of the city, people began gathering in a large auditorium for what was sure to be the highlight of the day's speech delivered by the country's popular president. Crowds lined the stands in the space usually used by the local soccer team--many wearing red shirts with the name "Lula" printed on it to show support. At one point, the roughly 7 thousand in attendance spontaneously began 'the wave' in anticipation of the President's arrival.

Word came in the press-box, about 30 minutes after Lula's speech was set to begin, that the President just departed for the hour-long plane ride from the nation's capital city, Brasilia to where the crowd was gathered in Porto Alegre. But, despite the wait, the excitement hardly waned in the audience, who gingerly fanned themselves in the evening heat.

lula speech photo

Lula on Environmental Responsibility
When the President finally arrived and began his speech, it didn't take long for him to share his remarks on the disappointments of COP-15, the failure of the most polluting countries to bear responsibility for climate change, and Brazil's commitment to upholding a responsible environmental policy.

We went to Copenhagen with the decision more serious and consistent in all countries that were there. We took a proposal for 2020 cut greenhouse gas emissions of between 36% and 39% and also reduce Amazon deforestation by 80%. It took the rich countries by surprise.

lula speech photo

Wealthy Polluters Are in Debt
He then outlined what he perceives to be a consistent failure of the US to openly resolve their significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions:

The U.S. is proposing to reduce [CO2 emissions] 17% from 2005. But if you take the date of the Kyoto Protocol and the base date of 1990, the U.S. proposal is only reduced 4% by 2020. We want common but differentiated. If one country is polluting the world for 200 years, is it just for another country that is polluting for 2 years to pay the same account? It is possible that [the US] did not want to discuss the pattern of consumption of humanity. It is possible to have a correct policy of compensation for countries.

For us to fulfill our commitment, we will have to invest 16 billion dollars. More than the European countries and the U.S. have promised. Do not just treat this as if it were charity, [those countries] are not doing a favor to pay for carbon sequestration. No. They have to pay because they sent the greenhouse gas and now we have to stop it. And now they have to give money to the Poorest countries. Not a favor! And now we have to solve it in Mexico this year. Each one will have to say this: I'll clean my mess. No one will need to help Brazil to clean it. Each country needs to clean their own [mess] so that we will be sure to achieve the right goals to clean up the planet Earth.

lula speech photo

World, Copy the Model of Brazil
President Lula went further to suggest that nations unable to find the political will or innovation to tackle climate change head-on should look to Brazil as a leader on that front:

We are well prepared for the debate. We will not accept any dirty-fuel covered finger in this country anymore, which has its extraordinary energy sources. This week I went to Juiz de Fora inaugurate the first power plant fueled by ethanol in the world. With a turbine made of aircraft 747. To the World: if you want to get rid of fossil fuels, which are a major pollutant, and sequester as much carbon as possible, and change how you get your energy and fuel, copy the model of Brazil.

(Special thanks to Emanuela Pegoraro for her help reporting.)
Check out coverage of Day 3 at the World Social Forum tomorrow.
More on the World Social Forum 2010
World Social Forum - Day 1: "Another World is Possible"

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