Luddite spirit invoked by alternative Planet Under Pressure conference

I doubt if many members of the global scientific establishment have heard of the Rio+20 Teach-in, a politically provocative forum designed to coincide with the formal Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference in London. To rub salt in the wound, the alternative event is billed as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the Luddite rebellion.

That’s not as reactionary as it sounds. As the Luddites at 200 website rightly observes:

the industrial system that the Luddites were rebelling against has led to climate change and huge losses of biodiversity, and its new technologies, such as information technology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology raise equally profound issues

The aggressive stance adopted by the Rio+20 Teach-in towards its chosen subject, the green economy, therefore has some justification on historical as well as contemporary grounds.

Unlike the “Zero Draft” of the UN negotiating document for the big event in June, the Rio+20 Teach-in material does not shrink from a definition of what the green economy might mean in practice:

The ‘green economy’ consists of (i) giving nature and ‘ecosystem services’ a financial value which can be used to facilitate trading, as has already taken place for carbon emissions, and (ii) using new ‘green’ technologies such synthetic biology/biomass and ‘geo-engineering’ to combat environmental problems

If you think this presents an unhelpful fringe position on an issue chosen by the UN as a core theme for progressing sustainable development, just wait for the Rio conference itself. In the continent which spawned the World Social Forum, the Landless Workers’ Movement and World People’s Conference on the Rights of Mother Earth, resistance to the current perception of a green economy will be overwhelming.

The speakers promised for the Rio+20 Teach-in include veteran campaigners from ETC, Econexus and the World Development Movement, organisations which have built their advocacy reputations on high quality research. It’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with important perspectives which may be drowned out at the main conference.

In fairness, there might be more in common between the alternative and official events than meets the eye. One of the Policy Briefs published for Planet Under Pressure 2012 does concede that it will be necessary to “develop an international approach for tackling emerging technologies eg. synthetic biology, geoengineering and nanotechnology.”

And, if I’m not mistaken, there’s one campaigner who has pulled off the improbable achievement of an official role in both events. Kathy Jo Wetter from the US office of the ETC group will be speaking at the London Feminist Library venue at 5 Westminster Bridge Road on March 24th before convening a session on emerging technologies on the 28th, in the rather different surrounds of Excel London, the new London International Convention Centre.

The organisers of Planet Under Pressure 2012 could make a gesture of goodwill by adding the Rio+20 Teach-in to their website listing of “related events.”


this article was first published by OneWorld UK