ICAE – Another Future is Possible

The International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) took great pains to prepare the stance of civil society towards the world conference on sustainable develpment that is known as “Rio+20” and was held in that city in June of this year. Already at the end of 2011, it sent out an open invitation to participate in a virtual working group and develop alternative concepts, looking in particular at the roll of learning and Adult Education for such alternatives. The results of this virtual seminar are available on ICAE’s web pages: <http://www.icae2.org/?q=en/node/1470> The virtual discussion was then condensed in the document called “Another Future is Possible”, in opposition to the document proposed by the UN negotiators for the Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), “The Future We Want”. We extracted some crucial chapters that we believe to be particularly useful for our readers.

1. The <<Green Economy>>, a Debate on Paradigms, and Rio+20

In keeping with the official documents, the rio+20 Summit of governments has been called to provide a response to the multiple problems humankind is currently facing, starting with the severe environmental crisis, generalized poverty, and the global economic crisis. except instead of exploring the structural causes of these crises, i.e. the dominant capitalist and productivist civilization model, they claim that these multiple crises can be “solved” by resorting to the same market rationales and the same scientific/technological and production patterns that have led us straight into the current situation. obviously, more of the same can only make these crises deeper.

This summit should have been called to face the deep existing imbalances between human beings and nature, brought about by the capitalist system and productivism, dogmatic belief in the possibility of limitless growth, and anthropocentrism, which has made the human being lord and master of the entire planet. to face these multiple crises it is indispensable, among others, to take critical stock of what has happened in the past twenty years, since the earth Summit held in rio de Janeiro in 1992. Instead, they have decided to “look ahead” by supplementing and renovating an exhausted and misleading “sustainable development” with a new political-conceptual scheme they call “the green economy.” this deceptive concept seeks to take advantage of the fact that “green” is usually identified with a more ecological economy: the idea is to divert attention from the real agenda hidden behind this concept.

What is really being sought in this green corporative economy is to deepen the commodification, privatization, and financialization of nature and its functions. It is the reaffirmation of full control of the entire biosphere by the economy. with such an apparently innocuous term like “green economy,” they are expecting to submit the vital cycles of nature to the rules of the market and the dominance of technology.

Taking the logic of neoliberalism to its extremes, they argue that the fundamental reason for our finding ourselves in the current environmental crisis is that a large proportion of the goods of the planet have no owner, hence no one to care for them. the solution to that would be to set a price for every one of nature’s goods, processes and so-called “services.” once everything has a price tag, new bonds could be issued and negotiated in the international financial marketplace. to push this “green economy,” markets are being developed for carbon and environmental services, in particular through the redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) schemes, which are set to be enlarged to include all of biodiversity, agriculture, and water. this leads to the destruction of indigenous and rural-community lifestyles and is de facto expropriation of their territories, even when they are left with formal property deeds.

This is a new private confinement of the commons, of the functions of nature, meant to be appropriated the way capitalism, from the start, appropriated human labor for its accumulation and expansion process.

All of this is intended to place the future of the planet in the hands of banks and other financial operators, in the hands of those, precisely, primarily responsible for the deep financial crisis that has put millions more on the dole, has evicted millions of families from their homes, has stolen the savings and pensions of workers all over the world, and has deepened the obscene inequalities characterizing neoliberal globalization.

With the same scientific technological pattern of dominance, submission, and exploitation of nature that has overtaken the planet’s capacity to regenerate, they intend to affirm and introduce high-risk technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering, and nuclear energy, which are intensifying these appropriation processes. these are even presented as “technological solutions” to the ecological limitations of the planet, intended to create an “artificial nature,” and also as the solution to the many disasters we are facing. this would make it unnecessary to change their root causes.


                                                                                                         Aware that this tale is becoming difficult to believe, the new “green economy” euphemism requires other qualifications; we are now being offered “inclusive green economy,” “doubly green,” and other glass beads of the same kind.

The states of the emerging economies and other states of the South, instead of making social justice by redistributing wealth, building a less predatory relationship with nature, and confronting capitalist accumulation and outrageous luxury, think they can find a solution in so-called “green growth,” which feeds into the myth of endless development and growth.

These negotiations clearly show, once again, how the united nations system and the entire rio+20 process are being increasingly controlled by corporations and transnational banks, which will be the main beneficiaries of this “green economy.”

The idea of establishing a new structure to manage this green corporative economy globally is simply inadmissible. Setting up this new “institutional framework” is one of the main goals of the united nations conference. the plan is for the uneP (united nations environment Programme), which has been the main promoter of the commodification of nature through its green economy Initiative, to become a new united nations agency responsible for “global environmental governance.”

All this has made it impossible to work on ad hoc tinkering or reforms for this project. the document proposed by the un for rio+20 is to be rejected to its very foundations. the dramatic rises currently afflicting humankind and the planet require responses of a very different quality than those offered by the governments and the un system. they require an alternative civilization paradigm. we are presenting the following contributions so that this paradigm can be formulated and the policy that will fight for a transition platform in the direction of Another Possible Future can be articulated.

2. Subjectivity, Domination, and Emancipation

The rio+20 conference constitutes a unique opportunity for us to build a common understanding of the many different and deep transformations being undergone by our societies and to debate on the lines of force and the proposals pointing to the necessary task of “reinventing the world” by setting an unprecedented, real, and urgent transition in motion toward a fair and sustainable world. the peoples and the world community are demanding a new paradigm of social, economic, and political organisation that will be able to make social justice progress, and to provide humankind with continuity in its destiny, and life and the planet with sustainability.

Social struggles and major political disputes are the only way to solutions to societal dilemmas. notwithstanding, although this view has guided almost all of history’s progressive mobilizations, it is insufficient. capitalism is much more than a mode of production, it is a social and political rationale that runs through the entire social body; it is a totalizing form of civilization with an enormous reproduction capacity. the current socioeconomic system is thus not only built around institutions and power centers, it is also internalized by a good part of populations as domination, ideology, or “voluntary slavery.”

Through the centuries, emancipation, liberation, and the elimination of all forms of exploitation and oppression have been the goals pursued with ever growing vigor by progressive, socialist, and left-wing movements. taking up these goals again today, however, requires a lot more than reviving the ideals of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” or getting rid of exploitation of labor by capital. It requires questioning the very foundations on which modernity, capitalism, and european domination of the world were built; it requires a revolution of minds that will shake up the intellectual infrastructure shared not only by the capitalist élite but also by a good part of the movements that have so far attempted to combat it. It requires questioning anthropocentrism, which considers that the earth is entirely at the disposal of human beings. the human species has been the only species to have been overcoming ecological limitations based on its knowledge and expanding – exponentially – its population; this process cannot, however, continue, and humankind must assume a new ethical responsibility and care for the planet, as much for future generations and for all of life on the planet.

To be able to do so, we have to change our very selves in the process: institutions are reproduced in individuals, and they are the ones allowing these structures to work. It is impossible to undertake the transition required by humankind and the planet by maintaining consumerism as the ideal of happiness and a way of life based on exclusion, competition, selfishness, productivism, industrialism, and the destruction of the flows that are vital for life on the planet. “Educators” need also to be educated, and the training for this lies in their practical activity, in real, massive, and exemplary struggles.

Many of the dimensions of what can and should be a new form of subjectivity have been taking shape in these anti-systemic struggles, and these should be broken down into themes if we expect to offer a credible alternative. they should be debated and systematized as values, forms of knowledge, world visions, and counter-hegemonic culture.

3. Foundations for a New Civilization

Pondering the foundations of a new civilization and the arduous process of disarmament and the social reconstruction of culture, of the economy, and of power that this implies has become an ethical imperative for humankind. Life, in all its forms, has the fundamental right to exist, as do the complex ecological systems that make up the planet earth.

This is why we need to disarticulate the known patterns of thinking for action that have become part of common sense and are, for this reason, pillars of the capitalist industrial, productivist, consumerist, and non-inclusive civilization organized by society. we need to rearrange the philosophical and ethical cornerstones of human civilization to make the sustainability of all – no generation excluded – and of all of life the rule, not the exception.

A core element of this lies in the fact that human civilization must forsake anthropocentrism as a philosophy, ethics, and religion; it must radically change its vision and its interaction with nature, and make the ethics of Integrity of Life and of the Planet its priority. this entails disabling the current accumulation of material wealth and the myth of development and unfettered growth. this should all be replaced by the vital ethical question: How can we relinquish the values and the lifestyle based on “having more” and give way to “being more”, happier, more aware of the responsibilities of generating the integrity of the natural foundation, sharing with everyone and with the future generations?

It is impossible to consider sustainability without the principle and the ethical value of care, cohabitation, and sharing. And yet, what has been pursued is the colonial undertaking to conquer peoples and their territories, the occupation of the atmosphere by carbon emissions, and the creation of transgenic seeds with the resulting destruction of existing biodiversity. Preserving life and biodiversity is synonymous with caring and, at the same time, with setting the conditions for cohabitation and sharing. we need to save care as a principle of deprivatization of the family and of the male domination within it, and at the same time, to build the principle of care as a central element of power and of the new economy. this latter must be conceived as a symbiosis of human life and nature, and the importance of territories as a form of organization and sharing according to its potential in a local-to-global perspective. Sustainable economy is only possible if it is based on care, and on use that neither destroys nor generates waste but renews and regenerates in order to extend the durability of material goods.

The care priority draws attention to the currently rising awareness of the imperative of equity and of the threat posed by social exclusion, poverty, and the different forms of inequality and social injustice in this context of a civilization crisis. never has humankind been as unequal as in the current context of extreme exclusion and unbearable extreme poverty; never has the truth of fighting for justice and equality been so evident. to overcome this situation it is fundamental to confront environmental destruction and the injustice it contains. Both are intimately connected and radically requalify the social struggles of our times. these are the two sides of the political relationship of equality to which human rights refer, just as the commons do. to enjoy rights, it is also necessary to be responsible for everyone else’s rights. this is a shared relationship, and as such, one of joint responsibility, which is founded on the recognition of the ecological and social interdependence of life and of the planet. this question is essential for integration, as the growing awareness of human rights and responsibilities, within societies as well as in relationship to the biosphere, puts the spotlight on the fundamental question of the interdependence between the local and territorial scale and the global one.

New civilization – which we can call “biocivilization” – needs to be sustained in addition by an ethics of peace, democracy, and cultural diversity. A vibrant culture is a diverse culture, not the homogeneity imposed currently by a crushing globalization. As individualities are generated through culture, humankind is strengthened and cultural diversity flourishes, which is a condition for the existence of humankind in its interaction with nature. diversified culture enhances the potential of the people who constitute it and makes it possible to fortify the sustainability of life and of the planet. Imperialism, nationalism, war, and internalized violence are what maintain capitalism and the industrial, productivist, and consumerist civilization that thrives on conquest, exploitation, inequality, and social exclusion on the global scale, as well as on the intensive use of natural resources. Peace is an indispensable strategic ethical and political condition for sustainability, enabling all forms of life.

Every action, every end is based on ethics. the essential condition of peace and democracy are the force of change toward the civilization we want. democracy is guided by the ethical principles and values of freedom, equality, diversity, solidarity, and participation, all at the same time. the democratic method can change everything stated above as the foundations for civilization into a possible utopia that will promote the emergence of a new architecture of power, from local to global.

4. The Education We Want and the Complexity of the Present

The global crisis is also an education crisis – understood as lifelong education – a crisis in its content and its meaning, given that it has gradually stopped being considered as a human right and has been converted into the primary means to satisfy the needs of markets demanding manpower for production and consumption. not only has education given up on training people who can think about the major global political, environmental, economic, and social issues, it has also been stripped of its deep political content and, in particular, of its potential to produce citizens who can think in terms of a different economic and social order, in which it would be possible to overcome the complexity of the deep crises we are experiencing.

It has become essential to rethink the purposes and practices of education in the context of the dispute over meaning, characterized by the subordination of most public policies to the paradigm of human needs on the one hand, up against the emergence of this social movement, of alternative paradigms seeking to restore education as a right, and as an ethical and political project in educational practice. It is therefore urgent to save the concept of education as a human right in its formal and informal dimensions, to open it to include the democratization of societies, such that they are made of critically minded citizens able to connect with movements demanding change in the social order, aiming for greater social and environmental justice, intending to understand and discuss solutions to problems at the global scale.

Developing critical “subjectivity” has become a central aspect in building a citizens’ pedagogics in the current situation. the idea is to reestablish a feeling of emancipation in empowerment processes, understood as the development of community resources to practice politics, generate knowledge, strengthen and promote the knowledge and teachings produced in democratic struggles, which require inclusive leadership, participatory organizations, alliances with democratic civil-society organizations, and permanent and necessary “radical and pragmatic” weighting (unprecedented and possible, Paulo Freire would say) in how agreements, consensuses and associativity are reached among the diversity of actors participating in politics.

All of this implies a political and cognitive inflection, a paradigm change in how education is understood, an opening to new points of view on social ends, such as good-living (buen-vivir), the commons, and the ethics of care, among others. A large forum for discussion and socialization on all this should be opened at rio+20 and beyond rio, and these ends should be based on education designed for change and for personal and social transformation.

These new paradigms and points of view should not only be maps to guide us in the new contexts, they should also be the content for the ends we are seeking as a citizens’ movement that can involve the different actors of the education process – educations workers, students, parents, family, and more broadly all citizens needing and fighting for a deep change in education – to generate a radical turn in society toward more social and environmental justice. All of this is consistent with the liberating idea of popular education, which is fed by many different experiences in education for another citizenship.

The paradigm change in education – as a condition for moving toward sustainable societies, with social and environmental justice, where the economy would be a means for this end and not an end in itself – must suppose a change in the technical and economics-oriented focuses of current education policies. the right to “lifelong” learning needs to be claimed, and this is not meant to be a claim for continuous education designed to meet the needs of markets and the requirements of old and new industries.

The education we want starts with building many types of education – formal and informal – in order to develop human capacities, including cognitive, empowerment, and social-participation capacities, capacities for cohabiting with others in diversity and difference, for caring and planning for one’s own life, for coexisting among human beings in harmony with the environment.

A pertinent, relevant, transformational, critical education needs to have as its highest end to promote human dignity, and social and environmental justice. education, as a human right promoting all other rights, must include: girls and boys, the young and adults as legal subjects. It should also promote: interculturality, equality, gender equity, the nexus between citizenship and democracy, care and a harmonious interaction with nature, the eradication of all forms of discrimination, justice, and building a culture of peace and non-violent conflict resolution.

The education we want requires strategically promoting an education that will contribute to the social redistribution of knowledge and power (taking gender, raceethnicity, age, and sexual orientation into account), that will strengthen the sense of autonomy, solidarity, and diversity expressed in the new social movements. the idea is to promote critical and transformational education that will respect human rights and the rights of the entire community of life to which human beings belong, that will specifically promote the right to citizens’ participation in decision-making forums.

5. Scientific Knowledge Must be Deprivatized and Reorganized

Humankind has been experiencing one of the most important stages in technical and scientific innovation in its history, and this is having strong impacts on the earth; not only are we entering a new geological period – the “Anthropocene” – in which humankind is responsible for the essential changes in the surface of the planet. within this period we are also entering a phase of “Great Acceleration”. while some are speaking of an “information” or “knowledge” or “economy” age, unprecedented devastation is taking place, of the knowledge of indigenous people, small farmers and common knowledge people have about soil, climate, ecosystems, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, and community skills and practices, and this devastation is so great that we can safely say that our generation will be the first in the history of humankind that has lost more knowledge than it has gained. understanding this problem and responding to it is currently a key challenge for social change.

Modern science has developed by seeking to obtain both a comprehensive and verifiable understanding of reality, and control over the forces of nature. the idea has been to discover the laws of nature to make forecasting, manipulation, and control possible, as well as to reduce the role of unpredictability in life. It has also been to put human beings in a position of command over the now established ontological nature-versus-culture duality. this symbiosis of knowledge and control, a feature of european expansion throughout the world, has generated the wealth of modernity but also the disasters and destruction wrought in the name of the ideology of progress and belief in the unlimited growth of productive forces as the road to human emancipation. Modern science has also disqualified other forms of knowledge and wisdom, has been instrumentalized, appropriated, and increasingly modeled by profit-seeking, and has managed to place itself at the very core of contemporary economics as a source of profit and growth.

Scientists (and science) necessarily have to set values to guide their activity and think about how these values will affect their cognitive processes. will scientists be the ones who will take their research strategies out of context and present science as axiologically neutral and let it be simply guided by the market ethos as the core of capitalist techno-science? or will they be the ones to warn us, so that the regeneration capacities of nature are not concealed and well-being can be extended to everyone, everywhere? will they continue to claim they can submit the forces of nature to their will, as with nuclear weapons and climate engineering? or will they bring humankind to understand that it needs to restrain its potential power over nature and instead protect the fragile cycles of the planet and the complex dynamics of ecosystems against the threat of humankind itself? Is science to remain a model of eurocentric knowledge based on the premise of the need to know in order to transform and submit, an indelibly anthropocentric and patriarchic model of knowledge, both contrary to democracy and technocratic because it is based on the separation between those who know and those who do not know? or does science carry cognitive values that are useful for understanding the earth and its dynamics, values that are potentially emancipatory and important for establishing a sustainable society?

These are not epistemological and ethical questions, they are social, political, and cultural ones that determine how science works in our civilization, how it is appropriated by social actors, and how it should be reorganized on radically new foundations in a fair and lasting world, coexisting and interacting with other forms of knowledge that today have been degraded. this requires opening a wide debate – within the scientific community as well as within social movements and civil-society organizations – that should be geared to providing humankind with a new way of owning the many different existing forms of knowledge. this debate should rapidly produce concrete projections and examples of feasible, alternative research projects, which, in interaction with other forms of knowledge, will support this new necessary sense of scientific research.

This has become more urgent than ever. Although rio 92 put into the global debate the precautionary principle and the need to assess technologies, the existing systems to monitor and assess technologies have since been progressively dismantled. It was not long before the world trade organization (wto) was formed along with its Agreement on trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights (trIPS) and other similar ones, which introduced property rights and patents on forms of life on a large scale. Moreover, in rio 92 itself and for the first time in history, the convention on Biological diversity considered biodiversity as a “resource.” Science and knowledge have thus been commodified, and the fruit of public science has been systematically patented by global corporations. the countries and industries that have been causing climate change are now announcing that the global thermostat needs to be controlled with technological solutions, by manipulating the climate with geoengineering and extending control over new parts of nature with the so-called “green economy.” In this scenario, the scientific and technological community has an essential role to play in raising public awareness (and is itself supported by possible alternative civilization projects).

We must reject intellectual property rights over forms of life and affirm that scientific knowledge, like traditional knowledge, is part of the commons, freely accessible to each and every one. the precautionary principle must be reaffirmed to support science in its debate with industrial monopolies; we must also identify and reject its mistaken interpretations and extend its applications. rio+20 provides an opportunity to build a participatory mechanism for prior assessment of technologies that will include their social, environmental, economic, and cultural dimensions. this mechanism should serve to monitor and debate implications and alternatives in science and technology. Social organizations must be an integral part of the monitoring and assessment of new technologies independently from governments. given the very high risks it carries and its potential to destabilize the planet’s systems, we also call on rio+20 to establish a ban on climate engineering similar to the comprehensive nuclear test Ban treaty.

6. Asserting the Ancestral Knowledge of Indigenous Populations and the Peoples

The shelters of life are the indigenous peoples’ forests and territories, which are effective barriers against extractivist predation. the genetic resources of these territories and ancestral knowledge are part of the collective natural and intellectual heritage of many populations that has been preserved over the centuries and passed down through the generations. this is why it is indispensable to change legislation and public policy to guarantee the demarcation of indigenous peoples’ territories and their collective deed to their territories as peoples, and also to support – without marginalizing them – “Full Life” strategies, different from those designed to commodify nature. whatever the case, we need to broaden our understanding of traditional knowledge and not only cover that of indigenous peoples and smallscale farmers, but also value that of women, craftspeople, artists, and all those who have developed skills and capacities throughout the centuries.

The system has to be changed to avoid climate change. there are increasing contradictions in global and national forest policies, in which “sustainable” declarations are aggravating the deterioration wreaked by the mining, energy, agricultural, and infrastructure industries, and those based on biopiracy and theft of ancestral knowledge. Ancestral knowledge must not be marketed, misused, or authorized for patent claims. It belongs to the culture of indigenous peoples. States and international agencies (through the convention on Biological diversity) must adopt legal regulations for its protection. It is therefore necessary to consolidate the right to Prior consultation and to Free, Binding, Previous and Informed consent for access to the genetic resources of indigenous territories and of the traditional knowledge associated with them.

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