The strongest first impression of Rio de Janeiro is of a city that is alive. Even the buildings seem to be growing or decaying, writes Jessica Wilson of the Mail & Guardian.

Scattered as they are between thick foliage on mountain slopes and leaning into the sea – a visible sign of humanity’s interdependence with nature.

It was in Rio last week that the governments of the world met once again to see what had happened in the past 20 years to the sustainable development project, renew their increasingly empty commitment to humanity and launch the “green economy”.

At a venue that was a one- to two-hour bus ride away from the main meeting, the people gathered “for social and environmental justice, against the commodification of life and nature and for defence of the commons”. This, too, was a continuation of meetings and movements, such as the World Social Forum, to deepen analysis of the problems and crises facing the world, strengthen alternatives and build solidarity.

The contrast between RioCentro (the suits) and the Cúpula dos Povos at Flamengo Park (the masses) was palpable, although many people moved smoothly between the two.

Air conditioning cooled the full-protocol-mode delegates in artificially lit tents at RioCentro, whereas tents without walls allowed sunlight and the sea breeze to soften Rio’s heat for those seated in circles in Flamengo. To some extent the topics were the same, but the analysis, approach and answers were not.


The point of departure for the Cúpula was that the ecological, social, economic and financial crises facing the world were not simply a result of market failure, but arose from a more fundamental dissonance. The political economic ­system we have could not respond ­adequately, if at all, to the challenges facing human beings and other ­species. Indeed, this system, which reifies greed and alienates people from each other and nature, was the cause and continued to make things worse.


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