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Plenary 4 - Can Contemporary Global Capitalism and a habitable Planet Co-Exist? (afternoon session),
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24/10/2009 20:00

International climate change agreements must involve the private sector, delegates were told yesterday in the penultimate afternoon of the RSE Mississippi conference.

Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and author, suggested that the structures of capitalist societies have made state-based environmental treaties irrelevant.

The evening session of the fourth New Orleans plenary was centred on corporate capitalism and the Director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology claimed that the economic model is "inconsistent" with maintaining a habitat sustainable for life.

"Corporate capitalism works on the logic of the cancer cell," she said. "It can only grow."

Criticising the "perpetual consumerism" that has contributed to global climate change, Ms Shiva suggested that if society maintains a materialistic world view it will continue to generate false solutions that will exacerbate the problem.

Speaking adjacent to the largest commercial waterway in the world, the environmentalist, who is well known to the RSE community, said that corporate rights are infringing on the rights of nature.

This theme was also explored by Benedict Haerlin, Director of the Foundation on Future Farming, who explained that the fundamental differences between economic growth and natural growth must be realigned.

Exploring the issues surrounding agriculture, the Director of the Save Our Seeds initiative suggested that greater efficiency in food production will be required in the future to feed a growing global population.

Agriculture accounts for 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, while the United Nation's calculates that 57 per cent of calories we get from the field are lost before arriving at the dinner table.

"Planet survival depends on providing and recognising what is enough," Mr Haerlin said.

While Mr Haerlin focused on the sustainability of society's farming techniques, Aaron Wolf, Professor of Oregon State University's Department of Geosciences, punctuated a myth that water conflicts inevitably lead to violence.

Ninety per cent of the world's countries share water, but Mr Wolf explained that in the majority of these situations increased cooperation, rather than violent disputes, are witnessed.

Delegates also learned about International Day on Climate Action, a global grassroots campaign organised by 350.org which aims to inspire individuals to rise to the challenge of reducing carbon emissions.

The movement has been created by Bill Mckibben to highlight the importance of lowering the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from its current rate of 380 parts per million (ppm) to 350ppm.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, informed symposium participants of the focus of the campaign.

She explained that 350.org is holding symbolic actions on every continent ahead of December's Copenhagen Climate Conference - as symbolism has the possibility of changing the way we think.

"The world is not a collection of objects to be exploited but a communion of subjects," she said.

Delegates also watched The Age of Stupid; a prophetic film set in 2055 that outlines an apocalyptic future for the Earth. The movie, which blurs the boundaries between science-fiction and documentary, reminded delegates of the urgency required in combating climate change.