Terra Futura

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Conference Description

"The eighth edition of Terra Futura (Our Future Earth) that will take place in Florence, Italy, at the Fortezza da Basso on May 20th, 21st and 22nd, 2011. Terra Futura is an international conference and exhibition promoted by Banca Etica, in cooperation with Regione Toscana, in partnership with Acli, Arci, Cisl, Caritas Italiana, Legambiente and Fiera delle Utopie Concrete.


The event aims at widening, spreading and expanding the debate on social, environmental and economic sustainability, and people’s awareness to such issues. Moreover it intends to promote new and alternative models of consume, production, finance and trade, to foster the dialogue between local and national authorities, private firms, non profit organizations, research institutions and citizens.


Terra Futura relies on ad Advisory Board composed by internationally well-known expert members such as Wolfang Sachs (president), Gianfranco Bologna, Vandana Shiva, Ezio Manzini, Alberto Magnaghi, Riccardo Petrella, Susan George, Gotelind Alber, etc.


Due to the seven previous editions Terra Futura has become one of the most important and original events in Italy. Last May 92.000 visitors attended such event (including representatives of civil society, institutions and Universities, many students and families), more than 280 meeting were held including many workshops and seminars which took place with more than 900 Italian and international speakers, moreover 390 exhibitors were present in an area of 100.000 square meters.


The 2011 edition will address the following theme: “Taking care of the Commons”."


Conference Problematic=

The Crisis of Social Europe: From the State-Market to the Communities- Networks

The core of the crisis surrounding us during these years is both social and political: it is the outcome of the catastrophic failure of a wealth distribution model in favor of the rich world and of a policy paradigm that has raised to the principle that 'intervention is always negative for people’s welfare, that government spending is a waste anyway and that there are no collective responsibilities because "society does not exist" in the words of Mrs Thatcher. And it is a crisis that precisely because of its social and political nature is particularly striking in Europe. In fact, the "Rhenish” or European social model of welfare has undergone a major discredit due to the financing of the economy and the Reaganomics. But at the same time, the leading of the financial crisis into the crisis of public budgets, the growing indebtedness of the States and the rise of the unemployment rates show that the European model was not able to ensure stability in many European Countries .


All this has contributed significantly to the weakness of the European political project until its same evanescence, revealing the crisis of an idea of civilization, of a development model, of the project of Future that Europe is going through. For this reason, today we see in the ecological and social conversion of development, meant also as a paradigm based on a new centrality of the commons, a political project to emerge from this crisis, which might be the possible return - on new cultural basis -of a common project in Europe. If governments and European institutions appear unable or uninterested in taking this exciting yet difficult task, there is another Europe, the Europe of citizens and social organizations that resist the banality of the tragedy of the commons and that is not satisfied with the laws of a failing development model according to which everyone's future is devoured, building concrete proposals and projecting a sustainable and equitable development (such as the campaign “zerozerofive" for the introduction of a tax on financial transactions). Negligence and indifference towards public interests and common needs and, conversely, the obsession of the economic exploitation for the benefit of a few of these goods are the hallmark of a development model that is exploding, showing its internal contradictions and proving to be unreliable.

In 2010 we recorded an impressive number of extreme events linked to an exploiting development model of common goods and to an unbalanced and irresponsible use of them. These same events show us the urge for a different perspective and for a radical change in the way we use these resources: the ecological disaster caused by BP in the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico showed the impotence of the United States as well preventing the disaster and in the evaluation of the real consequences; the Russian forest fires; the climate changes that have produced the parting of the largest iceberg of 260kmq from Greenland; the records of temperature as the 37.2 ° in Finland or 54 ° in Pakistan. But 2010 was also the year in which, according to the evaluation of the Global Footprint Network, we have crossed the critical threshold beyond which the consumption of natural resources has exceeded the rate at which nature regenerates them. Despite the warnings expressed by the scientific community and the environmental movements on the risk of exceeding this Zabriskie Point, we could not stop, moderate, set a limit and we made the most irresponsible and dangerous thing we could do: we have decided to undermine the stock of resources of our grandchildren, we ate their future.


The commons are the core of the discussion on the idea of development and of the future of the planet that cannot be exhausted by the dialectic between public ownership and pro-private property. The debate requires a rather deep political and cultural reflection, a consistent and continuous political action for their protection, a clear consensus for the processing of the "tragedy" into the "possibility" of common goods. And we refer not only to the natural resources that allow us to survive on this planet - water, air, soil, plants, animals suffering from a daily irresponsible management aimed at ensuring wealth and living standards unsustainable and unfair for the ecosystem scale.

We refer also to those intangible goods that, like natural resources, are crucial to the quality of life and have their own specific value in the use of collectivity and which must be handled with the care used for unique and delicate things; and that, just as the more material goods, are the basis of the individual and collective happiness in the community: social equity, employment, health, cultural pluralism, security, information, knowledge, public space for religions, secularism, the active recognition of civil and social rights, democracy itself.


In fact, the debate rises a renewed fundamental issue of democracy in terms of common goods because it is all about access to goods of life in terms of Equality. And not only the right of everyone to be able to have enough to live, but also in terms of overcoming the unbearable and increasingly large differences between individuals in accessing knowledge, or of matters relating to the distribution of health and food based on available funds or of the cancellation of work dignity sacrificed on the altar of the globalization demands. As our Constitution brilliantly mentioned (art. 3), equality, freedom and dignity in their intrinsic unity are the salt of the new democracy even in the light of the problems that the issue of common property proposes in the globalization era.


The organization of production, with the prominent position of transnational corporations, introduces new problems for democracy: these companies decide, often without any limits, of the earth's resources and decide where, what and how to produce determining the destiny of workers and consumers, without any form of control or regulation by the state institutions, achieving a turnover exceeding the GDP of many countries and without any real form of internal democracy. In this scenario it seems that only the absolute freedom for enterprises counts whilst the limitation of this freedom, deriving from its social consequences that are dealt with Article 41 of our Constitution, are annihilated. Now that companies are involved in finance more than in production, now that the relocation establishes the welfare of different groups of workers, now that companies decide who produces and who consumes in the world, we must re-think the corporate governance and the role of social partners in the decision of the future of the common goods.


The common assets, including both the natural and the relational goods, should be subtracted from the profit rules since profit implies not only an uneven distribution of the same resources (discrimination among equals), but also because it involves their intensive and unlimited exploitation (consumption) in a limited timeframe: these elements are incompatible with the status of common goods which refer to a "widespread ownership”, belong to all and are not owned by anyone as everyone should be able to access them and none can claim any exclusivity on them. However, this right of access should foresee a limit to the use of commons goods in order to ensure the consistency of them and therefore the use for the next generations. Their protection is therefore inevitably connected to the political theme of the citizens rights. The United Nations General Assembly has recently passed a resolution on the human right to water and health at its meeting No 108, noting that 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and that 1, 5 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diseases related to the lack of drinking water. An important resolution that, following the ongoing process of the Council for Human Rights in Geneva, expects international organizations to allocate financial resources to developing countries to ensure clean, potable and accessible water to all. There is no doubt that in this perspective, water is regarded as a common good in ensuring access to one and to all, for present and future generations on this planet. But at the same time, common goods raise in a concrete manner the question of democracy - fragile, scarce and threatened as well- and the exercise of rights for every person.


In this direction, the million and a half signatures that lead the Italians to express their vote on the partial abolition of the Ronchi decree on the management of water resources, does not represent only a request to change the rules for water management but also pose two key issues for the future:

1. they are a clear and strong sign that the measure is full and that it’s the one that pretends to link every aspect of our life (even, indeed, the very source of life) to the economic dimension of the market laws. And it’s the manifestation of the decline of the market paradigm conceived as a wise god, containing within itself the cure to its ills, the rebalancing of its regulated and unregulated distortions that have caused the acceleration of Globalization in the last half century.

2. they raise the urgent issue of how to regulate and limit the use of these goods not to exhaust them yet to make these resources available - as an individual right of every inhabitant of the planet - to all.


Now, this is exactly the dilemma of the commons: how to establish and enforce rules and regulations for the use of these assets, based on new forms of rationality, social norms and reciprocity since the dominant forms of rationality show little effectiveness in respect of the "tragedy of the commons", as has been clearly demonstrated in the case of the spillage of millions of oil barrels in the Gulf of Mexico from BP and the consequent damage to the ecosystem and health. President Obama achieved that BP would allocate a fund of 20 billion dollars to compensate the damage caused by the discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. An extrajudicial solution that perhaps can show a new direction in the implementation of the principle (now obsolete in the public debate) according to which "who pollutes pays" like: Bhopal and the 2,300 people died from the Union Carbide chemical accident (1984), the illegal dumping of oil residues from Texaco in the forests of Ecuador (1964-1990), the environmental damage caused by oil extraction by Shell, Eni and Exxon in the Niger Delta. What international law will actually be responsible for defending the common good against private interests? But above all, the rationality of the traditional restorative sanction for damages is not appropriate in the field natural resources of common property because once they are destroyed they are not recoverable, if not in a very long time period and after a drastic limitation of the exploitation. It’s for this reason, finally, that the struggle against the nuclearization of the electricity production in Italy continues, after more than 20 years after the referendum: the cost in terms of limited natural resources (water, land and fissile material), the risk of long term damages for our health and the environment in case of accidents, the lack of a safe waste management in the medium to long period, the very high immediate cost against an uncertain benefit, the absorption of significant resources subtracted to renewable energies. The resistance against nuclear power is carried in the name of rationality, in that of future generations and in the name of common goods.


The direction for the future is, as opposed to the past, towards the democratization and the decentralization of energy production, with a greater empowerment of the communities and the individuals.


The wisest scholars have largely addressed these issues: among them the Nobel Prize for Economics Elinor Ostrom who offered an important insight to a political world which, however, is deaf and blind and mostly inane, that is unable to perform its task responsibly and to take decisions on time, as proved by all the recent international summits, including the general ones (like the G20, Toronto) and the thematic ones (like the Climate one in Copenhagen and the one on the UN Millennium Development Goals). The governments responsible for common goods need innovative solutions able to overcome their dogmatic opposition schemes, including those who claim that only the State has the right to act in the "command & control" of public goods and those who assume that only the privatization of resources can solve the problem. These two approaches have demonstrated, dramatically, their inefficiency; neither the State nor the Market alone can ensure a balanced and responsible government for these goods.


While this dilemma is still open at a global level (where the supranational Public Institutions revealed to be ineffective and the Private turns out to be only the hyperbolic representation of concentrated heavy interests), it is fair to register – and Terra Futura has been doing it for the last eight years - that there are realities and Institutions not falling under the State-Market line that have been able to manage the local natural resources and the relations and social systems achieving sustainable and effective results over the time . There are many examples of communities of individuals and networks of groups that have developed ways to manage the collective assets. They are all experiences based on cooperative choices (as opposed to unilateral ones) and on collective actions and reciprocity, which implies a capacity to assess the mission of the others involved, the decision to cooperate on the basis of trust, the consideration of the scarcity of the resource, the establishment of common rules applying common incentives or penalties for violations. This is the basis of new forms of social contract (which Elinor Ostrom has analyzed in her "Governing the Commons") demonstrating the feasibility of alternatives to the bureaucratic Leviathan (a State as intrusive as inefficient) and to the privatization presented as the "only" way.


Many of the thematic lines that featured the previous editions of Terra Futura converge in the theme of the Government of Commons, including the themes of responsibility and sustainability, the importance of alliances between civil society actors, the climate changes and the financial crisis and the theme of legality and social crisis. The commons are the watershed of all the contradictions of the development model that today is falling under the unbearable weight of its pharaonic construction. Everything has reached finally the Gordian knot that needs to be cut: the unlimited exploitation of natural resources generates unfair illegality and compresses the democratic forces at all latitudes (as it is proved by the affair ENI in Nigeria); the individual interests and the short sighted policies ignore the most fundamental human rights (as clearly shown in the discrimination against Roma returned beyond the border by French President Sarkozy who, a few days later, called for the Tobin Tax in the United Nations to beat poverty); it ignores the right of each of us to a public space for our religious faith following the illusion to secure its own identity (threatening the burning of books, preventing the construction of mosques and minarets); the intensive use of land for agricultural production and the depleting of natural resources creates social injustice and conflicts and leads to an irresponsible behavior in politics (as seen with the milk quota issue in Italy or with the GMOs in Europe).


If it is true that the contradictions of the development model have exploded on the theme of common goods, it is equally true that they have given the opportunity to thousands of communities in the world and in our Country to achieve solutions to many problems including projects of co- development, open and accountable social systems that aim to be innovative and sustainable, where the democratic participation is intended not as a simple formal celebration but as a unity of destiny of the biosphere and sociosphere, as a different possibility, as an alternative to the relational and material degradation that might generate new dynamism and a higher quality of life. While the rites of the global governments leaders move on with a cyclical rhythm showing their subordination to the logic of economic liberalism, while the UN seems unable to emerge from its inefficiency (the Japanese UN summit on biodiversity is part of a spectacular chain of meetings - from Rio 1992 to Johannesburg 2002 - the results of which were inversely proportional to the expectations raised), our strong hope clings to those experiences anywhere in the world where citizens, subjects of civil society organizations, businesses and local governments are actually doing and proposing something to build a more just and sustainable society, based on relational and common goods instead than on the monetization and blind exploitation of the future.


A comprehensive and concrete plan for an economic, ecological and social development model and for a wealth redistribution is finally moving from the prophecies of a few pioneers to a powerfully illuminated flow of possibilities and necessities. But these underground rivers and streams, which have been running for more than a decade on the global stage, may reach the sea only if we join the thousands of tributaries, the millions of streams into a single large estuary. It is a complex and important task since it is not enough to add flows but it implies balancing and accommodating many different projects and looking at the system as a whole, as we take care of each watercourse. But this is what is needed; nothing less, nothing more. A great objective can be achieved only by combining expertise, experience and attitudes (as it has been for 8 years between the partners of Terra Futura), empowering the communities as they become the leading character of this movement: only these have the tools and the interest (and therefore the commitment) to join the multitude of rivers and give a new name to the sea of development, transforming it into one of equity, sustainability and justice."