At first glance, Venice is a city struggling to balance it’s heritage with the globalized modern culture. But another, not so obvious, struggle is the one against time, against the threat of flooding as a result of climate change. It is in this sense that Venetians are trying to live more sustainable lives, by walking and cycling, as well as fighting to exclude the large tourist cruise ships from sailing the venetian channels. Thus, it seems fitting that the 3rd International Conference on Degrowth, Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity took place in Venice.
Worldwatch Institute and Worldwatch Institute Europe participated in this conference, amongst the 750 people from all over the world that gathered in Venice for five days of presentations, discussions, workshops and various events revolving around the themes of capitalism and degrowth, democracy, social movements, degrowth & a steady state economy, well-being and happiness, social ecology, ecological economics, and social economy. These themes were analyzed under the umbrella of the two current global movements of degrowth and buen vivir.
The conference was divided into three core themes: work, commons, and democracy. In addition, some other analytical perspectives were identified:spaces: the spaces of ecosystems, relations between different places on earth, the spaces of daily relations, sacred space, spaces to reinvent, and to safeguard; times: the time for living, leisure and working, regarding oneself and others, the time to meet, share, and listen, the time to produce, reproduce, and maintain, and the time to take charge of one’s own time; imaginary: the frames through which we think of reality, society, human beings and their needs and desires, the notion of poverty and wealth, well-being and well-living. Degrowth as a change of these frames.
The aim of the conference was to unfold a holistic knowledge and approach to different levels of life, to create a debate on the aforementioned issues preoccupying modern thinkers and activists. It consisted of two basic parts: the plenaries, which included presentations and discussions, and the active workshops aiming at active involvement, participation, and project creation. Universities, activists, municipalities’ representatives, organizations, and citizens tried through an interdisciplinary approach to combine theoretical research with practical projects.
Through these five days, many movements from all over the world were presented: transition networks, ecovillages, alternative currencies, bioregions. Additionally a lot of modern thinkers from all over the globe, such as Serge Latouche, Silke Helfrich, Arturo Escobar, Antonella Picchio, Mauro Bonaiuti, and Giorgos Kallis discussed the commons as a social process, local consumption, spirituality, the mechanistic model of economics, the relationship framework and the crisis of politics, long term democracy, creating real utopias. Worldwatch Institute’s senior fellow Erik Assadourian presented the challenges of getting to a sustainable society through degrowth.
Every day the city of Venice was filled with parallel events of the main conference. Art exhibitions, music concerts, book presentations, and discussions took place at the beautiful pathway of ALTROFUTURO along the venetian channels. It was there that people got together, exchanged ideas, aspirations and feelings, forming a strong community.
One of the most admirable aspects of this conference was that the procedure and organization of the conference and parallel events were characterized by the values of degrowth. Minimal usage of paper, vegetarian food that was donated by local farms, as well as an atmosphere filled with energy, communication and openess. 70% of the partcipants reached Venice by train and there were a large number of people who car pooled. Accommodation was either courtesy of local people who opened their homes to the participants, or in scout camps, monasteries, and other comunity spaces.
Venezia 2012 was not just a conference but an experience full of intellectual stimulation, community creation, and a concrete hope for a possible global transition to a sustainable future.
Written by Eirini Glyki for Worldwatch Institute Europe