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Braudel Center conference examines food, energy and environmental crises

Experts from North America, South America, Spain and Sweden gathered at Binghamton University on Oct. 9-10 to examine “Food, Energy, Environment: Crisis of the Modern World-System.”

The conference was presented by the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations at Binghamton University, and the Polson Institute for Global Development at Cornell University.

Panels discussed each crisis point during individual sessions on Oct. 9-10.

“We felt it was imperative to try to see these areas of crisis first as inter-related or indivisible, that is not belonging to separate spheres,” said Richard E. Lee, director of the Fernand Braudel Center and professor of sociology, at the conference’s welcome session. “And secondly to analyze them in terms of long-term, large-scale development of the modern world system as a singular whole.”

Fred Magdoff, professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont and director of the Monthly Review Foundation, delivered the keynote address at the conference: “Multiple Crises as Symptoms of an Unsustainable System.”

Magdoff told conference attendees that food, energy and environmental crises are all related to one issue: “an economic, political, judicial and social system that in its very nature breeds crisis” — capitalism.

“The system of world capitalism today is in crisis — in its production and distribution of food, in its destruction of the environment and its search for technological magic bullets for all problems, including finding alternative energy sources.”

Magdoff urged steps in the absence of systemic change: improving the social welfare system by offering universal health care; passing laws and regulations to curb environmental problems; and building affordable housing.

“The problem is that powerful forces are strongly opposed to these projects and they will do whatever they can to stop them or to greatly dilute their efforts,” he said.

He also pointed to ideas such as co-housing and community-supported agriculture as potentially helping to solve the crises.

“The real solution” for the “triple crises,” Magdoff said, is a different economic system based on human needs.

“If there is any hope of significantly improved conditions for the vast number of the world’s inhabitants, while at the same time preserving the Earth as a livable planet, we need a system that asks, ‘What about the people?’ instead of ‘How much money can I make?’”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08