ENVIRONMENT: 'Slow Down Living'

  • by Blake Evans-Pritchard (pistoia, italy)
  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

Greenaccord, the Italian environmental organisation that organised the conference, believes that the global economic crisis presents an opportunity for redressing some of the imbalances in society.

'The economic crisis should be a moment for people to reflect on how they are living their lives and the choices that they make,' says Alfonso Cauteruccio, secretary-general of Greenaccord. 'The crisis has helped to reduce mass consumption and reinforced the importance of family ties.'

Cauteruccio says that over the past 20 years the pace of life has increased to intolerable levels as the pressure for industrial production and economic growth has mounted. One of the problems with encouraging people to slow down is the inherently short-term outlook of governments, which often focus on the next election to the exclusion of long-term objectives, he says.

For many, the short-sightedness of governments is embodied in the political bickering over the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty that was drawn up in 1997 by the United Nations. Despite persistent pressure from European nations, the United States, the world's biggest per capita polluter, has yet to ratify the agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol would have meant that the U.S. would either have had to scale back industrial production, or pay extra for the privilege of polluting the environment - neither of which was palatable to the government of the day.

Between Dec. 6-18, Denmark will host a UN conference on climate change that will discuss the formation of a post-Kyoto agreement for 2012, when the first commitment period for the treaty is due to expire. Greenaccord wants to hold an international forum on the fringes of this UN conference, to underscore the need for people to live life at a slower pace.

Bruno Contigiani, a former public relations director of IBM in Italy and Telecoms Italia, has spent the past ten years trying to persuade people to slow their lives down. He established an organisation called Arte del Vivere Con Lentezza ('The Art of Slow Living') for this purpose.

'I really believe that it is up to the individual to take things at a slower pace,' he says. 'Companies increasingly expect people to speed up and produce things as fast as possible, but people must have the courage to say 'no' sometimes.'

This is a view shared by Cinzia Scaffidi, director of the Slow Food Study Centre, an Italy-based organisation that aims to promote traditional and healthy eating. 'If we let the markets decide everything for us, and accept that we are just consumers, that we will never be able to make a change,' she says.

Scaffidi believes that the role of government should be limited to educating and encouraging people to think in a certain way. 'We have two elements that can change things - our wallet and our vote - and we must make good use of both.'

Over the past 20 years, rapid development of new technology has increased the production capacity in many fields, but many fear that it has also led to greater pressure on people's time.

'Overall, technological development is a positive thing, otherwise we would still be living in the Stone Age,' says Gian Paolo Marchetti, president of Greenaccord. 'But we should learn how to manage technology, so that we control it and not the other way round.'

Mansueto Bianchi, the bishop of Pistoia, read out a message from Pope Benedict XVI pledging his support for the conference and underscoring the need for 'better rapport between man and universe.'

'The Church has a strong role to play in helping to reduce the speed of modern life,' said Bianchi. 'There are three aspects to this: to educate and inform, to stimulate individual consciences, and to persuade governments to raise awareness of the problem.'

Time pressures are no longer just a Western ailment, says Contigiani of Arte del Vivere Con Lentezza. 'Last year, the word 'stress' entered the Chinese dictionary for the very first time,' he says. Next year, Arte del Vivere Con Lentezza will hold its annual World Slow Day in the Chinese city Shanghai.

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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