Casaubon's Book

So everyone raise your hand if you are shocked, shocked and appalled, that the sum up for the Earth Summit Rio+20 conference was, as the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister put it “Insipid.”

The meeting, marking 20 years since the iconic Earth Summit in the same city and 40 since the very first global environment gathering in Stockholm, was aimed at stimulating moves towards the “green economy”.

But the declaration that was concluded by government negotiators on Tuesday and that ministers have not sought to re-open, puts the green economy as just one possible pathway to sustainable development.

Mary Robinson, formerly both Irish president and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was not enough.

“This is a ‘once in a generation’ moment when the world needs vision, commitment and, above all, leadership,” she said.

“Sadly, the current document is a failure of leadership.”

As news reports attempt to find a bright side in the total lack of action that came out of Rio from the UN, they note that Ban Ki Moon did say that no one should go hungry, but of course, no money, resources or policy changes were allocated in order to make that happen.  Since we’ve all known that there was really no reason other than greed for anyone to go hungry for ummm…fifty years, that ray of hope seems pretty faint.

Meanwhile, on climate change we continued our global game of chicken, in which the developing nations say they can’t share in the same responsibility for environmental degradation the rich nations have to in order to develop, and the rich nations say they can’t risk global economic growth and the hope of development for the poor nations, so we won’t do a thing about environmental and climate degradation.  No specific goals or targets were assigned to any stakeholders in the planet, other than that it would be really great for someone to do something to make the future greener.  Nearly everyone agreed on the deep awesomeness of someone else doing something about all the problems.

Science blogs asked me to write something about Rio earlier in the week, and I tried – I really did.  There are interesting discussions and activist projects going on at Rio, but in the end, the sum up is this.  A lot of people came together, burned a lot of fossil fuels and talked a lot and did nothing.  Because they were never going to do anything. Economic growth will always outrank concern about climate change and environmental degradation – until, of course, those things preclude economic growth.  At which point there’s not much left to do.

Most of these events are about feeling good about pretending to do something. The kinds of conversations and fundamental policy changes that would be necessary to act globally on these issues aren’t even on the table – at no point in the Rio discussion was there a serious analysis, for example, of the implications of chronically high oil prices, or the possibility that world economic growth won’t get going again.

Everyone at Rio sincerely cares.  Unfortunately, caring is not enough – along with sincere caring has to be the beginning of a language of universal sacrifice – of doing what human beings have done before and could do now, but which is antithetical to the message of always buying more – giving up things now to improve the lives of our posterity.  Without even the beginnings of that language on our table, there’s not much to talk about.

Sharon

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. #1 Martin
    June 22, 2012

    Given the history of the ‘results’ stemming from the convocation of such conflabs, is it any wonder that once again, here we are”

    Complete waste of jetfuel.

  2. #2 Brad K.
    Ponca City, OK
    June 23, 2012

    You mentioned the fossil fuels expended for the Rio gathering, and for the transport there.

    I think there is a complementary measure that could be considered — the carbon footprint of cash flows. I first thought of this in connection with government spending, how every bundle spent will result in the expenditure of a certain amount of fossil fuels and other energies for transport by officials, for lighting and heating and cooling buildings, and for ancillary support of the people employed by government dollars, both on the government side of the table, and those employed to exploit government programs.

    This is true, of course, when we barter or spend money privately. But tax dollars collected by the government represent an additional carbon footprint, drained from the “economy”, or carbon budget, of the population.

    Al Gore’s sumptuous home in light of his “inconvenient truth” Nobel Prize efforts are one example of the difference between carbon footprint and fundraising. I think the government’s wastes on the Solyndra company, on TARP and bailouts, are much more significant.

    When my local gas station started adding 10% ethanol to the gas I buy, my mileage dropped 10%, initially. That means that the 90% of the gasoline in the gallon I bought was the same 90% there was before the dilution, and produced the same mileage (before the ethanol started accelerating crud buildup in the engine). That is, the ethanol didn’t contribute to powering my vehicle down the road. When I bought 10% of each gallon in ethanol, I bought a handful of nothing, for a price.

    Because there is an immense price for the ethanol used to dilute the gasoline I use, much of it associated with government subsidies and other expenditures.

    The Cash for Clunkers program was another example. Talk circulates about how many miles a vehicle would have to be operated, so that the carbon footprint, and other resources utilized to build a new car, would offset the fuel “savings” of building a new car. And stocking a new variety of spare parts. And training a new bevy of service mechanics. Etc. Yet I fail to see changes in zoning ordinances that would take distance from residences to employment and shopping into account, with a focus on reducing commutes. (This is a primary function of living on a farm — the commute to work is a walk out the door; it has worked, well, for a long time.)

    Today a community still sees a large store wanting to open doors as a great benefit — it will draw customers from surrounding (competing) tax authorities to spend money. Communities watch school districts consolidate facilities. And no one questions the carbon footprint impact on the community and region of all the increased travel of the school, the store and distributors serving it — and the customers and families served.

    I suppose one could criticize the Occupiers for failing to associate immense corporate incomes with the carbon footprint of the income itself; saving or investing a private $1 (or $100) million dollars does add up, in expenditures of direct and ancillary fossil fuels and diverting other energies from subsistence use for others, and in the conversion of other resources into products (i.e., the “economy” and wealth or income).

    I guess carbon footprint isn’t close to being used for community planning, for government program reviews, or for economic planning. What you don’t measure won’t improve.

  3. #3 Wow
    June 23, 2012

    “But tax dollars collected by the government represent an additional carbon footprint, drained from the “economy””

    I thinkn you’re letting fundie capitalism infect your thinking.

    You know all that tax money you’re complaining of here? Do you know what happens to most of it?

    It’s spent.

    Do you know where?

    The same place other money is spent. In the economy.

    Dividends given to the richest people, however, is hoarded and used not to produce new value but to syphon off more money from those who don’t have any. It’s used not to increase value but increase costs.

    And it’s entirely that sort of thinking that has ensured, as you say:

    “a community still sees a large store wanting to open doors as a great benefit”

    Because one-dimensional thinking (or even zero dimensional regurgitation of propoganda heard) doesn’t want to think too hard to come to any decision.

  4. #4 Greenpa
    Earth
    June 24, 2012

    I’ve attended; been a speaker at, 3 of these things. You’re correct, Sharon; everyone at the meeting sincerely cares.

    But they cannot provide what is necessary – action. Not one major country, at this point, is willing to “lead”. Why make agreements you know will never be ratified- or carried out? It’s really depressing.

    Hey, maybe Egypt will lead! They’ve got a brand new California PhD engineer for president- and the most hopeful meeting I went to was the one in Egypt, 1990. Mostafa Tolba was head of UNEP, part of the reason the meeting was in Egypt- that at the fact that a huge proportion of Egypt’s arable land will be lost to rising sea levels…

    They’ve got the science, and a fresh revolution, and immediate incentive. What a dream that would be. Yeah, yeah; but dreams are about all we’ve got here. :-)

  5. #5 scarecities
    http://www.yourmedievalfuture.com/
    June 24, 2012

    surely somebody should have noticed by now that climate change conferences are little more than a mini tourist industry

  6. #6 Wow
    June 25, 2012

    In what way does that say anything about the science, scary?

  7. #7 Mary Wildfire
    West Virginia
    June 25, 2012

    Anyone who went to this expecting a different outcome would have to have been naive. A group of rich countries announced months ago that they would not agree to any treaty before 2016, and to anything binding before 2020–when it may well be too late. We WILL NOT get action, ever, from governments–they are in thrall to corporations, which are machinelike entities aimed only at amassing profit. We must make change ourselves; our governments will be no help and will throw obstacles in our paths. But this article said nothing about the people’s summit outside the official convention–often there IS useful activity at those venues.

  8. #8 Alphonse
    Midwest
    June 26, 2012

    We worked in the garden and had a nice supper, all local except the wine. The garden looks good and so do the apples, peaches and hazelnuts.

    Exactly what was accomplished in Rio?

  9. #9 Neil Craig
    http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/
    June 28, 2012

    Well the good news is that, because the poor but growing countries wouldn’t put up with not growing to placate westerners, the conference did very little harm to the hum,an race.

    The good news for the government funded eco-parasites is that 60,000 of them got an expenses paid holiday in Rio, including all that flying there and back, from the ever generous taxpayer.

    The global warming scare may be over but the parasites are deeply embedded.

  10. #10 Greenpa
    June 28, 2012

    “Neil Craig” – just keep in mind; in much of Europe right now, denying the WWII Holocaust will get you sent to prison. Why? Because it’s not harmless- attempting to get citizens to believe things that are not true is dangerous to our survival as a species.

    My guess is; within the decade, some of the island nations, where climate change is hitting hardest first, will outlaw climate change deniers. Then they’ll move to have the UN outlaw it, and eventually other nations will follow suit.

    Spreading disinformation is not harmless. It’s actually a standard weapon in warfare. That’s what you’re doing- and some of us out here know it.

  11. #11 Greenpa
    June 28, 2012

    Mary Wildfire (love the name) “Anyone who went to this expecting a different outcome would have to have been naive.”

    Well, yes. But. There is still that dangerous half-defeathered thing called “hope”, which most of us still cling to, at 3 AM. And many of the dedicated climate conversationalists hope to have a little hope, reality notwithstanding.

    And not without reason. I’ll give a specific example from the 1989 climate conference in Egypt (it wasn’t ’90, as my aging brain thought.) Almost no one heard about that conference, because right in the middle of it Reagan invaded Panama, and the entire international press corps disappeared.

    It was a UN sponsored meeting- without official UN presence. This was done specifically to facilitate real conversation; hoping to avoid the automatic UN posturing.

    And it worked, too. I think for the first time (this was only like the 3rd inclusive international meeting) representatives from the 3rd World, as it was still called then (now known as the “Developing” Nations”) stood up (literally, in the plenary sessions) and flatly accused the 1st Worlders of causing all the trouble, and saying loudly that the 1st World should pay for fixing it. The 1st World scientists responded that “yes, fine, true, but nothing the 1st World can do will be enough, if the 3rd World insists on “developing” like the 1st.”

    The meeting was about half scientists; half Ministers Of Environment from around the world and their staff.

    We had a REAL conversation. I SAW (and maybe helped) people on BOTH sides CHANGE their minds, and even “understand”. Wow.

    And one critical factor emerged, which did NOT emerge at Rio, as far as I can tell- a new leader.

    I don’t know her name. She was a Colonel in the Kenyan military; built like a tank- and utterly admirable. Scary smart, articulate, passionate, charismatic as they make them- the 3rd Worlders lined up behind her, and the 1st Worlders could only gape in awe. She was spectacular- and a LEADER. She DEMANDED that things happen- and they did. People listened; then agreed. Then Reagan invaded.

    The world is waiting for a new leader. Which is a deadly dangerous proposition- but boy are we ripe for it. At this point, I’m greatly afraid that only a charismatic leader will be able to move events. And that can often end very badly, as history repeatedly tells us.

    But, exactly as the platitude says, hope springs eternal. And the alternative- to give up- is just not useful.

  12. [...] Sharon Astyk wrote in Scienceblog, “Most of these events are about feeling good about pretending. …[The] fundamental policy [...]