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.