Rio +20: What did you expect?
It’s over. The long-awaited Earth Summit. By most standards, the event, which brought official delegates from 188 countries- including 100 heads of state- was a monumental let-down. Greenpeace called it a “failure of epic proportions”. The normally conservative CARE, considered it a political charade. The results were so bad that it motivated Secretary-General of the conference to declare “This is an outcome that makes nobody happy. My job was to make everyone equally unhappy,” However, the more optimistic folks saw it as a new kind of tourism. Environmental Conference Tourism!! As one of the more productive consensuses was to hold more conferences on the environment, there is a great future here.
The final document signed by the “heads of states”, called The Future We Want, is as bland as bland can get, and in some cases outright offensive. To make sure the document didn’t have any real bite to it, the U.S. delegates were successful in having such radical terms as unsustainable consumption and production removed.
In short, sustained economic growth, fueled by over consumption- two of the main elements that have created the global ecological crisis we are in- trumped social and environmental concerns and the well-being of future generations. I’m having problems thinking of an adjective strong enough to denote the magnitude of the irresponsibility shown by the heads of the countries of the world. Criminal is too soft. Let me know if any of you come up with a better one.
The section on mining (sorry, but mining has ruined my life!) probably illustrates the tone of the document and the Steady-as-the-shipwreck-goes attitude of the document. It’s submissive to business interests is just grossly offensive. Here is the full section from the document:
227. We acknowledge that minerals and metals make a major contribution to the world economy and modern societies. We note that mining industries are important to all countries with mineral resources, in particular developing countries. We also note that mining offers the opportunity to catalyze broad-based economic development, reduce poverty and assist countries in meeting internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, when managed effectively and properly. We acknowledge that countries have the sovereign right to develop their mineral resources according to their national priorities, and responsibility regarding the exploitation of resources described in the Rio Principles. We further acknowledge that mining activities should maximize social and economic benefits as well as effectively address negative environmental and social impacts. In this regard, we recognize that governments need strong capacities to develop, manage, and regulate their mining industries in the interest of sustainable development.
228. We recognize the importance of strong and effective legal and regulatory frameworks, policies and practices for the mining sector that deliver economic and social benefits and include effective safeguards that reduce social and environmental impacts as well as conserve biodiversity and ecosystems including during post mining closure. We call on governments and businesses to promote the continuous improvement of accountability and transparency, as well as the effectiveness of the relevant existing mechanisms to prevent the illicit financial flows from mining activities.
In summary, the world’s “heads of state” signing this jewel of a document, which future generations will howl over, agreed that, a) mining is a sustainable economic activity; b) in spite of all the information to the contrary, it can eradicate poverty, and c) all you need is “effective” regulatory controls to make it magically happen.
No mention of the gross human rights abuses and violence connected to mining, its unsustainable nature, or its horrendous and perpetual environmental impacts. Nor, of course, it’s uncanny ability to create and deepen poverty in developing countries.
The other sections are no better. It is clear on reading it that the same-old paradigm of development, not only triumphed, but demolished the sustainable paradigm that the world needs. In this light, the Conference was more about Sustainabable, than Sustainability. Our kids and grandkids will, undoubtedly, judge the signatories as Earth Criminals. It’s too bad we can’t jump on a time machine and magically transport a few folks from the future to try this bunch of low-lifers right now!
Anyway, the subtitle of this blog is “What did you expect?” So, it’s not like this was a disappointment to me, I’m just reporting on what happened and didn’t happen. I have to live everyday with the greed and selfishness that drive people and governments to rip open pristine cloud forests and kill all their inhabitants, pollute rivers for centuries, and tear apart families and communities for the sake of a few years’ worth of mining. I know how powerful these interests are, and how difficult they and the development paradigm they are pushing are to defeat. I know first-hand the power they have to evoke the worst in human nature, and then call the resistance to it terrorism. It is the same force that brought 19 heavily armed police to my home almost six years ago, and which disappears activists who stand in the way. And, it is not going to change from the top-down. Not as long as governments are beholden to business, and/or crazy with power. Change must come from the bottom up. From you and from me.
Times like this makes me recall the wise words of Brazilian activist-theologian Leonardo Boff
” We cannot entrust our fate to political representatives who, in actual fact, do not represent the people, but Capital and its interests within the people. We need, ourselves, to undertake the task of being saviors. Each of us in our place, in our community, in every entity; in short, everyone should start doing something to give a different meaning to our presence on this planet. If we cannot change the world, we can change this piece of world that is each of us”