Earth Day 2012 - Road to Oblivion


This year Earth Day comes just two months before the Rio+20 Summit (UN Conference on Sustainable Development), June 20-22, 2012, that will discuss how to respond to the growing environmental threats.  But nothing being undertaken by Earth Day nor the Rio+20 Summit either identifies the challenge adequately let alone the steps that nations and particularly cities must take. Why?

When Earth Day was created in 1970, and at the 1971 United Nations Stockholm Environment Conference, there was little understanding of the ways in which our global system of production, distribution and consumption, namely capitalist globalization, was unraveling the planetary ecosystem.  Pollution was not viewed as threatening the well being of every ecosystem and every species on the planet.  There was no appreciation of the unprecedented destructive role of the United States, and the US military (with a footprint larger than all of the military of all other countries in the world combined), in this catastrophe. Nor the fact that China would change course and set out on a “socialist market” road that would lead to an unsustainable footprint.  Now, four decades later, the threat has severely worsened.  One reason for this is how the corporate media have addressed the issue. Yet CNN talks about “Eco Solutions,” which of course, do not resemble anything like a solution.  What can be done is hardly what must be done to reverse the tide of destruction. Or their series on The Road to Rio, Green Cities,”  which pinpoints a local program and suggests that therefore, this is a “Green City.”  The very concept of a Green Economy has more to do with how US corporations enhance profits than reduce footprints.

But the most fundamental issue in this rush to oblivion is not the long term consequences of global warming, the carbon count, the most severe species extinction ever known or individual lifestyles, but the short term geometric growth of the planetary footprint.  Affluent consumers in cities are recklessly consuming the planets assets perhaps eighteen times faster than the planet can refurbish.  Worldwide consumption uses one third more than nature can replenish.

One pivotal concern is what the United Nations 2011 Human Development Report called Sustainability and Equity.  The Report argues that “sustainability and equity must be addressed together.”  It is evident that countries and corporations are inclined to parade their measures for “sustainability” while equity continues to decline worldwide.  Unless far greater equity is achieved – and there is no prospect for that – growing inequity will make addressing issues such as the urban footprint, impossible. The social cohesion required to reduce and balance footprints  is impossible when well-being is imperiled by growing inequality.

None of the individual “green” actions now being pursued will amount to virtually any change in the qualitative nature of the dangers and risks we face.  Reversing the patterns of imbalance between global and planetary forces will require profound changes in the social order in most countries.  It will require some countries to dramatically reduce their footprint (which they will not do voluntarily) and other countries to increase their footprint.  What the US and China do on this issue will be determinant.

Just consider one city. For the footprint of London to be sustainable, it has been calculated that it must reduce its consumption by 35% starting in 2020.  If that were taken seriously, there would be no 2012 Olympics. Nor can one imagine a similar reduction in either the US or China.  The greed of US consumption will not subside, and the need to improve the well being of the Chinese people is appropriate.

The Rio+20 Summit promises more of the same inadequate analysis and action.  The conference will focus on Green Economy initiatives.  This is nothing but a euphemism for expanding global markets and unchecked urbanization, sprinkled with “sustainable” innovations for purposes of public relations.  This process is devoid of the required targets and delivery dates required to avoid global overshoot on all resources.  The United Nations is not structured to project serious national targets let alone enforce delivery dates.  In addition, the UN was created to empower nation states.  Cities were ignored.  Today, cities are pivotal in any reversal of environmental ruin, but have no power within the Unit Nations.

Society is approaching a tipping point at which time virtually nothing we could undertake would reverse the impending planetary ecocide. Neither Earth Day nor Rio+20 addresses this catastrophe.

Part 2 will discuss the Road to Sustainability.