Rio+20 - Road to Oblivion II


    There could be few starker contrasts than the vitality of the city of  Rio de Janiero – both its virtues and its vices – and the sterility of national  rhetoric that will fill the halls of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development II in Rio de Janiero, June 22-24, 2012.  One need only examine the record over the last twenty years to glimpse the futility of Rio+20.

In the past two decades, carbon emissions have increased 40% and biodiversity loss has increased 30%. The tropical biodiversity loss is 60%!   While the biodiversity loss is hard to grasp worldwide, imagine if every zoo and every garden were to loose 30% of its plants and animals. The world community has failed to achieve 86 of its 90 most important environmental goals, with prominent failures on climate change, fish stocks and desertification. 

Three principal interconnected factors have insured this failure.  First is the capitalist world market economy, second is the unrestricted elite growth and the unequal consumption it insures, and third is the resulting population growth.

No large country or city in the world has taken substantive steps to reduce its ecological consumption footprint. On the contrary, growth is the undisputed mantra.  This is the essence of what makes the Global City Strategy of many large cities incompatible with either ecological balance or greater equality. That is why the pursuit of unfettered growth precludes genuine equity. That is why the entire rhetoric of sustainability is a myth that has been concocted to mask unequal growth and development.  And that is why the much-touted “green economy” is a myth to hide the diverse ways in which environmental policy has become coopted by the same corporations that guide the global market economy. 

There are a myriad of local projects by individuals, groups and institutions and even corporations that curb waste or pollution, work to safeguard particular species, or limit carbon output.  But all of these together are gaining ground arithmetically while planetary hazards are growing geometrically.  Climate change, species extinction, energy and water shortages, and dozens of additional challenges cannot be reversed until the growth of the economic and social footprint is halted and actually reversed in key countries.

Since 1972 at the Stockholm Conference on the Environment, and then again at the first Rio Environment Conference on Sustainability in 1992, the United Nations has merely reflected the wishes of the principal powers – who have no intention of curbing their growth and consumption.  The large global corporations have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of propaganda and mis information to insure that the “Green Economy” succeeds in propelling, not restricting footprint growth.  The Rio+20 meeting will be attended by few important state leaders, will adopt no important deadlines and establish no restraints on state growth. The ecological impact of the global US military will be ignored. Most fundamentally, until ecological footprint reduction imperatives are adopted by the United States and China, little that any other country could will would change the trajectory of planetary destruction in the next twenty years.  If the present pattern continues and worsens for another twenty years there is no doubt that the lives of our children, their children and all our grandchildren will suffer terribly, and the assets necessary to insure serious equality for the coming 9 billion people will not exist.  

The Rio meeting hopes to start a process so that by 2015 – in just three years - the international community can agree on a set of global sustainable development goals — with targets for consumption and production, a mechanism for periodic follow-up and reports, and specific actions for key areas such as water, food and energy.  Anyone who thinks that will happen has ignored the trajectory of the last twenty years.

    The challenge now is not what you and I can do but what we must do collectively to reverse the course of global market growth and begin to figure out how countries, cities and communities can limit footprint and  create new, largely self sustaining and self reliant regional systems, contrary to the imperatives of the global market.  Rio will mark the end of positive multi national negotiation.  It is now up to cities to chart a new balance between global and planetary requirements.

June 14, 2012