Can We Have The Future We Want?

hillary at rio+20Opinion by Mark Kneubuhl –

(June 23, 2012)  Twenty years have passed since the first International Environmental Conference in Rio de Janeiro. That event served its purpose well in bringing environmental and social issues to a global stage and changing mind-sets from one of many individual national problems to the stark realization that we’re all in this together with no Planet B.

And, over the past 20 years most all of the earth’s governments have succumbed to the hard realization that we are all in serious trouble – albeit some time down the road, if immediate action is not taken.  It was a good start.

But at the close of the Rio+20 Summit last Friday -while resources are dwindling, air, ground water, land and oceans are getting more polluted, and 7-billion people are seeking a better life, we continue to incorporate the word “development” in this grand, so-called “sustainable” plan that this conference produced.

As human beings, we surrender too easily to the “glass half-full” mentality whereas politicians must include the D-word into any such plan as a matter of self preservation.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said it was a time to be optimistic. “A more prosperous future is within our reach, a future where all people benefit from sustainable development no matter who they are or where they live.”

I like the US Secretary of State, she has many facets, foremost of which, that of being a politician.

“Sustainable development” is the quintessential oxymoron. Any kind of development requires the expenditure of energy and the creation of waste, not all of which can be recycled or reused in a beneficial manor or without further waste and expenditure of energy.

Some forms of one time development may have little impact on the availability of resources for future generations, but sustained, sustainable development is simply not sustainable!

How’s that for a Yogi Berrisum.

More Planning for a Plan

Sustainable development goals were the main focus of the conference, which Brazil described as the “crown jewels”. However, this “treasure” has yet to be mined as negotiators at Rio were unable to agree on themes, which will now be left to an “open working group” of 30 nations to decide upon by September 2013.  If consensus is reach by that date, these gems will be incorporated into the already established Millennium Development Goals.

As was the reason for this inability to reach an agreement on themes, participants and observers alike believe ongoing battles will ensure between developed nations and the least developed nations over methodology.

Yet a collective sense of urgency is evident in the 2-year time frame; a mere moment when considering past intra-governmental cooperation and action.

The Future We Want

The wide-ranging outcome document produce by the conference and entitled,  The Future We Want, was also highly criticized by environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners as a toothless report,  lacking the ambition needed to effectively address  challenges posed by a deteriorating environment, worsening inequality and a global population increase of 2-billion by 2050.

At the conclusion of the conference, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon said the document, which resulted from a year of planning and the 10-day mega-conference involving 45,000 people, would guide the world on to a more sustainable path.  “Our job now is to create a critical mass. The road ahead is long and hard,” he said.

In reality, the road ahead is forked: One is a dead end, yet easy to navigate, the other is rough, bumpy and steep with many dangers along the way.  But the latter has a destination… to where? No one really knows.

In my opinion the title, The Future We Want, was the best choice for the document produced by the Rio+ Summit. There couldn’t be a simpler and more correct way to encapsulate the works of this complicated conference.  The big question in my mind is whether or not we can accommodate for all of our collective needs, wishes and wants?  Is there such thing as sustainable development? Can we legislate and mandate human nature? Will the wealthy in developed countries trade in their Hummers for Hybrids? Will the masses in less developed countries be satisfied with the opportunity to achieve only limited “wealth”?

So many things were not addressed at the Rio+20 summit, yet I would not go so far as to say that the conference was a failure. In fact, I would say the opposite: Considering the immensity of the task, we have made great strides in advancing environmental and social issues to the forefront of the global stage. And for anyone to even suggest that this should be a cake walk needs to sit down and eat a very large slice of reality pie.

We are now in the transition stage between planning and implementation. Unfortunately, a few nuts and bolts are missing from the package and the instructions of this thing called “sustainable development” are a little vague, but nevertheless we’re moving forward.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the warning label on the box: “Human nature may affect the outcome of this project.”


Posted by at June 23, 2012
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