By Dave Tinham
I will be blogging from Rio de Janeiro next week, reporting on issues raised at and around the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (otherwise known as Rio+20), which will be taking place between June 22nd and 24th around 30 minutes outside the city (30 minutes that is if you have a VIP pass, for the exclusive traffic lanes and heightened security are similar to the plans currently being rolled out here for the London Olympics). The gathering of world leaders is to focus upon two main strands: firstly, the need to build a so-called ‘green economy’ in a context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; secondly, upon what an institutional framework for sustainable development might look like. However, for reasons alluded to below, the focus of this blog will be less upon Rio+20 itself (and its related UN organised cultural events), and more about the discussion and action that will take place in the centre of Rio, during the Cúpula dos Povos (People’s Summit) that will run concurrently alongside the conference.
The Future We Want
Many activists are sceptical about the agenda and therefore the outcomes of Rio+20, for two key interrelated reasons. Firstly, because whilst ideas of a green economy sounds great in theory, there is legitimate concern that this may produce yet more ‘greenwash’ market solutions, that don’t address the root of the problems, but merely find sometimes quite ingenious new ways to commodify nature. The second concern is that politicians may well be even more resistant than usual towards implementing the progressive change needed, using austerity as an excuse and citing the continuing reverberations that still follow the financial collapse of 2008.
This widely held pessimism about outcomes is interesting by comparison to the optimism that accompanied the first Earth Summit in Rio, 20 years ago this June. As Mikhail Gorbachev(former President of the Soviet Union) wrote earlier this week, ‘during and just after the Rio Earth Summit, there was an overwhelming air of enthusiasm and hope for the future…20 years later we are instead surrounded by cynicism and, for many, despair’. The reasons for this apparent decline in trust and indeed hope for the future are of course both myriad and complex. However, let us wait and see what happens. This cynicism is conceivably misplaced and the conference may yet deliver upon its promise of a ‘Future We Want’, as their strap line promises. Of course though, we do remain concerned. This is not about a future that is distant, but one which affects all of us here and now. As Sha Zukang, the Secretary-General of the UN Conference himself remarked on Wednesday, ‘Time is precious. We have little of it left to ensure we deliver. We need ambitious and historic outcomes.’
Come Reinvent the World
Of course he is right, we do need real ambition. But we also need a new vision. Surely, we can’t continue to fall back upon the failed current economic model based upon hyper-profits and hyper-consumption? Despite what some politicians may tell us, there are alternatives. These alternatives will be discussed next week by the people themselves at their own Summit in Rio’s Flamengo Park, where our Brazilian host organisers have asked civil society to ‘come reinvent the world’. And amongst our friends, despite it all we remain optimistic. Indeed, I am reminded of the earlier optimism of the French psychoanalyst and activist Félix Guattari, who on his trip to Brazil in 1982, 10 years before the first Earth Summit, said ‘I can see it…perhaps i’m raving, but I think that we’re in a period of …creation, utterly fabulous revolutions from the viewpoint of this emergence of a people. That’s molecular revolution: it isn’t a slogan or a program, it’s something that i feel, that i live, in meetings, in institutions, in affects’. (see Guattari and Rolnak’s ‘Molecular Revolution in Brazil’).
Is it really too much to hope for to look forward to ‘utterly fabulous revolutions’ through an ‘emergence of a people’? If we don’t do something soon, it may well become too late.
Dave will be blogging again next week direct from the People’s Summit in Rio, with pictures and hopefully video to complement the text. Your comments, concerns or questions would be very much appreciated.