Cool things / Thoughts

Rio+20 – The Optimist and the Cynic

As I’ve been reading about the Sustainable Development Conference outlined in my last post, I’ve been thinking that it seems almost too good to be true. I’ve read the Zero Draft document, and a report entitled Green Economies to Green Societies, plus information provided on the official website. They talk of creating green, equitable and inclusive societies, of how education is fundamental, of the importance of the world’s oceans, of creating a green economy, providing green jobs, holistic and long-sighted decision making…. The list goes on. When did the UN get so on the ball?

The Optimist
The optimist in me is jumping for joy, excited that this year is graced with such a fantastic and timely opportunity. Although their results aren’t always that impressive, international conferences and summits are tried and tested and what other options really are there for getting a bunch of nations to commit to something? That our world leaders are actually coming together to discuss how to get from here to a sustainable future, and then commit to actions to this end, is well worth celebrating. This could lead to binding legislation on all sorts of related issues, and give governments incentive to kick-start the kind of projects we desperately need. Even the fact that the official UN website for the conference is linking to organisations I respect such as Global Transition 2012 is so inspiring. All the discussion papers and issue briefs outline sound aims and reasonable ways of achieving them. I feel content knowing the powers that be are finally addressing the issues I spend so much of my time thinking about. This could be a real turning point.

The Cynic
But as great as it all sounds… A niggling devil-on-my-shoulder thinks it can’t really be this good. Perhaps it’s all green wash, something to keep environmentalists quiet while the guys at the top cackle and finance the slow death of civilisation. Well, that might be taking it a bit far, but there’s definitely a cynical part of me saying it’s naive to expect the outcome to be as good as I hope. Governments have a huge vested interest in business-as-usual after all. Change is hard, and the scale of change required may not do wonders for (short term) popularity and this matters a lot to politicians hoping to get elected in the next term. And what about the multinational corporations that so infamously pull the strings of these puppets, any way? Will Easy Jet and the oil companies be so happy about all this? Will they quietly go bankrupt without a fight? Surely governments won’t stop supporting them so soon… And will the banks really commit to an economy that is focused on the well-being of most people? In a more equal society, (which the Summit proposes) the distribution of wealth would of course be more equal. This is advocated in the report Green Economies to Green Societiesbut does the rich really want to have less so that others can have more?

And the elusive Realist
The path of realism is tightrope-thin, between the vast lands of optimism and pessimism. It’s way harder to be realistic about Rio+20 than it is to get carried away or depressed. But of course, the reality will likely fall somewhere between the two. I truly think this Summit is an amazing opportunity, and I think it will play a major part in our eventual transition to a sustainable way of life. In fact, I think it’s a vital piece of the jigsaw. I don’t think it’ll be plain sailing, not by a long decree. It’s likely that some countries will be unwilling to give their political commitment. Of the ones that do, I don’t imagine for a minute they’ll be able to quickly turn their entire country to a sustainable one. But I think they will make some changes, and I think these will be important. Basically, I don’t think the UN Conference on Sustainable Development will be a miracle, but I think it will be a huge step in the right direction.

A small ending comment from the Optimist
Huge steps in the right direction are pretty good!

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