Rio+20: Enough, For All, Forever?

Following the publication last week of our first Rio+20 entry, we can now bring you our next highlighted entry by Tom Green (BA Combined Honours, Combined Honours Centre).

Tom’s entry highlighted a much-ignored dichotomy: that our reliance on governments to drive the sustainable development agenda forward is in direct contradiction to the pressure we place on politicians to position our own countries at the forefront of global development and prosperity.

Throwing our own Institute strapline (Enough, For All, Forever) back at us, and using some very clever analogies, Tom powerfully argued the case for an increased sense of personal responsibility – it certainly made all of the judging panel reflect on their own actions and their impact on sustainable development, and we hope it will do the same for you!

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Enough, for all, forever.

A simple enough concept, and I think few would argue, a very agreeable one. Though the argument surrounding the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and sustainability as a goal, is less about the ethics, and more about the implementation.

I like to believe, possibly optimistically, that no nation would choose to be unsustainable, choose to pollute, choose to create a world for the later generation inferior to ours. I do believe, however, that it is what nations perceive they are not choosing in being environmental. Governments recognise they are ‘choosing’ to limit the consumption of today’s society, the society that votes for them, they are choosing to play second string to nations of the West, whose unsustainable practices formed the bedrocks to economy and society. In the world of undeniable politics and influence wielded through a large economy, why should any one nation bear this self-sacrifice for a universal benefit?  There is no faster way to create environmental division than to talk about its unity.

To this end, the greatest political, economic and social upheavals the world has witnessed have a common denominator. Influence. To influence people is to bring about debate, to awaken opinions and priorities in us all, every national representative attending the Earth Summit is held accountable to their decision by a critical mass, their citizens, the concerns or lack-of which, hold great influence in the stance a head of state holds. For all the good intentions in the world at the highest level, the concept of Enough, for all, forever, must come from the grassroots of the person on the street. This brings about, as I recognize one of the most critical points to not just the Earth Summit, but global long-term sustainability.  How do we influence this critical mass?

The initial concept to approach is that of the Carrot and Stick initiative, is either rewarding sustainable living or punishing those people and companies that do not, an appropriate approach? Clearly not, an authoritarian tact neither demonstrates how people think, merely how they react to any incentive or reprimand, imposing a stance upon people leads less to conformity and more to rebellion. This is not to say regulation may not be required to ensure multinational companies are kept in check, but it does not address the current issue of diminished responsibility seen, where there is a clear disassociation between then man charging his iPod, and continued African oil exploration.

A sad truth is that we seldom see the need for a solution until the problem is upon our door, knocking. The cyclist without a helmet will never need to invest in one, until it’s too late to be of any use. To extend this analogy, what hope can we have for us to collectively invest in a cycle helmet for every man, woman and child on the earth, when many would not care to purchase one for their own safety. We do not often see the car that strikes us, in this case we do, it is just our choice as to whether we strap up, or don’t.

Looking towards the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Nationalism holds a boundary through which sustainable thought finds hard to cross. Providing a passport to this concept, allowing it to move freely between countries and not stop on the coasts of our shores, is where the Summit’s leaders can begin to plant the seeds through which critical mass grassroots understanding of the collective responsibility we all have must grow.

It cannot be expected that this will occur over the period of one, or even several events such as Earth Summits, we learn from our peers more than we do from our governments, but this influence takes time, possibly generations, to be fully realised in the conscience of the greater proportion of society. This is why such sustainability events cannot, and should not, be assessed on their individual merit, though this at times can be great (Such as agreements as the Kyoto protocol), but more collectively when regarding the wider effect they have in bringing sustainability, ecological economic growth and poverty eradication, more naturally to the forefront  of peoples active conscience.

In the more immediate future, there are expectations for the Rio+20 event, expectations which should be realised to prevent stagnation of policies. I feel that more quantifiable agreements should be established between nations, allowing for assessment of progress made and holding nations more accountable to the agreements they sign up to, particularly those regarding poverty eradication, with an inclusive approach of the governments and economies of those affected vital to achieving Rio+20’s goals.

It is important to understand that every decision made at Rio+20 will be a compromise, whether that is economic progress for a nation or the political repercussions of making an unpopular decision, this cannot be denied or dressed up. It is said that for evil to prosper, all it takes is for good men to do nothing, climate change and poverty is that evil, and the stance we take today in alleviating this or not, is the measure by which all of history will remember us.

Forever.

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