After spending the majority of the past few days at the official conference site, Sherry and I (both interns in CEDHA’s Mining Project) decided to attend a march held by the People’s Summit. This event could not have been further from the official conference in Rio Centro – in more ways than one. All the way across town, thousands gathered to voice their frustrations with the UN Conference, the actions of global leaders, and the concept of a green economy itself. In stark contrast to the business suits I had become used to in Rio Centro, painted bodies, indigenous garb, and neon colors were hardly out of place at the march. Creative appeals to the collective environmental conscience and displays of protest abounded. In reflection, perhaps the most interesting observation I have made within the context of the juxtaposition of the official conference and the People’s Forum has to do with the name and meaning of “Rio Centro”. While the venue for Rio+20 is called Rio Centro, the march left me with the impression that this name may be misleading. There is the obvious geographical contradiction – Rio Centro lies in the outskirts of the city, about a 2 hour bus ride from the center. But a deeper evaluation of the name also leaves much to be desired. The dialogue at Rio Centro seems to focus on the interests of business and lacks consideration for the interests of the people who are at the center of the sustainability movement. I can’t help but wonder if this entire conference is simply a series of potentially pointless negotiations held in an ivory tower within the hands of people who might not truly want change and far out of reach for the people who actually need it.
     At the same time, my sense of pragmatism leaves me conflicted. Change must happen, but can it happen with the same urgency demanded by those participating in the march? I certainly prefer my environmental issues framed in terms of justice, but is discussion about a green economy really that bad? Calls for the abolition of the commoditization of natural resources came from every direction at the march, but I doubt this is a feasible solution – especially when many governments rely on this practice to maintain the stability of their economies. This reality is indicative of a problem that seems to lie at the heart of the sustainability issue – there are simply too many voices representing too many interests from too many points of view. Compromise is difficult. And while it is always better than the alternative of stagnancy, its definition requires that everyone is going to be at least a little disappointed. Nevertheless, power disparity seems to guarantee the continuity of the global system that  requires the disenfranchised give while the powerful take – a reality that I find concerning.  Everyone came to the Rio+20 under the pretext of creating the “the future we want” but it seems that a limited number of interests may truly be considered.

(The photo above is of a banner held by faculty from the Universidad Nacional de Quilmes in opposition to mega-mining in Argentina.)


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