Rio+20: Meeting Global Challenges with Hope and Heart

Rio+20: Meeting Global Challenges with Hope and Heart

For the last few weeks my thoughts, prayers, and gratitude have been with those attending the United Nations events in Brazil. Imagine: the warm, balmy streets of Rio, filled with a sea of passionate planetary change agents, all part of a thriving global community that is collectively responding in powerful and inspiring ways to the ongoing threats to our Earth. Each person has her/his own story of dedication and commitment. Each is an emissary for all beings, human and otherwise, who can’t be in attendance. Looking into their eyes, you see they are alight with the bright pulse that comes from being in what the Buddha referred to as ‘right action’ and ‘right effort’ in the Noble Eightfold Path.

Rio+20, the redux of the first United Nations ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992 (later renamed the World Conference on Sustainable Development for the Rio+10 events in 2002 in South Africa), drew tens of thousands from all around the world. A relatively small number of them were allowed inside Rio Centro, where the official U.N. proceedings took place. The balance gathered at conferences and a host of “parallel” or “side” events where civil society (a k a, the most of us!) could deliberate and share a vision that would hopefully influence world leaders. Considered the “alternative” or “outside” voices, it was this collective wisdom of The Peoples’ Summit which resonated most for me.
On the outside, delightful expressions of art, song, music, dance, and prayer accompanied the sharing of innovative solutions already in play to address the global challenges we face. One highlight was the creation of a beautiful human banner with the message “rios para a vida” (“rivers for life”), as 1,500 indigenous activists and allies used Rio’s Flamengo Beach as a canvas and their bodies as paint to celebrate water and remind us of the importance of free-running rivers.
At times during the program, the inside and outside worlds converged, and in those sacred moments the passion and hope of so many of us for “The Future We Want To See” (an official theme of the events) was delivered to U.N. decision makers.
Seventeen-year-old Brittany Trilford opened the proceedings with a powerful speech sharing her concern for future generations, and asking the bold question to officials: “Are you here to save face, or are you here to save us?”
And representatives of more than 500 groups of indigenous peoples from Brazil and around the world gathered, as they had 20 years before, at sacred lands near Rio and crafted the incredible Kari-Oca 2 Declaration, which they delivered to the U.N. In it, they eloquently synthesized concerns I, too, share about the direction of U.N. policies addressing the future of our planet.
You see, I was blessed to be there in Rio twenty years ago, and again ten years back in Johannesburg at Rio+10. At first, much of the U.N. language seemed inspiring, filled with promises and spirited commitments. But during the past twenty years, as the words took form and policy became practice, I’ve become all too familiar with that uncomfortable and confusing feeling in my body one feels when experiencing equal measure of despair and possibility, hope and fear.
Because while sustainability sounds good on paper, the version of it that was codified and subsequently commodified didn’t ever seem to square with the original vision, which was crafted to protect and uphold life on the planet.
Huge challenges are at hand now as we determine just what indeed “sustainability” even means, and what mathematics can possibly marry an accounting of the emerging so-called “green economy” with the invaluable currency that we call life—healthy food, safe water, clean ai, and rights for all beings on the planet.
As the Indigenous Peoples put it in the Kari-Oca 2 Declaration:
We see the goals of UNCSD Rio+20, the “Green Economy” and its premise that the world can only “save” nature by commodifying its life giving and life sustaining capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that Indigenous Peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years. The “Green Economy” promises to eradicate poverty but in fact will only favor and respond to multinational enterprises and capitalism.
The Green Economy is nothing more than capitalism of nature; a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe, the water we drink and all the genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Earth possible and enjoyable.
Ultimately I believe in the wonder and resilience of civil society. I feel that the future will be shaped profoundly by our willingness to cooperate and learn from one another, and implement on regional scales the solutions we are sharing. Despite what happened (or didn’t happen) on the inside in Rio, all ya’all on the outside give me great hope. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop letting go of attachment to outcome (constantly), for the planet’s prognosis calls for it. Still, this day I raise a glass of fresh-pressed green juice to all who attended Rio+20. Cheers, and thanks for the inspiration!

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