Last weekend, several thousand of Earth’s foremost diplomats, statesmen and environmental raconteurs watched the clock in a room in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The meeting they’d arrived for had been scheduled, rescheduled and unscheduled before they’d reached Brazil. It wasn’t until three days before the event that they could agree on a syllabus. Several hours later, they changed it. The next day, they changed it again.
It’s just about all they accomplished. This is because Rio+20, as the follow up to the UN’s last trophy banquet, wasn’t a third-world picnic. It was actually an international staring contest. Most of the important nations, which is to say the entities with the dirtiest fingers, and the means to wipe them clean, were present. Their respective team chants, including “healthy environment for all,” “no hunger for all” and “clean air for all,” were counterbalanced by “reaffirm,” “recognize,” acknowledge” and “urge”. “Failure” was also in vogue.
In spite of the summit’s namesake, there just weren’t many additions being made. The problems being addressed, like global fossil fuel dependency, and the monopolization of living necessities in ailing nations, simply weren’t the sort of thing that could be eliminated in a single weekend, even if it was summer. The notion that “change needs to be made” arose more than once. Sha Zukang, the conference’s secretary general, reminded guests that his job wasn’t to co-sign any of the conclusions being made but to ensure that his guests remained equally unhappy. “Equally unhappy means equally happy,” he chided.
Costa Rica’s president was quick to reply.
“Those who have failed you, Mr. Sha, are the governments. Those are the ones who have failed you, sir.”
But honestly, the mere concept of the United Nations is an exaggeration itself. Pure hyperbole. Any other establishment claiming to speak for citizens of the Earth — all seven billion of them — would be met with immediate dismissal at best. More stifling is the guise that they could pull it off in three days. Why, then, do we attribute heavenly status to a group of men and women who can’t decide on the appropriate location for “making change,” let alone the changes that need to be made themselves?
Where is the university that’s forging those licenses? Who’s funding them? And why, since their inception, have they been handed to the most indecisive people?
Even still, there were bright spots. Men and woman unaffiliated with the political spectrum had their say. The summit went out of its way to highlight that these were “individuals” speaking, and it was fitting. They spoke about living in present day Beijing, Laos, San Francisco and Brussels. They talked about driving to work. They talked about pollution in their yards. And, on the whole, it wasn’t what they were talking about that was remarkable. It’s the fact that they were talking. Speaking concrete languages. Standing by their words.
One wonders, in the end, why they aren’t speaking louder.
Bryan Washington is a sophomore sociology student and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.