Currently in Rio de Janeiro, over 50,000 people have congregated to take part in the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainability and Poverty Eradication. Over the past ten days since the conference began those in attendance have been working passionately and with diligence to create real and lasting policy change that will effect how governments, corporations, and members of civil society are able to use the earth’s resources and how we as a people are going to grow into the future. Starting today, June 20th, heads of state or their personal representatives are descending upon Rio+20 to put the final touches on the outcome document that their colleagues and members of civil society have been working tirelessly on since the conference began. But instead of being met with high expectations, the heads of state are being met with contempt and disregard. The masses are underwhelmed, they are disillusioned. The heads of state are simply the final act in a tragic comedy
It’s not just that the people have stopped believing; it’s a question if they ever did. I have never looked into so many spiritless eyes as I have here. The mouth speaks of hope and change but the eye betrays the soul. It tells of a story of thousands of miles traveled year after year only to be disappointed at conference after conference. In a conversation I had last night, a young woman from Holland asked why people come to these conferences if in their heart of hearts believe that nothing good will be done. Perhaps it’s the prestige of having a fancy UN badge. Maybe it’s the guaranteed travel to conferences all over the world. Or maybe it’s the guarantee of having money put into the bank. All of us claim to know someone in the UN who loves their job and really believes that the UN can bring real change but out of the 50,000 people who are in Rio right now, I’m not sure there is a single person who believes this to be true.
Any of the spring that found it’s way into person’s step at the beginning of the conference has since been lost. People walk around the conference center as if they are carrying the weight of nature-destroyed on their shoulders. It’s depressing as hell.
By Friday this conference will be over and everyone will go home. What will the people say to their constituents who sent them to this conference? How will we spin the conference to make it sound more than it was; to make it sound like more than we all believe it to be. We hold failure in tension because we can’t believe it to be true. The dream of Harmony with Nature can’t be dead.
Camus writes, “…what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart.” We have no choice but to hope. We actualize the falsity until the truth begins to ring. We fight because it hurts even worse to find ourselves unable to get off the mat. So what do we do? Do we live in the liminal space where we must lie to the ourselves and to others about a hope that we know isn’t true or do we finally realize the limitations of the mat, bow to the absurd, and walk away?
We do not walk away into inaction nor do we sequester ourselves into the miasma or depression. Rather, we refuse to engage in the match that refuses to declare a winner. We grab hold of the wild longing for clarity and move forward knowing that we are in the right. 25 km from Rio+20 Conference Site I attended the C-40: Climate Leadership Group conferences. This conference is a gathering of mayors from the biggest cities all across the world. They have come together to discuss strategies that have succeeded – or failed- in their cities. They speak of particularity and discuss the implications for meta application. Lastly, they speak with true hope and true optimism. They refuse to be bound by the squabbling of world leaders who can barely agree on which conjunctions should be used in the outcome document. They make moves towards a better future because it’s the only option that they have.
There are two days of negotiations left at Rio+20. A miracle may happen and the world leaders may come together to create an earth renewing resolution that will change the course of history for the better. I’m not holding my breath but it could happen. As a friend once told me, there's a certain fatalism in environmental circles.” Optimism isn’t a word a lot of people throw around here but how can we effect the change we want if we don’t believe that it can actually happen?