Posted by: Dr Pano Kroko Churchill | June 20, 2012

Environmental Parliament: Three Views from Rio Earth Summit

“Come re-invent the world” is the call to the People’s Earth summit, which operates in Rio de Janeiro under the auspices of the Environmental Parliament.

This anti-summit was put together hastily, in order to counteract the mainline business dominated Rio+20 Earth Summit that was put together by an increasingly feeble UN. Brazil increasingly anti-environment and pro business and the UN along with it’s defanged policies and institutions such as the COP process — now all run by government and business partners — all beholden to the same market driven industrial maniacal concerns are staging the greatest show on Earth. And are calling this show, an Earth Summit. Now twenty years after the truly great and aspirational first environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro — Environmental Parliament veterans of those early days — we are all crying in our cups…

What a difference a couple of decades make…

Showmanship is all there is left here now.

Not even brinkmanship is warranted here now…

The all important world leaders from the largest economies and Carbon emitters in the world are all notably absent and not scheduled to appear.

The Game is up.

It’s been won or lost depending on which side of the political and ideological divide you sit in.

After all it’s not that important anymore.

And fatigue has set in and it’s not even in the radar of most people’s outlook to Life.

Not an opportune moment to be in Rio – not now.

It’s not important anymore.

Certainly not in light of what the world considers grave and important threats right now, as those that are being negotiated in Mexico at the G20…

And this causes a distinct sense of failure because of what most participants in the official UN sponsored Rio+20 Summit, see as the malignant influence of capitalism at it’s worst. Ecosystem, resource and species exploitation driven by Business, rules the inner workings of the UN process and thus far, all the participants would honestly admit, that the Rio+20 United Nations Summit is a dismal failure.

So to counterbalance this admittedly expected failure, we put together the sustainable development conference which is now taking place on the outskirts of the city of Rio de Janeiro.  Here over two hundred civil society groups – including environmentalists, unions, religious groups and indigenous tribes – take part in the week long event.

All the activities are in light of the Anti-Summit which focuses on the indigenous people’s bloody conflict in the Amazonas in order to save the rivers and the Rainforest. This is coordinated and behind the scenes organized by the Environmental Parliament, which today fields it’s largest Demo. The Demonstration today is the climax rally of over One Hundred Thousand people walking the streets of Rio to protest the failure of the world’s leadership to reach a Climate Deal. We are fielding over 100,000 people today. Come with us – come celebrate the Earth. Come out, because this is the Summer Equinox and a pivotal time for all.

On another note, also today, more than one hundred of the world’s leaders fly in for the UN Rio+20 official summit, marking the two decades that have passed since the original Rio gathering in 1992 set in place a system of international conventions and policy documents designed to bring the human economy back into balance with the global environment.

Despite those UN led measures, the decline of all ecosystems has accelerated. Species loss is unprecedented. Rainforest loss is at an all time high and a warming planet throws us all for a curve. Runaway greenhouse effects are observed all over and the CO2 emissions are rising to a new high. We now have 400 ppmv of Carbon in the atmosphere and that is fairly irreversible in our purview or lifetimes…

Still the government and diplomatic negotiators at Rio+20 aim to address all this with band aid. They talk of new measures to promote a green economy, strengthen global environmental governance and encourage nations to commit to a new set of sustainable development goals.

But they are failing.

And so we helped organize right along with the People’s summit, which is designed to foster alternative ideas and provide an outlet for the discontent aimed at the UN member countries’ failure to preserve biodiversity, eliminate climate poverty and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

More than twenty thousand people come and pass daily at the various gatherings, which are supported by the Environmental Parliament, by Greenpeace, by Oxfam, by the Via Campesina international peasant movement, and by many other participants including Green education pioneers, Japanese survivors of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, organic food organisations, the Tree protection organizations, and various Brazilian conservation and environmental groups.

Most eye-catching are the hundreds of colourful representatives from Brazil’s many indigenous groups, who performed a ritual on the opening day. Their incredibly brilliant and beautiful folkloric dress and militant appeal for protection of land rights and compensation for ecological services are not mentioned in any of the official negotiating texts, but they take central position at the People’s summit and are the force to be reckoned with in the Amazonas native Rainforest and all the river systems and tributaries across all the nations that share this richest oxygen lung of the Earth.

And we ought to pay homage to our “elder” brothers, because ultimately, only Native and first people preserve nature.

“We know that nobody can live without the oxygen from the trees. But the farmers take our land and start fires in the forest, and the dam builders block our rivers,” said Waratan, a member of the Pataxo tribe from Brazil’s Bahai region. “Native culture needs to be preserved the same way, like the environment.”

As we spoke, the challenge was being underscored by a simultaneous protest in a distant corner of Brazil where 300 indigenous people and local residents occupied the site of the Belo Monte Dam project, which will be the third biggest in the world, and flood a 400 square-kilometre area of the Amazon including the homelands of many ancient native tribes. And this is where the Environmental Parliament places the most of it’s resources in Brazil today. And here is where am spending most of my Brazilian fortnight working and fighting leadership visit…

Away from the hustle and bustle of Rio and it’s legions of delegates — coming up cropper as far as the Environment is concerned, yet — enjoying an idyllic holiday by the beautiful beaches upfront the majestic ocean.

And while the Brazilian Government and the UN host the glitzy Rio+20 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro — over 3,000 kilometers in the far North, within the country’s Amazon region, the indigenous peoples, farmers, fisherfolk, activists and local residents affected by the construction of the massive Belo Monte Dam project began a symbolic peaceful occupation of the dam site to “free the Xingu River.”

In the early morning hours, three hundred women and children arrived in the hamlet of Belo Monte on the Transamazon Highway, and marched onto a temporary earthen dam recently built to impede the flow of the Xingu River. Using pick axes and shovels, local people who are being displaced by the project removed a strip of earthen dam to restore the Xingu’s natural flow.

Residents gathered in formation spelling out the words “Pare Belo Monte” meaning “Stop Belo Monte” to send a powerful message to the world prior to the gathering in Rio and demanding the cancellation of the $18 billion Belo Monte dam project.

Demonstrators planted five hundred native açai trees to stabilize the riverbank that has been destroyed by the initial construction of the Belo Monte dam. They also erected 200 crosses on the banks of the Xingu to honor the lives of those lost defending the Amazon.

Think of it. Over two hundred local residents, working conservationists and forest protection activists have lost their lives in this undeclared war against nature. Just in case you thought your consumerism as exercised in a modern era religious fashion in the temples of Wal-Mart and Tesco, through your shopping choices, was benign and had no effect on human lives —  you might want to reconsider.

Maybe you should reconsider because of two hundred human victims, of this war on Nature. This at least ought to be a wake up call. Yet here we are…

So a little less than a week ago, we came along where hundreds of residents of Altamira held a peaceful march to the headquarters of the Brazilian dam-building consortium called NESA. The social actions are part of Xingu+23, a multi-day series of festivities, debates and actions commemorating 23 years since the residents of the Xingu first defeated the original Belo Monte dam. Residents have been gathering in the community of San Antonio, a hamlet displaced by the consortium’s base of operations and in Altamira, a boomtown of 130,000 severely affected by the dam project.

And it is in clear contrast to the Rio+20 official summitry and it’s business occupation, with it’s high fallutin and bespoke tailor dressed government, industry and UN delegations of dreary darkly dressed “Politburo style” drones emanating from the hallways as so many identical iterations of the same G-men in Matrix.

The real battle is being fought today in the Amazonas still… because Rio is for the tourists of the Environmental movement to enjoy the beautiful beaches teeming with sexy babes, clad in skimpy Brazilian thongs. A feast for the eyes but little substance in combating the Environmental degradation this planet faces…

So we go back to the Amazonas where the war is waged fierce.

Antonia Melo, the coordinator of Xingu Vivo Movement said, “This battle is far from being over. This is our cry: we want this river to stay alive. This dam will not be built. We, the people who live along the banks of the Xingu, who subsist from the river, who drink from the river, and who are already suffering from of the most irresponsible projects in the history of Brazil are demanding: Stop Belo Monte.”

Sheyla Juruna, a leader from the Juruna indigenous community affected by the dam said, “The time is now! The Brazilian government is killing the Xingu River and destroying the lives of indigenous peoples. We need to send a message that we have not been silenced and that this is our territory. We vow to take action in our own way to stop the Belo Monte dam. We will defend our river until the end!”

Protestors and affected communities are highlighting the glaring gap between reality and the Brazilian government’s rhetoric about Amazon dams as a source of “clean energy” for a “green economy.” The Belo Monte dam is the tip of the iceberg of an unprecedented wave of 70 large dams proposed for in the Amazon Basin fueled by narrow political and economic interests, with devastating and irreversible consequences for one of the world’s most precious biomes and its peoples.

A delegation of international observers and human rights advocates including Brazilian actor Sergio Marone of the Drop of Water Movement came to witness and lend visibility to the actions.

Slated to be the 3rd largest hydroelectric project in the world, Belo Monte would divert 80 percent of the Xingu River’s flow through artificial canals, flooding over 600 square kilometers of rainforest while drying out a 100-kilometer stretch of the river known as the “Big Bend,” which is home to hundreds of indigenous and riverine families. Though sold to the public as “clean energy,” Belo Monte would generate an enormous amount of methane, a greenhouse gas 25-50 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

And yet back in the Climate negotiations in Rio, the distance of three thousand kilometers make it all seem like we are on a different planet.

Here things are hot humid and slow… and the Environmental Parliament weathers, organizes, mitigates and leads the good fight amongst the Peoples of the world here too.

And like the official negotiations, the People’s summit got off to a slow and somewhat chaotic start. On the opening morning on Friday, some facilities were still under construction, the rest largely empty apart from a smattering of Hare Krishna and Christian groups and small clusters of environmental activists.

But the energy levels rose through the weekend along with volume and variety of music. On Saturday night, samba, reggae, rap, folk songs and even nasal whistles echoed across Flamengo’s white sands and yacht marina. Some participants danced,but many more were huddled in discussions about an alternative future.

Far from the air conditioning of the hangar-like conference centre at RioCentro, the debates at the People’s summit take place in marquees, tents and canopies erected with bamboo and canvas. Ideas are propagated through pamphlets, performance art and – until Sunday – Summit Radio, a community station normally based in a favella, that uses a mobile studio on a bicycle. It was ordered to cease transmissions on Sunday because it lacked a license — so it operates unlicensed same as in the favellas.

There is no single ideology here. Everything goes. From Conservative and religious views to extreme opinions and movements. At one end, anti-capitalist groups held discussions on the “hidden agenda of the green economy”, which they fear is a new ruse to constrain the growth of developing countries and to expand the commodification of natural resources that are currently free. Many are understandably suspicious of this constant talk of a green economy. It seems to them like another attempt by the rich powers to impose a model on poor countries, said one veteran Vietnamese women’s rights activist. “Instead, we should talk about green economies [plural] because many different approaches will be needed in different countries…”

At the other end of the strip, green entrepreneurs displayed sustainable business ideas at two brightly illuminated showrooms. Among the ingenious ways to make money and save resources were Acquazero, a biowash for cars that its suppliers claim uses 99% less water than a power hose, and Ecomaquinas, which makes bricks from recycled construction waste and – at a pilot programme level – old money taken out of circulation.

The head of Brazil’s Small Business Association, Luis Barreto, said the People’s summit was an important way of sharing good ideas and changing perceptions. “We’re here to highlight business opportunities and show that there is no contradiction between being sustainable and making money.”

Elsewhere, promoters of the “Solidarity Economy in Latin America and the Caribbean” debated the needs and means for a wholesale shift of priorities to “re-democratize the economy” so that more resources benefit and are recycled by local communities. Greenpeace pushed for “zero deforestation” in the Amazon by 2020, following the 80% decline in deforestation rates in less than a decade. The National Movement of Catadores – informal rubbish collectors – sought greater recognition for the job they do in recycling.

The range of convictions were apparent in slogans and posters: “No Dams in the Amazonas,” “No more poisoned food,” “Support women farmers”, “Nuclear-free Brazil”, “Stop endocrine disruptors.”

“We know how to destroy, but do we know how to build?” asked Andre Ruiz, who declares himself a businessman who became a campaigner. He has turned himself into a walking billboard covered with graphic photographs of environmental destruction and slogans warning of dire consequences if people fail to take action.

Attendance so far seem considerably lower than the predictions, suggesting there is a long way to go before the People’s summit provides the surge of creativity and new thinking we need, yet it’s a start.

However whatever positive outcomes arises out of the anti-summit, it’s all good. Because the official Rio+20 summit, in what the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, suggested might be one of the most positive outcomes the world is expecting of Rio+20, remains truly elusive.

Yet a few more precious days remain and so there does exist some hope in what this Rio+20 summit and the anti-summit counter conference might achieve.

And this is not how our friend George Mnbiot feels as hepresents his views of the official United Nations sponsored Rio+20 conference and gathering of leaders. He is deprived of hope… understandably as he goes on to say:

“This week’s earth summit in Rio de Janeiro is a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago. By now, the leaders who gathered in the same city in 1992 told us, the world’s environmental problems were to have been solved. But all they have generated is more meetings, which will continue until the delegates, surrounded by rising waters, have eaten the last rare dove, exquisitely presented with an olive leaf. The biosphere, that world leaders promised to protect, is in a far worse state than it was 20 years ago. Is it not time to recognise that they have failed?

These summits have failed for the same reason that the banks have failed. Political systems which were supposed to represent everyone now return governments of millionaires, financed by and acting on behalf of billionaires. The past 20 years have been a billionaires’ banquet. At the behest of corporations and the ultra-rich, governments have removed the constraining decencies – the laws and regulations – which prevent one person from destroying another. To expect governments funded and appointed by this class to protect the biosphere and defend the ecosystems and the poor, is like expecting a miracle on cue.

You have only to see the way the United States has savaged the earth summit’s draft declaration to grasp the scale of this problem.

The word “equitable” – the US insists – must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment – says the US. So must be deleted the clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns” and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources. All these must go before the US commits to negotiating…

Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities. This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.

This is the government, remember, not of George W Bush but of Barack Obama. The paranoid, petty, unilateralist sabotage of international agreements continues uninterrupted. To see Obama backtracking on the commitments made by the elder US President Bush 20 years ago, is to see the extent to which a tiny group of plutocrats has asserted its deadly grip on the US, the UN as well as on the international environmental policy.

And while the destructive impact of the US in Rio is greater than that of any other nation, this does not excuse our own failures. The UK government prepared for the earth summit by wrecking both our own climate change act and the European energy efficiency directive. David Cameron will not be attending the earth summit. Nor will the energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey.”

Needless to say Obama, Cameron, with all other important absentees of Rio, such as Hu Jintao and Merkel, are attending the G20 summit in Los Cabos Mexico, which takes place concurrently with the early part of Rio+20 Earth Summit and allows for economic discussion only.

Economy trumps Environment on every turn…

Daft but there you have it.

Another tenet of the 1992 summit – that economic and environmental issues should not be treated in isolation – goes up in smoke.

The environmental crisis cannot be addressed by the emissaries of billionaires. It is the system that needs to be challenged, not the individual decisions it makes. The struggle to protect the biosphere is in this respect the same as the struggle for redistribution, for the protection of workers’ rights, for an enabling state, for equality before the law.

So this is the great question of our age: where is everyone? The monster social movements of the 19th century and first 80 years of the 20th have gone, and nothing has replaced them. Those of us who still contest unwarranted power find our footsteps echoing through cavernous halls once thronged by multitudes. When a few hundred people do make a stand – as the Occupy campers have done – the rest of the nation just waits for them to achieve the kind of change that requires the sustained work of millions.

Without mass movements, without the kind of confrontation required to revitalise democracy, everything of value is deleted from the political text. But we do not mobilise, perhaps because we are endlessly seduced by hope. Hope is the rope on which we hang.

Worn down by hope.

That’s the predicament of those who have sought to defend the earth’s living systems.

Every time governments meet to discuss the environmental crisis, we are told that this is the “make or break summit”, upon which the future of the world depends.

The talks might have failed before, but this time the light of reason will descend upon the world…

Yours,

Pano

PS:

We know it’s rubbish, but we allow our hopes to be raised, only to witness 190 nations arguing through the night over the use of the subjunctive in paragraph 286…

We know that at the end of this process the UN secretary-general, whose job obliges him to talk nonsense in an impressive number of languages, will explain that the unresolved issues – namely all of them – will be settled at next year’s summit…

Yet still we hope for something better.


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