Gwynne Dyer: Rio+20 culprits set stage for climate ecocide

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      There was no law against genocide in the early 1940s; it only became an internationally recognized crime after the worst genocide of modern history had actually happened. Similarly, there is no law against “ecocide” now. That will only come to pass when the damage to the environment has become so extreme that large numbers of people are dying from it even in rich and powerful countries.

      They are already dying from the effects of environmental destruction in some poor countries, but that makes no difference because they are powerless. By the time it starts to hurt large numbers of people in powerful countries, 20 or 30 years from now, most of the politicians who conspired to smother any substantial progress at the Rio+20 Earth Summit will be safely beyond the reach of any law. But eventually there will be a law.

      Rio+20, which ended last Friday, was advertised as a “once in a generation” opportunity to build on the achievements of the original Earth Summit, held in the same city 20 years ago. That extraordinary event produced a legally binding treaty on biodiversity, an agreement on combating climate change that led to the Kyoto accord, the first initiative for protecting the world’s remaining forests, and much more besides.

      This time, few leaders of the major powers even bothered to attend. They would have come only to sign a summit statement, “The Future We Want”, that had already been nibbled to death by special interests, national and corporate. “[The] final document...contributes almost nothing to our struggle to survive as a species,” said Nicaraguan representative Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. “We now face a future of increasing natural disasters.”

      A plan to stop the destruction of the world’s oceans was blocked by the U.S., Canada, and Russia. The final text simply says that countries should do more to prevent overfishing and ocean acidification, without specifying what. A call to end subsidies for fossil fuels was removed from the final text, as was language emphasizing the reproductive rights of women. And of course there were no new commitments on fighting climate change.

      The 49-page final declaration of Rio+20 contained the verb “reaffirm” 59 times. In effect, some 50,000 people from 192 countries travelled to Rio de Janeiro to “reaffirm” what was agreed there 20 years ago. The fact that the document was not even less ambitious than the 1992 final text was trumpeted as a success.

      Rarely has such a large elephant laboured so long to give birth to such a small mouse. The declared goal of the conference, which was to reconcile economic development and environmental protection by giving priority to the goal of a “green” (i.e. sustainable) economy, simply vanished in a cloud of vague generalities.

      The final text does say that “fundamental changes in the way societies consume and produce are indispensable for achieving global sustainable development,” but it does not say what those fundamental changes should be. A “green economy” becomes only one of many possible ways forward. You wonder why they even bothered.

      “This is an outcome that makes nobody happy. My job was to make everyone equally unhappy,” said Sha Zukang, secretary general of the conference, but that is not strictly true. Governments seeking to avoid commitments are happier than activists who wanted some positive results from the conference, and the hundreds of large corporations that were represented at Rio are happiest of all.

      How did it end up like this? Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown by 48 percent in the past 20 years, we have lost another 3 million square kilometres (1.15 million square miles) of forest, and the world’s population has grown by 1.6 billion—yet there is less sense of urgency than there was in 1992. You can’t just blame the economy: Rio+20 would probably have ended just as badly if there had been no financial crash in 2008.

      Twenty years ago the issues of climate change, biodiversity, preservation of oceans and forests, and sustainable development were relatively fresh challenges. Moreover, the world had just emerged from a long Cold War, and there was plenty of energy and hope around. Now everybody understands how tough the challenges are, and how far apart the interests of the rich and the poor countries.

      We now have a 20-year history of defeats on this agenda, and there is a lot of defeatism around. Politicians are always reluctant to be linked to lost causes, and the struggles against poverty and environmental destruction now seem to fall into that category. Thus we sleepwalk towards terrible disasters—but that doesn’t absolve our leaders of responsibility. We didn’t hire them to follow; we hired them to lead.

      At the recent World Congress on Justice, Law and Governance for Environmental Sustainability, one of the events leading up to the Rio+20 conference, a group of “radical” lawyers proposed that “ecocide” should be made a crime. They were only radical in the sense that a group of lawyers agitating for a law against genocide would have been seen as radical in 1935.

      One day, after many great tragedies have occurred, there will be a law against ecocide. But almost all the real culprits will be gone by then.

      Gwynne Dyer is a London-based international journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.




      Jun 24, 2012 at 2:50pm

      We are a fundamentally selfish species that really doesn't care what sort of world will exist for others in 50 or 60 years.

      The majority of people won't vote for a political party that would introduce carbon-restriction measures that also take a few pennies out of the wallet.

      We're so focused on our own lifestyle that even trivial sacrifices for the good of future generations are almost unthinkable.


      Jun 24, 2012 at 3:16pm

      50,000 people travelling to Rio (swimming? walking?)... and yet the "ecocide" is ours. LOL Green agitprop never ceases to amuse!


      Jun 24, 2012 at 5:27pm

      There are lots of things we could be doing for the environment that don't get done because of this sole religious focus on C02. It is time to give it up. There has yet to be a single credible study to come out that shows we need to spend the trillions of dollars they are asking for to combat CO2. Either they won't supply data, their models are shown to be flawed or other problems always pop up just after the flashy news reports move out of the head lines. Don't forget the prediction that the arctic would be ice free 2 months from now.

      Lets move on and do some thing worth while like protecting the water or habitat or some thing else. And Gwyn stick to topics you actually have a clue about.

      Dean Gross

      Jun 24, 2012 at 6:17pm

      This article is spot on: in 1935 there was no word for genocide, and ecocide is the right term for destroying nature. I've thought a lot about why people aren't more wise to this. It may come down to the information overload we have, and that "news" doesn't have staying power, when the next distraction is 1 second behind. Store shelves are fully stocked today, and as a customer I can almost behave like a child and ask for anything I can pay for. People are focused on making a living, and feel pressured to have a comfortable lifestyle - in a way, our quest for comfort is killing the planet.

      For those that say people who care about nature are lazy, and hurt the economy, consider this: without a healthy planet, there is no economy, just like without a healthy body and mind, we could not work. It's just hard to imagine that nature could stop supporting us, that one day, the store shelves could be empty. I'm sure people thought the Holocaust could never happen, nor what we call today World War 2.

      It's hard, to think like this Gwynne. Now I know how Cassandra of Troy must have felt.

      Dean Gross

      Jun 24, 2012 at 6:39pm

      jv - I'm not a scientist, but to my understanding the scientific consensus is that global warming is happening, and human industry is a major factor (emissions plus deforestation). Go to any major university and track down the natural science departments or read publications like Science or Nature. Even on wikipedia, CO2 levels in prehistoric geological periods correlate higher temperatures with higher CO2 levels.

      Even if CO2 does not act as a greenhouse gas (i.e. let's disagree on its effects), does it not make sense to understand how the ecosystem works and how the sum of human activity can affect it? Would you not want to investigate the foundation of a building, and understand engineering principles before constructing one? Right now, there's disagreement about whether people and countries are abusing the Earth for their own present comfort. Well, at one point pesticides like DDT, or even lead and asbestos were considered safe: we know better now.

      It's worth looking into, and at least keeping an open mind about. Did the genocide in Germany not happen, because there wasn't ready proof in 1938, and the German government denied it? Not understanding the ecosystem, "ecocide" as Gwynne mentioned, is not a future I choose. Do you?


      Jun 24, 2012 at 7:35pm

      Gwynne asks - "How did it end up like this?" Simple, enough people became well enough informed about the lies, corruption and deceit surrounding the CAGW scam that the faux scare stories aren't working anymore. Move on folks, nothing to see here.

      Mark Brooks

      Jun 24, 2012 at 7:59pm

      "There has yet to be a single credible study to come out that shows we need to spend the trillions of dollars they are asking for to combat CO2."
      With the tiny exception of the hundreds of studies that show very clearly we need to take urgent action to reduce carbon emissions (and it won't cost trillions if you bother to do any research on the economics - next time, why not just say "a gazillion jillion dollars"? Sounds even bigger!)

      RE jv

      Jun 24, 2012 at 8:43pm

      All I have to say is that.... you should really stick to topics you actually have a clue about.

      Kate Minor

      Jun 24, 2012 at 10:38pm

      Maybe we don't deserve to survive. The dinosaurs are extinct. Maybe the next inhabitants of this planet will dig up our "bones" too and wonder why we went extinct.......

      Steven Threndyle

      Jun 24, 2012 at 10:54pm

      There's been a lot of coverage in the media about the failure of Rio 20, etc. Just asking - did anyone -- in the media, or woh were attending the conferences -- actually talk to man (or woman) on the street Brazilians to get their opinions? (And not just the Brazilian intellectuals who might have been educated at Harvard or Cambridge?) Or were they all just attending 'plenary sessions?' Maybe they thought Rio was just 'too unsafe...'