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Rio+20 Good quotes and bad outcomes

The Rio+20 global environment conference in June aimed to set the environment agenda for the next 20 years. The consensus was that Rio delivered virtually nothing. The pre-agreed outcome document ‘The Future We Want’ is a 49-page wish list of clichés and aspirations, but it does not address or respond to the fundamental issues needing action at all. It failed completely to acknowledge the central importance of unsustainable population growth on a planet of rapidly diminishing resources. The blog gives a one-page summary.

Motherhood statements, no family planning

The outcome document for the Rio+20 environment summit in June 2012 is 49 pages long. Some 23,917 words. Women were mentioned in less than 0.01 percent of the text. And only two of the 283 sections addressed women's needs for family planning.

Nothing concrete came out of the closing day of Rio+20, though countries have agreed in principle to work towards setting up new 'sustainable development goals', The world has agreed to a set of new ‘sustainable development goals’, says Caroline Spelman, the UK’s Environment Secretary. Her priorities will be on the sustainable development goals. Between now and September there will be a lot of preparation for a UN meeting which will try to choose which thematic areas the goals should focus on. For the UK, the three priorities would be energy, water and food. (Not population of course, the underlying driver)

The Prince of Wales in video to Rio conference 2012:

“Like a sleepwalker, we seem unable to wake up to the fact that so many of the catastrophic consequences of carrying on with “business-as-usual” are bearing down on us faster than we think, already dragging many millions more people into poverty and dangerously weakening global food, water and energy security for the future,” he said. “It is, perhaps, a trait of human nature to act only when the worst happens, but that is not a trait we can afford to rely on here. Once the worst does happen, I am afraid that this time around it will be too late to act at all.”

“The international community needed to be better informed on the facts otherwise it will be faced with “panicked responses to crises that could have been avoided.”

Mathis Wackernagel, President Global Footprint Network

Today, humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our emissions. The majority of countries and states operate their economies without tracking the ecological resources they use against what they actually have. It is like flying a plane without a fuel gauge, and it affects everything from what you pay at the grocery store to the type of world you and your children will live in.

Dr. William E. Rees, ecological economist and former director of the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning in a blog June 12, 2012:

“The Use and Misuse of the Concept of Sustainability.”

“The concepts of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘sustainability’ continue to be subverted, distorted and otherwise misused in the ongoing political debates concerning global change and economic development. Society continues to be in deep denial of fundamental facts pertaining to contemporary biophysical reality and the increasingly global socio-cultural context within which the human universe is unfolding."

After Rio, we know. Governments have given up on the planet

George Monbiot, The Guardian 25 June 2012:

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth's living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue "sustained growth", the primary cause of the biosphere's losses.


The lag time between identifying a problem and getting mainstream recognition and possible action is amazingly long. I read Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb" when I was about 20 and I am now over 60. I have been aware of the threat to the world's wild life from pressure of human numbers all my adult life if not even before this. Nothing is getting any better but in fact the situation is worsening for both humans and other animals with e.g. pressure on urban wildlife in Australia's cities, orangutan habitat progressively destroyed just to Australia's north and the big cats of of the world as endangered as ever if not more so. Today I heard a food expert on the radio talking about the near future of food and the need to make cultures of cells - to form a meat product to feed the teeming masses. And that's probably just the first world! He also talked of declining fish stocks leading to very high prices and that farmed products would soon be the only affordable fish . With respect to world fisheries ,he said that "peak fish" was in 2004!
There is no leadership with respect to our very survival and the survival of the massive variety of other life forms on the planet. It seems that it is generally considered more important now to own an IPad or a massive television screen and see a virtual version of the bounty of life that used to surround us than to experience it directly. This distracts us from the deterioration in our real environment.

I too read the book back then, and for decades thought it was the last word on the environmental disaster that lurked in our future. I no longer buy any of it. The Club of Rome's dire predictions of imminent resource depletion proved wrong. In 1990, Ehrlich famously lost his decade-old bet with economist Julian Simon regarding the future prices of industrial commodities (most were supposed to have been depleted by then), and prices continued to fall for another 10 years after that. I now believe that if we can lick the environmental consequences of burning "fossil" fuels, we can sustain and even raise current living standards around the world, into the indefinite future. More people means more of everything, as history shows. Malthus was simply wrong.

Limits to Growth modeled a whole range of scenarios. Their main run scenarios, with precipitous decline between about 2030 and 2070, seems to be on track. Of course these are scenarios, not predictions, but still very scary. We aren't out of the woods yet.

Back in 1980, Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon made their famous bet: Specifically, the bet was over the future price of five metals, but at stake was much more -- a view of the planet's ultimate limits, a vision of humanity's destiny. Simon allowed Erlich to pick the five metals. If the 1990 prices were higher, Erlich would win. Erlich selected chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), Nickel (Ni), tin (Sn) and tungsten (W).

Simon won, but recent goings on with commodity prices have some people asking whether Simon's timing was just lucky and perhaps Ehrlich views will ultimately triumph.

During the 1990s things changed, however, with Simon the decadal winners in four start years and Ehrlich winning six – 60% of the time. And if we extend the bet into the current decade, taking Simon at his word that he was happy to bet on any period from a year on up (we don’t have enough data to do a full 21st century decade), then Ehrlich won every start-year bet in the 2000s. He looks like he’ll be a perfect Simon/Ehrlich ten-for-ten.

Jeremy Grantham of GMO, a fund-management group, points out that Mr Ehrlich would have won the original bet were it recalculated today (he is still alive; Mr Simon died in 1998). An equally weighted portfolio of the five commodities is now higher in real terms than the average of their prices back in 1980.

Too many people — and especially too many politicians and business executives — are under the delusion that a disastrous end to the modern human enterprise can be avoided by technological fixes that will allow the population and the economy to grow forever.

Australian researcher Graham Turner has examined its assumptions of the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth in great detail during the past several years, and apparently his latest research falls in line with the report's predictions, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

The study, initially completed at MIT, relied on several computer models of economic trends and estimated that if things didn't change much, and humans continued to consume natural resources apace, the world would run out at some point.

It is possible to fix, if governments enact stricter policies and technologies can be improved to reduce our environmental footprint, "economic growth" (a euphemism for population growth) doesn't have to be the measure of their success, marching toward inevitable implosion. But just how to do that is another thing entirely.