When I toured the Glob-All Poster exhibit created to commemorate the Rio+20 Earth Summit, I really expected to find more heart. But it seems the designers hadn’t really allowed the information they were supposed to be touching us with, into their own hearts. It hadn’t sunken into their depths beyond words, abstract concepts, and colors. For me, there was only one piece that even came close to telling the story, by Brazilian designer Christiano Menzes.
What did strike me most powerfully, was the timeline created, showing the main events of the last 20 years, between the original Rio Earth Summit and the present. Let me summarize the events they listed, with the one illustration that REALLY stood out for me, as an American citizen: The Twin Towers.
1992 – UN Conference on Environment and Development gathers 108 heads of state, resulting in approval of: the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development; the Forest Principles; The Adgenda 21; the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
1995 – In the first UNCCC Conference of Parties (COP1), scientists concluded that [carbon] emmissions generated by human activity were a contributing factor to global warming.
1997 – The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is negotiated during the third UNCCC Conference of Parties (COP3) in Kyoto, Japan.
1998 – The hottest year in recorded history, temps up to .6C higher than the world’s average of 14C
1999 – Kyoto Protocol is ratified. Developed countries that signed the treaty committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to at least 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
2000 – In one of the greatest enviromental accidents ever recorded in Brazil, 340 thousand gallons of oil were released from a Petrobras refinery into the Guanabara Bay, causing vast environmental damage in the area.
– The UN Milennium Assembly assembled in New York, establishing eight sustainable development goals such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and guaranteeing environmental systainability among others.
2001 – George W. Bush, then President of the United States decides not to implement the Kyoto Protocol, signed by his predecessor Bill Clinton, alleging it would undermine the economic interests of the country.
– On September 11, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon end up dominating the international debate, pushing socio-environmental themes to the background.
2002 – The Rio+10 World Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa approves a plan to implement the commitments made during the Rio Summit, such as the Agenda 21 – a transitional program aimed at achieving sustainable development.
2004 – The increasing incidence of slash and burn techniques in the Amazon places Brazil among the top 10 carbon dioxide emitters on the planet, along with other great polluters such as the United States, China, Russia and Japan among others.
– For the first time in history, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to an environmental activist: Wangari Maathai.
2005 – With the ratification of Russian, one of the top greenhouse gas emitters, the Kyoto Protocol enters into force.
– This year was rated by NASA as one of the five hottest years since the beginning of modern climate recording in the 19th century.
– Hurricane Katrina devastates several cities along the coast of the Mexican Gulf in the US, as a result of global warming.
2006 – Directed by Davis Guggenheim, the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth”, produced in partnership with former US Vice-President Al Gore, denounced the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global warming.
2007 – China overtakes the USA as the world’s top producer of carbon dioxide emissions, becoming the number one contributor to the greenhouse effect responsible for global warming.
– The IPCC and Al Gore who promoted the film “An Inconvenient Truth” win the Nobel Peace Prize.
2008 – Brazil announces the National Program of Climate Change. The program sets goals for the energy and transportation sectors, establishing quadrennial goals for the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
2009 – COP 15 in Copenhagen fails to reach an agreement for the reduction of emissions after 2012.
2010 – The decade is recorded as the hottest ever recorded, with temperatures .54 C above average temperatures in the 20th Century.
2011 – The World population reaches seven billion people, posing a challenge as to how to explore the planet’s natural resources in a sustainable way.
2012 – Rio+20 is the twentieth anniversary of the first Rio Earth Summit.
Given that timeline of disasterous events, and ignorance of the results of the choices, did we really expect that a powerful new agreement would magically emerge from this anniversary summit?
This is the time for the ants to occupy the picnic. We are the ones, each of us, who must make our own choices about how to respond to these circumstances. We are the ones who can voluntarily reduce our own carbon emissions and vote with our dollars, not to support the polluting companies and countries – and to support those who are engaged in green technologies, and reforesation.
We are the ones who hold the power, if we will only wake up and use it.