Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Rio+20; US demurs on equity.
June 20, 2012 6:13 PM   Subscribe

As hopes for the future of multilateral action on the environment are fading, the draft negotiating text of "The future we want", the Rio+20 declaration was leaked, showing where the US delegation was seeking to remove any and all references to equity.
posted by wilful (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
What's scary about living right now is that it looks like really dark, messy days are ahead. What's good about that is that it's in precisely such times that we can make any progress in fields like this.

Props for the naming and shaming. The system right now is morally bankrupt, can we get some real change around here?
posted by dunkadunc at 6:20 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


'The future we want has gotten a little further away today. Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. It has failed on equity, failed on ecology and failed on economy," said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace.' CSMonitor, 20 July 2012
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:32 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


While we're at it: “I apologize in advance, but I’m from Canada.
posted by doublesix at 6:34 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's too late anyway. We've passed the tipping point, and even if we cut global emissions to zero tomorrow, we'll find that we're going to suffer several generations of warming which will change plant zones and weather patterns in ways which humans find untenable.

Collectively, as a species, we suck.
posted by hippybear at 6:35 PM on June 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I was just reading a bunch of "true patriot"/"sovereign citizen" crap, and now my brain is in conspiracy mode. the whole 'equity' thing threw me for a loop.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:39 PM on June 20, 2012


"What's scary about living right now is that it looks like really dark, messy days are ahead. What's good about that is that it's in precisely such times that we can make any progress in fields like this."

But, as a collective group, we don't make the progress we think we do.

Humans are really excellent procrastinators of the first order - we ignore the problem and hope it goes away; when it doesn't we convince ourselves it's intractable anyway; we then run around desperately fixing the bits we can to make the situation tolerable; and afterwards we convince ourselves it was inevitable anyway and we did a great job fixing things up as well as we did.

Currently, in respect to the environment, we're on the cusp of steps 1 & 2…
posted by Pinback at 6:49 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper, and the rate at which they are being installed has been growing exponentially for the past few years. If you look at Germany, for example, a fairly sizable chunk of their power comes from solar (which doesn't even get that much sunlight), and huge solar parks are being built in India (which does). The cost of solar is already less then nuclear, and could end up being cheaper then coal soon.

If you want a mind boggling example of bad US policy, apparently solar panels are too cheap now and we are going to start imposing tariffs on them. supposedly because US panel manufacturers (like solyndra) are having trouble, but according to some analysts it's going to cost jobs here, rather then help, because more people work installing panels then making them.

Part of that is political B.S. The Chinese are subsidizing their solar panel makers in order to get a leg up on what they (hopefully correctly) think is going to major world industry, and it's working.

When we tried subsidizing our own companies, (like Solyndra) republicans flipped out and so now the 'solution' is to just tax solar panels. It's mind bogglingly stupid (IMO).
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.
Well, technically those things have nothing to do with the environment. A world that is just as shitty as it is now but with far less CO2 emissions is still a better place.

I don't think this is going to be solved by countries holding hands and singing kumbya. Eventually, some countries are going to realize that restrictions on emissions will actually benefit them economically. If China continues to poor money into solar production capacity, they could reach a point where forcing everyone else to use them will make more money for them then they save by burning a shitload of coal.

The US is a net energy importer, and transitioning away from oil would be good for us economically. Oil consumption makes up most of our trade deficit.

I don't think there is any technical reason why this can't be stopped, and I don't think it would require the enormous sacrifices that some people claim would be needed. In fact, switching to solar and other renewables would actually save money over time.

But, there's no underestimating political dysfunction.
posted by delmoi at 6:53 PM on June 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I find it peculiar that water issues might not be related to the environment. Also food.
posted by hippybear at 7:05 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I find it peculiar that water issues might not be related to the environment. Also food.
He seemed to be talking about the right to water, which is a social justice issue, not an environmental one.
posted by delmoi at 7:08 PM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are we wildly underestimating solar and wind power? (WaPo)
Right now, renewable energy sources like solar and wind still provide just a small fraction of the world’s electricity. But they’re growing fast. Very fast. Three new pieces of evidence suggest that many policymakers may be drastically underestimating just how quickly wind and solar are expanding.
posted by stbalbach at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


In fact, if you posit a "right to water" you could use it to argue for things like drawing too much water from a river so that down-stream wetlands are dried up, and so on. Or building coal or oil powered desalination plants. Obviously all political issues interact somewhat but I don't think there's a strict complementary relationship.

Both are important, but I think it would be better to try to solve one problem at a time.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on June 20, 2012


He seemed to be talking about the right to water, which is a social justice issue, not an environmental one.

So decreased rainfall in western states such as Colorado where you're not allowed to use a rainbarrel to collect water for your property because there is nothing left to spare and it all must flow downstream to those who also have shares in the watershed... that's not tied up with environmental factors?
posted by hippybear at 7:13 PM on June 20, 2012


Agreement has now apparently been reached on the draft text. Sounds pretty piss-poor I'm afraid.
posted by wilful at 7:16 PM on June 20, 2012


One interesting of the conflict between, say, economic equality and the environment is this FPP about Larry Ellison buying 98% of an Hawaiian island.

It was previous owned by another billionaire. Why was he selling it? In part, he was frustrated by the other residents blocking his plans to put up wind turbines. Obviously we agree that people should have some say in how their island is developed, but in this case they were using that power to prevent something that would be good for the environment.
So decreased rainfall in western states such as Colorado where you're not allowed to use a rainbarrel to collect water for your property because there is nothing left to spare and it all must flow downstream to those who also have shares in the watershed... that's not tied up with environmental factors?
It is, but it's only an environmental problem, it has nothing to do with a "right to water". They all have access to some water, just not as much as they want.

In a lot of places the problem with global warming has been too much rainfall, causing damaging floods. That's a terrible thing, but it didn't violate anyone's "right to water"
posted by delmoi at 7:24 PM on June 20, 2012


(Well, again I should clarify, they're not completely unrelated, but most political issues impact each-other in various ways. I'm just saying they are separate issues, and you can, for example, fix global warming without declaring a universal right to water, and by bundling them, you end up making actual political action more difficult)
posted by delmoi at 7:26 PM on June 20, 2012


They all have access to some water, just not as much as they want.

Yeah, that's not actually how it's playing out in real life, but whatever lines you need to draw to compartmentalize the issues, I guess that's fine.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 PM on June 20, 2012


It's too late anyway. We've passed the tipping point, and even if we cut global emissions to zero tomorrow, we'll find that we're going to suffer several generations of warming which will change plant zones and weather patterns in ways which humans find untenable.

When you're going to crash, you can aim for the oncoming truck, or some nice barrels of sand. It's not fun or cheap either way, but don't say there isn't a difference.
posted by Garm at 7:56 PM on June 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not saying there isn't a difference, but what is there in the Rio+20, or any other attempt at global climate management, which leads you to believe that we won't hit the truck of catastrophe barreling directly at us?
posted by hippybear at 8:10 PM on June 20, 2012


I overheard someone say something to the effect that nature or god or the universe has a way of correcting imbalances that harm the planet, and that maybe catastrophic climate change is it's way of "correcting" the problem.
posted by sswiller at 8:35 PM on June 20, 2012


Regarding the talk of solar, to put it into perspective how ridiculously fast solar panel pirces are falling, it's considered a financial sucker's bet to buy solar panels in the past few years because the prices of solar panels are falling faster than what you would generate from retail energy costs.

What this means is if you decided to buy now instead of last year, the amount you would save is greater than generating energy using the panels for one year. It's falling THAT quickly. Of course, solar panels will eventually reach a point where a 10%/year long-run decline in solar panel prices don't cover the generation for that year. We're nearing that point, which is why you're seeing greater pick-up in solar panels.

The correct way to think of solar is to think of it like buying a CPU for your computer -- Moore's law is in effect here (Watts per dollar), which makes the technology incredibly interesting. There's a similar long-run effect going on in LED lighting (lumens per dollar).
posted by amuseDetachment at 8:43 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I overheard someone say something to the effect that nature or god or the universe has a way of correcting imbalances that harm the planet, and that maybe catastrophic climate change is it's way of "correcting" the problem.

Yeah, but anyone with even a soupcon of geological history would know that's just silly. What does "harm" even mean in the context of literally billions of years where the planet has been a snowball, a desert, an effective nuclear winter etc? The Earth is not an animal, and it is not sentient. It's sidestepping out collective responsibility to act like climate change is on anyone but humanity.
posted by smoke at 9:38 PM on June 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, if "correcting the problem" means extinguishing or at the least greatly impoverishing the sentient life form, excuse me for being concerned about this.

This is not a game of Populous. This is about actual people, countries, economies, societies, that are in peril.
posted by wilful at 9:59 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I overheard someone say something to the effect that nature or god or the universe has a way of correcting imbalances that harm the planet, and that maybe catastrophic climate change is it's way of "correcting" the problem.
Yeah. No. In the long run there's no balance, in a few billion years the sun is going to enlarge and consume the earth. And actually, in a few hundred million years it will be too hot for water to exist on the earth's surface at all, and all life will go extinct - regardless of what we do (Although by that time we may be good enough at climate management that we can prevent that from happening).

In fact, it's kind of disturbing, but the earth's natural 'lifespan' as a planet capable of supporting life is most of the way through.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 PM on June 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


in a few hundred million years it will be too hot for water to exist on the earth's surface at all, and all life will go extinct - regardless of what we do (Although by that time we may be good enough at climate management that we can prevent that from happening).

A few hundred million years being a zillion times longer than humans as we understand them have existed on this planet, and there is no guarantee that given evolutionary pressure coupled with technological development that there's anything which will exist in that time span which we would recognize as human, or that whatever may be around then would look back on us as recognize us as part of their same species so much as we regard fossil evidence of ancestors as being equivalent to us.

It's impossible for us to talk about human history in terms of evolutionary timespans, and even less possible for us to talk about it in terms of stellar state change. We have no point of reference as a species, and only an intellectual idea of what those time spans mean.

Whether life will continue on earth after the current (as we perceive it) stasis passes is practically a given based on past evidence. Whether anything which survives into the next epoch will know what or who we are or even give a shit? We have no way of knowing that. But even at that point, we're only talking a million years at the outside. Humans have been around for 10,000, maybe 20,000 years tops. A million years is basically an order of magnitude longer than that, and we literally cannot imagine it in any practical way no matter how hard we try.
posted by hippybear at 11:41 PM on June 20, 2012


We are between a rock and a hard place: we rely too much on fossil fuels (more than 80% of our primary energy consumption), that are finite and pollute the environment. If they are more finite than the conventional wisdom believes ("all fossil fuel resources could be converted to viable reserves thanks to technology & prices"), then we risk damaging the economy as it happened in 2008 when oil spiked to 148$/barrel. If technology allows the vast untapped (unconventional, read slow to extract and dirty) fossil fuel resources to get to the market then we risk entering the worst IPCC emission scenarios.

At the same time, 3 billion more middle-class consumers are expected to be in the global economy by 2030, and even with that happening, 1,2 billion people will not have access to electricity by 2030.

Moreover, energy transitions take time, natural gas went from 1 to 10% of global primary energy in about 50 years, oil in 30 years and coal also took 50 years.

With real Peak Oil or Pek Oil lite around the corner I fear that we won't have enough resources to transition to a new energy paradigm in time.

Plus, my biggest concern is that current mainstream macroeconomics is totally inadequate to handle this transition as it has no way to correctly assess depletion of vital natural resources.

That's why I am a pessimist.
posted by samelborp at 2:25 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


I overheard someone say something to the effect that nature or god or the universe has a way of correcting imbalances that harm the planet, and that maybe catastrophic climate change is it's way of "correcting" the problem.

Since it hasn't been explicitly stated yet, I'll come out and say it: this is the "Gaia hypothesis" created by James Lovelock, who now swings wildly between climate change armageddon alarmism and climate change denialism, even though he admits he doesn't pay attention to the science anymore. As already explained, the Gaia hypothesis (or "theory", as it is apparently known now) has been widely discredited.

I would argue that the biosphere is an incredibly complex system, so complex as to be practically beyond our capability to understand it, and that this intricate system or series of systems is capable of exerting considerable homeostatic pressure on forces causing disturbance in the system. However once the tipping point(s) is crossed, the dynamic equilibrium is thrown out of whack and a new balance must eventually be established.

This is the state we seem to be nearing. Several climate 'tipping points' are imminent AFAIK, including the disappearance of polar sea ice, and the melting of arctic clathrates which could release vast quantities of methane (a very significant greenhouse gas).

Personally I realized back in the Kyoto days that the governments of the world were largely incapable of effective communal action on global environmental issues, if action threatens the corporate bottom lines. I will say that I've been very impressed with the progress in some areas (Europe) at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but given that the US and Canada are basically regressing at this point, that the developing world is a source of continually rising emissions, and that 2011 was yet another record year for CO2 emissions, I don't consider the prognosis of the patient (which is human civilization in case you missed it) to be very good.
posted by viborg at 7:08 AM on June 21, 2012


Also, if "correcting the problem" means extinguishing or at the least greatly impoverishing the sentient life form, excuse me for being concerned about this

I didn't mean to sound glib, but even with something major on the horizon, it seems like humanity's collective response is all but ineffective. As I results, I fear that after the ensuing chaos of resource war and disease epidemics, only those with either the resilience, good fortune or access to technology will remain.
posted by sswiller at 8:15 AM on June 21, 2012


It's too late anyway. We've passed the tipping point

This has already been addressed upthread but I feel this is relevant: Drawing sharp boundaries in a fuzzy world.
posted by Bangaioh at 1:54 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few hundred million years being a zillion times longer than humans as we understand them have existed on this planet, and there is no guarantee that given evolutionary pressure coupled with technological development that there's anything which will exist in that time span which we would recognize as human, or that whatever may be around then would look back on us as recognize us as part of their same species so much as we regard fossil evidence of ancestors as being equivalent to us.
Humanity is a totally new thing, biologically thinking. Many species have had an impact on climate, and the environment (the only reason we have oxygen in the atmosphere is due to biological life). But we are the first ones who can take conscious decisions.

We are also the first species that can evolve in a Lamarckian way, by manipulating our own genome. As well as mess with the genomes of other things.

And we are the first species that can, if we chose, create totally new forms of life. Technological human society today is almost a god, when you look at how people thought about the abilities of the gods thousands of years ago. The problem is that it's also a petty, venial, jealous and ultimately fairly stupid god, just like many of their gods were in historical religions too.

Also, we can leave the planet if we chose too.

Anyway, "Zillion" is a bit much. Homo Sapiens have been around for 100,000 years or, about 0.1 million years. So a hundred million years is only 1,000 times as long as human existence, and 10,000 times as long as recorded history. That's a long time, but it's not a zillion.

Looking it up, according to this the oceans will be gone in about a billion years, and multicellular life will be extinct in 800 million. So around 8,000 times as long as humans have been around.

Here's the other thing: remember, life has been on earth for 3.5 billion years, so if the entire 'biological timespan' of the earth was 85 years, it would already be 70 years old!

It's kind scary when you think, for example that multicellular life is only 1 billion years old. So, the earth was already more then 50% 'over' when it arised.

And intelligent life only came on the scene very late. It's entirely possible that the earth could have never evolved intelligent life, or perhaps never even evolved multicellular life. In which case there would have been no hope for it, eventually all life would have been destroyed.

Anyway, the main point is that there really isn't any 'balance', the universe doesn't give a shit about the earth, and it is entirely possible for humans to completely fuck it up.
Whether life will continue on earth after the current (as we perceive it) stasis passes is practically a given based on past evidence.
I think humans are smart enough to avoid destroying the earth. Are they changing it? Obviously. More then they should? Obviously. But they're not doing anything that would put their own survival at risk.

However. If humans, for some reason chose to try to eradicate all life on earth, they could probably do it. There are places on earth where there is no life whatsoever, such as the Atacama Desert

Again, humans are that stupid, and they're not malicious. Maybe if all of humanity got sucked into some kind of apocalyptic cult that created a consensus that life on earth should be destroyed, it could conceivably happen.

(Also, a lot of people think global warming will kill all life on earth or something. that's clearly ridiculous. But the main reason to try to stop it is that is that is going to seriously fuck with humans in general. Cause more extreme weather. flooding in some places, droughts in others rising sea levels, and so on.)

posted by delmoi at 9:32 PM on June 21, 2012


« Older Flavorwire "asked both men and women of various se...  |  Larry Ellison is buying 98% of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments