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The World Summit on Sustainable Development,
August 17, 2002 11:52 PM   Subscribe

The World Summit on Sustainable Development, aka "Earth Summit II," will start soon in Johannesburg, ten years after the Rio Earth Summit. Have things improved at all in the last ten years? While there are some reasons to be optimistic, the data isn't cheerful. Our climate is growing unstable; tens of millions are dying or likely to die, and hundreds of millions more likely to be made refugees, because of environmental pollution and degraded ecosystems; and half the plants and animals on the planet seem headed for extinction over the next century. In short, things are grim. What steps, big or small, are you taking to do your part for the environment?
posted by AlexSteffen (30 comments total)

 
I'm going to pray that more volcanoes don't erupt and spew lots of gas and debris into the atmosphere. It's the best I can do, besides whipping out the shades and the sun-tan lotion. You know what? I'm ready for Ohio to have several hundred miles of ocean-front beach property.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:56 PM on August 17, 2002


I'm going to assume that your post is the product of a mixture of thinly-cloaked dispair and gallows humor, because it's much more pleasant than assuming that you're an amoral little fool.
posted by AlexSteffen at 12:05 AM on August 18, 2002


I apologize for being cavalier, but that's how I feel about it. Amoral? I dunno, I got morals, I just don't use em all the time. The rest of your accusations about me are debatable.

This end of the world stuff has been preached since the seventies. We were supposed to be underwater by now. When I'm fifty (If I make it) and we're underwater, then you'll have me agreeing with your every point.

I understand to some people these issues are of the utmost importance (it's like a religion for the unreligious), but I think in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years, we will be hearing the same things, from different people.

As for environmental concerns which affect me locally, like the quality of my drinking water and the environmental quality of indoor air, yes, I am interested in those things which I may have some modicum of control over.
posted by insomnyuk at 12:29 AM on August 18, 2002


Apparently Blair isn't having much luck convincing Bush to attend. Somehow I'm not surprised. Poor Tony.
posted by homunculus at 12:35 AM on August 18, 2002


I believe that a certain segment of the scientific community has exaggerated man's impact on the planet, in many cases to further a political agenda.

There is definitely not a universal consensus about global warming, but media outlets act as if it is already a proven fact beyond debate; sorry, but it isn't so.

In the eighties we were faced with a new "ice age" or "nuclear winter", now it's "global warming". I recall reading a few years ago that one of the major problems for the ozone layer was the methane generated by cow dung all over the world - just too many cows (which no one recommended be destroyed, by the way). Don't hear much about that anymore. It's best not to get too worried about these media creations.

Of course, I don't recommend trashing the environment; everyone can take reasonable steps to prevent waste and needless pollution. Enough, however, with all the panic...
posted by declaim at 12:48 AM on August 18, 2002


Every evolutionary algorithm has a trophic factor, even if it's only expressed through the limitations of the hardware.

As a species we're not going to 'use up' every resource on the planet unless we start throwing things skyward at more than 11.186km/s.

Instead, we 'die back' when we stress the things within our environment that are important to our survival to the point where they can't sustain our population. If we die back far enough we become extinct...

... otherwise the resource-rich buy future beach-front property in Utah. After we're settled I suggest we form a charity where we give a dollar per month to the poor saps who couldn't afford better real estate... that'll make it all better.
posted by snarfodox at 1:36 AM on August 18, 2002


some more reading material regarding this conference. thanks to adbusters.

i'm young, i don't know how such ideas got into my head, but i'm thoroughly convinced that this summit will accomplish nothing but give world "leaders" and CEOs a stage to preach about how eco-friendly they are, with fingers crossed behind their backs.
posted by fore at 4:31 AM on August 18, 2002


an amoral little fool
you rang?
posted by quonsar at 5:41 AM on August 18, 2002


I understand to some people these issues are of the utmost importance (it's like a religion for the unreligious), but I think in 10, 20, 30 or 50 years, we will be hearing the same things, from different people. -insomnyuk

But insomnyuk, what's wrong with wanting to take care of our environment? You make it sound as though it's a foolish endeavor and a waste of time. No offense, but your statements come across as being selfish and uncaring.

Even if you don't believe what the media and certain scientists are saying regarding environmental doom, it certainly can't hurt to walk or bike more often, recycle and reuse, use energy-efficient equipment in your home and buy local produce whenever possible, to name just a few of the many things we can do. At the very least, many of these things will in the long run save you money.

The problem lies more with big companies, though, than with us. It's Industry that causes the major portion of pollution and waste, and while they have conceded to some things, they all say that it would cost them too much to go the whole route. The rampant over-use of fossil fuels and the support government has for this is also a huge problem that they are seemingly unwilling to change. Silly fools.
posted by ashbury at 5:48 AM on August 18, 2002


Some folks are keeping track of abuse and plan law suites in 5 to 10 years ala Big Tobacco. emissions reduction is shaping up as a "clear liability issue" for corporate managements and boards.
posted by stbalbach at 6:48 AM on August 18, 2002


Gandhi said, "whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is extremely important that you do it."

Rather than wringing our hands about "it's all over," it might be more instructive to look at things like The Sustainable Development Gateway and get a sense of how people all over the world are coming up with a variety of environmental protection strategies.
posted by sheauga at 8:02 AM on August 18, 2002


ashbury: The problem lies more with big companies, though, than with us.

No, I think you had it right the first time. The problem is first and foremost the exact type of apathy you point out. Then, the actions of big companies, which might be better watched and countered if there weren't so much... apathy.
posted by argybarple at 8:37 AM on August 18, 2002


i think if we all live in earthships we'll be okay :) and commute by segway!
posted by kliuless at 8:59 AM on August 18, 2002


Ach! Caught again with improperly stating my case.

I simply meant that the biggest offenders are the big companies. They are the ones that contribute the most to much of the needless waste and pollution and generally don't care much about their destruction of the environment.

But yes, I completely agree that if more people decided to get on the backs of the big corporations, more would be done. I'm as guilty as the next person for not contacting big companies regarding their environmental policies, but maybe it's a good time to start.

Perhaps you can ask the target company of your choice if they have adopted the CERES Principles.

Also, for those who don't know where to start conserving at home, here (page down to the Preventing Pollution at Home bit)

the above links come from the Pennsylvania Dept of Environmental Protection
posted by ashbury at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2002


It is an important issue, and the fact that scientists and business and governments all disagree on whether our actions have impact on the environment pales as I sit here sweating....

I think most of us have seen the loss of snow in winter, and hotter summers. There are 6-8 year-olds that have never been sledding. I was told a while ago that here in NY we're getting DC's weather and that Boston is now getting NY weather...
posted by amberglow at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2002


I live in Texas and the weather is inhumane. I wouldn't stay here except that my 3-yr-old daughter is here and her dad gets to decide where she lives, not me.

I agree with what fore said - lots of talk, little action. They're looking for plausible deniability, so later on they can whine "but...but... we tried to avert disaster - we even held summits and everything!"

Of course, I'm sure there are people involved with the summit who mean what they say and really do give a shit about sustainability, but they aren't the ones in power, unfortunately.

I sometimes take the cynical misanthropic view and think that we deserve what we get as a species, and take a gleeful schadenfreude-ish delight in imagining things crumbling and falling down around our heads, but when it comes down to it, I get pissed off at the people who continue to allow it all to happen.

And I get especially pissed off at the greedy thugs at the top who profit hugely from this mess.

At any rate, it's going to get ugly, and I predict sooner rather than later. But then, I'm a doomsayer - I thought y2k was going to be disastrous (I even bought at least a hundred pounds of food to prepare), and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Sometimes I think about what I'd like to do if I were a gozillionaire: buy up huge swaths of land, and set up sustainable villages on them, open kickass schools and organic farms and all sorts of spiffy stuff.

Plus, of course, theme parks to suck cash out of the pockets of the doped-up masses. :)

Of course, those are just dreams, and I gotta start making money here soon.

It's gonna be a scary ride, kids, hold on to your hats. And here's a tip: learn how to garden, it might save your life someday (this is something I've gotta work on myself).
posted by beth at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2002


ashbury: The problem lies more with big companies, though, than with us. It's Industry that causes the major portion of pollution and waste, and while they have conceded to some things, they all say that it would cost them too much to go the whole route.


By and large, though, "big companies" will sell items people want, at prices people will accept. If you don't care for a company's behavior, don't patronize them. Write to them and explain why you buy from a competitor.



Business will change when enough people decide that this is a serious problem and vote with their dollars.
posted by Ayn Marx at 10:16 AM on August 18, 2002


But the people are trained to be good shoppers, not good thinkers. So only a tiny, tiny percentage will ever care where their goods come from, or at what cost (human and environmental).

The only way to win, imho, is to start offering products that are not only better and cheaper, but that are also more friendly to the workers and the earth.

Also, prettier and more fashionable and just generally being cooler helps.
posted by beth at 10:19 AM on August 18, 2002


I believe that a certain segment of the scientific community has exaggerated man's impact on the planet, in many cases to further a political agenda.

Yes, it's possible some scientist have exaggerated some trends, and the media certainly have done so, but the trends are still there. As David Appel (see July 19th entry) points out about the controversy over Alaska's warming, even if the warming is only 2.7F, as the Alaska Climate Research Center claims, it's still a huge increase.
posted by slipperywhenwet at 10:40 AM on August 18, 2002


This end of the world stuff has been preached since the seventies. We were supposed to be underwater by now.
Or in an ice age, or considering draconian laws to deal with massive overpopulation or coping with critical depletion of fossil fuels, minerals and metals. (Note to self - if Paul Ehrlich makes another bet, take it)



Even if you ignore the people who are trying to portray their anti-development tastes as scientific necessity (e.g. sustainability means 90% population die-off but they realize most people wouldn't go for that, so it got a more marketable name), there's still a ton of hype. I think too many in the environmental movement have an ends justify the means mentality which leads them to try scaring people into doing the "right" thing:



Stephen Schneider made a widely quoted comment about this:

“On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but - which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to
offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.”
Even taking those last statements at face value there are too many in the environmental movement who are not so thoughtful about the consequences of exaggeration. People have been hearing frequently-changing dire predictions for the last three decades, very few of which have turned out to be correct - in general, the larger the claims the less accurate they turned out to be. Now the general public is starting to tune them all out, which doesn't bode well for the legitimate concerns.



This started when some people started treating environmentalism more as religion than science, with the same problems we've seen with true believers everywhere else. Once you stop the cycle of self-criticism and correction and start the hype and proselytization, you cease to be a vehicle for useful change.


posted by adamsc at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2002


This end of the world stuff has been preached since the seventies. We were supposed to be underwater by now.

it's like those financial disclaimers: past performance gives no indication of future returns, or some such :) (buyer beware!)
posted by kliuless at 11:11 AM on August 18, 2002


Yeah, add to that informed consent for medical procedures, end-user license agreements, terms & conditions statements, contract to sell your soul to the devil...

all just a bunch of hooey to glance over before you sign on the dotted line, so it doesn't mean anything.
posted by beth at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2002


It doesn't matter that scare-mongering is the rule on environmental stories....I think if everyone sits back and takes a look at their own community and history--changes are evident.

I'm most affected by the more personal stories that have been coming out of Alaska and Canada (people and their lives being affected by the change in animal migration/feeding grounds, permafrost melting, etc....) Whether those stories were made available to me as part of a scare tactic or for fund-raising purposes for an environmental group is irrelevant. All over the world climate/weather/temperature changes are being noticed--the reasons behind me hearing about them shouldn't take precedence over the changes themselves.
posted by amberglow at 11:28 AM on August 18, 2002


There is definitely not a universal consensus about global warming, but media outlets act as if it is already a proven fact beyond debate; sorry, but it isn't so.

The earth is quite a bit warmer than it should be (for our distance from the Sun) without an atmosphere containing CO2. Global warming is a fact and no competent scientist believes otherwise. It is specifically known that CO2 has a causal relationship; that is to say, it is known that CO2 is the cause of the anomolously high temperature of earth's atmosphere and is not, say, a benign indicator. It is also known that mean atmospheric CO2 levels have increased steadily for several decades.

What is debateable is the causal relationship of man. Is CO2 increasing because of human-related emissions or is it increasing in line with a natural cycle? Is abnormal global warming occuring because of the increasing CO2 (Here, the simple answer is YES but offsetting factors have not been established...like greater radiative heat loss).
posted by plaino at 11:39 AM on August 18, 2002


plaino, you are right.

But, I think in these debates that the phrase 'global warming' has become shorthand for 'increasingly abnormal warming of the earth caused by presence of un-natural CO2 levels particularly created by human industries with no known offsetting factor' and sometimes 'with dire unforeseeable and irreversible consequences'
posted by vacapinta at 12:26 PM on August 18, 2002


hey, i was just reading this review of cradle to cradle about how the seeming trade-off between Growth and the Environment, where some f(G,E) = some constant level of sustainable development (or a threshold? above which the system collapses?) is really a false dichotomy!

i know intelligent design is a dirty word, but environmental design just might be able to clean things up, keke :) like optimally, E + D could increase the constant or something.
posted by kliuless at 1:51 PM on August 18, 2002


Alex,
we just got a new AC that uses Puron instead of freon.
Several yrs ago we got the neptune washer so we use less water.
I recycle everything the city will take.
We use a mulching lawnmower.
We drive small vehicles.
I'm going to start a compost pile this fall.
Wind power is not available in my area or I would have signed up yesterday.
And last but not least, I refuse to wear polyester.
posted by redhead at 5:36 PM on August 18, 2002


If industrialized countries want to do something to protect the environment, then why don't they put their money where their mouth is and link trade and development aid to projects which take into account the impact on the environment. Maybe then we can stop the developing countries from making some of the same mistakes made in the industrialized world.
Making money and being environmentally aware are not mutually exclusive.
posted by delboy_trotter at 5:07 AM on August 19, 2002


The consensus on global warming is pretty darn near global, unless you read studies funded by petroleum interests.

Interesting thing that most people don't understand, is that global warming will actually contribute to global cooling, as Icecaps melt, the increased amount of water will actually cool down the plannet.
posted by prodigalsun at 4:32 PM on August 19, 2002


Interesting thing that most people don't understand, is that global warming will actually contribute to global cooling, as Icecaps melt, the increased amount of water will actually cool down the plannet

Do you have a reference for this? Will this offset the increased absorption of heat from the sun as we lose white, icy, reflective surfaces?
posted by vacapinta at 6:56 PM on August 19, 2002


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