A Mother’s Perspective: Earth Summit Outcome, Rio +20


I am told that the “world came together” in Rio De Janario, June 20-23nd with the stated goals of: securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development; to assess progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development and to address new and emerging challenges. Very nice. But what does that mean to me? My understanding is that these goals weren’t actually met – do I need to be concerned? I live in the metro NYC area, and the news from the Rio Conference, even in the New York media was spotty at best. I needed to seek out information during, immediately preceding, and after the event, as it wasn’t often “front page news,” even in the New York Times. I wonder if parents in Duluth, Kansas, or Albuquerque even knew the conference was taking place if it wasn’t already on their radars?

The “outcome communiqué” from the Summit is titled “The Future We Want.” Two specific themes: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and an institutional framework for sustainable development were the focus of discussion.

Trying to follow what happened, and how it impacts my life and that of my family is confusing at best and pretty much impossible from

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the vantage point of most of my friends. I am, by virtue of past experiences, more of an “informed observer” then most of my friends and colleagues. In “another life” (didn’t we all have those before kids?) I was one of the representatives of the International Monetary Fund’s UN Office and our office followed and attended many big UN global conferences. In fact, our office worked on the preparatory process and documentation leading up to the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, although in the end I didn’t get to Rio.

The initial reactions on the outcome of the conference have been mixed at best but mostly negative, as there were no real hard and fast commitments made by governments. As a parent, representative of many of my friends and other parents in the US, I am swamped by life, work (in and out of my home), and keeping up with my children’s activities. I think however, you would have to literally have your head in the sand to not realize that something is going incredibly wrong with mother nature. “Extreme weather” has

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become the buzzword in the news, on TV, on blogs, all over the internet, at backyard BBQ’s, office water coolers and around the world. The summer of 2012 has been a summer out of a science fiction horror film or a biblical apocalyptic: floods, droughts, fires, record temperatures, rising seas, death and destruction. Scientists are telling us “this is what global warming looks like.” We know this intuitively and the scientific acknowledgement coupled with real life make it all the more real.

In a perfect world, our elected officials would have learned to “play nicely” in the sandbox with other elected officials in their own countries first, and then would be working hard to figure out a way to agree on internationally recognized goals and plans to address our changing climate and it’s implications for us all. We need to adapt and mitigate the dangers we face NOW, as our planet changes in ways and at a pace scientists don’t believe has ever happened before in the history of our world. But we know we don’t live in a perfect world, far from it. And we see that our government officials have become so partisan, that even playing in the “same sandbox” let alone on the same soccer or football field seems impossible.

So, as a “glass half full” gal, what is my take way from Rio, and hope for our future and that of our children’s? It rests on us and our acknowledgement that collectively, those of us who recognize and accept the fact that we are living in a time of climate disruption will make changes in our lives and encourage our neighbors, colleagues and elected government officials to do the same (or we won’t elect them!) It is us in

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the role of parents, concerned about our kids, business owners concerned about our supply chains and raising costs, faith based groups who are concerned about repairing the world that god left in our care, young people who see a future being created for them that they don’t want to accept, all believing the future isn’t set and that working together in our own homes, businesses and communities, we CAN get off the catastrophic path we are currently on.

There were over 30,000 people who came together in Rio and 10’s of thousands of others who joined in virtually through social media. A small fraction of these people were actually government representatives. Most people were representatives of NGOs (non governmental organizations) civil society, and business organizations. These people and organizations are actively making commitments and connections across boarders. They see and realize the need to change and are committed to do so. These people left the conference, virtually or actually, “returned to their home countries and communities and with the help of social media, which connects us all, will help those mothers and fathers in New Jersey, Minnesota and New Mexico connect the dots and realize a plan for each of us and our families.

Twenty years ago, when I was attending United Nations global conferences around the world, there were no smart phones, blogs, or social media tools. We couldn’t easily connect or share information. The world has changed, and we have changed with it. Twenty years ago NGOs and business groups were just beginning to clamor to be at these international conferences, holding their own summits, and making a few statements at the government’s table. I see that the “tables are turning” and soon it will be governments who will be clamoring to be at our tables. Our planet is demanding it. Our outcomes may be “messy” and not tied up in neat, negotiated 100% agreed upon communiqués. Mother Earth is showing us that time isn’t on our side. We have woken up. Our babies are crying and parents around the world are poised to spring into action.

My take away, my hope, my glass half full.


Climate Mama

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2 Responses to A Mother’s Perspective: Earth Summit Outcome, Rio +20

  1. CelloMom says:

    Thank you for putting it on the table plainly and succinctly: IT RESTS ON US.
    The buck stops here: in our grocery bags, at our dinner plates; at our front doors (and its location); at the cars we choose to drive; at our reproductive choices; and yes, at our Air Conditioning’s ON/OFF buttons.

    We need to take a step back, slow down, smell life. “Stepping back” is okay: we need to get away from the idea spawned by business that perpetual growth is good – or even possible. I mean, we want to see growth in our children, but it’s enough for them to reach 6’2″; we recognise in our gut that a child that never stops growing is a monstrous idea, and we need to recognise that our economies also cannot sustain exponential growth. After all, our planet is not growing.

    We do need government, because the fastest way to change is by a concerted collective effort (the example I’m most familiar with is the recent Federal CAFE rules that require higher fuel efficiency for cars; many of us are perfectly willing to buy gas sippers, but those do have to be made available for sale in the US – and they are not, currently).

    But really, we can’t wait for government to do its thing. So yes, it’s up to us.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful and informative post. Looking at things from my perspective, it looks like change is coming. But where I’m seeing the change is in forward-looking industry and local governments. I’m not incredibly impressed by the action of our federal government, but also being a “glass half-full gal”, I think there is hope — it’s just in a slightly unexpected place. I’m not giving up on the federal government, though! Still writing those letters and planning to attend the Stop the Frack Attack rally on 7/28 (not exactly climate change, but fossil fuel-related). Keep up the good work and optimism — you’re not alone!

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