I confess to my shame that I didn’t follow the Rio+20 summit very closely. That was a mistake. In place of the simple show trotting out nicely dressed ‘indigenous peoples’ and featuring solemn faced politicians cheering on the breeding activities of endangered species I expected, we got a genuinely important event. At Rio the world’s governments gave up on the world they govern. As George Monbiot says in an insightful piece in yesterday’s Guardian, we witnessed what could be ” the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war.” Upon reflection, I think Monbiot was being kind to the world’s governments. In 1914 Europe’s leaders fumbled short sightedly into massive killing and political upheaval in Europe. The damage caused by their negligence was largely limited to Europe. This year, in Rio, the world leaders, fully informed of the consequences of what they were doing, chose economic growth over planetary survival. The damage of this negligence is and will continue to be world wide. The image that comes to mind is the Titanic deliberately aiming for the iceberg in order to get some novel coolers for passengers’ drinks.
The main stream media loves to present the collapse of the earth’s climate as an economic issue (Can we afford clean energy? What does peak oil mean for The Market?), a scientific question (So, just how close is total disaster?), and a very personal look at the future (What will my life be like in 20 years? What about my children and grandchildren?). It is seldom presented as the moral issue it is at heart.
We like to say that we have become conscious of our place in earth’s ecology, that we are one life form among many that together form the web of earth’s life. Yet we maintain an almost narcissistic fixation on the impact of change on us and our progeny. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that a choice between the extinction of the fruit-fly and the eradication of the human race is a coin flip. But we are living beings and life is a core value, perhaps the core value, we must protect. The extinction of tuna would not simply mean we have to find something else to mix with mayonnaise and spread on toast. It would mean the death of another part of our ecosystem in the same way that a murder means the death of another part of our humanity. We must learn to see and act in context.
The world’s governments have made a series of deeply immoral decisions that are nicely represented by the Rio+20 final document. They have decided that economic growth is more important than life.