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photo of Prince Charles
Prince Charles

I am quite impressed with the stance taken by Prince Charles on the ‘critical issues of the day’ in a video address about the Rio+20 world summit starting this week. He says that we cannot continue to ignore the peril we are in. We are sleepwalking, seemingly waiting for the worse to happen, ignoring the dire warning signs. Mankind is nearing the time when it will be too late to act.

Like a sleepwalker, we seem unable to wake up to the fact that so many of the catastrophic consequences of carrying on with ‘business-as-usual’ are bearing down on us faster than we think, already dragging many millions more people into poverty and dangerously weakening global food, water and energy security for the future.

Three things need to happen to make Rio+20 a success. The denial industry must cease its activities, common sense has to prevail and world leaders must emerge from the Summit with the commitment to act.

The Denial Industry

Deniers need to take a week off. Deniers the world over, usually sponsored by strong special interest groups – like the fossil-fuel industries – constantly feed on the insecurities and fears of the masses by dwelling on the economic downturn that will supposedly result from switching to renewable sources of energy. Of course, the opposite is true. Many countries have created 1000’s of jobs by focusing on a greener economy.

Common Sense

Beyond all the posturing, the negotiating, the back-room discussions and public statements for political gain, Rio+20 can only succeed if  a thread of ‘common sense’ prevails. The reality is that little has really been accomplished since the 1992 Rio World Summit. Mankind cannot simply continue making empty promises to itself from conference to world summit to conference and then continue with ‘business as usual’ the day after meetings end.

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO-5) Report, just published by the U.N., sounds the alarm.“Of the 90 most important environmental goals in existence, only four are making significant progress…even mandatory targets have made little or no progress since 1992” claims the report. See previous blog post.

Elizabeth May

As Elizabeth May says on CBC`s Quirks & Quarks, “Canada’s current environmental record and policies are more like Rio Minus 40, rather than Rio Plus 20″.  Ms. May, now the leader of Canada’s Green Party and a Member of Parliament, was an advisor to the Canadian delegation to the Rio Summit 20 years ago. She says “there was an enormous sense of pride in being Canadian at that summit, but today the world sees us as “a country that has gone rogue on our environmental commitments.”

In the proverbial ‘fork in the road’ scenario where one road is fraught with danger, catastrophic outcomes, possible extinction and despair, and the other road provides hope, a cleaner environment, a better quality of life, and survival of our species, which one would you choose? It’s only Common Sense.

Time for Action

As the forces of war were gathering and as the threat from Hitler was mounting, Winston  Churchill observed how it was a time of paradoxes.

So we go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent. (November 12, 1936, Hansard).

Humanity now finds itself in a similar predicament. We cannot plead ignorance of the consequences of our action. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. The impacts are well understood. Using Churchill’s sense of foreboding, Prince Charles reiterates:

That we are resolved to be resolutely adamant for drift …. once the worse does happen, I’m afraid that this time around it will be too late to act at all.

It is, perhaps, a trait of human nature to act only when the worst happens, but that is not a trait we can afford to rely on here.

At the first Rio Earth Summit, environmental science set the agenda to prevent further damage to a changing planet. This time, the priorities are more about saving humanity from itself.

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  1. The importance of Rio+20 cannot be overstated. In spite of the cynicism and expressions of “more of the same”, one has to believe that at some point sanity and common sense will prevail or am I being simplistic and overly naive?


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