Rio: deja vu all over again...

Last updated 15:15 21/06/2012

"You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, my children and my children's children. And I start the clock now."

So said New Zealand teenager Brittany Trilford as she kicked off the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, named Rio +20 - being held two decades after the first and crucial Earth Summit

There's been a lot of talk about the Rio +20 summit - the world's chance to look back on the past two decades as a planet, and to measure what we've achieved and what we haven't. 

The guts of the Rio Summit then and now was simply that we must move forward as a planet in a way that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The subtext is that we must live now in a way that doesn't rip off our kids. With a growing human population programmed to hit nine billion by 2050 and climate change now thought to be approaching the point of no return in terms of our ability to make enough changes to slow it down - this conference is "do or die" time.The elephant in the living room

Scientists believe that the elephant in the room is overconsumption and population growth, and that until those issues are tackled (rich countries will have to learn to consume less, and poorer countries will need to get a handle on contraception) - then the goals of sustainable development will never be achieved.

The Future We Want declaration has raised a lot of angst because, essentially, it's a fluff piece. The word “encourage” appears 50 times, the phrase “we will” only five; “support” is used 99 times, “must” just three. That kind of language is pretty telling. 

In New Zealand, a lot has happened since the original Rio Summit. When the first Rio conference was held, just 50 kakapo were left on the planet. Fast-forward to now, and there are 126. This has taken vast dedication, technology, money and a partnership between DOC, Forest & Bird and the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter. This is a good thing, but with regard to everything else, check out WWF's Beyond Rio report released last month.

Without well-funded large-scale predator control, we are running out of safe islands for kakapo. Around 3000 of our native species are now classified as threatened. In the past two decades, we've also rapidly and recklessly intensified our farming practices, particularly dairy farming, which has contributed to 96 per cent of our lowland rivers becoming unswimmable, 43 per cent of our lakes polluted, and two-thirds of our native freshwater fish programmed for extinction by 2050. We have increased our carbon emissions by 20 per cent, and we have the dubious honour of being home to the world's rarest marine dolphin, with only 55 Maui dolphins remaining. Our New Zealand sea lions, once found all around our coastlines, have been relegated to a sub-Antarctic island, where our squid fishery is driving them to extinction within the next 23 years.

That's all a bit depressing, BUT...there are solutions and plenty of them. There's also a good opportunity here for New Zealand to beef up our environmental cred, and make a lot of money from it. Don't believe me? Ask Pure Advantage. This group of some of New Zealand's best and brightest CEOs wants NZ to walk the walk, because they know that's our economic advantage and that's how we can make a profit and be a prosperous nation. What we lack is political will.

What is it going to take for us as a nation to realise that we are running out of time? That for our safe future, our economy, our brand reputation, but most important our children and our children's children, we must act now. That might mean some unpalatable changKids plantinges for us.

How do you feel about living with less stuff, for example? What things do you already do to reduce your impact? Does it make a difference if nobody else is doing it? What do you reckon needs to happen to make sure future Kiwis get the same habitat we did?

Back to Brittany Trilford. The urgency of the Rio + 20 Summit and the need for political action were beautifully summed up by her when she said:

"Are you here to save face, or are you here to save us?"


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gazza   #1   03:50 pm Jun 21 2012

I think I can live with less stuff and its something i am working on.

I think some of the biggest challenges facing NZ for a sustainable future are:

1) imporving the condition of our waterways 2) better exotic species control (more funding for DOC would probably help here) 3) Fostering a appreciation for the natural environment in future generations. A lot of kinds nowdays view "the outdoors" as almost a abstract concept, removed from their own lives. 4) Pushing for more sustainable, renewable energy generation methods and trying to remove our dependance on fossil fuels (including trying to move away from petrol dependancy for transport)

Riaan   #2   04:24 pm Jun 21 2012

I like the statement:

"How do you feel about living with less stuff, for example?"

It's hard to try and pick two thing. And if it's hard for me, how does the poor pleb feel trying to make a desision for a country/city/community. It's bloody hard, and I took a short-cut on both of my examples below.. problem is, there's always a "BUT"...

My examples: I can live without my car, but public transport needs to be better and cheaper. I can live without junk food, but would like restaurant prices to drop.

Mere   #3   04:52 pm Jun 21 2012

Don’t believe the scientific hype... I’d prefer population growth to be the elephant in the room than the red herring that it is...the relationship between scarce resources and over-population is at best tenuous and at worst, a total fallacy and scapegoat for the iniquitous management of global food supplies. Aggressive industrial agricultural practice, a brutal export driven market and an overwhelming laissez faire mentality means the world’s food resources- of which there is enough produced for all- will never reach those who need it most and certainly not sustainably. Population growth is already declining and projected to stabilize over the coming 100 years. The Rio+20 delegates would be better placed investing their efforts on enabling better access to reproductive rights (as opposed to obstructing it through population control), and regulating the horrific environmental impacts of industrial agriculture and deforestation.

Alan_Wilkinson   #4   04:58 pm Jun 21 2012

It doesn't matter a hoot what climate change is "thought" to be approaching. It only matters what is real and so much climate change "science" has been shown to be shonky proselytizing that their alarmist predictions have no credibility. Neither has the economic analysis that purported to favour prevention over adaptation.

I'm perpetually unimpressed with what you want other people to do. Only what you do yourself carries weight and represents reality.

sarah   #5   05:03 pm Jun 21 2012

I have never ever agreed with anything as much in my life as this statement here. rich countries will have to learn to consume less, and poorer countries will need to get a handle on contraception. This is so true! untill this happens nothing will improve and pollution/climate change will only get worse.

farmer ted   #6   11:12 pm Jun 21 2012

Good on you Nicola. A strong mix of warnings and hope. Couldn't get past your opening statement - "we must live in a way that doesn't rip off our kids" - without pausing for thought. We first have to learn how to live in a way without ripping each other off on a daily basis, or we are doomed as a species. The voracious appetite of greed will not be satisfied, and ignorance of our place in the natural world will hasten our demise. Someone will eat the last whale, fell the last tree, drain the last river. Never mind - the world will keep spinning through the seasons, new life will evolve, the land and the oceans will recover without us. Mankind's place on the planet is but a tiny blip in time - a unique opportunity so quickly squandered. Meanwhile, let us slow down on this race to destruction. Make do with less, treat others with kindness, and invest in our children.

Charlotte   #7   01:16 am Jun 22 2012

Hm. I dunno. I feel like the people who spend their whole lives making sure they have the latest ipad + iphone + whatever, are a lot more taxing on the environment than some extra living breathing humans, who could at least contribute to the planet's well-being if they chose to. We could probably support a lot more people on the planet if we stuck to the 2300 calories a day we're recommended to eat.

Koala   #8   05:03 pm Jun 22 2012

Re Alan Wilkinsons comments. This chap has his head buried so deep in the sand that he can no longer add anything useful to this discussion or any of the others that he tries to dominate. I suggest we ignore him . Go Brittany!

Alan_Wilkinson   #9   08:17 pm Jun 22 2012

Koala, I don't think my head's in the sand but Britanny's is certainly in the clouds. 72 hours in Rio are not going to decide the fate of anyone's children. Utter fantasy.

And no-one else is going to save you if you can't save yourself. I'm always happy to debate facts and science, just not religious beliefs - which is what far too much "environmentalism" amounts to.

Alan_Wilkinson   #10   01:56 pm Jun 23 2012

This is a good dissection of the kind of uninformed drivel that so often discredits environmental activism:

That such drivel passes without comment and correction from our major "environmental" organisations shows that they also disregard fact, truth and honesty in pursuit of their "noble purpose".

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