“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.”
—Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732
One might hope that when a number of world leaders and/or their representatives get together at an international summit to address a variety of environmental issues that affect our entire planet, some reasonable headway might be accomplished.
I certainly hoped for that. Although I would never have bet money on it. As I address in my book, no one nation is prepared to stick its neck out unless everyone is going to be sharing the pain equally. And that’s difficult to define. Or enforce.
Last week at the Rio+20 summit, it would seem little was accomplished. What is concerning to most is that the draft document entitled “The Future We Want” was ratified largely unchanged form its original state. Negotiation didn’t take place. Progress wasn’t achieved. In other words, people from all over the world flew into Rio for little more than photo opportunities.
Some of the responses to the final outcome document are as follows:
“The summit has gone the Copenhagen way, with lots of fuss and no concrete outcome. This place was virtually invaded by the representatives of the corporate world — the drivers of today’s unsustainable human consumption.” Soumya Dutta, India People’s Science Forum quoted in The Hindu.
Or this one:
“We’ve sunk so low in our expectations that reaffirming what we did 20 years ago is now considered a success.” Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre.
One key message was that any progress is worthwhile, and that even more will be accomplished at Rio+40, and Rio+60. But to most people concerned with what’s happening to our planet’s climate, that’s simply not soon enough. Hanna Thomas, a delegate from the United Kingdom walked out of the conference as did many who were frustrated with the lack of any accomplishment. She explained her actions this way: “I left this process, not because I am hopeless, but because I have work to do. And our leaders, our governments, are getting in the way.”
Some people look to portions of the final outcome document and consider that not everything about Rio+20 was a disaster. Just making mention of previously ignored ecosystems like oceans, mountains, deserts, and small island developing states is being considered a form of success. In other words, just being mentioned in the document is supposed to offer a better opportunity for governments to turn those words into actions.
And that’s really what it boils down to: turning words into actions. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that I frequently refer to in talks I give. It goes like this:
Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.
Although cautionary in tone, you can take out the key words and turn it into a positive message.
It would appear that those involved in the Rio+20 summit are at the “words” portion of this spectrum. And they’re hoping that individual governments are willing to move along to the “actions” segment.
I think we all have to do a lot better than that. Perhaps if governments are incapable of it, then it’s up to each of us as individuals to make sure we go beyond thoughts and words, and turn our actions into habits that shape the character of our species, and ultimately our destiny.
Our future depends on it. Not at Rio+40 or Rio+60. Right now.