Oh, goody: Yet another crucially important, last-chance climate conference

posted at 2:46 pm on June 17, 2012 by Erika Johnsen

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, otherwise known as the Rio+20 Earth Summit, is scheduled to take place this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The mega-conference is being heralded by many as perhaps “one of the most important gatherings of our generation” and “too important to fail” — yes, because we’ve never heard either of those before.

Despite the United Nation‘s frenzied scaremongering, the conference is apparently having difficulty drumming up both enthusiasm and specific goals.

Even as the effects of global warming stare delegations in the face, they are struggling to deliver anything but a process, or a promise to talk more later.

“To be honest, we aren’t expecting a great deal out of this conference,” [Canada's Environment Minister Peter Kent] said in an interview with The Canadian Press before leaving for Rio.

He said Canada and its allies are pushing for “realistic and pragmatic” outcomes, but instead see their negotiators bogged down in an unwieldy text that can’t even succinctly define “green economy” or “sustainable development.” …

It’s too easy, Kent said, for countries to adopt catchphrases at a conference that in the light of the day either mean very little, or have unintended consequences on domestic policy.

“We’re really just at a beginning point here.” …

“We just aren’t seeing people arriving in the frame of mind to make significant progress towards significant commitments. And we clearly need that.” …

The aim is create political momentum for a green economy around the world — an economy that does not destroy the environment, but also alleviates poverty and inequality.

At least they’re sort of cottoning on to the idea that prosperity and environmental quality are not mutually exclusive — quite the opposite, actually — but forcing wind and solar upon the masses is not the way to accomplish that prosperous-yet-green economy they’re striving for.
Regardless, the fact of the matter is that when the world’s worries are consumed with debt crises and fiscal sustainability, people just don’t have the time or the luxury to care about partaking in grandiose environmental mega-treaties (not that I endorse that kind of thing anyway). It’s got to be a huge blow to morale that, even though there will be over one hundred other world leaders there, the President of the United States is too busy to show up; he’s got bigger fish to fry on the international scene:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon still clings to the hope that when he convenes the G-20 summit in Los Cabos on Monday, the assembled world leaders will focus on an agenda heavy with green jobs, climate change, and policies for the developing world. But with Greece reeling, Spain tottering, and European instability threatening economic recovery around the world, Calderon might as well throw out the official agenda and be prepared for lots of talk about Europe.

And much of that talk — some of it in public, even more in private, one-one-one discussions — will come from President Obama after his Sunday night arrival from Chicago. The stakes couldn’t be higher for a president running for reelection. The worsening European instability threatens the already less-than-robust American recovery and, with that, threatens his hopes for a second term.

Calderon this week pleaded with the other leaders not to let what he called “the urgency” of the eurozone crisis “distract our attention from more important details or the most important problems for humanity.” But the leaders, who represent 90 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, are already distracted.

Last year, the G-20 summit turned out to be all about Greece’s troubles, and it looks like the same is likely to be true this year.

Environmental concerns just wane in the face of recession, and contrary to popular belief, wealthier societies are healthier societies. When people are living in poverty, burning their refuse and scratching out survival, they don’t have the time or resources to devote to stewarding their surroundings. Technology and innovation lead to people living cleaner, more efficient, as well as more productive lives. Strive for prosperity first, and environmental quality will follow.

While, in true progressive fashion, environmentalists tend to turn toward big government and global initiatives as the only means to force people to change their ways, the many inefficiencies and oversights inherent in such top-down directives are not the best way to ensure environmental quality — the secondary effects, imperfect knowledge, and unintended consequences are too myriad.

So, again, while I do not endorse big-government and/or global climate-change initiatives, let’s get our priorities in line and get our fiscal houses in order before we jump the gun with more expensive environmentalist boondoggles.


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