As Rio+20 Approaches, Pleas For Less Language Squabbling & More Respecting Indigenous Wisdom

Kevin Dooley/CC BY 2.0

Closed-door negotiations in the lead-up to the Rio+20 environment conference (now six weeks away) have closed, without a consensus being reached on what's going to be agreed to—is that any great shock to anyone, given the way climate negotiations have gone in the past several years.

With that in mind, I want you to read a bit of two important commentary pieces on Rio+20, one by TckTckTck's Kelly Rigg and one by Yes! Magazine co-founder David Korten.

Rigg first.

Kelly writes in Huffington Post, commenting on the seemingly bizarre niggling over language in the so-called "zero draft" document:

The document currently stands at 128 pages, rife with bracketed text, which in negotiating terms means "not yet agreed" (and which really means, "I'm not giving up on this position until I extract some blood from you in return"). And I'm not just talking about the hard stuff; you're all jockeying for position even in the simplest statements.

Take the Preambular text, for example, which refers to the need to eradicate poverty. The US only wants to eradicate "extreme" poverty, whereas developing countries not surprisingly want to delete that qualification. One can only assume this is part of a more general negotiating stance (pervasive throughout the text, and in other negotiations for that matter) in which the US wants to do away with the distinctions made at the first Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago between rich and poor countries.

President Obama, we get that you're concerned about the US losing its competitive advantage in relation to new powerhouses such as China, Brazil and India, but how can you look us in the eye and say that any level of poverty is okay? And what are your negotiators thinking when they propose deleting the word "clean" from the sentence "we reaffirm our commitments regarding the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation"?

Rigg doesn't just point a finger at President Obama though, she also has words for developing nations (who need to recognize too that they need to get on board with commitments to low-carbon energy and not just stand behind historical obligations to combat climate change) and the EU (who have tried to eliminate language on fisheries reform, no doubt under domestic political pressure).

Read it all, it's worth it: The Future We Want (But Won't Get Unless You Pull Your Socks Up)

Now Korten, who eloquently argues that we mustn't let Rio+20 commodify nature (really continue to do so...), saying that what's going on is really two competing worldviews, the Contemporary Western perspective versus the Traditional Indigenous perspective.

Korten says the former "leads further down the scorched Earth path we are currently on," while the latter "leads to the path to a viable and prosperous human future."

In Korten's perspective the differences between the two come down to differences of perception of time, relationships and place. It's an interesting insight, but a bit two detailed for a bloggish summary.

More succinctly, the Western perspective is:

The affirmation and celebration of extreme individualism, instant self-gratification, and alienation from one another and nature characteristic of the contemporary Western worldview resonates with the primitive core of the human brain, commonly known as the reptilian brain. This is the site of our most basic, individualistic, and predatory hide, fight, or flight survival instincts unmediated by the more highly evolved mammalian brain that is the source of our human capacity for compassion and bonding and the neocortical brain where our distinctive human capacity for self-awareness and reason resides. Suppressing our capacity for reason, we raise the pursuit of money to the status of a sacred mission, failing to notice that money is nothing but a number of no intrinsic value and that we are destroying the real wealth of people, community, and nature to grow the numbers on financial asset statements.

Whereas, in opposition, the Indigenous perspective is more communal:

There is good reason why the wisdom at the heart of the traditional indigenous worldview strikes a deep and appealing chord in the human psyche. Modern science is now telling us what indigenous wisdom keepers have known and taught across countless generations. We humans evolved over millions of years to live and prosper in community with one another and nature. Our happiness and sense of well-being depend in substantial measure on our connection to nature and a caring community. Science now acknowledges that the Original Instructions are, in effect, genetically encoded into the more highly evolved mammalian and human centers of our brain. 

Read more, it too is very worthwhile: A Plea for Rio+20: Don't Commodify Nature

Tags: Economics | Rio+20 | United Nations

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