Planet Earth on Life Support – Rio as ER?

Yunpeng Du ’14 and Xiangyu Zhao ’14E are co-authors of this article.

We humankind live on a beautiful globe, yet we have repeatedly abused our relationship with nature and failed to appreciate the bountiful planet that has been ever so patient and generous in nurturing us, a strong yet fragile species.
The world is facing a mounting crisis. Under a combination of a global financial crisis, a food crisis, volatile oil prices, accelerating ecosystem degradation and an increasing number of climate-induced extreme weather events, compassion has risen and groups of people began to fight for their own rights to a better world. Behind these tragedies and efforts at redemption looms a theme of immeasurable importance: we must control and harness the forces which we have ourselves created. Every nation has its own right to reap appropriate benefits from what nature has to offer; but if these forces for the exploitation of the environment are allowed to suckle at Mother Nature’s breasts without restraint, Man’s insatiable desire will exhaust the Earth’s bounty and bring ruin upon itself. Burning issues such as the sustainable enrichment of humanities and ultimate concern for nature are now embodied by and etched into a proper noun whose prominence will rise in the coming weeks during RIO+20.

The story of Rio goes back to 1992. The U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) realized that the ultimate goal of sustainable development could never be fully achieved by governments alone. Individuals from all walks of life — business sectors and industries, colleges and universities, labs and construction sites, as well as governments and non-governmental organizations — all need to play their parts in laying out and maintaining a sustainable path of development and enrichment for us and our offspring. The U.N. is again mustering officials, international institutions and major groups “to agree on a range of smart measures that can reduce poverty while promoting decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.” Society needs to advance, but with only with great wisdom, understanding and most important of all, vision. Anxious as we are to eliminate poverty, hunger, diseases, racial discriminations and glaring economic inequalities between classes, the crux of the problem is that we need a new, different approach towards ‘development.’ The environmental crises that have transpired represent the vengeance of nature upon greedy, unbridled plundering of the environment; how we interact with the Earth is a reflection of how qualified we are to be a part of this biosphere. On the 13th of June this year, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) will commence preparatory meetings and dialogue on sustainable development, culminating in the official Summit on the 20th to 22nd of June 2012, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment that took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro. These constructive sessions will take place at the Rio Centro Convention Centre with numerous side events occurring on the grounds of the Exhibition Centre. In addition, valuable opportunities for stakeholders to organize UNCSD-related activities will be available outside the Rio Centro Convention Center (so called off-site events) at various venues in the City of Rio de Janeiro. Nicknamed the Rio+20, or the Earth Summit 2012, due to the initial conference having been held in Rio in 1992, the primary objectives of the Earth Summit will be: securing extended political commitment to sustainable development, assessing progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development and addressing new and emerging challenges. Two additional specific themes are also to be expounded at the conference: building a green economy in conjunction with poverty eradication and developing an institutional framework for sustainable development.

A number of auxiliary workshops are also to be delivered; meetings and events revolving around the summit will occur throughout Rio. Many of the formal events can only be attended by ‘Major Groups’ accredited and registered through the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and armed with official ground passes. However, there will be extensive media coverage and numerous related events to keep the whole world informed. The future of Planet Earth will not be kept behind the walls of the convention halls; the severity of environmental degradation and any imminent or inevitable implications shall be fully discussed, freshly packaged and broadcasted around the globe.

Indeed, with myriad global environmental issues staring us in the face, we cannot afford to wait for the complete alignment of opinions and interests within and beyond the scientific and political sectors. Here, time is our enemy. Only through combining forces in tackling the same dire environmental issues, forging ahead in the same direction and pooling our creativity and resources in resolving the same crises can we recover the stunningly beautiful image of Earth in memories from halcyon days. The powerful image of Earth shot by astronauts in Apollo 11 presents an energetic, solitary, fragile sphere rising above the horizon of the moon, providing a home and sustaining the livelihood of all human beings. From this holistic and far-sighted (both figuratively and literally) perspective, it is impossible to discern the boundaries of nations and all the other artificial barriers that divide mankind. Our common dependence on the health of our Earth and our common interest in ensuring its responsible and sustainable stewardship transcend gulfs in nationality, race or religion. We must unshackle ourselves from our divisions, greed and fears to strive toward a common goal of resuscitating an already extenuated and overexploited Earth.