Geopolitics

The Failures Of Environmentalism, 20 Years After The Promises Of Rio Summit

Essay: The UN's inaugural 1992 Summit in Rio was full of hope, seen for years as a watershed in facing the dangers of ecological ruin. Now it is more clear than ever that economic priorities still rule.

Save the world! (UN Climate Change)

GENEVA - The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was a turning point for environmental activism. For the first time, countries around the world agreed to work towards sustainable development. But 20 years later, what has been done? Next week's summit will be much less ambitious.

The 1992 Earth Summit was a historic turning point for environmental, economic and development policies, because it succeeded in rallying world leaders to the idea of sustainable development. Twenty years later and a few days before the opening of the Rio +20 Summit – officially called the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – what has the Rio summit actually yielded?

After 1992, countries came around to the idea that protecting the environment, having a booming economy, and sharing resources in a fair way were the three conditions of long-term prosperity. Sustainable development was defined by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development as a "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The good thing about this definition is that it is vague enough for everyone to agree on.

Rio was a revelation for many people, and generated much enthusiasm. The summit's success owes much to the 1500 NGOs who organized a parallel conference gathering 17,000 participants. But Rio also owes a lot to the big private corporations who participated, and to the extraordinary personality of Maurice Strong. This Canadian businessman, first director of the United Nations Environment Program, a humanist, green pioneer, and living embodiment of sustainable development, organized the conference and made sure that it ran smoothly.

During the summit, 178 countries signed the "Agenda 21" blueprint for the 21st century covering all aspects affecting the environment, including poverty, consumption patterns, demography, health, climate, agriculture, forests, biodiversity, water, chemistry, waste, governance and democracy. Many people – including me – hoped that Rio 92 would pave the way for a paradigm shift and for new priorities, both economic and political, more balanced and fair, and that would use less resources. At first things were definitely headed the right way, with the signature of conventions on biological diversity and the climate, and with the creation of the Global Environment Facility, which spends $500 million a year on environmental projects.

In Switzerland, joint efforts between federal bodies for the environment, the economy, infrastructure and development have increased. I worked on the Co2 law, and went to Kyoto in 1997 and then Marrakech in 2001 to kick-start the implementation of the Climate Change Convention. But we were quickly brought down to earth.

The economy holds the cards

Today, Kyoto is dead and the Climate Change Convention is at a standstill, while emissions of greenhouse gases increase and biological diversity recedes under the pressure of deforestation, desertification, pollution, intensive agriculture and overfishing. The Millennium Goals of the UN General Assembly of 2000 and later of the Johannesburg 2002 Earth Summit just repeated and watered down the objectives adopted in 1992. Some might think that it's because environmental issues had become mainstream.

But if you look at current political programs – and to the recent French presidential campaign – you will see that the issue of sustainable development is not a priority at all. The financial difficulties in which the governments and neo-liberal economies are mired have revived old growth recipes, and set aside the fact that social justice, nature, ecosystems and environment are the foundations of long-term prosperity.

The Rio +20 Earth Summit announced its modest objectives from the beginning. The objective is not to find solutions to the great challenges the planet will face, nor to suggest a paradigm shift to restore the balance between humanity and nature. The conference wishes to promote a green economy whose only goals are building efficient and renewable techniques, and creating so-called "green jobs." The draft resolution reasserts the same main principles tirelessly rehashed since 1992, with no new ambitions. Yes, we should be talking about developing better ways to produce more while consuming less resources and energy, but we should also heed that technical progress leads automatically to an increase in consumption, often because of misguided policies (buy more to save the economy and jobs). This "rebound effect" leads to more pressure on resources, the emissions of greenhouse gases, the deterioration of nature and loss of biodiversity.

We are not talking about boycotting the Rio +20 conference, but we must be aware that, even if it's a success, the conference won't implement the profound changes our society needs to reach its sustainable development objectives: fulfilling our essential needs, the flourishing of our society and a real ecological transition. All of this is incompatible with the ideology of economic and demographic growth which dominates today's world.

*Philippe Roch was part of the Swiss delegation to Rio 1992 and has represented Switzerland in international negotiations on the environment as an expert on environmental protection.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - UN Climate Change

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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