Position Cousteau - Rio +20

20 June 2012

Sorry "Captain Planet"... 20 years later, Utopia is being choked!


Since the Copenhagen conference on climate change, as international environmental summits go by one after the other, we get the unpleasant feeling that we are witnessing a series of environmental “Munich conferences". In 1938 in Munich, the Nazi threat and anti-humanist’s foul claims were not sufficient to mobilize the world to counter a destructive logic that would lead to the millions of deaths of World War II. The comparison is daring, yet climate change, the destruction of major global ecosystems, the plundering and the acidification of the oceans, and many other environmental ills, are surely leading mankind to times of chaos if we don’t change our trajectory rapidly.

Rio + 20 could have been a formal confirmation of our commitment to change development model; but it will obviously not be the case.

To think that so many hopes were raised 20 years ago! At the end of the Earth Summit, the world seemed to begin to realize its interdependence! 20 years ago in Rio, Jacques Cousteau, nicknamed "Captain Planet" by the international media, was deeply involved in mobilizing heads of state, leading to a formal commitment to engage the world in an economic transition to restore our planet. It was the Agenda 21, designed to put our common home in order.

Cousteau, who loved exploring the depths as much as contemplating the skies, was inspired by a photograph of Earth taken by the Apollo missions, which prompted him to say in 1979:

"What can we learn from that photograph, from that magnificent blue-and-white orb hung in the black eternity of the universe? First, we can see for ourselves that the earth is a water planet.
There is a limited amount of water on our globe - no more, relatively speaking, than a single droplet of water on an egg - but nonetheless the earth is the only known planet to be washed with this vital liquid, so necessary for life. The earth photograph can drive a second lesson home to us; it can finally make us recognize that the inhabitants of the earth must depend upon and support each other. The dust of distant planets has been baked and doused with chemicals in the desperate quest ta discover life, but we have discovered only that we are alone in the solar system, and perhaps in the universe. There is some reassurance in the photograph, however, despite the solitude it so vividly conveys.…There are no boundaries on the real Planet Earth. No France, no Europe, no United States, no Soviet Union, no China, Taiwan, East or Corea. Rivers flow unimpeded across the swaths of continents. The persistent tides -the pulse of the sea- do not discriminate; they push against all the varied shores on earth. Mapmakers are not the only ones to have drawn divisive lines; segregation pervades our earthbound vision of ourselves. We are instructed in Western Civilization and Oriental Thought; our education comes in fractions. Even the calendar separates one people from another - solipsistic generations, bereft of connections to the past and the future, feel responsibility neither to ancestors nor to progeny, only to themselves.
As though lacerating time and culture were not enough, we have lacerated the earth as well. Not only have we failed to realize that we are one people but we have forgotten that we have only one planet.

And under the pretext of an economic crisis that should be more important then everything else, during summit after summit, we continue to be short sighted!

Wake-up, honorable delegates! Stop beating around the bush! Your people are asking you to help them start to move towards a Utopia worthy of the challenges humanity now faces! Defending your nations’ interests first is suicidal! It is more then time to consider our interdependence and it is the long-term survival of our young species which is in question! Although we continue to be responsible of the sixth mass species extinction, Life on earth will recover. It will take millions of years but Life has overcome this before, and it can do it again. But we, as a species, rely on a stable climate and a complex web of interactions between species and ecosystems that has been relatively stable for over 10,000 years! We are challenging this equilibrium and leaving the “safe operating space for humanity”1. We are tearing apart the very fabric from which we are woven!

It is high time to return to common sense and implement a management informed by an understanding of the rules of life on our common planet.

We must reconcile the twin sisters, ecology and economy, by asking ourselves:

1. Do our innovations help us to resynchronize with the major global biogeochemical cycles (water, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, ozone, etc..)?

2. Do we consume our resources at a pace consistent with their renewal for future generations?

3. Do we base our chemistry on molecules compatible with living systems?

4. Do we preserve or restore the capital of diversity on which we depend?

5. Do we take sufficient account of the interdependence through a systemic and multidisciplinary approach of problem solving?

All this of course, by integrating into the "DNA" of our decisions the imperative of satisfying the basic needs of all humans, and beyond this, to contribute to the legitimate pursuit of happiness.

Otherwise, Cousteau’s conclusions, given in his 1992 speech at the Rio conference will remain dishearteningly relevant:

« Temporary necessities or even simple temptations have unfortunately much more influence on the behavior of human beings, than regards for the preservation of our heritage. Thus, developing nations, where, today, the only thing that develops is population, claim that the main problem is the equitable
sharing of resources rather than overpopulation or environmental protection, while many ecologists from more favored nations cry shame when people in Asia or Africa deforest for survival. This misunderstanding between rich and poor countries is becoming bitter and may lead to violence. In the Southern nations, the 20th century has generalized poverty and hunger, while in the North and the West, it has generated confusion. Confusion between instruction and education, pleasure and joy, money
and morality, tradition and innovation, individual risk and risks imposed on others, even on those yet unborn. Universities have become employment agencies; free enterprise is leading to scandalous inequalities; the reign of the Golden Calf, to whose law we submit, is putting the finishing touches on the assassination of morality, which no society has yet been able to do without.

From this confusion, from this absence of internal discipline, emerges the "Me Society", whose byword is: "Everyone has the right to everything -including the superfluous- immediately.

A glimmer of hope: a "We society " is nevertheless beginning to be embodied by initiatives outside of the mainstream course of states and major companies policies. These are approaches such as green chemistry, new generation of truly sustainable energies, permaculture, biomimicry, the circular economy, industrial ecology, etc… From North to South, breakthrough innovations are appearing that are no longer based on fossil fuels but on solar energy, not celebrating competition and predation but rely instead on cooperation and symbiosis. And most of all, include in the “We” all the biosphere!

Let’s hope that the dynamism of civil society, which exceeds that of states, is a sign that the social immune system of the earth is beginning to kick in …

Jacques Cousteau ended his speech in Rio with this appeal, which 20 years later, resonates like a sad echo of the emptiness and lack of vision of the proposed agreement in Rio this year:

« We are living an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic of short-term thinking: The population big bang. The North-South divorce. The c1imate changes of all sorts. The elimination of thousands of species. The new dictatorship of materialism. AlI these evils must be cured urgently, and the only medicine is a recourse to Utopia

1 wish that at this Rio Conference, heads of state and their delegates realize the urgency of drastic, unconventional decisions. You have an extraordinary opportunity to change the course of the world ... but only if you decide to challenge the huge problems with radical solutions. The people of the world are anxiously awaiting a new light. This is our responsibility, as we hold in our hands the future of
tomorrow's demanding generations. »

750 billion dollars in subsidies to oil and coal, maintained! Over 20 billion annually to destructive fisheries ! And could we really let the “Green business” becoming a new “Greed business”? Are these the signs of a paradigm shift?

Rendez-vous, distinguished delegates and skillful industry lobbyists, at the "Nuremberg" of the environment. Informed as we are today, our children will not fail to hold us accountable ...

Director Sciences and Environnement
The Cousteau Society / Equipe Cousteau

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