by Sunnie Tölle
Don’t Let Fear Defeat Hope
After two weeks of Rio+20, I have met many people who feel very uncertain about our environmental future. They throw their hands up in the air and ask: Why aren’t environmental issues getting the traction they deserve? In fact, I was one of them during the “Four Days of Dialogue.” When the panel for “Sustainable Energy for All” solicited questions from the floor, I stood and asked, “What took you so long? And what will you do, to ensure that it won’t take us so long again? Because if we don’t know what is preventing us from acting now, how will we be able to act faster in the future?” Five hundred fellow members of civil society heard me and applauded. Ten high-level politicians on stage looked like they were listening. I write “looked like” because the answer that followed did not pertain in any way to the question at hand, but rather to the politician’s personal agenda on energy access.
Once the adrenaline rush from having had two gigantic video cameras and 1020 eyeballs glued to me subsided, I felt a wave of frustration and fear build up. What if this political inertia persisted throughout the Rio+20 UN Conference? Looking back today, we know that in many ways it did. So now what? Two follow-up questions come to mind. The first one, “Do we really want a common future?”, was already addressed by fellow blogger Laura Ochoa. The second and perhaps more important one, however, is: What are the reasons for hope?
Because, before anything else, we first need to know that we are capable of creating a bright future together. We need to expect it to happen, plan for it and then execute accordingly. Trailblazers across the board recognize this and use the power of their thoughts, ideas and expectations to shape the world according to their imagination. As Maurice Strong, the former UN Secretary-General who spearheaded the creation of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, stated at a panel discussion featuring Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall and Hollywood actor and environmental activist Edward Norton, there is a lot more to be learnt from the doers than from the official side where “we have good government people, but people who are not in a position to make significant new commitments.”
One of the key lessons Richard Branson, Edward Norton and Jane Goodall shared at Rio+20 pertains to their personal reasons for hope. Richard Branson, for example, speaks of his love for the high seas, his commitment as one of the Ocean Elders and his conviction that his actions can make a small difference.
Edward Norton on other hand draws hope from the new economic frameworks that account for the value of natural capital and ecosystem services. It is these frameworks, according to Norton, which help to make a rational argument to captains of industry like Richard Branson for why they can do better by embracing new, more accurate value propositions that take the environment into account.
Finally, Jane Goodall focuses on intergenerational love, the power of the indomitable human spirit and the unbridled optimism of the youth.
For these reasons and many more, we must not throw our hands up in the air, complain that our questions have been left unanswered and that political commitments have remained unfulfilled. Psychological research shows that group expectations are the strongest predictor of the future. As John F. Kennedy remarked, “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” So don’t let fear defeat hope. The world we imagine can be won. It is achievable. It is promising. It is our task – the task of the doers – to make it a reality.
Sunnie Tölle just graduated from Yale and majored in Economics. She’s blogging from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. She also blogs for Oikos International (read her posts here). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @sunniejaye.