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Tagged with Earth Summit


17-year-old Kiwi shames world leaders into action at Rio

Twenty years ago, a 12-year-old rocked the Earth Summit in Rio with a plea to world leaders to get serious about saving the planet. Her name was Severn Suzuki, and today, she hands the torch to another young'un, Brittany Trilford, 17, who will address the leaders of 140 nations as the Rio+20 Earth Summit finally gets off to its official start.

Trilford hails from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Last winter, she entered the Date With History contest that invited young people to record themselves giving a speech to the leaders of the world about the future they wanted. She won the grand prize, a trip to Rio for the Earth Summit. She didn’t learn until later that she would actually have a chance to speak to at the summit in person.

Trilford’s date with history is at 9 a.m. Eastern time (that’s 6 a.m. on the West Coast). It should be webcast live here. Watch Grist for highlights later in the day, and a link to the video when it’s up. (See update at bottom of post.) Meantime, I caught up with Trilford yesterday with some questions about her speech, her prognosis for the planet, and how she got to be so freaking opinionated.


Did’s Twitterstorm to end fossil fuel subsidies work? Kinda

Youth activists staged a "flash mob" at the Earth Summit talks yesterday, part of a broader effort to roll back subsidies for fossil fuels. (Photo courtesy of Human Impacts Institute.)

The Crazy Twitter Kids got a lesson in international diplomacy yesterday during a panel before the Rio+20 Earth Conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The panel was part of a broader push to end an estimated $1 trillion in government subsidies that go to fossil fuel companies around the world each year. At an event that has brought an incredible diversity of people to Rio, this was a largely white, Western bunch, with three Americans and a Scot (who currently resides in New York), no women (with the exception of Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, who introduced the event and then left), and a single researcher from India. Representatives of three environmental groups took turns arguing that it was time to stop pouring our tax money into oil, gas, and coal companies, and instead invest in clean energy like solar and wind.

“We’re handing a $1 trillion bill each year to the most profitable companies the world has ever seen,” said Iain Keith, a campaigner with Avaaz. “The measure of success this week will be whether or not we’re still paying $1 trillion to polluters after Rio.”

It was a clean, simple message at an event that has been characterized by cacophony and chaos, and even as the panelists spoke, it was going bananas on the Interwebs. Jamie Henn, communications director for the climate action group, beamed that, thanks to a “Twitterstorm” orchestrated by his group and others, the hashtag #EndFossilFuelSubsidies” had hit No. 2 on the list of top trending topics on Twitter worldwide. (No. 1 was “20FactsAboutMe.”) He rattled off the names of celebrities (Stephen Fry, Mark Ruffalo) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Mike Lee) who had added their voices to the storm. “We’re looking to see if that message can break through here in Rio,” he said.

If the conference room was any indication, it didn’t.


For shame, America: Canadians dominate dubious awards in Rio

Friends, Americans, countrymen: WHERE IS YOUR PRIDE?

There was a day when the United States was a noble nation, a regular presence atop the podium, always leading the medal count. Now, the Canadians are eating our lunch -- and they’re not being nice about it. “Yeah, you guys used to win all these awards,” one Canuck told me last night. “I guess we’re on top of the heap now.”

He was talking about all the Fossil of the Day awards, of course -- the honor bestowed on the countries that are the biggest boneheads when it comes to working with the world to safeguard the planet. These dubious honors are being doled out here at the Earth Summit in Rio -- organized by the Climate Action Network and picked by popular vote -- and I can tell you, Americans, unless we get our act together, we’re not going to bring many of them home.

Read more: Politics


Rio cycle: Canadian bikes to Earth Summit (with a little help from trains and buses)

Naomi Devine. (Photo by Zoma Fotografia.)

Thousands of people from around the world have converged on Rio de Janeiro this week for the Earth Summit, a mammoth conference aimed at creating a green economy for the globe. But I can count on one hand the people who got here by bicycle. One finger, actually.

Naomi Devine, a 33-year-old Canadian sustainability planner, rode her bike here from Vancouver, British Columbia. Well, she rode a lot of it, anyway -- and the rest of the time, she rode mass transit. She says she caught a train from Eugene, Ore., to San Francisco “because it was winter at the time,” and bused from Mexico on. Nonetheless, she estimates she rode about 1,000 miles. It was an incredible, crowd-funded journey, done the hard way (in contrast to this writer, who flew from Seattle to Dallas to Rio, and thought that was a long day).

We all should cut Devine a little slack, because here in Rio, she rides her bike to the summit meetings every day -- a 17-mile round-trip. From experience, I can report that that's freaking BURLY. The traffic here is insane. The bus drivers are suicidal. For once in my life, I’m actually happy that I’m not riding my bike.

Devine was kind enough to answer a few questions after her harrowing morning commute today.

Q. What in the world were you thinking? It's a long freaking way from Canada to Rio.

A. Yeah. Geography was never my strongest subject in school ... These ideas come from the big crazy part of my brain that says things like "Hey, you know what would be awesome? Take your bike and see if you can ride it to the Earth Summit!” and, “You have a month to plan everything! Yeah!" Where most people laugh to themselves and say, “Isn't that a crazy idea,” I go “YES, this is what I need to be doing with my life.” Sometimes you need to just jump in and follow your heart.

Read more: Biking


Rio-ality check: Can the Earth Summit be saved?

In the lead-up to the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, boosters branded the event “Hopenhagen.” Along those lines, the Earth Summit this week in Rio de Janeiro might be called “Rio-ality Check.” With just days to go, chaos and disagreement reign: It's a far cry from the master plan for a global green economy that world leaders promised to roll out. Nonetheless, on the fringes we’re seeing some interesting signs that the gathering here won’t be a complete waste of time.

Despite months of talks at the United Nations HQ in New York City and last-minute jockeying here in Rio, the delegates seem unable to agree on anything of any substance. Hell, they haven’t even been able to provide a consistent wifi connection here at RioCentro, a sprawling, heavily guarded conference center on the far edge of the city where the high-level talks are taking place.


Rio: Let’s unleash the power of people back home

Photo by Matthew David Powell.

The first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 marked a heady period for environmentalists -- Mother Earth had been declared TIME’s Person of Year, and the largest gathering of heads of state ever in the Earth’s history converged on Rio to put their signatures on new treaties to protect biodiversity and control climate change, and to draft global guidelines for forest conservation and human development. I had just helped to start Conservation International after leading The Nature Conservancy’s international program. There was a sense that we’d arrived. Finally, finally, after decades toiling in our rabbit holes, pushing for change on a global scale, we were taking a giant leap forward. I left the conference buoyed.

But what I remember just as vividly now was a moment near the end of the summit when I found myself next to then-Sen. Albert Gore. Could we live up to these bold promises back home? I asked him.  “I don’t think so,” he said.

He was right, of course. The last two decades have seen the United States abdicating leadership on climate change, and the world hurtling toward dangerous and chaotic environmental tipping points.

The failed promise of Rio is not that implementation of global conventions proved overwhelmingly difficult ­­­-- we always knew it would be hard -- but that we fooled ourselves, even for a moment, into staking our future in top-down methods.

World leaders meet in Rio next week for another Earth Summit. This time around, we should push for top-level global deals like the end of fossil fuel subsidies. But the world’s leadership should also be investing time and renewed energy in leveraging and scaling the efforts that have actually demonstrated dramatic systemic change over these 20 years: those at the local and regional level, the level where our actions and their impact are most relevant to the 7 billion of us restlessly filling up this planet.

When we look at the world through this lens we see reasons for hope that have been building these 20 years.

Read more: Cities


40 years of environmental diplomacy — what do we have to show for it?

Image by Mark Rain.

It was 1972, and to anyone who was paying attention, it was obvious that we humans were making a real mess of things. Tropical forests were falling at an alarming rate. Whale populations were in a death spiral. Our cities were choked with smog, our rivers had turned into fire traps, and we were getting the first inklings that all of our industrial activity might actually be warming the globe.

To right the course, representatives from 114 countries met in Stockholm, Sweden, at the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment -- the first major global effort to clean up our collective act -- and an era of environmental diplomacy was born.

Four decades later, what do we have to show for it?

First, the bad news:

Read more: Politics


Australia announces massive ocean reserve, takes early lead with bragging rights

Once every few summers, the world meets in one of its greatest cities for a competition with roots that extend far back into history. Bravado on display, nations vie for the right to brag that their nation truly leads the pack.

Obviously, I'm talking about the Earth Summit.

Every time there's an international environment confab, it seems like countries take advantage of the moment to announce major green initiatives. Before the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the United States and India announced a new partnership aimed at curbing emissions. At the same conference in Durban last year, Canada declared its intention to contribute $1.2 billion to greenhouse gas reduction.

Map of protected areas.

This year, the competition started early -- and with an impressive salvo.

Read more: Climate Change


12-year-old whose awesome speech floored 1992 Rio Summit returns to Rio+20 as a mom

Twenty years ago, at the original Rio Earth Summit, Severn Suzuki, a 12-year-old from Canada, became "the girl who silenced the world for six minutes" by giving a sobering, kick-ass speech to the assembled delegates. You're going to want to watch it:

This is like the climax to the best YA novel of all time (discounting ones with magic and vampires). Really, there's nothing like an incredibly poised middle-schooler speaking up for her beliefs and making powerful adults feel silly. As Suzuki said then:

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us to not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others and to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then, why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


A pop culture history of the Earth Summit

World leaders gather next week at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to talk about creating a green economy for the planet. But don’t go thinking this is the first international eco-bash. Bigwigs from the far corners of the globe have been talking about Saving the World for four decades now. Here’s a quick romp through 40 years of international environmental diplomacy, interspersed with Important Cultural Landmarks, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, and, just for fun, some notes on what I was doing at the time.


Leaders of the world gather in Stockholm, Sweden, to talk about what a mess we’ve made of the planet. The meetings spawn the United Nations Environment Programme (which is like a program, only fancier) and kick off a generation of environmental treaties and agreements on ozone depletion, protecting biological diversity, hazardous waste, endangered species, and climate change.

Al Green’s song “Let’s Stay Together” hits No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Atmospheric CO2, the main driver of global warming, hovers just under 330 parts per million.

I am born, on Oct. 24, in a Salt Lake City hospital.

Read more: Climate Change