Friday, 31 May 2002

BALI, Indonesia

Tonight, as a friend and I were leaving the conference center, we passed a knot of people watching the oversized television outside the delegates’ lounge. Rather than the blue of the convention hall upholstery and carpeting, the screen was filled with the luscious, rice-paddy green of a soccer field. After only one try, I found someone who spoke English and was willing to look away from the screen long enough to tell me France was playing Senegal in the World Cup. A palpable excitement had abruptly replaced the bland bureaucratic mood of the days before.

A few minutes later on the stairs, a joyous roar echoed through the nearly empty halls. Senegal had scored the winning goal.

I came to Bali from the other side of the planet to learn what I could about how our world works — and here, seemingly by accident, in that thunderous echo, was yet another lesson. To oversimplify (hey, it’s my diary), the developed north has an advantage over the underdeveloped south, the result of (initially) the need for heat and (later) colonialism and (later still) neocolonialism. The north lends money to the south and expects to be paid back, with interest — even knowing that much of the money gets siphoned away from its intended recipients, and also knowing that the limited capacity of the borrower countries will relegate them to a position of chronic subservience. Meanwhile, the prosperity of the north depends heavily on cheap imports from the south — cheapness whose real cost can be measured in the human-rights violations stemming from underpaid labor and ecological degradation.

Given all that, when 7,000 people convene to discuss sustainable development, you can understand why at least some of them might want Senegal to kick France’s ass.

It is late. And this week has been jam-packed with names and brochures and meetings and ideas and hope and despair. With so many simultaneous meetings (there are three agendas, plus a daily update) and a dozen locations, it is hard to know exactly which meetings to attend, and impossible to know all that is happening. There is no list of participants, no formal process or structure for meeting our respective countries’ delegations, and multiple coalitions serving similar purposes. Which leads me to repeatedly wish that, at some point, all of the participants could gather in the same place at the same time and tell their stories. After all, what’s the point in bringing everyone to the same place if they cannot share their perspectives? I know this is a pipedream — at just five minutes per person, that would be 35,000 minutes, which comes out to just over 24 days — and yet imagine the absurd beauty of that!