Friday, 30 Aug 2002

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

I’ve avoided deluging you Grist readers with numbers thus far, but today Eco came up with a few that speak volumes — so here they are, Harper’s Index style. (The source is the U.N. Development Programme.)

  • $6 billion: Amount needed per year to provide a basic education for everyone in the world who does not currently have access to one.
  • $8 billion: Amount spent per year in the U.S. on cosmetics.
  • $9 billion: Amount needed per year to provide basic water and sanitation services for everyone in the world who does not currently have access to them.
  • $11 billion: Amount spent per year on ice cream in Europe.
  • $11 billion: Amount needed per year to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world who does not currently have access to them.
  • $17 billion: Amount spent per year on pet food in Europe and the U.S.

No further comment necessary.

Rep. George Miller.

Photo: Greenpeace.

Meanwhile, the U.S. held an A-list press conference yesterday at which it touted a series of so-called “partnership” programs (among government, industry, and NGOs) to help eradicate AIDS, feed the world, abate air pollution, encourage energy conservation, and save the Congo Basin. This is all well and good, but it turns out that most of the programs exist or had been promised already, so there’s no net gain for the objective of sustainable development. This caused Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), who has come to offer a welcome counterpoint to many of the positions staked out by the U.S. delegation, to quip, “The greenest thing the United States is doing at the summit is recycling old ideas and old money.”

In cheerier news, a breakthrough on energy occurred yesterday when officials from Brazil, Mexico, Norway, Argentina, and the Philippines broke ranks with many of their colleagues and announced support for a Brazilian initiative to commit the world to moving toward a global economy with at least 10 percent of total energy supply generated by “new” or “real” renewables. If you’re wondering why those words are in quotation marks, it’s because there has been much squabbling over definitions: Should “renewable” energy include huge hydroelectric projects, burning dung, even nuclear power, or should it be confined to more benign sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and modern, sustainable biomass? Brazil and its nascent coalition have stepped up to the plate and are pushing the right line, as our British colleagues would say. More power to them.