A lot of reporters are in Rio, anticipating arrival of close to 100 heads of state and other high officials (Hilary but no Barack) to declare their hopes and intentions for a livable planet. This comes 20 years after a lot of reporters were there for the same thing. We'll get to coverage shortly. But first, a trip in the way-back machine....
Two SF Chronicle reporters - I the science writer and Eliot Diringer, environment correspondent - went to the original Earth Summit. We each independently had petitioned top editors for the assignment and, unimaginable now and also then, they said yes to both. The Chron was fat, making money. Its publisher was nonetheless cheap. Yet there we were. It was there that I filed a story wirelessly for the first time (hooked the phone cups with the computer - a Trash 80? Not sure - to a cell phone, bypassing the local crappy hotel connection. 'Thought it was magic, the machine sitting on the hotel bed hooked to nothing visible sending words to the Chron's system). Now I mostly blog for a living and freelance now and again when we're not doting on grandkids. Eliot's a veteran activist-analyst on environment, a former press officer for the Clinton White House, presently executive veep at the (erst Pew) Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Haven't seen him in awhile.
It was interesting, quite exciting, and a little bit embarrassing to see the lavish displays and working centers of other leading nations while the first Bush administration's dour delegates grumped along in an austere rent-a-room the size of a mobile home with no literature to hand out. But Senator Al Gore was there and the man to see for a quote. Eliot wrote most of the serious policy and political analyses. I did a lot of those too but was mainly a sucker for color. I ran into an acquaintance with connections. He knew a real prince, the great great grandson of Dom Pedro II, last emperor of Brazil, and gave me the prince's phone number. The last emperor ordered history's first major, tropical reforestation efforts in the logged-out and flood-disgorging hills above the city, now the Tijuca National Park. So, this nature photographer and distant heir to the throne - there are still royalists in Rio - showed me around its lush hill expanses in his VW. It was proof that a crapped-out rain forest can come back. He also showed me, near the last emperor's golden sword hanging on a wall of his apartment over Sao Conrado Beach, a stone table. On it his great great grandma signed the declaration ending slavery in Brazil. It had a big crack. That must be historic too I said, eyes wide. The prince said his father was so mad - he'd dropped the thing when he and his wife moved in. Breakable heirlooms can be such burdensome responsibility.
Anyway, Eliot and I wrote a story just before we headed south. Its slightly ponderous lede with a superfluous opening clause: Launching a new era in world diplomacy, dignitaries from every corner of the globe will converge on Rio de Janeiro next week to see whether they can agree on a strategy to keep the human race from irrevocably savaging planet Earth. That left little doubt how the Chronicle's correspondents felt about the issues.
As for the lede's embedded question, looks like the answer is "not so much." The assembled pooh-bahs agreed on a strategy but that didn't mean they expected to follow it. Twenty years later emissions of warming gases are accelerating, the US is even weaker in resolve and, while green industry is real, old industry and fossil energy remain dominant and confident.
It's mostly politics and color still and perhaps more realistic than the last time when hopes were high. A summary document is already in circulation, for signature Friday. Reports say it has few specifics and less capacity for enforcement of intention. Twitter is a flood. I just glimpsed at its flow. One tweet called the draft statement "the longest suicide note in history."
Sample Stories (nearly random, as there are many to choose from):
- The Daily Beast - Mac Margolis: Is the Rio+20 Evironmental Summit a Failure? / Obama and Cameron missing, economies crashing, a conference document that managed to displease everyone - Rio+20, marking the 20th anniversary of the famed Earth Summit, looks like a bust as world leaders arrive ; The color he reports sounds pretty much the same as then, although I recall no topless feminists.
- LA times - Kenneth R. Weise: Rio+20 environment conference gearing up in Brazil / Delegates from around the globe work on a plan to sustainably lift billions out of poverty, but economic woes keep expectations low ; A tight, clear review of what's happened and not happened in the last 20 years.
- Toronto Globe and Mail - Paul Waldie: Environmental summits lose value as past pledges go unmet ; Waldie's not there, but this nonetheless seems to summarize well - with the help of sources in Rio - how things are shaping up.
- Reuters - Nina Chestney, Valerie Volcovici: Diplomats agree on 'weak' text for Rio +20 green summit ;
- Guardian (UK) Adam Vaughan: Rio+20 summit: Opening day live blog ; We didn't do journalism like this 20 years ago. Vaughan manages zesty updates on the fly, even gets spelling and punctuation in line. Also and in a conventional format, Jonathan Watts: Rio+20: anger and dismay at weakened draft agreement ; I believe this story should have challenged the 'dismayed' enviros. They knew going in what sort of result to expect.
- Telegraph (UK) Jeoffrey Lean: The Rio Earth Summit: is it destined to fail the world? Lean, one learns, is Britain's longest-serving environment correspondent. He notes how low are the ambitions for this meeting - its focus being on doable things such as getting air and water cleaner, fighting poverty, fixing the oceans and so forth. Climate change's arrest is, unlike the other time around, left for discussion to others at other places and other times. This is strong, angry commentary and reflection. He counts action words in the proposed summary declaration. "Encourage" is there 50 times. The phrase "we will" just five, and "must" is employed merely thrice.
- Washington Post has two notable sallies - Juliet Eilperin: Major cities tackle climate change even as Rio summit's outcome remains uncertain, which looks for progress in bottom-up and other local efforts (and she quotes the guy, Tom Lovejoy, who 20 years ago suggested I call the prince in Rio. Lovejoy got a prize at Rio+20, read about that here at Yale's e360.) Juliet Eilperin, Scott Clement: On eve of Rio summit, Americans see environment deteriorating ;
- Christian Science Monitor - Scott Baldauf: At Rio+20 environmental summit, is 'catastrophe' inevitable? ;
- New Scientist - Fred Pearce: Rio+20 declaration talks fail almost before they begin ; The good news, one thinks, is that the US and Venezuela actually have some common ground. That's ground, literally. They don't want to do anything at all right now about oceans.
- Grist - Greg Hanscom: 17-year-old shames world leaders into action at Rio ; Never mind the hed, that's an exaggeration. But it's a terrific little glimpse at the little events staged for the big meeting. If you wish to hear all what this New Zealander said today at the big microphone, it's here. It is no bouquet. She is dead serious and angry. "We are all aware that time is ticking, and we are quickly running out," she said. "You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, and my children... and I start the clock now. Tick, tick, tick...." She asks in closing, "are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?"
- India Today - Dinesh C. Sharma: Don't expect any miracles from Rio+20 ; Rio 1992, he writes, has been a 'damp squib.' I've learned that's a Britishism traceable to a saying among miners for explosives that didn't go off - their wicks, or squibs, got wet.
- AP - Juliana Barbassa: Rio: pollution rife during UN enviro conference ; Yes, it has great beaches and a surging industrial power but Brazil remains a poor nation. This story is not a cheap shot at Brazil. It merely notes - with decent reporting and citation of sources - that the problems that lie behind this meeting are evident right outside the conference hall and all around the host city. Also, a shorty on stats - Seth Borenstein: Rio 20 years later: Pollution up, forests down ;
- BBC - Richard Black: Rio+20: Progress on Earth issues 'too slow' - UN chief ;
... Could go on for days
- Charlie Petit