I think I’m burned out on Rio+20 already

The giant, carnivalesque global environmental summit Rio+20 started rolling this weekend and the official, high-level talks start tomorrow.

Unless you’re really following environmental affairs, this grand meeting may not even hit on your radar. And, to be honest, it probably shouldn’t.

It seems much of the environmental community has low expectations for this year’s conference. Environmental problems are as intractable as ever. Nations continue to struggle with economic matters.

As the name implies, Rio+20 is part-anniversary, part-debrief, part-”let’s find a way forward” from the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit officially known as the the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Certainly in the last 20 years there have been successes, particularly at the local and national level, but on the international stage, collective action on the environment has largely been ineffective (and I’m being kind).

Though I wish it were otherwise, I don’t have much faith in the international system. Certainly I think attempts to workout problems collectively are necessary and applaud people who will spin their wheels and beat their heads against walls. But I see fundamental flaws as well. The system is broken and it seems to like it that way.

So Rio+20 will likely be all show with a rather weak finish. Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Environment and Science, has a salient commentary in the centre’s magazine Down to Earth.

But, truth be told, I’m already burnt out on trying to monitor Rio+20 from India. My own thoughts are below:

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Panchayats the answer to India’s environmental woes? Not yet…

I spent much the past semester debating all the various ways society and individuals might protect the environment. What else would you expect from a policy program?

One answer I stumbled upon and investigated is India’s traditional form of local government, made constitutionally secure not quite two decades ago: the panchayat — literally the council of five.

Panchayats represent India’s attempts at decentralization, the supposed transfer of powers from the central and state governments down to village-level actors. For the environment, this theoretically promises that resource, conservation and protection decisions are made at the level where they are actually felt. In reality, panchayats today are hardly robust institutions of local governance. They’re mostly used as implementing agencies for India’s development agenda. Meanwhile they face competition from other less than secure or democratic institutions specifically designed to manage resources.

I’m not promising it’s the most riveting read; and I’m not certain I like the final product. This issue could be a much longer paper involving substantial field work. But click here if you really want to know.

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Corporate population control hilarity

I spend a lot of my days in grad school debating whether population is a disaster waiting to happen and whether we need moral restraint or mutually agreed upon coercion. Which is the dominant variable in affecting environmental impact: population, affluence or technology?

(Hint: In my world view, it’s not exactly any of those three, but a related yet different issue: consumption.)

But all such debates tend to be repetitive, theoretical and mind-numbing. So, for laughs, here’s a different, ridiculous take on the so called population problem.

Let’s be clear that it absolutely misses any mark regarding how to solve the biggest global problem of our time. Indeed, the message is highly flawed and simplistic; too many Indians knocking boots is not the problem, and consumption of increasing forms of technology by the affluent is certainly not the solution.

And yes, this is just a corporate marketing ploy. But, again, in the category of hilarity to defuse the tension, I give it five stars. That my Hindi has improved enough to get some of the jokes is even better.

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