Posted by: Gray | June 22, 2012

Rio Is Dead – Long Live Rio!!

A parade of Civil Society members walked out of  the  negotiation “Rio Centro” for Rio+20 yesterday, many of them abandoning their entrance badges, shouting “The Future We Want Is Not Found Here!”  If you like sound tracks to hear while you read about such things, you can  listen to one of the songs that was sung in Spanish by pressing here (translation provided at end of blog):

From their point of view, the results of the long negotiations by the nation states of the world have made essentially no real progress on the desperately urgent problems of the environment, poverty and justice — and have abandoned the core principles and the central social contract of the original Rio Conference. There, in 1992, a vision was framed for “sustainable development” in which the poorer and developing countries of the world would give up their right to pollute as much in the future as developed countries have in the past and present — in exchange for real and substantial aid in the technology and investment needed to develop in more sustainable ways. The conference this week should have been a time to celebrate the completion of the 20 years of negotiations to work out the details of that agreement and the financial commitments for its implementation.  But the heads of state of the developed world have not bothered to come – to avoid the embarrassment of having no real commitments to announce.

The Civil Society walk out began simply as a  staged press event in the middle of the walkways in front of the building where delegates enter for the negotiations. An enlarged copy of the negotiation text had been printed – with company logos from Monsanto, Coca Cola and others printed across the top announcing that this Rio text was the future that they “had bought” as corporations. A large crowd quickly gathered and lots of media as the text was symbolically torn in half. But then, instead of dispersing , the crowd’s passionate frustration with the Rio process and anger at the outcome gave birth to a People’s Assembly using the meeting methods of  the Occupy movement.

And after two hours of deliberation, by consensus,  those assembled resolved to stage the walk out, turning their backs on the negotiations. But it was, just as much, a walk towards something else:  a march towards the Peoples’ Summit going on simultaneously in  Flamengo Park in downtown Rio. There 20,000 or more members of  Civil Society have been gathering this week to share the results of the incredibly interesting, successful and in many cases extraordinarily major efforts they have been making to promote just, equitable forms of development for those who need it in ways that are ecologically sustainable for all.  There the “Rio” process is more than alive and well, it is thriving and giving birth to a new vision and a new world – a world  governed by  progressive cities and provinces, by community groups, by indigenous peoples, by alliances between businesses and  non-governmental organizations, by women’s groups, by youth . . . by the people who are now have begun to take into their own hands the serious problems which the United Nations have proven incompetent to handle.

The message of the walkout was clear: The Future We Want Is Not In Here – in the UN negotiations – it is out there in the world of Civil Society and the Peoples of the world where the real Rio process is going on. The king has died.  Rio is dead! Long Live Rio!

It is a hard story to report and it will take a while to get fully covered in the news because it is a story about a radical change in the way we will tell news stories about how the world  is governed.  The new “king”, or perhaps better, “queen”, of  sustainable development is not one president or even a short list of nation states. And it does not govern in a single royal court or parliament.  And it does not even have an army. But that is, in fact, the secret to its growing and dramatic success.

Sovereign nation states like the U. S. and China have a territory they defend with a military. As a result, they are pressed inevitably to look at the world in terms of “realpolitik” – promoting their national interests and guarding them from external threat. Every resource of the world inevitably appears in their calculations as a conquest, a possession either of theirs or another nation. The “commons” that we share disappear from view – magically, as if a wand were waved. Nothing looks like a commons a community shares – not even not the wonderful diversity of nature, no land, not waters, not even the air we all breath. They all look like possessions that belong to someone, commodities that can be exchanged. And that is in fact what the Rio process has produced. Even for  a former community organizer, like Barack Obama, the institutional constraints for someone in the driver’s seat of a national security state like the US force him or her to see the road ahead in realpolitik terms as possessions and resources that support a national interest.  It is a vision of nature and people in which the water supply of every city, the rivers of the  Amazon and elsewhere, and even the oceans themselves, will all be viewed as commodities to be bought and sold – like all the rest of nature.

But while nation states who have militaries are committed to realpolitik that makes the commons all look like possessions and potential conquests, local and regional governments see the world quite differently.  Their leaders learn that the success of efforts in one part of the community generally depend on the success of others and that sustainable development for their locale can not be pursued while ignoring their neighbors. Local leaders need to see their community in context, in the context of commons that are shared with others.  And so they seek collaboration of the kind that has been proliferating around the world and has been so evident here at the People’s Summit in Rio.

I talked, for example, with Mirhan Gögus from the The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) which  is an independent not-for-profit organization working to drive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainable water use by cities and businesses ( Their aim is to provide a “transformative global system for thousands of companies and cities to measure, disclose, manage and share environmental information.” They have found that  “when provided with the necessary information, market forces can be a major cause of change.” They are already working currently with 75 cities and over hundreds of the largest companies in the world. They are doing one of the key jobs that a global government needs to perform if it wants to promote sustainable development.

On Wednesday I heard a presentation by city officials and financiers from around the world working on financing urban infrastructure that is genuinely green and sustainable. The session was kicked off by an announcement of the president of the Asia Development Bank ( They, along with seven other multilateral development banks,  have committed to provide more than $175 billion to help improve transport in developing countries over the next decade. That is not millions, it is 175 billion dollars. The nation states in the Rio process have committed nothing remotely like that amount to public sanitation and other urban infrastructure — or anything else. The cities and banks collaborating in such loans are performing an essential function of world government by safeguarding and sharing commons that provide the essential context for advancing their own interests.

Of course, every rule has exceptions and the nations of Bolivia and Ecuador provide a wonderful example here. In the Rio+20 plenary and again in side events, the presidents of both spoke passionately for the efforts their nations are making to safeguard the commons by proclaiming the rights of Nature or in indigenous terms,  Pachamama. And they also are advocating a fundamental shift in national policy. Instead of the neo-liberal agenda of endlessly growing the GDP, they advocate “buen vivir”, living well. This means not always having more, but making sure that everyone has enough. Instead of trying to achieve unlimited growth in a limited world, they aim to provide secure lives for individuals, communities and Nature in the context of  commons that are shared and cared for.

Why this exceptional behavior from two “small” and “developing” countries? It is precisely because they know that they can not rely on their military for conquest and defense. It is precisely their relative weakness that makes them see that they must depend on collaboration with neighbors and shared caring for the commons if they are to survive. But their relatively small size does not at all mean they are powerless. In recent years their governments under Evo Morales and Rafael Correa have reclaimed their sovereignty over their water, petroleum, forests and other natural resources. And they have created initiatives to safeguard them in sustainable ways – like Ecuador’s 3.6 billion dollar program to guarantee in perpetuity that the 800 million barrels of oil under its Yasuni Park will never come out of the ground to soil the landscape or pollute the sky. (

Wandering through the People’s Summit this week, I encountered expositions and presentations from a huge variety of folks from all around the world working to advance justice, rights, equity, sustainable development for indigenous peoples, women, the poor, youth, workers, rural villages, cities, and others. It was a joyous carnival of  folks and organizations that are all part of what Paul Hawken has called “the Blessed Unrest”.  A convenient place to start a virtual tour of  their world is:

It is a world with new rules and new life. The rules are variations on the rules of collaboration by consensus that have worked so effectively in building protocols and communities on the Internet as well as Peoples’ Movements that changed the world in the Arab Spring and liberated Eastern Europe from the Soviet Empire and ended Apartheid in South Africa. It is a world that is alive, thriving – and full of  youth.

At the protest yesterday, in which Youth played the major role in leading Civil Society,  a song I offered was shared with enthusiasm in the chanting repetition by the whole group that is part of the “Peoples’ Mike” system for such assemblies. I translated it  first in English and then sang it in Spanish. You can listen to it at  rioestamuertosong and read it here:

“Rio Esta Muerto – Que Viva Rio!” 

            English Version:

Rio is dead.

Oh Please

Save us



But all of us,

We all know

The River of Life (the Rio of Life)

Throughout the Earth

Lives in the Peoples!

Lives in Us!


Spanish Original:

Rio esta muerto.

¡Por favor,

Salvanos Pacha Mama


Pero nosotros

Nos sabemos

El Rio de la Vida

Por todo de la Tierra

Vive el los Pueblos!

Vive en nosotros!


For more on the walkout see the 7:58 pm report in the GUARDIAN at… and and Bill McKibben’s oped on GRIST at: a piece from Al Jazeera at: and a piece from AllAfrica at: and in a Brazilian paper at: and  for a report on one of the protests the day before that led up to it, see the blog article by Lara Shirley of  Earth in Brackets at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: