The importance of the Rio 2012 Earth Summit.

The environment has gained much political attention over the last 30 years; no longer can 1st world countries like America, Japan and China ignore this fact. Environmental benefits still come after economic and social ones in developed countries. Unfortunately, these developed countries are the ones that effect the environment the most, both negatively and positively. The 5th Earth Summit is coming up in 10 days and provides a chance for certain 1st world countries to finally step up to the problem of environmental degradation and exploitation.

       The whole environmental movement began with John Muir in 1892 who started the Sierra Club and used to it express environmental opinions towards the government. The National Trust was then formed 3 years later in 1895. England and America still viewed the environment as something to be feared. The majority wanted control of the environment. Art and literature were used to promote the inherent “goodness” of the environment. People like William Wordsworth dedicated their careers to convincing people that the environment was something magical to be enjoyed. This period was known as the “enlightenment” – Something America still has to go through.

        The real turning point of the movement came in 1962 when Rachel Carson published ‘Silent Spring’. It was a book that outlined a lot of the environmental problems that were occurring at the time. One example was how Rachel outlined the use of the pesticide DTT in agriculture. Not only did this leech into rivers and harm habitats and animals, it was also a cause for human cancer. Upon reading this, President John F Kennedy banned the use of DTT after many agricultural companies trued to ban the publishing of the book. The book was monumental because for the first time, information like this was available to the public. This had never happened before.

         The book prompted the first ever Earth Day to take place in 1970. This was after 150,000 people died in 3 days during the Industrial Revolution because of the smog build up. There was also an oil spill off the coast of Santa Monica in 1969. People were finally becoming aware of the damage that was taking place due to the exploitation and misuse of the environment. This culminated in the first Earth Summit in 1972 which took place in Stockholm, Sweden.

          Whilst this was a monumental occasion and milestone for environmentalists, the meeting did nothing but highlight how 1st world countries were exploiting 3rd world countries. In fact, the first time that any progress was made was 20 years later in 1992 at the third Earth Summit in Rio. The ‘Kyoto Protocol’ was introduced. This stated that by 2012, any participating country had to decrease their carbon emissions by 5%. Over 37 countries signed the document. Collectively it would make a huge difference since the limits it proposed for each country were relatively small.

      Unfortunately, 3 key countries refused to sign the document claiming that signing the document would be economic suicide. These three countries were Russia, China and America. If all of Europe was to lower their emissions by 5% it probably would be less than if America lowered their emissions by 5%. With these 3 countries out of the agreement, the Kyoto Protocol seemed almost useless.
10 years later in 2002 at Johannesburg, Japan and America refused to limit their offshore oil drilling. Again they were putting their own economic benefits ahead of the world’s environmental benefits. Finally, in 2010, Barack Obama said that “it is pointless to sign the Kyoto Protocol since it is almost over”. Whilst I understand why he said this, he neglected to go further and talk about what America was doing to counter their un-involvement in the Kyoto Protocol.

          With the Earth Summit returning to Rio in 9 days where the first positive step was taken, it will be interesting to see how attitudes towards the environment have changed from 1st world countries. In the last decade there has been a large impact on “acting as a community” and doing what you can. Recycle this, turn off that light, be “energy efficient”.

       My father recently told me how one of his friends had helped save thousands of trees in the Amazon. My first thought wasn’t how brilliant this was. Instead I thought of how pointless single actions like this will be until we can get the entire world to think the same way. Yes, we can save thousands of trees but until companies lower their emissions then we are just conserving what is left of the environment. We should be protecting and re-building it. 1st world countries desperately need to find a balance between socio-economic and environmental needs. Until this happens, the environmental will continue to deteriorate.


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