Climate Photo of the Week
Rio +20 Earth Summit opens with hopes but faces tough realities of environmental ills which affect billions.
In honor of and to highlight the issues at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development which began this week in Rio, we feature images from our 2007 calendar which supported the UN Conventions on Climate Change, Biological Diversity and Combating Desertification. All three essential international agreements, signed by nearly all the world's nations, began at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Please view the portfolio here.
This week's international meeting in Rio faces daunting and interlocking issues, with the economic woes of the world making it more difficult for nations to promise increased action on environmental dangers. An analysis in the scientific journal Nature gave the three 1992 conventions, on climate, desertification and diversity, all "F" grades for accomplishment, although it highlighted progress made in organizing for international cooperation and in clearly measuring the amount and effects of global warming.
At the same time, there was grim news for the overall health of Earth. A review by a team of scientists, also in Nature, confirmed that "humans dominate the Earth in ways that threaten its ability to sustain us and other species," and that there is a "potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience." The scientists called for the world "to address root causes of how humans are forcing biological changes." This was the goal of the first Rio meeting, and the now even more difficult task of Rio+20.
Considering the rancor, ignorance and political inaction which have grown in the United States over these issues, especially climate change, it is worth remembering that Republican President George H. W. Bush was present at the first Earth Summit and signed the climate and diversity conventions -- in an election year. The President told the Rio meeting, "The idea of sustaining the planet so that it may sustain us is as old as life itself. We must leave this Earth in better condition than we found it." At a press conference, the President said, "The United States fully intends to be the world's preeminent leader in protecting the world's environment." Of course, he coupled this with a strong defense of development and business leadership, and the U.S. record on environmental protection is surely mixed -- and especially bad on greenhouse gas pollution. But at the time, the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, establishment of the EPA, the National Environmental Policy Act and other crucial laws had came into force in great measure due to the leadership of Republicans, including Richard Nixon. Then-President Bush went into the election against Bill Clinton unashamed of signing international environmental treaties.
Today, however, compared to 1992, we have shrill anti-environment demands from GOP candidates from Mitt Romney on down, to dismantle the EPA, roll back air, water and public land protection and disregard climate science. This is despite the hundreds of thousands of people made healthier by our environmental laws, the millions of dollars saved, the jobs created, and the growing effects of global warming on weather, forests and shorelines. President Obama has not made environmental protection a banner issue for his re-election campaign and is not attending the Rio conference. He, like the elder Bush, faces a tough economic situation which may well decide the election.
For news of the summit in Rio, link to www.nature.com/Rio20
Thanks to Responding To Climate Change, www.rtcc.org , for production of the 2007 calendar.
Planetary tipping-points PDF Link
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