14 June 2012

Opening Address, RIO 2012

A first word on spoken words and words to follow

Ten years ago, the Green Network of Sri Lanka wrote a comprehensive status report of the country in terms of sustainability, titled ‘Bitter truths and better tomorrows: People’s report on sustainable development’.  The preamble to the document contained the following lines:

‘The ancients say that in the ideal interaction with the natural world the human being should follow the example of the bee: obtaining the nectar of the flower without harming either the colour or the fragrance, while at the same time ensuring the survival of genetic strains by facilitating cross-pollination.’

Why cannot the human being be like the bee?  That was the question that was asked, followed by the observation, ‘instead of striving to fulfill one’s basic needs, the human being relentlessly pursues the satisfaction of greed, competing violently with his fellow creatures and in the process brining the entire earth to the brink of irreversible disaster’. 

We’ve come from Rio to Rio through Johannesburg.  We came from the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21 to the Johannesburg Declaration and a ‘Plan of Implementation’.  We’ve come from Green to Black and in the name of efficiency and not necessarily concern for the health of the planet moved to Brown, more in word than in deed.  Now we plan to go back to Green, talking down ‘Green’ to countries and peoples who were always Green and were coerced and coaxed to worship Black and Brown.  We are back to Rio. 

We will sit and reflect.  We will wonder how far we’ve come and perhaps how far we’ve strayed from roads we planned to take or roads that we didn’t map out but may have taken us from a dismal here to a happier there.  The earth has moved ten times around the sun.  That’s nothing for sun or moon.  It’s a long time for a single human being and long too for nations and peoples and paradigms obsessed with time to the point that it is equated with money.    

A lot can be done in 10 years.  A lot can be done in 20.  A lot of positive things.  The interesting and indeed scary thing about time is that a lot more can be undone in a given time-segment than can be done or recovered.  The ‘doing’ makes for a lot of ‘feel-good’ but gets obliterated by the undoing.  If we look back, we can ask ourselves ‘have we done enough?’  We can also ask ourselves ‘can we do enough?’  Most importantly, we could ask ourselves ‘are we fooling ourselves?’ and ‘who are we trying to fool?’

Twenty years ago, we boldly stated, ‘All states and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty’.  We were confident that ‘states shall cooperate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem’.  It was as though we all wished away the gross inequalities that characterize the system of states and the gross inequalities within them.  It is as though we took for granted that knowledge of impending disaster alone would obtain cooperation.   Maybe we underestimated the greed of the greedy. Maybe we overestimated the commitment of the committed.  Maybe we trusted too much.  Maybe we thought talk would automatically translate into walk. 

These are things we need to talk about, twenty years after ‘Rio’  and ten years after ‘Johannesburg’.  We can ask ‘can’t we be like the bee?’ and we can ask, ‘should we ask, “can we be like the bee?”?’ 

[Closing address will be posted tomorrow]



P.L.J.B.Palipana said...


Anonymous said...

great article. Some countries are reluctant to walk the talk-they should be named and shamed. But will it make a difference?

Ramzeen Azeez said...

How can cooperate with anyone? USA seems to call the shots and the rest of the globe complies!

Galle Gamarala said...

Can we be like the bee?

We can't because we pick the flowers for decorating our living rooms, bed rooms, dining rooms and bath rooms etc. etc. leaving the flowers to die separated from their trees and creating environments in flower vases for mosquitoes to breed. We also consume the honey produced by the bees claiming that it is good for health.

All against the nature and humanity. So how can we be like the bee?