In case you have been in an environmental vacuum for the last week, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio +20, begins in earnest today. There is commentary abound as to what the tangible outcomes from the meeting will be, and whether there will be action beyond ‘aspiration’.
As scientists we try to understand how the earth system works. We are comfortable with monitoring and predicting how the Earth may respond to current human induced climate change, often with little thought of how this may translate into decision-making and implementable public policy. Fortunately we have people like Professor Barbara Norman attending Rio on our behalf this week. I could wax lyrical about what an inspiring and courageous woman she is, but instead you can find out first hand through an excellent piece that she wrote for the “The Conversation” that is also being featured on SBS’s World News outlet. In the piece Barbara discusses whether Australia can make its inevitable urbanisation more sustainable, and outlines a roadmap toward success. It is this roadmap, and others like it, that local leaders from around the world gathered together to discuss over the weekend in the lead up to today’s summit.
The irony of a sustainability conference requiring tens of thousands of people to fly across the globe has not escaped me, or others for that matter. However, it reminds me of running the ‘City to Surf’ race in Sydney a number of years back. It seemed an enormous, almost overwhelming challenge to complete a 14km run that included the climb over “Heartbreak Hill” before finishing in Bondi. But I did it, and not because I am at all fit. It was the crowd that got me over the line. There were 80,000 people running, eighty thousand people. The energy and sheer will of so many people, all with a common goal, helped me push through the pain (and near cardiac arrest) and swept me on to triumph….and a rather large hamburger as reward. If the groundswell from Rio can push us toward a sustainable future for the inhabitants of our planet, and for the planet itself, then I would argue that the carbon footprint is worth it. Heck if they can figure out how to ensure a sustainable planet, I’ll buy them all a hamburger 🙂