Monday, May 14, 2012

Rio+20 paints a target on its back

It’s always easy to take the piss out of climate conferences. Thousands of activists and diplomats flying across the planet to sign a milquetoast, watered-down, pre-negotiated statement (when they even manage to do that) are crying out to be lampooned by anyone who follows the issue (and of course, a plethora of indignant environmentalists angry they didn’t get invited).

In a rare display of maturity I’ve decided not to bang this particular drum when it comes to the Rio+20 meeting scheduled for June, a United Nations sponsored meeting on sustainable development that marks the 20th anniversary of a 1992 Rio environment summit. But when it comes to the venue for the event, I simply can’t keep my trap shut.

The Rio Centro convention center is a hallmark icon of the disastrous, planet-warming, urban-planning-done-wrong that Rio+20 is supposed to be working to counteract. Rio Centro is located in the rapidly expanding Barra da Tijuca suburb that turns the walkable, pedestrian-friendly center of Rio completely on its head with a maze of highways, shopping malls, parking lots and gated communities.  It’s easy to rattle off the laundry list of things wrong with Barra’s premier convention center.

- Egregious lack of public transportation? Check.
- Horrid traffic congestion caused by limited entrances and excessive reliance on cars? Check.
- Built in an area that was once wetlands and is now urban sprawl with extensive watershed contamination? Check.
- Overly air conditioned environment that requires everyone in attendance to wear sweaters despite the tropical climate? Check.

Oh, and good luck trying to get from one end to the other if you happen to get in at the wrong entrance. That usually requires a second taxi ride, because the place is so big and there’s no way to walk around it without risking getting hit by a car.

On this blog I usually at least attempt to conceal my contempt for things I dislike; in this case I’ve decided to make an exception. Not just because of how much Rio Centro’s obscenely counter-intuitive, anti-environment design makes me want to vomit, but also because this is now being touted as a venue for a conference about how to do exactly the opposite of what this place has done.

One usually finds that common sense solutions to these sorts of problems (find a different venue?) are tied in knots by political and diplomatic realities – this is Brazil’s big moment to show the world its commitment to the environment, it needs a huge venue so it can host everyone.

I remember going to a pre-Copenhagen event in Rio that billed itself as a press conference on the challenges for the developing world in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. I was handed about 100 pages of glossy magazines and flyers about the importance of slowing global warming, packaged in a sleek nylon folder. Two U.N. climate officials got up and gave unsurprising and non-newsworthy comments – via two simultaneous translators – to less than 10 journalists in assistance. An entire table of sandwiches lay untouched in one corner. I approached one of the two speakers to squeeze a bit more out of him in hope of writing something and being able to justify having gone to the event in the first place. He was too busy, he said, waving me off as he ran to his next meeting. Not a single reporter in attendance published a story the next day.

It hadn’t seemed to dawn on any of the organizers, but their best shot at helping the climate that day would have been to simply email a press release and skip the whole to do. The number crunchers could probably figure out how many kilos of CO2 emissions would have been saved by scrapping press conferences about how to reduce CO2 emissions. It would make more sense, though would probably be more difficult, to get people to think about doing less dumb shit. It’s no wonder this climate issue is such a pickle.

Call me snarky, call me petty, but I still believe leading by example is the only way to lead.

No comments:

Post a Comment