July 3, 2012

This week we will be taking a look at the Rio+20 conference which finished up ten days ago in Rio de Janeiro. 1000 delegates and heads of state from around the world met on the 20th anniversary of the first Rio environment conference on the environment to talk about progress (if any) and to reach new agreements on controlling climate change. (Our head of state, by the way, did not attend the conference.)

Tonight we’ll be playing an interview we recorded this morning with two people who attended Rio+20 as observers and activists in their own right. From San Francisco, we’ll hear from Heather Box, who will talk about her Million Person Project creating community around the globe through storytelling.  And from Uganda, we will be hearing from Kaganga John, a remarkable farmer, environmentalist, and activist who has been working with his neighbors for twenty years to improve the quality of life and sustainability in his rural village.

Heather Box

Kaganga John

Listen to the program.

Background on Rio+20

This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we are looking at the recent Rio+20 international conference and at the whole problem of getting nations to agree on climate change resolutions through conferences such as Rio, Copenhangen and its followup in Durbin, South Africa. There are dozens of reviews of the outcomes of Rio in newspapers and blogs around the world, and virtually none of these is positive. (The official UN Rio+20 website lists a number of gains and agreements, but it is alone in being upbeat

U.N. Report from Rio on Environment a ‘Suicide Note’

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development has wrapped up in Rio de Janeiro — contentiously so — marking two decades since the first Earth Summit was held, also in Rio, in 1992.

The recent three-day meeting was more easily known as Rio+20, but so few specifics, so few targets, so few tangible decisions came out of the gathering that some participants were derisively calling it “Rio Minus 20,” or “Rio Plus 20 Minus 40.”

A failure of epic proportions” was the verdict from Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International.

More than a year of “sophisticated U.N. diplomacy has given us nothing more than more poverty, more conflict and more environmental destruction,” said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director for conservation at the World Wildlife Fund.

“An outcome that makes nobody happy,” was how Sha Zukang of China put it — and he was the Rio+20 secretary-general.

The final statement from Rio, “The Future We Want,” is 283 paragraphs of kumbaya that “affirm,” “recognize,” “underscore,” “urge” and “acknowledge” seemingly every green initiative and environmental problem from water crises and creeping deserts to climate change and overfishing. Women’s rights, indigenous peoples, children, mining, tourism, trade unions and the elderly also get shout-outs in the document.

The word “reaffirm” is used 60 times.

As the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote in an editorial:

“To be sure, all of the great questions facing humanity make an appearance in the document, but without any attempt at a binding agreement. The Rio+20 conference, which really should have provided a new spark, has instead shined the spotlight on global timidity. Postpone, consider, examine: Even the conference motto — ‘The Future We Want’ — sounds like an insult. If this is the future we want, then good night.” [Read the report at http://www.un.org/en/sustainablefuture/]

“If all countries are satisfied with the lowest common denominator, if they no longer want to discuss what needs to be discussed . . . then the dikes are open. There is no need anymore for a conference of 50,000 attendees. Resolutions that are so wishy-washy can be interpreted by every member state as they wish. No one needs Rio.”

[Greenpeace Executive Director] Mr. Naidoo called the final report the “longest suicide note in history.” Jim Leape, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, said it was “a colossal failure of leadership and vision from diplomats.”


Our Questions for Kaganga John and Heather Box

This is Ecotopia on KZFR and we are delighted to have two guests on the phone to tell us about the Rio+20 conference and about their own efforts to expand the global community and make our planet a sustainable place to live.

Kaganga John is talking to us from Uganda. He is a farmer, activist, and environmentalist who lives in the village of Kikandwa. He has been working there for over twenty years helping the community become sustainable, and his accomplishments and commitment are legendary around the world. He attended and spoke out at Rio +20 arguing for support for local sustainability programs. Welcome Kaganga John.
And talking to us from San Francisco is an activist Heather Box, who also attended Rio +20. In addition to being an environmentalist she is one of the founders of the Million Person Project, which helps connect people worldwide through storytelling. Thanks for being with us, Heather.

Part I: Rio+20

–Let’s start with the Rio+20 conference. Why did you decide to attend? What were your hopes and expectations for the conference?

–Rio+20 had about 1000 official delegates, while about 45,000 activists and environmentalists were in the streets of Rio. Please give us your impressions of the conference. Tell us about some of the people you met and your own experiences at the conference.

–The international press has been scathing in its review of Rio+20, saying that it failed to accomplish even very modest objectives. There has been considerable criticism of the conference final statement, “The Future We Want,” as being a vague confirmation of past agreements and offering no significant new commitments. What is your assessment of the outcome?
…What were the disappointments?
…What encouragement or successes did you percieve?

What we have to learn from the Ocean
My poetic thinking on Rio+20
by Kaganga John

When I look out at the ocean water
I reflect and wish that we people were like that
Each wave, going up and down, mixing, unifying
Going here and there
Sharing, flowing into each other
Ever busy
Finding balance
Looking for one another
You look out here at the ocean
And you know all over the world
Even on the other end of the Indian Ocean
It is the same
All the waves moving in one basin
How can we people achieve this type of justice, peace, love and sustainability
Let us start here at Rio +20

–A number of people we have interviewed on this program have said, in effect, “Don’t count on governments.” Is there any hope for global conferences and agreements? Should we bother having a Rio+30 or a Copenhagen+10?

–Can local and regional initiatives possibly accomplish what governments cannot?

Seque to:

Part II: Kaganga John’s Story

–Kaganga John: Heather has recently written your story on Huffington Post (and we’ll post that link on our website). Your mother died when you were 2; you were raised by your grandmother and aunt; you left Kikandwa at age 17. Then you came back. Please tell us your story.

–Please tell us about the projects that have been initiated during the past 20 years. What steps has Kikandwa taken toward sustainability. economic? agricultural? educational?

–What kind of support did you receive for these projects? Or did you do it mostly with local resources?

–Two of your maxims are “local to global” and “small to large.” What lessons can we learn from your experiences? What are your hopes for a sustainable Kikwanda? Uganda? Africa? World?

–How can our listeners learn more about your work and become involved with it?

Part III: Million Person Project

–Heather Box, you met Kaganga John through a program you initiated, the Million Person Project. Please tell us about its mission.

–Much of your work centers on storytelling. Please tell us how that works. [Our station, KZFR, hosted the NPR StoryCorps project last year, so most of our listeners are already on board with the value of storytelling.]

–What’s the Global Pen Pal Project?

–You’ve done workshops all over the world. Please give us an example or several of places you’ve visited, people you’ve met (including Kaganga John).

–Help us reconnect the Million Person Project with Rio+20. What do you see as the connection between storytelling and a more sustainable world?

–How can listeners learn more about your project and become involved?

We want to thank our guests for being with us, Kaganga John in Uganda, Heather Box in San Francisco. Your work is amazing and inspirational. Thank you for all you’re doing to help create a more sustainable, more humane world.

We will post links to the websites, facebook sites, Hpost, Utube, and others on our website, ecotopiakzfr.net.

Connect with the Million Person Project at http://www.millionpersonproject.org/mpp/



1. Death Of Mother Nature Suite (Album Version) 7:54 Kansas Kansas
2. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth 2:14 Neko Case Middle Cyclone
3. Global Warming Blues 3:42 Lenny Solomon Armando's Pie
4. Slower Than Guns (LP Version) 3:50 Iron Butterfly Metamorphosis
5. Supernova 4:42 Liquid Blue Supernova
6. Waiting for the Worms 3:58 Pink Floyd The Wall
7. Will There Be Enough Water? 6:20 The Dead Weather Horehound
8. The Rape Of The World 7:08 Tracy Chapman New Beginning Folk
9. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary