I was privileged to attend a side event at COP17 in Durban last year and I have explored some of the disappointment and hope from the international climate negotiations in a previous post. At the time I was looking forward to Rio+20 as a more relevant event for progress on cities and our built environment. And on some fronts it seems to be so, at least as far as cities are concerned.
However the final text contains few, if any, firm commitments. The commentary coming out of Rio was downbeat, with the hash-tag #riominus20 getting airtime on Twitter - and Greenpeace adopting what CEO, Kumi Naidoo, has termed a 'war footing' of civil disobedience. The USA and Russia appear to be the major blockers of strong action, perhaps with a view to exploiting arctic energy resources?
Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote an excellent piece on how global leaders are using the rhetoric of hope to string the public along with these global negotiations. I too have allowed myself to dare to hope that leaders will announce some big breakthrough at these conferences, something more than is needed, not less - and each time I have been bitterly disappointed.
And yet why are we disappointed? There has been so much written on the relationship between corporations and governments: embracing partners in a dance of power and wealth, at any cost it would seem. Is it not naive to believe that this very system will somehow transcend its own inherently selfish nature?
So the inevitable failure of Rio hurts, but does not surprise... And yet, despite my best efforts (a few brief minutes of fantasy about being a John Gant of sorts and dismantling the industrial machine, although for wildly different reasons to those described in Atlas Shrugged), I cannot give up hope. But I cannot hope in the pomp and ego of the global sustainability summits any more. They have been sold to us on the basis of 'last chances' but negotiators have failed us too many times now.
Instead I must hope in individuals working to do things better tomorrow than they did them yesterday. Simple things. Because we seem to find our humanity at the local scale and that is where my hope lies, in finding our humanity. And even in the midst of massive institutional failure, and the potential humanitarian and environmental disasters that might follow, I can still hope in community and the simple, everyday human interactions that build it.
So for my part, my efforts will be directed at designing spaces that best allow community to engage with environmental and humanitarian challenges at their own scale, in their own context.