Earth $ummit: Corporate Dominance at Rio+20

a guest post by Adam Greenberg

Starting on June 20th, a massive United Nations conference will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Rio+20 Earth Summit promises to be the largest UN event in history, with 150 heads of state and 50,000 other diplomats, journalists, businesspersons, and environmental activists. The mission of this Conference on Sustainable Development is no less ambitious than to chart a course for a livable future through sustainable development. But there’s a major obstacle: banks and multinational corporations have seized control of the political process.

The goal is to save the world, but will it, can it, be done? We as global citizens have reason to be skeptical. Diplomats have been negotiating at these conferences since I was born, and while they’ve made some progress, they’ve failed to deliver at the critical moments. What makes Rio any different?

I’ve had the privilege to work with one of the most inspiring groups at the UN process—the youth. I’ve worked alongside passionate, engaged young people from all around the world as we throw our energy, our ideas, our innovation, our enthusiasm, and our relentless hope at the greatest problems facing our species and our planet.

But over time, I’ve also seen the changes—in body language, in demeanor, the fatigue, the resignation. Some people drop out of the process, looking for a venue to make change that isn’t constantly obstructed by special interest groups. Many of us stay, but instead of boldly pursuing the policies we actually need, we plan our strategies around what is politically feasible—which is reasonable—except when what is politically feasible bears no relation to a livable future on planet Earth.

So why are we still here?
Why do some countries keep obstructing progress? Do they not like the environment? Do they not like human rights? Do they not want a future? Sure they do. In Durban, Abigail Borah made headlines when she stood up and called out the US negotiators, administration, and the “obstructionist Congress.” She was right to call them out. But how can they be accountable to the people of this country if their responsibility to corporate interests takes precedence? It’s time to talk about the real issue. Our political process, our democracy, won’t let us make real progress, from the local to the international level, until we get the money out.

For years, conservative think tanks, oil companies such as ExxonMobil, and the Koch Brothers (who have their hands in everything, including the Keystone XL pipeline) have been actively attacking climate science and the global warming “theory.” Maybe you’ve seen the Heartland Institute’s recently-pulled “I still believe in climate change—do you?” billboards featuring mass murderers like Osama Bin Laden. Yes, that’s the same Heartland Institute that was paid by Phillip Morris to assure Americans that smoking was perfectly healthy. Today, they get contributions from companies like Exxon Mobil to deny climate change.

It’s not hard to understand the motives of these groups. They make immense profits from fossil fuels, and have an obscene amount of financial interest tied to the industry. But those are their interests, not America’s and not our state’s. Boston’s children and elderly are already suffering from asthma and other problems associated with rising summer temperatures, and our city’s future is threatened by rising sea levels. Our communities are directly threatened by these campaigns.

Get the money out
It’s time to start calling it like it is. Big money interests are ruining not only our democracy, but our chance at a sustainable future. Powerful groups like the fossil fuel lobby are throwing millions of dollars into this debate. They use rulings like Citizens United to dump unlimited money to elect candidates who support their interests. Until this changes, we simply won’t be able make real progress in time to save our planet.

When money equals speech, special interests are able to drown out the voices of the other stakeholders: scientists, farmers, indigenous people, women, the youth, and YOU.

While the fossil fuel lobby controls the Congress, the implications go beyond our country. The US is forced to be the bad guys of the climate negotiation, obstructing progress and condemning the world to increasingly catastrophic scenarios. The fossil fuel lobby, by changing the conversation, radically changes the outcome of conferences like Rio+20, and therefore the future we will see. When they dominate our diplomats, the whole planet loses. We can’t afford to lose anymore. Let’s start winning, together.

Fight back!

Sign the petitions to get money out of politics in the USA, and the Occupy Rio+20 petition and Friends of the Earth petition to end corporate capture of the United Nations. Follow the Rio+20 negotiations on twitter #rioplus20 #futurewewant #mgcy

You can also join the campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies here, and on twitter: #endfossilfuelsubsidies

Adam Greenberg is a human rights, environmental justice, and peace advocate based in Boston. He recently graduated from the international Global College program of Long Island University, and is an accredited US youth delegate to the Rio+20 Earth Summit. You can reach or follow Adam on twitter @pragmactivist99.

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