Juice: Rio Redux

By Published On: June 15, 2012

The last time I used a manual typewriter was during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20 years ago. I remember the 4,000 other journalists there vying for those clunky old contraptions and ancient fax machines to file their stories. With the Rio+20 summit opening this week, there should be a few changes, technology wise. But two decades later there remains a short supply of bright alternative energy and environment breakthroughs. In the meantime, the rich got richer. Their idea of alternative energy today is a bio-fueled corporate jet. The poor got poorer. Their concept of alternative energy is burning ever-scarcer wood sticks for cooking. A few developed nations made some changes. Germany, Italy, and Spain cultivated aggressive renewable energy programs. Germany is phasing out its nuclear power plant fleet. Denmark is planning a vast expansion of renewable energy, with the region’s ultimate goal of fossil freedom. The U.S. failed to embrace comprehensive energy policies. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 notched up building efficiency standards. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 only contained a non-binding resolution to reduce global warming. Cap-and-trade policy died in 2010, although politicians were able to swing tax incentives for renewable facilities and manufacturing--at least for now. There are some positive movements in a couple federal agencies. Without federal policy on climate change, it fell to the Environmental Protection Agency to attempt to reduce greenhouse gases. In spite of the administrator’s determination, it’s not been a smashing political success. EPA remains in a partisan hot seat, with most of the heat coming from coal state politicians. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is embracing changes too. In the last few years, it’s moved to develop policies that encourage renewable energy, such as new interconnection rule development. Independent system operators also are encouraged to make the domestic grid more efficient. California, of course, is set to embark on a cap-and-trade market to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Many individual states, like the Golden State, also have renewables portfolio standards while the federal government still debates a national portfolio standard. In 1992, the “leader of the free world” President George Bush, Sr., refused to even travel to the Earth Summit, instead connecting on video because saving the earth wasn’t all that important to him. There were only two times all international journalists fell silent in that the clackity United Nations press room. One was for the Bush video, despite a general international distaste in the room for the President. The other was in fascination for Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s official speech. Outside the U.N. meeting, some life went on as usual in Rio. Sunbathers sunbathed, dancers danced, caiprinhas washed down feijoada--but the city wasn’t itself. This month, I’ll be curious to find out if, once again, most of the area’s aggressive homeless population will be bussed 100 kilometers away then dumped by police. I’ll be enquiring if the semi-religious entertainers “Up With People” will take their act to one of the city’s notorious favelas like they did 20 years ago. At that time, I snagged a ride on their bus to the hillside ghetto of drugs and violence while they sang pop songs--far more surreal than the parade of delegates at the formal summit. This Earth Summit is unlikely to bring peace and four-part harmony much more than the last. One of the biggest obstacles they’ll face since 1992 is that global population has increased from 5.5 billion to 7 billion. Maybe if the U.N. employed 7 billion monkeys on manual typewriters, they’d compose an Earth Summit plan guaranteed to slow climate change, reforest the planet, and allow our burgeoning population to be sustainable.

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