‘The real enemy is humanity itself’
At Rio+20 next month, the world’s elites will meet in Brazil with the aim of holding back human progress.
Ben Pile - Thursday 17 May 2012
Forty years ago, two ideas about humanity’s relationship with the natural world caught the imagination of the richest and most influential people. The first was that the demands of a growing population were taking more from the planet than could be replaced by natural processes. The second, related idea was that there exist natural ‘limits to growth’. These two reinventions of Malthusianism became the basis of a new form of global politics, which has sought to contain human industrial and economic development ever since.
Fears about the possibility of global environmental catastrophe and its human consequences, as depicted by neo-Malthusians like Paul Ehrlich - author of the 1968 prophecy, The Population Bomb - and the Club of Rome - a talking shop for high-level politicians, diplomats and researchers - became the ground on which a number of organisations established under the United Nations were formed. In 1972, the UN held its Conference on the Human Environment, and began its environment programme, UNEP. In 1983, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, aka The Brundtland Commission, after its chair, Norwegian politician Gro Harlem Brundtland) was formed, leading to the publication of its findings in 1987 in Our Common Future. Also known as the Brundtland Report, it became the bible of ‘sustainable development’.
Having established sustainable development as an imperative of global politics, more organisations and programmes under the UN were formed to deliver it. In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development, the first ‘Earth Summit’, was held in Rio, leading to the Agenda 21 ‘blueprint for a sustainable planet’, UN conventions on climate change and biodiversity, and the creation of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (UNSCD). Since then, an entire ecosystem of global, national, governmental and non-governmental organisations has emerged, to advocate and implement the closer integration of human productive life with knowledge about the environment: to observe the ‘limits to growth’. The most notable of these is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions is being sought.