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Last month, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conference organizers themselves have given the conference the nickname of Rio+20.

This is because twenty years ago, in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio de Janeiro, a meeting commonly called the Earth Summit. At this original Rio conference, those who assembled decided that the future would be lost without alternative energy, public transportation, and what was called the “systemic scrutiny of production patterns.” Among the documents excreted by the conference was the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, which is mostly the typical stuffed-shirt garbage one would expect coming from a conference held by the United Nations.

However, within the Declaration there are two elements which are most disconcerting. Principle 8 of the Declaration states as follows:

“To achieve sustainable development and a higher quality of life for all people,  States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable patterns of production and  consumption and promote appropriate demographic policies.”

Now, as a lawyer I am well aware that words are open to interpretation, and as a follower of the political process I am well aware that official declarations are often meaningless, but this portion stuck out. Read it carefully. Who decides what is unsustainable? What criteria will be used? What is an “appropriate” demographic policy?

Principle 15 of the Declaration is similarly interesting to me:

“In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely  applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious  or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a  reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental  degradation.”

Here is the gist of it as I am reading the Declaration; People are killing the planet, therefore governments need to shut down the productive bits of the economy in order to save the planet, and a lack of scientific evidence regarding the problem or the efficacy of specific proposed solutions is not a justifiable reason to stay the hand of the state.

Now, as long as this stuff remains nothing more than a way for empty suits to put each other to sleep at UN conferences, there is no problem. It is only when politicians who espouse these principles take power that real damage can be done.

This Declaration is generally considered to be soft in interpretation, not legally binding, and generally not an obligatory document as much as a statement of principles that countries should work towards. The Earth Summit did produce some binding documents, like the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change (which would eventually lead to the much more famous Kyoto Protocol).

Fast-forward to the recent Rio+20 Conference – it too produced a nonbinding “Outcome Document,” this one entitled “The Future We Want.” (Read it here ).  Most of it is typical filler, and the rest is basically “We reaffirm [fill in the blank] initiatives of the Rio Principles.”

New to the agenda are calls to transfer spending on roads and bridges to public transportation projects, and a special stress on restructuring the ways livestock are raised. I suppose you’ll have to apply for a permit to graze cattle on your own land in the future, and somehow take a bus to the pasture when you need to give them salt licks, which will be taxed, but enough cynical speculation…

If you saw anything at all in the news about the Rio+20 Conference, it was probably a picture of the statue of Jesus Christ, which stands atop a mountain overlooking the city. To celebrate the conference, green lights were directed at the white stone figure, making it appear green. So, we can add defiling Christ the list of the UN’s criminal record, but let us move forward.

Or rather backward. You see, back in 1992, it was thought by some of the delegates to the Earth Summit that the best way to move the Earth Summit Principles forward was to form a permanent nongovernmental organization which could raise money and awareness, and work to pursue the principles of the summit in specific situations. It was to be a sort of “shock and awe” response to environmental disasters, the same way the International Red Cross has been for real disasters.

The result was the founding in 1993 of Green Cross International, armed with a mission statement of promoting “legal, ethical and behavioral norms that aim to change the values, actions and attitudes of government, the private sector, civil society and people at large so to ensure a sustainable future for humanity.” I ask once again, who decides what is sustainable? What criteria are used?

While ignoring UN Convention documents is a highly rewarding use of time – a tactic I myself employed in several international relations courses – I would encourage you to check out the Green Cross International website, ( ) and pay special attention to the person those 1992 delegates tapped to be the founding president of this nongovernmental organization with the lofty goals of satiating Mother Earth’s desire for revenge against humanity.

As is often the case with these big initiatives, the job fell to a former politician, in this case, a recently unemployed former head-of-state; out of power not because of a lost election or a voluntary retirement, but because his political party was illegal in his homeland. Actually, by 1992, his homeland didn’t even exist any more.

So, what of the man who heads this organization which seeks to defeat our greedy, selfish values of unsustainable bourgeois consumption and replace them with the values of all the peoples of the world working together to build a sustainable future? Well, he addressed the Rio+20 Conference in June via video. He’s elderly now and as Founding President of Green Cross International you’d expect that sort of thing from him.

In 1992, he was fresh from trying to “restructure socialism in one country.” It was time for him to work towards restructuring the world. You cannot make this stuff up…

… Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

Sometimes it is hard to see the red letters beneath the all the green paint of the environmentalist movement. This is not one of those times.


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