Citizens Summit on Sustainable Development

CitNet was one of the organizers of this meeting to prepare for the June 2012 UN Conference on Environment & Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20). It was held at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in New Haven, Connecticut, and brought together students and youth groups with leaders from academia, business, civil society, and government (some of whom attended the original UN conference in Rio 20 years ago (the ‘Earth Summit’).
 
There was much discussion about the lack of political will to implement Agenda 21 - the extensive plan for sustainable development put together at the Earth Summit - and the limited results from the treaties adopted there on climate change, protection of biodiversity, and prevention of desertification. www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/mar/26/sustainability-movement-preps-for-rio/
 
More importantly, there was new energy among the participants about using the preparations for Rio+20 as a rallying point for the US and Canada to show public support for sustainable development activities - especially by using new social media to build constituencies. If you are interested in being involved in a group focusing on that effort, you can join the ‘Rio+20 Social Media’ Google group, or you can post a message at http://rioplussocial.com.br/en/.
 
One suggestion was to start a social media campaign to get President Obama to attend the Rio+20 conference. Since support from young voters will be especially important for Obama in the upcoming election, messages from them about what they want to see for a sustainable future could focus attention on this within the Obama administration.
 
During the New Haven conference, CitNet organized a discussion session on Changing Consumption and Production Practices, Policies and Priorities. Many North Americans involved in the international Rio+20 preparations have been challenged to make their own personal and political commitments to sustainable development at home. One focus of this discussion session was on ways of building social acceptance for lifestyles based on less consumerism. Another issue considered was how to transform the current economic system, infrastructure, and entrenched interests that make it difficult for people to make sustainable consumption choices.
 
The difficult economic prospects for many young people have encouraged more acceptance of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ options. There have been new experiments in self-reliance and sharing, including through urban agriculture, clothing swaps, and free cycle programs. However, there is generally a negative reaction to environmentalists lecturing people about using less and threatening dire consequences if we don’t change our lifestyles. Somehow, the emphasis needs to be on showing the benefits and joys of more sustainable practices. If you have ideas on this, you can join the ‘Creativity for Sustainability’ Google group. See an amusing video along these lines at http://impossiblehamster.org/
 
- Gail Karlsson

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