Future Earth

What do Rio, Coldplay and the Queens Jubilee have in common?

0 Comments 11 June 2012

I went to see Coldplay last night in Manchester at the Ethiad Stadium along with 50,000 others. It was brilliant. We were dazzled with a fabulous 2 hour set complete with PyroTechnics, the most incredible monster size HD screens and a dazzling light show courtesy of the 25,000 or so wirelessly triggered wrist bands which flashed different colours at various points during the concert. We drove the 40 or so miles back across the Pennines, tired but with big smiles on our faces. It reminded me of the Diamond Jubilee concert held last week outside Buckingham Palace to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s sixty years on the throne. That was the culmination of over four days of celebrations that included thousands of parties across the country and the 10,000 or so spectators gathered around the Victoria Monument certainly seemed to enjoy most of the entertainment, not to mention the reported quarter of a million gathered in Hyde Park and beyond.

In ten days the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Rio where countries are expected to take long-term decisions on the directions their economies should take to tackle environment and financial crises. They are expected to sign up to a set of new environmental initiatives, as well as to commit to using fewer resources. However even before the proceedings get under way I am hearing reports that the participants are struggling (and sound unlikely) to agree on key outcomes. It’s the usual case of national self interest trumping the collective good.

That brings us back to Coldplay and the Diamond Jubilee. I chose them carefully because they are pretty benign pastimes but carry a huge environmental cost. No one can really object to anyone attending a concert or the royal celebrations. They might do on artistic grounds or because they are anti royalist but for every objection someone might have, they themselves will probably participate in an activity that damages the environment in equal measure. It might be some obscure Olympic sport or watching your national team slug it out for a share of the spoils in Poland/Ukraine. There are a million and one activities and all they represent are people simply going about their daily routines. And therein lies our perpetual conundrum. Those two events brought happiness to thousands of people. They did no damage to anyone yet both carry an environmental cost that we all collectively turn a blind eye to because at the end of the days it’s simply life. To what degree do we roll that back? Who gets to decide what is sustainable? What is excessive? It will vary for every country depending on their economic maturity and a hundred other factors.

No wonder they are struggling to agree the wording at Rio+20.

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