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Flashbacks at Bali

Rachel Kyte's picture

Walking into the Bali Convention Center, you know that you have become a fixture in the world of international sustainable development when the UN security guard welcomes you with a broad smile and a "how have you been." You swore as a younger woman and an activist you would never become one of those grey haired incrementalists around the negotiating halls.

And then you look around and you see your old friends, all with traces of grey at the temples, reporting, representing UN agencies, working the trade agenda, running think tanks, hanging out on the west coast of the US with other ageing activists and having fun being still irreverent, or slightly proud that Michael Crichton may have based his caricature of the evilly powerful NGO on you.

Looking around you see a remarkable repository of knowledge, not just of the substance of the negotiations, but of the social anthropology of summitry. Of the personal that makes up the political and the history of institutions, a history that often impedes collaboration and undermines trust.

And you still wonder why: why is it that when each institution, each agency, most NGOs, are all funded and supported by the same governments, they split hairs and dance on the head of a pin. The governments that support and make up this sustainable development industry statements are differently nuanced in Bali than they are in Geneva, or Washington or New York. Nuanced, no, they are inconsistent. In Washington they want coal fired power stations and large hydro, but in Bali no. Internationally they are greener than green, but at home they may live from tar sands. Most of all, as the world changes the top ten relevance list has changed and some have a hard time moving on.

And then you flip between CNN and BBC on the resort hotel room television and there is Al Gore, accepting the prize, and tears prick the back of your eyes, as he calls for taxation on pollution rather than income, and you are immediately back in the Forum Global in Flamengo Park, 40 miles from the convention center in Rio at the Earth Summit, when Al Gore, younger, no grey was saying the same thing. And you hope, you hope that all of this, the last 15 years, you hope that you are helping.


My last 15 years as a participant and feral community media practitioner in the ngo movement, but more than that, my legal and biology training tells me the momentum for dangerous climate change is well in place. You are expressing the creeping suspicion we missed the boat. I hardly doubt that this is true. Sad to say. I watched Gore's speech down here in Sydney via the miracle of IT, and yes it was a beautiful effort. The room was with him all 22 minutes getting up to applaud too. But the coloured scientist guy UNIPCC he hardly smiled once. He knows I reckon. I think it's over. We lost. Ask yourself - has a room full of politicians ever solved a really big big problem? Never saw it my career. It's always a new device for good or bad, or outraged media, or even massive street demonstrations or sadly a war. But a room full of corporate funded pollies? Suspend disbelief? Why? It lacks common sense. Take Churchill. He stormed back to lead the UK because he didn't agree with the room and the people preferred him even as he promised blood tears and misery. In short the truth of the Nazi threat, in our case the science of massive eco unravel. Get your floaties. The rest is humbug, no? Being a voyeur on slow motion disaster is not much chop either.

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