Rio +20 Earth Summit: The End of International Environmentalism

Watching green ideology crash and burn

Twenty years ago the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro marked the ascension of environmentalism as a political force in international affairs. That conference in 1992 produced the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. At the time, Chris Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute crowed, “You cannot go to any corner of the globe and not find some degree of environmental awareness and some amount of environmental politics.” Flavin added that with socialism in disrepute, environmentalism is now the “most powerful political ideal today.” At the conclusion of the Rio +20 Earth Summit, it is clear that that is no longer so.

The largest United Nations conference ever—featuring more than 50,000 participants from 188 nations —was a flop. For most of the environmentalist ideologues at the Rio +20 conference the only question was whether it was a “hoax” or a “failure.” Oxfam chief executive Barbara Stocking preferred "hoax" while "failure" was Greenpeace spokesperson Kumi Naidoo’s dismissive term.

In response to outcomes of the Rio conference, more than a thousand environmentalist and leftist groups signed a petition entitled The Future We Don’t Want. That is a play on the title of the platitudinous outcome document, The Future We Want, agreed to by the diplomats at the end of the conference. Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo lamely vowed that disappointed environmentalists would now engage in acts of civil disobedience in order to bring about the world they want.

Should the people of the world be disappointed by the “failure” of the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development? No. First of all, sustainable development as a concept is a Rorschach blot. The canonical version reads: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This has no specific meaning and can be used by anyone to mean anything that they would like. So it is not at all surprising that the representatives from 190 rich and poor nations meeting in Rio de Janeiro could not agree on anything substantive with regard to sustainable development.

Nevertheless, since the first Earth Summit, the world has experienced a lot of development. In 1992, 46 per cent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty (defined as income equivalent to less than $1.25 per day). Today that is down to 27 percent. In addition, average life expectancy has increased by three and a half years.

At the Rio +20 Earth Summit, environmentalists and the leaders of poor countries were hoping to shake down the rich countries for hundreds of billions in official development assistance annually. However, most of the actual development achieved over the past two decades was not the result of official development assistance (a.k.a. taxpayer dollars) from rich countries being sent to poor countries. In fact, some researchers have found [PDF] that development aid often actually retards economic growth and “has an insignificant or minute negative significant impact on per-capita income.” Why? Largely because the aid is stolen by the kleptocrats who run many poor countries and the rest is “invested” in projects that are not profitable. So what has produced so much improvement in the lot of poor people in developing countries since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago?

“Remember in the 1960s, official development assistance accounted for 70 percent of the capital flows to developing nations, but today it amounts to only 13 percent, while at the same time, development budgets have actually increased,” explained U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Rio +20 Conference. “Why is that? Well, you know very well. Because while continuing to provide assistance, the private sector investments, using targeted resources and smart policies, have catalyzed more balanced, inclusive, sustainable growth.” Summary: The way to development is trade, not aid.

After a week spent listening to environmentalist hopes and objectives, one particularly puzzling and disturbing activist brainchild emerged and that is their undertaking to maintain and expand open access commons. Many participants at the People’s Summit, which was run by 200 activist groups in parallel to the official summit, evidently do believe that property is theft. In the original Marxist version capitalism would collapse as its “contradictions” mounted. In the Green update capitalism will collapse as its pollution mounts. For lots of the hardcore, the solution to environmental problems is a kind of eco-socialism in which nature is not “privatized” or “commodified.” This trend in environmentalist thinking might be called “commonism.”

Looking across the globe, it is the case that various aggregate environmental measures have deteriorated. Since 1992, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) claims [PDF] that biodiversity has declined by 12 percent, 740 million acres of primary forests have been cut down, and 85 percent of the all the fish stocks in the oceans are overexploited, depleted, recovering, or fully depleted. Are environmental calamities the result of rapacious capitalism? Not really. The same report notes that 80 percent of the world’s forests, which harbor the bulk of the world’s biodiversity, are government owned. In most parts of the world, government-owned nets out to owned by no one. Essentially these aspects of nature already exist in the commons for which many environmental commonists are agitating. As Sarah Palin might ask, “How’s that working out for you?” Not too well if the UNEP data are to be believed.

The fact is that in nearly every place where what most people would regard as an environmental problem is occurring, it is happening in an open access commons. A river is polluted? No one owns it and stands ready to protect it. Forest is being cut? Same problem. Overfishing? Yes. A water shortage? Yes, again. Empirically, calling for the enlargement or re-imposition of a commons with respect to an environmental resource or amenity is tantamount to calling for its slow destruction.

Countries with strong property rights generally see environmental improvement, e.g., air and water pollution are declining, fishery stocks are stable, and forests are expanding. First, because owners protect their resources since they directly suffer the costs and consequences of not doing so. And a second indirect effect is that countries with strong property rights are more prosperous and can thus afford to bear the costs of environmental regulations, even inefficient ones, applied to those environmental commons that still remain.

Looking back the failure of environmentalism as an ideology looks inevitable since has misconstrued the causes of many of the problems to which it claims to have a solution. At the close of the Rio +20 Earth Summit last Friday, environmentalism reached its highwater mark and is now ebbing as a political force internationally. It will be interesting to see in which direction those cherishing a permanent animus against democratic capitalism will go.

Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey is the author of Liberation Biology (Prometheus).

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  • T o n y||

    When has capitalism reduced pollution all on its own?

    A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the [EPA] was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that emissions are causing harm.

    The judges unanimously dismissed arguments from industry that the science of global warming was not well supported and that the agency had based its judgment on unreliable studies. “This is how science works,” the judges wrote. “The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

    ---

    The plaintiffs could still ask for a hearing by the full appeals court or decide to appeal to the Supreme Court, but it is not clear whether they will do so, given the emphatic nature of the decision.
  • Sevo||

    Yeah, shithead, tell us about Dredd Scott while you're at it.

  • R C Dean||

    When has capitalism reduced pollution all on its own?

    Whenever it reduces waste and inefficiency? To, you know, increase profits?

    Or, I know, when it delivers goods and services that help the environment, because that's what people want?

  • T o n y||

    So never?

    What happens when it's more profitable to pollute, especially when it's perfectly legal to do so at no cost to them?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Do you own a gas-burning car, Tony?

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:09PM|#
    "So never?
    What happens when it's more profitable to pollute, especially when it's perfectly legal to do so at no cost to them?"

    So, shithead, you find no reason to compare the supposed costs to the benefits?
    Why is that not surprising, shithead?

  • T o n y||

    Why should a factory owner get to do his own cost-benefit calculations when the costs we're talking about will be imposed on other people?

  • allen||

    Why shouldn't a factory owner do their own cost-benefit analysis? You certainly don't give a damn whether the business succeeds or fails and neither does anyone else. Are you suggesting that people who have no stake in the business ought to have a say in how the business is run?

    Of course if you have been injured by something the factory owner's done you are free to seek remedies in the courts which are the proper venue to seek compensation for injury.

    But that's not what you want. You want to have the power to dictate to the factory owner about anything that springs into your mind.

  • Rhino||

    Because they will have to account for the impact that pollution will have on his profits if he is sued for damages and health issues related to his business. If they don't, they will go out of business because of all the money they'll lose or have tied up in lawyers and lawsuits not related to productivity. A comparison would be doctors who often over test patients to prevent malpractice suits.

  • plusafdotcom||

    Because, Tony, ALL "costs are imposed on other people," if you understand what a "business" is and what the flow of money in and out of one means.

  • ant1sthenes||

    When consumers cared enough to take green-ness into account in purchasing.

  • Sevo||

    "When consumers cared enough to take green-ness into account in purchasing."

    IOWs, when people got prosperous enough to quit worrying about where the food was coming from, and started caring about other things.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Guess we'd better get rid of capitalism, then.

    /snark.

  • T o n y||

    So, never? They have a vital interest whether they care hard enough or not. The environment is my no. 1 policy concern and my lifestyle contributes unacceptably to pollution, so there goes your little theory.

    Just because something can't happen without directed government policy doesn't mean the universe is messed up, it's just your ridiculous beliefs that are.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Then end your lifestyle.

  • T o n y||

    Are you like drunk all day or something?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    No... I work two jobs, so I rarely have time to drink.

    Here's a thought... blame it on my parentage, or my lack of college education, or whatever other snooty-assed way you choose to look down your nose at me.

  • T o n y||

    I look down my nose at most people, so no personal offense. I am being a bad liberal by not just seeing you as a victim of poor parentage and a lack of education.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 10:00PM|#
    "I look down my nose at most people, so no personal offense."

    Yes, ignorant, self-satisfied twit assholes like you make a practice of that.
    Fortunately, those who have a brain-cell, recognize both your ignorance and your arrogance, shithead.

  • plusafdotcom||

    re: "T o n y|6.26.12 @ 10:00PM|#

    I look down my nose at most people, so no personal offense. I am being a bad liberal by not just seeing you as a victim of poor parentage and a lack of education."

    No, Tony, that's not the mark of a "bad liberal," it's the mark of a typical liberal.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:29PM|#
    "Are you like drunk all day or something?"

    Shithead, are you like stupid all day or something?

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:13PM|#
    "my lifestyle"

    Fuck your "lifestyle", shithead. Try getting a life.

  • ||

    The environment is my no. 1 policy concern

    Today. On Thursday it'll be healthcare "rights".

  • Jordan||

    There are all sorts of markets which developed in order to make use of waste products from other markets.

  • LarryA||

    RTFA. "Countries with strong property rights generally see environmental improvement, e.g., air and water pollution are declining, fishery stocks are stable, and forests are expanding."

    I've been teaching Hunter Education for 30 years now. During all of that time, in the areas with private regulated hunting wildlife (game and non-game) flourish. In areas where environmentalists or governments have banned hunting species are hurting.

  • T o n y||

    Were the species hurting before government intervened, or was that the cause of the intervention?

  • ChrisO||

    Environmentalism is evidence of man's desire to create a new religion in the absence of a viable existing one.

  • CockGobbla||

    Socialism at least provided an aesthetic that helped shape 20th artistic expression, if it didn't always appeal to people's political leanings. Sergei Eisenstein's editing techniques still influence the action film genre to this very day.

    The greatest artistic expression environmentalism has ever given us was that glorified PowerPoint presentation, An Inconvenient Truth.

  • ||

    Countries with strong property rights generally see environmental improvement, e.g., air and water pollution are declining, fishery stocks are stable, and forests are expanding.

    True, so far as it goes, but it's not private property that's protecting these resources. Is the air private? The Cuyahoga River? Fisheries? They're all commons, and the pollution/overuse is regulated by statute and bureaucrat instead of private civil actions. Democracy and transparency are at least as important as private property, if not more.

    And a second indirect effect is that countries with strong property rights are more prosperous and can thus afford to bear the costs of environmental regulations, even inefficient ones, applied to those environmental commons that still remain.

    "Afford" is a funny word, because the beneficiaries and victims of environmental destruction are rarely the same. A logging company that makes a mint stripping a Malagasy hillside doesn't suffer the landslides and destroyed water table. Ditto the oil companies and the Niger River Delta. And so on.

  • NotSure||

    Your second part makes it clear that property rights are more important than democracy. Both Nigeria and Madagascar are democracies, they both have universal suffrage, what they don't have is a strong culture of property rights.

  • T o n y||

    So how much of the planet gets to be polluted before we're forced to impose a culture of property rights on other nations?

    It's a common problem, a common imposition of harm. When people cause harm to others even libertarians agree the state is supposed to step in. For individuals causing harm, we use the courts. For society doing it because there are no incentives for it not to, we use regulations.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Won't ever happen. It's as stupid a notion as "two men arguing over cutting down the very last tree on earth".

  • T o n y||

    What won't ever happen?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "So how much of the planet gets to be polluted before we're forced to impose a culture of property rights on other nations?"

    That.

  • T o n y||

    You're even slower than normal tonight. Well, it is the appropriate time to be drinking I suppose.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:57PM|#
    "You're even slower than normal tonight. Well, it is the appropriate time to be drinking I suppose."

    Your stupidity is right up to par; I guess any time is appropriate for that.

  • ||

    You wish you could mandate people to drink at a specified time I bet.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    The kicker was... I didn't drink at all last night.

    Typical leftist/elitist bullshit.

  • R C Dean||

    Democracy and transparency are at least as important as private property, if not more.

    You might ponder the degree to which democracy and transparency are found in countries which have strong property rights, as opposed to how often they are found in countries without strong property rights.

    "Afford" is a funny word, because the beneficiaries and victims of environmental destruction are rarely the same.

    It would be funny, if we weren't talking about how prosperous the country is as a whole.

    And thanks for providing examples of environmental depredation in countries that lack strong property rights.

  • hk||

    When the government does not allow one to sue others, for polluting their private property, then that is known as government failure.

    The only sustainable solution is to privatize the commons whenever possible.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Environmentalsim is just a way for sanctimonious white people to tell brown people how to live, without any of the occasionally useful byproducts of 19th century colonialism. My wish for the 21st century is to see Juan, M'boto, and Chang put third-world-brown feet up the lazy white arses of the preaching 1st worlders, and then go about exploiting their various countries' resources for the benefit of the brown locals without regard to the fainting fits of the Western Ineffectuals, I mean Intellectuals.

  • Sevo||

    "My wish for the 21st century is to see Juan, M'boto, and Chang put third-world-brown feet up the lazy white arses of the preaching 1st worlders,"

    That'd mean that Juan, M'boto and Chang and were allowed to become prosperous and were no longer the exhibits in the 1st-worlder's tourism-fantasies of how WONDERFUL primitive societies were.
    Imagine how boring Cuba would be without all the starvation!

  • T o n y||

    So both sides have their racist exploitation stories. Yours just comes with a dose of explicit racism!

    It's the white western world that policy proposals are targeted to change, since they do most of the polluting. Populous Asian countries also contributing in a large way, unburdened by an unconscionably ignorant and anti-science political party in the pockets of the oil cartel, are taking far more proactive steps than we are, even as they cope with huge populations modernizing.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "White people suck"

    FIFY'd. No charge.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    BTW, Tony:

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism

    Read it, college-boy.

  • T o n y||

    I'd urge people to read my original comments and not FIFY's, uh, reinterpretations.

    But you know what. White people do suck, especially dumb white American people. By virtue of the color of their skin, they've taken the lucky bounty handed down from their ancestors and become the biggest threat to positive progress in the world there is.

    There is a very good reason almost all libertarians are dumb white men. "I got mine, fuck you" works pretty well for people who've inherited privilege via their skin color.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "Yours just comes with a dose of explicit racism!"

    Just trying to clear the air as to what racism actually *is*.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "Breeders ESPECIALLY suck."

    Just pointing out the hypocrisy.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    And... your bigotry. But do go on and point fingers at Whitey as the root of all evil.

  • T o n y||

    Using culturally stereotypical names for groups of people is racist. Your understanding of racial politics has evolved not much past the slime mold stage, and pedantically pointing to a dictionary only demonstrates that. It's complicated, and I don't expect you to understand it if you don't care about it.

    He's right, the West has no moral authority to tell the developing world that it can't have living standards like ours. Nevertheless there is a global problem that needs addressing, and it will affect the developing world hardest first. Perhaps we can atone for our sins by giving up all our ill-gotten wealth and living like the poorer half?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    So, it's okay to use "hillbilly", then?

    BTW, thanks for shitting on Merriam-Webster. You should inform them they have wasted all these decades, defining words and whatnot.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Oh, and I do care. I hate *actual* racists, like Klansmen and Black Panthers.

    But do continue to consider yourself superior.

  • T o n y||

    As an editor by profession, I use MW as my standard dictionary, thank you very much.

    If you have to drag out a dictionary to prove you aren't racist, then you're a fucking racist.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Fuck you, liar.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:56PM|#
    "As an editor by profession, I use MW as my standard dictionary, thank you very much."

    Shithead, whoever hired you as editor ought to be fired.
    Or, you're lying, shithead, which is common.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:56PM|#
    "If you have to drag out a dictionary to prove you aren't racist, then you're a fucking racist."

    No, shithead, he 'drug it out' to show you're a liar.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:51PM|#
    "Using culturally stereotypical names for groups of people is racist."

    Right, shithead. Tell that to Suzuki San.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:38PM|#
    "I'd urge people to read my original comments"

    Yes I have, and they're as abysmally stupid the second time, shithead.

  • ||

    Poof.

    And thus ended Tony.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:23PM|#
    "So both sides have their racist exploitation stories. Yours just comes with a dose of explicit racism!"

    Shithead, learning to read might help you. But I doubt it; ignorance can be cured, stupidity is forever.

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:23PM|#
    ..."Populous Asian countries also contributing in a large way, unburdened by an unconscionably ignorant and anti-science political party in the pockets of the oil cartel, are taking far more proactive steps than we are, even as they cope with huge populations modernizing."

    Ha, and ha!
    The Indian government continues to starve a portion of their population through socialist planning.
    And the Chi Coms 'taking far more proactive steps than we are'? What do you 'edit'? Parade magazine?

  • LarryA||

    Down here in Texas Juan, M'boto, and Chang are visiting Texas AM University, working with the Texas Parks and Wildlfe departement, and touring game ranches, to learn how our state manages a truly green wildlife program. I'm not as familiar with other environmental fields, but I believe similar efforts are ongoing.

    The main environmental problems in the world exist in countries where governments are two kleptocratic to undertake such efforts.

    You are correct in that the programs in place have very little to do with "intellectuals."

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Intellectuals of either major Team need to just butt the fuck out and stop trying to "fix" things.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    So if the ocean goes on sale, I want to buy that piece of ocean where those Whale Wars pricks sail so I could blow those self-righteous assholes out of the water.

  • GILMORE||

    Will you scream, "Get off my land!.... I mean, fuck it! you know what I mean..." (loads torpedo)

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    Ha! "Hey! You kids get off my Sargasso!"

    But, I am thinking something more along the lines of 16" cannon round air-bursting 3 feet above the wheelhouse.

  • BryanB||

    "Open access commons" seems like an oxymoron. Common property regimes, such as community forests, irrigation districts, etc., are institutions for regulating access and use, which sometimes can be sustainable (see Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons). Successfully managing shared resources as commons requires rules about who can do what, which almost always means limits on use, and often on access.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Community restrooms, especially. They're the height of communitarianism fail.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Hey, Sevo... I've re-read your post several times, and can NOT find the "explicit racism" supposedly contained therein.

    D'ya think you can diagram the paragraph, so's everyone else but Tony can see the blatant hatred of brown folks?

  • T o n y||

    Was talking to Schofield but it really was a minor point. His post wasn't all that racist, except for the stereotypical names. Would it help if I stifled my laughter as much as possible while I agreed that you guys care just as much about the plight of brown people as liberals, and not just when you can trot them out like dancing seals for rhetorical purposes?

  • Sevo||

    T o n y|6.26.12 @ 9:54PM|#
    "Was talking to Schofield but it really was a minor point."

    No, shithead, it's not a minor point. You lied as you commonly do, shithead.

  • Sevo||

    Mr. FIFY|6.26.12 @ 9:47PM|#
    "Hey, Sevo... I've re-read your post several times, and can NOT find the "explicit racism" supposedly contained therein."

    Of course not. Shithead's claims of racism are on a par with shithead's claims of, oh, shitheads intelligence; lies.

  • ||

    This thread and the article are a wonderful twofer: I get to enjoy salty Tony and muy impotnent environmentalism tears. YUMMY!!!!

    I am going to take my cracker ass and got get a GM fed double cheezeburger contained in the old fashioned styrofoam containers on my way to McDonalds in my H1 9 m.p.g. hummer.

  • ||

    Tony makes me want to walk into a grocery store and buy every single god dang plastic bag at a nickle a piece and throw 'em all on the floor with a big f you.

  • Sevo||

    Shithead shops in the 'sanctimony' section of the men's wear department. He thinks it looks *so* good on him.

  • joy||

    So it is not at all surprising that the representatives from 190 rich and poor nations meeting in Rio de Janeiro could not agree on anything http://www.zonnebrilinnl.com/z.....-3_18.html substantive with regard to sustainable development.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo lamely vowed that disappointed environmentalists would now engage in acts of civil disobedience in order to bring about the world they want."

    Translates to: "Well, we couldn't bully people into accepting our beliefs and ideals through misinformation and propaganda campaigns, so it's back to good ole violence and fanaticism."

  • ||

    The damn vicious greens could not die too soon for me.

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