Twenty years ago Washington and British Columbia activist organized themselves as the sans boundary coalition and faxed a declaration to the Rio summit, 1992.
I recounted this Sound & Straits ‘92 “People’s Agreement” in this blog last fall on October 20 and on October 24 in advance of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference— and, like your crazy aunt, I will bring out the family heirlooms again as Rio+20 convenes.
The “People’s Agreement” averred:
“WE, THE PEOPLE of the Sound and Straits, in pledging to work together to restore the ecological and economic health of our home, DECLARE THAT:
• The salmon shall be the symbol and indicator of the health of our waters, for in saving the salmon we shall save ourselves.
• The most protective environmental standards shall be applied as the minimal standards throughout the region.
• The Sound and Straits shall be a Pollution Free Zone by the year 2011.
• Bold and innovative solutions that protect our resources shall be recognized and rewarded.
• The people of the region shall be informed and involved in all aspects of governance of the region.
And this is what what we thought in 1992 needed to be done to hold "the governments of Canada, the United States, British Columbia and the state of Washington accountable.”
• Timely, effective implementation of all environmental agreements.
• Restoration of salmon habitat, as required by treaty.
• Initiating an International Joint Commission investigation and actions to restore and maintain native salmon throughout the region.
• Applying the most stringent environmental protections on either side of the boarder as minimums throughout the region.
• Involving the public in all decisions which affect the Sound and Straits.
• Creating new jobs for military personnel and redirecting resources to more urgent social, economic and environmental problems.
• Protecting the ecological resources critical to all life in the region through creation of a biosphere/sanctuary regional framework.
• Protecting life and habitat through safe shipping and safe oil transport.
We hadn’t yet become activists around climate change and ocean acidification; we had a pretty full agenda that we wanted federal, tribal, state, provincial and local government— in consultation with their people — to take action on. And we thought in ecosystems, across borders, across political boundaries.
Maybe some would say the progress on the Sound & Straits Salish Sea agenda is a glass half-full; I’d say it was a glass more than half-empty.
I think we let our children down when I listen to Severn Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of David Suzuki. Twelve-year old Severn in 1992 addressed the Earth Summit delegates: “We've come 5,000 miles to tell you adults you must change your ways."
In a Vancouver Sun interview a week ago (Twenty years after Rio warning, we're still in peril ), Craig and Marc Kielburger write that Severn “became known as ‘the girl who silenced the world for five minutes.’”
"’I look back at those documents that came out of Rio, and they were pretty amazing,’ Cullis-Suzuki says. ‘Great promises were made at Rio, then it kind of fell off people's agenda.’
“The hope and promise were short-lived. Cullis-Suzuki recalls that, in the years following the Earth Summit, the global economy slipped into recession and economic constraints meant the environment was no longer a priority.
“Cullis-Suzuki notes the parallels to today, as economic woes again displace the environment as a top concern for world leaders.
“[T]he 2012 Earth Summit will last only three days. U.S. President Barack Obama will not be there, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not indicated if he will attend.”
We let them and ourselves down, didn’t we?
The Victoria Times-Colonist reports that “Instead of clean energy, food, the oceans and other topics scheduled for debate at Rio+20, as the summit is known, political focus is attuned to a teetering Europe, turmoil in the Middle East and a presidential campaign in the United States. (Environment expectations low for Rio+20 )
Without leadership on environmental protection and restoration, we’ll go nowhere. But we also know that when the people lead, leaders follow. I’d like to think that it’s never too late, that maybe we were older then— and we’re younger than that now.