I look up from my airplane seat.  The overhead monitor is all green.  Deep green.  Nothing of the brown landscape that I see when I fly across the United States.  Just green.

Only a few names appear on the video screen.  They are widely spaced from one another.  Manaus, Rio Branco, Macapa, Iquitos.  The names speak of a world as different from Oregon as anyone could imagine.

Dominating the screen, however, is one word that explains the unfamiliar names on the deep green background: Amazon.

The map shifts, zooms out.  Two other names appear.  Brasilia.  Rio de Janeiro.

The World Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., chose Ekologia-Pravo-Liudina (Environment-People Law, or EPL) — to send a representative to Rio+20.  EPL is among many ELAW partners from various parts of the world who are at work here in Rio.

http://www.uncsd2012.org/content/logos/Color%20Horizontal/English.pngIs this upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development going to be a real “Earth Summit”?  108 heads of state or governments will be here.  The number of national delegations will be 172 — about 90% of the countries of the world.  So will large numbers of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to influence the negotiations or simply make public declarations of the urgency of changing the unsustainable path that the world is on.

But it seems that while this is a summit taking place ON the Earth, it is not clear how much it will be a summit FOR the Earth.  Negotiations among governments leading up to this massive diplomatic meeting seem to be bogged down.  The “citizen diplomats” from NGOs are lobbying various delegations to insert words into the diplomatic texts.  Maybe such words, if successful, can help nudge policy-makers back home to allow more access to information, more public participation, more access to justice in environmental matters — all key elements of environmental sustainability.

But after all is said and done, I suspect our most successful work will be where it always is — back home, fighting one battle at a time for environmental justice and rights.  That has always been the hallmark of ELAW — legal claims being put forward inside our national systems, with the intention of moving our own country further along the path to democracy and the protection of environmental rights. “One step at a time.”

John Bonine
ELAW Founder and Board Member
EPL President