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Message to Governments at Rio+20 Earth Summit: If You Are Not Going to Save Our Future, We Are

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The Rio+20 Earth Summit is a place of contrasting government inertia and public energy. Delegates barely managed to agree upon a weak text that acknowledges the severity of the world’s environmental problems but doesn’t do much to move us to action. Yet discussions all throughout Rio are filled by inspiring people who are fighting for their communities and for a better world. Just take Canada as an example of these two extremes. While the Canadian federal government tries to undermine clean energy progress, First Nations leaders are showing courage in fighting dirty energy such as tar sands and innovation in developing renewable energy.

For months now, governmental delegates have argued over and weakened the language of the text until it is almost meaningless. And among the countries weakening the text was that former environmental leader: Canada. Canadian environmental groups called Canada a “major obstructor” at Rio+20 and we know that the reason the Canadian federal government has a whole trophy case of “fossil” awards is because it has become a petro-state, dependent on the dirty and expensive tar sands oil. Tar sands oil has turned the Canadian federal government from a leader to a pariah on the international environmental stage, even to the point where news reports of leaked Canadian documents affirm that Canada has tried to weaken the already weak language around the phase out of fossil fuel subsidies -- something that it already committed to do as a G20 member.

But inspiration also comes from Canada. This week, I sat down with Sundance Chief Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation (Vancouver, British Columbia) -- just across from where Kinder Morgan has proposed to expand a tar sands pipeline and bring large tankers into the Vancouver port. The Chief spoke of how his community is fighting expansion of a tar sands pipeline and tar sands filled tankers, alongside many others in Vancouver, while investing in a healthier future with wind power. Chief George shared the following:

Sundance Chief George Rio Earth Summit June 2012 c SCL NRDC.JPG

“We are not relying on the government. We are taking the initiative ourselves. We are not asking for permission. It is time for bad energy development to stop. We are setting an example of the alternative with wind turbines and showing how we stand up for our land. It is beautiful to see that all First Nations from Canada down to Chile are here and all on the same page. This is a time of learning, not of conflict. We want to teach people that this is not just a First Nation problem. Just like with the civil rights movement, we have to get together and recognize that this is a problem for us all. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be connected and to love and appreciate nature. Our children, your children, even Kinder Morgan’s children deserve the opportunity to love and appreciate what we have. Some of our government and industry are stuck in their dysfunction -- too blind to see that they are ruining themselves. If they are not going to save our future, we are. We are here to network with organizations that have similar fossil fuel problems. We want to send the message that there are alternatives. Clean energy jobs are the future.”

This is the other side of the Rio+20 Earth Summit: a side of inspiration, hope and innovation. Sundance Chief George is one of many who came to Rio with the sentiment that “if they are not going to save our future, we are.” This will type of action, fighting spirit and innovation is a meaningful legacy of Rio+20.

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