The real reason Rio+20 failed

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Rio+20 failed, plain and simple. Few are surprised, and many are grasping at straws within the weak, toothless text in order to claim victory, but - as one friend said in a final email about Rio+20 - we need to call a cat, a cat. 

Now we don't really know where that phrase comes from, but it's pretty on point. While the failure of Rio+20 is certain, the question that organizers, youth and changemakers fighting for a more just and sustainable planet need ask ourselves is why?

Why were negotiators unable to find common ground above the weakest possible positions? Why were world leaders little more than props for a glorified photo op? Why did this supposed historic conference produce an agreement better used as toilet paper or firestarter in the post-climate apocalyptic wasteland that we're headed towards? 

The core problem: Corporate power

We could keep going, but we think you get the point. Something is wrong. There is a proverbial floater in the punch of international climate politics. At its core the problem is simple: there are a small group of corporations making obscene profits for whom protecting our planet and taking the steps towards addressing climate change is bad for business. If fossil fuels cause climate change, and you make your billions on oil, gas and coal, you aren't going to want to push for a solar boom or a wind power windfall because you can't put a tap, a pipeline or a gas tank on the sun. 

Tim DeChristopher said it best: "We've tried to make our ideas palatable to those in power but it's never really worked, because shifting away from fossil fuels is actually a threat to our current economic system and to our current political system." Rio failed because if it had succeeded, it would have fundamentally undermined some of the most powerful forces on the planet: big polluters. 

A just transition to a clean energy society would create meaningful, long-term jobs by the thousands. It would clean up our air and water. It would stop us from driving out planet towards climate catastrophe.

Imagine energy democracy

But what's more is that it would democratize the production and consumption of energy. The simple fact is that there is no way that someone could install a tiny coal fired power generator on the side of their house, then mine some coal in the center of town and make energy. Yet coal is the primary source of electricity for most of the world. On the other hand, if it were made affordable and accessible to people around the globe, it could power homes, blocks or even a city and community with a combination of small scale, renewable energy and energy conservation systems. 

Think about that. What if all the electricity in your city was made by the people, and not by a power company - energy democracy would revolutionize our planet and the way we live. It would fundamentally alter our economic system, currently based on a few people and corporations controlling a vast majority of wealth. Real sustainable energy for all would put dirty energy out of business, and Petrobras, Shell, Chevron, BP, Exxon and the rest are not going to work with governments to put themselves out of business. 

There is no fortune to be made by the corporate elite solving climate change. Instead there are jobs to be had, cleaner air to be breathed, safe water to be drank and a better future. What makes more sense to you? 

So now we have the why, the next step is to figure out the how. 

We know that in principle the solutions that the people and the planet need exist. We know that there is a strong, wealthy and powerful lobby standing in the way of this, and we know that we will never be able to match them in wealth, access to world leaders or any conventional resource. 

People Power can stop the big polluters

But we have one thing they don't. We have numbers. Together we represent a force more powerful than any dollar amount. The currency we have to trade in is our bodies, our minds and our creativity. 

This fall in Canada we are taking the first step to building that movement that our planet needs, holding the second PowerShift Canada gathering. Bringing together hundreds of youth from across Canada, PowerShift will be a decisive moment in the fight to end dirty energy and build a just and sustainable future.

PowerShift is organizing to push forward a bill in the House of Commons to stop polluter handouts and take that first step, and to empower youth from across Canada to build the solutions we need.

The Earth Summit may have been a #RioFail, but this can be our chance build a movement that makes it impossible for world leaders to continue putting polluters ahead of people.


Amara Possian and Cameron Fenton of Powershif Canada were participants in the People's Summit at Rio+20. 


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