Party for the Planet at Rio+20

Rio +20 needs to be more like Woodstock than a G20+ summit.

The pre-show posturing has long since started. Scripts are written, actors are primed, and observers are making book on which fruitless performance will get the most applause.

What should be consensus building seems likely to devolve into the usual harangue on all sides. The gloomy excuses have no doubt been readied for what, in the wake of Kyoto, Copenhagen and Cancun, will be labelled another failed attempt at planetary salvage.

Unless, of course, Rio+20 turns into Woodstock+43. Instead of being the dinosaur at the dance, Canada could use its time on stage to start a party for the planet.

Our federal Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, missed out on the first one because he was a reporter in Vietnam in 1969 when it happened. He might be an unlikely candidate to spark the Woodstock Effect in Rio de Janeiro next week, but every spontaneous movement begins with unanticipated leaders.

At Woodstock, American culture shifted. The height of the Vietnam War saw a mass event in a farmer’s field literally transform a culture. “Make Love, Not War” turned the V for Victory into a symbol of peace and reshaped the imagination – and lifestyle – of millions. It was the birth of a counterculture, with its tunes, heroes, mantras and chemical enhancements – and everyone inhaled the aroma of a different future.

Rio+20 could shift global culture in a similar way, recreating the Brazilian atmosphere of Carnival to promote sustainability for the whole Earth.

After all, we are not going to finagle a sustainable future. It won’t be crafted through a declaration or managed into existence through negotiations. It needs to come from the heart, a passion for the planet and for other people that changes how we see ourselves and what lies ahead. It needs to see possibilities, however improbable — turning barriers into obstacles that can be removed. It needs both the energy of youth and the sagacity of old age, combined with the pragmatism of the breadwinner who must put food on the table and the determination of a mother who holds a crying child.

Across all boundaries of age, race, economics and geography, that’s what needs to happen at Rio+20. Some of it might even trickle into the formal sessions and official pronouncements. Rio+20 is about relations, not exchanges; about finding common ground, not claiming territory. It is about finding value in people, wherever they live and whoever they are. It is about valuing the whole earth, not just the parts we want to use at the moment.

It must focus on happiness, not wealth, but happiness is not a cerebral event. It involves the whole person, beginning with food, water, security and work. Jeffrey Sachs and others to the contrary, a World Bank of Happiness would be no improvement on the current incarnation. The economics of excess, negotiating exchanges between those who have everything and those who have nothing, needs to be replaced with the spontaneity of gifts between people who care.

We invented the game of economic globalization, made the rules, and now find ourselves trapped by circumstances of our own creation at risk of losing everything. We need to change the game itself, not just become better players. We must make it one that we all want to play, one that brings life and passion to what we choose to do, together.

So, rock on at Rio+20. Its slogan for a sustainable future should be “Make Love, Not More.”

If we can’t party for the planet, then we don’t appreciate what life means to us and to all of the children of Earth, out to the seventh generation.

Have a great time in Rio, Mr. Kent. You missed out on Woodstock, but show them what Canada can bring to the party!