Poems and politics at the heart of Rio

Nelio Fernando

It's not every day you get to buy a poem for the price of a cup of coffee. If you like the idea, Nelio Fernando is your man.

Choosing a word that I hope will work in Portuguese, I ask him for something "ambientale" - environmental - and he begins to declaim.

"Don't want a homeland, don't divide the Earth," he enjoins, quoting the words of Brazilian poet Cecilia Meireles (in Portuguese, with translation brought to you by BBC colleagues).

"Don't divide the sky, don't throw pieces into the sea.

"Don't desire - be born way above - that all things will be yours."

Nelio is an example of local-style micro-capitalism in action at the Cupula dos Povos, the People's Summit.

Demonstrators hold up an inflatable globe during a march at the Rio summit

Half-way across Rio in geographical terms and half a world away in some of its ideology, this alternative gathering is an organic smorgasbord of discussion groups, music, small-scale technology demonstrations, local food, culture, and a few other things as well.

Awnings stretch across discussion areas. Birds sing, children play on the grass, boats sway in the sea next to Flamengo Park, in the heart of Rio.

A band of flutes and drums ambles across the park, people making dalliances with the dance as they pass.

Two things that wouldn't be welcome here are neoliberalism and corporations; they're words that crop up in many of the discussions, and not in a good way.

Solar reflectors Solar reflectors

"The Peoples' Summit in general is the grassroots reaction to what's happening at Rio+20," says Darcy O'Callaghan, who works in Washington DC for the NGO Food and Water Watch.

"We fight against privatisation and commodification of water.

"And in Rio, we're seeing more and more the multinational water corporations as well as multinational water users trying to buy their way into policy spaces so they can secure enough input and enough market for their products."

One of the most persistent criticisms of the United Nations summit here is that it's been "bought" by corporations.

Certainly, scions of the corporate world are everywhere - on panel discussions, making announcements about things like clean energy and sustainable water use - and in some cases, lobbying against bits of the political declaration that they don't like.

And as those at the People's Summit point out, they're on campus, around the dinner table with government delegates and UN officials, rather than a two-hour bus journey across town like the anti-corporates.

The official UN view is that the corporate sector needs to be fully engaged because without it, things aren't going to change.

It's a view endorsed by many governments too, and by some NGOs who choose to work with businesses rather than rail against them.

But it finds short shrift in the Cupula dos Povos.

Carole Tokuyo Carole Tokuyo

For Carol Tokuyo, one of a group meeting under the banner "Youth and Environmental Justice", the culture of consumption and private gain is the root of the problem - the reason why humanity is on an unsustainable track.

In their own lives, they're doing things differently.

"We are a network across the whole of Brazil, in every state," she explains.

"We are making profound changes: we are collectives, we live together in big houses with 10 to 20 people, we eat together, we have our own money which we share together."

The sharing extends to education; the group has created an online e-university, Carol tells me, where people swap knowledge with each other rather than having to buy it.

The tent next to hers is rocking to a band whose rhythms and melodies create a kind of mixed African and Latin vibe; and it's with some surprise that I see that the banner on the tent reads Interfaith Dialogue against Religious Intolerance.

But my guess about the music turns out to be spot on.

"We have the African-Brazilian religion people and they're fighting for their rights," an imposing gentleman, whose name I don't quite grasp over the music, tells me.

These are the descendants of slaves brought to Brazil in the late 1700s and early 1800s who've not been assimilated into mainstream Brazilian society.

"They have lots of problems, they face lots of prejudice, and sometimes the state doesn't help.

"Today we have been discussing the creation of special areas inside environmentally protected places that could be set aside for their religious practices."

At the Stockholm environment summit of 1972 - the world's first - and at the Earth Summit here in 1992, the activists' gatherings were acknowledged as the conscience of the meeting.

This time, they're aiming to play the same role, and making much the same arguments. But it's not clear this time who's listening.

On my way out, I see a lot of happy faces - hardly surprising as they've had an afternoon of good food, great music, a bit of dancing and a bit of poetry to leaven the serious messages.

It's a lot more fun than the bigwigs' paw-wow over at Rio+20. But it's still the bigwigs who are running the show.

Richard Black Article written by Richard Black Richard Black Former environment correspondent

Farewell and thanks for reading

This is my last entry for this page - I'm leaving the BBC to work, initially, on ocean conservation issues.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The most positive outcome from Rio+2 may be from the fringe meetings between economists and natural scientists, putting dollar values on the loss of natural capital.
    If these can be inegrated into government and corporate accounting systems it would encourage both to take better care of the environment

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    @47 You need to read a little more history my friend, see how mass destruction of the land effected the Mayans, Romans, or Suma's etc The tales of the past tell us a lot about how the future will play out, and hold this thought, this time round on a global scale which, even if slightly possible, should strike fear into all mankind

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    #46 MangoChutney
    "CO2 is not a climate driver"

    On this we agree. The Milankovich Cycles drive the climate.
    When they warm the high Northern latitudes trapped CO2 is released through processes like this.


    Increasing CO2 then triggers warming worldwide.

    Our fossil fuel burning is acting as a similar climate driver.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    @47 I did not say any trend would continue. I have said the current temperature trend is upwards. I do not dispute that you *may* be right and, since temperatures have been increasing since the end of the LIA, there is clearly known explanations for increasing temperatures, isn't there?

    Now you answer - what is your game plan here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    To deny that CO2 does drive climate change is to deny that water is wet. There is no room for debate on that issue.

    As I've already said, question why we're taxed heavily based on CO2 when none of the money goes into solving it. Question potentially dodgy deals with wind farms, ineffective policies and free holidays to Brazil. Just don't deny the science, it's pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Does climate change exist; is it part of a natural cycle; is it man made or not; is human action significant?

    Who does it effect? Is it realistic to expect the rich north to see their children have lower living standards or stop the aspirations of the poor south? Can we reconcile growth with environment?

    Most of all, if I cut back you benefit: the problem of free riding

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    No I was merely highlighting that you always respond but never actually answer the question asked.

    So to clarify your argument:

    If I say that the climate will continue (to use your words) its "upward trend" in temperature.

    You're not disputing that I might be right just that I have no good reason to make the prediction because there is no known explanation which would be consistent with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    @45 LMAO - you are really intent on reading whatever meaning you want into any statement, aren't you?

    CO2 is not a climate driver and no, I am not making a prediction of temperatures in the coming years.

    PS you're prediction was correct - a first for a true believer
    PPS this "conversation" is over - it's going nowhere - google "pedant"

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    @44 MangoChutney
    "I am saying I am not making a prediction..."

    OK that =
    C) you are never going to go on the record with a prediction!

    I wouldn't want to mislead - perhaps you mean:

    "...over something I cannot control"
    unless you're acknowledging CO2 is a climate driver & you've control:

    BTW And it is possible to make accurate predictions.

    "I predict MangoChutney will post on BBC again"

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "Yes, I see you are unsurprisingly very familiar with the term"

    You're not the only one who can use google

    I am saying I am not making a prediction over something I cannot control. Perhaps if I was a climate scientologist, I would know what next years temperatures will be, since I would control them.

    Which part of that do you not understand?

    And exactly what is your game plan here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    @'42 do you mean "ignoratio elenchi"?'
    Yes, I see you are unsurprisingly very familiar with the term.

    Again you appear to miss the concept of multiple choice. Are you now claiming that is an answer? C) ?

    ""why should I make a prediction of future events"

    You seem happy to be making calculations and to state that others predictions must be wrong. This is a form of prediction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @41 do you mean "ignoratio elenchi"?

    wrt to "i'm still waiting ...." did you not read a little further up the page?

    "why should I make a prediction of future events that I cannot control? I'm not a climate scientologist

    Repeat: so what is your game plan here?"


  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    @MC 38&39

    Thanks for the textbook example of "ignaratio elenchi"

    Of course, it's outrageous Google
    cleverly tracked down:
    BBC MangoChutney
    = JN MangoChutney

    We all know it's a conspiracy too:

    Waiting for an: A, B or C:

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    35 Little_Old_Me - Indeed. You can hardly blame "big oil" either as they're just acting in self-interest, that's human nature. I'd argue that environmental groups are equally as culpable with misleading information and downright lies from Greenpeace, Gore et al.

    Best thing to do is to ignore these fringe groups and look at the wider scientific consensus, which is seldom wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @37 I also note you seem to be following me or at least doing your research. Is

    Are you a member of Greenpeace and do you know where I live?


    I guess trying to intimidate people who disagree with you is par for the course with true believers

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    @37 "...agreeing with IPCC might cause you problems professionally"

    I see your "all deniers are in the pocket of BIG OIL" is in full swing again

    WRT JN's website, you're quote is correct - when you question science and you disagree with the author (in this case a sceptic), it's called "scepticism"

    if you read further, you will see other comments which point me in the right direction

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.


    thanks for all the JN links most enlightening:

    To quote you from JN:
    "My problem is, if I try and do that calc, I end up with a figure that matches closer the IPCC’s version.

    What have I missed?"

    I can see why agreeing with IPCC might cause you problems professionally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    If anyone's interested, there's an excellent series of videos on YouTube about climate change that looks at the issue objectively. They debunk many of the ideas anti-climate change proponents love to pedal, i.e. no GW since 1999 or that Arctic sea ice is growing. They also point out the many failings in Gore's terrible movie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    12.Drunken Hobo - ".......Why do people insist on making their points so ineffectively?"

    It seems to have become an effective tactic, mores the pity - people experience cognative dissonance when they hear something they don't like, so all the vested interest groups (in this case big oil) have to do is claim there's doubt, without presenting any actual evidence.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    @33 It's irrelevant where the funding comes from. Watts is receiving funding for a specific task - that of presenting NOAA surface data in a public friendly graphical form. Something that a NOAA should be doing anyway.

    Trying to shoot the messenger again EM? How about addressing the issue for a change?


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