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Jan Pronk, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Earth Summit, led one of the liveliest panel discussions so far. Yogi Hendlin photo

Dispatches from the 2002 U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development

Part Two: Berkeley senior Yogi Hendlin dares to stroll Johannesburg at night, is glad to see Jerry Brown, and talks to Germany's minister of the environment

30 August 2002

Editor's Note: Yogi Hendlin, a fourth-year political science student at UC Berkeley, is attending the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 26 to September 4. One of several members of the Berkeley campus community at the event, Hendlin will attend the summit as a representative of the Adbusters Media Foundation, a not-for-profit group. This is his second dispatch from the summit. (To read the first, in which he explains why he has gone to Johannesburg, click here.)

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — I am currently staying at a "home stay," in a house surrounded by 8-feet walls and another 2 feet of electrical fencing.

After a week of computer problems, lack of electrical adapters, and walking down streets in a city where everyone I've met has explicitly warned me not to walk at night, I finally have solace. The past few days have expanded my heart and knowledge in so many ways: Fiat Lux.

Yogi Hendlin, at night in Johannesburg.

The electric fences and concrete compounds remind me of some apocalyptic vision of the future in which everyone lives in fear of going outside — of walking the streets and meeting others. Yet the people of South Africa have been nothing but kind to me, and the culture seems uniquely alive. I feel that the people of South Africa, equally with the people attending this Earth Summit, would benefit from a message that I saw written under a traffic sign: STOP Being Afraid.

A high point for the Summit so far was the Civil Society Forum panel moderated by Jan Pronk, the Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment as well as the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the WSSD. Pronk led major sustainable development players in a lively debate that exposed some of the underlying assumptions of each group. Some cathartic group therapy took place in front of the officials of the world.

After the Bush administration held a press conference conveying its five-point plan for the Summit — to form "signature partnerships" that would provide a "vital step down the road toward sustainable development" — three U.S. congressmen and our very own mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, held a press conference that gave an alternative U.S. perspective on sustainable development.

Helping to decrease my embarrassment when I'm asked where I'm from, Congressmen Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), and George Miller (D-California) and Brown called for the U.S. to produce 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, an initiative first proposed by Brazil and other Latin American countries. Currently the Bush administration is only willing to push for a 1 percent increase in the use of clean sources over the next 10 years.

Today — Friday, August 30 — I attended a partnership launch for a Youth Dialogue on Consumption, Lifestyles, and Sustainability, where I had the chance to comment on the seeming contradiction of a meeting on curbing consumption in which a disposable plastic water bottle was given to each panelist, to Germany's Minister of the Environment. With a look of chagrin, he proceeded to tell me how Germany is currently working on refilling containers, thus keeping in accord with the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra of the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of '92.

I also learned a bunch of interesting facts. For example: it would take the resources of four more Earths to support developed-nation consumption levels for all of the world's 7 billion people. And how 90 percent of the 1 billion people aged 15 to 24 live in developing countries, therefore providing an untapped source of green influence for the sustainable development of such countries.

Tomorrow, many delegates, along with the Ministers of the Environment from several nations, will be marching to protest the deliberations' inefficacy. As many as 20,000 expected peaceful protesters will convene in the center of Johannesburg in conjunction with the Landless People's Movement. The protest isn't planned to disrupt the official U.N. meetings, but to make clear that a large number of people who have come here as delegates feel that their voices have not been heard.


More info:

Official Web site for the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development

Adbusters Media Foundation, a not-for-profit magazine publisher and advocacy group

Measure your own ecological footprint 


After a week of talks that have produced much frustration, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he feared that negotiations could unravel due to conflicts among the United States, the European Union, and developing countries over the most contentious policy issues. As the Summit prepares for some 100 of the world's heads of government to arrive starting Monday, Prescott warned that the Summit must "reverse the trend of environmental degradation" and act to reduce poverty.

The poverty prevention efforts adopted at the U.N. Millennium Conference only two years ago aimed to halve the number of people living in poverty and unsanitary conditions (now numbering 2.4 billion) by 2015. The Bush administration opposes this 2015 deadline, preferring laws that are voluntary and do not have repercussions for noncompliance.

As one world leader here has said, "It is time to stop using the carrot," referring to the need for measurable progress and strict compliance for implementation protocols.

—Yogi Hendlin