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African farmers
Landless African farmers seeking land to cultivate make a statement at the Summit.  Photo, Yogi Hendlin

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

Part Three: Berkeley senior Yogi Hendlin reflects on personal and national responsibility and a bittersweet Summit experience

Editor's Note: Yogi Hendlin, a fourth-year political science student in the College of Letters & Science at UC Berkeley attended the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of several members of the Berkeley campus community at the summit, Hendlin attended as a representative of the Adbusters Media Foundation, a not-for-profit group. This is his final report from the summit. Hendlin's first and second dispatches also are online.

September 4, 2002

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA As the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) comes to an end, I am sad to say that we leave this conference without the concrete results many of us had hoped for.

Reverting back more than 10 years to the unenforceable goals which were the major weakness of the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, no targets or dates were set here in Johannesburg for using renewable energy sources. Nor were concrete goals set for eliminating the billions in oil and agriculture subsidies that prevent greener energy and organic farming from becoming viable options.

During the last round of formal talks today, there was an uproar during U.S. Secy. of State Colin Powell's speech. As Powell advocated the Bush administration's "free trade creates sustainable development" policies, he was drowned out by angry chants, clapping, and vocal insurgent remarks.

Yogi Hendlin
Yogi Hendlin in Johannesburg.

There was good news: Canada and Russia have committed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which will activate it at the end of this year, pressuring the U.S. and Australia to ratify it as well. This is a major gain for sustainable environment, and undoubtedly is a byproduct of the Summit.

As for me, I admit that there have been several times during the Summit where I have questioned the value of my attendance. I'm afraid that in terms of high-level decisions, unless you are a prime minister or a transnational corporate executive, there is little possibility of contributing to the solution.

That's why most people I have talked to here tell me the same thing: "I didn't come for the Summit, but for the people." When I met Professor Claudia Carr (Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy and Management) in Berkeley before I left, she told me this is what motivated her to attend the Summit. I ran into her at the World Conservation Union (IUCN) when we were watching a Zulu play from Zimbabwe. Claudia was busy trying to get the actors' contact information because she believed that the vibrant yet sobering play ought to be shown to everyone. Discussing the progress of the Summit, we were joined by a company of newfound friends, researchers, investigators, and activists who believe that their words and actions can make a difference.

Some 20,000 people representing non-government organizations from all over the world attended. Among this crowd, the networking possibilities were endless. I identify with the people here, and have instant rapport with many of them. From Nigeria to Korea to Mexico to the U.S., I have met dedicated individuals who are changing the world, and want to share in changing it together.

So what does the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) have to do with UC Berkeley? Everything.

This conference will affect life on this planet for at least the next 10 years. Any Berkeley student studying international politics, PACS, natural resources, law, or many other disciplines will be citing the events and declaration of the WSSD.

This conference, although perhaps deemed by some a failure, nevertheless provides an important benchmark for future conservation efforts. Again, the connection to Berkeley is immediate. Throughout the University, the search for the discoveries necessary to create a sustainable planet is a way of life.

Whether through scientific research that reveals more sustainable means of production, examining our nation's pattern of consumption, or learning more about every aspect of people from the rest of the world, Berkeley has its work cut out for it. Ultimately, each of us must make our own contribution in our own way. Sustainable development, the watchword of this conference, has at its root a metaphysic which every religion and code of ethics posits -our dreams become our reality.

As citizens of the United States of America, we first must improve how we live as individuals before we can better our country. I believe that the "oil of obstinacy" has stained my country's reputation, and only by a concern for human life and nature can we restore it.


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 


My own thoughts about these past two weeks here in Johannesburg are bittersweet, discovering so much hope in the power of teamwork and organization, and yet finding a nagging lack of such order and agreement among the world's leaders. My own goal - using the political arena to provide information and empower people - has been reaffirmed. I realize that education provides my personal foundation, not only to keep up-to-date on the world events, but to flesh out my own ideas of what is important and how to go about realizing that vision.

Right now, I do know this much: 10 years from now, I'll be at the next Earth Summit. Perhaps by then, I will have a different role to play.

Yogi Hendlin