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Conflicting Worldviews Clash at UN Meetings

July 10, 2011

By Sister Mary B. 

After two weeks of tedious work, the brightest outlook on the Commission on Sustainable Development held recently at the United Nations is that it will serve as a warning for everyone involved in the planning for the 2012 Earth Summit.

No agreement emerged on this year’s topics: transport, chemicals, waste management, mining, and sustainable consumption and production patterns. Underlying the conflict appears the literally Earth‐shattering reality of contradictory worldviews.

The worldview voiced most passionately, urgently and eloquently by “developing” nations such as Bolivia and Venezuela, and the Indigenous Peoples Major Group, appears incompatible with the worldview of the “developed” nations that see and have treated Earth as a storehouse of commodities to be exploited for human use and financial gain.

Voicing a broader perspective, the Ambassador Pablo Solon of Bolivia reported that the government of Bolivia will soon enact laws granting rights to nature. Ambassador Solon also advocated for the creation of “an adequate means of measuring the development and well‐being of a society,” arguing that Gross Domestic Product does not adequately measure “environmental destruction caused by certain economic activities.”

The mining of minerals and the extraction of oil and natural gas are issues where the two worldviews very visibly and painfully clash.

To indigenous peoples who have had much experience with its disastrous consequences, “mining is a fundamentally unsustainable industry.” Before mining operations can be tolerated in their communities, indigenous peoples insist on “free and prior informed consent,” a phrase vigorously rejected by nations benefiting from the spoils of under‐regulated, multinational mining corporations. To women, “the history of mining is a history of violence.” Workers and trade unions noted the extreme dangers of working in mines. Children and youth deplored and called for the eradication of child labor. From another perspective, Science and Technology noted the importance of intensive scientific research to maximize mining efficiency and minimize environmental degradation.

How is it possible for these worldviews to co‐exist?

Besides the substantive issues, the overwhelming concern and urgent task requiring resolution immediately is how civil society will be able to participate in next year’s Earth Summit.

The Sisters of Mercy hope to inject their concerns for a green economy within the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development at two of the meetings to be held throughout the world leading up to the Summit. One Sister in South America is expected to attend a meeting in Chile to highlight how mining abuses are compromising sustainable development, the environment and human rights. A Sister in Europe is expected to attend a meeting in Switzerland.

The United Nations is the “conscience of the world,” but without a shared consciousness, without understanding our humanity as inextricably linked and in debt to the solidarity and complementarity of the whole, we continue to apply our best efforts to different and often conflicting goals.

In a world where the military expenditure for 2010 was $1.5 trillion, how will we ever find funds to remediate land and water ruined by unsustainable production, to mitigate environmental damage due to climate change, and to relocate environmental refugees?

If it is necessary to grant legal rights to nature in order to protect and preserve it, what does this say about how disconnected we have become from the source and substance of our very existence?

Sister Mary is a regular attendee at the annual UN Commission on Sustainable Development. This reflection is an excerpt from her report in the Mercy International Association newsletter. You can read it here.

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