The Humane Society of Canada's Executive Director, Michael O'Sullivan, attended the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa as an accredited observer. Ten years ago in Rio de Janeiro, he participated in the first Earth Summit read his views on where he believes we have moved ahead, and where we have fallen behind.
HARD TIME ON PLANET EARTH - THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF CANADA (HSC) REPORTS FROM THE WORLD SUMMIT ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT (WSSD) IN JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICATen years ago, after attending the Earth Summit in Rio as an accredited observer, Michael O'Sullivan, The Humane Society of Canada's Executive Director, left with a feeling of cautious optimism. Now, ten years older, and perhaps a little wiser, he says that as an observer, he has left Johannesburg with a determination to do everything in his power to ensure that Canadians play a more active role in the way in which our government runs.
"If we continue to allow business, civil servants and politicians to make decisions about the well-being of our families and our world then we face a bleak future indeed. For I cannot imagine any less accountable and unrepentant groups than these three, who are directly responsible for the sorry state of our planet," said O’Sullivan. "We gave them our trust, and it has been badly violated."
In Rio, Agenda 21 contained over 2,500 recommendations for actions that included detailed proposals on how to combat poverty, protect the atmosphere, oceans and biodiversity, and promote sustainable agriculture. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg was supposed to be a report card on the state of the environment since Rio and hammer out action plans to address such world threatening issues involving environment, global poverty, food security, and AIDS.
"The most useful outcome of this World Summit was to demonstrate how we have failed to keep the promises made in Rio," said O'Sullivan, "and it was a call to action to put our house in order."
Although the Summit boasted at every turn that it was about 'people, prosperity and the planet' and it's mission was about 'some, for all, forever' - instead O'Sullivan found that every discussion was dominated by money, politics and power. Even more alarming are the recommendations that we need more Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and Partnership Agreements, which means putting even more power and confidence into the hands of civil servants and politicians, which O'Sullivan believes is nothing less than a recipe for global disaster on an unprecedented scale.
"Demanding that politicians and civil servants be held accountable for what they did, or didn't do, during the last 10 years since Rio, was an exercise that was doomed to failure from the very beginning," says O'Sullivan. "As long as we allow elected officials and civil servants to determine what they will or won't do based on their five-year political agendas, Canadians deserve the kind of environment they get."
During the last 100 years, O'Sullivan says we have destroyed more habitat and killed more species than in all of record history. We can either continue with the insanity that fuelled our past behaviour, or we can make changes to ensure our survival: "The situation facing every person and every living creature is serious. The challenges are intimidating, the problems, immense. All of the problems facing the world stand on two feet. And the simple question we need to answer simply this: ‘Do we want a future that is as long as our past?’" said O'Sullivan.
"Because in the final analysis, all of the problems facing us will depend upon the people who care, the people who make the sacrifices, the people who take the practical steps to get the job done. And we have to ask ourselves, each one of us, where we really stand," he said.
O’Sullivan says we need a radical reorganization of the relationship between all levels of government, civil servants, business and the tax weary middle class Canadians who pay for everything and who receive little but thinly disguised contempt, greed and incompetence in return.
O'Sullivan's work to save animals and the environment has taken him to over 85 countries during the last 30 years. He has journeyed from war zones to mountaintops and from deep beneath the oceans to tropical rainforests. He has seen the best and worst of human nature and as a father with a young son and a daughter, he wonders what kind of a world he will leave behind for his children.
"If we fail to grasp the ruins of our destiny, then we have no one but ourselves to blame for a hard time on planet Earth," said O’Sullivan. In the words of Albert Einstein: "We cannot solve the problems of today with the same thinking that gave us the problems in the first place."
He is firmly convinced that unless there is are radical changes in the way Canadians govern our behaviour, we will continue to preside over what has been termed the greatest rate of extinction since the time of the dinosaurs (and ourselves). And that while human beings will still survive, even in Canada, life, as we know it, will continue to get progressively worse. It is inevitable.
That's why he has worked so hard to develop what he calls: The Humane Society of Canada's Action Plan: Prescription for A Sick Planet