HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit

Written evidence submitted by Mark Edwards, Hard Rain Project

I’m grateful for the invitation from Parliament's Environmental Audit Select Committee to submit evidence to inquiry into the outcomes of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Background: The Hard Rain Project is an outdoor exhibition by Bob Dylan, Lloyd Timberlake and me. It has been seen by 15 million people on every continent and shows how all our problems connect by cause and effect and need to be tackled together. It offers realistic and pragmatic solutions to the tangle of challenges. It draws attention to the urgent need to build a top-down and bottom-up revolution that meets somewhere in the middle if we are to grow those solutions to the scale required.

One of the most successful photographic exhibitions ever created, it has attracted huge public and critical acclaim, along with the support and endorsement of political and environmental leaders across the world. But we failed to generate real public support for a treaty that would lead to sustainable development. This failure is shared by the environmental movement, governments and business.

Rio +20: I’m with George Monbiot, "Rio+20 is perhaps the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war…. The leaders who bothered to turn up signed to a document that solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: 16 times in their text they pledged to pursue the sustained growth, the primary cause of the biosphere losses." George is perhaps uncharacteristically restrained.

Nick Clegg called it insipid. Maurice Strong called it weak.

At my stage in life – I’ve spent 40 years with people at the sharp end of the debate - I feel I need to look at the one opportunity – the Sustainable Development Goals initiative, to come out of the forlorn Rio +20 summit.

Hard Rain: the Whole Earth? Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) project

The exhibitions committee at the UN headquarters building in New York City has expressed strong interest in hosting Whole Earth? at the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals initiative in 2015. Whole Earth? presents solutions to the problems highlighted in the Hard Rain exhibition, which the UN hosted in 2008. (Please note: the UN work through committee but we have high level support for the project).

Whole Earth? exhibition offers solutions in the areas of climate, energy, fresh water, oceans and agriculture, but also in areas such as human rights and economic rule-making. It proposes some new ways of thinking. And it gets personal: it wants to know what visitors are going to do now – now that they understand the problems and know that solutions are availa ble.

The SDG initiative sets goals that challenge all countries, rich and poor. This is an opportunity to break down outdated barriers that hinder human development. As Whole Earth? makes clear, in the face of climate change, "All countries are 'developing countries' now, needing to develop new, lower-carbon ways of heating, air-conditioning, moving around, manufacturing, farming and prospering." This sets the scene for a project that will reflect the aims and objectives of the SDGs while keeping an independent outlook.

Alongside the proposed UN launch, we are negotiating simultaneous displays in 30 major cities around the world and a tour that will take the exhibition to universities and towns to engage a wide cross-section of the public and future decision makers. Our experience reaching some 15 million people with Hard Rain gives us the experience and contacts we need to reach audiences in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Australia and Asia (see http://www.hardrainproject.com//past-venues) with a program of events involving leading environmental thinkers and artists in each country.

Short films: The exhibition will be expanded with a series of short films that show proven examples of sustainable development solutions that each host country would like to showcase as a contribution to the SDG program (see Launch venues below).

Concert: Political and business leaders will determine the SDGs, but the arts world needs to play its part to translate the individual initiatives into a movement that leads to real change.

Hard Rain combines Bob Dylan’s song "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" with photographs to create an outdoor exhibition, book and DVD that bring global challenges alive in a moving and unforgettable way. We plan to take this idea a step further and launch the new exhibition with a concert that brings alive the environmental challenges facing civilization. We are working with leading figures in the music world to source the most compelling traditional and contemporary songs that highlight poverty, homelessness, hunger, pollution, as well as those that celebrate the natural world and the resilience of the human spirit.

Launch venues: we are now signing up outdoor venues in 30 countries to launch the Hard Rain: Whole Earth? SDG project. Each country hosting the exhibition is invited to contribute an example of a sustainable development approach that could be grown, spread and adopted in other communities.

Short films will be produced and screened at the exhibition. Local people involved in the sustainable development efforts will narrate these films – and local people will star in them. Examples we have found include an employee of the municipal waste management system in Buenos Aires who was formally a scavenger; a Grameen Bank client in a village in Bangladesh: an Amazon fish farmer in Brazil. Taken together, they show that development is being made sustainable by governments, city authorities and entrepreneurs all over the world. The challenge is to scale up and spread these examples while creating a culture that demands a massive turn toward sustainable human progress as the planetary norm.

When it comes to saving civilization, people argue fiercely about the best solutions. Wind power? Or solar? Carbon tax? Or cap and trade? Top down? Or bottom up?

It is becoming clear that all solutions are going to be needed, starting right now, and for a very long time in the future. And solutions are bubbling up all over the planet.

Why bother?: In a recent interview on the World Service I was asked why I bother to continue to campaign for sustainable development. Good question. W e first went through a string of Big Commissions (Brandt, Brundtland, etc) that did not accomplish much, but we kept having them. No w we are still in the era of Big Summits ( Stockholm , Rio, Joberg, Rio +20 ), a line of diminishing returns. We are now entering the era of Big Goals (Millennium Development, Sustainable Development...). 

That we have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming now seems obvious. That most of the other planetary boundaries will be crossed equally so. What do we do now? asks Bob Dylan in the last line of Hard Rain. It’s a big question.

31 August 2012

Prepared 14th September 2012