Brazilian fractals

by Maria Alejandra Escalante

“I also take it as granted that every created thing, and consequently the created monad also, is subject to change, and indeed that this change is continual in each one.

Gottfried Leibniz 


Listening to political conversations about the past, the present and the future of Rio+20 has been a daily ingredient of my life since I first jumped into the global politics realm a year ago. Many words I have read in preparation to what came already. Yet, words fall short when living what Rio+20 meant in all its wholeness. I still need to process what I saw, heard and talked about to come to any accurate understanding of this overwhelming trip to Brazil. Therefore this post becomes my thoughts’ delineation so I can hope to make any sense out of this experience, rather than an explanation or a description for you, the reader, about Rio+20. And as this is more for me than for you, I am doing it my way. According to the theory of fractals, any chosen element has infinite scales of reflections that interact with one another and affect what they are. I see myself an element reproduced in the Earth in Brackets team, the UN as an institution and the rest of the world that does not involve the UN. This view is my best attempt to reach an understanding. 

The idea of sustainable development renovated my faith in the human spirit. It is a brilliant strategy that, in theory, addresses the root problems of this unconscious society: overconsumption and overproduction of everything and all you can think of. I got inspired. In my head I thought that if we pushed hard enough, this new way of living would be a breakthrough in the course of our existence. But that could not happen at Rio+20 because the people of the world cannot reach consensus on any major issue. With sharp words and speeches they, the delegates, convinced and unconvinced each other several times. Words in this context seem to weigh a lot, and the power they possess is a delegate’s best weapon. But delivered how it was, sustainable development could not pass through the UN’s framework. If that was the only idea that I believed in and as it was unsuccessfully adopted by the UN, then I had no choice but to lose my minimal faith in the UN as an international platform for agreements. 

Then me, an individual finding no sense in what is being done, was part of a group of people that, believing or not, was also embedded in this frenetic Rio+20 bubble. I had to respond to them and make them count on me because one thing is to walk away from a system, like the UN one, and another thing is to walk away from the people who are acting as teachers to me. So, for most of the time, I let my apprehension hide away from the common goal. We found a common group goal that more or less aligned with my thoughts: the future we want was not being given by the negotiators at Rio+20. We worked hard to deliver such message. And then I felt that as much as I disagreed in a bigger sense with even participating in a conference that was mostly set to give media comfort and some work, having a cohesive group was important if we wanted to maker ourselves heard loud enough. 

And so Earth in Brackets became known as a radical voice to the youth participants in particular but among civil society in general. We spread around like a plague, covering negotiations, networking with key people, transmitting messages from and to RioCentro, pushing everywhere we could for The Future We Really Want. We were united and had a direction (this seems like an easy task, but it is truly not. We had many meetings to decide which direction to go), and hence we were heard by other groups. Again, in this political world if your rhetoric is not strong enough you are not heard. I felt like we, clearly with the help and input of so many other people who became our “allies”, tilted the balance of the Rio+20 outcome towards our favor. At least a little. Through conversations and especially through the protests and manifestations, we made sure that Rio+20 did not walk out with an absolute victory and be transcribed into History as the biggest and most important conference of the United Nations. 

But Rio+20 is just one reunion within dozens of UN meetings. The UN is just one institution organizing (or trying to) the structure of this modern society. It is just one institution that has existed over less than a century in History. The chances that I, or  that Earth in Brackets, or the final negotiating text will radically change the destructive senseless model of living is pretty slim according to my calculations. So I cannot leave Rio de Janeiro without asking the question: was this whole endeavor worth it? I burst out a gigantic NO, but then I remember my fractal theory. These scales of perception can and may influence each other in ways I cannot even perceive. In that case, the work that we all have done here can potentially have unknown repercussions in the course of the universe. It might change it. But it might not. If something indeed changes, I hope I can perceive it before deciding if it worth it to go to the next COP in Qatar, or not. 

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