Inter-Sectoral Dialogue and Sustainable Development
Conveying Earth Summit Insights
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Prepared as a statement (see others
on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) for the International
Facilitating Committee for the Independent Sectors in the UNCED process (Geneva).
Portions of the text were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential
(1994-5, vol 2) and in the online
version of its commentaries (to which links below are made) shaping the global
network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral
overload: One of the characteristics of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro will
be the quantity of information, whether governmental or nongovernmental -- and
whether in the form of position papers, background documents, handouts, reports
or declarations. Both policy-makers and the media will be subject to an unusual
degree of information overload. Much of the information will be underused, both
at the event and in its aftermath.
awareness: The real test of the Earth Summit, as many have suggested, will however
lie in its ability to "shift the level of awareness". Without a
doubt, information is necessary to this process. But the shift will be anchored
and given credibility by those few images which can give coherence to the
complex insights that emerge to interrelate fruitfully the many powerfully
consensus: Much hope is being placed in the emergence of a new consensus at the
Earth Summit. It is readily forgotten that consensus is easiest when it is
superficial. Beyond such consensus there is the continuing reality of the
tensions between groups with incompatible goals and mind-sets. It is the
imagery that reconfigures that reality which will open opportunities for
power of imagery: It is the few key images -- "worth a thousand words" -- which
will focus an imaginative approach to the wealth of information. It is around
them that the media can build stories meaningful to a wider audience. It is
these images which ensure that the insights are carried where information cannot
penetrate -- whether into the interstices of industrialized societies or to the
far corners of the Earth. It is the images which will be remembered
long after the
Earth Summit is forgotten by all but its participants.
"insightful imagery": To fulfil the function indicated
above, such imagery needs to go beyond "description" or
"prescription", beyond "naming problems" or
"envisaging solutions", and beyond "blaming" or
"exhorting". Clues to the
"Factor X" which can catalyze more fruitful responses may
perhaps be found in one or more of the following:
... for those of religious inclination, what are the "parables" of
pathways ... for educators, what are the "learning pathways" and
"journeys" opened up by Rio?
stories ... for those aware of the power of the story teller, what
"stories" or "fables" can carry the insights of Rio?
studies ... for those with a management orientation, are there "case
studies" evoking the policy dilemmas of Rio?
... for those recognizing their power, what are the
"proverbs" which can guide initiatives emerging from Rio?
... for those touched by the power of myth, what "myths" or "legends" capture the
challenges of Rio?
... for those challenged by metaphor what are the "metaphors" which
reconfigure the challenge of Rio?
On the one
hand, we seem to need "catalytic convertors" for our "exhausted
imagination". But on the other, our cultural heritage constitutes a huge
"gene-pool" of the imagination on which we can draw in response to
the planetary dilemma.
imagery: Care must however be taken in finding appropriate images. Superficial
images will not evoke new ways of acting. What indeed are the
"images" which will catalyze more sustainable forms of action --
evoking and guiding appropriate programmes? How can such images best capture
and carry the insights emerging from the sectoral and inter-sectoral concerns
of the Earth Summit?
imagery: The art of appropriate imagery is to permit people to derive different
levels of significance from it (by unpeeling it like an onion). At its most
superficial level it may offer succinct explanations, or it may provide a
symbol or slogan exhorting political action. Much more is required of the
imagery from Rio. Somehow it must also carry insights into the nature of the
appropriate balance between conflicting priorities. But above all it must be
the catalyst for creative insight into the way forward, both for the individual
and for groups -- whether in policy-making or in concrete action programmes.
imagery: The Earth Summit is being organized in terms of 3 working groups (Land,
etc; Oceans, etc; and Institutional mechanisms) and intends to have 6 outcomes
(Agenda 21, Earth Charter, Conventions, Technology Transfer, Financial
Resources, and Institutions). Imagery is required to carry the essence of each
of these initiatives and the shift in attitude required to empower them. But
that imagery must also render comprehensible the essential complementarity
between these initiatives. Much more is therefore required than the sort of
unrelated poster images traditionally produced by the different Specialized
Agencies of the United Nations.