Report from Rio: The Earth Summit

Lavina Currier

I dream that I am flying over Rio Centro and it is a mandala palace turning in space below me. I wander its halls and pavillions until I come into the Plenary Hall and there at their desks sit demon monkeys of all different colors and languages gesturing and waving scepters above their heads, a scene at once solemn and ridiculous. Outside the hall a jungle plant with waxy leaves is growing in leaps and bounds, until it shades, embraces, and finally overwhelms the concrete palace.

Friday, June 5 Senator
Al Gore opens the "Forum for Spiritual and Parliamentary Change." He speaks more passionately than when I last saw him, but can he articulate a green platform? Miles beyond the others, but is he wily enough to take on the demon monkeys?

The Dalai Lama's morning prayer vigil with the children of the city and his visit to Greenpeace's ship, Rainbow Warrior, are broadcast all over Brazil. Yet, due to pressure from the Chinese government he has not been invited to participate at UNCED. Li Peng, China's leader, has refused to attend the conference while the Dalai Lama is still in town. He cannot mention Tibet during his visit, despite the fact that its environment is being devastated by the Chinese. Were he able to stay longer he might lend inspiration to a fragmented environmental community.

He boldly defines militarization and overpopulation as the two most important causes of destruction of life on earth. Although birth control is a difficult subject for a Buddhist, he says unless we are practical and address the issues of population we are doomed.

The Dalai Lama's thinking on the environment has changed since the early eighties when, like many Third World people impressed by the potential of technological solutions to world suffering, he supported nuclear power. For the sake of all living beings and generations to come, he calls for a halt to the degradation of the planet. He offers Tibet as the world's first "zone of ahimsa" where violence to all sentient beings is forbidden.

Sunday, June 7
I wander out to the fire circle to relieve the AngloKenyan who has been drumming alone since dawn.

It will be the hottest day on record for Rio in June. We drum together and he tells me that he is like a wildebeest on permanent migration, then he leaves to take a nap.

Smoke from the fire and the hot sun chase me around the circle. The tree is full of pink flowers that bees and hummingbirds drink from. I'm experimenting with every rhythm I can conjure up, getting wilder as I tire. Suddenly I see a man in black T-shirt and jeans sitting on the bench outside the circle smoking a cigarette and watching me drum. He is one of the Indians from Manitoba on whose drum I am beating too hard. He comes over, tells me, "There's two ways to drum—like this ... " he takes another drum and beats it slow and even, "Or this." He beats it with the rhythm of a heart. Embarrassed, I pick up another drum with a tighter head and a painted buffalo, and aim for the buffalo's eye.

Monday, June 8
I walk around the Global Forum with a friend who illegally releases captive whales and dolphins. "It gets me through," he says.

All sides of the forest issue are represented here. We walk by the Canadian timber industry's booth which advertises clearcutting as a healthy forest management. At another booth a reward is offered for anyone caught spiking trees. The Global Forum is falling apart from lack of common vision and finances. Already the translation equipment has been removed, and the electricity will be cut off tomorrow. The prestigious environmental groups have largely abandoned this forum in favor of UNCED; I see the presidents in the hallways at Rio Centro looking like the corporate CEOs that they are—applauding their own presence at the Earth Summit.

On our way to the airport at dusk we pass a dismal church surrounded on all sides by highways. A small child has gone to sleep for the night on its stone steps. No one has told him that the future of the planet is being decided right now in his city. World leaders and do-gooders like myself will board their airplanes home without taking his leave. The treaties signed at the Earth Summit will not include his name.

Lavinia Currier lives in The Plains, Virginia. She is president of Sacharuna, an environmental foundation.

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