I slept on the plane for the first time in a while. It was a long haul flight from Australia; stopping in Malaysia and Dubai before soaring across the Saharan desert and the South Atlantic. I watched movies on the plane I wanted to watch for a weeks, and I read through a briefcase of notes and novels, poems and prose that featured the likes of Pablo Neruda and Slavoj Zizek.
By the end, I was a wreck. With 26 hours behind me, 13 hours time difference, I was kidding myself if I thought I could bounce off the plane without diving into a deranged and sleep-teary eyed state of manic jet lagging headache. But it wasn’t as bad as I was taught. And soon after a thought dropped into my head like a glass marble cracking tiles on the kitchen floor – “I’m in Rio”.
In my life I have seen the results of unsustainable and unjust development. I have worked in remote Aboriginal communities in Central Australia, Amerindian communities in Guyana, and KadasanDusun communities in Sabah, Malaysia. I have taught music in Tanzania and played basketball with street kids in the Philippines. And I have written poetry about them all.
But after years of naive dreams where for some strange reason my words might be heard (or retweeted) on the same stage as those who rewrite our world in policy points and bracketed text, I was here. Sure I carried some oversize bags of fear and uncertainty, but now I was where the wild things roamed – and I wasn’t thinking about the youth.
This thought both assured and haunted me. It still does today. But it’s one I’m glad I have nonetheless. Because no matter how much I want to clear things up, Rio+20 still represents a land of uncertainty.
It’s easy to imagine the future we don’t want, but it seems the future we need and the one that we all want is a little harder to come by.
Human rights are under threat of being written out of Rio, and Australia has jumped on the bandwagon of big polluters seeking to rebrand unsustainable practices in shades of green that might fade away with a proper wash. Forests and oceans show some promise, but without addressing demand, the invisible hands of deforestation and overfishing might shake hands with the market.
Indigenous peoples are being promoted by some powerful rhetoric, but the devil’s in the detail and the what, when, who, why, and how remain to be written up. On the eve of the Earth Summit, the sun has begun to set, but the moon has yet to unveil who’s been going bump in the dark. And it seems with the world’s attention on the economy, the social and environmental aspects of sustainable development might have to double lock their baby seats in the back row of future’s stretch-Hummer.
But amidst all of this, we are still here. With my words as my weapon and last ditch defence against all of this, I am reminded again of that plane ride here. During one otherwise wasted moment on my round-the-world journey, when I had literally nothing better to do but flick through the pages of the in-flight magazine, I saw an unusual story celebrating revolutionary poetry across Asia. I read about Jose Rizal who paved the way for independence in the Philippines through his poetry, and about Qu Yuan from China, Wiji Thukul from Indonesia and even the recent writings of A Samael Said seeking political reform in Malaysia. These poets have all inspired change through nothing but the power of their words.
While I don’t think I will be able to mirror their phrasing or influence, it gave me a brief moment of inspiration.
I’m here; “I’m in Rio!” and if I can, I’ll write against the future we can’t afford. I’ll write against the future we NEED to avoid. And more than anything, I’ll write about the future I want to see carved into ‘sustainably’ sourced stone and reprinted around the world on recycled paper.
I’ll write about the future I want. The future I want Australia to strive for. The future I want us to find here in Rio.
About the authorChris Wright
Climate researcher, political ecologist, activist and an award-winning slam poet from Australia.