Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Op-Ed, ManilaStandardToday/
March 9, 2005

On the day the Kyoto Protocol entered into force, the Japan Times reported the slaying of a young woman in Brazil. "The death of Sister Dorothy was a crime foretold," said Bishop Jayme Chemello, the grieving president of the Catholic Church's Amazonian Episcopal Committee.

While alive, the Catholic nun by the name of Sister Dorothy Stang helped organize destitute families and protect swaths of pristine rainforest in a Brazilian region notorious for illegal logging, slave labor and violent land conflicts. It thus shocked many but surprised few that the nun was shot at the Boa Esperanca Settlement, "where she worked with some 400 poor families in a rural town north of Rio de Janeiro."

Sister Dorothy was raised in Dayton, Ohio in America. Much later in life she became a naturalized Brazilian. Not too long ago, the nun unlocked the magic formula long kept secret by time: as she lived more, she became younger and younger. In fact, when she was shot, Sister Dorothy was at the height of her youth. She was 73-years old.[1]

It was reported that when her killers had approached, Sister Dorothy had calmly turned to face them. Death is preordained, she may have told them, but living is a choice.

"We do not remember days, we remember moments," said Cesar Pavese. That is exactly what Agus recalls.

It is the afternoon of February 16, 2005. Agus is sitting on a chair and staring at the Zen pool of Kyoto City's Hearton hotel. The chair he is in is supposed to be facing the elevator but, having an unruly mind, he has disregarded the hotel's furniture placements and turned the chair around.

His mind is elsewhere, in another time. "I never noticed this before," Agus remarks with a furrow in his brow. "I mean, of course I know this pool. Passed by it a thousand times back in 1997. But I never noticed it. Interesting that I am seeing it only now."

For many years a leading Indonesian environmental advocate, in 1997 Agus was part of a large, motley international group of organizations which had trooped to Japan to fight to give teeth to an agreement essential to protecting the planet's environment. It was the Third Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The meeting was expected to hammer out an accord that would impose legally-binding curbs on man-made greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the onset of dangerous climate change. It was the year of the Kyoto Protocol and uncertainty was the order of the day, caused in large part by US bullying and the belligerence of OPEC countries, both of which wanted either a severely watered down, voluntary agreement, or no treaty at all.

"Up to the last minute, no one," said Agus to no one in particular, "absolutely no one thought that the Protocol would pass. Only in the last minute, just before 10 AM, were people sure that the negotiations would not collapse and that a treaty with emissions reductions targets was actually going to be delivered."

The Zen pool that has made Agus drift is wide and ethereal. Ripples spreading from the middle of an elevated granite disc fall on a large square stone base. The water spills over to a lower frame filled with white stones. Everything is fluid even as the wheel of granite radiates permanence.

Agus does not remember the tranquility but he remembers the presence of the pool. "Close to seven years ago, in front of this pool there was only panic. It's amazing," said Agus. "And yet today the Protocol has come into force. This should have happened seven years ago but I'll take it," Agus said with a slow shake of his head and a snicker.[2]

The rest of the world has also chosen to celebrate the climate treaty's entry into force, except of course the hooligan government of the US and its deputy louts in Australia.

On the night of February 16, at the vast chamber of Kyoto's international convention center where the Kyoto Protocol was passed years ago, a great international assembly of ministers and government officials applauds speeches marking the climate treaty's entry into force.

Each continent is represented in the conference. The atmosphere is restrained but jubilant. Rousing and poignant words are delivered. Virtually every seat in the hall is filled.

It was not announced or explained in writing but the commemorative conference seemed to have collectively decided earlier that it would mark the occasion politely and positively and that there would be no blaming and finger-pointing that dignified day. Everything would be celebratory.

As each speaker approaches the stage, a transformation foretold takes place.

In a show of discipline, in speech after speech, no one mentions the words "the US," "the United States," "America" or even "Australia. Yet diplomatic decorum is unintentionally transmogrified into a blunt instrument. Speaker after speaker refer instead to "that great polluter" or "the greatest polluter on the planet" or "that polluting irresponsible government."[3]

Everyone responds politely but with cadence: the clapping is fluid and the camaraderie radiates permanence.

[1] "Missionary death focuses attention on Brazil forest," Japan Times, February 16, 2005.
[2] From a conversation at the Hearton hotel, Kyoto City between the author and Agus Sari, the executive director of the Indonesian NGO Pelangi (Rainbow in Bahasa), February 16, 2005.
[3] The author attended the UN-sponsored conference commemorating the Kyoto Protocol on February 16, 2005. See the article "Chronicles of Kyoto," Renato Redentor Constantino, Today, February 28, 2005.

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