Jul 202012

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined going to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, let alone going there to participate in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20. But it happened this June, and I did it. While I have many reflections on the city and the numerous events, one experience I want to lift up is my journey up Corcovado to see the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue which watches over that marvelous city. My travel guidebook, tells me that Corcovado is the name of the mountain on which this remarkable monument resides—named after its shape (corcova) which in Portuguese means hunchback. I learned that in 2007, this art-deco style monument was named one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” My guess is that nearly everyone who travels to Rio makes the pilgrimage to this mountaintop to take in both the impressive statue and the view.

From the taxi ride to my hotel upon arriving in Brazil, until the last ride back to the international airport, I could see the 98-foot tall statue of Jesus with welcoming arms outstretched. I saw it first from the window of my fellow-travelers’ hotel room from downtown Rio and then again, out my hotel window a twenty minute taxi ride away from the central part of the city— bathed in green light at night, most likely in deference to the U. N. Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. Ubiquitous, beckoning, and somehow comforting, it seemed.

For me one of the best parts of Rio is its imposing mountains, next to my second favorite habitat—the beach. Those mountains were giants against the sky, towering over the city, its inhabitants and visitors. Some were totally forested; others were almost completely covered with small houses—the colorful small homes of those of lesser means—neighborhoods known as the favelas. People living in the favelas were generally employed to serve those more fortunate, who lived adjacent in the newer high-rise apartments. Some served tourists in the hotels, restaurants or bars while others depended on warm sunny days on the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema to sell their wares. And all of these little houses were electrified—a constant reminder to me that the influence of the developed world. Technology in our modern American culture, whether good or bad for the planet, has become a yardstick for progress for much of the rest of the world.

Sally Dunne from the Loretto Community NGO at the United Nations, her intern Emily Thenhaus and I took the opportunity to head to Corcovado the day after Rio+ 20 ended. A long taxi ride across town took us past Lake “Rodrigo de Frietas” and eventually to the streets of Cosme Vehlo, the neighborhood where “pilgrims” to the mountaintop catch a little tram to the summit. Upon arrival, we did what we had grown accustomed to doing during most of the conference—we waited. Our tram wouldn’t be leaving for about an hour. But waiting for anything in this new-found, fascinating place, would be nothing but a pleasure for me.

Sally and Emily decided to explore the local neighborhood. I chose to stay nearby and watch for any new birds I might see. Interestingly, one of the first I saw was the House Sparrow. Yep. The same alien weaver finch that we have—having made its way from England to Brazil—a common city dweller, a generalist that can adapt to most places, and eats all kinds of junk food. I strolled down to the little park beside the tram station and settled in. I kept hearing new bird sounds and was surrounded by so many interesting people—some locals, others obviously tourists like me. Satisfied with identifying a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, I made my wait back to our appointed meet-up place.

Soon we were in line for our ride up the mountain. The little red tram had two cars; I estimated about 40 people fit in each one. We scrambled onto a nearly full car and took the first available seats. Most of the window seats—premium for catching the views of Rio below—were already taken. As the tram began to wind its way slowly up the 2,000+ foot mountain, I found myself overwhelmed emotionally by feelings of grief. I fought back my tears. Why was all this emotion welling up in me?

Then it dawned on me. What a contrast to West Virginia! How could it be that our mountains at home were being tortured and obliterated via mountaintop removal strip mining of coal, while this mountain, Corcovado, was so venerated? I’ve not checked it out, but I suspect there’s no coal under the summit of Corcovado. As we chugged our way to the top I thought about why it is that we are we drawn to these high places—places with expansive views. Beyond their incomprehensible beauty, mountains are magical. Can the human heart be transformed by such a pilgrimage? Do we sense that they are they sacred places? Is it only for the view or could it be a place to gain greater perspective on our own lives? When a person can see for miles and miles, when this god-like perspective makes miniatures of everything below, do we unconsciously and simultaneously experience a sense of being finitely small yet somehow great? Indeed, when I reached this summit, I was overcome by wonderful emotions—joy and peace. Although Corcovado is crowded with sight-seers, alone in my thoughts, I was awestruck by this great geologic monument—a fraction of God’s Great Opus.
I descend with only more questions: Who calculates the intrinsic value of a mountaintop? And who, with any self- examination, could destroy one?

If you’re reading this and love mountains, you can do something to help save some mountains in southern West Virginia.  Contact President Obama here:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/write-or-call and tell him he needs to place an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal in Central Appalachia.

Corcovado as seen from Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Jun 252012

I’m still amazed after all these years the number of times that I seem to be in the right place at the right time. That was the case on June 21st at the UN Conference, Rio+20 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. I was sitting in the Women’s group office hand-writing some notes for the presentation I would be giving later about mountaintop removal and the Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice.  That was the recent event that OVEC helped organize in mid-May.   While sitting there, Rosa Lizarde, the global coordinator for the Feminist Task Force, introduced me to Claire Greensfelder,a lifelong environmental, peace and safe energy activist, educator, political campaigner, and print and radio journalist, who lives and works in California.

What a small world we live in.  When she found out that I was from West Virginia, working on ending mountaintop removal coal mining, she asked me if I knew Mike Roselle.

And of course I do!  His group has done so much to raise public awareness about this extreme and highly destructive type of strip mining.

She went on to compliment Mike and his work with Climate Ground Zero.  Rosa then told her that OVEC had been the primary organizing group on the ground for the Women’s Tribunal, at which point, Claire asked if I knew that the U.S. EPA’s Administrator, Lisa Jackson was speaking the next day at Rio Centro (where the UN plenaries and most of the side events were held for the conference).  She gave me the time and place, and I knew then what my work for Friday, June 22nd would be:  try to find a way to speak with her about mountaintop removal.

The next morning, I made my way to the Marriot Hotel located at Copacabana beach–one of the many designated bus stops for conference attendees.  Organizers of this gargantuan event ran buses to and from Rio Centro throughout the day from June 20-22 for the UN Conference, Rio+20.  People from throughout the world, women, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farmers, indigenous people, UN delegates and world leaders had been meeting formally since June 20.  An undercurrent of dissatisfaction surfaced in many conversations and circles in which I found myself.  Major concerns seemed to be a lack of political will on the part of developed nations to assist  developing nations with technology transfer and women were upset that the phase “reproductive rights” no longer appeared in the final document.

At any rate, I was on my way to Rio Centro with hopes of having a moment with Administrator Jackson.

Entrance for all the meetings at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio +20

When I arrived and while going through security (which was beefed up with so many heads of state in Rio), I spotted Emily Thenhaus, an intern with the Loretto Community UN NGO, on her way to a press briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Coincidentally, it was in the same room where Administrator Jackson was scheduled to speak a little later.  Getting into these formal meetings can be tricky.  Fact is, had I not met up with Emily and trailed behind her and some other US women, I’m not sure I would have been allowed in the room.  I was stopped at the door. Emily looked over her shoulder, saw me stalled and said, “She’s with our U.S. delegation.”

Magical.  I was allowed to pass through the door.

We made our way back to the pavilion area where first Hillary and then Lisa were scheduled to speak.  The room was already crowded. In the back was a bank of reporters waiting for Secretary Clinton to appear; the walls were lined with people and most of the seats had a sheet of paper with the word “reserved” printed in big, bold, black letters.  I spied a single open seat on the back row and settled in for the wait.

Hillary arrived to a barrage of clicking cameras, gave her speech and left.  (I recorded it, but admittedly was preoccupied wondering about how I might be able to speak with Administrator Jackson).  The room emptied out, but I decided to stay put and assess a strategic seat where I could intercept her.  My goal was to thank her for EPA’s role to help rein in mountaintop removal and especially for appealing the recent DC district court decision on the Spruce mine permit and to hand her the summary proceedings from the Central Appalachian Women’s Climate Justice Tribunal and the recent Chicago Women’s Tribunal (which focused on coal plant emissions).

Event organizers asked Emily and me to move closer to the front, which we gladly did (3rd row on the end).  Ms. Jackson was going to speak about the progress of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a collaboration that works to decrease short-lived air pollutants like methane, CFCs and black carbon (soot).  To make sure that Jackson would know why I was there to see her, I wore my green “Abolish Mountaintop Removal” t-shirt, the most dressed down I had been for the conference.  Right on time, she arrived; I saw her standing on my left, chatting with what appeared to be some of her staff.  I waited until she was in the front of the room and finished greeting other speakers. Then I saw my opportunity. I turned to Emily and said, “I’m going to go speak to her now.”

Janet presents EPA Administrator Jackson with the report and recommendations from the Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice.

Below is a short debrief video that Emily did with me where you can hear how our encounter went: http://lorettoinrio.tumblr.com/post/25659308506/janet-keating-at-the-uns-rio-20-conference-on

And here’s a wonderful photo of Lisa Jackson as she spoke at this event.

I was actually in tears after accomplishing what I set out to do–not sure why, but felt like she spoke from her heart when she said that she appreciated our work and courage.  As I was walking away, she said something like, “I get to go home, but you…”

Admittedly Rio is a bit of a long way to go to get the ear  and attention of the EPA Administrator, but I can’t help but wonder what she was thinking when we spoke–to see someone concerned about mountaintop removal in that room so far from home, wanting to thank her for EPA’s efforts on behalf of the people and the land.  If I were she, I might be inclined to remember that someone representing Central Appalachian women made a big effort  to run into her and maybe in the future she might make a little more effort on behalf of her agency’s efforts to save our mountains.

And here’s a photo of happy me after the event and the brief meet-up with Administrator Jackson:

Janet pauses for a photo op after meeting EPA's Lisa Jackson, happy she accomplished her goal for the day!

You can thank Administrator Jackson for appealing the D.C. court decision by emailing her at:   jackson.lisap@epa.gov.




Jun 202012

OVEC Executive Director Janet Keating is attending the Rio+20 Earth Summit, going on now in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Keating will present before a panel titled “Organizing for Change: Women’s Tribunals as Civil Society Advocacy.”

She’ll present findings from the Central Appalachian Women’s Tribunal on Climate Justice, which was held May 10 in Charleston, W. Va.

Follow Janet on Twitter @janetovec.