Rio Focus: Interview with Suzanne York

May 30th, 2012 | By | Category: Rio+20 Earth Summit

Editor’s note: This interview with was originally published by Antoinette Siu at on May 24, 2012.

Are you going to Rio? Do you have specific expectations? Hear from Suzanne York, from on what someone like her might expect from Rio.

Antoinette: What will you be focusing on and looking to get out of Rio?

Suzanne York: I’ll be going on behalf of both the Sierra Club’s Global Population & Environment Program, with whom I volunteer and for my employer, the Institute for Population Studies, aka I’m not sure yet what I’ll be doing with the Sierra Club, though I do they are participating in a side event on youth and population issues/global reproductive health and I’ll be involved with that somehow. Overall I’ll be there to write about what is going on, how, if at all, population is being discussed, and focusing on other issues as well, namely “first world” consumption levels, womens empowerment, and alternative economic measures (esp GDP). Part of what I’ll be doing for the Sierra Club is making a PowerPoint presentation over what the Earth Summit is, what happened, what should’ve been discussed and wasn’t, etc, and doing some presentations on it.  Other volunteers may be using the PowerPoint too, to get the main issues across to the general public.

Antoinette: Neat. And this is your first time going?

Suzanne York: I’ve been to Rio once before, back in 2002.  I went for the World Social Forum, which was held in Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil.  I took a tour of a favela in Rio, which was quite interesting. What I’m most looking forward to is the Peoples’ Summit, which I think will have the most energy.  I’ve been to some similar summits – I went to Rio+10 in Johannesburg in 2002, when I worked for the Int’l Forum on Globalization (Victor Menotti’s org).  We did a public teach-in that had a lot of excitement and interest.  I’ve only been on the outside though, never inside official talks. The Sierra Club is an accredited org with the UN, so I think I’ll be able to get inside the actual talks, at least where the UN allows NGOs to be. And IPS/ is waiting to hear back about accreditation.

Antoinette: So, what are some of the goals you’re setting for both yourself and the institutions you’ll be representing? Is it–advocacy, networking, etc.?

Suzanne York: Let’s see…definitely advocacy and networking.  I want to make some connections for both organizations, if only to help spread the word about our goals and about the issues around population growth – mainly how we must educate and raise awareness around women’s empowerment – family planning, health, access to education, land rights, equality, economic opportunities.  And society must seriously confront unsustainable levels of consumption on a planet with finite resources.

Antoinette: On a personal level, what are you expecting out of Rio this year?

Suzanne York: What do I expect out of Rio?  I’m not sure yet.  It definitely seems that not much is going to happen.  Expectations seem to get lowered by the week.  And every year it seems these big global gatherings do nothing except create bigger carbon footprints!  But I’m still hopeful that something good can come out of Rio, something driven by civil society.

Antoinette: Finally, what would you say to people who want to help you with your (and your organizations’) goals? How can they get involved if they are not going to be at Rio?

Suzanne York: For people who want to help, the main thing is to keep informed.  I’ve written occasionally on Rio+20 and will be doing more, most of which is posted at  Understanding the big picture on population growth is key, so realizing that it’s the points I made earlier – women’s empowerment, human rights, social justice, access, choice, consumption, etc makes a big difference when talking about the issue.  If someone is going to Rio, then the Peoples’ Summit is where it’s at, from what I can tell today.  If not, talking about these issues with friends, family, on Facebook is a good start. Write LTEs to newspapers.  Writing to representatives is also key, so they hear from their constituents that more than the green economy is at stake in Rio.  People and the planet first, as some have said.  It would be a shame to see what was accomplished in ’92 go to waste, so pressuring decision-makers is critical.

– Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program
– How
– Rio+20 virtual space

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