Rio + 20: Activists Start Conference by Connecting to Earth Instead of Internet

Ethical Markets

What do the multicolored flags mean?”It’s for protection,” says Thais Corral, one of the founders of Vista Alegre, and Ethical Markets Advisory Board member. She says the property was once owned by coffee growers. Now it is a place for planting the seeds of ideas.

by Melanie Feliciano
Ethical Markets Correspondent

Everyone in the environmental movement (and their mom) is in Rio de Janeiro this month for the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Earth Summit. Before contributing to the traffic, chaos and stress, a group of activists from different corners of the world, decided to start off the conference by re-connecting with the earth – instead of the Internet – at Vista Alegre, a hidden valley surrounded by mountains tickled by rushing cachoeiras.

It’s not that wifi isn’t available here. A storm had blown out the connection. But wasn’t this a good reminder of why everyone is attending this landmark conference?

After dinner delights included hiking and sitting in a dry sauna before standing under a freezing cachoeira (if you haven’t figured it out by now, that means waterfall). Afterwards, the group gathered around the table to coordinate transportation to Riocentro, where all the discussions will take place. And yet, so many discussions have already begun right here at Vista Alegre among an eclectic group:

Susan Bazilli, Director IWRP, is a feminist lawyer, researcher, educator, and advocate who has worked globally on issues of women’s rights and human rights for the past 30 years. A graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School (LL.B.) and the University of British Columbia (LL.M.) she is currently living in Vancouver B.C. She is the author of the groundbreaking text Putting Women on the Agenda: Women, Law and the Constitution in Southern Africa. From 1992 – 1997, she was the Legal Director of METRAC [], The Metropolitan Committee on Violence Against Women in Toronto, Canada, where she founded OWJNet, the Ontario Women’s Justice Network. In 1997, she was the start-up Executive Director of the California Alliance Against Domestic Violence.

From 1998 to the present, she has been associated with the IWRP in Canada and internationally. Some of Susan’s international missions have included women’s human rights training in Bosnia, Lithuania and East Africa for Women Law and Development International; bilateral missions in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for the OSCE; ICT for development trainings in Croatia and Lithuania for USAID and CIDA; managing the gender program for the American Bar Association CEELI’s program in Russia. From 2003 – 2004, she was the Legal Specialist responsible for the CEDPA [], Southern African Women’s Legal Rights program with offices in Swaziland and Madagascar. She was the Conference Chair for Putting Feminism on the Agenda, held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in November 2006. In 2007 she coordinated work with IWRP partners in South Africa, the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, and Kenya, as well as local Canadian partners. Since 2008 she has been managing an international transboundary waters project funded by the Global Environment Facility, and continuing the IWRP project work in Uganda and South Africa, as well as at the University of Victoria.

Arno Scharl heads the Department of New Media Technology at MODUL University Vienna. Prior to this appointment, he held professorships at Graz University of Technology and the University of Western Australia, and the position of a Key Researcher at the Austrian Competence Center for Knowledge Management. Mr. Scharl completed his doctoral research at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and also holds a PhD and MSc from the University of Vienna, Department of Sports Physiology. Returning from fellowships at the University of California at Berkeley and Curtin University of Technology (funded by an Erwin Schrödinger Research Grant of the Austrian Science Fund), he submitted his habilitation on “Evolutionary Web Development” to the Vienna University of Economics and Business, for which he was awarded the venia docendi and the Senator Wilhelm Wilfling Award in 2000. Mr. Scharl edited two books in Springer’s Advanced Information and Knowledge Processing Series on “The Geospatial Web” and “Environmental Online Communication”, founded the ECOresearch Network and served as co-chair of the 20th International Conference on Informatics for Environmental Protection. His current research interests focus on text mining, integrating semantic and geospatial Web technology, media monitoring, virtual communities and computer-mediated collaboration.

Gail Karlsson is an environmental lawyer specializing in issues relating to international environmental law, energy policy, and sustainable development. Since 1997 she has worked on a number of projects for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other organizations on topics relating to energy, sustainable development and the global environment. Her work for UNDP has included design and teaching of an online course on Environment and Sustainable Development for UNDP’s Virtual Development Academy, and production of books and materials on incorporating women’s perspectives into sustainable energy strategies. She is also a representative of the U.S. Citizens Network for Sustainable Development and has been involved with promotion of green buildings and sustainable energy in New York and the Virgin Islands. Gail began her legal career in 1980 with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the area of hazardous waste enforcement. She later practiced environmental and corporate law with the New York firm of Lord Day Lord, Barrett Smith.

Marilyn Averill is a doctoral student in Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado.  Her research interests focus on international environmental governance, the politics of science, and science and technology policy, particularly in the context of global climate change.  Her most recent work involves the use of science and the treatment of uncertainty in litigation relating to climate change, and the effects these cases may have on law, science, and policy. Before returning to graduate school, Marilyn was an attorney with the Office of the Solicitor, United States Department of the Interior, where she provided legal advice to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.  She holds Master’s degrees in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government and in Educational Research and Evaluation Methodology from the University of Colorado, and a law degree from the University of Colorado.

Jennifer Kagan is a Master’s student at the School of Public Affairs.  Her primary interests are in international development, sustainability, and law and policy issues.  Jennifer received her J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law in 2004, and she spent six years as an attorney in the private sector, working primarily in class action litigation.  In addition to her work with the Buechner Institute, Jennifer is also involved, through the School of Public Affairs, with the Global Women Scholars Network, which focuses on mentoring women from underdeveloped nations who are studying sustainability.

Alice Madden started her career in the high tech industry and then practiced law for nine years before running for office. First elected in 2000, Alice served four terms as a Colorado State Representative. Recognized as the architect of the stunning victories for progressives in 2004 and in 2006, Alice’s tenure also included four years (2004 – 2008) as House Majority Leader.

Karinjo DeVore. After graduating with a BFA in Art History and International Affairs from UC Boulder, Karinjo moved to Aspen, Colorado, which has served as her home base ever since. She spent many years living in Japan, France and throughout Africa working for organizations such as the Lesotho National Development Corp., FRIDA and the National Geographic. Since returning to Aspen she has served as a founding board member for the Aspen Sister Cities Program, Friends of Africa International, and Aspen International Mountain Foundation. In addition, she has worked with Earth Voices to implement the City of Aspen’s Year of Indigenous Peoples program, and has authored numerous articles on cultures and environments in publications such as National Geographic, Geo Magazine, Washington Times Magazine, Outside Magazine and Modern Maturity.  Karinjo is an avid mountaineer and skier.

Gillian Bowser. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Gillian Bowser did not have much exposure to environmental issues or the natural world. However, her New York upbringing did provide her with something that helped her succeed as an African American woman in the environmental field. “New Yorkers are just so darn proud of who they are,” Bowser says, laughing. “Living there, you’re introduced to so many different things and cultures, that it’s easy to see things as challenges rather than barriers.”

And there are yet more to arrive!

BTW: Wifi eventually re-connected, so I figured, what the heck? May as well take advantage and upload this report to you live and direct from Rio + 20!

Coming up next: We head to Riocentro and start our search for attendees returning to Rio after the first Earth Summit 20 years ago. We want your memories and concrete examples of change in the last 20 years. Did you initiate a project at the first Rio+20? Can you show clear change as a result of your project?