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The general public’s perception of the Summit
by Pippa H
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Public protesting
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Sept. 2, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• “Going to hug some trees?” , “off to join your hippie friends are you?” and “what is the World Summit on Sustainable Development?” are just a few examples of questions that friends and acquaintances asked me over the days before and during the summit. The majority of students, not from Johannesburg, that did not even know what the summit or its purpose was, shocked me. When I announced that I was off to write reports for the conference, confused looks would begin to shadow over their faces and once I had explained the conferences purpose to them, most would exclaim, “what a waste of money”! And the connections in Johannesburg tended to focus on the marches and demonstrations and mocked me about my involvement. Even when I explained the real reason I was in Johannesburg, they would cut me short with their comments. This brings up a really big issue to do with the summit. What does the general public think of the event?

After doing a bit of investigating (mostly reading newspaper articles and interviewing), I discovered that there were many mixed views on the WSSD. People who are more involved in the environment, either professionally or as a hobby tended to see it as a good thing. They would gladly engage in long discussions and debates about issues to do with the summit. They follow the news and newspapers avidly to make sure they are up to date with the happenings and are eager to see changes. Although they have not had an opportunity to see results yet, most of them said that they would have placed their money on a successful conference.

People not involved in the environment professionally however, did not see the summit as a good thing. They either saw it as an opportunity for leaders of the world to get together and indulge or they saw it as a gathering place for the hippies. If only they knew that the summit involves both of these, in some ways. That is what makes it so dynamic. The academic get together and argue out the issues, the VIP’s sign the agreements reached by the academics and the “hippies” protest these decisions on the street. It is a place for people to meet, and if they care enough about their cause, to have a say.

There are also those who are not involved in the summit because of their economic situations. The poorer part of the population tends to think that the summit is a waste of time because it will not be of benefit to them at all. They feel that they will not see results. This is a very valid argument but need a whole new report to discuss it. Have the poverty stricken seen results from Rio and will they see results from Johannesburg?

With all the opinions evaluated and comments noted, I came to my own personal decision that the summit is a valuable thing that is needed in the world today. It is needed so that the leaders can dedicate themselves to making environmentally sound decisions about sustainable development. And that the educated can feel that they have had their say (even if they don’t agree with the final decisions). And it is needed so that the “hippies” can protest peacefully about their causes hoping that what they are doing is going to make an impact. And that the general public can feel hopeful about tomorrows world because someone is doing something. Whether the people behind the reason why everyone attends the summit will benefit can only be seen in the years to come. I will put my money on them benefiting!

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