No Hiding From Sustainable Development

At the Brazilian launch of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network last year, many complained that São Paulo was suffering from a mega-drought that the country's politicians were keeping quiet. This is a reality around the world: too many politicians ignore a growing environmental crisis, placing the entire world in peril.

NEW YORK – One year ago, I was in Brazil to launch the Brazilian chapter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The main message I heard that day was that São Paulo was suffering from a mega-drought, but that state and local politicians were keeping it quiet. This is a reality around the world: too many political leaders are ignoring a growing environmental crisis, imperiling their own countries and others.

In the case of Brazil, state and local officials had other things on their mind in 2014: hosting the World Cup soccer tournament in June and July and winning elections later in the year. So they relied on a time-tested political tactic: hide the bad news behind a “feel-good" message.

Some places have been even more foolish than simply ignoring the risks. North Carolina's coastlands, like coastal areas around the world, are threatened by rising sea levels caused by human-induced climate change. Yet in 2012, land developers convinced the state legislature to bar the use of scientific evidence on rising sea levels in the state's coastal management policies, at least until 2016. The issue is equally flagrant at the federal level: US Congress members, on the take from Big Oil, simply deny the reality of climate change.

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