Climate change

Image: Thelma Lessa da Fonseca


The destruction of the environment continues in continuity and making room for new viruses

In 1992, the II United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in the city of Rio de Janeiro, which the United Nations (UN) promoted to, in the sphere of international cooperation, pay attention to the issue of the environment and bring solutions within the so-called sustainable development, placing the issue as central to human development in the future.

With the II Conference, also called Eco-92 or Rio-92, the issue of the environment entered the sphere of global discussion, with the significant number of representatives and heads of state present at the Conference being symptomatic, especially when compared to the I Conference. held in the city of Stockholm, in 1972. Since 1992, the environmental crisis has been raised, however, little progress has been made in practical actions to contain the degradation of the planet. What society is currently experiencing is a resurgence of destructive actions on the environment and significant changes in the climate that are initially affecting the poorest populations. In this sense, it is essential to place the environmental issue as central and a limit to the continuity of human time in Earth's time.

Time is the subject of historians, “men in time” as the French historian Marc Bloch said. When the historian chooses a theme to be researched, he usually performs a historical cut that situates his subject in time. Thus, Eric J. Hobsbawm wrote his series of booksThe Age of Revolutions, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empires and, finally, the age of extremes, using a clipping related to political, economic and social moments. In this sense, of the events ranging from the French Revolution (1789) to the years of the First World War (1914-1918), he called the long XNUMXth century; of the events that go from the First World War until what would be the end of the Cold War, culminating with the dismemberment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in 1991, Hobsbawm called the short twentieth century. In this way, as defined by the German historian Reinhart Koselleck, the concept of century is disconnected from the additive calculation of the hundred years: “With a new century, a new configuration of the world does not immediately begin. Many undertakings that had begun a long time ago in the previous century only came to be developed later”. In a recent argument, historian linked to the University of São Paulo, Lilia Moritz Schwarcz noted that the pandemic caused by the coronavirus would mark the end of the 2020th century, that is, XNUMX would be the beginning of the current century.

If for Hobsbawm the 20th century ended in 1991 with the end of Soviet socialism, we can see that 1992 marks the beginning of the 21st century. If Hobsbawm guided his periodizations by emphasizing political and social issues to classify the 19th and 20th for the classification of 1992 as the beginning of the 21st century is the emergence of environmental concerns. The II United Nations Conference for the Environment and Development arises as a result of new concerns, launches proposals, inserts environmental problems in the sphere of discussion of nations. For the first time, a large number of heads of state and government, ministers and diplomats, representatives of different backgrounds and countries, gathered to discuss the consequences of pollutant emissions into the earth's atmosphere, deforestation, depletion of natural resources, the destruction of fauna, the impact of the effects generated by these actions on the life of living beings on the planet.

In all, 175 countries sent delegations to the II Conference. During the meeting, held in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992, then-President Fernando Collor transferred the capital of Brazil to that city, which became the capital again, a role it had ceased to exercise since the founding of Brasília. , in the early 1960s. The 1972st United Nations Conference on the Environment took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in XNUMX. However, as Washington Novaes observes, this event did not have the impact of placing the environmental issue in the daily lives of citizens, aspect that took place with the II Conference held in Rio de Janeiro, incorporating the environment into the democratic game.

The discussion core of the II Conference was linked to the growth of pollution caused by the more industrialized countries, and with the consequent climate changes that could affect life on Earth. It was necessary to conciliate economic growth and preservation of the environment. Almost thirty years after the event, it can be seen that the objectives of the meeting have not been very successful so far, but they have caused a certain echo. Today the environmental cause enters the public discussion from the municipal to the federal sphere, being managed at a global level by the hands of the UN. However, even within the scope of the UN, according to José Antonio Ocampo, some areas of international cooperation face problems, such as those linked to the incomplete nature of international agendas and the fragile mechanisms for supervision and compliance with international agreements, with such problems arising from the power relations involving private agents and powerful countries. In other areas there are agreements, but gaps are observable, such as the area of ​​climate change, that is, the issue of the environment within the UN finds it difficult to be better treated because it collides with power-holding fronts, which have manifested since the beginning of the discussions their positions contrary to measures to solve environmental problems. In many aspects, the environmental issue was subordinated to capital, adapted to the gears, assuming characteristics that tend to legitimize the extension of the capitalist structure, updating the backwardness, the mechanisms of devastation. Indeed, within the current economic reality, the way out is difficult, being necessary to overcome the archaic structures of production that prolong a past of environmental degradation, poverty and social inequality, which rages without ceasing. Proposals were launched, however, when turning in the dynamics of the global economy, such proposals lose effect. If, in other times, the fear was of the end times, of the nuclear threat, of the communists, today the fear is of environmental catastrophes, of pandemics. To paraphrase Mike Davis, catastrophe knocks at our door.

In a recent article, professor and former Minister of Culture of Argentina, José Nun addressed the environmental issue, placing it as a major issue behind the pandemic, since the destruction of the environment continues in continuity and opens space for new viruses [1 ]. In this sense, the 2020 pandemic can be understood within the limits of the universe of environmental discussion. Such relationship between the devastation of the environment and the appearance of new viruses is indicated by Jared Diamond, who highlighted that currently the new diseases come from pathogens coming from wild animals, through the contact generated by the devastation of the natural habitats of animals. With the growing wave of deforestation, new paths are opening up for contacts with new pathogens.

The French historian Pierre Rosanvallon, when dealing with the historian's method, indicates that “history aims to understand how in a time, a country, or a social group tries to build answers to what, with greater or lesser precision, they perceive as a problem”. Thus, following Rosanvallon's proposal, if we look closely at reality, it is possible to notice the absence of effective solutions for the serious problem that is the issue of the environment. In the heat of discussions on the environment in 1992, Professor Umberto Cordani observed that:

“…Rio-92 represented a turning point in human history, with the redefinition of the direction of human development. New paths, in search of a new balance, involving a situation of 'sustainable' development, on equitable bases for humanity” must be on the horizon”.

In this sense, we consider 1992 as the first year of the 21st century because it marked the appearance of important alterations in the relationships between individuals and between individuals and the environment. Nonetheless, the economic interests of capitalism did not give way to environmental interests, and the more developed countries continue to pollute more than the developing countries. While the countries at the center of the system dictate the rules of destruction, the countries at the periphery will be the first to suffer from the disastrous consequences of climate change. The promotion of a project to overcome archaic economic structures, incompatible with the new future, is urgent, especially at a time when humanity is facing the catastrophes arising from nature as a reaction to the devastating action of humanity on Earth.

Little-described climatic phenomena begin to repeat themselves with constancy, uncontrollable fires, prolonged droughts, intense rains, above-average temperatures, extreme cold, pollution of natural resources, accumulation of garbage, devastation of forests and the opening to new categories of viruses until then hidden in their habitat begin to fill the citizen's daily life. There is no more time and space for humanity to adapt to the reality of climate change. Man built society using the maximum of natural resources, it is necessary to overcome the stage of destruction and reach a new stage of sustainable social and scientific development through profound transformation, or rather, overcoming the archaic structures of capitalism.

In 1992 it started, now what remains is to make this century the century where the solutions were found and enable the 22nd century to have a start. That is, it is not on the horizon at the end of the 21st century.

* Moses Stahl is a doctoral candidate in economic history at USP.


CORDANI, Umberto G. “Echoes of Eco 92 at the SBPC meeting”. Advanced Studies, vol. 6, no 15, 1992, p. 97-102.

NUN, Jose. “What is not said about the coronavirus”. Journal of USP, 11 Aug. 2020. Accessed: 12 Aug. 2020 .

OCAMPO, José Antônio.“Economic and social governance and the system of the United Nations”. In: OCAMPO, José Antonio.Global governance and development: new challenges and priorities for international cooperation. 1st edition. Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2015.

ROSANVALLON, Pierre. For a political story. São Paulo: Editora Alameda, 2010.

SCHWARCZ, Lilia M. When the XNUMXth century ends🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2020.



[1] NUN, Jose. “What is not said about the coronavirus”. Journal of USP, 11 Aug. 2020. Available in

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