It is now embarrassing to recall, but on the first day in Rio I was too afraid to take the underground; I thought that if I went down, I would never emerge on the surface again; I thought that the city would swallow me, and I will be buried forever in its guts. But in the morning all fears were scattered: the city was waking up, the sellers were setting up stalls in the market, the corner shops were baking croissants, and the underground from inside turned out to be like a Sunday pageant, where young women had come to show off their jewellery.
I had been told that Rio was dangerous; I had been told not to walk in the streets of Rio alone; but when I went out, I saw that I was not alone at all. The City was swelling and melting under the midday sun; its narrow streets were filled with people so tightly it was hard to move; I brushed shoulders with strangers. The noise was so loud, the smog was so dense, and the sun was so hot that I was overwhelmed.
Little by little, I learnt to let go, and to trust. Trust the city, knowing that I am safe and nothing bad can happen to me; trust that its people will help me, and that we will be able to understand each other. I had never given much value to trust, thinking that it is something flower-power; but this trip made me reconsider this. In the International Society for Ecological Economics conference that I attended in Rio, somebody said that trust is a risky endeavour. And yet, researchers presented their findings in the area of cooperation and sharing in rural communities, where trust that the community will share with you is sometimes the only means of individual risk management. In some societies, a widow goes through a year of mourning, in which she is forbidden to do any kind of work, and therefore completely depends on community for survival. Sharing in such communities is compulsory; when asked, ‘Who would you share with?’, they answer, ‘With anyone who is in need’. They know that reliance on sharing in the times of need is the question of life and death.
In a totally different world, that of crystal skyscraper towers, business and corporations, lack of trust is similarly a costly issue. In turn, business itself has in the past years become an object of mistrust and scorn, and a culprit of many misfortunes. However, I reconsidered this, too; I thought, if behind corporations are people who make ethical decisions, how does it happen that the structures they create become so abstract and inhumane? All people equally want a positive change in society, and it is perhaps unwise to reduce all business social and environmental responsibility efforts to green-washing and refuse them a chance – refuse them some credit of trust. Business, as a power structure, has great leverage, and with power comes responsibility. Trust emerges when this responsibility is adequately managed and realised.
Finally, the Rio summit can also be seen as a matter of trust relations. Global north and global south do not trust each other; EU countries do not trust the non-EU ones; major groups do not trust the negotiators; civil society as a whole does not have much trust in the process and outcomes of the negotiations. And yet, all the players played the game together, trying to cooperate and maximise their pay-off, given the strategies of others – just like in classical game theory. And just like in classical game theory, the best result for all parties would be achieved if there was cooperation, transparency and trust; and yet, economics tells us that such a result is impossible, unless the game is played repeatedly and a third party is present to keep the players accountable for their commitments.
The outcome of the summit did not satisfy everyone; what was gained between countries (trust?) was long between UNCSD and civil society. But whatever the outcome, and even if there is no hope to restore what have been undone in the world, it does not mean that each of us should not try their best. After all, it is the matter of our individual and collective responsibility, and we will not know for sure whether we can or cannot preserve what we value so much, unless we try.
So was my relationship with the City of Rio, the Marvellous; I tried, and something turned deeply, and now I know that there is that ancient enormous creature, and I owe it something, and some part of me will be never returned. I realised that I had not trusted enough, neither myself, nor strangers; and I am not saying that I have become more trusting or trustworthy, but I know that in due time I will.