From a non-governmental organization like Loretto at the UN’s perspective, the United Nations General Assembly week is the irritating time in which our UN security passes are shut down and we are barred from most meetings and events at the UN. Due to the copious amounts of prime ministers, presidents and high level governmental delegates that swarm the United Nations during this week, access to the UN is all but impossible to achieve unless you are a diplomat. Lucky for me, I was able to snag one of 35 limited passes to the UN General Debate that were being distributed for NGOs by the UN Department of Global Communications. With my ticket, journal and best blazer in hand, I marched into the General Assembly Hall prepared to be relegated by the words of our world leaders.
In the end, I was able to bear witness to the addresses by the heads of state of India, Palestine, Pakistan, Brazil and of course, the United States. I could write for pages on the contrast and content of each of these speeches but for now I’ll focus on two of the biggest egos of the bunch, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and the USA’s very own (unfortunately) President, Donald Trump.
Climate justice is a huge priority for the Loretto Community. As we search for meaningful ways to combat climate change and protect the Earth I think it is essential that we simultaneously recognize the narratives that are doing the opposite. The speeches made by Trump and Bolsonaro are perfect examples of these dangerous and harrowing narratives.
Bolsonaro stated that his administration has “solemnly committed itself to sustainable development.” However, shortly after expressing this he began a defense of his administration attitude towards Amazon. He stated that the criticisms surrounding Brazil’s actions (or inaction) to the depletion of the Amazon are a result of “sensationalist media attacks.” It seems Bolsonaro too, has come to adopt the “fake news” approach to any negative media attention that arises. He even thanked Trump for his support at this point of his address. Most notable to me, was the emphasis that Bolsonaro placed on patriotism. “We all know that all countries have problems” He stated. “Yet, the sensationalist attacks that we have suffered coming from a large part of the international media due to the fire outbreaks in the Amazonian region have aroused our patriotic sentiment,” It seems that he is calling on a spirit of nationalism in order to combat the growing call for climate action that threatens the power and investments within the Amazon that he holds so dear.
The theme of nationalism carried through in Trump’s address as well. Trump opened his speech by addressing the importance of patriotism stating “the future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots.” Though his tone and pace of speech came across as far more measured and calm in comparison to Bolsonaro, his intentions rang through loud and clear. The more that nationalism is emboldened in our countries, the easier it will be for world leaders to twist narratives and truth to their favor. We can all do our part to prevent this dangerous sentiment by uplifting the voices of those who have traditionally been silenced and and work to dismantle the unearned power and privileges we innately hold within ourselves. The Loretto mission states “if you want peace, work for justice.” Efforts to dismantle our unearned power and privilege would be a positive step in the right direction.