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(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)

More than 130 heads of state, other leaders, and some 50,000 participants from all over the globe are gathering this week in Rio de Janeiro, the most-visited city in the southern hemisphere, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. I am here with Martin Wagner, head of the Earthjustice International program, and Erika Rosenthal, Earthjustice attorney and veteran of many international environmental negotiations, and we want to share a few glimpses into what is going on as this historic event unfolds.

As I write this, ships are being prepared to steam northward from several ports to begin poking holes in the floor of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in search of oil.

Thanks to legal action by Earthjustice over the last few years, and thanks also to a one-year time-out called in the wake of the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the drilling has been forestalled, but it could finally begin this July. Legal challenges are still pending, but the odds seem long against them.

That said, this is closer to the beginning of this struggle than to its end.

On a muggy Tuesday morning, two polar bears lumbered south on 17th Street in Washington D.C. A walrus waved at drivers honking their horns. A sandpiper flapped its wings as it passed food trucks and coffee shops. And, 40 representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups wore bright blue shirts emblazoned with the logo “SAVE THE ARCTIC.”

On backing down, backing away, and backing into a corner . . .

President Obama’s statement, “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” was one the more awkward sentences in his State of the Union speech, and not just syntactically.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.