When I walked out of the house last Friday I saw a big yellow sign on the main road nearby. The sign said that they would be closing off the main road on Tuesday for emergency work to repair a broken sewage pipe. I found intriguing their use of the word Emergency. If it was really an emergency, would they not have closed the road right away? Why wait 4 days to fix something that is an emergency?

I can remember attending many meetings leading up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2000 and 2001. I would sit through presentation after presentation from experts and government officials outlining all of the environmental and social issues affecting the planet, many of which were presented as emergencies that needed action immediately. Now as discussions are beginning around the next Earth Summit in 2012, many of the exact same issues and presentations are being made, still using the word emergency.

When an earthquake or another type of natural disaster hits, people react quickly because we know that is truly an emergency and thus requires a quick response. What what about everything else, what makes an emergency really an emergency? I know many groups who use the word to try to push action quickly. The problem is that everyone uses it so no one knows which are the read emergencies and which are less of an emergency. Perhaps they all are? But then how do we get people to react as quickly as they do when a disaster strikes? There are many issues that people don’t talk about as much which are perhaps the real emergencies.