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Changing the discussion on the high carbon economy

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Winona LaDuke speaking

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Winona LaDuke wants to change the terms of the discussion. She says we are in a spiritual moment, and we have a choice to make. Do we want to live for another 500-1000 years, or another 50?

Speaking at the As Long As the Rivers Flow conference in Fort McMurray on Sunday, LaDuke challenged the audience to "discard the colonialism we are all carrying around" and replace it with the understanding that "our relatives have wings, paws, hooves, fins, and roots" and that "we are the only ones who can speak for the others."

A Harvard-trained economist, LaDuke is co-founder and Executive Director of Honor the Earth, a U.S.-based Indigenous organization that supports local Indigenous environmental initiatives while raising awareness about how the existing, linear economic system is unnatural and destroying "the world of our relatives." In order to address climate change and avoid ecological collapse, she argues, we have to understand that Indigenous peoples' teachings and wisdom are key. Honor the Earth is committed to "restoring traditional knowledge systems and practices, strengthening consciousness, and creating the durable energy and food economies of Native America."

"We have to take care of the garden the Creator gave us," she said, "understand that the Creator's law is the highest, and accept that our lives and those of our relatives are cyclical." She described the existing linear, market economic system as a "predator economy" that is predicated on greed and fabricated need, "puts a price tag on everything," is short-sighted, and inherently wasteful.

In contrast, the cyclical, "Indigenous economy" operates on the belief that the world is animate and cyclical. What we do today will come around again later. "In each teaching and deliberation," she said "we must think seven generations into the future." She reminded everyone that her generation is the seventh since the original treaties were signed. "Our ancestors were thinking of us when they were negotiating the treaties."

We live in a "throw it away" world where the waste management industry is booming, but LaDuke asks where is "away?" There is no away. There is no fairy that is going to take our waste "away."

We are addicted to fossil fuels and since "addicts do bad things" we need to "decarbonize" the economy and work with corporations to collaboratively orchestrate a "graceful exit" from fossil fuels and into renewables. Crazy? Not at all. LaDuke points to the finding of 2014 report by the International Energy Agency which shows that replacing fossil fuels with renewables will not only keep global temperatures down, but also save the global economy US$71 trillion by 2015.

LaDuke's passion, clarity, and constructive hope dramatically changed the energy in the conference room. May her energy and work continue to change the terms of the discussion in ever-widening circles.

Ed Bianchi is the Manager for KAIROS Canada. He and Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, attended the As Long As the Rivers Flow conference in Fort McMurray, May 31-June 1. To read Jennifer Henry's blogs from the conference, visit: We are all connected and Archbishop Desmond Tutu: a voice to be heard.

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