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From Cochabamba to Cancun...the path forward

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The  World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth is over, but the momemtum generated by this first initiative will create ripples that will continue for some time.   I am left with a feeling of tremendous hope, and a sense that this is just the beginning, that we are on our way to the formation of a global movement for climate justice, that there are  many, many people who care, who are prepared to devote their hearts, their minds, and their passion to slowing down and turning around the tragic trajectory that has been set by the industrial growth society.    It’s time to re-balance, to re-new, to release this world from the uneccessary suffering the privilege of the few have inflicted upon the many.  The time is now – or never –  to transform the systems of domination that are destroying this world, into systems that affirm and sustain life. As the conference program states, “More than trying to “humanize” nature, it is up to us to “naturalize” human beings.”

The declarations forged by the working groups in Cochabamba will be taken to the Cancún summit on Climate Change in December 2010, by President Evo Morales, as a counter-proposal to the “Copenhagen Accord”, which the gathering has deemed “a failure.”   The summit calls  for the halving of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020,  and the creation of an international climate tribunal to judge countries on global warming.  It promised to take steps to create a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights, and to organize an international referendum on the Climate Crisis to coincide with the next Earth Day, on April 22, 2011.

Movements of Indigenous Peoples, trade unions, farmers and environmentalists are also developing momentum out of the  Cochabamba summit towards mass demonstrations in Cancún.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the message of Cochabamba will be received in Cancún.  One morning in the conference, smiling mischeviously, Hugo Chavez – the president of Venezuala –  told the story of the experience he and Evo Morales had in Copenhagen.  Convinced that the talks were a failure, and banned from taking the stage to present their views, they decided to bluster their way through the security guards that had been assigned to “keep them in their place.”  But the guards wouldn’t budge, until Esteban Lazo Hernández, the vice-president of Cuba,  a rather large man, joined them.  Suddenly, the guards stepped aside and the three were able to take the stage and make their statement, denouncing the Copenhagen Accord.   Chavez joked that they would need Esteban’s help  at the next Climate Summit in Mexico.


Cochabamba offered a very different approach to solving the problem of climate change than Copenhagen.  Nnimmo Bassey,  of Nigeria, the head of Friends of the Earth International, as well as a wonderful poet, explained to us that Cochabama  was all about inclusion, while Copenhagen was all about exclusion.
Naomi Klein, who, like Noam Chomsky, is highly celebrated here in South America,  told us that she was drawn to the conference in Cochabamba after her experience at Copenhagen, which was deeply disappointing.  She came  with a mixture of hope, and desperation.   At Copenhagen, it became clear that the nations of the world were prepared to avoid responsibility for the vast suffering of millions of people, as a result of over-consumption by the wealthy nations.  She recounted seeing the delegation of Tuvalu, an island nation which is doomed to  disappear under water if climate change is not halted, standing in protest as the delegates of Copenhagen streamed past.   She sensed that they were deliberately avoiding the gaze of the Tuvaluans, that they knew what they were doing, and didn’t have the courage to face it.

Here in Cochabamba the world leaders that came, were here to listen to the people as much as they were here to listen to themselves.  Of course, there was still a lot of grandstanding going on.  Give Hugo Chavez a microphone, and it’s hard to get him to stop.

Evo Morales said that at Copenhagen they discussed the effects of Climate Change, but avoided the difficult question of addressing the  root causes.   He believes  that it all began with the industrial revolution in 1750, which fueled the  system of consumerism, competition, and a the thirst for profit without limits that is now destroying the planet.  We are no longer human beings – we are now consumers.  Mother earth does not exist – there are only raw materials.

Evo has said, “We, the indigenous people, only want to Live Well, not better. Living better is to exploit, to plunder to rob, but Living Well is to live in brotherhood. Climate Change is not in essence a problem of the environment, technology or financing. It is a problem of a model for living. Climate Change is not a cause, but rather it is an effect, which comes from the capitalist system.  If we do not understand these profound differences with the communities which defend life, we are certainly never going to resolve the problems of life, of humanity, and of nature.


On a side note, one potential limiting effect of the conference, to my mind, has been the emphasis on the failure of capitalism, while trumpeting the successes of socialism.  In fact, socialism has not been very friendly to the environment either.   As one indigenous representative told us, both socialism and capitalism are resource exploitative ideologies that put the human before the earth.  An indigenous persepective avoids this pitfall.  The other problem with using the summit as a forum to put forward socialist agendas, has been that it  has given easy fodder to those that want to dismiss the proceedings.  One journalist called the conference “a watermelon” – green on the outside, red on the inside.   This is not a fair representation of the vast diversity of viewpoints represented.  And diversity is our strength, in all levels.   Any form of mono-culture – from biological to ideological – is not going to offer the resilience we need to cope with these times of rapid change and crisis.  We are going to need to think outside all of our boxes, and  draw from the widest pool of wisdom we can.  Especially the wisdom of those in the margins.

The power of the people’s summit is that it is self organizing, and inclusive – it is indeed open to all.  I hope that future summits will include an even broader base.  As Patrick Mooney, who is on the front lines of drawing attention to the dangers of Geo-engineering,  suggested to us, it would be tremendously exciting to see more scientists here,learning and sharing along with the indigenous participants, the workers, the rebels, the artists and the law makers.   True unity is found in diversity, and that is where our strength lies.

The Cochabamba Summit has been a wonderful stepping stone, a launching pad.   These are exciting times we live in, and anything could happen.  To think we know the outcome to this latest “great story” is arrogant.  Whether we will be able to “save the planet” or not,  it seems to me that the fount of hope and meaning lies in taking action, in whatever way works for us.  We have the opportunity now to join in on the celebration of possibility, to  align ourselves with the forces of life.  We’ll need to become skilled at walking the line between urgency and hope, maintaining our balance in a world out of balance.  I’m convinced that out of the crucible of crisis, the greatest love story on earth could be born.  Cochabamba has planted the seeds, and I hope to see them flower.


Photos by kk  - http://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/


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