“There is hope in communities, in resiliency, in the commons, making sure that power can be exerted at the place where people live, there’s hope from the Peoples Summit on Climate Change in Cochabamba, who developed the declaration of mother earth rights.” Third World Network, COP 16 Climate Summit, Cancun, Mexico
During the climate summit in Copenhagen last year, I suffered from a severe case of “summit envy,” especially after my pal, activist extraordinaire Judy Rebick, informed me that she thought it was the most important moment of movement building since the WTO protests in Seattle. Which I also missed.
Outside the official talks at COP 15, Copenhagen, the energy was powerful, as the people gathered in huge numbers, demanding concrete action to abate global warming. A global movement of movements to transform the climate crisis was being born. Even inside the summit, there was a sense of possibility and anticipation. Expectations were high. This would be the summit to “seal the deal.” Instead, what emerged was The Copenhagen Accord, a disappointing, lukewarm – or rather much too hot – agreement that Archbishop Desmond Tutu stated would ensure that Africa was incinerated. Some 177 countries signed onto the accord, while 106 said, emphatically, “No!” Not surprisingly, many of the ones who are refusing to ratify this accord are the ones who will be most immediately affected by rising temperatures – such as countries in Africa, mountainous countries with water supplies dependent on melting glaciers, and the small island states, who are facing rising waters that threaten to drown their entire nations.
In the wake of these disappointing talks, the indigenous President of the plurinational state of Bolivia, Evo Morales, called for a People’s Summit on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This one I did not miss. And I was not disappointed! Here the sense of movement building was visceral, palpable, electric. In the forefront of this movement were the indigenous peoples of the world, which makes a lot of sense – they are the ones both on the front lines of the climate catastrophe around the world, and the ones with the wisdom of living in harmony with mother earth, that we so desperately need in this “age of extinctions.”
The peoples summit was my first shoot for EVOLVE LOVE: Love in a Time of Climate Crisis, my feature documentary in progress that asks the question: how can the climate crisis become a great love story? It was immediately clear to me that the love story I was seeking was in evidence big time in Cochabamba, with it’s brilliance, creativity, commitment and clarity. Among the innovations of Bolivia came a “declaration of mother earth rights,” a powerful document which for the first time, clearly stated that the planet herself has rights, a radical inversion of the dominator society approach to nature as being dead matter to be extracted for our consumptive purposes. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement is the antidote to all that is wrong with the Copenhagen Accord.
8 months later, comes COP 16, the UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico. I decided to see what it was like on the inside of a summit, and managed to procure a UN press pass. This is a new experience for me – in the past I’ve always been on the outside, looking in at the big official summits, like the FTAA in Quebec City, or the G-20 in Toronto. Which is where most of the interesting stuff happens. But this time I wanted to see what the process is like inside a summit.
It’s just the beginning of the summit, and i’m still forming my opinions, but the mood inside is kind of strange. The Cochabamba Peoples Agreement is not being considered at all, outrageously. Evo Morales doesn’t get here for a few days, and we can count on him to speak loudly and boldly, challenging the exclusion of Cochabamba from the process.
Instead of the radical sense of possibility we had in Bolivia, here there is a sense of low expectations – a sense that we will see more foot dragging, as the developed nations, held in the thrall of “Big Oil” and a voting public that has not yet woken up to the reality of the climate crisis, continue to do their best to avoid any legally binding legislation in favor of vague promises – pledges – and strategies that give the appearance of taking action on the climate crisis, while in fact doing just the opposite. People talk about the “ghost of flop-en-hagen” haunting the talks.
There is a chasm here, in this air conditioned Moon Palace where the plenaries of the summit are held, just as there is in the “real world” – an enormous clash of paradigms, between the developed countries, and the developing world, known in COP talk as the LDC’s – least developed countries. Most of the real heart felt and urgent discussions are taking place in what are called ‘side events.’ The summit itself is held in two main venues – one where the NGO’s gather, and another where the world’s leaders and much of the press hang out. The plenary sessions are the domain of the “negotiators,” professional wheelers and dealers, who this week may be dealing with climate change, and next week may be negotiating trade deals. The urgency of the crisis seems abstracted and distant, lost in minutiae and politics.
Today was a day of action for the youth. Wearing t-shirts that said, “you’ve been negotiating all my life. You can’t tell me that you need more time,” the youth spread out across the venues to get their message across. The youth that have gathered here – over 1,000 of them – are a presence that needs to be heard, and respected. As Ethan Case, a youth delegate from SustainUS told me, “most of these negotiators will be dead before the full effects of climate change will hit us. We’ll still be here!”
Japan is talking about scrapping the Kyoto Protocol, which is itself inadequate, but at least much more potent than the watered down Copenhagen Accord, which many developed countries hope will supplant it. This prompted the Youth to hold a demonstration that featured a large heart, wearing t-shirts that say, “I love Kyoto”, bearing placards saying, “don’t break up” and “true love means commitment” and singing, “all you need is love!”
Another vocal and passionate presence are the people of the Small Island States – countries like the Seychelles, who will face “the end of history” if global temperatures continue to rise, causing sea levels to rise. Their entire nations will be submerged. As Ronald Jumeau, the UN Ambassador from the Seychelles, told me, in a haunting interview, “we will not stop shouting – even as the we sink into the ocean you will hear our voices rising with the air bubbles.” These states are the “miner’s canaries” – taking action to save them, now, will ultimately save us all.
These small states are stirring up trouble here at COP 16, with their loud voices, and their refusal to settle for a deal that will allow anything more than a 1.5 % rise in temperature – or 350 ppm of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. The Copenhagen Accord would allow levels to go much higher than that.
A banner above 350.org‘s booth reads “450.com – who needs science when we have politics?” I had the pleasure of interviewing BIll McKibben, the founder of 350. Bill was one of the early “Paul Reveres” of the climate crisis, and his organization has helped launch a global movement of movements to combat the crisis, which is taking off around the world. The recent 10.10.10 day of action was the largest global action in history, and last weeks eARTh project, in which massive human created art pieces about the climate crisis were created, that could be best seen from satellites, was the largest global art project in history. 350 is all about scaling it up, making it big. Bill told me that “Art needs to be much more important in movement building. We can’t just appeal to the cerebral cortex – we need to bring in the spirit, the heart. It’s a cultural fight as much as it’s a political fight. We need to create a zeitgeist around the climate crisis, and that hasn’t happened yet.”
First Nations People have a strong presence in the movement building around the summit, but inside the halls of power they must fight to be heard. This morning a group from the Indigenous Environmental Network did a powerful action calling attention to the Alberta Tar Sands, one of the world’s single largest contributors to climate change. A few hours later, a group of indigenous representatives from around the world gathered in front of the Moon Palace in a moving ceremony, demanding that the United Nations to listen to their voices, to include them at the table, to recognize that their wisdom is needed.
Casey Camp-Horinek, from the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, dressed in turquoise blue, finished with a prayer, which in part said, “We’re asking at this time that this United Nations grow ears to listen to the wisdom of the indigenous people. We’re asking at this time that the United Nations opens it’s eyes to be able to see the destruction that is happening to our mother earth, to the air and to the waters, and through those eyes that they be able to see that the solutions lie within the hearts and the minds and the spirits of the indigenous people. We’re asking that the United Nations open it’s heart, so that this heart can receive the blessings and the understandings of the creator and the earth mother, so that the United Nations will understand how to go forward in a way that is harmonic with all that is.”
My prayer is that we all open our hearts, that we learn that the heart is as important as the head, and that we bring them into harmony, so we can call upon our fullness to address this unprecedented crisis. We’re going to need everyone at the table, from the scientists to the indigenous peoples, from the negotiators to the activists, from the young to the old, from the rich to the poor, acting together, in harmony, to solve this problem. We need to stop our “silo” thinking, and move towards integrated, full systems ways of understanding and acting. The climate crisis is so great, so challenging, that we are being urgently called to unite as a human family, to come together with our utmost creativity and energy to tackle the greatest problem humanity, in our short history on earth, has ever faced. A planet, united, will never be defeated.