From Thirty Thousand Feet Above Mother Earth

17 04 2010

En route to Bolivia – that is, somewhere 30,000 feet above Mother Earth – I crossed paths with Alberto Saldamando, the legal council for the International Indian Treaty Council, and a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network delegation to the Cochabamba climate summit. As we stood in the aisle of the airplane, raising the hackles of the flight crew, I asked him his vision of the week ahead. Alberto is a friend, someone I’ve worked with in the past, so he may have been more candid with me than he might be in public; when I asked his opinion on the state of the climate negotiations and his hopes for Cochabamba, he said, “I’m pessimistic. You know, greed has no bounds.”
Since Copenhagen, he told me, huge amounts of money, or, in Alberto’s words, “something that smells like money, which is just as good,” has been trading hands. Bilateral agreements are being forged all over the globe aimed at establishing some economic equilibrium – or more precisely, economic opportunity – by turning carbon into a commodity. The carbon market, ballooning on the heels of the global economic meltdown, is perhaps the biggest speculation game in history; because it is based on the pricing of thin air, the carbon market knows no bounds; because it involves massive valuation of natural goods and services, defined thus far by economic elites, it promises perhaps the greatest movement of capital from south to north since the slave trade. It’s no wonder the indigenous movements and global south social movements call it “carbon colonialism.”
Several countries, Bolivia and Nigeria among them, have accused the United States of making foreign aid contingent on signing the so-called Copenhagen Accord – a flimsy three-page document which, in the words of Bill McKibben, “promises nothing, enforces nothing, accomplishes nothing.” To say the least, the accord, forged in secret by a handful of governments in Copenhagen and foisted on the rest, falls far short of the cuts necessary to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. That is to say, to sign such an accord is the equivalent, for many developing countries, of signing their own death warrant.
“But what can they do?” Alberto lamented. “They’re poor countries. The rich nations are like a bunch of gangsters who grab you by the lapels and look you straight in the eye and say, ‘You wanna be a millionaire, or you wanna be dead?’”
In the words of Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the United Nations, “The Copenhagen Accord opens the dam and condemns millions.” In an article published last month in the London Guardian, Solon pointed out that committing to the Copenhagen accord, which has no binding targets but merely voluntary agreements, is like “building a dam where everyone contributes as many bricks as they want regardless of whether it stops the river.”
Depressing indeed. And reason enough to head to Cochabamba, for an attempt to develop a new, popular (as opposed to elite) climate strategy. At least for this writer, there’s a profound thrill in being among people willing to pull no punches in defense of nature and human rights, and willing to push new paradigms of development, eco-nomics, and what the Latin American movements call El Buen Vivir – the good life, (of which, more anon).
In a booklet by Bolivia’s Fundacion Solon published in time for the Cochabamba summit, Elizabeth Peredo Beltran, director of the Fundacion, writes, “Climate change at the current levels can be considered one of the greatest crimes against humanity and against the Mother Earth, and a clear symptom of a crisis in which civilization has reached its limits. The signs of this crime, she writes, are seen in silhouette “from luxury hotels to courts of arbitration, from the cabinets of sold-out governments to projects of ‘bad development,’ from abandoned fields and destroyed territories to the ghettoes of opulence of the few in the world with wealth who, with their decisions and their affinity for lucre don’t hesitate to put at risk the life of hundreds of millions of human beings, of thousands of living species, and of the innumerable ecosystems of the planet.”
In essence, this is why Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has called for A People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth – because states and corporations “with their affinity for lucre” stand aggressively in the way of the paradigm shift required to halt global ecological meltdown. In the face of the mind-numbingly complex problems to be resolved and the immoveable object of state and corporate power, which insists on addressing the climate crisis with the same economic logic that caused it, it remains to be seen whether “civil society,” that is, the rest of us, can come to any promising resolution.
Tune in next time to watch the action unfold….

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