Toward Strategic Action on All Fronts

18 04 2010

One of the very important aspects of the meetings coming up this week will be the simple fact of people’s movements gathering to talk to each other and build strategies without interference from governments, without the immediate distraction of negotiations, and with an agenda set largely by themselves. Of course, In any gathering where we all sit around and talk to each other, it is difficult to draw the line between hearing the rhetoric we love to hear, and actually developing clear strategies for moving forward quickly and effectively.

While the goal of this blog will be largely to echo the voices of people whose voices are not heard strongly enough nor taken into account in making policy, I want to give a little space today to a very important political strategist who has lived in Cochabamba for many years, but is not native to the place. Jim Shultz is the founding director of the Democracy Center; ten years ago his reporting and analysis was a crucial ingredient in bringing international attention to the water war which expelled US multinational Bechtel from Cochabamba. In the many years since, he hasn’t hesitated to call the difficult shots.

When I talked with Jim at length last night at a fiesta in Tiquipaya, the little village outside Cochabamba where he lives, and where the climate summit will be held, he – like many of us – expressed a sense of urgency in his hopes that the week ahead will not just be a lot of hot air, but will bring about strategic plans to avert disaster.

Some of what he said is mirrored in the Democracy Center’s blog:

http://www.democracyctr.org/blog/

and I repeat it here below:

The bottom line on climate change is that the people of the planet need to move quickly in three directions at once:

First, we need to take action to reduce the carbon emissions that are trapping the sun’s heat into the atmosphere and raising the Earth’s temperature. We are already going to have a hell of a time dealing with emissions that are there now following a century of oblivious industrialization. The more we keep adding the worse things will get, much worse.

Second, we need to start on adaptation projects now. No matter how aggressively we address future carbon emissions the fact is that climate change has already begun. Here in Bolivia glaciers that have existed for thousands of years are already melting with huge effects on the people who live here (see our video). In a few years the water supply for Bolivia’s largest urban area, La Paz/ El Alto, will be severely diminished. We need to deal with these impacts, worldwide, now.

Third, global policies on climate change need to address the stunning inequalities involved. The fact is that it is the wealthy nations of the world that have created this crisis and it the poorest countries that will suffer the soonest and the most. There has to be a viable and real system under which wealthy nations address the damage they have done and finance the changes that need to be made.

How will this summit, and the climate justice movement in general, address these three key challenges?

It reminds me of a story, the one about the three blind men who run into an elephant. One of them grabs the leg and declares, “It is like a huge tree!” Another grabs its tail and yells back, “No, it is like a snake!” The third grabs the elephant’s ear and announces to the others, “No, it is like a giant leaf!” The strategies we need to employ to combat climate change are not one thing but several. It won’t do the movement, or the planet, any good to waste time arguing which of them are the true path to change.

It is this emphasis on building several joint strategies at once – public education as well as policy change; coordinated social movement action as well as investment in sound science and real sustainable technologies; direct action as well as fierce negotiation; incremental strategic interventions as well as profound paradigm shift – that I will hope to broadcast in the voices of the peoples movements in the week to come.

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