Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The People's Climate Change Summit

Ten years ago, the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia was home to that country's Water Wars. The people banned together to protest the privatization of water to the California-based Bechtel Corporation and subsequent 400% rate hikes. The success of that movement acted as an inspiration for social movements across Latin America and indirectly to the election of Evo Morales as Bolivia's president.

This week (April 19-22), Cochabamba hosts the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. As reported by The Guradian, here is the purpose of the conference.

"The only way to get climate negotiations back on track not just for Bolivia or other countries, but for all of life, biodiversity, our Mother Earth is to put civil society back into the process. The only thing that can save mankind from a [climate] tragedy is the exercise of global democracy," said Bolivia's United Nations Ambassador Pablo Solon in Bonn, at the end of the latest UN talks...

"We hope that this unique format will help shift power back to the people, which is where it needs to be on this critical issue for all humanity. We don't expect agreement on everything, but at least we can start to discuss openly and sincerely in a way that didn't happen in Copenhagen," said Solón.

Attendance figures vary between 10,000 and 20,000 people from 100 different countries, including high-profile names like James Cameron, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Danny Glover, Robert Redford and Susan Sarandon. But perhaps Joseph Huff at ColorLines sums up most of the attendees best with this description.

More notable, though, than the bold-face names are the thousands of indigenous Bolivians—decked out in their signature bowler hats and rainbow-colored dresses, jackets and sashes—who are queuing up to participate in sessions on things like climate migration, the pros and cons of the Kyoto Protocol and the wealth transfers from South to North that are hidden in the carbon-trading arrangements that dominate the North’s climate change discussion.

Nicolas Colque, a soft-spoken farmer who lives outside of Cochabamba, is among the participants who have been locked out of meetings like the one in Copenhagen. Colque has watched with curiosity and dismay as local droughts have lengthened and rainstorms have intensified...Scientists predict the most destructive impacts of climate change will be felt in the developing world.

“People are not that well informed,” says Colque. “We need people everywhere to know what is happening to the land, to our farms.”

At the conference, President Morales will propose a world referendum to ask up to two billion people their views on how to tackle climate change and suggest that the UN create an international environmental court.

For several years now I've watched the democratization of countries in South and Central America with fascination. They are learning and demonstrating what it means to organize effectively in a way that should be a lesson to many in this country. I suppose that some will dismiss this work of President Morales as impractical. But then, those same folks probably never would have believed that a coca farmer could become the first indigenous President of Bolivia.

Paul Hawken, founder of Wiser Earth and author of the book Blessed Unrest, understands the potential of a movement like this.

1 comment:

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