Archive for December, 2010

COP-16 no. 6: ¡planeta o muerte!

December 10, 2010

Evo Morales at Via Campesina's Global Forum for Environmental and Social Justice (@ The Guardian)

On Wednesday evening in Cancún, in light of the violently farcical nature of the COP-16 talks to date—Todd Stern, the premier U.S. climate-change envoy, declared on Tuesday that the U.S. would like “important measures” to be approved in Cancún, though not “binding” ones—contingents from Anti-C@p and Klimaforum10 attempted to protest against a high-level meeting being held at one of the Marriott hotels located in Cancún’s notorious hotel zone, but the combination of heavy police presence on-site together with the number of federal-police checkpoints leading to the area from downtown prevented any action from taking place.  The meeting at the Marriott—attended by Mexican President Felipe Calderón, World-Bank President Robert Zoellick, Walmart CEO Robson Walton, and financier George Soros, among others—sought to express corporate and State approval for the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Forest Deforestation and Degradation) scheme, a proposal that has met with fierce resistance from much of international civil society.

Much of Thursday at Via Campesina’s Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice was uneventful, at least until the arrival in the late afternoon of Bolivian President Evo Morales together with other prominent figures—Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., as well as Nnimo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International.  The group accompanying Morales was met with a series of greetings made by various representatives of Via Campesina who hail from a number of different countries:  Haiti, Guatemala, Cuba, Honduras, Ecuador, Brazil, El Salvador, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Austria, France, Japan, Canada, and the U.S.  In their comments to Morales and the assembled crowd—which, comprised of thousands, filled much of Jacinto Canek park, site of the Global Forum—these campesin@s set forth some of the “thousands of solutions” regarding climate change that are being advanced by ordinary peoples around the world:  small-scale agriculture, food sovereignty, and anti-systemic politics.  These interventions were followed by a public reading of the document that has been put together by the Global Forum this week, a document that stresses the decidedly serious nature of the threat posed to humanity by climate change and argues for the peoples of the world to take immediate action on this issue in line with the recommendations made in the April 2010 Cochabamba Accord.

Morales’ speech to the Global Forum—perhaps the keynote address of the counter-summit taken as a whole—placed the critique and overcoming of capitalism as central tasks for the present.  The president rightly noted that, because extant governments have little interest in changing the existing system, they hence fail massively to address the causes of climate change, thus resulting in the current predicament.  For Morales, then, capitalism holds “no hope” for the peoples of the world; he illustrated this conclusion by movingly discussing the number of droughts, floods, and crop-failures that have been experienced in Bolivia in recent memory.

In place of the severe failures of capitalism, Morales put forth the alternative of what he calls “neo-socialism,” which he sees as being characterized by buen vivir (well-being), equality, sharing instead of competition, class-struggle, as well as the struggle to establish harmony with nature.  In Morales’ estimation, this political project should be one that is “without hegemony” and horizontal; indeed, the Bolivian president last night expressed his wish that the third millennium C.E. be a “people’s millennium,” one in which “oligarchy, hierarchy, and monarchy” are overcome as historical residues.

At other points in his speech, Morales denounced the isolation of COP delegates from the enormity of human suffering that follows from anthropogenic climate change, called on the U.N. to adopt the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, advocated that Northern societies accept and institute the concept of ecological debt, and expressed hope for the alternative-globalization processes he sees as potentially emanating from a multilateral Bank of the South.

At the close of his comments, Morales stated that political action today should be undertaken primarily with the interests of future generations in mind.  Expanding the scope of Fidel Castro’s famous declaration on the Cuban Revolution—“¡Patria o muerte, venceremos!” (‘Nation or death, we will prevail!’)—Morales suggested that the current problematic is one of “[p]laneta o muerte”: planet Earth, or death.

COP-16 no. 5: spectacle and resistance

December 9, 2010

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

As Cancún’s COP-16 nears its close, its spectacular nature continues on unabated. Recent days have seen Mexican President Felipe Calderón dress in green, test-drive a ‘green’ electric car, and propose that all of Mexico’s incandescent bulbs be phased out of use within four years, while U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, conceding publicly that the failure to avert climatic changes would be a “disaster,” has declared that a general transition to renewable energy in the U.S. cannot be expected to take place for a number of decades. Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., has fiercely rejected the proposals that have been made at COP-16 by the United States, which would, he claimed, result in the death of a million people per year within the near term—up from an estimated 300,000 in the present day.

On Monday morning there was held a panel at Via Campesina’s Global Forum for Environmental and Social Justice regarding the climate crisis. A representative from the U.S.-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance who works with the bus-riders’ union in Los Angeles, California, emphasized the dire need to develop high-quality public-transportation systems in the United States as a means by which to reduce dependence on personal automobiles and the greenhouse gases emitted from such; additionally, and in light of the marked failures of bourgeois-hegemonic environmentalism in the U.S., she stressed that a movement for climate justice in the U.S. can be expected to emerge from working-class and people-of-color communities, given the experiences such groups historically have had with marginalization and oppression. The panel also included a speech by Andrés Barreda from Mexico’s National Assembly of the Enviromentally Affected, who presented the climate crisis in stark terms by declaring it to menace humanity with its very own extinction. He dramatically concluded his comments by claiming that humanity now more than ever faces the choice identified by Rosa Luxemburg nearly a century ago: that of socialism or barbarism.

On Monday evening there was had a march through downtown Cancún organized by Anti-C@p, an explicitly anti-capitalist grouping founded in opposition to COP-16 that is largely anarchist in nature. The participants in the march, mostly youth who donned Zapatista-esque ski-masks and bandanas to conceal their identities, expressed moods of rage and even sadness regarding the present socio-environmental predicament; as had been done in the general march on Sunday, contingents from the grouping at times broke off to adorn particularly offensive centers of power—a Chedraui supermarket, OXXO convenience stores—with graffiti denouncing capitalism and inhumanity. The march, in which participated some 300 individuals, was meant to climax with the arrival at the Cancún office of PROFEPA, the federal environmental prosecution-agency, but it was blocked-off by police at some distance before. Though the situation at the interruption of the march was surely tense, no arrests were there made by police.

On Tuesday took place the highly anticipated popular mobilization that was intended to reach Moon Palace, center of the COP negotiations. The march, in which participated perhaps 3000 people, began at the Jacinto Canek park in downtown Cancún, site of the Global Forum, and proceeded for some distance through the area before continuing by bus to a point some kilometers south of the city on the Cancún-Chetumal highway. Upon disembarking from the fleet of buses here, march participants continued on through the mid-day heat for a number of kilometers before stopping a few hundred meters from a police barricade erected near the Moon Palace. Here Via Campesina held a popular assembly that featured the interventions of a number of representatives from various Latin-American social organizations denouncing the historical imposition of capitalism—and in particular, its neo-liberal variant—in addition to the numerous false solutions being promoted by many of the world’s country-governments and their supporters, with agrofuels and REDD being the primary objects of derision here. A number of members of Anti-C@p as well as unaffiliated individuals separated themselves from the popular assembly to approach the police-line protecting the entrance to Moon Palace, but no violence was there had—violence, that is, as taken to mean arrests, beatings, or tear-gassings, and not the defense of world-destructive elites, which is most certainly violent.

The close of Tuesday’s march marked the end of protests planned by Via Campesina for the duration of COP-16, though Anti-C@p is expected to organize actions during the final days of the summit. Furthermore, Bolivian President Evo Morales is slated to address the Global Forum tomorrow afternoon.

COP-16 no. 4

December 6, 2010

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

Recent days of the COP-16 negotiations currently being held in Cancún have been little different than the initial days of the summit, for little has been agreed on or achieved.  Christiana Figueres, Yvo de Boer’s successor as chair of the UNFCCC, publicly recognized as such on Thursday when she nearly broke into tears while lamenting the lack of progress thus far seen at COP-16.  Japan has announced that it does not support an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, while the Bolivian delegation has repeatedly argued for the creation of a climate tribunal to punish actors that do not work toward the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, in accordance with recommendations made by President Evo Morales last year in Copenhagen and the conclusions of the April 2010 Cochabamba Accord.

At Klimaforum10 on Friday morning there was had a presentation by British lawyer Polly Higgins regarding her proposal to codify the crime of ecocide into international law.  Higgins, a former corporate lawyer who has in more recent memory collaborated with the Bolivian government in drawing up the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, stipulates that ecocide—the “extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory […] to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished”—become a fifth “crime against peace,” alongside genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.  Drawing parallels between the barbarism of slavery and the present world-historical environmental crisis, Higgins claimed the Earth to have “enslaved” by industrialization; she went on to postulate the existence of a link between ecocide and war, claiming the former to contribute to the latter and the latter in turn to the former.  This vicious cycle, asserted Higgins, cannot be merely regulated:  it must definitively be broken.  Codification into international law of the crime of ecocide could contribute to this end, in Higgins’ estimation, as the threat of imprisonment can in her view reasonably be expected to drive bankers, business executives, and other capitalists overseeing ecocidal practices to promote and advance alternative actions.  It is in this sense that the principal drivers of anthropogenic climate change and environmental destruction generally conceived can pass from being perpetuators of such negations to being agents who will resolve the crisis, argues Higgins:  she envisions energy companies that face sanction for their contributions to ecocide becoming “clean-energy companies.”

Underlying Higgins’ perspectives, as summarized in her recently-published book Eradicating Ecocide, is a stated concern for the sacredness of life, and not just human life.  She argues for a shift from a property-law regime—the basis, in her view, of the present COP negotiations—to one steeped in trusteeship law.  Concurring with established precedents regarding the legal concept of superior responsibility, she finds those afforded greater power within given hierarchical arrangements to bear greater responsibility for the actions perpetuated by such institutions.  In concrete terms, she argues that spaces which have been subjected to ecocide should be administered as trust territories by the United Nations—much like those territories historically deemed by the Western ruling classes as being unfit for self-governance.

It should not need to be said that Higgins betrays what may well be considered an excessive faith in the U.N. process, for this process has been entirely complicit with the stunningly underwhelming response afforded the specter of climate change to date.  Furthermore, that George W. Bush and Tony Blair continue to enjoy liberty in light of their myriad crimes against humanity and the Earth should be sufficient to demonstrate the radical inadequacy of international law under prevailing conditions.  It bears mentioning as well that Higgins did not once in her comments mention capitalism; indeed, her account of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire—the result of the efforts of William Wilberforce, in her calculus—seems to reflect her more general political perspective, which is to await the institution of reason from power-groups privileged by existing arrangements.  The example of the Haitian revolution—which, following in the tradition of Spartacus and others, saw slaves themselves act consciously and collectively to successfully put an end to their oppression and subordination—has little place in this analysis.

Friday evening saw the arrival to the Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice of the six Via Campesina caravans that had for several days been touring various parts of southern Mexico to examine the effects of climate change and environmental devastation generally conceived on the region.  The Forum, which is being held in a public park in downtown Cancún, began the next morning with an indigenous Mexican ceremony that was followed by various speeches denouncing the numerous false solutions being advanced by hegemonic power-groups in light of the climate crisis:  agrofuels, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), carbon-trading, and so on.  These interventions were met at several points with cries from the crowd of “¡Globalicemos la lucha! ¡Globalicemos la esperanza!” (‘Let us globalize struggle!  Let us globalize hope!’) as well as others commemorating the memory of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.  Subsequently were presented summary-reports of the activities and findings of the six caravans, which generally denounced the environmental destruction visited on an alarming number of Mexican communities and ecosystems by capitalist firms, both national and transnational, together with a marked lack of interest on the part of the Mexican State in regulating or redressing such abuses.

This morning there was had a march—“for Life and Climate Justice”—in downtown Cancún.  The march, in which participated perhaps 1500 individuals, saw the presence of anarchist, Stalinist, and eco-socialist groups, in addition to the Via Campesina contingent as well as those of other agrarian organizations.  The march stopped at the site at which Lee Hyung-Kae, a South Korean small farmer, took his life in protest of neo-liberal economic policies during the mobilizations held against the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancún in 2003 as well as at the Cancún city hall, where Mexicans and Haitians presented speeches denouncing the effects climate change has had on their societies to date together with the dominant response thus far taken regarding the problem.  Perhaps surprisingly, the protest-march met with little opposition from police; indeed, police were conspicuously absent from the route taken by the march in general.

The march was in a sense a dress-rehearsal for the mass-march planned in Cancún for Tuesday morning.  Commissions have been organized to visit various neighborhoods in the city over the next two days to invite locals to participate in the mobilization.

COP-16 day 4: youth protests and further reports from Klimaforum10

December 3, 2010

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

As it was announced today that the three points deemed to be central to the potential success of the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP-16) currently being held in Cancún—efforts to prolong the Kyoto Protocol, finance climate-adaptation measures in Southern countries, and codify a global reduction in greenhouse-gases—have thus far seen little progress in the first three days of talks, COP delegates arriving at Cancún’s Moon Palace this morning were met with protests from members of YOUNG NGO, an international association of youth representing various civil-society organizations.  Protestors, themselves located inside Moon Palace, employed the classic shame-tactic of turning their backs to the assembled, thus showing to these the message inscribed on the back-side of the shirts they were wearing:  a quote from Christina Ora, a youth-delegate from the Solomon Islands who quite rightly made the point last year at the Copenhagen summit that COP negotiators cannot justifiably call for “more time,” given that they have been putatively negotiating the problem of climate change during the entirety of her life—as well as that of the protestors assembled in the Moon Palace.  Other YOUNG NGO contingents held protests outside the Cancumesse, another site of the COP-16 talks, where they equated ongoing negotiations with the selling-off of their futures.  Later in the day, the YOUNG NGO delegation arrived at the El Rey Polo Country Club, site of Klimaforum10, one of the counter-summits being held in opposition to the official talks.

The Espacio Mexicano-Diálogo Climático (Mexican Space for Climate Dialogue, or EsMex) continues to set up its installations in downtown Cancún; its center of activities is being named the Mup Palas, in mockery of the center of the COP-16 talks.  The Via Campesina caravans that have been visiting various Mexican locales in an effort to visibilize the devastating effects climate change has had on such spaces to date are expected to arrive in Cancún tomorrow, in preparation for the alternative forum Via Campesina is organizing, slated to begin the next day.

Several events worthy of mention were held on the Klimaforum10 campus today.  The first would be “Responding to Climate Change through a New Lens: Understanding the Commons as a Natural Alternative to Market and State Control,” organized by the U.S.-based Global Commons Trust.  The presenters of this event, themselves members of the Trust, stress the role that commons—lands, ecosystems, or resources managed in common by given communities—can play in light of the decidedly unsustainable nature of market-capitalist and public-statist property-regimes.  Because the commons are to be managed through popular decision-making processes, such an institution can, in the calculus of the Trust, better attend to “voiceless” interests such as those of nature or the animal world than historically have capital and the State.

It is striking that, while the commons are lauded by the Trust for the potential they hold for nature and non-human animals, no mention is made of the vast swathes of humanity excluded and dispossessed by the present, for they clearly too could stand to gain considerably with the abolition of capitalism.  Such an end is not one favored by the Trust, it seems, for its members made clear on several occasions during their comments that they do not in principle oppose either “business” or “government”; indeed, they see the commons as merely a “new operating system” that is to function alongside capital and the State rather than a means by which to do away with either or both.  This marked blunting of a highly subversive concept is carried through to the Trust’s proposal for action regarding anthropogenic climate change, which is to democratize the profits gained through the conflagration of fossil fuels to all of humanity—the universal shareholder—following the declaration of the Earth’s atmosphere as a commons and the subsequent establishment of a generalized emissions trading system.

Another event today held at Klimaforum, more affirming than that organized by the Global Commons Trust, was a discussion with German scientist Reiner Braun, from the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, or INES.  In his comments regarding the specter of climate catastrophe, Braun unequivocably called for capitalism to be “overcome,” insisting that any serious resolution of the problem of climate change could be had only with a break from the profit system demanded by capital.  Calling for the incorporation into science of knowledges to be found in the peripheries of the world-system and denouncing positivist scientific research into the challenges with which humanity is presently faced, Braun cited Marx’s famous thesis on Ludwig Feuerbach that calls for revolution.  The changes that must soon be had, stressed Braun, can only be had through coordinated collective action:  people must “take to the streets.”  Only then would the prospect for the historical opening of a liberated state—one characterized in Braun’s estimation by popular participation in decision-making processes and, in particular, the eradication of hunger and material poverty as well as world-destroying economic growth—become a concrete possibility, claimed Braun.

Of note today also was the workshop “Women for Climate Justice,” organized by the international NGO GenderCC.  This event featured presentations made by female professors and NGO workers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kiribati that explored the vulnerabilities faced by residents of such countries—and in particular, female residents of such—because of climate change.  The general conclusion made here, illustrated by consideration of recent floods in Pakistan and the ever-worsening phenomenon of cyclones in Bangladesh, was that impoverished members of such societies are simply being forced into even more precarious situations due to anthropogenic climate change.  Against the specter of such negation was briefly examined the promise to be seen in low-carbon development.  Though the workshop dealt principally with the problems experienced by Southerners—and in particular, Southern women—that follow from climate destabilization, participants also rightly emphasized that climate change stands to induce hardship for Westerners and Western women as well:  single mothers in Germany having to deal with rising food prices, for example.

In general terms, those who participated in this event see the demands of gender justice as necessarily requiring climate justice.  While some approaches favored by participants were little more than institutional-reformist—such as “gender-sensitivizing” policy-makers—others took dominant approaches to climate change for what they are:  a “fraud” being perpetrated in the interests of business.  The alternative, for those who subscribe to such views, is to concentrate one’s efforts on remaking the world.

Curiously, though perhaps not surprisingly, participants at this workshop dedicated little energy to consideration of the realities that can be expected to come about if efforts to remake the world should fail:  horrific human suffering in South Asia, for example, or the disappearance of Kiribati altogether.

COP-16 day 2: the specter of tragedy and Klimaforum

December 1, 2010

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

The second day of the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP-16) summit in Cancún follows much the same as the first, a day that saw Mexican President Felipe Calderón assert in remarks before the delegates assembled in Moon Palace—a highly exclusive hotel, center of the COP-16 talks—that the potential failure of the Cancún talks—that is, their failure precisely to look beyond dominant individual and national interests—would be a “tragedy,” and that climate-negotiators should act during the summit’s two weeks with the interests of humanity in mind.  He stressed in particular the concern that should be evinced in Cancún for existing children and future generations.  In his address to delegates on the same day, Mario Molina, a Mexican scientist awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995, declared it to be “necessary and urgent” that COP-16 produce a climate-agreement—this, amidst a widespread lack of confidence among country-governments and commentators that Cancún will produce any agreement at all.

As was the case on Monday, COP-16’s second day saw dozens of members of international organization “Ching Hai SOS,” a branch of the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, protesting outside the Cancunmesse, a conference center that has been set aside as one of COP-16’s halls of negotiation.  The SOS protestors, present outside the Cancumesse throughout the day since the early morning, advocate the general adoption of an organic-vegan diet, claiming such a move to be essential to “save the planet.”  They also rather bizarrely maintain such diets to produce good karma, and are likely mistaken in arguing for such a singular solution to the specter of climate catastrophe—the stress on diet seems to overlook the rather pressing issue of capitalism, for example.

In an attempt to spread its message, the SOS has bought advertising space on billboards and taxi in parts of Cancún; this marketing-strategy has also taken up by Greenpeace, which has purchased advertisements on buses in addition to billboards in the city that remind observers of the recent disastrous experience with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a reason to abolish the use of petroleum—reason, that is, beyond petroleum’s inescapable contributions to dangerous anthropogenic interference with the Earth’s climate systems.

It seems that no protests other than that carried out by the SOS were had in Cancún today.

The present author visited Klimaforum10’s campus today.  Klimaforum10, the successor of last year’s Klimaforum09 held during COP-15 in Copenhagen, is being held at the El Rey Polo Country Club, itself located a number of kilometers from Puerto Morales, a city some 40 kilometers south of Cancún.  Klimaforum10 has installed itself on a pasture within the confines of the country club; it is made up of a number of tents at which workshops, discussions, and film-screenings are had.  A number of the events planned to take place at Klimaforum10—a discussion on climate and human conflict; a presentation on the status and possible fate of the ‘Third Pole,’ or the glaciers to be found in the Tibetan highlands; remarks by Polly Higgins, advocate of the introduction of the crime of ecocide into international law; a speech on the impacts on indigenous peoples of glacier-retreat in the Andes; a workshop on the importance of the place of commons in place of statist and private-property regimes; popular reflections on the question of science and responsibility; a panel on the rights of climate-migrants—seem rather compelling, but the location and ethos that seemed there to prevail—one of lifestylism—proved rather disconcerting.

The six Via Campesina caravans that are currently touring various sites in Mexico to highlight the very real damage climate change has to date had on the country—evident above all in the unprecedented rains and floods suffered this year in the country’s south—are expected to arrive in Cancún on either 2 or 3 December, so as to be present for the beginning of the Meeting “For Life and Environmental and Social Justice” on 4 December.  In addition to the mass-protest planned for 7 December, Via Campesina is also organizing a march “For Life and Climate Justice” for 5 December.  The Espacio Mexicano-Diálogo Climático (Mexican Space for Climate Dialogue, or EsMex), another counter-summit to the COP-16, is currently setting-up its installations in downtown Cancún; the space is to be provided solar energy from a Greenpeace truck, the “Sunflower.”

Today it was revealed that neither Brazilian President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva nor British Prime Minister David Cameron plan to attend the COP-16 talks at all.  In contrast, and in accordance with government-representative José Crespo Fernández, Bolivian President Evo Morales is slated to arrive in Cancún on 9 December, when he is expected to present a speech to international civil society.  Though the U.S. plans to send Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to the talks, it still remains unclear whether U.S. president Barack Obama will deign COP-16 with his presence.

The wind power-generator inaugurated by Calderón on the eve of the summit’s opening, located in an air corridor between Cancún and the Cancunmesse, has been denounced in recent days as having failed to meet governmental environmental standards during its construction.  Its fate is unclear, but the installation—purportedly erected so as to provide electricity for COP-16—may well have to be removed following the end of the conference, in accordance with existing regulations.

With regard to the state of repressive statist forces in Cancún, the Mexican police and military continue in full force, deployed at several sites in the city and its environs and continuing their patrols.  It seems that the federal government has rented from Israel an unmanned aerial vehicle for use in Cancún; it is claimed that the drone will be employed for the monitoring of traffic both vehicular and human in the area.