Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán*
There is a rebellious movement growing across the planet protesting the unfair impacts of climate change and environmental crisis. A global intuition was being formed on the real causes of climate crisis, and on that we must listen to the voices of peoples and listen to the voice of nature herself reminding us that something is really very wrong in how we do inhabit the planet. More and more people are realizing that this is one of the most challenging crisis that we humans have ever faced. It forces us to question both capitalism and colonialism. The crisis reflects the harmful results of greed and over-consumption, on the dominant paradigms for human life on this planet. This situation has lead us to a juncture between life or death. We have never made such an important choice before. There is no doubt.
This global rebellion explains why the Cochabamba’s People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was so successful, despite being announced and organized in just four months. It gathered together more than 35,000 thousand people from 142 different countries and some official national delegations. To address the challenge, the participants divided into 17 working groups, and even there was an additional 18th working group reflecting a critical vision as always happens in healthy societies that must listen to all voices.
Cochabamba gave a voice to the people. It brought to us the possibility to challenge the “walls” built around the climate negotiations. All that force and emotion came from the grassroots. From our lifelong experiences of struggles in different fields, we have been able to build a comprehensive political platform reflecting broad agendas, opening paths and possibilities to face this crisis of civilization. Cochabamba was the most serious attempt in the last years to free the debate from the closed doors showing that such debate needs to take place between people to build a global transformation agenda. And we faced not only those very technical issues discussed in climate negotiations, such as shared vision, the Kyoto Protocol, finance, technology and others, but also new concepts such as climate justice, indigenous rights, structural causes, and the idea of a Tribunal on Climate Justice.
At the same time as recovering that cumulative political inheritance we have due to our struggles, the Cochabamba agenda formed the basis of a real political bridge between two currents of social movements and activists: those with their roots in social struggles and those from the environmental struggles. The results are beginning to be discussed in different fora, including the proposal to codify the Rights of Mother Earth, reflecting the global wish to recover a balance between humans and nature, and to work through the legacy of colonialism and capitalism in human history.
The proposal of building the rights of Mother Earth is a real challenge because it confronts our traditional values and forces us to rethink whether our current system of human rights is able to stop destruction of the planet or whether these rights have in fact been hijacked by big corporations. It also allows us to realize that we live a kind of schizophrenia in which all those nice values and agreements resolved in the UN system are, in fact, less binding than the neoliberal governance system that reigns over our lives. In this context reinventing our governance systems to stop both environmental destruction and human injustice is urgent. Both the new Bolivian and the new Ecuadorian constitutions have begun to recognize the concept of “living well” calling for an end to over-consumption and recognizing the finite limits imposed by nature on “limitless” growth and development. The ecological footprint is a tool that can help us to quantify and recognize this concept.
But we need to move the agenda forward. In this crisis we need a narrative, and we are building it. The People’s Agreement is a wonderful attempt to construct a narrative that reflects the inputs and struggles of social movements. Based on this there are many other initiatives and thoughts and statements that are contributing to a new vision. But we have to go beyond, because declarations are insufficient to create real change. We have to overcome rhetoric.
To go beyond rhetoric requires a political vision and to be more focused at the local levels, recognizing the existing efforts to defend peoples and the planet, like the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Amazonas against dams, or the daily struggle of women everywhere to take care of life. It also requires deep personal and cultural changes which will not be possible until we will be able to construct supportive social structures and policies.
In this sense it is particularly important to put into practice the concept of “living well” (which basically means that nobody has the right to over consume the planet) in the cities and growing urban centres that are devouring our planet.
Another challenge that must be faced is the unity of social movements. Between Cochabamba and Durban was Cancun and it was a real lesson on what happens when unity is not a priority. Unity of the social movements must be a central task so that, in Durban, the visions and demands of civil society forces the richest countries to realize that their decisions are condemning people and ecosystems to inevitable death in the next few years — a process that has already begun all over the world.
We have to be strong enough to demand that the UNFCCC process must give an outcome that respects the climate debt. It is really frightening how all the events that are directly caused by global warming are not linked to the negotiations. Those tragedies do not touch the heart of the negotiation. Just since Copenhagen in 2009 we have seen: Pakistan, Brazil, Central America, Andean Nations, the Philippines, Russia, Australia, and now the US with dreadful tornadoes. But the affliction of amnesia is all-powerful. They forget their responsibilities for historical emissions and even want to change the base-year for their commitment on greenhouse gas reductions.
Mahatma Gandhi said that the most important struggle is for the truth: “Nonviolence and truth (Satya) are inseparable and presupposes one another. There is no god higher than truth.” And this is a matter of violence and truth indeed. They all know what are going to be the human impacts, especially in the global south, especially for the poorest, the eldest, for children and women. But they do not care. Lets ask them to tell the truth.
That is why I believe that, besides giving our solidarity, we must take the Fukushima tragedy very seriously, because it is a metaphor for the global climate and environmental crisis. We all are living the “Fukushima syndrome” showing how far neoliberal greed can go in hiding the truth and not taking care of life. Big corporations and powerful governments know the truth but they put their confidence in business, they know the dangers but they condemn their workers to death, they know the harmful impacts but they hide them from the people and remove regulation from the people’s control. They don’t want to respect our right to life.
Climate justice struggles are bringing to us some vital signals to keep on fostering the hope for harmonious life on earth, their linkage to the structural causes and other crises like the environmental, the biodiversity, the immigration ones. And it is bringing great ideas like the Tribunal, an initiative from the people to demonstrate their criminality, highlighting those responsible for this crises, give the platform to the most vulnerable and push the powerful for change.
But the change will come from the bottom up, from the local level and from our daily lives. Real changes will come though combining the global and the local, the public and the private, the personal and the collective. It is the people who will give their hands and their strength for this transformation.
* Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán is the director of the Solon Foundation, La Paz, Bolivia. This is an edited version of her speech in the closing plenary of the international conference “Cochabamba +1” in Montreal, Canada, 15-17 April 2011.