Bolivian president Evo Morales; photo by kk+ (source: Flickr Creative Commons)In terms of development and environment, global capitalism can be compared to a dinner where a rich few eat all the food and leave the bill with their poor, unwilling hosts after tossing a stingy tip and some dinner notes onto the table.

The colonized, indigenous and poorest peoples of the world are the ones who suffer most from climate change, do the least to cause it and hold the least power to stop it.

The UNFCCC in Copenhagen last December may have called attention to the lower tier of the developing world, but it did not give them much of a say in the drafting of the accord. Copenhagen was largely considered a bitter disappointment for environmental groups and poor nations alike.

The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC) which took place last week in Cochabamba, Bolivia, highlighted indigenous rights in relation to the climate crisis. The non UN-sanctioned talks were an alternative forum, unencumbered by the positions of the US and China that dominated Copenhagen. Despite distractions of football matches and strange comments by President Evo Morales about chicken causing baldness, the conference in Bolivia was a platform for voices that were barely included in Copenhagen’s ‘big boy’ talks.

The main points: a limit of one degree Celsius temperature rise, facilitated by a 50% cut in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations by 2020. These nations caused climate change and should therefore be required to pay a debt to for polluting the Earth’s atmosphere.

From an IPS article:

Among other proposals are the creation of a multilateral organisation to manage environmental issues, international recognition of the rights of Mother Earth, a ban on privatising knowledge, protection for climate migrants and the fullest respect for the rights and freedoms of indigenous peoples.

Here are quotes from two recommended opinion pieces concerning the conference in Bolivia.

Naomi Klein writes in the Nation:

Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness. It’s little wonder. Bolivia is in the midst of a dramatic political transformation, one that has nationalized key industries and elevated the voices of indigenous peoples as never before. But when it comes to Bolivia’s most pressing, existential crisis–the fact that its glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities–Bolivians are powerless to do anything to change their fate on their own.

Joseph Huff-Hannon writes in the Guardian

“Including forests in the carbon market, it’s a terrible idea. They want to offset emissions by planting or protecting trees,” Jihan Gearon told me, an organiser with the Indigenous Environment Network, from Navajo country in the Southwest. “So corporations say, ‘Great! we’ll expand our emissions, but offset it by planting trees in the Amazon’. But in our network, which encompasses North and South America, we are seeing indigenous people displaced from their homes to ‘protect’ the land.”

I was amazed at the amount of negative comments about this conference following Joseph Huff-Hannon’s Guardian piece. Understandably, people don’t like to be blamed or lumped together due to the sins of their (maybe) ancestors. But I think a sense of entitlement sometimes runs even deeper. At the risk of making things a bit too black and white, never mind whose fault it is: inequality and injustice either bother you or they don’t. Climate change either worries you or it doesn’t. Plainly, platitudes about ‘sharing the Earth’ don’t fit well with ideas of social Darwinism and Manifest Destiny, but those – obviously not yet outmoded – ideas are being put to the test by climate change. In other words, time to pay the bloody bill.

by Graham Land