They didn’t get much press—the 15,000 or so people who gathered last April in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for a different kind of climate gathering. Discouraged by what the world “leaders” failed to accomplish last December at the UN meeting in Copenhagen, these citizens and ordinary folks, many of them indigenous people from smaller countries, led the way in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
Copenhagen produced a watered-down, two-page document that allows all the worst polluters (us!) to keep doing what we’re doing for as long as we like. By contrast, the spirited document from Cochabamba goes to the heart of the problem, both in its analysis and its vision for solutions. This vision is being brought to COP16, the next UN meeting on climate change, which begins today, November 29, in Cancún, Mexico.
What is the problem, according to the World People’s Conference? The rights of nature are not being respected.
Why not? Because of our economic system.
Is this news? No.
Most people I trust have been saying it for a long time already. But listen to how the World People’s Conference expressed it:
Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.
People valued for who we are, not what we own: isn’t this what people of conscience have been calling for, for a long time already? It is what I am used to hearing in Christian churches that take seriously the Sermon on the Mount, and what people in all religions are longing for. More and more economists are calling for it too—an economy that focuses on well-being, not wealth, or in other words what an economy is supposed to deliver in the first place.
What is the fix? There will need to be thousands of them. But the strongly indigenous crowd at Cochabamba agreed that they all start in one place:
Respecting the rights of Mother Earth. The Earth is a living being and so cannot be bought and sold.
Mother Earth is a unique, indivisible, self-regulating community of interrelated beings that sustains, contains, and reproduces all beings.
The climate and ecological crises, said the 15,000 at Cochabamba, cannot be solved unless humans take steps to live in harmony with one another and with the Earth. Every being, and every ecosystem, has the right to its own well-being, in balance with the rights of others to their well-being.
Respecting the rights of Earth involves working for these things:
- harmony and balance among all
- complementarity, solidarity, and equality
- collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all
- people in harmony with nature
- recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own
- elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism, and interventionism
- peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth
The proposals from Cochabamba that are being included in the negotiating text in Cancún include these specifics:
- Reduce emissions by more than 50% for 2017
- Rights of Mother Earth
- Full respect for human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and climate migrants
- Formation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal
- No new carbon markets
- 6% of GDP in developed countries to finance climate change actions in developing countries
- Lifting of barriers to intellectual property that facilitates technology transfer
- No commodification of forests
Industrialized countries will find much to oppose in these proposals. For starters, this country has refused to commit to reducing its carbon emissions, let alone talk about climate change reparations. Though most people agree that “you broke it, you fix it” is good policy in everyday life, when it comes to harming the rest of the world through fossil fuel use, we in the United States seem to think we’re exempt.
In the meantime, here is graffiti from Cochabamba that could, if we allowed it, show us the way home:
“You can never find happiness in money. Happiness is close to you, except you do not hear it.”