Countdown to Copenhagen

26 Nov

Burning Rain Forest in the Amazon: The Cargill Corporation will plant soy here, put the oil from it in your fuel tank and save the planet. What a great idea. (Photo:FAO)

Twenty-seven years ago a friend asked me if I planned to attend the Rio Summit on Climate Change and Environment (or whatever its official name was) and I kind of laughed and said, ‘Why would I?’ I knew nothing concrete would come from a bunch of world leaders once again talking about what was best for all of us when, historically, this has never been their priority. Unfortunately, I was right, and now all these years later, the problem is worse and the leaders are meeting once again.

Now however, like the global economic summits, affected groups are preparing to protest at Copenhagen, bringing the voices and opinions of “all of us” to that forum. In Indonesia, for example, the Indonesian Peasant Union, or SPI, is joining with environmental organizations to point out all the many flaws in a new 550-million-euro fund the European Union wants to disperse in Indonesia to promote the cultivation of crops for biofuel. The idea, which is the big, expensive, top-down kind governments love, is a bad one. It will transfer millions of dollars to millionaires, do little if anything to stop global warming and cause more land conflicts between plantation owners and small holders and forest peasants, of which there have been some 500 already as of 2008. A much better (and cheaper) idea — that of promoting peasant tenure rights, technology transfers, encouraging mixed cropping of plants for biofuels as well as food crops — is not even on the cards. 

In a recent New York times column, Thomas L. Friedman cited an intergovernmental working group study suggesting that reducing deforestation by 25 per cent in places like Indonesia, Brazil and the Congo would cost about $30 billion. Now this is crazy. Every one of these places have governments that are (and always have been) totally against empowering the rural poor. They all want to make money from their forest resources and to allow corporations the right to profit from agroforestry and agribusiness. They all have people living in or near forests, who survive from them and would take care of them — if allowed.

The governments of wealthy nations, meanwhile, are also more interested in propping up a system of profits than in really tackling global warming. As Andrew Simms, co-author of a new report called Other Worlds Are Possible, put it: “Every government planning to attend the Copenhagen climate summit says they want to stop catastrophic global warming. Yet every government also promotes economic policies that guarantee disaster. None is steering us genuinely to live collectively within our environmental means. Without new economic development models that chart how to meet human needs within ecological boundaries, any climate deal will be set up to fail. This report shows that better, new economic models already exist. The challenge is for governments to stop clinging to old, failing economic theory that treats the Earth like a business in liquidation, and people as an inefficient factor of production.” 

There are solutions to environmental destruction and global warming, and like the solutions to poverty, they come from the people most affected by these. They come from below, and are collective, solidary and fair, which means they don’t cost $30 billion. Their price is simply a new way of thinking. So while I would never have gone to Rio to listen to its spurious sumiteers, I would definitely be happy to go to Copenhagen — to protest outside the meetings of the self-important and powerful with the thousands of average people no one ever listens to.

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