Edited version – Saving Mother Earth: An Eyewitness Account of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

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This article by Ron Ridenour was edited by the Beachhead for space considerations.

By Ron Ridenour

Presenting the People’s Agreement—“mother earth does not belong to us, we belong to it”—worldwide was the first act of the Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth. It took place in April in Cochabamba, Bolivia, thanks to that country’s president, Evo Morales, and representative activists from five continents.

There were accredited delegates totaling 35,000 people from 147 countries. The conclusions of the conference’s 17 workshops—held April 19-21 at the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC) were presented to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to the Non-Alignment Movement (now 130 Third World countries) plus China (the world’s second greatest polluter), and then to leaders of the European Union.

President Morales initiated the people’s conference as a response to the failed Copenhagen conference (COP15) held in Denmark last December. The so-called “Copenhagen Accord” was strongly biased in favor of the rich governments and transnational capitalist corporations that continue business as usual: extracting unlimited profits from human labor and natural resources while contaminating Mother Earth with their gaseous emissions and devastating wars.

Although conference delegates decided to take their analysis and proposals to COP16 to be held   November-December in Cancun, Mexico, President Morales warned, at a May 6 news conference in New York, that there are only two choices: “Either save capitalism, or save Mother Earth. If Cancun is the same as Copenhagen, then unfortunately the United Nations will lose its authority among people in the world.”  He implied that peoples’ movements might replace the U.N.

Key points of the final document arrived at in 17 workshops include:

¤ “Live well” (indigenous philosophy), not “live better” (capitalism’s creed). This enhances the environment holistically and encourages meeting everyone’s basic needs while the latter requires greed and destruction of the planet, and war amongst men and between nations over the Earth’s natural resources.

¤ Demand the United Nations force the rich nations (capitalist west) to reduce their CO2 emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2017, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

¤ These nations must use at least 6% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), much less than they use for wars, for mitigation of and adaptation to climate changes in the developing world.

¤ Recognize the Universal Rights of Mother Earth—the right to life, clean water and air, free from contamination; every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with her; guarantee peace and eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; decolonization of the atmospheric space.

¤ Conduct a worldwide referendum of five points concerning how to protect nature: agree or not to eliminating the capitalist economy; transfer all financing for wars to finance the defense of Mother Earth; our territories be freed of troops and military bases; create an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal to judge and sanction contaminating nations and firms.

¤ “Capitalism, as a patriarchal system of endless growth, is incompatible with life on this finite planet…the alternatives [to both capitalism and the Soviet experience with a predatory production system] must lead to a profound transformation of civilization.”

The Workshops

The Minister of Foreign Affairs David Choquehuanca coordinated with the renowned private university at Tiquipaya, Univalle, to host the unique climate conference. Classes were suspended and many students helped with logistics. We were accredited with a photo and number, which had to be checked each time we entered the campus.

The finalized program included more than we had anticipated. Aside from the workshops, there were three important speeches by President Morales and others by visiting presidents. In addition, there were several panel discussions on main themes that ran during our work sessions. At times, there were three panels at once. Then there were the outdoor stands where groups sold their wares, mostly information and propaganda, but also textiles and the new drink Coca Colla complete with a bag of coca leaves was on sale for 10 bolivianos ($1.40) for a half-liter. At that price, four times the favorite drink of the death squads, Coca-Cola did not have to worry. There were also outdoor speeches and music during the day to distract those weary of workshop concentration.

I concentrated on workshops 1 and 16, structural causes of the climate changes and activities to protect Mother Earth. In addition, there were workshops on Mother Earth’s rights, Evo’s proposed 5-point referendum, the 50 million climate migrants, indigenous peoples, climate debt and adaptation, financing, development and transfer of technology, carbon market dangers, the Kyoto Protocol, agriculture and food sovereignty, compared visions, and the forests. All documents can be read on the conference webpage www.cmpcc.org.

In Morales’ excellent “10 Commandments to Save the Planet, Humankind and Life”, the first one is “To End with Capitalism”, followed by “Renounce War” with figures of damage to Mother Earth.

I elaborated on the environmental damage caused by militarism and quoted the co-director of International Action Center, Sara Flounders, who  recently wrote, “Pentagon’s Role in Global Catastrophe”. The Pentagon, as Flounders wrote, “is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.” In 2006, the CIA Factbook stated that only 35 countries, out of 210, consume more oil per day than does the Pentagon.

Officially, that is 320,000 barrels a day but that does not include fuel consumed by contractors or consumed in leased and privatized facilities, nor the fuel energy used to produce and maintain their “death-dealing equipment or the bombs, grenades or missiles they fire.” www.iacenter.org/o/world/climatesummit_pentagon121809/
climateandcapitalism.com/?p=1534#more-1534, January 9, 2010

“The Pentagon wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its secret operations in Pakistan, its equipment on more than 1,000 U.S. bases around the world, its 6,000 facilities in the U.S., all NATO operations, its aircraft carriers, jet aircraft, weapons testing, training and sales will not be counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits or included in any count.” How can that be?

The Pentagon demanded during Kyoto Accord negotiations that  “all of its military operations worldwide and all operations it participates in with the U.N. and/or NATO be completely exempted from measurements and reductions.” It secured this concession and then had the audacity to refuse to sign the accords. Yet to this day, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ignores all U.S. military emissions of CO2 and all other lethal toxics and radiation.
That means when it is written in workshop 1’s declaration that the United States increased its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 16.8% from 1990 to 2007 (while the rich block as a whole increased emissions by 11%), this does not include GHG emitted by the Pentagon and its wars. This is certainly a major factor when arguing to retain the Kyoto Protocol as does Evo and workshop 10.

Besides spreading CO2, U.S. weapons include depleted uranium, which “have spread tens of thousands of pounds of micro-particles of radioactive and highly toxic waste throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans”, says Sara Flounders.

“The U.S. sells land mines and cluster bombs that are a major cause of delayed explosives, maiming and disabling especially peasant farmers and rural peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. For example, Israel dropped more than 1 million U.S.-provided cluster bombs on Lebanon during its 2006 invasion.”

The US accounts for half the world’s expenditures of $1.3 trillion on wars and defense. The US and Europe just gave their major capitalists $3 trillion to bail them out of their self-made financial crisis. These rich governments offer .03% of that for developing countries to “adapt” to climate changes.

Then there was the controversy about “workshop 18”. One of Evo’s strongest supporting groups, the indigenous Conamaq, wanted a workshop on national preservation of the earth, including banning or curtailing the extraction industry from removing petroleum and minerals. In a closing interview with Democracy Now, Goodman asked Morales of this dilemma, given that a fourth of national income comes from this industry. He replied that while studies had to be made, and controls utilized, “of what are we going to live” if this demand is accepted?

On the 22nd, our last day, the sun was so strong that firefighters sprayed the audience of 25,000+ with water. Seeing so many banners naming the true enemy of humanity and the planet—capitalism—made me happy and reminded me of my young activist days in the United States. After the inspiring ‘60s turned into Reaganism, it seemed to me and many other revolutionaries that the vanguard for socialism would not come from the most industrialized—and thus most pacified—workers but rather from some of the most exploited and oppressed, namely, from Latin America, where Che Guevara is still revered.

Here, in this stadium in Cochabamba, I was witnessing that thought come true. The many thousands gathered here had understood that we cannot advance the spiritual aspects of humanity; we cannot eradicate hunger and poverty nor maintain a lively planet with this depraved economy. A sign showed us that “Bolivia is the capital of dignity”. We were happy and felt dignified chewing on coca leaves and listening to the People’s Agreement being read by a Bolivian woman and a Usamerican man.

The next day, hundreds of activists and Bolivian students and soldiers planted 10,000 trees on one side of Kötu Mayu mountain, in Tiquipaya. The president planted Tipas (the tall Rosewood tree). I planted the Jacaranda, which sprouts lovely fragrant trumpet-shaped blooms. This was the beginning of reforestation plan, 10 million seedlings each year for five years.

For these days we 35,000 people were of one common mind: unity against capitalism and its depravities. We hope that environmentalists and others around the world will listen to our conclusions and draw from them the understanding that as long as capitalism exists, our planet will continue dying and one day no life will awake.

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