Friday, April 23, 2010

"Either Capitalism Dies or Mother Earth Does"

The words of Bolivian President Evo Morales set the stage for The World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC). The conference was held this week in Cochabamba, Bolivia at the behest of President Morales. The conference is a response to the binding policy failure of the Climate Summit in Cophenhagen last year. It is an effort to gather the voices of those most affected by global warming: the poor, the marginalized, islanders, indigenous peoples, etc.

The conference is split up into working groups where the concerns of all the people present can be utilized to create policy initiatives to be presented at the Climate Summit in Mexico later this year. The purpose of a "Peoples'" conference is to provide a forum for the voices ignored at Cophenhagen. The Copenhagen summit was also criticized for being too meek and laden with business interests to accurately pinpoint and deal with the causes of global warming. Many believed that the leaders of the states did not have the political will to seek out binding agreements that could curb capitalist development. The failure of world leaders at Copenhagen to answer the problems and causes posed by climate change, and the failure to even consider alternate ways of fixing this problem (cap and trade and "carbon credits" still operate within the model of economic development that is blamed for the environmental crisis: capitalism).

As President Morales puts it, at Copenhagen, "the debate was only about the effects of this climate crisis, not the causes. And the peoples' here have debated the causes, capitalism, genetically modified crops," etc. At the CMPCC the working group on "Harmony with Nature" has stated:

• Mother Earth gives life, sustaining us and all living things, satisfying our needs, guaranteeing food sovereignty and security.  We should not abuse her kindness, nor should we consider her as a resource to exploit or commodify, because she is part of our life.

(Photo courtesy of BBC News)

This excerpt from the working group's declarations is representative of the air of the entire conference. Human interactions are not separate or dominant over our natural environment. Everything we do, consume, and destroy has lasting effects. And the systems that we have in place only distance us further from our natural state which makes it easier for people to destroy natural resources and view our Mother Earth as a commodity.

The CMPCC ended yesterday, corresponding with the United States' Earth Day. However, the results of the meeting in Cochabamba have yet to be seen but some are materializing already. President Evo Morales has announced the creation of a "Mother Earth Ministry" that will "promote the planet's rights". The CMPCC has also urged the creation of an international tribunal that will hear cases against those accused of destroying the environment. South African environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan who was co-president of the working group on the rights of Mother Earth extolled that "a lot of this declaration is about our responsibilities to Mother Earth." He goes further to say that Human Rights law tends to trump any other concerns and ignores all other creatures that live with us on this planet, and our planet itself.

This Earth Day we need to remember that every day should be Earth Day. We need to understand that a corporation changing its logo to green, or the release of ONE project that is a step in the right direction cannot overshadow the horrors still being committed in the name of resource consumption and the neglect of those sacrificed for projects for the "greater good." The "right" and "freedom" to consume endlessly is killing our planet.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The story behind the mudslides

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has seen torrential rains over the past couple of days that have led to mudslides on the outskirts of the city. Now, this wouldn't seem like that big a deal were it not for the estimated 200 dead people. The death toll is projected to rise even further as rains continue to fall on Rio de Janeiro.

[Remains of a favela destroyed by the mudslides: Reuters]

These people were not the victims of a small town that happened to be in the way of the mudslides. These people were residences of Rio de Janeiro's favelas. The favelas are towns of poor and marginalized peoples that have sprouted up around Brazil's major cities. Large amounts of Brazil's rural peoples have moved to the cities in order to find work. When they arrive at the cities they are confronted with expensive housing and minimal opportunities for well paying work. The favelas are the manifestations of Brazil's inequalities: 10% of Brazil's population controls over 50% of the wealth in the country and almost 35% of the population lives under the Global Poverty Line of USD $2 a day.

Along with the mudslides Rio de Janeiro has seen extensive flooding in the city and in the favelas. 11,000 people have been forced to evacuate, President Lula da Silva has sent in federal troops to assist in rescue efforts and many essential city services have been canceled.

This tragedy can't be viewed as an isolated case of bad weather. The combination of the worst rains southern Brazil has seen in over 50 years, combined with the poorly built, poverty stricken, towns of marginalized peoples built along unstable cliffs and hills has lead to this tragedy. Some attribute Brazil's worsening rainy season with climate change. However, Brazil's favelas can only be confronted by answering the income and land ownership gaps in the country. This is the sad story beneath the sad story in Brazil.