Cochabamba's New Direction

Leaving Cochabamba, there is a real sense in the air that our real work lies in front of us.
Crowd in Cochabamba, photo by The City Project

At the World People's Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Photo by The City Project

Earth Day was the closing day of the first World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba. It occurred to me as I watched participants and organizers streaming into the Félix Capriles Stadium for the closing ceremonies that decades from now, 2010 will be remembered as the year that Earth Day took on new meaning—the year that humanity turned a corner in our relationship to Mother Earth and began struggling along a new course.

Over the last week, a lot of information has been exchanged, new relationships were built, points and direction were strongly debated, and a new, shared course took shape. Always present in discussions was the role and actions of the United States government, the principle polluter of the last century, and the main obstacle to a meaningful response to climate chaos. The Copenhagen Accord, if adopted, would create a carbon market that researchers believe would decrease global emissions by 2 percent (from 1990 levels) by 2020, which is less than what countries committed to 10 years ago under the Kyoto Protocol. So as the problem has gotten worse, the U.S. administration under President Obama is proposing that the world be less ambitious.

But, as President Chávez of Venezuela pointed out in his statements today at the conference, “There wasn’t any accord [agreement] in Copenhagen.” Neither is the Copenhagen Accord a proposal. It’s a threat made by a bully. The U.S. is now playing hardball, withholding funds for those impacted by climate change unless they sign on. In a lighter moment during the closing statements by government representatives today, the representative of Ecuador (which has been denied $2.5 million dollars already for its lack of support of the Copenhagen Accord) countered with an offer of $2.5 million dollars to the U.S. if it will join the rest of the world by signing the Kyoto Protocol. President Chávez later suggested that the money would be better spent getting social movements to Cancún.

And he was right. Leaving Cochabamba, there is a real sense in the air that our real work lies in front of us. A new global people’s alliance for the defense of Mother Earth will be formed. Representatives will be going back to their home countries to continue fights around water, food and seed sovereignty, land reform, jobs and housing, indigenous rights, and forest protection, as well as for the protection of their local land and ecosystems against destruction by mining, dams, logging, and more. They will also have new direction in the fight against destructive climate policy. At the World People’s Conference, particular points of contention were around the Program on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol, carbon trading, and ecological debt. These were big issues for the communities represented in Cochabamba, and will continue to be heading into Cancún.

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This also raises an important point. When the social movements met, what came through loud and clear was that people all over the world think that climate change should be solved by having those who pollute too much cut their emissions. The communities and movements don’t want fancy trading schemes, and they don’t want their land, their labor, or their bodies to become a commodity to be sold in someone’s market (and neither do those who have been made marginalized and poor wish to stay that way—this is the “right to development” that has been so debated). This opinion, broadly shared by those outside of the official negotiations, differs somewhat from those governments, including Bolivia, who have taken the approach of fighting for continued open negotiations by all nations and maintenance of the Kyoto Protocol. This tension between the demands of movements on the outside and governments on the inside will be resolved favorably to the extent that movements can flex their muscle and the negotiations reflect what people want and not just what’s possible under the political power plays of the day.

But more than politics, the conference in Cochabamba brought to the table humanity’s relationship with Pachamama, or Mother Earth. This question, raised most pointedly by the indigenous communities present, was reflected in the project of creating a declaration of Mother Earth Rights, but also went way beyond it. Can we really reach a sustainable relationship with the Earth unless we stop looking at it as something to be conquered or fixed that is outside of us? How would it change our lives and our struggles if we believed, as Leonardo Boff of Brazil said, “Todo lo que existe merece existir, y todo lo que vive merece vivir" [Everything that exists deserves to exist, and everything that lives deserves to live]? Or if we understood the Earth as a living thing of which we are a part, or that, “La vida es un momento de la tierra, y la vida humana un momento de la vida" [Life is a moment of the Earth, and the human life is a moment of life]”? The clear message coming through in Cochabamba is that we have to get right with nature. As President Morales warned in his opening statement to the conference, our choice is between “Pachamama o muerte!" [Pachamama or death!].”


  • from the World People's Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.
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