Climate Change, Capitalism & the World People’s Conference

In looking for solutions to the ecological crisis we face it is important that we do not perpetuate further social injustices. It is easy to assume that everyone is living or wants to be living in our capitalist economy. The internet with its ready access to vast troves of information gives us the illusion that we can now access all the known information in the whole world with a simple google search. Yet the information we access is firstly limited to what is written in the language(s) we can read and to that which has been recorded by people with access and knowledge of such technology. Which means that many voices from peoples living in radically alternative ways are effectively silenced or marginalised. Amongst these peoples are groups who are living a much more sustainable lifestyle than we are, and have been doing so for a very long time. So wouldn’t it be sensible to let them continue living in the way they have devised for themselves over many generations?

banner-56Yet over and over again we see groups of people being displaced from their lands or having their access to ancestral lands curtailed, to make way for mining, agriculture, and other infrastructure projects that are conceived to feed the voracious needs of our ever growing capitalist system.

While every society will in some part need to find its own solutions to how it deals with the environmental degradation of its lands, there is something to the saying often attributed to Albert Einstein “The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation”.

So perhaps we need to start to looking to alternative solutions to our current problems rather than relying on markets and other tools of the capitalist society to solve these problems. A part of this could be to start listening to the voices of indigenous people around the world. In 2010 after the dismal outcome at the Copenhagen Climate Change talks, The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which took place in 2010 following the failed Copenhagen climate change talks of 2009, was a global gathering of civil society and governments hosted by the government of Bolivia. The outcome of this conference was the Peoples Agreement. It begins as follows:

Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.

If global warming increases by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a situation that the “Copenhagen Accord” could lead to, there is a 50% probability that the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible. Between 20% and 30% of species would be in danger of disappearing. Large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen. Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish in the world, causing catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants from vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people. The corporations and governments of the so-called “developed” countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.

It goes on to discuss why current “solutions” that are being pushed in Western countries are not viable, noting that:

It has been stated that developed countries significantly increased their emissions in the period from 1990 to 2007, despite having stated that the reduction would be substantially supported by market mechanisms.

The carbon market has become a lucrative business, commodifying our Mother Earth. It is therefore not an alternative for tackle climate change, as it loots and ravages the land, water, and even life itself.

The People’s Agreement also lists a number of measures to address causes of climate change:

To face climate change, we must recognize Mother Earth as the source of life and forge a new system based on the principles of:

  • harmony and balance among all and with all things;
  • 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 model we support is not a model of limitless and destructive development. All countries need to produce the goods and services necessary to satisfy the fundamental needs of their populations, but by no means can they continue to follow the path of development that has led the richest countries to have an ecological footprint five times bigger than what the planet is able to support. ….. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth.   For this purpose, we propose the attached project for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, in which it’s recorded that:

  • the right to live and to exist;
  • The right to be respected;
  • The right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration;
  • The right to maintain their identity and integrity as differentiated beings, self-regulated and interrelated;
  • The right to water as the source of life;
  • The right to clean air;
  • The right to comprehensive health;
  • The right to be free of contamination and pollution, free of toxic and radioactive waste;
  • The right to be free of alterations or modifications of it’s genetic structure in a manner that threatens it’s integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
  • The right to prompt and full restoration for violations to the rights acknowledged in this Declaration caused by human activities.

It also calls on the developed countries to redress the social injustice of the developing world bearing a disproportionate burden of the effects of climate change:

Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. In this context, we demand that developed countries:

  • Restore to developing countries the atmospheric space that is occupied by their greenhouse gas emissions. This implies the decolonization of the atmosphere through the reduction and absorption of their emissions;
  • Assume the costs and technology transfer needs of developing countries arising from the loss of development opportunities due to living in a restricted atmospheric space;
  • Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries;
  • Assume adaptation debt related to the impacts of climate change on developing countries by providing the means to prevent, minimize, and deal with damages arising from their excessive emissions;
  • Honor these debts as part of a broader debt to Mother Earth by adopting and implementing the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. In this context, we demand that developed countries:

  • Restore to developing countries the atmospheric space that is occupied by their greenhouse gas emissions. This implies the decolonization of the atmosphere through the reduction and absorption of their emissions;
  • Assume the costs and technology transfer needs of developing countries arising from the loss of development opportunities due to living in a restricted atmospheric space;
  • Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries;
  • Assume adaptation debt related to the impacts of climate change on developing countries by providing the means to prevent, minimize, and deal with damages arising from their excessive emissions;
  • Honor these debts as part of a broader debt to Mother Earth by adopting and implementing the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings

The whole document, which you can read here, is lengthy but definitely worth reading as it gives voice to some the alternative thinking we need in moving towards a more sustainable and just world for all.

 

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7 thoughts on “Climate Change, Capitalism & the World People’s Conference

  1. It is incredible that some people still resist the idea of climate change. Even those who accept it put economic growth first! I’ve a poem related to this and habitat loss on my latest post.

  2. Thanks for your comments Stephen.I would say that the mindset that created the capitalist system is the problem – the view that sees humans individuals who are separate from the rest of the rest of the world and thus allows the rest of the world to be seen as things that can be used to satisfy human desires.

  3. A good article. Capitalism is the problem. It’s a myth to think that there is no causal link between the profit-motive of capitalists (especially in the coal mining and oil industries) and the disruption to the climate. Capitalism is an irrational system which, through its ideological representatives and the capitalist classes which seek to benefit most of all from it, is incapable of rationally choosing the right course of action regarding global warming. As someone very famous once said: even when capitalists are about to be hung by the rope they will compete with one another for the last bit of hanging rope in an attempt to make a last minute profit. Profitmaking is all that matters to capitalists and to the capitalist class as a whole.

    Stephen D.

  4. Dinali,

    It’s not just nature which becomes objectified by the capitalist system and turned into things for human consumption based upon the profit-motive. Human beings are also objectified and so are turned into things as well within the system for the same reasons. That’s one of the reasons why human beings seek meaning in meaningless activities and goals like consumption in all its various forms. People are basically disconnected (alienated) from themselves, from each other, from the things they have do to in order to reproduce themselves on a daily basis and from the things they produce for others in the market (consumption). Also, you’re right to say there is a mindset, but it’s a pretty modern one called the neoliberal view of capitalism (‘the best of all possible worlds’). It’s not just that capitalism is the problem but also the ideology which has come to underpin it since the 1970’s. In the end, I don’t think it’s possible to salvage a system which is based on the mantra of endless economic growth (= endless search for capitalist profits) if it’s getting in the way of fixing-up global warming. However, there are some green economists out there who think you can have a ‘less dysfunctional form of capitalism’ which won’t runaway like a train going off the rails. But I’m not convinced. I think that is an example of utopian thinking.

    Stephen D.

    • Good points about the objectification of human beings Stephen. I don’t think even a less dysfunctional version of capitalism will do. But perhaps starting at looking at how we can reconnect with what it means to be a human (as you say what we need to reproduce ourselves on a daily basis or our basic human needs as Max-Neef talks about) and what it means to be alive on this planet is a good place to start in creating a system that will work with the rest of the planet.

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