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April 26 – I have some catching up to do, inasmuch as I failed to write an article last week, but the truth is, I couldn’t have picked a better time to skip a week. How did that happy coincidence occur? I discovered that the World People’s Conference on Climate Change (WPCCC) and the Rights of Mother Earth was transpiring this past week. Having stumbled upon it online, it became quickly apparent that this was not just an event – it was a phenomenon. This is a gathering of people who have been pushed as far as they intend to be pushed. They have chosen this moment to inform the world that from this point forward, their ways of doing things must be taken into account. I’ll do my best to acquaint you with the origin and purpose of the WPCCC, with what will most likely be a longer-than-usual piece. I cannot possibly cover all that was said and done, but will attempt to bring to your attention the primary thrust of this four day convention.

Think of the WPCCC as the Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Copenhagen. Poor nations were underrepresented in Denmark, particularly on working committees and policy-making sub-groups. They came away from what should have been a history-making convening of the world’s nations feeling largely unrecognized and underserved. As they point out in documentation produced at the Pre-Conference of Bolivian Indigenous Peoples and Social Organizations on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, by Working Group 1 (Structural Causes of Climate Change), countries of the Northern Hemisphere have both produced the most pollution and reaped the greatest benefit, insofar as consumerist standards are concerned, as a result of that pollution. Southern Hemispheric countries have produced far less pollution, and have not become wealthy using up natural resources. Climate change has, nevertheless, been experienced by these countries to a degree very much in excess of their contribution to the problem. To address this inequality and injustice, the WPCCC was organized. All of the information you find here was taken from the Conference’s website, http://pwccc.wordpress.com/ .

The Conference took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from April 19 through April 22, 2010. The website variously reported attendance of 15,000 to 20,000 people; attendance was probably deleteriously affected by the volcano eruption in Iceland that led to the grounding of hundreds of European airplanes. Oil-producing countries of the Middle East were entirely absent from the Conference. That having been said, 241 organizations from all over the world assumed the role of “partner” at the convention. Among them were the American organizations Human Nature, Global Exchange, Tibet Justice Center, Rainforest Action Network, and STP – Society for Threatened Peoples, as well as many others. Activists whose names I recognized included James Hansen, Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky, most of whom served as panelists or moderators in the context of Conference Working Groups. I feel badly that I did not recognize the names of the Latino activists involved. They constituted the majority of conference participants.

The six objectives of the WPCCC were listed succinctly. I will try to be even briefer: analyzing the causes of climate change and proposing measures that would further living in harmony with nature; drafting a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth; renewed commitment to the Kyoto Protocol; organizing a worldwide referendum on climate change; establishing a Climate Justice Tribunal; and defining specific strategies to further these objectives.

Seventeen Working Groups were established in order to plan ways of reaching these goals. They were Structural Causes, Harmony with Nature, Mother Earth Rights, Climate Change Referendum, Climate Justice Tribunal, Climate Migrants [Refugees], Indigenous Peoples, Climate Debt, Shared Vision, Kyoto Protocol, Adaptation to Climate Change, Financing, Technology Transfer, Forests, Dangers of the Carbon Market, Action Strategies, and Agriculture and Food Sovereignty. Enough to keep people of good will occupied for a very long time, but I confess I was surprised not to see an “Oceans” Working Group.

Certainly one of the primary themes of the Conference was the responsibility capitalist nations bear for the creation of global warming. Returning to the document produced by Working Group 1, who examined the structural causes of climate change, their remarks are direct and to the point: “Therefore, we can say that the basic feature of [the] capitalist development model” – placing business interests before community or individual interests – “is responsible for the World’s climate crisis …” The authors correctly recognize that this is not the time to mince words! One terribly interesting statement found further on in the paper is, in part, “… the logic of life is competition,” meaning that in a capitalist society, the competitive business model has spilled over into every aspect of life. It’s true! Americans sometimes find it difficult to understand that many, if not most, people in the world do not seek out competitive situations in order to prove that they are the best. Qualities such as kindness and honesty take precedence over competency.

The Structural Causes Working Group proposed a new production system which takes into account harm done to the earth, utilizes an international mechanism that includes indigenous peoples for the monitoring of corporate and government behavior, and is based upon international agreements.

Working Group 2: Harmony with Nature, begin their paper by saying “Recognizing that we are the children and not the owners of Mother Earth, and reasserting the principle of community, understood as unity among all living things, we declare: To achieve harmony with nature, we must put into practice the principles of reciprocity, complementarity [this I understand to mean ‘playing to each other’s strengths’], mutual respect for the sovereignty of our nations, justice, equality, and respect for cultural diversity.” That, indeed, is a mouthful. The Conference does not lack for ambitious goals, as you will see if you go to its website. The definition of community is wonderful – unity among all living things. Ancestral wisdom is cited in this paper, as well as others, as a source to be drawn upon in the present age.

Working Group (WG) 16: Strategies for Action, do not suffer from a lack of ideas. They begin by saying that “… we declare the world to be in a state of emergency …” and go on to describe the actions necessary for pulling back from the abyss. All of the papers issued at the Conference allude to the Kyoto Protocol, making plain the regard in which Copenhagen is held. Indeed, WG 16 “… resolves to reject the Copenhagen Accord for being a threat to life …”. It is in this paper that the need for a Climate Justice Tribunal is
declared. Strategies also include the transfer of military budgets for climate action, restitution for damages suffered by poor countries, recovering ancient customs and habits, promoting the organic production of food, creating an international barter system of trade, redesigning cities to improve livability and promote ecological values, and issuing a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

This Declaration, currently in draft form, is intended to complement the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “… and to serve as a common standard by which the conduct of all human beings, organizations, and cultures can be guided and assessed …”.
I confess the title of the Declaration causes me problems; I am unfamiliar with traditions that recognize the Earth as a sentient being. This, in turn, makes it difficult for me to think of our planet in terms of its possessing rights. I acknowledge the problem as my own; it is not a reflection of the regard I have for the Declaration, parts of which are quite beautiful.

Indeed, Article 8, “Human Education,” is wonderfully comprehensive and original.
It says that “Every human being has the right to be educated about Mother Earth and how to live in accordance with this Declaration,” and “Human education must develop the full potential of human beings in a way that promotes a love of Mother Earth, compassion, understanding, tolerance and affection among all humans and between humans and other beings, and the observance of the fundamental freedoms, rights and duties in this Declaration.” When educators and communities model desired behaviors, it can go a long way toward shaping the way children think and act. Storytelling should have a vital role in conveying the lessons learned from humanity’s past mistakes.

If the Declaration has a weakness, it is its tendency to be self-referential. Since the Declaration exists, so far, only in draft form, this is a shortcoming which can be remedied in later iterations. It would be a shame for a statement of such importance and meaningfulness to suffer from a lack of clarity. After all, it will be speaking for all of us!

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