Speech by Elizabeth Peredo Beltran, Director of Bolivia’s Solon Foundation, to the closing session of the Cochabamba+1 Conference in Montreal, April 17, 2011
There is a rebellious movement growing across the planet protesting the unfair impacts of climate change and environmental crisis. A global intuition was being formed on the real causes of climate crisis, and on that we must listen to the voices of peoples and listen to the voice of nature herself reminding us that something is really very wrong in how we do inhabit the planet. More and more people are realizing that this is one of the most challenging crisis that we humans have ever faced. It forces us to question both capitalism and colonialism. The crisis reflects the harmful results of greed and over-consumption, on the dominant paradigms for human life on this planet. This situation have lead us to a juncture between life or death. We have never made such an important choice before. There is no doubt.
This global rebelliousness explains why the Cochabamba’s People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was so succesfull, despite beign convoqued and organized in just four mounths. It gathered together more than 35,000 thousand people from 142 different countries and some official national delegations. To address the challenge the participants divided into 17 working groups, and even there was an additional 18th working group reflecting a critical vision as always happens in healthy societies that must listen to all voices.
Cochabamba gave a voice to the people. It brought to us the possibility to challenge the “walls” built around the climate negotiations. All that force and emotion came from the grass roots, from our lifelong experiences of struggles in different fields we have been able to build a comprehensive political platform reflecting broad agendas opening paths and possibilities to face this crisis of civilization. Cochabamba was the most serious attempt in the last years to free the debate from the closed doors showing that such debate needs to take place between people to build a global transformation agenda. And we faced not only those very technical issues discussed in climate negotiations, such as shared vision, the Kyoto Protocol, finance, technology and others, but also new concepts such as climate justice, indigenous rights, structural causes, the idea of a Tribunal on Climate Justice.
At the same time of recovering that political cummulative inherit we have due our struggles, the Cochabamba agenda formed the basis of a real political bridge between two currents of social movements and activists: those with their roots in social struggles and those from the environmental struggles. The results are challenging and are beginning to be discussed in different fora including the embracing proposal to codify the Rights of Mother Earth, because they simply take the global wish to recover a balance between humans and nature, and working through the legacy of colonialism and capitalism in human history.
This agenda is now a big challenge because we need to begin to apply it whenever it were possible all over the world. It brings many possibilities that must be measured at the local and concrete levels. And we have from then a reference, ideas that have been collectively built to save humanity and the life in the planet, our home.
The proposal of building the rights of Mother Earth is a real challenge because it confronts our traditional values and forces us to rethink whether our current system of human rights are able to stop destruction of the planet or whether these rights have in fact been hijacked by big corporations. It also allows us to realize in that we live a kind of schizophrenia in which all those nice values and agreements resolved in the UN system are, in fact, less binding than the neoliberal governance system that reigns over our lives. In this context reinventing our governance systems to stop both environmental destruction and human injustice is urgent. Both the new Bolivian and the new Ecuadorian constitutions have begun to recognize the concept of “living well” calling for an end to over-consumption and recognizing the finite limits imposed by nature on “limitless” growth and development. The ecological footprint is a tool that can help us to quantify and recognize this concept.
In this crisis we need a narrative, and we are building it. The People’s Agreement is a wonderful attempt to construct a narrative that reflects the inputs and struggles of social movements. There are many other initiatives and thoughts and statements that are contributing to a new vision. But we have to go beyond rhetoric, because, rhetoric and declarations are insufficient to create real change. We have to overcome rhetoric.
To go beyond rhetoric requires a political vision and probable to be more focused at the local levels, recognizing the efforts that the people is already doing to defend themselves and the planet, like the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Amazonas against dams, or the daily struggle of women everywhere to take care of life. But at the same time go beyond rhetoric needs of personal and cultural deep changes. And probably this will not be possible until we will be able to construct supportive social structures and policies.
In this sense it is particularly important to put into practice the concept of “living well” (which basically means that nobody has the right to over consume the planet) in cities, in the context of growing urban centers that are devouring our planet.
Another challenge that must be faced is the unity of social movements. Between Cochabamba and Durban was Cancun, and it was a real lesson on how things can become when unity is not a priority. Unity of the social movements must be a central task to have a civil society expressing their visions and demands in Durban forcing the richest countries to realize that their decisions are condemning people and ecosystems to inevitable death in the next few years a process that has already begun all over the world.
We have to be strong enough to demand that the UNFCCC process must give an outcome that could respect the climate debt. It is really frightening how all the events that are directly caused by global warming are not linked to the negotiations. Those tragedies really not touch the hearth of the negotiation. Just since Copenhagen we have seen: Pakistan, Brazil, Central America, Andean Nations, the Philippines, Russia, Australia, and now the US with dreadful tornadoes. But the affliction of amnesia is all-powerful. They forget their responsibilities on historical emissions and instead want even to change the base-year for their commitment on green house gas reductions.
Yesterday Vinod Raina from India quoted Mahatma Ghandi’s thoughts about the Truth. Mahatma Gandhi said that the most important struggle is for the truth: “Nonviolence and truth (Satya) are inseparable and presupposes one another. There is no god higher than truth.” And this is a matter of violence and truth indeed. They all know what are going to be the human impacts, especially in the global south, especially for the poorest, the eldest, for children and women. But they do not care. Lets ask them to tell the truth.
That is why I believe that -besides giving our solidarity- we must take the Fukushima tragedy very seriously, because it is a real metaphore for the global climate and environmental crisis. We all are living the “Fukushima syndrome” that is about how far can go neoliberal greed in hiding the truth and in forget taking care seriously of life. They know the truth but they confide in business, they know the dangers but they condemn their workers to death, they know the harmful impacts, but the hide them from the people and remove regulation from the people’s control. They don’t want to respect our right to life.
Climate Justice struggles are bringing to us some vital signals to keep on fostering the hope for armonius life on earth, their linkage to the structural causes and other crises like the environmental, the biodiversity, the inmigration ones… And it is bringing great ideas like the Tribunal, an initiative from the people to demonstrate their criminality, highlighting those responsible for this crises, give the plattform to the most vulnerable and push the powerful for change.
But the change will come from the bottom up, from the local level and from our daily lives. Real changes will come combining the global and the local, the public and the private, the personal and the collective. Is the people who will give their hands and their strenght for this transformation.
Elizabeth Peredo Beltrán is Director of the Solon Foundation, an institution recognized in Bolivia for its work on human rights, integration and culture. Between 1999 and 2003 she was the National Coordinator of the Solidarity Committee on Domestic Workers Rights in Bolivia promoting the approval of an specific law to protect their rights. Since 2006 she has coordinated the “Blue October” Campaign in Bolivia, a big yearly mobilization for the right to Water as a common good and human right.