Toronto Teach-In Discusses Cochabamba Agenda for Climate Justice

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Actvists discuss concepts far removed from the usual media babble about cap-and-trade and carbon offsets – ideas that are unfamiliar to many on the left

by John Riddell

TORONTO – An all-day conference on climate justice here November 13 indicated broadening support for the global climate justice movement.

Entitled Lessons from Bolivia: Building a Global Movement for Climate Justice, the conference was endorsed by 35 community organizations, ranging from the Toronto & York District Labour Council to the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Council of Canadians, and York University’s Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean.

More than 125 participants heard 18 presentations from members of 16 different organizations.

The conference took as its starting point the decisions of the April 2010 People’s Assembly on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The Assembly’s decisions charted a path toward countering climate change through measures based on social justice and respect for the “rights of nature.”

The governments of Bolivia and other less-developed countries have secured the integration of many recommendations of the 30,000 Cochabamba conference participants into United Nations recommendations on climate change. However, an almost total media blackout has ensured that few people here – including on the left – are aware of the Cochabamba initiative.

The Toronto conference had to explain concepts far removed from the usual media babble about cap-and-trade and carbon offsets – ideas that are unfamiliar to many on the left.

Ian Angus, editor of Climate and Capitalism, noted that “the Cochabamba resolutions, and the discussions here today, include many references to Pachamama, Mother Earth. Many of us feel uncomfortable with that language…. I fully understand that response – but it is wrong. The Indigenous cosmovision … is completely compatible with the militant struggle for social justice we all support, and we can all learn from it.” (See Responding to the Cochabamba Challenge)

It was thus fitting that the congress began with ceremonial singing and drumming by the Spirit Wind aboriginal women’s group and an explanation of the concept of our obligations to Mother Earth by Marcelo Saavedra-Vargas, professor of indigenous studies at the University of Ottawa.

The central ideas of the Cochabamba conference were discussed in presentations by Angus, Teresa Turner of the Ecosocialist International Network, and Judy Deutsch of Science for Peace and in four workshop sessions.

The keynote address by Erika Dueñas of the Bolivian Embassy in Washington DC explained her country’s achievements in carrying the Cochabamba agenda into the arena of inter-governmental negotiations on climate change. (See ALBA Declaration) She called for support of the people’s intervention that will press for this agenda at the governmental conference on climate change to be held in Cancún, Mexico, November 29–December 10.

A second session consisted of five workshops on different social movements related to the climate justice movement. Three were on well-established arenas of work for ecological justice: water rights, mining, and tar sands. The other two reflected ways in which climate justice relates to central issues of social struggle: “Environment and the World Working Class” and “Environment, Migration, and Racism.”

The final session included a summation by Judy Rebick of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, plus presentations on three projects posed for action by the nascent climate justice movement as a whole.

  • Julien Lalonde and Brett Rhyno explained plans to hold a People’s Assembly on Climate Justice in Toronto December 4. (Link)
  • Raúl Burbano of Toronto Bolivia Solidarity reported on efforts by a coalition of social movements to organize a popular consultation during 2011, based on a proposal of the Cochabamba conference.
  • Michel Lambert, director of the Quebec-based social justice organization Alternatives, announced plans for a Canada-wide climate justice conference to be hosted by Alternatives in Montreal in the spring of 2011.

The teach-in was initiated by Toronto Bolivia Solidarity (link) and co-organized by representatives of Community Solidarity Response–Toronto, Council of Canadians–Toronto, KAIROS, People’s Assembly for Climate Justice, Science for Peace, the Toronto Climate Campaign, and others.