Pablo Solón: How can we overcome the climate crisis?

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We are in a fight for the survival of all humanity. To change the system we need to recover our ability to dream.

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We are in a fight for the survival of all humanity. To change the system we need to recover our ability to dream.

by Pablo Solón

There is no single answer, no single campaign nor single approach. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that avoids catastrophe, we need to:

  • Leave more than two-thirds of the fossil fuel reserves under the soil;
  • Stop the exploitation of tar sands, shale gas and coal;
  • Support small, local, peasant and indigenous community farming while we dismantle big agribusiness that deforests and heats the planet;
  • Promote local production and consumption of products, reducing the free trade of goods that send millions of tons of CO2 while they travel around the world;
  • Stop extractive industries from further destroying nature and contaminating our atmosphere and our land;
  • Increase significantly public transport to reduce the unsustainable “car way of life”;
  • Reduce the emissions of warfare by promoting genuine peace and dismantling the military and war industry and infrastructure.

In other words we need to come out of the endless growth paradigm that is the basis of the capitalist system, and seek for a new kind of society that is grounded on care for each other and nature. A society that seeks happiness for all and not profit for a few. A society based on a different concept of prosperity and well-being. A bio-society for life that includes humans and nature.

To stop climate change we need to change ourselves. We need to stop thinking on growth and “development” and push instead for the redistribution of wealth. We need to end this insane competition between countries and promote real solidarity that takes into account the disparities created by the capitalist system. We need to recover our sense of community between us and with nature. We need to recover the control of the resources of the society that have been privatized to redistribute the benefits between all while preserving harmony with nature.

We need to come to the realization that the fight for climate justice does not only concern environmentalists and climate activists. It concerns all of us who live on this planet. For example, there is no way to have long standing employment and democratic systems if at the same time we don’t fight for a society that has a different relation with nature. A “democratic” regime that exploits nature as a thing will also treat and exploit people only as “capital,” “consumers” or “voters.” An economy that aims to grow beyond the limits of nature will sooner than later collapse and trigger unemployment.

We also need to end the hubris of man. We need to end the arrogance of man that he can control nature and solve the climate crisis with techno-fixes. Carbon markets, the monetary valuing of nature, “REDD[1]”,  “Green economy”, GMOs, agro-fuels, synthetic biology, nuclear projects, geo-engineering are all false solutions because they reinforce the misguided belief that humans can control nature through technology. It is also based on the false premise that the capitalist system and free market can solve the climate crisis that it has created by putting a price and commodifying the functions of nature. Instead of recognizing the limits of man and markets, they encourage suicidal technologies and promote new speculative derivative markets on nature.

We also need to re-evaluate our strategies in fighting for a global agreement. The negotiations at the United Nations will not address the deep causes of climate change if there is no social revolution in our countries, especially in the so-called industrialized countries. Social revolutions in the 21st century that don’t address in practice, with concrete results, the issue of the environmental crisis may end co-opted by the current capitalist system trying to seek a “development” and an “industrialization” that at this stage have to be completely redefined.

We cannot consume all our energy trying to lobby negotiators who at the end of the day receive the final instructions from governments that have already been captured by transnational corporations and elites that want to preserve their privileges in the business-as-usual regime. The real battle for climate change is in the streets, in the fields, in the forests. There will be change in national and global policies only when we have strong social movements that embrace the fight for social, economic, political and environmental justice across countries and across continents.

We are in a fight that we cannot lose. It is the fight for the survival of all humanity. In this long struggle for our future, we can and should fight for concrete goals that can invigorate our movement. Closing a coal mine, stopping a pipeline and a fracking project, banning GMOs, taxing carbon and over consumption, killing a free trade agreement[2], dismantling a military base, confronting corporate impunity, preserving indigenous territories, sinking carbon markets, stopping the privatization of water, ending land grabbing, occupying financial speculative markets and numerous other targets are all  milestones in this crucial fight.

To address climate change we need to link all kinds of initiatives: legal reforms and civil disobedience, hunger strikes and national consultations, massive protests and creative individual actions, consumers’ actions and boycotts, occupation of banks and road blockages, political pressure and good example practices. We cannot lose energy in sectarian debates. The goal is to always try to go further from the original target, promoting broader and stronger forms of organization and mobilizations of workers, peasants, indigenous, women, youth, faith communities, migrants, intellectuals, artists, human right activists.

The biggest force of capitalism is inertia. To change the system we need to recover our ability to dream, we need to learn from our roots, recover experiences from indigenous people like the “Vivir Bien,” embrace alternatives like food sovereignty, defend our commons from privatization, promote the democratization of energy and most important of all, imagine a world where the rights of humans and Nature are respected.

(Pablo Solón is the former Ambassador of Bolivia to the United Nations.  He is now the Executive Director of Focus on the Global South.)

[1] Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation of forests

[2] Like we did with ALCA/FTAA and have to do with WTO


  • Carbon sequestering in the foreseeable future is a mug’s game. Putting that genie back in the bottle requires nothing less than trying to replicate the effects of the carbon fossilization that resulted from hundreds of millions of years of planetary plate tectonics and volcanism. Moreover, sequestering carbon dioxide, rather than elemental carbon, requires sequestering two oxygen atoms for every atom of carbon. This would deplete the atmospheric oxygen supply, even if only slightly, and the long-term effects of such a depletion, as well as the effects of storing oxygen underground are quite unpredictable with any certainty.

    I put carbon sequestering on the shelf right beside all the other geoengineering “fixes” that capitalism has come up with.

  • Bravo! Very well said.

    I only disagree with the premise here ignoring our responsibility to not only stop, but reverse the damage humanity has done to our biosphere.
    It is not enough to slow or even stop this damage; humanity must burden itself much further with the very difficult if not impossible work of both carbon sequestering and at the same time managing our aging masses with a dwindling workforce due to our much needed depopulation our human footprint on earth.

    This calls for all of your above except we also need to mindfully develop the technology needed in sequestering carbon as well as softening the blow which must be the reversal of our population growth.

    Humans have “controlled nature through technology” and the massive damage done on earth is the proof of this.

    We need to reverse who and what our technology serves, as it can no longer be for the needs of the few or even the many of humanity if it does not pass the smell test of massive species extinction including our own.