The Road to Cancún: Good News on the Climate Crisis
Dolores Hildalgo, Mexico - On a beautiful sunny afternoon several hundred campesinos and community activists have gathered in the Alameda or central park of Dolores Hildalgo, Guanajuato. People are assembled here today, in the high desert agricultural heartland of north central Mexico, waiting for the Via Campesina ("The Way of the Small Farmer") Caravan to arrive. Swapping stories, joking, and sharing homemade tamales and tortas (sandwiches) donated by local organic farmers and a natural food store and restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, none of us are surprised that the delegation traveling by buses from the northern state of Aquascalientes is an hour and a half late.
Standing in a semi-circle on the elevated gazebo in the center of the park, several dozen humbly-dressed community and indigenous leaders deliver short but impassioned descriptions of their organizations and their current work, concluding with statements about why they support the grassroots Caravan headed to Cancún, Mexico for the global climate summit Nov. 29-December 10. A common theme among the speakers is that we cannot wait for governments or corporations to solve our problems; we must organize ourselves in our local communities and regions for survival, as well as for political and economic power.
Standing in the park waiting for the Via Campesina delegation, everyone is aware that other Mexicanos today - north, south, east, and west - are greeting and joining bus and car caravans from Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Vera Cruz, Tabasco, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Morelos, Mexico City, Guerrero, and other regions. Across Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and North America other activists are also headed to Cancún or else organizing climate change events in their local communities.
What we are witnessing today, here and everywhere, is the embryonic formation of a New Climate Internationale - farmers, workers, indigenous people, students, and consumers uniting to save the Earth from catastrophic global warming. What we are demonstrating on hundreds of thousands of organic farms and ranches; in thousands of community organizing projects; and in our direct action protests to stop coal plants, mega-developments, and deforestation is that a New World is possible - a new, relocalized climate-friendly Commonwealth, rising out of the rubble and ruins of the old.
As the only gringo or North American up on the stage, representing Via Organica, the Mexico affiliate of the US-based Organic Consumers Association, I can't help but feel a little nervous about my ad-hoc solidarity speech and my Tejano (Texas-accented) Spanish. But I can see smiles on the faces of those in the crowd, and we all get a hearty round of applause after we speak. My T-shirt, emblazoned with a picture of Geronimo and Native American warriors, carrying rifles, with the slogan "Fighting Terrorism Since 1492," is a big hit with the Mexican compas, as is Via Organica's mobile mural, with a life-sized painting of Emiliano Zapata, carrying a banner that says "Viva la Revolución Orgánica" (Long live the organic revolution). The mural also sports a life-sized painting of Frida Kahlo, carrying a banner that says "Sin maíz no hay país" (without corn there is no country), referring to the growing rebellion against Monsanto's genetically engineered corn, which the U.S. is trying to force on the Mexican market. The mural also has two round openings carved in the center, so that people can put their heads through and pose for a portrait with Zapata and Frida. Nearly everyone in the crowd, especially the kids, takes advantage of this photo opportunity.
Beyond the disinformation of Fox News and the gloom and doom of the mainstream mass media, there are rays of sunshine, brighter and stronger by the day. A global climate justice movement is emerging and moving forward, with no help whatsoever from the Obama Administration; and openly defying the powerful climate change deniers in Corporate America and the U.S. Congress.
The Bad News: Climate Change is a Deadly Threat
Most of us are already familiar with the bad news, even though in our daily lives we are psychologically programmed to live at least partly in denial. Human-induced global warming and climate change are the most deadly threats that human beings have ever faced in our 100,000-year evolution. Hyper-consumerism and profit-at-any-cost corporations are literally melting the glaciers and polar ice caps; heating and killing the oceans; destroying the soil and plants' ability to safely capture and store billions of tons of excess CO2 and greenhouse gases; fomenting deadly storms and torrential downpours; spreading drought, massive crop failures, pestilence and desertification; sucking up and squandering the earth's precious and irreplaceable fresh water resources; and last but not least, drying out and burning up the forests, the lungs of the planet.
The hour is late. Leading climate scientists such as Dr. James Hansen are literally shouting at the top of their lungs that the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20-40% as soon as possible, and 90% by the year 2050, if we are to avoid further climate chaos, crop failures, endless wars, melting of the polar icecaps, and a disastrous rise in ocean levels. Either we radically reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases, including agriculture-derived methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon pollution, or else survival for the present and future generations is in jeopardy. As scientists warned at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, business as usual and a corresponding 7-8.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures means that the carrying capacity of the Earth in 2100 will be reduced to one billion people. Under this hellish scenario, billions will die of thirst, cold, heat, disease, war, and starvation.
The Clinton, Bush, and now Obama Administration's endless wars for oil and strategic resources in Iraq and Afghanistan and bitter battles for natural resources across the globe are nothing less than dress rehearsals for The End. The end of cheap oil, water, topsoil, and food.
We in the climate Movement are literally fighting for survival, knowing that, if we fail, this will be the end of human civilization. Billions of us are caught up in circumstances that seem beyond our control. We are both victimized and victimizers, guilty of actions or inactions which will determine whether our children and grandchildren are able to live "normal" lives--with food, shelter, employment, and at least a modest standard of living--or whether out-of-control corporations and indentured politicians will condemn us and them and their contemporaries to climate hell.
The impacts of accelerating global warming and climate chaos are already evident, from New Orleans to New Delhi. From a climate justice perspective, we are talking about life or death emergencies right now for hundreds of millions of poor people and thousands of indigenous communities in Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, North America, and Latin America - climate victims who are already suffering and dying in the storms, floods, drought, pestilence, and crop failures that are rapidly becoming routine. We stand on the threshold of disaster.
The business as usual practices of global capitalism and corporate globalization have polluted our atmosphere with 390 ppm of CO2 (carbon dioxide), and 436 ppm if you include the other greenhouse gases (methane-70 times more destructive per ton than CO2; nitrous oxide-200 times more destructive per ton than CO2, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons), raising the average temperature of the land and oceans by .8 degrees Centigrade (1.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
CO2 represents most (78%) of the greenhouse gases that have destabilized our climate, but not all. Other destructive greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon (mainly derived from chemical-intensive and slash and burn agriculture, wood stoves and older diesel engines), as well as industrial chemicals including HFC coolants (hydrofluorocarbons). These gases make up the remaining 22% of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in the atmosphere.
Scientists are now warning us that the emerging climate chaos we are witnessing is unfortunately just the beginning. We obviously have to stop CO2 emissions from going any higher than 400 ppm over the five years, by drastically cutting back on fossil fuel use and carbon emissions (80% reductions are required by 2020, and 90% by 2050 according to Lester Brown and the Earth Policy Institute) and then gradually bringing concentrations of CO2 down to the safe level of 350 ppm by 2050. To do so we're not only going to have to decarbonize (eliminate fossil fuel use) our electricity, housing, and transportation sectors, and dismantle our trillion dollar war machine; but also transform our agriculture, ranching, and forestry practices. Utilizing organic and sustainable land management practices alone will enable us to drastically reduce CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions and simultaneously clean 50 ppm of excess greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere over the next four decades--putting carbon back where it belongs--in the soil, plants, and forests.
The Good News: The Power of the People
For the first time in history, the entire human species is confronted with a deadly universal threat. The good news is that this common threat gives us the potential, for the first time ever, to unite the world's population in a cooperative effort to save the human species. Our grassroots concern and alarm over global warming fortunately is also shared by a growing number of government leaders in Latin America, Europe, China, and the island nations of the Pacific-countries that are already feeling the effects of climate chaos. An unprecedented critical mass of the world's population now understand that we must reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions and get CO2 levels back down to 350 ppm.
What this global perspective provides is an antidote to hopelessness and despair. The ethical bottom line is that we can't afford to remain depressed and inactive. The fact that the Obama administration has broken its promise to take decisive action on global warming must serve as an incentive, not to fall into despair, but instead to step up our efforts. Most of the world, including the majority of the population in the countries with greatest emissions (China, India, Europe, Japan, and the U.S.) are waking up and realizing that the 1000 largest multinational corporations and polluters, the 500 billionaires, and 300 million wealthy people who rule the Earth are leading us toward runaway global warming and climate catastrophe. We literally have no choice but to rise up and carry out a grassroots-powered revolution, or else we will perish.
Ganging Up on the U.S. and Canada - The World's Worst Climate Criminals
As Dr. James Hansen pointed out at a recent national climate crisis conference, "Pricing Carbon," at Wesleyan University on November 20, we must draw inspiration from the fact that many nations, cities, and regions across the world are starting to take decisive action on climate change. China alone is investing $300 billion a year in alternative energy, which is why they have become the global leader in solar and wind power. Similarly the European Union, the largest economic entity in the world, has begun to step up its efforts to build a green economy and a green energy infrastructure. Eventually the 150+ nations of the global South (billions of people who depend on glacier water and predictable rainfall and climatic conditions for food production)--those who are already experiencing the severe impacts of global warming--will join with the European Union and China and bring the USA and Canada to heel, enforcing a steadily rising "carbon tax" (starting at perhaps $50-100 per ton, but rising over time) on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions. If the U.S. Congress and Corporate America (and the Canadian elite) refuse to tax greenhouse gas polluters and phase out fossil fuels, then North American exports will eventually be boycotted or assessed with the same carbon tax that the rest of the world has agreed upon. Otherwise the Pentagon and our hired mercenaries will have no choice but to wage war on most of the countries of the world, including our NATO allies and nuclear powers like Russia and China.
Our job then, in the Belly of the Beast, is to build a large and fierce Climate Justice Movement that can help the global grassroots bring Uncle Sam and Corporate America to heel and thereby cool the planet.
More Good News: The Cleansing Power of the Soil and Forests
The heretofore neglected piece of good news on the climate front is that organic farming and ranching (high-intensity rotational grazing combined with a ban on factory farms and feedlots) on just a quarter of the Earth's 12 billion acres of farmland and rangeland can clean out and safely store in the soil 3,000-7,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre per year. Similarly if we can stop timber, biofuels, livestock, and Genetically Modified (GM) livestock feed corporations from cutting down the remaining 10 billion acres of forests on the planet, and instead replant deforested areas, we can sequester enough excess greenhouse gases in forest soils (and farms and ranch lands) to bring us back down to the safe levels of 350 ppm of CO2, according to James Hansen and other leading agronomists and climatologists. Through organic soil management and the reestablishment of traditional grazing and forest and wetlands preservation we can remove at least 50 ppm of CO2 from the atmosphere over the next 50 years. With this Great Transition to organics and sustainable ranching and forestry we can buy ourselves the time we need to drastically reduce fossil fuel use and make the transition to alternative energy.
The current living soils of the Earth hold three times as much carbon as the atmosphere. Before the advent of industrial agriculture and industrial forestry, these same soils sequestered or stored twice as much carbon organic matter as they do today, or six times the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere today. This means that organic farming and ranching; through the proper utilization of our living soils, plants, and grazing animals, can save us from runaway global warming. Of course bringing the soil back to full life and sequestration capacity means putting an end to chemical and energy-intensive industrial agriculture, GMO crops and biofuels, and the factory farms which have killed our soils, released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and thereby destroyed the natural sequestration capabilities of our farmlands, pastures, rangelands, and wetlands.
According to soil and carbon sequestration expert Courtney White of the Quivira Coalition, thousands of ranchers and pastoralists around the world are already demonstrating that "carbon ranching" can bring about a Great Sequestering of greenhouse gases, utilizing (1) high-density, planned grazing systems; (2) restoration of riparian zones and wetlands; (3) removal of excess woody vegetation and replacement with perennial grasses; (4) conserving land from further urban development; (5) organic, no-till farming practices; and (6) management of public and private land for long-term ecological and economic sustainability.
For a full discussion of the carbon sequestration potential of the world 8.3 billions acres of pasture land and range land see:
The Carbon Ranch: Fighting Climate Change One Acre at a Time:
For a full discussion of how we can avert climate catastrophe, see the essay by Will Allen and myself called Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century:
Cancún: Tourist Traps and Police Roadblocks
Cancún, Mexico - Wednesday December 1
Cruising through the Zona Hotelera, the neon-drenched, hyper-consumer hotel and shopping zone of Cancún, it feels like Las Vegas. Hard to believe this densely packed area of high-rise hotels and strip malls was once one of the most biologically diverse and rich mangrove areas in the Yucatan peninsula. Are we in Las Vegas or Disneyland? We drive through what can only be described as a World Heritage Monument to corporate globalization: McDonald's, the Ritz Carlton, The Royal Caribbean, Outback Steakhouse, Burger King, Chili's, The Hilton, Hyatt, Plaza Flamingo, the Plaza Caracol Mall, Margaritaville
Up ahead heavily-armed police have set up a roadblock to keep climate change activists like us away from the official government Climate Summit center a few miles down the road. The global elite certainly understands that the present and future victims of climate change are getting restless. We want action on global warming from our so-called elected leaders, not just rhetoric. The Bolivian Ambassador to the Cancún Summit summed up many of our feelings in an op-ed piece in the London Guardian yesterday:
"As climate talks start this week in Cancún, the common refrain that pervades the media and some negotiators is of 'low expectations.' I wonder whose expectations they are talking about. Do they think the one million people in the Bolivian city El Alto, who face increasingly chronic water shortages from the disappearance of glaciers, have low expectations? Do they think Pacific islanders whose homelands will soon disappear beneath the rising sea have low expectations? I believe that the majority of humanity demands and has high expectations that our political leaders should act to stop runaway climate change."
"The reality is that the talk of 'low expectations' is a ploy by a small group of industrialized countries to obscure their obligations to act. They are playing politics with the planet's future. If the Cancún talks set sail with no wind, then no one will be angered when they stall. Sadly, rather than express moral outrage, much of the media and even some environmental organizations have subscribed to this cynicism of the powerful. Last year we had Hopenhagen and worldwide public outrage when the richest nations failed to act. This year will it be Can'tCun and a whimper?"
The black-clad police up ahead are decked out in Darth Vader riot shields and military helmets with visors, gas masks hanging from their necks, automatic weapons and bullet proof vests Today's newspaper, Novedades, reports that the Obama Administration has loaned some of its surveillance aircraft, pilotless drones like the ones killing people in Pakistan, to keep watch over protesters who might be plotting to disrupt the climate talks. We decide to turn around our rental car and avoid the police roadblock ahead. But we'll be back later in the week, accompanied by thousands of protesters. Please stay tuned for my next report from Cancu.