WASHINGTON - Activists and foreign policy experts held a public forum this weekend to launch what they hope will be "a combined international movement" to respond to the threats of climate change and the depletion of oil and other cheap energy sources.
"Confronting the Triple Crisis" brought 60 speakers from 16 countries to Washington, DC, the capital of a nation "whose way of life is one of the key drivers behind the global crises we face," according to a statement from conference organizer International Forum on Globalization (IFG).
The 3-day summit was the first of its kind to examine climate change, peak oil, and the extinction of species as one interconnected problem with common solutions, according to the IFG and co-sponsor Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).
"We hope that this diversity [of speakers] and cross-fertilization will help build a really strong movement," said IFG co-director Jerry Mander, addressing the opening session.
Speakers urged attendees to lobby their governments for more proactive climate change and energy policies and to make specific adjustments in their own lives to help mitigate the challenges the world faces. Among other personal initiatives, they suggested using more public transportation and consuming fewer -- not just "greener" -- products.
The Forum, which the organizers called a "Teach-In" to emphasize the activism they hoped it would inspire, coincided with the IPS and IFG's joint release of a major scientific report critiquing biofuels like ethanol, the plant-based fuel that has become the centerpiece of energy proposals from U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"The False Promises of Industrial Biofuel Production" addresses the positioning of biofuels as a panacea for the imminent emergency of global fuel deficiency, which is being propelled by "diminishing access to oil reserves and geopolitical conflicts." Corn ethanol, in particular, was singled out by experts at the forum as a counterproductive use of resources that is exacerbating hunger in poorer areas of the world.
The same amount of corn needed to fill a Sport Utility Vehicle tank one time could feed a person for a whole year, Mander emphasized.
The Teach-In also coincided with the publication of the "Manifesto on Global Economic Transitions," an international call to action that upholds the idea of "less and local" -- buying fewer things and those that are produced nearby -- as a way to ensure a global transition towards a safer, more equitable, and sustainable world.
The speakers included leaders of human rights, indigenous rights, and anti-war movements, as well as economists, scientists, and agricultural activists searching for alternative solutions to climate change.
Their efforts to reform global economic and climate change policies is "a marathon, not a race," said Mander, counseling persistence to the opening-day crowd of about 500 activists and other interested Washingtonians.
Piling a host of disheartening statistics on the audience about the state of today's planet, Mander added that "with great crisis also comes great opportunities," and contemporary generations hold the potential to accelerate transitions to more sustainable standards of living.
According to Mander, the "Triple Crisis" is rooted in a globalized economic system that prioritizes exponential growth, which is in turn dependent on the unrestrained use of natural resources. This growth is also propelled by a near-universal culture of consumerism and the destruction of societies that are sustainable, such as indigenous and agricultural communities. Finally, Mander added, population pressures, which continue to intensify, exacerbate all these realities.
Vandana Shiva, and Indian activist and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology, emphasized that "we must reclaim the generative concept of energy" and bring people back into the process of generating energy, not just consuming it.
Similarly, American David Korten of the Positive Futures Network advocated for a new economy based on healthy communities, families, and living systems.
"[We must strive] to live well because we do not aspire to live better than others," said Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow, summing up the central message of the forum and echoing the words of Bolivia's president and indigenous rights leader Evo Morales.
"Confronting the Triple Crisis" was held at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium and co-sponsored by the Progressive Student Union of George Washington University, Greenpeace-USA, the Nation Institute, the Sierra Club, Pacifica Radio Station WPFW/89.3, and SALSA, the Social Action and Leadership School for Activists of the Institute for Policy Studies.
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