Published on
The Guardian/UK

The Peasant View of Cancún Talks: 'They Want to Turn the Air into a Commodity'

As the world's politicians gather, protesters march against the Cancún climate change summit's 'false solutions'

John Vidal

Peasants march in Cancún outside the UN climate change summit. (Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Cancún is this week a city of buses. Every day several hundred ferry
5,000 of the world's diplomats, businessmen and non-government groups to
and from the centre of the burgeoning holiday city to the plush Moon Palace seaside resort 35km away from where the UN climate summit is being held.

noticed, another 100 buses carrying almost 3,000 peasant farmers,
indigenous people and social movements from 12 countries have arrived
from all over Mexico and Latin America, converging in eight "caravans"
on an old basketball court in one of the poorest parts of the city.

groups of diplomats and peasants could not be more different. One pays
up to $400 a night for hotel rooms overlooking a turquoise sea, the
other earns in the region of $400 a year and camps on the concrete floor
of the sports hall. Both claim to have solutions to the global climate
crisis, but one eats lobster, the other beans.

Today, as the
politicians got down to talks, the peasants marched peacefully in Cancún
and rejected what they called the "false solutions" being proposed in
the Moon Palace.

"What they are proposing is good only for
capitalists. Capitalism has caused climate change and now it wants to
make new business from it. They want to turn the air into a commodity.
They want to put a price tag on everything," says Luis Gomes de Maura of
the Brazilian landless workers' movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra. "These are false solutions to climate change."

has been a hard experience for the peasants," says Paul Nicholson, a
Basque co-ordinator of Via Campesina, the international movement of
peasant farmers which organised Cancún's alternative climate conference.
The meeting will be addressed by President Evo Morales of Bolivia on
Thursday and possibly by other Latin American leaders later this week.

caravans on their way to Cancún visited environmental damage points
across Mexico. They have seen face-to-face the impact of climate change,
droughts, water pollution, giant hydro-electric dams, land-grabbing,
big mining and rampant urbanisation," says Nicholson.


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"Our caravan
was 25 buses and we were stopped and searched five times by the army
and the police. We had Mayan priests but they were not even allowed to
hold ceremonies at ancient sites," says human rights activist and author
Niels Barmeyer, who lives in central Mexico and travelled with the
peasants to Cancún.

"People here have experienced climate crisis
much more than people living in cities. They have had their farming
devastated by the import of cheap GM maize and now it's just not worth
them growing maize in many places now. People are leaving the fields and
going to the US."

"Now they are threatened by conservation," says
Barmeyer. "There is deep concern at moves in the climate summit to
establish a forest protection scheme called Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation). This would allow rich countries to offset their climate emissions by better protecting forests.

are trying to sell conservation of the forest in the name of climate
change, but it's a ruse. In fact they are taking forests over from
ancestral land and declaring them biosphere conservation reserves.
People are being denied access to land they have used for centuries or
are having water denied them by conservation."

They reject carbon
trading schemes, biofuel crops, geo-engineering and solutions proposed
by the World Bank. "Peasant agriculture not only contributes positively
to the carbon balance of the planet, it employs 2.8 billion people and
remains the best way to combat malnutrition," says Josie Riffaud, a
French farmer.

"Our message is that peasant agriculture can feed
the world population and contribute to cooling down the planet. We small
farmers and indigenous peoples are in grave danger. We will disappear
if things continue like this. Who will feed people then? Industrial
farming only leads to more hunger and climate change."

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