On Friday morning, shortly after sunrise, a crowd gathered in the center of the crushed limestone field where we had camped the night before at the Klimaforum Ecovillage in Puerto Morelos. The Mayan elders started a sacred fire and performed a ritual harnessing the power of the sun.
“The traditional ritual seeks for blessing and spiritual guidance from Mother Earth and ‘ Sukum Keem,’ the name for the Sun God in Mayan language.”
Forty kilometers away, at Moon Palace, the location of the COP16 talks, negotiators were working through, as one woman referred to it, “the inaccessible forest of acronyms.” REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and CDM (Clean Development Mechanisms) were on the negotiating table in Cancun, but in Puerto Morelos, these programs were critiqued and discussed from another angle. Tom Goldtooth presented the indigenous people’ s perspective on REDD and REDD plus. Read more on the REDD controversy here. Earlier that day, The Global Alliance of Wastepickers and Allies discussed how the clean development mechanisms (building waste to energy incinerators and landfills to capture methane) aren’t really clean, and affect the lives of wastepickers who salvage, recover and reuse waste in developing countries.
These conversations at Klimaforum, though rich and vital, seemed insular and isolated. If you have a conversation about REDD in the forest and COP 16 isn’ t there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Part of the isolation is geographic. “It may as well have been in California,” a journalist I met on the shuttle bus told me. The distance, some people think, was deliberate’ the Mexican government’s strategy to keep the activists from causing trouble in Cancun. Our tent neighbor didn’ t seem to mind. “This is where real change will come from, not COP 16.” He traveled to Klimaforum with his bicycle from Alaska. He acknowledged that it was a shame we were so far away, but then again ” it’s so beautiful here.”
I chose to camp at Klimaforum, because I was attracted to the philosophy behind it. Instead of situating itself in stuffy carbon intensive air conditioned hotel conference rooms, Klimaforum would take place in the open air amongst trees (granted it was a polo club). In contrast to the pricey all- you-can eat meaty buffets at Moon Palace, Klimaforum would serve all vegetarian and vegan meals, with an emphasis on organic produce, at “democratic prices.” No food or drink from multinational corporations would be distributed. Waste would be minimized. Eco-toilets too were advertised, but when we arrived, they were still under construction.
The large majority of the participants were volunteers who shared the work of organizing, feeding and transporting people during the event. In exchange for their work they were fed and had a place to rest their heads. Forty-seven countries were represented at Klimaforum. We met four young people who have been traveling the world as minimally as possible since January in an interesting experiment of living without money. Their website Forward the Revolution explains:
” This journey was called ‘The Locomotive of Freedom’. The aim being to free ourselves from all prejudices and pre-concepts that shape our societies. We wanted to shake traditions and customs and undertake a different type of journey where we would experience the life without money, trying to travel as much as we could in harmony with our mother earth”
The organizers of Klimaforum wanted it to be a grassroots movement and had refused funding from larger environmental groups and other sources. The volunteer meetings at Klimaforum have been discussing this conundrum. How do you put on an event as close to your ideals as possible, yet have it reach the masses? Though free and open to all, how effective can a ” people’s climate summit” be, when it isn’t so easy for people to get there?
But Moon Palace at COP 16 isn’t accessible to the masses either. All participants must either be registered and accredited media, IGOs or NGOs. We have to pass through airport like security and wave our badges. And while inside, it’s still hard to know what exactly is (or isn’t) going on.
It raises a fundamental activist question. Do you reject the process or do you restore the process? In a panel last Saturday, former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, argued for reaffirming and gendering the UNFCC. It cannot only be a scientific and technical discussion. It must also entail sharing the human narrative.
How do we create a common space where the public can better understand climate lingo and all the accompanying acronyms, and the negotiators can listen directly to the people their climate change policies will be affecting?
How do we bring the Sunrise Ritual to Moon Palace?