After eating lunch (and dancing!) with President Evo Morales, conference participants headed to the official closing ceremony at the Cochabamba stadium for a reading of the final conference Declaration on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. In addition to the reading (entirely in Spanish, of course), several heads of states and other diplomats were called to speak; we heard from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the Vice President of Cuba, Esteban Hernandez, among others. Like the inauguration four days earlier, there were no U.S. diplomats present, and their absence was noted. As a representative from the United States, I think that my greatest responsibility after attending this conference is to let my fellow citizens know that we cannot avoid issues of climate change any longer; now is the time to join the negotiations, raise awareness amongst our people, and lower our emissions. President Obama, do you hear me?
One of the most eye-opening aspects of this conference was the focus on Indigenous rights. There were thousands of Indigenous Bolivians in attendance, there to share their stories about how climate change has affected their lives and become part of a global dialogue, a dialogue that they can take home to their communities. I also met dozens of Indigenous people from the United States—from Alaska, New Mexico, Texas, New York, etc. Itâ€™s so important that their stories are shared, in the United States and elsewhere. I know so little about the plight of Indigenous people in the United States and I probably know more than most. There was a strong presence here of Indigenous Alaskans, who are truly experiencing the effects of climate change in their daily lives. Most Americans may be able to ignore the climate crisis, but they cannot. Climate change is happening in our country and everyone needs to be made aware of it. We might not be able to see it yet in our own communities, but what do we think will happen to Manhattan if sea levels continue to rise?
The focus of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights was definitely on the former rather than the latter. I wish there had been more events that emphasized animals and humans’ treatment of them. There was talk of agribusiness and how it effects human beings, but I never heard any mention of how it effects farmed animals. I did attend a presentation by Animal Defenders International that focused on the extraction of animals from their habitats for food, experimentation, and entertainment. (Last year Bolivia became the first country to ban circus animals.) Often, animals are removed from the environment illegally and then sold to labs for medical and cosmetic experiments. The ADI presentation showed some awful photos of chimpanzees packed into tight cages and strapped to machines with tubes down their throats. There is no doubt in my mind that animals feel pain. They feel pain and they remember it. As human beings, aren’t we animals ourselves? Somewhere along the line, people began to think otherwise. We must remember that we ourselves are animals; we are born; we eat; we grow; we mate; and we die, just like dogs, cats, fishes, snakes, birds, cows, horses, monkeys, and the rest. Pachamama isn’t just our guardian, she’s the Mother of all species on this planet; the Madre Tierra.
Photo courtesy of The City Project