I left Bolivia a week ago today, but I’m finding that hard to believe. It feels like I was there yesterday! In a way, it seems like I’m still there. While this is hard to explain, I think my experience in Bolivia was more based on feeling, on emotion and shared passion, than on actual physical space. Even though I arrived at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth as a supporter of climate change mitigation and an avid environmentalist, open to any and all experiences, I was completely unprepared for the fervor and enthusiasm I encountered.
Now, for the first time, I truly feel like a part of the climate movement. I feel that I saw the movement growing, twisting, and transforming at the climate conference; I’ve never experienced this before, this union with 20,000 others who share my feelings about climate change and the Madre Tierra, or Mother Earth.
The final conference declaration (now available online in English ) begins: “Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.” As 5,000 barrels of oil gush into the precious wetland ecosystems of the Mississippi Delta each day, this could not be more apparent.
The declaration asks us to challenge the paradigms set by capitalism and question the benefits of economic growth: growth at the expense of what? The fish in the sea, the water we drink, the land we live on? The future of our species, of every species on the planet? I grapple with capitalism and consumerism; I’m tired of being targeted by advertising and an endless stream of marketing campaigns. I don’t need any more shoes or handbags or scarves or appliances or interior decor! At the same time, I’m very susceptible; sure, I don’t need any more shoes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t end up buying them. The declaration states, very plainly, that capitalism turns human beings into consumers and the planet’s resources into commodities. Now, one’s value is determined by what one owns, rather than what one does.
I’m sure that this criticism of capitalism is one of the main reasons why the conference received so little coverage in Western mainstream media, especially in the United States. Not only are the environmentalists asking you to believe that climate change exists, now they’re asking you to do something about it! According to the People’s Declaration, humanity has reached a fork in the proverbial road; we have two choices: “To continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.” Does the latter path mean socialism? I’m not sure. Conference attendees were very comfortable when discussing socialism; there was no shyness about asserting the need to overthrow the prevailing economic system. Somehow I doubt this was a major topic of conversation in Copenhagen. I also doubt that the United States is going to abandon capitalism anytime soon. However, I do know that we can’t keep using economic solutions (excuses, really) as a substitute for making changes in our highly consumptive lifestyles. This is not about buying carbon offsets. This is about reducing our intake in the first place, ending our dependence on oil, and building a new sustainable system that will protect the Madre Tierra.
Photo courtesy of the U.S Coast Guard