By Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, from the Social PreCOP in Venezuela
Another theme of the Social PreCOP meeting I am attending in Venezuela is Buen Vivir, loosely translated as “the good life,” a worldview toward which increasing numbers, especially in Latin America, are striving. Buen Vivir speaks to a philosophy of living derived from an Indigenous worldview that life should be about living in harmony with one’s community and one’s environment—and not about exploitation or commerce or about making others rich with one’s labor.
Achieving Buen Vivir is directly linked to the official theme of the conference: Changing the System, Not the Climate. This theme’s roots come from the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. There, the US led secret meetings with a small cabal of countries to hammer out the infamous “Copenhagen Accord,” which was introduced at the last minute to the negotiations, flying in the face of the long arduous consensus process in which the other delegates had been engaged for two weeks.
Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now! organized a “Reclaim Power” march in Copenhagen, where more than 300 Indigenous Peoples, social movements, NGOs, activists and even country delegates marched out of the conference, demanding “system change not climate change.” They attempted to meet up with activists marching to the conference from the outside for a Peoples’ Assembly, where real peoples’ solutions to the climate crisis would be identified. The assembly was brutally attacked by the Danish Police, and several activists were charged with terrorism.
According to Venezuelan Climate delegate Claudia Salerno in her address to the crowd yesterday morning here, Hugo Chavez was so inspired by the march out and the outrage of the activists against the US manipulations that he brought the idea of “System Change not Climate Change” into his thinking about climate change. In Venezuela’s final Copenhagen press release he stated:
In Copenhagen, from the beginning, the cards were on the table for all to see. On the one hand, the cards of brutal meanness and stupidity of capitalism, which did not budge in defense of its logic: the logic of capital, which leaves only death and destruction in its wake at an increasingly rapid pace. One the other hand, the cards of the peoples demanding human dignity, the salvation of the planet, and for a radical change, not of the climate, but of a world system that has brought us to the bring of unprecedented ecological and social catastrophe.
Salerno led the effort inside the negotiations to ensure Obama’s Copenhagen Accord was rejected. There was a moment at the end of the negotiations, in the middle of the night where she, using her metal name tag as a gavel, demanded attention from the COP President who was ignoring her. She famously cut open her hand in her attempt, but was ultimately successful, and the Copenhagen Accord was merely “Acknowledged” and not adopted—a huge blow to President Obama.
The utter lack of real progress, and the growing domination of the climate talks by corporate interests is part of the story of how this Social PreCOP meeting came about. The goal of this meeting and the next PreCOP meeting in November is to bring the demands of the People to the governments of the world in advance of the next Climate Conference in Lima, Peru as a means to create a great mobilization to contribute to the salvation of life on earth—and the human species. The Venezuelan government hopes to incorporate the social movement agendas into the official framework and negotiations, to speak, as they put it, “against the Capitalist predator model.”
While I honestly cannot bring myself to believe that the UN Climate Conference will accomplish anything but more of the same, I am here for the work outside of the official agenda, the face time with allies, the discussions between social movements from different parts of the world to share their experiences in dealing with the climate crisis. I am here to learn what People are doing/inventing/exploring in their efforts to cope with/address/take action against the horrific reality of climate change, on top of the already horrific reality of the neoliberal stranglehold attempting to choke the independence, the creativity and the life out of the vibrant and rich countries of the Global South—the heart of Buen Vivir.
Photo 1: 7/15 event, taken by Anne Petermann
Photo 2: Claudia Salerno at opening event, Social PreCOP Twitter feed