This analysis was published in several places: TNI, Links Journal and Red Pepper
In the famous Hans Christian Anderson fable, The Emperor's New Clothes, a weaver famously plays on an emperor's arrogance and persuades him to wear a non-existent suit with the argument that it is only invisible to the 'hopelessly stupid.' The moment of truth comes, as we can all remember, when a child in an otherwise silent crowd yells out, “But he is not wearing any clothes!” What we don't always recall is that the naked Emperor suspects the child may be telling the truth, but carries on marching proudly and unclothed regardless.
The story is a rather apt parallel for the Cancun climate agreements that were signed last week. Only one dissenting nation, Bolivia, dared to voice its dissent with the agreement. Yet their voice was silenced by the gavel of the Chair and by the standing ovations of 191 countries. They, like the Emperor, must know that the deal is naked and without substance, yet they march on proudly regardless.
This joint article with South African environmental lawyer, Cormac Cullinan, was published on TNI.
Psychology has become a fashionable tool in the climate world to try and understand the levels of climate denial exhibited most vocally by the rowdy cohort of climate naysayers. With the conclusion of climate talks in Cancun, a more relevant question seems to be whether our climate negotiators suffer from an even worse form of denial – one that accepts the climate science but knowingly signs agreements that do nothing to stop our rush towards runaway climate change.
That certainly seems to be the conclusion if you followed the UN climate negotiations in the first two weeks of December. For 11 days, there were no shortage of powerful speeches by all countries, warning starkly that nature would not compromise and that entire peoples were at risk from inaction. Yet on the final night of negotiations, the same figures were leading standing ovations and gushing with praise for an agreement that includes no new commitments for emission reductions and no new financing for adapting to climate change. As the the Bolivian government, the sole dissenter, noted this was a very “hollow and false victory.” 
This was published in my local newspaper based on some interviews with three inspiring local figures
Reduce, reuse and recycle. Not only is that the mantra for the environmental movement, it's a good way of summing up the contributions of three Davis residents who will be honored next week as Eco Heroes.
The trio — Ben Pearl, Larry Fisher and Derek Downey — will be recognized for their efforts to incorporate sustainable practices into our everyday lives by the Cool Davis Initiative, a coalition of residents, community organizations and the city of Davis. The awards will be presented at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, as part of the Cool Davis Green Festival at the Veterans' Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St.
In the aftermath of the dismal outcomes of the Copenhagen climate summit, US chief climate envoy Jonathan Pershing was quick to blame the failure on the UN's inclusive approach and proposed that some future meetings should be restricted to major countries. “[It is] impossible to imagine a negotiation of enormous complexity where you have a table of 192 countries involved in all the detail,” Pershing argued, adding that “We are not really worried about what Haiti says it is going to do about greenhouse gas emissions.” For the US, apparently, too much democracy and inclusion is a bad thing.
Bolivia, which along with 160 countries, had been excluded from last-minute talks on the Copenhagen Accord took the opposite approach at the recent World Peoples' Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, 19-22 April 2010.
I have just published this article on TNI about my experience of working with the Bolivian government at the UN Copenhagen Climate Conference.
It was 3am on Saturday morning – a time you might expect to be heading home from a good party, certainly not waiting for a international diplomatic meeting to begin. Yet that was the reality on 19th December, as I sat with the Bolivian delegation in the main plenary of the UN Conference on Climate Change. Bolivia's negotiators however did not seem tired; rather furious and incredulous. For whilst we waited, the US and EU were out at press conferences celebrating a global UN accord on climate change that Bolivia and most of the world had not even seen.
The accord had been drawn up in a private meeting by the major powers with the token participation of a few other developing countries but had no mandate from the whole UN. To make matters worse, when the Danish Chair of the Conference eventually opened the session, he asked everyone to read the Accord and clearly expected everyone to approve it. Commotion broke out on the floor. Rene Orellana, the normally quiet-spoken Bolivia's Minister for Water and the Environment, angrily denounced the Copenhagen Accord in no uncertain terms: “This is no way to decide the future of humanity and the planet. We can not in one hour decide on the future of millions of people. We will not accept a document imposed by a small minority that does not respect consultations over the last two years with peoples and amongst governments.”
Thanks to the courage of Bolivia and a few other nations – and against huge pressure and threats to sign the deal - the UN did not endorse or adopt the accord but instead were forced to use the much weaker and vacuous language of “noting” it.
I have had the following piece published in the April/May edition of Red Pepper (buy now in all good bookshops and newsagents!). The piece focuses on the different visions of development that are emerging that result from conflicts around the impact of extractive industries on communities in Ecuador. The piece has been published with some amazing although also disturbing photos taken by Kayana Szymczak of indigenous communities affected by contamination caused by Chevron Texaco and shown in a gallery "Crude Reflections" on Chevrontoxico.com. You can also see an article by some friends on a similar theme but with a much broader look at Venezuela and Bolivia as well on upsidedownworld.
The boat crested the wave and swept in, crunching up against the
stony-sand beach. Within seconds it was surrounded by men in baggy
shorts, bargaining like marine stockbrokers for the boat’s catch.
Danny, a fisherman and trader, pointed beyond the boat to a port
shimmering on the horizon, which he said was the US military base
Manta: “We used to be able to fish out there, but when it was given to
the Americans they stopped us.” He mentioned that the US had also sunk
at least eight fishing boats and that several people had gone missing.
In Ecuador, you don’t even have to head to the coast to see evidence of
strong US presence. You just have to put your hand in your pocket. For
since a financial crisis in 2000, Ecuador’s currency has been the US
I might be biased, but my partner Juliette has done an excellent radio piece that was broadcast on 93 community radio stations in the US today on Free Speech Radio News based on our interviews in Ecuador. You can listen to the clip at http://www.fsrn.org/content/which-way-ecuador%3F.
(Thanks to Bolivia Rising
for the translation)
Here is President Evo Morales' message to the member representatives of
the United Nations on the issue of the environment.
There is a reasonable debate, I would like to write about at some point, as to how much this environmentally conscious, anti-capitalist stance is reflected in practice within the Bolivian administration's policies, but nevertheless this short piece was I am sure one of the best speeches made at the UN. In my view, it cuts to the core of the problem we face: that development in its current format is destroying the planet and can not be tampered with but needs radical change.
Sister and brother Presidents and Heads of States of the United Nations: The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model. Whilst over 10,000 years the variation in carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the planet was approximately 10%, during the last 200 years of industrial development, carbon emissions have increased by 30%. Since 1860,
have contributed 70% of the emissions of CO2. 2005 was the hottest year in the last one thousand years on this planet.
Different investigations have demonstrated that out of the 40,170 living species that have been studied, 16,119 are in danger of extinction. One out of eight birds could disappear forever. One out of four mammals is under threat. One out of every three reptiles could cease to exist. Eight out of ten crustaceans and three out of four insects are at risk of extinction. We are living through the sixth crisis of the extinction of living species in the history of the planet and, on this occasion, the rate of extinction is 100 times more accelerated than in geological times.
Faced with this bleak future, transnational interests are proposing to continue as before, and paint the machine green, which is to say, continue with growth and irrational consumerism and inequality, generating more and more profits, without realising that we are currently consuming in one year what the planet produces in one year and three months. Faced with this reality, the solution can not be an environmental make over.
My brain is sucked dry by recycled air, my palate numbed by airplane cardboard paste food. I have absolutely no idea if it is day or night. The airhostess, in a red and blue uniform that recalls the female puppets on 1960s Thunderbirds cult space movie, offers me a drink.
"Yes please," I look down and see the two plastic cups I have already got. "Actually, you can put it in one of these cups."
"No, that's okay. I will put it in a new cup," she replies curtly. "We will collect those and put them in the bin later."
"But I would prefer you to use one of these cups," I protest.
"It's our policy to put drinks in new cups," she says pouring out my drink.
"But that just creates lots of unnecessary rubbish."
"It's just one cup," she replies witheringly. "Everything else, paper, plates, food gets thrown away."
"But isn't that the point? Shouldn't we start to try and reduce rubbish somewhere....." I tail off as I notice other passengers looking strangely at me and feeling the tension I have created with the waitress.
I feel bad. After all I was making a fuss about one cup. A crumpled nothing in the swamps of rubbish no doubt created by the flight. I guess the cup became a symbol for me of an insane throw-away society. If it's not a cup, where else do we start?