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Day 4: Klimaforum and COP16 disappointments

December 9, 2010

Yesterday (Wed) they started the day here at the Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice with updates from the COP16 negotiations at Moon Palace. As we received the news I felt a wave of disappointment and even shame with the United States as they told us that the Cancun negotiations are turning out just as Copenhagen did. The richer countries of the world are getting together around the Copenhagen Accord, which is an agreement proposed by the US and co-written with only a small group of the richest countries around the world which propose  voluntary GHG/carbon reductions instead of legally binding reductions. This is a horrible idea that creates no accountability for the countries most responsible for climate change. The US and other industrialized nations are pushing developing countries (particularly in Africa) to agree to voluntary reductions by way of promising aid. Also, industrialized nations are working hard to make sure Cochabamba is left out of discussion and seen as outside of the parameters of discussion. The process here is now being called “Cancun-hagen” in frustrated surrender of hope that anything effective in addressing climate change will happen here.


Yesterday we headed over to Klimaforum, another alternative climate forum here in Cancun. On the way, we ran into another young US climate activist, Brady, who was with the Greenpeace group from the US.  He and his group are “accredited” to be inside the Moon Palace where the official COP 16 negotiations are taking place.  It sounds like the accredation system is a way for the organizers of the COP 16 to keep track of/control over who and how many activists are actually inside the Moon Palace, and effectively ensure those activists are rendered more or less ineffective because of their low numbers.  Individuals are accredited for one or two weeks, and after a certain date, their accredation expires and they are no longer allowed inside.  It seems like activists are allowed to do actions inside the Moon Palace, but only within a specific physical space (think “Free Speech Zone”) and nothing too “radical”/confrontational or they will lose their accredation.  This allows the activists one shot at a more confrontational action inside the Moon Palace before they are kicked out.  It sounds like the Greenpeace actions have been creative and aimed at satire – Brady described a marketplace they had set up, with balloons of “clean air” and plots of ocean for sale, as well as “Tree-bay” where the world´s forests (as carbon sinks) are auctioned off – but the protest just seemed way too close to reality to retain any humor.

We also observed more evidence of an increased police presence in the area during the bus ride to Klimaforum.  We passed through several checkpoints, which may function more as intimidation tactics than functional checkpoints, since we didn´t see any cars being pulled over (although it seems likely that vehicles such as the Soul Fire bus, which is decked out in murals and banners and is home to a bevy of dreadlocked riders who are staying at la Via Campesina camp with us, would be pulled over at such a checkpoint.)  We also passed several points along the route where police were stationed and seemed prepared for some sort of offense of protestors – at the point closest to the Via Campesina camp, the police were stationed with rows of riot shields and equipment lined up and seeming ready to go; the same was true at the point closest to Klimaforum.  However, talking with a man from England this morning over breakfast, the police behavior here seems relaxed in comparison with his experiences of police behavior in the UK, especially surrounding the COP 15 in Copenhagen.  Although there is definitely an increased presence of police people in the area, we are speculating that they may have orders not to repress protestors up to a point, since even during the march on Tuesday, although we were clearly being watched and followed by police vehicles, the number was relatively small.  Police set up barricades preventing our march from passing and progressing on towards the Moon Palace (which was the goal of the march), but during the course of our march, we did not really encounter many police.

Klimaforum itself felt like a very different kind of alternative forum than the one we are staying at with la Via Campesina.  It is far away from everything going on for the COP 16, and is located at an eco-tourist style polo club.  (We actually witnessed a genuine polo-playing person actually playing polo while we were there.)  There was a pool, a tiki-hut style lobby, and scented oils and such things for sale.  Unlike at la Via Campesina’s camp, the food was all for sale (instead of provided free of charge), was all vegetarian and organic (we bought some soy-“meat” tacos), and it seemed like most people spoke English (or, at least, it seemed like there was not an overarching assumption that everyone spoke Spanish.)  There seemed to be many fewer people staying there than at la Via Campesina camp; the place was pretty deserted the entire time we were there, and several workshops that we wanted to go to were canceled because of nonexistent attendence.  It seemed like Klimaforum was a space for youth delagates from Europe and the US who were accredited to go and hang out; most of the people we spoke to were just there for the day and were actually staying elsewhere.  Klimaforum was located in a very beautiful space – lots of forest and gorgeous vegetation and beautiful blue butterflies flying around – but it seemed very inaccessible to a lot of people because of its isolated location and expensive hippie vibe.  It was difficult to imagine campesinos y campesinas (peasant farmers) from la Via Campesina camp coming to Klimaforum and spending time there or feeling welcome there.  During our time there, the man who lead the workshop we ended up going to gave us the impression that Klimaforum had not always been like this.  It sounded like he had been a part of organizing Klimaforum for years, and that recently the original Klimaforum organizers had joined forces with some other hippie-type people (he referred to them as Rainbow) who were, as he put it, uninterested in having discussions or doing actions and only wanted to dance, and that Klimaforum was taking a different direction as a result of this merger with the “Rainbow” people.  It sounded like there was some interesting history there, but we did not get a chance to talk about it more.   Overall, our trip to Klimaforum made us feel proud and privileged to be staying with la Via Campensina at their camp, where so much is going on and where the campesinos y campesinas who are on the front lines of the struggle for climate justice are staying.

The one workshop we attended at Klimaforum was called “Decolonization of the Imaginary” and was facilitated by an antropologist and activist, Miguel Valencia, from Mexico. It was a small, intimate workshop of only 4 or 5 people so we got to hear a lot. He and his co-facilitator basically talked about the idea that our minds are “colonized” and we have been programmed by our culture to think in certain pragmatic ways based on our economy. So through schooling, media, and social interactions we have been conditioned to think in numbers, quantities, capitalism, consumerism, and to hold certain values for what is seen as legitimate, useful, or viable. And this affects our ability to think about new worlds, new solutions, and new ways of being. It was a very thought-provoking workshop that got us thinking about how to decolonize our minds and find our creative imagination inside that has the ability to envision new worlds and new ways of being. This seems especially relevant here among all this talk of climate solutions. It seems that the hegemonic force of US “mind-colonization” has set the parameters for what is possible, viable, and effective for addressing climate change. The agreements and ideas that have come out of the Cochabamba process are outside of those parameters and so have been deemed as impossible or outside of our ability to imagine that it is possible. This all seems very philosophical, but it is interesting to think about for sure.

Well, we must be heading off because today Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, leader in the Cochabamba process, and really the only head of state really holding strong for climate justice and the rights of indigenous people, is coming to speak here today at La Via Campesina camp! It´s going to be incredibly exciting and a HUGE deal for everyone here!

PS– If you haven´t yet, be sure to check out Democracy Now´s coverage of the march on Tuesday:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2010 4:46 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience at the two alternative forums, Kilmaforum and the campesina camp. I find your analysis of the Klimaforum interesting. I imagine the organizers of the conference think that if they create space for dissent (Klimaforum or the “free speech zone” inside the conference venue) the dissent can be recuperated and any wider criticisms of the format of the meeting or the root causes of global climate change can be neutralized before they become a serious challenge.

  2. Madeline Fine permalink
    December 10, 2010 12:06 am

    Meeting with people whose world view is different from our ‘colonized’ view is SUPER. Glad you are all having this wonderful experience.

    love you all and look forward to your enlightened return – we’ll have some really interesting discussions.

    mama M

  3. Sarah permalink
    December 10, 2010 10:08 am

    Solidarity in Providence RI on Tuesday – Worcesterites and ‘New Bedfordites’ and more got together to hear a speaker from Chiapas doing environmental justice work, and to participate in a number of workshops on topics ranging from GMOs to non-pharmaceutical health advice, toxic soil remediation to inner city food desert issues. It was great to connect with lots of needed and effective and joyful grassroots movements for the environment and for justice on a day that folks in Cancun were similarly connecting.

    Thanks for all!


  4. Judy permalink
    December 10, 2010 9:13 pm

    I keep looking for you on Democracy Now’s coverage of the forum! Thank you for blogging! It is wonderful to learn what is going on from outside the mainstream media.

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