Sunday, October 4, 2009

Not the Climate for just Climate Justice Mobilisations in Colombia

A sunny morning in Colombia in 2009 in a well posh conference hall in Bogóta, Colombian flag behind the podium and no coffee allowed in the room cos it might spoil the wooden floor. Presentations began. M, from COSPACC , nervously took to the stage to share his tales of the impacts of BP in Casanare with other campesinos and indigenous from around the country. The occasion is an event to spark dialogue about if climate justice should be included in the agendas of the social organisations and if so, how?

Christian Aid initiated and funded the event as the political agenda of Christian Aid in the UK says to CA here that we want you to be working on climate justice as this is what our members and funders want us to be supporting. And so colonial power relationships continues to exist in Colombia.

Do the grassroots organizations already have this agenda or do they, while recognising that the debate is being pushed from outside, see the necessity to include climate justice in their agendas?

Climate Justice is barely visible on the mobilisation agendas of the social movements. It isn’t surprising. 381,000 people were displaced in 2008 alone, both the aim and the result of violence in areas rich in fuentes de vida, (sources of life). 1,177 members of the armed forces are currently under investigation linked with cases of extrajudicial killings, 

What does to mobilise mean, I am asked. Good question, in the UK to protest is culturally understood, but do we understand mobilise differently? Here's my take on it. To mobilise around climate change means to work over time with people to critically understand how the causes and impacts of climate change affect our lives, and from this, create proposals for how we might change this, and then to create space in society for these proposals to be heard and discussed, through workshops, assemblies, marches, occupations,......  

Unfortunately, here there is a wealth of options of what to mobilize around: water, energy, displacement, hunger, militrisation, war, education, housing…….. I feel that among social organisations there is a shared view that mobilising around climate change would not be effective as the impacts in communities can feel less severe and less urgent than the immediate pressures of daily life in a country at war against its own people.

Yet to take action against climate change, do we have to mobilise around climate change?

The Asociación de Cabildos Gernaro Sanchez spoke about how as their glaciers disappear , those who control the glacier streams have the power to decide who gets the water. If the water sources moves to private hands, those who can pay will get the scarcer water. If in the hands of an organised community, all will get an equal share. How are struggles against water privatization a struggle for climate justice?

The Comité Prodefensa de Taganga spoke about how as sea levels rise and warming sea temperatures threatens fish populations, the fisherman in the pretty seaside village of Tagana, organise against intensive tourism which threatens to further damage the fragile ecosystem and thus their livelihoods.

As BP, Repsol, Oxy continue to export Colombian oil to the global North, the community of Sogamoso in Santander fight against a mega-dam that will not only force 900 campesinos to leave their farms, but also threatens food sovereignty as will affect the fish population, the staple protein in the region. Struggles for the right to territory and food sovereignty are struggles for climate justice,

Listening to the presentations, I saw a pattern of how direct impacts of climate change are exacerbating already ridiculously tough living conditions. A clear consensus at the event was that both are caused by an imposed model of development that communities have been struggling against for five hundred years in defense of life, land and sovereignty.

While European organisations goes crazy with the sense that Copenhagen is the last chance to save the world, Beru, an U´Wa Indigenous from Arauca calmly says “Copenhagen is not really important to us, we feel no urgency nor sense that this is the last chance, we have been living on the brink of genocide for 500 years, due to colonization that continues today.” Quite. Quite a different perspective than that of us panicking Europeans. And his sentiment was echoed around the room.

The whole history of Grassroots social organisations could be framed as taking action against climate change, if we understand the root causes of human caused climate change as capitalism that imposes itself through violence. 

The Minga for Community and Social Resistance, a broad base coalition of campesinos, indigenous, workers and students that has collectively created a five point proposal for which they are trying to bring together different needs of different movements. El pueblo unido jamas será vencido rings through me. Economic model, defense of life, failed agreements, sovereignty, land and territory, and lastly, the peoples agenda. 

I am excited by the potential for convergence, connections and solidarity between the global North movement against climate justice and the Minga. For me, it is clear that the Minga is mobilizing for climate justice yet within much more. And by being based in much more, there is much more potential to connect to the difficulties that people face in their daily lives

The Climate Justice Action network formed to coordinate action around Copenhagen has in its aims that it wants to amplify the voices of indigenous and people affected by climate change in the Global South. Those involved should listen hard and act in solidarity in these next few weeks, as the Minga mobilisations hits the streets.

One of the aim of Climate Camps is movement building. That should not be be limited to bringing more people in to act on climate change but rather expanding our understanding of what action on climate change means and linking across to other social grassroots movements. 


arkitrekker said...

Paul Hawken in his book Blessed Unrest comments that in indigenous cultures there are no separate social and environmental movements because the two were never disaggregated.

It's an interesting question; what to mobilise around?

If Paul Hawken's comment is accurate then the attitude of indigenous culture to climate change could kill two birds with one stone - both climate justice and social justice.

I mobilise around environment because that's what's important to me but ask me if I've honestly seen the effects of climate change I would have to say no because the timescale over which change happens is too slow for me who's rarely in the same place for more than 5 years. I have to rely on evidence, research and observations of others.

The campesinos and indigenous people that you describe would see these changes in their lifetime but of course they may have more pressing concerns.

There are similar questions here in Malaysia, pertinent to politicians and forest dwellers and everyone in between. How do you give people the tools to assess the impact of climate change on the things that are important to them?

I will follow your findings with interest.

Love Ian

Sara Koopman said...

well said!