U.N. Climate Talks Bangkok day 3: Filipino activists call for justice as Manila floods

29 09 2009

Cross Posted From Grist.

Flooding in the Philippines yesterday displaced over 600,000 people. As if we didn’t need more of an urgent call to solve the climate crisis.

Increased intensity of flooding is among one of the may well-documented impacts of global warming. The implications have hit our organizing here at the UN in Bangkok too – as some activists had to go to support their families amidst crisis.

But Filipino groups are still here in full force, emboldened to call for the solutions their communities need – this morning The Peasant Movement of the Philippines and the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines held a demonstration in front of the United Nations Climate Change Negotiations in Bangkok.

With vivid street theater, the groups called to abandon false solutions to climate change – such as biofuels.

Demonstrators this morning said “Climate change is not only jeopardizing our future but is being used by multi-national and trans-national corporations who are the main contributors to global warming to rake in more profit from our misery…vast tracts of agricultural lands around the world are being controlled and converted by plunderers into cash-crop plantations such as biofuels and other corporate schemes that forcibly drives us out from our land.”

Their calls for climate equity in negotiations were echoed by even more demonstrators today from Jubilee South and many others, calling on rich countries to pay their ecological and climate debt to the rest of the world. Activists from Thailand, Nepal, Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Africa, and Latin America mobilized to push Northern countries to recognize their historical and disproportionate contributions to climate change, and the disproportionate negative impacts suffered by the Global South. This concept of climate debt is increasingly gaining traction among international civil society, flipping on its head the idea of the debt owed by the South to the North from loans from international finance institutions.

As civil society groups call for financing and compensation for the averse affects of climate change for affected peoples, delegates inside the UN continue to debate on our 3rd day of the climate talks. The pressure is on, and the 600,000 people displaced in the last day only add to the urgency.


Bangkok: day one of the UN Climate Negotiations

28 09 2009

…and we’re off to a crawl

cross posted from Grist.

Coming right off the heels of the UN General Assembly in New York and the G20 in Pittsburgh, the world has taken its next step on the road to Copenhagen: the Bangkok round of negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This morning the Thai Prime Minister opened the session by saying “There is no plan B, if we do not realize plan A, we go straight to plan F, which stands for failure.”

So, no pressure.

With an invigorated sense of skepticism, civil society, governments, and of course business interests are here to try to hammer through obtuse and contradictory text to create something that can be of some use on the table at the Copenhagen meetings this December.

The UN press office was quick to hand me a defensive-sounding media release stating ‘Negotiations set to pick up in Bangkok as a result of New York Climate Change Summit’ – hoping to put a positive spin on the process. Sure, the New York summit yielded lots of big talk about Climate – unfortunately very little in the way of meaningful targets and commitments, as pointed out (to much applause) by a Sudanese delegate this morning.

The reality of the US being able to meaningfully commit is grim, as illustrated by the statement released by John Podesta and Rajendra Pachauri, this Friday. Despite Obama talking a good game (which in itself is a welcome departure from the Bush years), he still failed to put forward any details. Hopes previously pinned on Obama have been deflated by stalled domestic legislation that NASA’s Dr. James Hansen said, if implemented “would do more harm to the environment than nothing at all.”

On the flip side, many people here in Bangkok have been encouraged by China’s announcement at the NY summit that it is increasing commitments on carbon reduction. We all know though, that responsibility to lead with these negotiations lies on the global North to make bolder and serious commitments. India and China are moving, and the classic US approach trying to pin blame on them is increasingly seen as excuse-mongering even to those who may have bought the line before.

From where we stand now, it looks like Copenhagen will be a greenwash. But civil society here in Bangkok is not taking this as a moment to despair but as a higher call to action for just and equitable ways to meet meaningful targets. Peoples movements and activist networks from across the globe are taking this opportunity to build and organize, invigorating local solutions back home, regardless of what ends up on the negotiating table. And so we keep pushing. If we temper our ambition along with our expectations, governments will feel more emboldened to backslide and allow the treaty to be an industry giveaway. Lets keep pressure up.

Here’s an inspiring quickie of organizers in the United States working for community based solutions to the climate crisis:

BREAKING – activists drop 70′ banner off of NIAGARA FALLS to tell Canadian PM: NO TAR SANDS oil!

15 09 2009

Rainforest Action Network drops Seventy-Foot Banner Over Niagara Falls to Welcome Prime Minister Harper to the U.S.
Canadian Tar Sands Oil Undermines North America’s Clean Energy Future
See more photos here.
update: video below, and climber interview here.

Before dawn this morning, a small team of climate and Native Rights activists rappelled from the US observation deck at Niagara Falls. Dangling hundreds of feet above the ground, they sent a special welcome message to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ahead of his first official visit to the White House to push dirty Tar Sands oil.

Not that he’s feeling so welcome anyway. Obama limited the meeting to just one hour. While some have called it a slap in the face, Aides say Harper will turn the other cheek. “The economy, and the clean-energy dialogue,” one aide told the Globe and Mail, “will dominate the discussions.” Obama needed to dodge controversy over oil imports from Canada’s tar sands in the midst of the Climate Legislation debate. Harper needed a story to go with his photo-op.

During Harper’s first official trip to meet Obama in the U.S., the two leaders are expected to discuss climate change and energy policy ahead of the upcoming G20 Summit. Canada supplies 19% of U.S. oil imports, more than half of which now comes from the tar sands, making the region the largest single source of U.S. oil imports. The expansion of the tar sands will strip mine an area the size of Florida. Complete with skyrocketing rates of cancer (by 400%!) for First Nations communities living downstream, broken treaties, toxic belching lakes so large you can see them from outer space, churning up ancient boreal forest, destroyed air and water quality, the tar sands have been called the most destructive project on Earth.

Tomorrow’s visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Harper is the latest attempt by Canadian Federal and Provincial officials to lock in subsidies for 22 new and expanded refinery projects and oil pipelines crisscrossing 28 states, which would transport and process the dirty tar sands oil. Many are concerned that Prime Minister Harper wants to protect the tar sands oil industry from climate regulation, even though it is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.

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On Van Jones’ Resignation, Glenn Beck, and Right Wing “populism”

6 09 2009

Picture 4For the last couple weeks, Van Jones has been demonized by Fox News in a paranoid racist red-baiting witch hunt to continue to 1) scare white Americans into the idea that “their country is being stolen from them” 2) tie Obama to Left radicalism (since they can’t find it anywhere in his policies, they’ll continue to do the guilt-by-association thing).

The initial response from much of the liberal blogosphere was a defensive attempt to distance Van from actual statements he made (yes, Van actually was part of a socialist organization called STORM, yes he did do radical community organizing), in a way that plays into right wing frames as if having a Left background disqualifies someone for office, rather than allows a breadth of political perspective grounded in values of peace and justice. It’s worth noting that despite the unfortunate and hasty but also benign signing of the 911 petition (the Truther’s are in fact wingnuts), Van never said anything that wasn’t true. Beck on the other hand made up all kinds of fantasies.

Picture 2Of course this isn’t about Van. Its been clear in this experience and in the health care backlash that right wing pseudo “populism” has become a renewed, coherent and compelling force in this country – complete with Orwellean Newspeak (‘Obama is a Racist’, ‘Health Care is Death’, ‘Socialism is Fascism’).

A good reality check on how big some of the fights ahead of us are and how important a coordinated and thoughtful Left is. It has interesting implications for those pursuing an ‘inside/outside’ strategy in confirming the long long history in this country of the Establishment left jettisoning anyone they think is too progressive (aka delegitimizing) to be palatable…whereas the Right goes as far right as it wants to.

Have you noticed how people on the right say all sorts of foul shit and when they are called on it, they just OWN it and are like WHAT? yeah I said it WHAT! and then it goes away?

I don’t know what happened inside the White House, but I do naively wish the administration (or the Liberal institutions) had the courage to say yes, this is what we believe and in fact, this is a positive vision that we’re organizing around. But of course, they don’t. By this stammering and backpeddaling, it confirms to the American people: yes, you are right to be afraid of these ideas, they are scary. Its a losing strategy that validates all of the crazy paranoia that is skyrocketing across the country right now. It emboldens the extreme Right to go even further (you know, when we run campaigns, and our targets respond, we always say ‘look, its working! lets keep going!’ – this can only have the same effect for Glenn’s followers.)

Progressives of all stripes would do well to fortify themselves with the knowledge that we have BIG BIG fights ahead of us, and the Right will play as dirty and deceptive as possible. They have much larger megaphones, and the luxury of playing into deep seated national mythologies and origin stories of this country.

I think David Roberts’ Thoughts on Van Jones’ Resignation piece on Grist offers some useful thoughts that I’ll share here:

Van Jones had to resign. It became inevitable when Gibbs offered no support.

Much of the blame for this incident lies squarely on the White House. The information used against Jones was freely available on the web. All it took was a search. I thought by hiring Jones they intended to take a chance on a real left progressive, but now it appears they were simply caught flat-footed. Either Valerie Jarrett—Jones’ champion in the upper echelons of the administration—didn’t know much about him or didn’t widely share what she knew. They certainly seemed disinclined to mount a vigorous defense with Glenn Beck gnoshing on his favorite new chew toy and the health care reform battle about to heat up again. No distractions.

For the record, Jones isn’t a truther. Five years ago, at the end of a busy paternity leave, he was asked to support the calls of 9/11 families for further investigation of the attacks (reflecting the concerns of millions of Americans). He agreed and his name ended up on a petition that contained language he didn’t support. Three others who signed the petition have also come forward to say they were deceived about its final contents. But the truth of it hardly matters at this point. Jones has always spoken freely, not in the clipped, narrow confines permitted of those who aspire to public office. He talks real talk, in colorful, provocative language. There’s plenty in his copious past writing and speaking that can be demagogued. This isn’t a civic discussion among people who care who Van Jones really is or what he really believes, after all. It’s a head hunt.

On substantive grounds, the resignation is not that significant. Part of the absurdity of all this is that Jones was basically a low-level functionary. By yesterday the dimwit conservative hack Dick Morris had him “in charge of running the cap-and-trade legislation”—ignorant on too many levels to catalog—but I doubt if Jones has ever so much as been in a meeting with Obama. By all accounts he was frustrated by the difficulty of getting even the smallest things done from the bottom of a massive bureaucracy. Even if he’d had the hidden intentions Beck and his pant-wetting audience attribute to every black liberal, he couldn’t have done anything about it.

But policy, reality, that’s not what bottom-feeders like Beck care about.  The right governed the country for eight years and ran it into a ditch. Conservatives have no plausible health care solution, no climate solution. They have nothing to offer in response to the nation’s pressing problems. What they have is affect. They have the amygdala, the fight-or-flight reflex. They have deep threads of racism, fear, and resentment.

In other words, they don’t care what Van Jones does, they care what he is. Beck peddles a message that’s been around since America was born: They’re taking your country away. They—the non-white races, the immigrants, the urbanites, the communists, the elites—are stealing the country from nice, simple white Christians.  They’re taking what rightfully belongs to us, to Real Americans.

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