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The People's Climate Dialogue And Convention
At Oaxaca's Encounter for Autonomous Life

By Javier Sethness

23 April, 2010

At the Encounter for Autonomous Life that took place between April 8 and 11 in Oaxaca de Juárez, México, there was launched the People's Climate Dialogue and Convention, an initiative that, according to its founding document, seeks to “build a movement for climate justice that promotes urgent action aimed at avoiding the catastrophes presented by climate change,” confront the “economic, political, ecological, and social causes of the climate crisis,” and “work toward a systemic transformation of existing society.” Many important perspectives on the present climate crisis were advanced in the lectures, workshops, and discussions associated with the Dialogue and Convention, attended by hundreds; what follows is an attempt at a brief summary of such.

The first day of the Encounter saw Cristian Guerrero, a representative from Rising Tide México, publicly read the founding document of the People's Climate Dialogue and Convention. Proclaiming that a “radical change of direction is needed,” the document's unnamed authors find the prospect of climate catastrophe to be based in an economic system “dedicated to growth at all costs”—i.e., capitalism—and hence call for “urgent action” to effect a “total transformation” of the “dominant economic model.” Toward this end, they announce a series of workshops, meetings, and regional climate convergences that are to take place in anticipation of the Conference of Parties 16 meeting that is to take place in Cancún later this year. Significantly, the founding document also notes that COP-16 will occur in México the same year as the bi-centennial of independence and the centennial of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution; it adds that many consider the year 2010 to be a crucial moment for social struggle in the Americas as in the world at large. The reading of the Dialogue and Convention's founding document was followed by a public discussion entitled “Another Technology, Another Ecology,” during which various issues associated with climate change were contemplated and debated by those present at the event.

On the afternoon of April 9 was held a round-table discussion entitled “The COP, Cochabamba, and local action: sources in the struggle against global warming.” The panel included Jyri Jaakkola, member of Climate Justice Action as well as of the Finnish grassroots environmental organization Hyökyaalto, who related some of the actions in which he partook at Copenhagen last December as well as his experiences with police brutality there. He presented a list of demands adapted from those advocated by Climate Justice Action which calls for the prevention of future exploitation of fossil fuels, popular control over natural resources, a massive reduction of Northern consumption patterns, and the recognition of the North's ecological debt together with concurrent reparations to Southern societies. The panel also included Tzinnia Carranza, the organizer of the Encounter's indigenous tianguis , or goods-sale, who reflected on the effects climate change will likely have on indigenous populations and women in a particularly devastating fashion. The present author, also on the panel, re-iterated the five questions posed by Bolivian president Evo Morales to the delegates assembled in Copenhagen in December—questions that are expected to make up a ‘climate referendum' that Morales hopes to send to some 2 billion people. At the close of this event, members from the environmental NGO Otros Mundos from Chiapas distributed pamphlets on the upcoming Cancún meeting of the COP; the analysis presented in the pamphlets places responsibility for the climate crisis squarely on the world-wide ‘capitalist dictatorship.'

On the third day of the conference, journalist and environmental researcher Silvia Ribeiro reviewed some of the articles she'd recently had published in the Mexican daily La Jornada [1] through her alarming presentation of some of the various ‘techno-fixes' that various capitalist apologists seem to be contemplating using in an attempt to deal with the climate crisis while holding prevailing social relations more or less the same. Opening with the declaration that looming climate catastrophe reflects the brutalities of capitalism in perhaps the most extreme of ways, Ribeiro denounced the hegemony of what she termed a ‘petroleum civilization' and the Frankenstein-esque manner by which it appears to be considering defending itself by means of geo-engineering. She summarized the findings of a recent examination of proposed geo-engineering schemes published in Science [2] and concluded that consideration of the lack of certainty regarding the effects of geo-engineering together with that of the highly destructive results that can be expected from such—most alarmingly, the putting at-risk of the water and food supplies of some 2 billion people in South Asia and East Africa—demanded that such schemes be dismissed altogether. Ribeiro closed her talk by suggesting that the threat of climate change demands radical action both in terms of individual changes in lifestyle as in political mobilization; she finished by suggesting that many reasonable solutions to climate change exist, and that humanity in general is in theory very close to achieving such.

Later that evening, another roundtable discussion on climate change was held, this one including Ribeiro and representatives from Otros Mundos Chiapas. The latter discussed governmental plans to establish ‘rural cities' for the indigenous and campesinos in the state of Chiapas, while Ribeiro reflected on the question of pollution related to the industrialized killing of non-human animals in México—in particular, the relationship between these processes and the emission of methane. Focusing in particular on the case of Granjas Carroll , the putative source of origin of the break-out of the infamous H1N1 epidemic, she criticized the gargantuan, centralized nature of what she termed the ‘processing' of pigs and other animals in México, finding in the alternative of the small-scale rearing of animals a means by which to radically reduce the methane emissions and other pollutants associated with such; significantly, though, she did not advocate less consumption of meat, let alone ethical vegetarianism. In the popular discussion that followed, one participant sought to blame the present socio-environmental crisis on what he referred to as Western rationality, while a representative from the pacifist organization Las Abejas of Chiapas called for a program of ‘conscious consumerism' to address climate change and environmental destruction generally.

During the afternoon of the final day of the Encounter, the present author gave a talk entitled “Atmospheric Dialectics: An Exploration of the Specter of Climate Catastrophe.” Basing much of my speech on recent books on climate change by Mark Lynas [3] and James Hansen [4], as well as on more recent climatological findings [5], I summarized some of the various life-negating implications that climate change could have for life on Earth, finding in the hegemonic treatments of such total irrationality and inhumanity. I mentioned the possibility of developing space-based solar power as an alternative to both coal- and nuclear-energy schemes and called for a radical reduction in meat-consumption as well as flying, closing with the invocation of Rosa Luxemburg's stark analysis of the present: that of socialism or barbarism.

It also bears mentioning that the Oaxaca-based Autonomous Center for Inter-Cultural Creation of Appropriate Technology (CACITA) presented a number of its eco-technological alternatives, such as bicycle-powered blenders and washing machines, at the Encounter. Other sensible technologies—solar cookers, dry latrines, and solar-powered heating systems—were displayed by other organizations.

The Encounter ended on 11 April with a clown-show which reviewed many of the ecological perspectives advanced during the previous four days in amusing ways that encouraged children and adults, participants and spectators alike, to care for la Madre Tierra —to be Theodor W. Adorno's “global self-conscious subject,” that which must “develop and intervene” if total catastrophe is to be avoided [6].

It is clear that initiatives like that of the People's Climate Dialogue and Convention are much-needed in the present. The participatory nature of the events that comprised this launching of the Dialogue and Convention, like those of the Encounter for Autonomous Life generally, seem in many ways to resemble the directly democratic socio-political systems endorsed by Hannah Arendt [7], Cornelius Castoriadis [8], and many other reasonable political commentators. The importance of popular participation in political matters today should in no way be underestimated, given how abysmally capitalism and essentially all states have failed on the question of looming climate catastrophe. The stress placed on popular participation and alternative technologies by the participants and organizers of the Encounter certainly constitutes a small-scale challenge from below to the irrationalities and barbarism of the present; it is to be hoped that such can also serve as a model for a “progress that leads out and away” [9] from the absolute negation that capitalism promises through the specter of catastrophic climate change.


[1] “No hay planeta B,” La Jornada , 13 March 2010; “El clima de los pueblos,” La Jornada , 10 April 2010

[2] Alan Robock et al., “A Test for Geoengineering?” Science , 29 January 2010.

[3] Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008).

[4] Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009).

[5] Inter alia, David Adam, “World will not meet 2C warming target, climate change experts agree,” The Guardian , 14 April 2009, and David Chandler, “Climate change odds much worse than thought,” MIT News , 19 May 2009.

[6] “Progress,” in Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History , ed. Gary Smith, trans. Eric Krakauer (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989 [1962]), p. 85 (translation modified).

[7] On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 2006 [1963]).

[8] The Castoriadis Reader, ed. David Ames Curtis (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1997.

[9] Adorno, op. cit. , p. 96.

Javier Sethness, 23, is a libertarian socialist and rights activist.  He blogs on climate change and other issues at http://intlibecosoc.wordpress.com .