As an old school environmentalist, I expected climate activists to receive a cool reaction at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference that ended Fri., Dec. 9, in Durban, South Africa. But what they -- and we -- got instead were plenty of cold shoulders from the rich and limp proposals that guarantee a really hot upcoming century. That things don't look good for the polar bears is an understatement.
What was gained at the conference? Spin and empty words from the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and patronizing and cynical claims from the developed nations. What was lost? The future livelihoods of indigenous peoples, small farmers and the rank and file of several billion poor people.
Those speaking for the 99 percent did their best to be heard: "From the public people's spaces and from discussions going on and from analysis from social movements, one of the biggest challenges to finding a solution to global warming is the overpowering control of politicians by transnational corporations. The delegates are listening more to these people, to these organizations, than they are listening to people. And so, one of the key things to be done is to decolonize our governments."
This came from Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey, the executive director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and chair of Friends of the Earth International. His words fell on deaf ears.
Without true, decisive action, our whole planet could suffer. The worst-case scenario is not only a world without ice but a planet that, by 2100, could see global average temperatures increase almost eight degrees Fahrenheit compared to today. The dreaded reality is the misanthropy of corporations like Shell, Exxon, BP and the rest of the globe's major polluters. These multinationals, whether inside or outside the energy and extraction industries, buy up huge rainforest tracts, forcing native peoples off land they have stewarded with sustainable practices for centuries.
Thank god for countervailing voices, such as Yusuf Omar, editor of the Durban Mercury. He derided a program dreamed up by Westerners called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, that allows wealthy nations to offset carbon emissions by protecting forests: "As people who live in the forest, we are not carbon stocks. We disagree with REDD because we oppose the commoditisation of the forest. ... It's a complex and dangerous situation to see forests as carbon stocks. The forest provides a role as food security, a water source and biodiversity for our indigenous population. REDD reduces the function of the forest to just one, carbon stocks."
But the Western elites have created another monstrous, lumbering scheme, one stitched together from so many questionable sources, it would make Doctor Frankenstein proud. They call it geoengineering, but it's really synthetic climate making.
Geoengineering includes ideas such as pumping -- polluting -- the atmosphere around the world with aerosols (sulfur dioxide), to create a blanket of muck that would shade (cool) the planet. Or dumping iron shavings into the ocean, a process called fertilization, to increase blooms of phytoplankton that will gobble up our excess carbon dioxide.
With ideas like these, local and small-scale, bio-intensive agriculture that succeeds without reliance on fossil fuels gets screwed over. Local and regional solutions to building housing with indigenous and sustainable materials get tossed on the scrap heap. Local knowledge and skills for saving seeds and developing local sustainable economies are crushed.
Top-tiered countries and groups like the European Union look to economists who believe all of the above regressive thinking, saying we can put off serious emissions reductions until later in the century. A quick buck and massive consumption of products, they claim, will save the world.
The poorest and most vulnerable did not create the gigatons of global warming, greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. But it's these same people -- and their children and grandchildren -- who will bear the brunt of impacts caused by dried-up rivers, vanished glaciers, supercharged storms and failed soil and crops. That's right: The 99 percent will likely suffer 100 percent of the misery.
Missing from this year's confounding climate conference was the deep and clear vision of Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who died two months ago. But her daughter, Wanjira, stood for her mom's legacy: "The United States should be providing the leadership ... yet they're really putting blocks on what would be for African nations a really life-and-death situation. ... We appeal to them to really look beyond their own selfish gains. They're going to probably have to come to the rescue, if we get more famines of the scale that is in the Horn of Africa. So the devastation is not worth waiting for. Let's act now."
Man, I'm so long in the tooth, I remember writing several stories about the climate conference that took place 23 years ago in Toronto. Called the Changing Atmosphere Conference, it ended with a unanimously adopted statement signed by 400 representatives from 40 countries: What civilization is doing with its global greenhouse emissions is "an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war."
Judging by the inaction that saddled the conference in Durban, it sounds like Western nations suffer from amnesia.
By PAUL K. HAEDER, Guest Writer