- Global Solutions for a Global Crisis
Global Solutions for a Global Crisis
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By Kim Huynh
This year’s 40th anniversary of Earth Day in the U.S. was fraught with mounting shock and horror at the BP catastrophe that precipitated the deaths of 11 rig workers and that continues to hemorrhage oil into the Gulf of Mexico with no end in sight. Yet in the midst of the disaster, hope sprung from a normally sleepy town nestled thousands of miles away in the Andes.
In Cochabamba, Bolivia, more than 35,000 participants from 150 countries around the world – ranging from environmental justice groups to indigenous rights organizations to governmental representatives, United Nations officials, and heads of state – converged for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth from April 20-22. Not even a burgeoning Icelandic volcano could stem the droves convening en masse in Cochabamba to develop grassroots solutions to the global climate crisis.
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Through an alternative framework to the Copenhagen negotiations that ended in resounding failure last December, the People’s Conference brought to the table the notion that equity is the only way to break the climate stalemate between the Global North and South and make progress toward a strong and just climate treaty. It is the first inclusive climate summit that truly addressed the role of civil society and that respected the power and knowledge of autonomous peoples’ movements.
The vision and energy from Cochabamba coupled with the growing demand for a strong, clean energy revolution in the U.S. in the wake of the BP oil disaster should provide new momentum for international climate negotiations culminating in Cancun this November.
Fortunately, the only thing spreading faster than the oil gusher is public outrage. In early June as the first major U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiating session since Copenhagen was taking place in Bonn, Germany, Friends of the Earth joined Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and other allies to stage a citizen’s arrest at BP’s headquarters in downtown Washington, DC.
The charges against BP? High crimes and misdemeanors against the Gulf Coast and its communities. BP has the worst safety and environmental record of any oil company operating in the U.S. and made $14 billion in profits in 2009 alone. As crude oil oozes unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, valuable marine ecosystems are destroyed along with the local economies that depend on them.
What’s worse, Big Oil’s criminal negligence isn’t unique. The devastation wrought by oil companies globally is a daily catastrophe. Nnimmo Bassey, the Nigerian head of Friends of the Earth International recently told The Guardian, “In Nigeria, oil companies largely ignore their spills, cover them up and destroy people’s livelihood and environments. The Gulf spill can be seen as a metaphor for what is happening daily in the oilfields of Nigeria and other parts of Africa.”
Last December, President Obama accepted a Nobel Prize for his “constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting.” He characterized the Prize as “an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.” Yet in Copenhagen, President Obama squandered an historic opportunity to embody this necessary leadership in the fight against the climate crisis.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s lackluster attitude in the lead-up to Copenhagen eerily reflects its response to the oil gusher: sluggish and hands-off. Stopping the spill of oil into the Gulf and stopping the spill of carbon into our atmosphere are inextricably intertwined.
From New Orleans to Lagos, global citizens are mobilizing to end the stranglehold corporate polluters have on our democracy and our climate. The Obama administration should take heed of the widespread public outcry emanating from this historical moment.
If President Obama hears one message from the Gulf’s oil drenched shores right now, it should be this: stand up to greedy multinational corporations whose practices have time and again jeopardized the lives and livelihoods of the world’s people and put your political capital behind a strong and just international climate treaty.