Bring the march on Blair Mountain to Bonn
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Kate Horner, Friends of the Earth U.S.
June 6, 2011
Far from the Hotel Maritim in Bonn, Germany, where the UN climate meetings started again today, hundreds of conservationists, coal miners and activists will start a five day, fifty mile journey through the mountains of West Virginia to call for an end to the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining and a just transition to a sustainable future. Like the UN climate talks, the March on Blair Mountain is about the future of the planet and the dignity of all people.
Mountaintop removal mining is killing jobs, destroying communities, and trashing waterways across Appalachia. And the coal companies responsible for mountaintop removal are violating laws intended to protect public safety, relentlessly busting union drives, and buying off politicians. Denise Giardina, a writer and activist fighting mountaintop removal mining in her community, reminds us in her moving call to action that coal companies (along with other dirty corporations) exercise undue influence and have immense power to affect the lives and livelihoods of the world’s people. Those marching on Blair Mountain (both in 1921 and today) understand the immense importance of standing up for what is right, defending our laws and holding corporations accountable.
Paralleling these fights at the local level, important laws and regulations, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Air Act, are under repeated, multi-prong attack by corporate power and their Congressional allies.
While we are not standing in the rolling green hills of West Virginia and there are not hundreds of courageous activists marching in the streets, a similar battle is being waged here in Bonn at the climate talks. Instead of implementing laws on the books and standing up to corporate power, the wealthy countries historically responsible for causing the climate crisis are ignoring their moral and legal responsibility to act by dismantling the rules that have the highest chance of delivering a safe climate future.
The negotiations that began today in Bonn are setting up the year for the next big meeting in Durban, where key decisions will be made about the future of the climate regime. If the agenda is not fair and just here then, we are sure to get an unfair and unjust outcome in Durban. Abuse of process is a long-standing tactic used by powerful blocs to allow the wealthy to set the terms of the debate. Already, we can see that the agenda is skewed away from a focus on binding emission reductions (like the Kyoto Protocol) based on the science and is instead dedicated to the policy proposals of the United States, particularly related to ‘pledge and review.’
Pledge and review means there are no binding targets and no system to set adequate and fair targets. UNEP has already shown that the current weak pledges could mean 5°C of warming – a catastrophe for all things that live and give life. As Lord Nicholas Stern said last week, “That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”
Just like the Clean Air Act and our permitting process for mines, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change isn’t perfect. There are huge loopholes in the accounting for developed country emissions and carbon trading mechanisms have proven unjust and ineffective, but dismantling the rules and making it easier for corporate polluters to continue polluting won’t solve the problem. We need to implement the UN Convention and its Kyoto Protocol with binding aggregate targets and close the loopholes.
It’s time to call a spade a spade – the United States is attempting to dismantle piece by piece the international climate architecture that the rest of the world has been building for almost twenty years, leaving in its place not only the rubble of the UNFCCC but the rubble of a world soon to be devastated by climate chaos. Denise Giardina said it best: “We call for Americans to stand up again for our freedoms and our land, and against those corporations who would destroy both.”