We aren’t going to change the balance of forces on climate change at the global scale. The World Bank, other big institutions and corporations came into the Copenhagen and Cancun UN climate talks, and will come to Durban where I live, with an agenda of business as usual. We can’t have any false illusions that these talks are going to save the planet. So what are people doing that’s making an impact?
I see extraordinary, courageous activism that’s direct action-oriented – civil disobedience is common – around the world. It’s about, as the slogan from Ecuador says - "Leave the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole and – of course – the tar sand in the land". We will need one for shale gas! This slogan epitomizes a clear political strategy. If fossil fuels are going to wreck our planet – just like the Montreal Protocol for Chlorofluorocarbons in 1987 – we have to cap them. We have to do this at dangerous emission sources.
For example, in West Virginia, where big companies blow off the tops of mountains, strip out the coal and destroy the ecosystem. The activists would sit up in the trees and also protest at the US Environmental Protection Agency. In January of 2011, the EPA decided to use the Clean Water Act to stop the mountaintop blasting for coal.
Another good example is in the Niger Delta in Nigeria and Ken Saro-Wiwa’s tradition of mass non-violent civil disobedience. There is huge amounts of oil there. Women especially took up the struggle. They would sometimes remove their clothes and sit en masse in front of companies not allowing the workers to enter. It was taboo for workers to cross this picket line. They’ve succeeded. The starting point for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is not allowing oil extraction to wreck our Niger Delta. Some of the most brilliant Niger Delta activists, like Nnimmo Bassey, the head of Friends of the Earth International, say it is also about the planet and its health.
The Yasuni Park in Ecuador is another site of struggle to watch. Here activists in CONAIE, indigenous people, and Acción Ecológica want to keep $10 billion worth of oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon, in the ground.
There is a climate debt that countries like Canada owe to the Third World that that should be paid. One way is to keep the oil in the soil in the Yasuni Park by paying about $5 billion. Germany and Norway have been approached. Now, the big debate is whether the money should flow directly into Ecuador allowing oil to be left in the ground, to support indigenous people and non hydrocarbon based development. Or, should it be put up into the carbon markets and part of the old problem of commodifying everything. This battle is still underway.
These are the kind of struggles to watch. Australian kids in Rising Tide stopping the coal exports in dinghies, the Brits – they were doing such a good job that MI5 tried to infiltrate them. There are really impressive sites of struggle in the Third World where activists, environmentalists, communities and local labour are working together.
This will come together in Durban with a big alternative summit where we will have a strong unity call: "Keep the oil in the soil, leave the coal in the hole, and the tar sand in the land". I’m hoping this will allow us to move away from the protest sites outside the UN talks to maybe throwing a going away party for the beach, and even direct action.
The big question is: will the governments like Canada send delegates? Officials who come to these talks invariably sabotage it, Canada, especially because of its recent role with the Kyoto Protocol. The question that many in South Africa will ask to Canadians: should these delegates actually come to Durban, making it a conference of polluters? Or should the world’s people work together to ensure that the kind of people doing climate deals are really committed to the planet? We’ve worked together before, like Canadians fighting Apartheid and supporting free antiretroviral medicines, or against water privatization, especially with the Council of Canadians.
I have a very good feeling that working together, Canadians and all of the rest of the activists will make Durban really unforgettable.