“The problem goes beyond parties and politicians. It’s the system . . . . All our politicians are in the pocket of elites who own, lobby, litigate, bully and bribe their way into every element of our lives. Even single cell organisms unite and fight for survival when their species is threatened.”
– Kim Hunter, British Columbia Artist and Activist
Twenty years after the United Nations Earth Summit of 1992, hundreds of civil society, small farmer, and grassroots organizations gathered here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to once again sound the alarm by taking to the streets, organizing workshops, and planning future campaigns.
After 150 years of self-destructive Business as Usual – empire-building, waging war on nature, undermining public health, brainwashing the body politic, burning fossil fuels, and discharging greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere and the oceans like there’s no tomorrow – the sense here in Rio was that we’ve reached the end of the road. Greenhouse gas pollution and chaotic weather patterns are increasing, not decreasing. Crops are failing. Forest fires, drought, floods and pestilent diseases are increasing. As speaker after speaker in Rio emphasized we are literally on the verge of melting the polar icecaps, burning up the Amazon and the tropical rainforests, killing the oceans, and destroying the soil’s fertility and its ability to store carbon. We’re also sitting on a methane time bomb that, unless we change course in the next decade, will explode in the frozen tundra and the shallow sea beds of Siberia and Alaska, exterminating most of the living organisms on the planet.
Dominated by powerful multinational corporations, distracted by know-nothing media conglomerates, and betrayed by cowardly politicians and bureaucrats, homo sapiens are facing, and unfortunately in many cases denying, the most serious existential threat in our 200,000 year evolution: catastrophic global warming.
The good news, here in Rio and across the world, is that the global grassroots are rising up. A significant segment of the 99%, the underclass, are finally standing up and saying, “Hell no!” to business as usual. Inspired by the rising of the global grassroots – the Arab Spring, the European indignados, and the U.S. Occupy Wall Street movement – they’re taking on Wall Street criminality, nuclear power, coal plants, tar sands and fracking, out-of-control assaults on public health by Big Ag and Big Pharma, and misguided cutbacks in public services.
Real change, not the hollow “change you can believe in” of the Obama administration, is in the air here in Rio.
Yet despite this new resurgent energy, as the meager results of the “official” Rio+20 conference demonstrate, after 20 years of struggle we are not yet strong enough to force the 1000 corporations and 1400 billionaires who rule the Earth to change course. Although the Earth and climate crisis obviously call for a radical makeover, most national governments and multinational corporations who gathered here in Rio are still pushing feeble reforms that amount to too little, too late. The so-called “Green Economy” vision, as postulated by the multinational elite at Rio+20 – Monsanto, Cargill, and BP et al – will do little or nothing to stop our headlong rush to disaster.
While Big Ag, Big Biotech, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Timber, and Big Finance push their united “Green Economy,” agenda, a major segment of the global grassroots remain fragmented and divided, bogged down in thousands of defensive single-issue battles.
In order to turn away from what can only be described as a global suicide economy, many of us here gathered in Rio these past few weeks now agree that we need to revise and expand our analysis and strategy. We can no longer afford to oversimplify the dynamics of our life-or-death problems or project solutions that are partial or incomplete. We can no longer afford to campaign in isolation around critical issues like tropical deforestation, industrial agriculture, poverty, deteriorating public health, resource wars, or fossil fuel energy production as if they were disconnected from one another.
If we want to build a mass movement for survival we’ve got to stop oversimplifying the causes of the Greenhouse Crisis as well as oversimplifying the solutions. Food, forest, natural health, anti-war, social justice, alternative energy, green jobs, indigenous, and climate activists must close ranks and take on the Climate Criminals.
Today’s pressing global issues such as poverty, war, hunger, pollution, mass unemployment, species extinction, and deteriorating public health are directly related to the forces and misguided policies that propel global warming. As we begin to make the Great Transition to alternative energy, energy conservation, infrastructure retrofitting, mass transportation, organic agriculture, recycling and composting of biomass, and reforestation we will also be well on our way to solving all or most of the world’s most pressing problems. As the soil and food chain is revitalized through organic soil management, as animal husbandry and rotational grazing replace CAFOs, public health will be improved. As forests and wetlands are preserved, as mass reforestation takes place, GHG emissions will fall and soil and biomass sequestration will increase. As small organic farms and ranches proliferate, rural poverty and pollution will decrease. Biodiversity will be enhanced, species extinction will slow. Hundreds of millions of rural and urban green jobs will lift the majority of the world’s population out of poverty, while at the same time a green and solar-based economy will eliminate the need for resource wars, such as the current conflicts in the Middle East.
By broadening our analysis of the causes and solutions to the Climate Crisis, we lay down the foundation for a qualitatively broader and more powerful Movement that can overturn Business as Usual and mobilize a global grassroots revolution for survival, sustainability, health, peace, and justice.
At the same time we’ve got to stop preaching “gloom and doom” as our primary message. Global warming is the most serious threat that humans have ever faced, but it can be and will be reversed. And as we make the Great Transition to an organic and sustainable Commonwealth we will be healthier, happier, and wiser. By broadcasting a more positive message, we can build a critical mass that will put an end to Business as Usual. This is the grassroots message from Rio+ 20: “Unite and Fight for Survival.”
In closing, a note of realism. We’ve got to understand as activists that millions of people aren’t going to join in on our climate action movement immediately. Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the climate crisis. They have more pressing personal and family issues on their mind. Some people are preoccupied with personal health or economic issues. Others are so depressed or strung out on drugs, both illegal and prescription, that they live in a mental fog. Some people honestly don’t understand how food, health, peace, and economic justice issues are related to the climate crisis. Others sincerely believe that political issues like getting corporate money out of politics supersede everything else. Keeping these realities in mind, we’ve got to move forward now, prove ourselves, educate the public and unite the large but disparate forces we already have. Once objective conditions ripen, once the climate crisis gets worse, people will join up with our movement in droves. The hour is late. But keep in mind the fundamental reason for joining in on the struggle for a better world: It’s the best way to live.
Ronnie Cummins is the co-founder and National Director of the Organic Consumers Association. He is a contributor to Hopelesss: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.