It would be extremely helpful and absolutely necessary to try and read the outcome of the UN Conference on Climate Change that took place in Paris, using a pair of bifocal lenses, to allow us not to stop to a more superficial look, to the outer peel of a negotiating process that went on and on for years, mushrooming into other threads and processes. A pair of bifocals would help us de-codify what happened in Paris and what future will offer us. These lenses are made of other materials, you will never find them in scientific essays, studies of climatology, in the myriad of elaborations on the Earth or intact forests' carbon storage capacity, you will not find them in the drawers of government leaders, or businesspeople, entrepreneurial or non-governmental experts. These lenses are makeshift, bound together by duct tape and a rubber band, and allow us to see things under a completely different perspective. The time has come now to make an effort and put ourselves on the other side, on the side of air and sky. On the side of the Earth and its inhabitants, not necessarily as an impulse driven by mysticism or ecocentrism. Indeed such shift is partly justified by the urgency of admitting that we humans, as small as we are, generate dramatic upheavals, and are such a small thing when compared to the complexity of ecological balances and life, and that therefore it would be a good thing for us to lower our ecological footprint and carry a lighter rucksack. Putting ourselves on the side of the sky, on the other side of that sky nowadays darkened by a thick suffocating cloud of smog, upset by anomalous events, heavy rainfall, heat and cold, altered migratory cycles, clouds that indigenous knowledge cannot read anymore, means assuming another perspective, a decolonized and feminine one, of a Mother that is rapidly being depleted by productivist fury and growth obsession.
A very thoughtful and challenging study comes to mind to that regard, titled “Antarctica as a cultural critique: the gendered politics of scientific exploration and climate change” by CUNY professor Elena Glasberg. Glasberg studied the “official” history of the conquest of Antarctica, written and made mostly by males, men driven by the desire to conquer even that last segment of unknown land, and proposed another viewpoint, based on post-colonial and queer thought, notably putting ourselves on the side of ice, and re-read that myth under a gender lens. Maybe it is not casual that the Earth is Mother, and as a Mother she is inextricably bound to our existence to each of our primeval cells. Paris was a much awaited event, a point of arrival full of expectations and realistic disillusionment. Maybe as never before has the French capital become stage of an evident chasm between the “mainstream” narrative of climate change and that which took shape outside, in the streets, in marginal neighborhoods, in the participation of people from all walks of life, and from everywhere, that not only took to the streets to defy a ban, but contributed to build another perspective of ecological and social justice. The papers adopted in Paris have to be studied carefully. They tell us that in fact governments of all parts of the world believe that climate change is not a matter of human rights, that thousands of people, women and men whose very survival is at stake should not be considered as right-holders. These people live in lands that always inspired our dreams of untouched paradise, painted by Paul Gauguin or portrayed in glossy brochures of all-inclusive travel agencies, be them the Maldives, or a myriad of other islands, splinters of rock, sand, coral and land in the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of people that are forced to migrate, without water, land, food , shelter are considered only as items of accounting for private charity or development and humanitarian aid agencies. Those papers testify the sovereign interest of nations in securing a blanc check and inventing new tricks to continue to postpone their doomsday date, when they will have to stop pumping oil and gas from the Earth.
At the negotiating table, this game was played on a computer keyboard, cutting and pasting words, adding or removing brackets. Outside of this editing feat, reality is made of suffering and pain and nothing new or unexpected came out in Paris. A “self fulfilling prophecy”, one could say. As a matter of fact, the absolute majority of countries had already tossed their chips on the table, written in black and white whatever they intended to do to contribute to limit temperature increase.
2 degrees, 1.5 degrees, 3 degrees. These figures make the difference in a gambling game that skilled negotiators have sorted out with language that holds almost everything together, an “aspirational” goal (we will have to get used to new lingo here, between “aspirational” and “transformational”, rather than binding a clear targets) towards the containment of temperature increase of 1.5 C as to preindustrial levels. No strings attached, no commitments. Again, it will be up to the invisible hand of market and its thaumaturgical capacity to provide a solution. An invisible hand that becomes pretty damn visible when it sticks new prospecting and drilling derricks in the ice, in the seas, in forests, or when it fells these to plant agrofuels, or evicts communities whose only crime is that of managing ecosystems from time immemorial, under the pretext of keeping them intact, and ensuring that they can absorb those toxic gases - even pumping them underground - that the new and old “Norths” of the world will continue to produce. This is what “net negative emissions” are all about, another trick to show that – apart from minor corrections – the route remans the same, and is chartered by the ideology of extractive capitalism.
Putting ourselves on the side of the sky today means taking a stance and the decision to unveil the trick, overcoming old rhetorics of a geographical North that exploits a colonized South. That North and that South do not exist anywhere but in handbooks of geopolitics of political correctness or opportunism. What we have today are communities in the North and in the South that suffer climate change, that are violated in the quest for new fuel, that resist and practice alternatives. It is not surprising that Parties in Paris did not agree to acknowledge that the only possible way out is that of inducing an oil shock, not a traditional shock of oil markets, but a shock therapy – to paraphrase Naomi Klein – that would envisage the end of fossil fuel prospecting and a progressive but rapid reduction of fossil fuel extraction and use. Figures speak for themselves: 800 billion USD are spent every year by fossil fuel companies to look for new gas and oil, as against less than the expected 100 billion allocated every year to support developing countries in their ecological transition. Much of this money is under the form of loans or private funds from companies or financial institutions and will reignite the spiral of debt, a double debt, ecological and financial.
If we put ourselves on the side of the sky, if we want to stop being relentlessly smothered, we will have to keep 80% of the gas and oil underground. This is what science tells us, but politics makes a selective use of science, so no decision has been taken on the matter in Paris, Nor was anything agreed on the moral obligation to compensate those that have suffered loss and damage caused by climate change.
Nevertheless, the official “narrative”, that of the United Nations, of governments, and some big NGO (possibly affected by some sort of Stockholm syndrome) tells us that Paris represent an initial success. It invites us to look at the glass “half-full” when the glass is now full of cracks, and does not seem to be willing to wear new glasses. Hence, our bifocals help us to de-codify and unveil, and at the same time focus on the other side of the sky. And this is where a work in progress comes into form, women, peasants, workers, citizens, activists, pacifists, ecologists, communists and post-communists, indigenous peoples, small entrepreneurs that practice another economy, philosophers and artists, human chains and red lines. This “commune” has a powerful toolbox at hand, made of reclaiming ecological debt and struggling for climate justice, stopping CO2lonialism, recognition of the rights of nature and communities, ecocide, nonviolent resistance.
This other side of the sky has declared a state of climate emergency in Paris, and built its agenda, the agenda of peoples and of the Earth, by intertwining the critique to te development model to that of the current phase of extractive capitalism, to patriarchal power structures, where often “human” is synonymous of “man”, to the construction of authentically decolonized language and practices. So, our bifocals help us in looking beyond. And the beyond is made of us reclaiming our future, from bottom up, continuing to weave networks and relations, exchanging knowledge and practices, spinning a texture of resistance, and not only limiting ourselves to resilience, putting our minds and bodies between the sky and the Earth, between bulldozers and oil drilling machines.
for an edited version published on The Other News:
for an edited version published on The Other News: