Progressive Christian Social Action
Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit
I’ve been back from San Francisco for a week now, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced at the Soil Not Oil Conference, faith-based workshops on climate change at Grace Cathedral, affinity group and spokes council meetings, and three demonstrations focused on the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), a global gathering hosted by California governor Jerry Brown. Many consider California, under Brown’s leadership, to be leading the way toward a renewable-energy future, especially when contrasted with the Trump Administration’s intransigence on climate change.
The conference itself celebrated Brown’s leadership and California’s progressive climate policies, reflected in the state’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB 32). Big Green environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council help develop and promote California’s “market-based policies that reduce energy use and cut pollution.” Just days before the conference, the California legislature passed a bill setting California on the path toward a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2045 (this could include non-renewable nuclear power). Brown also signed an executive order “committing California to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.” However, this does not mean that California would cease to emit greenhouse gases, but that connection with a global carbon market and the trading of permits to pollute (“cap and trade”) would, in theory, neutralize California’s emissions. (Cap and trade is the centerpiece of AB 32.) Still, it sounds pretty good, right? At least California is attempting to lead the way in responding to climate change.
Yet there were major protests, both inside and outside the GCAS. When former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was interrupted by protesters shouting, “the air is not for sale,” Bloomberg ridiculed them, saying, “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.” What’s going on? Evidently there are widely divergent views on what constitutes a positive response to climate change.
People who were inside and outside the conference all agreed on the fact that climate change is real. Their disagreement was and continues to be how to respond. I have previously written about opposing worldviews related to climate change:
“There are two opposing worldviews at work in these conflicts over [climate change and] the use of traditionally shared forests, lands, waters, and other common resources. One is based on the dominant economic and development model, which promotes exports and turns the gifts of the earth into for-profit commodities to be incorporated into the global marketplace. The other is based on the worldview of Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably on the earth for centuries, and who honor all the interrelated parts of creation as essential.” (From Love in a Time of Climate Change.)
I was not on the inside at the official conference. Instead, I had the opportunity to listen, learn from, and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of groups led by Indigenous and other frontline communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, and climate policies such as cap and trade. Their perspectives strongly diverge from those that dominated the official conference. Activists from these communities point out that during Brown’s eight-year tenure as governor, he approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells, 77 percent of which were in low-income communities and communities of color. California is a major oil producer, extracting approximately 200 million barrels of oil per year, most of it among the dirtiest crude in the world. Permits for new oil and gas (including fracking) wells are still being approved, creating infrastructure that will perpetuate oil and gas production for decades. (See Brown’s Last Chance.) No wonder impacted communities are protesting!
Although some people inside the GCAS spoke in favor of a “just transition,” many of the “solutions” discussed were high-tech, corporate-friendly, market-based policies that put a price not only on carbon pollution, but also on the forests and other ecosystems that could be incorporated into a global carbon trading scheme. Outside, demonstrators, most of whom live in impacted communities of color (including Indigenous communities), joined with allies to demand “racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.” People whose neighborhoods are near oil and gas operations, including fracking, don’t want their communities to continue being treated as sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, Indigenous communities don’t want their traditional lands monetized and set aside to provide carbon credits that will enable oil and gas companies to continue polluting their brothers and sisters in vulnerable communities in the United States. Together, supported by allies from a variety of environmental and climate justice organizations, they demand real and immediate solutions to the climate crisis, such as phasing out the extraction of oil and gas (“keep it in the ground”), creating buffer zones to protect schools and neighborhoods, restoring forests and other ecosystems (which sequester carbon), transforming our carbon-intensive global food system to support widespread agro-ecological ways of farming (drawing on local and traditional knowledge) and ending the injustices that cause hunger, and protecting the land rights of Indigenous and other traditional communities that have stewarded the land for generations. Go to the Indigenous Environmental Network to find out more, to download a booklet on “Carbon Pricing,” and to read the “Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” delivered in person to the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force on Monday, September 10, after a powerful demonstration calling on the Task Force to “let them in.”
Pope Francis, in Laudito Si, said that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and value.” The pope adds that while Indigenous peoples around the world are being pressured to leave their homelands, “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.” (page 91)
I was happy to participate in direct actions that amplified the voices of the people who are being harmed by climate change, exposure to toxins related to fossil fuel extraction, and false solutions to the climate crisis. Again, from Love in a Time of Climate Change:
“Today, many people in the climate justice movement are looking to Indigenous communities as leaders in struggles to protect the land, air, and water and as mentors in the search for creation-honoring worldviews with power to motivate action for systemic change. Most people in the industrialized world, however, are steeped in a worldview based on the dominant economic and development model. But as impacts of the earth’s changing weather patterns become ever more frequent and extreme, people may start questioning the conventional wisdom. Will technological innovation solve the problem of climate change? Will free-market capitalism and economic growth finally bring about the common good? Even for people who accept the reality of global warming, our worldview informs our response…
“Indigenous worldviews provide something important that is missing in the mainstream climate debate. New understandings that we are gaining from science uphold ancient Indigenous wisdom about the inherent value and intricate interrelatedness of all parts of creation. Our challenge is to learn from and incorporate this wisdom, which is based in a deep understanding of creation. All things really are connected.”
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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.
Watch “Climate Capitalism is Killing Our Communities” on the September 14 edition of Democracy Now! The show includes a debate about cap and trade that demonstrates the opposing viewpoints described here.
If you have Facebook, you can see video from the livestream on opening day, September 13, of the GCAS demonstrations in San Francisco. The sound starts out rough but gets better. At exactly one hour in there is a good interview with Bill McKibben about the purpose and effect of these demonstrations, and more. Note that this is not primarily older white environmentalists wishing that young people and people of color would “join us”. These impacted communities are leading the way… and we are acting in solidarity. Also, If you go into the video at 2:29, you’ll hear a young man from Kern County speaking very articulately about the impacts of drilling in his community. Then you’ll see our affinity group, “We’re Not Dead Yet,” in action with others from the Thousand Grandmothers, until about 2:35.
If you have Facebook, you can also see me here with my affinity group, blocking the intersection to create space for the indigenous and other frontline communities who were leading this demonstration, calling on Jerry Brown to protect communities rather than corporations by stopping the issuing of oil and gas permits, creating setbacks to protect indigenous and other impacted communities from oil and gas drilling, and keeping the oil and gas in the ground rather than using the market “cap and trade” mechanism to keep carbon pollution going. They claim that “green capitalism” is a new form of colonialism that gives CO2 polluters the right to pollute. Our goal was to follow their lead and amplify their voices.