Monday, April 18, 2011

Life’s Too Short to Remain Powerless

By Members of the Vancouver Media Co-op
The Dominion -

VANCOUVER—It is clear that the environmental movement is against everything from cars to logging to the tar sands—but what is it in favour of?

Apart from industry-backed government reforms and massive “climate summits,” and despite considerable anxiety among affected populations about immediately combating climate change, little has been done to institute systemic, lasting change. The need to address the root causes of ecological crises is widely perceived, though. A November 2010 Environics poll showed that 85 per cent of Canadians “agree the root cause of climate change is too much focus on economic growth and consumerism” and want “an economy that is in harmony with nature, which recognizes and respects the planet.”

Faced with the ongoing failure of world powers and business leaders to take meaningful action, ordinary people have taken matters into their own hands. In April 2010, over 30,000 people met in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the first World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (PWCCC).

The World Peoples Conference, along with other grassroots efforts like the World Social Forum, represent a tangible rejection of representational politics and, crucially, a powerful belief in the right of people to have a direct say in matters that deeply concern them. Compelled to revolutionary action in part by the same desire to allow people to decide their own fate, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) announced themselves to Mexico and the world alike over 16 years ago. Deeply rooted in Indigenous struggles, this autonomous movement provides a resounding example for resistance everywhere.

In EZLN spokesperson Subcommandate Marcos’s own words, “We do not want decide for us. We want to participate directly in the decisions which concern us, to control those who govern us, without regard to their political affiliation, and oblige them to ‘rule by obeying.’”

Here in British Columbia, where almost all lands are unceded Indigenous territories, the ever-expanding drive to profit from private control over resources has continued unabated since the first waves of colonization and settlement. Backed by police and security forces, and often in contempt of the will and sovereignty of affected communities, every level of government has done its best to auction off the ecologically diverse lands and resources between the coast and the Rockies to the highest corporate bidder.

Case in point is the vast array of energy and mining projects awaiting near-certain approval in the environmental assessment process, described by the government as a potential $52 billion investment in BC. The proposed Mount Milligan copper and gold mine in Nak’azdli and Treaty 8 territory north of Prince George was green-lighted in the fall of 2010. If it goes ahead, Mount Milligan will be the second-most expensive construction project in the province, coming in just after the $966 million RCMP station being built in Surrey.

Resistance to these and other projects is ongoing. In late 2010, Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, planned to “link the tar sands to Asia through [First Nations] territories and the [Fraser] headwaters,” was loudly opposed by dozens of Indigenous nations. Asserting their own sovereign and collective vision for their lands and communities in the Save the Fraser Declaration, the signing nations stated: “This project...and the federal process to approve it, violates our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as Indigenous peoples under international law. We are united to exercise our inherent title, rights and responsibility to ourselves, our ancestors, our descendants and to the people of the world, to defend these lands and waters. Our laws require that we do this.”

In Cochabamba, PWCCC participants identified key features of the capitalist economy, including “free” markets and private control of the means of life for profit, as bearing the brunt of responsibility for the climate crisis.

Together with the market economy, which fails to account for so-called “externalities” (such as pollution) come the private property rights that underpin the entire economic system. These rights allow control over a productive resource which may not directly be used or occupied by its “owner,” like a factory in China owned by American investors, or an apartment where people pay rent to an absentee landlord.

By excluding others from access, private property empowers owners to compel others to labour on their property for a minimal wage, effectively enabling proprietors to live comfortably off the sweat of others. Crucially, as the Cochabamba Peoples Agreement observes, this vast system also transforms “everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.”

Demanding nothing less than an “absolute rejection of the privatization, monetization and mercantilization of nature,” the PWCCC called for forging “a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings,” drawing from anti-oppression principles and based upon “complementarity, solidarity and equality [and] collective well-being.”

Imagining this new system and working to build it together with people in East Vancouver, across unceded British Columbia, and with people in struggle around the world, is the urgent task that we today have at hand.

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