Changing the world is no doubt a daunting task but that’s what leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales and thousands of environmental activists, representatives of grassroots groups, and the envoys of some 90 governments are striving to do this week in the small village of Tiquipaya, in central Bolivia.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth started on Monday with a speech by Morales that was radical because it called for a new economic system, but was also peppered with some other surprises.
Morales, an Aymara Indian who herded llamas as a boy and never finished secondary school, said that eating chicken fed with hormones causes “sexual deviation” in men and that European men lose their hair because they eat GM food.
Overall, Morales’ speech was meant to stir dissent against capitalism.
He said that consumerist lifestyle and global warming were cause and effect, and that the only way to stop temperatures from rising is to implement a economic model that he calls “vivir bien” or “to live well” – a political philosophy that draws from ancient indigenous traditions.
“Humanity is at a crossroads and must choose whether to continue the path of capitalism and death or take the path of harmony with nature,” he said before a crowd of people in a soccer stadium under a blazing sun that left many – including this correspondent – wishing they had put on sun block.
His message has struck a chord in thousands of people worried about global warming, who have travelled from all corners of the world to discuss a solution to what Morales likes to call “the climate crisis”. Bolivia has been among the most vocal opponents of the Copenhagen Accord, the non-binding deal from a summit in December backed by about 120 government and meant to keep any rise in temperatures below 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
The mood of the summit is chill, with people dancing to traditional music in the streets around the conference buildings, posing for pictures with llamas or eating free meals provided by organizers.
The meeting has been dubbed the Woodstock of climate summits because people are allowed in for free, and because there are ad-hoc music concerts, theater, artists painting murals and Indians peddling handcrafts or organic products.
“They are taking into consideration the ancestral traditions of indigenous peoples, that is a very positive thing … but this could end being a sing-along, something folkloric,” said Kanasami Gutierrez, a 45-year-old Bolivian.
Many participants told me they feel upbeat about the summit because by speaking up they feel they are now part of a solution, rather than part of the problem.
“World leaders should listen the people’s voice, and not the voice of the capital. We hope this will be the space to consolidate a large alliance of social groups from all over the world,” said Itelvina Masioli, from Brazil, and a member of Via Campesina, a global farmers’ network.
Others fear that the summit could issue a package of resolutions that will be unfeasible and tainted with radical leftist rhetoric, and therefore will not be taking seriously by global leaders in a U.N. meeting scheduled for late this year in Mexico.
Author Naomi Klein told Reuters that the most important thing that will come out of the meeting is the “revitalization of the environmental movement, of the climate justice movement.”
“The way climate change is discussed in the north is as if it’s something that is going to maybe happen in the future, it’s just hypothetical, all about grandchildren, not about the children that are living today. So it’s important… for people in the north to hear directly from countries like Bolivia that are living climate change now,” she said.
(Pictures: top - Ecuadorian indigenous men attend the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Centre right: Bolivia’s President Evo Morales speaks during the conference. Both pictures David Mercado/Reuters)