Posted by: jamietrowbridge | December 9, 2010

Radio Silence in Cancún

Or, more accurately, radio silence about Cancún in America’s bread-and-circus television news show. DemocracyNow reports:

We reviewed the transcripts of last week’s evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS and NBC, the Cancun [Climate] talks are not mentioned a single time on any of the networks.

So, why have our public-opinion manufacturers tuned down their broadcast signals on the defining crisis of our century? From whom are they hiding? Perhaps from the hacktivists supporting freedom of information defenders like WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks recently exposed how the Obama administration used development funding bribes to hi-jack the climate talks away from the relatively democratic forum of the United Nations and the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, and into the extremely undemocratic forum of the G20. (Read excerpt below.)

Perhaps the corporate courtiers are protecting shareholders and the bewildered herd from seeing these images of indigenous peoples and campesinos – those who deal daily with the devastating impacts of climate change the global warming economy – rising up.

For on-the-ground coverage of the Cancun Climate talks check out the following:

Indigenous Environmental Network’s:

Internet Radio put out by Diálogo Climático-Espacio Mexicano:

More Info on the U.S. bribing countries to accept the “Copenhagen Accord.”

The WikiLeaks cables help explain what happened. One of the most outspoken critics of developed countries in the lead-up to Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Republic of Maldives, a nation of small islands in the Indian Ocean, ultimately signed on to the Copenhagen Accord. A secret U.S. State Department memo leaked via WikiLeaks, dated Feb. 10, 2010, summarized the consultations of the newly appointed Maldives ambassador to the U.S., Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed. The memo reports that the ambassador said, when meeting with U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing, “Maldives would like to see that small countries, like Maldives, that are at the forefront of the climate debate, receive tangible assistance from the larger economies. Other nations would then come to realize that there are advantages to be gained by compliance.” He asked for $50 million, for projects to protect the Maldives from rising sea levels.

Pershing appears in a related memo, dated a week after the Maldives memo, regarding a meeting he had with Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, who played a key role in Copenhagen, as she does in Cancun. According to the memo, “Hedegaard suggested the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) countries ‘could be our best allies’ given their need for financing.” Another memo from Feb. 17, 2010, reported, “Hedegaard responded that we will need to work around unhelpful countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia.” That was from a meeting with deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs Michael Froman. The memo went on, “Froman agreed that we will need to neutralize, co-opt or marginalize these and others such as Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador.”

The message is clear: Play along with the U.S., and the aid will flow. Oppose, and be punished.

I can’t wait to see Evo Morales, “first indigenous President of Bolivia” and supporter of the Cochabamba World People’s Accord on Climate Change the Rights of Mother Earth, speak tomorrow.

Posted by: James Ploeser | December 6, 2010

The other Cancun…

12/6/2010 – Seven years ago the world’s small farmer, labor, and environmental movements converged in Cancún to stop the World Trade Organization (WTO) from tightening its iron grip on people and our planet.

The stakes of those talks were so high in 2003 that one Korean farmer, Lee Kyung-Hae, a member of Via Campesina, climbed the police cordon and committed a ritual suicide. Expansion of the WTO agriculture agreement would have meant death for millions of farmers, he said. He made the ultimate sacrifice to express absolute dissent.

Yesterday, with the global spotlight back on Cancún for the United Nations climate negotiations, Via Campesina marched to commemorate Sr. Lee’s heroic act. They honored his sacrifice by continuing in the struggle, demanding an end to climate change attacking its root causes, and to halt implementation of false solutions.

It’s no coincidence that Via Campesina is again in Cancún in 2010. Their organizations are clamoring for the same solutions as seven years ago. Support for rural, autonomous, sustainable development, an end to megaprojects like dams and mines, food sovereignty, land, water and other resource rights for indigenous peoples and small farmers who feed and cool the planet.

We in the global north have some catching up to do.

Movements elsewhere in the world are rapidly organizing, and organizing around root causes. Free from the framework of infinite growth and expansion and as opposed to embarrassingly over compromised legislation in the U.S., the solutions they advocate might actually prevent catastrophic climate change. There’s a near universal understanding that we must tackle the interrelated climate, economic and food crises with holistic new approaches, or humanity just might not make it. There’s a demonstrated willingness to sacrifice not just minor creature comforts or the added monetary costs of sustainability premiums on consumer products, but to literally put their bodies on the line, to brave acts of violence and repression that we can hardly imagine. To really sacrifice, like Mr. Lee.

So let’s not forget there are many Cancúns. 2003. 2010. The Cancún of the tourists and official delegates, and that of the workers and peasants, and social movements present this week. The 1,000s of Cancúns that will rise up in cities worldwide tomorrow, Dec 7th.

Join us tomorrow in demanding Climate Justice, NOW! The spirit of Mr. Lee and countless others will be with you, wherever you may be.

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 28, 2010

Riding our Bicycles Down to Mexico

We landed in Mexico City (DF!) by bus about a week ago and made some unsuccessful attempts to meet up with climate organizers here. We’re still getting used to the different pace of life and of institutions (is there an emoticon for a smiley shoulder shrug? There should be). So late last week we headed out to our first stop of Atlixco de las Flores in the state of Puebla, the cradle of unionism in Mexico.

The ride was nothing short of amazing. At first it was simply fantastic to just get back on our bikes and weave through the DF traffic. Bikes give you such an amazing sense of place – and Mexico City is a great one – a Great BIG one! Enormous. We rode for well over 15 miles before getting to anywhere that felt even a little suburban, and even then you couldn’t tell.

As for cautiousness – it’s funny. Folks keep saying that drivers here don’t respect cyclists here. Well, I think that must be the case everywhere, because it hasn’t felt much worse than the commute in DC. We’ve even gone on the federal highways some – the Mexican equivalent of the interstate, though the setup is much more like a US federal highway. Even that almost feels safer here because cars are accustomed to accommodating the frequent and irregular stoppage of the countless buses that coarse through the veins of the smoggy capitol. The black exhaust explains the miserably low visibility – but Mexico still emits less than the US, so let’s not get all high and mighty about it!
Read More…

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 26, 2010

Popo & Izta: Tough Names, Simple Facts

11/24/2010 – Popocatéptl and Iztaccíhuatl. We never knew how much we could learn about climate change from a pair of words that after many, many attempts we still can’t say 3 times fast. But these twin volcanic peaks speak straightforward volumes.

15 yrs ago I was COVERED with snow

Everyone we ask recounts that these mighty mountains whose glaciers provide the water to the capital and various surrounding states, were once a like white knights of moisture, fighting off drought and thirst between the rainy seasons. The immaculate summits dominate more than the landscape, occupying central space in the cultural sphere as well.

Today the volcanoes are still breathtaking, though the glaciers are all but gone.

And if you live here, you can’t help but notice. It’s not lost on anyone, and perhaps that’s explains the unanimity of support for our mission since we arrived here. In we visited one of the volcanically filtered pools that bubble up from underneath Popocatéptl and run downhill to feed the valley with fresh water for irrigation and drinking. A taco vendor there recounted how when she was a little girl the water that now rose just enough above my ankles to require some extra pants rolling, once flowed up to her neck in the same riverbed. Incredible.

In addition to seeing its source in the skyline, the water runs underfoot and in municipal canals that look like gutters, right there in the open. And it’s the most delicious drinking water you’ve EVER had. It’s got a hint of anise! Forget that adage about not drinking the water in Mexico. If you get to drink from Popocatéptl, do it!

With water and its source so visible and central in the landscape and life of the surrounding populations, folks know something’s up when the glaciers melt away in only 15 years. That’s when NAFTA was enacted. Only partially a coincidence…

Water Purísima from Popo-Izta

Now folks are worrying how to deal with increasing scarcity due to global warming. Coping seems the only plan anyone has – coping with even less than these humble folks have already. While we in the U.S. and global north still deny our fault and our debt. Infuriating.Even if many of those we spoke with don’t necessarily understand the issue as human-made global warming as such (though many did), Popo and Izta make it simple. They tell pretty much all that most any of us need is to know about global warming: it’s happening, and folks are going to starve and die of thirst if we don’t reverse it.

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 24, 2010

Pedals are better than engines, you know…

And we’re embarrassing ourselves smiling and whimpering in the zócalo (central plaza) of Atlixco de las Flores because the Climate Reality Tour just were received the sweetest gift EVER! Take a peak:

Claire first played this for us the night before we left and we melted then, dubbing The Bicycle to Mexico Song the official theme song of the Climate Reality Tour. But a music video!?!?! Toooooo kind! Thanks to Claire and Brandon, and all the other friends involved!

Posted by: jamietrowbridge | November 18, 2010

Monsanto hates Po-Boys (and the Saints)

eutrophication (noun) – a process whereby agribusiness companies in the Global North make money by suffocating coastal fisheries.

“A cyclist eats for two.” So says my bicycle-obsessed friend Jose, who graciously provided the bike trailer that I sometimes love and sometimes hate. After 9 days and 500 miles of uninterrupted cycling from Nashville, we arrived in New Orleans ready to eat. And, I must say, the Big Easy is a wonderful place for seafood. I tend to abandon my weak vegetarian convictions while traveling, and I’ve been reveling in the fried shrimp po-boys and alligator sausage gumbo.

Food has played a central role in rebuilding community post-Katrina. Seth Gray, an anthropology student and researcher for the University of New Orleans’ Restaurant Row Recovery Project, tell us stories of NOLA residents who, after spending all day repairing their houses, would then get together to help rebuild their favorite neighborhood restaurants. “They would put in extra hours, so that they could start eating there again.”

Unfortunately, the gulf coast seafood industry has an enemy. No, I’m not talking about BP, I’m talking about agribusiness giants. The multinational corporations that drive our industrial food system are reaping windfall profits at the expense of the Gulf Coast.

Every year, nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich fertilizers (produced, pushed and depended on by monster companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow, Cargill, ADM and WallMart) are sprayed liberally on farmers’ fields all along the Mississippi River basin. Every year, most of that fertilizer ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in eutrophication and a low-oxygen “dead zone” 5,000-8,000 square miles in area. This year’s dead zone “stretches from the Mississippi River Delta west toward Galveston, Texas, measured 7,722 square miles (20,000 square kilometers) as of July 31.” (Bloomberg)

GMOs Make the Dead Zone Worse

Companies like Monsanto have developed a clever scheme for making money off of farmers. Monsanto sells farmers its patented “Round-Up Ready” seed, which has been engineered to resist Monsanto’s patented herbicide. Round-Up kills weeds and pests as well as all the life-giving critters and microbes in the soil, meaning that the farmer must then purchase copious quantities of petroleum-based fertilizer to get anything to grow. With more traditional farming techniques (read: more farmers, fewer green house gas emissions), the majority of the nitrogen ends up in the plants. In the current industrial food system, most of the nitrogen ends up in the ocean:

Of 80 million tons spread onto fields in fertilizer each year, only 17 million tons gets into food. The rest goes missing. This is partly because the fertilizer is wastefully applied, and partly because the new green-revolution crops developed to grow fat on nitrogen fertilizer are also wasteful of the nutrient. The nitrogen efficiency of the world’s cereals has fallen from 80 percent in 1960 to just 30 percent today. (“The Nitrogen Fix.” Yale 360)

Read More…

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 17, 2010

Industrial policy IS sexy

For most folks, there might be nothing less sexy than industrial policy. An abstract government process for deciding how to intervene in the globalized marketplace to support what major industries – often quite polluting ones. It lacks the high-speed flare of bike culture (in which we are awash), the colorful bouquet of community gardening, the human drama of environmental justice struggle.

Oil Refinery in East Houston

But green industrial policy might just be what saves the planet. It’s a tragic that it’s sultry allure is lost on us.

We were impressed in our interview with Bill Londrigan, the President of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, how deeply he understood the need for holistic green industrial policy – one that moves rapidly to phase out dirty industry and replace it with green jobs. “Hopefully we can make some rational decisions about where we need to go… to make sure we can evolve to where [energy and industry] aren’t harmful to the environment” Londrigan says. “And the government could play a great role.”

But we are talking more than your typical one-time weatherization jobs and beyond just the renewable energy sector. Green industrial policy can tie the other threads together, and create jobs and healthier communities in the process. As has been discussed, if we shifted our food, transit, and energy policy we could address the injustice and unsustainability in those systems. We can imagine regional bike manufacturing with green energy, and labor-intensive local food systems underwritten by our government. This would be welcome industrial policy to shift from unsustainable centralized corporate status quo. Read More…

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 12, 2010

A Climate Reality Tour Kinda Town

11/11/10 – Austin is a Climate Reality Tour kinda town. Stores are local. Folks have their own flavor and soul. Strong movement activist abound. There’ a clear consciousness of the crises confronting the worlds’ working people and ecology. Seems fitting for Austin to be site of one of the CRT’s most inspiring conversations thus far about how to take all those wonderful aspects of a city like Austin, and turn it towards winning climate justice action.

Shut this Down

The local Greenpeace office hosted the final CRT presentation in the US and brought in some of their volunteers and staff. We presented the CRT vision of the climate crisis as an economic and not environmental or scientific challenge, discussed the relationship o the climate change to globalization of the destructive economic growth model of the global north, and brainstormed about how to break the cycle of defeats for the climate movement.

We found no easy answers last night, but the takeaway is that folks get it and many are ready to throw down.  Folk are ready to step beyond our local organic consumer activism, step beyond our parlor discussions and take collective, public action to demand a sustainable economy. Folks are eager to take up the mantle of the global justice movement and organize in solidarity to confront globalized corporate greed.

The question and challenge for us organizers, is where to channel this energy? How will we thrown down? When? Where?

Sometimes we complain that folks aren’t doing enough. We put it on them. People are asleep. They’re stuck in their own lives and routines. They are more concerned about other priorities and challenges. All true, but let’s start linking our local work to the global struggle for climate justice and build working towards a more holistic movement that can build and wield real community power.
To invoke a line from the younger angstivist rocker days, “It has to start someplace / It has to start sometime / What better place than here/ / What better time than now?”

It won’t start in Austin – because frontline communities have bee at this for some time. But Austin is ready to get in it. All that’s needed is the start. Here’s hoping that December 7th marks a new chapter for climate activism here and across this country.

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 9, 2010

Food Justice Louisville

If there’s a happenin’ spot for food justice it’s Louisville, Kentucky. Couched between the plains of the central Midwest and the hills of the Appalachian east, Louisville lies at the crossroads of and on the cutting edge of the new, sustainable food movement.

Emissions from agriculture and deforestation account for 14% and 17% of global warming emissions respectively. With our industrial food chain mining the soil for calories, clear-cutting native forest, and burning fossil fuels to produce and ship over ever longer distances, our food economy is a leading root cause of climate change.

We got to catch up with several key food activists who are active at the national level who happen to reside in Louisville – folks who are flipping the food system on its head by localizing instead of globalizing, ditching the chemicals and going organic, and creating a culture of food and eating in harmony with the planet and its people.

The Louisville crew had several inspiring and often overlapping projects that provide great examples of how to sustainablize a local food system while keeping your eyes on the prize of taking down the big guys in Agribiz. (We’ll post interview footage soon!)

Our first stop was a community garden where we met up with Stephen Bartlett. Stephen works with Sustainable Agriculture Louisville, Agricultural Missions and the Refugee Agricultural Promotion Project, promoting local food and community gardens, but also staying looped into the national and international campaigns for sustainable and against corporate control of agriculture.

We were impressed with his breadth of understanding and ability to easily explain complex connections between neoliberal globalization of food, urban food desserts, the struggle for food workers’ rights, the ecological imperative a new way of feeding ourselves.

When we spoke, (check back later for video) Stephen called on food activists to go beyond alternative community projects to organize, and build power to confront corporate control of food. “Get involved in a local organization, try to build that organization up”, he says. “But as you’re doing that”, he continues, “keep the eye on the prize, turning back the whole neoliberal system. We’ve gotta get land back to the people who work the land, and we’ve gotta get healthy food to everyone no matter what their income is.”

The next day we visited a food dessert farmer’s market and caught up with Rae and Adam Barr–Strobel the Community Farm Alliance and Stone Soup Community Kitchen. We talked with Rae and Adam about the role of local food movements in the climate justice movement and the necessity of affected people deciding their own futures, in agriculture as in climate mitigation alike.
Read More…

Posted by: James Ploeser | November 1, 2010

Riding the Tide – Reflections from the Trace

10/30/10 – Jamie and I have reached the Mississippi-Louisiana state line. We’ve ridden well over 900 miles so far, in five states – six when we officially pass tomorrow into the new set of c/laws. From the mountains to West Virginia and Kentucky to the hills and old southern farms, to the immaculate Natchez Trace and now the unexpectedly rolling hills of southern Mississippi.

That pretty much means we’ve spent countless hours on our bike saddles. While butts go numb, brains sometimes do the opposite. Mine, at least, can get hyperactive.

I get to thinking about the folks we’ve met along the way, some of whom ya’ll’ll meet soon too when we post videos. They’ve taught us so many lessons: about perseverance against seemingly intractable injustice and the longest odds, about how to structure a movement that fights and wins, about direct action, about organizing through artistry and story, about peaceful sustainable community living. So much learning in so little time. We are truly very blessed.

But sometimes – and I gotta be honest here – even this gift of a journey can feel like a chore. Your knees hurt, you’re tired, you’re not sure if it’s going well, or well enough, you miss your friends (it’s great to get at least one friend to share this experience with, but…) and you just hope the road could magically be all downhill for the rest of the day. What’s worse, you know you’re not fully enjoying the trip of a lifetime.

But you look up, where the rows of pre-peak fall colors await your gaze, and the farmlands and fields flutter past. You realize this challenge is a constant: to take the good with the difficult, to observe beauty amidst the struggle, to remain grateful for the journey, regardless of making your destination or self-imposed deadlines.

If there was ever a place to overcome a brain-butt divergence, the Natchez Trace is the place. Camping on beds of pine needles, gazillions of stars at night, breathtaking forest sunrises, and countless miles of pine, cypress and oak roll past as you ride. Just what a traveler needs to put their head where their feet stand.

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