Saturday, December 8, 2007
Parsley, Leeks and A Share of Responsibility
In a press release yesterday from the UN climate change conference in Indonesia the Global Justice Ecology Project writes:
Indigenous peoples are here in Bali to denounce the false solutions to climate change proposed by the United Nations such as carbon trading, agrofuels and so-called "avoided deforestation" that devastate their lands and cause human rights violations. "This process has become nothing but developed countries avoiding their responsibilities to cut emissions and pushing the responsibility onto developing countries," stated Fiu Mata'ese Elisara-Laula, of the O Le Siosiomaga Society of Samoa. "Projects like REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries) sound very nice but they are trashing our indigenous lands. People are being relocated and even killed; my own people will soon be under water. That's why I call the money from the projects blood money," he added.
These strong words have stayed with me today, as I walked the snowy hills behind my house and stopped in our greenhouse to pick vegetables for lunch and dinner. They stayed with me as I chopped and fried and baked the afternoon away while kids and neighbors wandered in and out of the kitchen and flurries of snow fell outside the windows.
These words challenge what I thought I knew - that channeling funds from the rich word to the developing world to preserve forests is generally good thing, for all concerned. But of course it matters for this, as for all sustainable development, how it is done, and by whom, and whether the local indigenous people are in control or 'in the way."
I feel certain that the world - and my own country - could address climate change in ways that produce fairness, share wealth, and bring healing. I can imagine dozens of ways to back off our pressure on the biosphere while giving stewardship of land and opportunities for innovation to people from communities who haven't had much of either for a long time
Such schemes couldn't happen without a lot of listening, to people like Fiu Mata'ese Elisara-Laula and to those denied power within our own society. They probably couldn't happen – or be sustained – without facing the parallels between the way the industrial growth society has treated the Earth and the way it has treated whole communities of people.
I can't prove that it won't be hard for us in the materially rich world to, as the indigenous people at the climate conference ask, shoulder our own responsibility for addressing climate change. But I do know that many of the steps that are open to us today, from buying less to using the power of our own muscles to get around, grow our food, and amuse ourselves, bring satisfaction in and of themselves.
I had the evidence for that in my own hands all afternoon, chopping vegetables grown by someone I love, to feed people I love, smelling the sharpness of leeks and the pungency of parsley. I know we can take on a fair share of this responsibility to protect the climate, and find things to enjoy in the process.
It is easy for me to say this about growing and eating local food as a way of taking responsibility for addressing climate change, and harder to imagine taking full responsibility for how many miles my family drives our car, or for those many winter nights when my community's wood-heating system can't match the cold temperatures and part of our heat comes from fossil fuel.
With access to land and experience gardening, the act of growing my own food requires only my decision to do so. Joint heating systems or a regional transportation network require not individual but collective action.
To get my kids to doctor's appointments and myself to a shopping district – both fifteen or twenty miles from where I live – without a car, is not something I have been able to figure out on my own. It will require a new train line or a bus system, something that could be created only by thousands of us pooling our resources and shifting our priorities together.
That makes it hard to live with the words of the indigenous people at the climate conference. It is hard to live knowing that my actions to take care of my family today put someone else's family in danger now or in the future. It is hard to feel powerless, on my own, to change the system I live within so that I don't violate my own values many times over each week.
In the grips of this kind of powerlessness, it is tempting to block out the information that makes the powerlessness so apparent, tempting to skim over the pleas of the indigenous people, for example, and go back to my busy life.
That's the reflex of course, that leaves the shape of our transportation and energy system in the hands of the mindless reinforcing cycles that concentrate money and power in a few hands and leave the wishes, values, and empathy of millions of ordinary people out of decision making, time after time.
Most of us in the rich world aren't being evicted from our homelands by carbon trading schemes or rising sea levels. But, until we find collective ways to create an infrastructure that allows us to take care of our families without hurting others, the habits and patterns of the industrial growth society take a toll on us as well, a toll measured in compromises with our own sense of ethics and self-respect.