Some 20,000 people gathered for a “people’s conference on climate change” in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this week.
The event is historic. The leaders of the world’s major powers decided that they would do nothing about climate change at the UN’s climate talks in Copenhagen last December.
Many environmentalists were enraged. The same leaders who were prepared to bail out the banks were not prepared to save the planet.
There was a danger that the climate movement would collapse in demoralisation.
But Evo Morales, the left wing president of Bolivia, called a global conference of the social movements to continue the fight against climate change.
The conference stands in open opposition to the US government. This is new.
Until now, the environmental and climate movement has been dominated by middle class white people in rich countries.
But at this conference, the majority of people will be from the social movements of Latin America.
Tom B K Goldtooth is an activist in the Indigenous Environmental Network and a native north American.
“We need a mass popular education movement to take power away from the UN and governments and give it back to the people,” he told Socialist Worker.
“After all, it is our lives that they are negotiating away.”
The centre of resistance over climate change is shifting to the oppressed.
Many NGOs were locked out of the Copenhagen talks – including Oxfam, WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
The UN was afraid the NGOs had become too radical and would protest against Obama.
This created a storm of controversy inside the NGOs. Many of the leaders are in favour of doing what they’re told. But many of the activists are not.
So Friends of the Earth International, to their credit, are here in Cochabamba.
But many NGOs are running scared of any movement led by Morales, because it could challenge the US.
The international TUC sent a circular to its British affiliates saying, in polite language, “Don’t go to Cochabamba”.
Parts of the climate movement globally are on the defensive. That weakens all of us. But the left in the climate movement is on the offensive – and that makes us all stronger.
Laura Hernandez and Raul Alban from Venezuela were attending the Cochabamba conference.
“We are a revolutionary collective called the watermelon,” they told Socialist Worker.
“Global climate change is a consequence of the capitalist system. We support Hugo Chavez’s slogan: ‘Don’t change the climate, change the system.’”
Activists understand the imperialist oppression of the Global South But there is little talk yet of unemployment, of the economic crisis, of green jobs or of workers.
This is exciting, far beyond anything the old World Social Forum ever did. But we will also need workers, unions and peasants across the globe to fight together.
As this week goes on, we expect the feeling, passion, rage and hope to build.
We want to light a fire in Cochabamba that the world can see, because the point of this conference is not the gathering of 20,000 activists.
It’s that those 20,000 will go home and organise hundreds of thousands to fight.