The forces of negativity - repression, despair and apathy -- seem all too pervasive. Yet, the forces of positivity -- freedom, hope and courage -- are also ever-present. The 'Voices of Hope in a Time of Crisis' gathering which convened on November 8, 2014 at the Cooper Union in New York City represented a timely resurgence of the latter. The event took place in the historic Great Hall of the Cooper Union where abolitionist Frederick Douglass made his speech in 1863 supporting the Emancipation Proclamation.
'Voices of Hope in a Time of Crisis' was organized by the International Alliance for Localization (IAL) and its founder, the visionary thinker and activist, Helena Norberg-Hodge. There were many informative and insightful presentations by activists from around the world at the Cooper Union Conference. The focus was on the massive environmental, socioeconomic and cultural destruction caused by corporate-led globalization and the need to shift to local alternatives in order to safeguard ecosystems, economies and communities.
Elizabeth Yeampierre from UPROSE, Brooklyn's oldest Latino community-based organization, talked of environmental justice and community-led sustainable development efforts. Michael Shuman, from BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) discussed how shifting financial investments to local banks and credit institutions and the like can be an effective strategy to 'replace' Wall Street rather than trying to 'occupy' it. Catherine Ingram, the founder of Living Dharma talked of the integration of consciousness and social change activism. These and other talks were interspersed with music, dance and calls for the audience to hug and connect with each other making 'Voices of Hope' a more holistic, community-building experience than conventional activist conferences.
The Conference helped raise a host of important questions regarding the shift towards environmental sustainability and climate protection in particular. The Indigenous Environment Network and similar groups have consistently criticized the trade in carbon credits arguing that it allows the world's worst polluting countries and companies to continue polluting and "reap profits from evictions, land grabs, deforestation, and destruction of biodiversity." At the 'Voices of Hope' Conference, Brazilian activist Camila Moreno raised further concerns over the UN and World Bank backed carbon trading system. She pointed out that carbon units could become the new 'metric of trade' in the twenty first century allowing values to be placed on environmental resources like land and trees. This new currency, however, would not benefit the environment or poor land based communities.
The critique of carbon commoditization raises a host of difficult questions for the global climate movement which supports the adoption of a 'strong, meaningful climate treaty'. What would be the long-term consequences of a treaty that is built primarily on carbon trading as a strategy for economic growth? Would U.S. reengagement with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), and the enforcement of a universally applicable climate treaty with binding emission targets for all nations, play right into the hands of the neoliberal agenda for privatization and commoditization of all life?
Activists of the burgeoning global climate change movement including those who participated in the historic Climate March in New York on September 21, 2014 have worked very hard to build momentum on the climate issue. Should they put their energy to support the corporate controlled climate negotiations leading up to the Paris Climate Treaty Convention in 2015? Should middle class activists shift their efforts away from a global climate treaty that upholds the flawed market-bureaucratic approach and carbon trading mechanisms, such as, REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation)? On the other hand, can indigenous people and peasant farmers continue to produce food and 'care for our mother earth' as they have 'done so for centuries' as envisioned by groups critical of economic growth and carbon trading, such as, Via Campesina, the international movement of land based people?
What, indeed are the alternatives? How quickly can the shift to renewables and de-carbonization at the source be achieved through individual and grass roots efforts? Globalization is the reality and events like the 'Voices of Hope in a Time of Crisis' Conference are themselves the products of globalization. The challenge is not so much to strengthen traditional systems as much as to shift to a positive form of globalization with a multiplicity of endeavors at the individual, local, regional and planetary levels.
Inspiring and uplifting events like the 'Voices of Hope' Conference in New York need to be organized around the world so that more and more people can engage in deeper reflection and communication on how we should respond to climate and the broader issues of human and planetary survival. Can we find a way forward that avoids the extremes of both corporate growth and radical no-growth, a path founded on a global ethical consciousness committed to both environmental sustainability and social justice?