It’s either ironic or divinely appropriate that the World People’s Conference on Climate Change & the Rights of Mother Earth be held in Cochabamba, the most traffic-clogged city I’ve seen in South America. Poor Bob runs behind me like a dog with its tail between its legs as cars no-look change lanes, too hurried and frustrated with their standstill to consider the how devastating a flattened Bob could be to my trip.
This cartoonishly-named conference rides on the wings of the Copenhagen Climate Council fiasco which was internationally recognized as a failure by nations to agree on even the most basic idea: that we’re destroying the natural world in pursuit of unsustainable economic practices. At the Copenhagen conference a small group of the richest nations, spearheaded by the United States, drafted a document that dismissed the Kyoto accord, belittled the United Nations, and lowered emissions reductions standards. As a result, representatives from many developing countries walked out.
Here in Bolivia there are a lot expectations that this conference del pueblo will have a different outcome. The fact that this gathering has nothing to do with the official United Nations climate talks, is sponsored by a Socialist government with a waning world reputation and probable cocaine trade connections, and takes place in the one of the world’s least influential countries economically invigorates grassrooters with, in my opinion, a misguided hope, as if bucking the system far from the system’s main circuit will have greater effect.
The city’s energy has increased as the expected 10,000 attendees begin to pile into hotels, crowd cafes, and send a constant chatter out of open-air bars, usually reggae or lounge on the stereo, the odd chinking bottle punctuating the sound collage.
It’s very exciting, I admit. With the crowds come an increase in cultural activities. There are free film showings in the plaza, expositions of all kinds, live music every night, and of course the conference itself that proudly presents internationally-renowned experts, government officials from 70 countries, and celebrities to boot.
I will not pretend to be up-to-date on our global warming crisis; staying current on media mis-information has not been a priority on this bike tour. The extent of my climate change knowledge was a scratched DVD showing of An Inconvenient Truth and an almost viewing of Leonardo DiCaprio’s The 11th Hour.
However, I want to educate myself and believe that there is hope not just against an invisible force that may make the world uninhabitable in some intangible future but for people to control their own destiny by demanding change and working toward it together.
In short, I want to be swept away and sweep away my cynicism that all is lost. I plan to attend many presentations in the next three days, mingle with guest speakers if possible. Of course, I’ll share with you what I learn.