Monday, December 07, 2009

Matt my Mate: When does Copenhagen start?

Adelaide, Australia.

Dear Matt,

Does anyone know when the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change begins? I thought it had begun 125 days ago (inside joke for those who followed the countdown on Facebook) when some of us were worrying that not much was being done about it, or at least it didn't feel like it. Since August, 2008, right during the Water Summit in Sweden, Climate Change was picking up. Even The Economist started changing its editorial profile about the topic and had "a climate change of opinion," as they so masterfully put it in one article's title. And then, it happened...

The stock market crashed, as painfully as it could, and left us all thinking and rethinking so many things about our daily lives, that we were globally caught up in the discussion. So, the year that we should have spent generating dialogue about an issue as rupturing in our civilization as the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change that starts today, we spent it talking about how come the market also crashes when it spends more than what it earns. Just like me. The greatest loss was all the rich synergies that could have been developed globally during this last year if we would have shared together that grandiose information apparatus humanity has created called the media for a common purpose.

The media is boring and manipulative and uninformative sometimes because there is really nothing that serious to report about. The media is not what is stupid. It is those of us who follow it as if it was a religion. I bet no responsible and serious media enterprise that covers world affairs has in its mission statement: "to make people believe in us." That is a mission statement that would be impossible to achieve in a community of highly-educated people that would not cross a dime unless there was sufficient proof that, under any reputable methodology, it could be considered probably or absolutely true that what is being presented in the media is, in fact, TRUE. Otherwise, they -the hypereducated- would take the information with the superficiality it deserves. And then start digging before forming an opinion, even before starting the pandemic of fear that usually adrenalizes us all en masse pandemonium, like when Michael Jackson passed away.

I am sure he would have preferred that all the energy and all the love (L-O-V-E) and all the time and money spent into the question of whether he was really dead or not or sick or not or murdered or not or rich or not or bald or not, or black or not, we would have used it to generate empathy across our borders (especially the mental borders) and try to think how can we prevent the ever-growing death tolls of natural disasters around the world. We all lose when we lose someone. Even if we are already numb to the suffering of others, we can still remember, as a glitch in our intoxicated brains, that if someone suffers, we all suffer. Our species will not evolve symbiotically if we disregard one another. We are not going to be better if we defeat ourselves to death.

That's why we need to change.

One idea that just popped to my mind (or I read about it in The Advertiser of Adelaide today, I can't really say...) is what if we divide the political responsibility of the decision-making process regarding climate change. There may be regions with far less territory and population than some small world states that would prefer to be left alone the way they are right now, without having or needing to change anything in their lifestyles because of others. Like for example, indigenous communities around the world that have earned their right to be in our current stage civilization, precisely because they proved to be sustainable (in fact, self-sustainable, as most didn't do much trade with other groups) for thousands of years.

Or it could be that some territorial unities are so contaminating to the world environment that they deserve a different treatment than the rest, with more financial and technological assistance to transform its industry from highly polluting to restorative, or higher taxation on specific emissions to that particular place, or recommendations about the species of trees that should be planted in that area to reforest it in 40 years from now. We need to go back to the forests, back to the jungles. We need to go back to building under the shade and protecting the pine trees that cut the strong winds from the mountain. We need to go back to drinking water from the tap and not fear our baby developing a respiratory condition. The same way a human being 100 years ago would not have liked to see a dear one being poisoned.

We have been poisoning ourselves. But that's nothing new. We are not going to get anyone off their chair by saying that. We smoke, we drink alcohol, we use combustion engines, we use electricity, we recharge batteries, we buy and buy and buy clothes and shoes and shit that piles up in desks and drawers and closets and attics, and warehouses and garbage dumps. So we are the problem. It is our responsibility. The tough challenge is that many of us are self-destructive (suicidal in slow motion) and many are skeptic. Fortunately, few are ignorant. So it is not a matter of intellect, but a matter of attitude (skeptics) and a question of punishment (in the case of the ones that match with suicidal conduct, like smoking tobacco or driving under the influence of alcohol.)

Now, before you throw your first rocks at me and start labeling me with post-Sept. 11-jargon about the extremist morality of my religion, it is important to remember that societies that are with us for over 5000 years do know the way better than those that have been here for less than 500 (in one word, all colonies, including the entire American continent except Guatemala and Bolivia, the two countries that still have a majority of indigenous people among their state population) [Congratulations, Mr. Evo Morales, for your re-election in Bolivia!]. Millenary civilizations know the way already, and the ones that are not, have been the ones ruling the industrialized planet for far too little time in their cultural existence. They have not prepared to flourish as a species and they seem doomed to extinction as well. I refer to the West (the wild, wild West...) And they won't die alone. With them, goes the rest of us. Therefore, there is no "Us" and "Them" (it sounds SOOOOOO last decade already...) anymore, but a "We" pronoun that stands for humanity. So part of our responsibility shall be to respect our elders -the more ancient ones among our cultures- to listen to them, to listen to the experience they have accumulated living much longer than us and through other harsher times. Let's ask them questions. We are facilitators in the process of having them show us the way. For that, we must learn to listen. To understand that pain will always be there once you get old, but a comforting hug or a phone call or a smile can make pain feel so much better for a bit.

If we were responsible at a smaller political level, it would be easier to participate. Plus, it would be more ethical, because the politicians in charge don't have that much to lose. They are not at the very top with the cherry in their mouths. It would be a lot more people like you and I gathering at night once a week and reading a few e-mails a week and making transformative decisions for the state of the environment as perceived from our smaller territorial unity.

In a country like Australia, this would be fairly easy. The country is so massive that 20 million people are divided in smaller groups that control vast amounts of territory. But in a country like Costa Rica, where are we jammed over each other for lack of planning and infrastructure to help secondary cities develop faster, then it is very difficult to make our communication more effective for problem-solving because we have to speak too loud to be heard, so we are unable to listen to anyone else. And everybody thinks they have a better opinion than the expert, be it a president, a football coach, a policeman, or your own freaking mother that gave birth to you. So, splitting the decision-making process into municipalities would result, in the case of Costa Rica, in 81 grassroot-think-tanks working voluntarily for the diagnosis, prognosis and transformation of the state of the local environment. So guess what would happen in Parque Nacional Las Baulas in Playa Grande, Guanacaste, when there is a municipal referendum to decide what to do with the freaking park. Didn't guanacastecos decide to join Costa Rica precisely in that same way? Was it any less civilized in 1824 than it would be today?

And then maybe the people from Beijing -or, for that matter, from the Chaoyang district where I used to live until last Month- would have to pay far more taxes than others in less polluted communities. And I don't mean that everybody has to pay more taxes. I mean those who individually contribute more with the environmental degradation. The poor have paid a heavy burden drinking dirty water and not having access to medication and dying young or violently. There would be far less suffering in the world if we would all die of old age, when your relatives have had years and years to say goodbye to you before simply fading in your sleep, like angels die. Not out of typhoid fever or diarrhea or cancer or AIDS or murdered. Imagine what the world would be like if all nations would have agreed to a human rights charter that started: "Every person has the right to die of old age..." Then we would be talking.

A brief note on the rich paying like poor: if the rich would pay 1% more -a small burden for most- than what they already pay (or if they only paid what they had to pay, without legal tricks to shake off the civic and moral responsibility of helping others help themselves) (and I include myself among the rich, definitely. After all I have seen out in some of the poorest places on Earth, I consider myself very rich -and privileged, and blessed- for the wealth that has surrounded me all my life), they could relieve a very heavy burden on hundreds or thousands or millions of people. Some burdens are life-threatening even at a young age, like the 1000 children under 5 that die every hour of a preventable disease, like malaria or tuberculosis. It is not that anyone wants to make the rich any less rich. It is empirically known that stealing is not sustainable. It is that the rich ignore the immense power they have to help heal the lives of so many others, perhaps because we the rich do not spend that much time coexisting with the poor. If we did, we would perfectly well know with how very little we could do so much for so many others. It is a question of morality. But not because we are immoral, but because we are ignorant of the conditions in which others live.

Every state, every province, every district, every municipality, every town hall, every neighbor gathering would permit far greater dialogue and creative search for synergies to deal with the environmental situation of the smaller community. And it would also allow, in very many cases, allow for a very rich and constructive interaction between the rich and the poor.

As professor Galtung used to say: "Sometimes, to solve a small problem you must make it bigger, and to solve a big problem you must make it smaller."

Cheers, Mate!

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