by Moisés Flores Baca
Note: I started writing this entry before Graham Reeder his about the Klimaforum, so I apologize if I repeat something he already mentioned.
I think I speak not only of behalf of my fellow COA COP16 delegates, but also on behalf of many other delegates from other youth organizations when I say that yesterday the ‘alternative’ forum of the civil society called Klimaforum was rather disappointing. There was a lot of noise about what the Klimaforum would be like on the Youth and Future Generations day the day before yesterday: there were supposed to be many cool events and then a great NGOs party at night. The expectations were very high, and most of us were very much looking forward to engage in the activities of this alternative forum.
I got there at around twenty past three after a shuttle ride in which we listened to very loud reggae and the conversations of the driver with a pal of his in a Mexican slang-charged Spanish. Once there we met some members of our delegation that had been there for part of the day and were then looking to go to Puerto Morelos and do some shopping. After registering I made my way to a talk in Spanish titled “The imposition called Sustainable Development”. When I entered the tent were the talk was being held one of the speakers -a Mexican professor who was classmates with the Nobel laurel Mario Molina- was explaining his view about the term sustainable development. He started off by saying that the term is an oxymoron, since the word sustainable is completely incompatible with the word development: any sort of development is by definition unsustainable. From that point I knew I was about to hear a “f$&k -the-system” childish rant, the kind of discourse that some high-school kids would use when talking about the need ‘for radical change’. I could have left but I was really curious to see what people’s reactions to the talk would be.
My expectations were fulfilled. The speaker went into talking about the paradox that some renowned economists once described, in which a system feeds itself to assure its continuation without really improving its drawbacks. To actually improve such system has to perish. Then he applied such idea to the capitalist system and its relationship to the emergence of green technologies for a green development: for him, no matter how hard we try to improve the technologies on which capitalism is based, we will never fix it completely so the only really solution would be to get rid of the capitalist system once and for all. No matter how much energy our low consumption bulbs can save, or emissions our hybrid cars can help decrease, the system will alway be flawed, because we might, for example, reduce the emissions of each car but because of continued economic growth we will have more cars, maybe even increasing the overall emissions instead of reducing them. For the speaker, to make real change, we would have to do things like get rid of all our cars because for our cars to get us around faster than say, walking, many others are slowed down (because of the construction of highways for instance). The speaker concluded this topic by saying that the idea of sustainable development is political deception, a fraud, an imposition, because every time that something doubles (say, the number of electric cars on the road) its impact increases to the power of three. Further, he brought up the idea that mitigation is never going to work, that the negative effects of capitalism will never be mitigated, thus we have to get rid of capitalism itself.
The second speaker, an Italian biologist, talked -in Italian- about what sustainability means in nature. He gave a detailed explanation of resilience and self-containment in nature, emphasizing the fact that sustainability in nature had been a reality for millions of years until humans started over-exploiting the natural environment. He brought up the fact that out of all the solar energy that enters the atmosphere only one percent is used by nature, and added -to highlight how wrong our practices are- that burning of fuels to extract their energy is a very unatural practice, that it is so wrong to burn because it does not happen in nature. I think the speaker forgot that even before humans appeared there have always been wildfires. I guess I could forgive that small mistake, and that was probably why I forgot to point it out during the Q&A section, but what I still have not wrapped my mind around was the next thing he said. The speaker talked about the irrationality behind the assumption that there can be infinite economic growth within the finite natural environment, point that I completely subscribed to, but the remark that followed such insight made me feel very uncomfortable. The speaker added that this idea could have only occurred to either a crazy person or an economist, implying thus that economists are a homogenous mass with no individuality whatsoever, which thinks all in the same way and who does not care about the environment. I was pretty surprised that a speaker at an event like Klimaforum could speak with such disregard about a whole profession, as though economics is the same as neo-liberalism. When I brought this to everyone’s attention during the Q&A session one woman sitting next to me said “he wasn’t being condescending against economists, he was praising them”, clearly she missed the whole point.
The Mexican professor replied to my comment saying that he firmly believes that all economics professors should quit their jobs and all Economics schools should be shut down. He added that economists have engaged in their profession as though it is a science, whereas it is merely an invention. He failed to recognize that by and large economists acknowledge the “made-up” nature of economics and they do not consider it a science but a humanity, understanding that the simplifications they make in their models are not meant to reflect the reality as it is but can be a useful tool to understand how the economy works: if an economist tells something like “let us assume in this model that there are only ‘x’ and ‘y'” he does not mean that he believes that in reality there are only ‘x’ and ‘y’, but that such simplification has to be made for that model to work so it can illustrate an idea that can help us understand some aspect of the economy, period. The whole situation was such an epitome of a professional -a chemist- talking down other professions, situation that we observe more often than what I would like. My sleep deprivation and the listening of this speaker replying to my question made me felt kind of sick but fortunately I made it through the whole talk.
Other simplifications that annoy me during the talk included things like ‘any normal European/American/Japanese would tell you that the problem are the poor and that we have to get rid of them’ or ‘the true reason there is war is to ensure continued economic growth through <construction/destruction>’. What does it even mean to say ‘normal European’? what about wars that have been started by religion clashes or radical ideological differences?
The idea proposed at the end of the talk is that we all should turn to an ‘artisan lifestyle’ in which we do everything ourselves without relying on the market or in corrupted governments. So let us forget about helping the millions stuck in poverty and misery, and instead, lets grow organic avocados in our yard and weave our own blankets in the quite of our homes lit by candles made with our earwax as we listen to our brother drum on his stomach. When I asked the speakers how are we to combine practically the goal of lifting the poor and disadvantaged out of their misery with the goal of attaining an ‘artisan lifestyle’ they were not able of giving me a concrete answer but just repeated what they had already said. People around the room nodded enthusiastically to everything that was being said by the speakers with expressions that showed the bliss that those ‘words of wisdom’ were making them experience. It was quite apparent that they were not questioning anything that the speakers were saying and took it all as ‘the truth’, most likely because the speakers sounded so articulate and coherent: they sound so good, they cannot be wrong.
After the talk I went outside the tent and wrote my previous entry on this blog, hoping to kill some hours before the exciting party that was supposed to be on its way started. I waited, and waited, and as I kept on waiting I saw most of the attendees at their laptops being all but social -if we are not to count Facebooking as being social-. We escaped the worst event I have attended during this climate summit so far on the first free shuttle we could sometime around ten.