System Change Not Climate Change

by A.A. French

After being in Copenhagen for five days now, there are some thoughts running through my head that I’d like to express and share with y’all. This is going to be short, and probably not all that eloquent, but it will help me get some points across that I think are really important at this critical moment in the fight for our climate. I do want to say that while this post is critical of the way things are happening at COP15, I still deeply respect the youth of all delegations who are inside this conference, trying to scrap out a decent deal for the world. I thank them for all their efforts, but am coming from a different perspective here.

I came to Copenhagen hesitant and nervous….not wanting to place too much hope into the talks that had effectively been castrated by the UNFCCC leadership and Yvo de Boer. But I still wanted to be here all the same; after all, it’s supposedly the climate party of the century! So I hooked up with some French activists and an amazing organization called Climate Justice Action and planned on doing all that I could during the two weeks of the conference. I wanted to rally, protest, take part in negotiations, have my voice heard and above all- help bring a fair, ambitious and binding treaty out of Copenhagen. But upon arriving in Denmark, I entered a catatonic state of dumbfoundedness… having finally come to the realization, like so many others (James Hansen, Breakthrough Institute etc), that these talks were doomed to fail and there was nothing anyone could do about it. As quickly as it had come, my dream of that fair, ambitious and binding treaty that we’ve all been working towards disappeared in a smoggy cloud of yen, dollars, euros and political and moral weakness.

Since 2006, I’ve been a part of the youth climate movement and I always believed that it was possible to achieve the sort of change we needed through the United States Congress, the United Nations Conference of Parties or other governmental bodies. To put it short and use that worn out term, I believed in “the system”. I believed that governments did have the power to stop climate change and did in fact want to stop climate change. I thought COP 15 would be a conference of folks dedicated to doing whatever was necessary to solve the climate crisis, regardless of money, corporate influence or politics.

I was wrong.

The first five days of the conference have been full of back door dealings by Annex 1 countries, oppression of “developing” countries like Tuvalu by official delegations and a lack of desire for a legitimate deal in Copenhagen by members of the US delegation. So, even with tens of thousands of people working on a global climate treaty for the past fifteen years, we have yet to reach any sort of legitimate, legally binding treaty that addresses climate change and climate justice while refusing to give into corporate and big business pressure. You would think that when you put the world’s top negotiators, scientists, governmental representatives and UN hot shots together for 15 years, they’d at least be able to figure something out right? Continue reading

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Why The Venezuelan Amendment Campaign Is So Important

Venezuelas President Hugo Chavez (center) points to supporters during a rally in Caracas, Thursday. Venezuelans will hold a referendum on Sunday to vote for the approval or not of a constitutional amendment which could allow Chavez and all other elected officials to run for re-election indefinitely. AP/Fernando Llano

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (center) points to supporters during a rally in Caracas on Thursday. AP/Fernando Llano

This Sunday, 15 February, Venezuelans vote in a referendum on a proposed Constitutional Amendment that will allow for any candidate to stand for the Presidency, or indeed for any elective office, without restriction on the number of terms they may serve. Only the people’s vote will decide whether they are elected and how many terms they serve.

In other words, if President Hugo Chávez, who is already serving his second term under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, wishes to stand for a third term, he may do so. Equally, the opposition mayor of Greater Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, may stand three or four times if he wants (and if the people vote for him).

This is no different from the practice here in the UK, where Margaret Thatcher won four elections for the Conservatives (although we did not have the privilege of voting for her personally as Prime Minister), and Tony Blair won three times for Labour. It is of course different from the situation in the US, where some sixty years ago a limit of two consecutive terms was introduced for the presidency.

But why is there such a fuss about this proposal in Venezuela? Once again, as so many times before in the last ten years, the media are full of stories about Chávez’ dictatorial tendencies or being President for life, and the opposition goes on about “the principle of alternation [alternabilidad]”. But they know perfectly well that Chávez will only be re-elected in 2012 if the people vote for him in elections which have been certified time and again as impeccably free and honest, and that the possibility of mid-term recall still exists and will be maintained. And alternation, as the experience here in the UK and in so many “advanced democracies” shows, is all too often a neat device to prevent any real change while giving the appearance of choice with a superficial change of personnel.

The real problem is – and everyone knows this, they just don’t want to discuss it – that Chávez represents the continuation of the Bolivarian project, a popular revolution which has transformed Venezuela and inspired similar transformations in several other Latin American countries. And that against Chávez, the opposition will again lose, and lose badly as they have done before.

Hugo Chávez is the people’s candidate, and for the foreseeable future will continue to be. No, he is not a dictator, and of course he is not infallible. He himself has often recognised his failings. But he has demonstrated time and again his commitment to serving the people – the poor, the workers, the excluded – of Venezuela, and they have reaffirmed their confidence in him. If he were to go – and thank God, this is not the case – it is to be hoped that the people would find, indeed create (as they did with Chávez) another leader or leaders. But why substitute a leader of proven ability, indeed one who has grown in stature and maturity with every new stage of the revolutionary process?

In these circumstances, those who talk about “Chavismo without Chávez” are either naïve or ill-intentioned. What is at stake in Venezuela is a fundamental clash of class interests, although one which is being played out as far as possible in peaceful and democratic fashion. The campaign for the Constitutional Amendment to abolish term limits is simply the latest battleground in this contest, and as such, a victory for the “Yes” camp on Sunday 15 February is crucial – and let’s hope the victory is a decisive one!

An Unsustainable System

We know that capitalism is not just the most sensible way to organize an economy but is now the only possible way to organize an economy. We know that dissenters to this conventional wisdom can, and should, be ignored. There’s no longer even any need to persecute such heretics; they are obviously irrelevant.

How do we know all this? Because we are told so, relentlessly — typically by those who have the most to gain from such a claim, most notably those in the business world and their functionaries and apologists in the schools, universities, mass media, and mainstream politics. Capitalism is not a choice, but rather simply is, like a state of nature. Maybe not like a state of nature, but the state of nature. To contest capitalism these days is like arguing against the air that we breathe. Arguing against capitalism, we’re told, is simply crazy. Continue reading