Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Windows of Hope: Climate Change in Copenhagen

YOU IDIOTS! Shouts the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for January 21, 2010. In blazing red filling a black background, with subtitles: “Meet the Planet’s Worst Enemies – Inside the Battle over Global Warming.” Heartening to see, as this journal is one voice of a generation not yet entrenched and calcified, a generation that announced a revolt from the status quo with new music and new values. I’m not sure how much impact this issue will have, as I had to drive 20 miles to buy it at a book store chain. But I wish millions would also find it, read it, tear off the cover or copy it and send it to Obama and everyone in the Congress.

The article describes how the right wing and big oil and coal producers spread misinformation and outright lies about the situation and spent vast amounts of money to make sure the US would do nothing to curtail CO2. They name the 17 worst polluters and deniers who do the most to derail all efforts to curb global warming.

I more or less knew all that, in general, but in reading the details I got so angry I had to chill and recall my wonderful experience in Copenhagen during the COP15 climate conference. So I guess I better tell you about that.

In the cold and the dark of December of 2009 the United Nations gathered a conference to plan how to counteract the growing threats to the planet. Most specifically the emissions by human activities of carbon dioxide which has unleashed the fastest chain of global warming in the story of life on Earth. There have been other periods of warming, but they happened slowly, gradually, through eons of time. The speed and intensity of this heating up is shocking, outstripping the direst predictions of the past forty years. It is caused by a now well-known and documented “greenhouse effect” of the sun’s rays penetrating a growing ceiling of CO2 that envelops the planet.

Around the world much hope was vested in this COP 15 conference, as it was dubbed. Knowledgeable people wanted solutions and action from the leaders of the nations. A hundred thousand people marched in the street to urge agreements from the conferees to save our planet before it is too late. Many of the Non-Governmental Organizations, who were turned away from the conference at the Bella Center, formed an alternative conference downtown.

It quickly became apparent that the conference would confound all our high hopes. There would be no cooperation, no compromising of the extreme differences between the rich and the poor nations. The developing nations want to develop and believe the wealthy nations should make greater sacrifices than those who are not creating the problem and are only trying to survive. Certainly the rich could afford sacrifices better than the poor countries.

Some of the young people from our European circles came to demonstrate, and marched to the Bella Center to try and stage a People’s Assembly to “give a voice to those who are not being heard.” The police informed them that the center was closed off, and when the crowd did not disperse the police chose to break up the demonstration even though the activists had signaled that they would not try to enter the venue after all but stage a gathering outside. Demonstrators were then pepper-sprayed and beaten with batons. One delegate shouted “We said we would be peaceful and you’ve reacted with violence. Shame on you.”

When a few of the crowd at the end of the march began throwing stones through business and government windows, the police surrounded and arrested the last 900 people, including our people and the Hari Krishnas! Linda and Rabea, our young women, had their hands manacled behind their backs and had to sit hours on the freezing ground before being carried to cages in a warehouse that had been acquired by the city for this event. All but three were released the next day.

It was not all failure. The day before the end the conference was deadlocked, and the discouragement was leaking out all over the city. Then Obama flew in and insisted that they go back and work harder, find some place to agree to something so it wouldn’t be a total disaster. And they did. They managed a tree-planting program that all nations could sign on to, and they agreed to meet again in a year in Mexico. The hope is that the people of the world will be so disappointed and disgusted and ashamed of the politics and economics of the status quo, that in a year there could be a new dedication, stirring cooperation and the will to sacrifice to meet the common threat to us all.

But there is a greater hope that I found emerging from Copenhagen during the conference – not from the COP15 meeting of the big guys at the top, but from the bottom, the little guys – us. In Christiania we organized an alternative meeting which we called “Windows of Hope.” Christiania, as perhaps you know, is a free haven of around 800 adults and perhaps 150 children that in 1971 was squatted by street people in an abandoned military base in the Copenhagen district known as Christianshaven. Eventually the then socialist government allowed the squatters to remain and called it a social experiment. That community has thrived for over 38 years now, and a whole generation has been born and grown and begun new families there. Ellika has lived there since 1979, and we have based our European travels from her house there since 1984.

In Christiania’s “Peace Meadow” we set up a circus tent, three tipis and 3 yurts, plus a heating system, indoor toilet trailer and a sauna. Several hundred people attended during the two-week period. I opened every day’s sessions with our traditional thanksgiving around a fire outside. Every day we had people from ecovillages and environmental groups, and from scientists and technologists who are actually addressing and doing something about the CO2 problem, and from many spiritual leaders. I learned so much every day that in spite of the failure of the COP15 it gave me hope for the world.

Ross Jackson, chairman of the Gaia Trust, started out with the warning that the COP15 would fail to make any meaningful agreements because, as Albert Einstein observed, you can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

The representatives of both the developed and the developing nations are still motivated by the same national and corporate greed that put us where we are now. The same selfishness and competitiveness and narrow thinking. For those who think in the modes of competition and domination there is no possibility of the cooperative thinking that is needed to save civilization for our grandchildren. They have not been taught by their elders to consider the unborn generations before themselves.

So the hope of the future falls on us, folks. It is up to us to educate everyone about the extent of the threat of global warming, the melting of the Arctic and Antarctic that will inundate major cities and obliterate many island and coastal nations, the disappearance of glaciers that are the main source of water in many countries, the warm-weather insects that will proliferate, with species invasions into new areas, eating up forest and field (such as the Asian tiger mosquito that carries diseases like Dengue fever and malaria) and bringing more disease and epidemics, the ever stronger and more frequent hurricanes such as devastated Haiti and New Orleans, the droughts which are already deadly in many places getting longer, and the wildfires, turning into infernos, wiping out habitats as well as trees and plant life that hold the topsoil, which is disappearing at an increasing rate. And the massive loss of trees speeds the warming ever faster, increasing the greenhouse cloud of CO2. The speed of the warming now is surprising the scientists that predicted it decades ago. The combination of these effects and its unpredictability makes the situation scarier and comprehensive action now more urgent.

And with all that, which any school child can plainly see, “those idiots” are trying to tell us that global warming is all a hoax of the tree-hugging environmentalists, there is no threat, and we can continue to exploit nature and people, burn up the fossil fuels and spew out carbon dioxide without restraint. Of course theirs is the noble motive of making themselves wealthy while the “tree huggers” have the strange and fuzzy motive of preserving life on this planet!

While the delegates to the COP15 were deadlocked in their mode of competition and narrow self-interests, corporate interests, and national interests, they allowed no input from the NGOs that held their own conference downtown. Even there, I was told, there was not so much clarity as confusion, and more competition than cooperation.

We drew fewer numbers to the bottom meeting, but those who came were sincerely interested to learn and solve the problems, to listen to each other and to give and serve, rather than to take and dictate. Some people came every day and a sense of community and comradeship in a shared purpose grew and nourished all who were there.

I offered circles informing about our work in communities, in ecovillages, in the Nature School, and in our prison programs, and was part of several panels of elders, including one of indigenous people.

I have long held the belief that the best hope for humankind is presented by the ecovillage movement, where people are empowering themselves to create alternative sustainable societies and reduce their carbon footprints by using alternative energies such as wind and solar, growing their own food organically, and by conservation, simple living, and recycling everything to the point of zero waste. I have been closely connected with a number of these communities, and have visited, learned from, and assisted many others. Right now there are thousands of communities all over the world that are developing their own ecological styles of sustainable living.

It was with immense pleasure that I reconnected with representatives from some of the ecovillages I have connected with over the years. With Findhorn, with which I was connected through Peter Caddy in 1974, with Albert Bates from The Farm in Tennessee where for the birth of our first son Emmy and I stayed and worked for two months in 1976, with Twin Oaks in Virginia, with whom our Mettanokit Community shared in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities in the 1980s and 90s, with Auroville in India, with which our community communicated by video mail and provided gatherings for their supporters at our conference center, with ZEGG, where I have been a close friend and supporter since 1992 and of which I am an honorary member, and Sieben Linden also in Germany, with Dyssekilde in Denmark and Tamera in Portugal, where I have made many circles and workshops over the years, and with Solborg in Norway and Damanhur in Italy where I have visited and was enchanted and delighted by their work and gifts to the world, and of course with Christiania, my summer home for 25 years.

There were others new to me, giving fascinating and inspiring accounts of their achievements: Krishna EcoValley in Hungary, the Valley of Flowers in Estonia, Brama Kumaris in India, the Sarvodaya movement of ecovillages in Sri Lanka, the Amsterdam Balloon Company, a city tribe, in Denmark Friland, Hertha Hjortshøj, Thy, Mors, and Tor Jordbo on the island of Fyn, the Ecovillage Network Ghana, Ecovillage Clareado of Brazil, the Brazilian Ecovillage Network, Wongsamit Ashram in Thailand, the Mali Peoples Center, and the Senegal Network of Ecovillages. We heard from many organizations such as the Global Ecovillage Network, Gaia Education, Ecovillage Design Education, Scrap Heap Mountain, The Green City, Earth Restoration Corps, the Nordic Folkecenter, the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

We learned about Transition Towns, Eco Agriculture, Permaculture, Biodymanics, Cradle to Cradle – making everything biodegradable or recyclable so there is zero waste. We learned about horse culture, about natural medicine and health provision, and about the living sea.

We learned about restructuring the global economy in the face of ecosystem overload, global warming, overpopulation, increasing inequalities, peak oil – all results of a dysfunctional political system with no global governance. We learned about a pluralistic perspective on money, about local currencies and mutual credit unions in ecovillages, and how we might establish a more sound and societally oriented financial system.

We heard about Forum that is used in several communities, and I gave a workshop to inform about the use of Co- counseling, which was fundamental to our Mettanokit Community and to our International Family Camps in tribal living. We had a panel on Conflict Resolution, and spoke of non-violence, civil disobedience, theater action, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Another strong contribution to our “Windows of Hope” was made by representatives of the Pachamama Alliance of South America. This global organization came about when elders of the Achuar tribe of Ecuador realized how threatened their lands and their very existence had become when the oil industry began to move in on them. They decided to reach out to the civilization that was portending their doom, and in 1995 some people responded to their plea. Together they built this alliance, Pachamama (Achuar for Mother Earth), to reach out to the people of the world.

olunteers like those who came to Copenhagen are now presenting symposia in man countries to inform the public of what is really going on, the effects of our materialist economy on ecology and the climate, on social injustice in the world, and on our personal happiness and spiritual well-being. I wish their program and also their film “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream” could be seen by all people on Earth.

We addressed the issue of how we strengthen the economics in and between communities (ecovillages, transition towns, cooperatives, companies and cultural/political/religious groups in the city) in and across bioregions, through liberating local creativity.

We had ecumenical panels of representatives from many and various religious and spiritual groups, such as Andrew Harvey, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, Swamini Pramananda Saraswati, Dr. Dharmakosajarn, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Chan Wen, Sarko Andrecevic, Michael Kagan, Sheikh Saliou Mbecke, and Prachar Hutanuwatr and others. It was very encouraging to hear the unanimity of all these various religious traditions in coming together to act passionately to save our beloved planet. We could feel that spirituality may bind us, not separate us, to work together with mutual respect and love for the Earth.

Volunteer organizations from Holland and Germany came and fed the people good vegetarian fare every day for a small donation. Such a noble service – to feed the people! Hearing from some of the speakers about food issues I almost decided to become fully vegan. Almost. I decided it would be a major and more possible step for me to commit to organically and locally grown foods and animal products like dairy only from animals that were well treated and fed without chemical or fossil fertilizers. But I learned that the livestock sector contributes at least 51% of human caused greenhouse gas amd is responsible for more of that gas than all the world’s transport combined. That the world’s population of farmed animals will double in 50 years which would negate emission reductions from all other sectors. That a shift to plant-based diets would increase health and quality of life, reduce soil erosion and deforestation, reduce air and water pollution and loss of biodiversity, hunger and thirst, and animal abuses. So I can report to you that I am now eating and buying food much more consciously and carefully than before.

The actions of a small group of people who use black clothing to identify themselves and who travel to many events in various countries to protest the actions and systems of the rich nations produced continuing counter-actions by the police, who had been expanded for the occasion. I was glad that our house could be a haven for a number of young visitors fleeing the sweeping attacks of law enforcement. After the setting of fires in the street one night the police invaded Christiania and tear-gassed the conference site, the tent and the grounds around it, and a group of young Finns took refuge in our kitchen.

The acts of vandalism against the system by our beloved comrades, our brothers and sisters and children, are very understandable in the light of our frustration with the system, the injustices and inequality, the elitist disregard and exploitation of people, and the unremitting, unrepentant destruction of the home that belongs to all of us, to all life, our Mother Earth.

But these actions of violence, be they only against property, are counter-productive to the real and practical goals of making needed change and creating a truly human society that works for everyone and all life.

All violent acts are demonstrations of powerlessness. And we are not powerless!
We have the intelligence, the creativity, the stamina and the courage to achieve our goals when we get together. Together there is nothing we cannot do.

But violence by our allies makes it harder, distracts us from full concentration on our goals. Violence diminishes our effectiveness. That is hard to see, because it is violence that keeps the dominating systems in place. But I wish I could get all the proponents of violence into a history class. That includes terrorists and national political and military leaders.

The history of civilization is a history of violence which is anti-human and anti-life. I’m not going to go through the class here, but a study of history will show that violence has always and will always only create more violence. Whatever example of war, revolution, or domination you submit I can show you how the human objectives would have been reached more quickly without violence.

We can and we will surmount the hurdles that are created by the violence of our fringes, but we will reach our objective of a more human system faster when all of us are pulling together.

The violent actions of the few are a perfect example of internalized oppression, something that we native and indigenous people know a lot about, that keeps us distracted and fighting each other. The indigenous people’s representatives at Windows of Hope showed that their teachings provide a model for the world. There are over four hundred million indigenous people around the world who are attempting to continue their traditional ways that have helped them survive by harmony with nature and the spirit of cooperation, relatedness and responsibility for all Creation. We heard from natives of western Brazil who are working to preserve the forests of the Amazon, and from leaders of Andean tribes actively pursuing sustainable and spiritual relations with the Earth and all life. In most of Latin America the main contribution to climate change comes from destruction of the forests. Any plan to alter global warming has to include sustainable forest management. Burning to convert the land to agriculture and new settlement on indigenous territory must be stopped. The forests cannot be protected without the cooperation of the people living there and they represent the solution if their territorial rights are recognized and respected. The ones who understand best the way to preserve the environment are those who have lived there in balance with it for countless millennia.

One concrete result of the climate bottom meeting was the initiation of an international and inter-cultural network furthering the Pachamama Alliance. This will be a new kind of cooperation with indigenous peoples as a basis.

It is essential for all of us to encourage a fulfillment of the universal declaration of the human rights and the collective rights of indigenous peoples around the world, as well as respect and reverence for the Earth.

So it seemed completely appropriate that the final words and ceremony of the two weeks of Windows of Hope be given by Carlos Prado, indigenous leader from Bolivia, as well as Antonio Gonzales, director of the American Indian Movement for the west coast, and myself from the Wampanoag Nation of the east coast of Turtle Island (North America). The harmony among us and with the conference and all the international representatives felt good and important for the world.

Another result of this event was to give me further support in my belief that the clearest shortest route to changing all society to one that is just, equitable, compassionate, and which delivers the highest quality of life, is found in the ecovillage movement. It increases my resolve to work further in support of individual ecovillages and with the global ecovillage network, to complete the book of my experiences and insights in the world of conscious community building, and to speak and write more in encouragement of creating our own ecovillage based on those insights and experiences.

So now. Who is ready for a Circle Way Village?

Together there is nothing we cannot do.

Who wants to live together with Ellika and me?

Welcome Home!