Climate Bottom Meeting Puts Spotlight on Communities, Traditional Knowledge & Climate Change
All photos: Matthew McDermott
Since the chances of getting one of the few available tickets to the opening plenary session of COP15 over at the Bella Center seemed thin (and the odds of anything radically new being said even thinner) I headed over to the 'Freetown' of Christiana where the Climate Bottom Meeting was going on.
After we all gathered hand-in-hand to sing Amazing Grace and chant Aum in unison, the discussion on how eco-community action, traditional indigenous knowledge, and Buddhist ideals can help climate change. Here are some highlights:
Pracha Hutanuwatr, director of Wongsanit Ashram in Thailand
Buddhist Simplicity, Self-Reliance a Climate Solution
Pracha Hutanuwatr, head of Wongsanit Ashram (above) -- an intentional community for "simple living and engaging in social action and spiritual practice" founded in 1985 -- spoke on the importance of raising the self-esteem of the Thai people. As globalization entrenches itself in Thailand, it brings consumerism and advertising that only makes people who do not engage in it inferior.
One of the strongest points Pracha made is that traditional Buddhist values -- which building "sky-high" buildings, constant pursuit of gadgets and consumer modernity aren't entirely part of -- of simplicity and self-sufficiency are genuine solutions to adapting to climate change. People from international organizations such as the UN should come and study in the villages, and not in Harvard or Oxford, if they want to learn how to adapt to climate change.
Even though Thailand may not have the wealth of the United States or Japan, it is not an under-developed nation, he added.
Angelica Sarzuri, indigenous Bolivian leader.
Indigenous Self-Determination Crucial for Knowledge Preservation
Angelica Sarzuri (above) spoke at length -- and through group translation where the microphone was passed among various members of the audience who spoke Spanish -- about how climate change was threatening the age-old ways that the indigenous people of Bolivia live their lives.
She described how her people use no chemicals and no tractors to farm, instead using handmade tools and community-decided crop rotation to grow all the food they need.
However, in recent years rainfall patterns have shifted and the knowledge of their elders on when to plant, when to harvest, when the rains will come, is no longer holding valid. Angelica described how the rain now comes for shorter periods with greater intensity, running off the land and making agriculture more difficult.
She ended with an impassioned plea that self-determination for her people is essential for the traditional ways to be conserved.
We ended with a song/chant of "Tierra mi cuerpo, aqua mi sangre..." accompanied by clapping...
Pushing the Boundaries of the Climate Discussion
While it may be difficult to get these sort of messages across on the main stage a short distance away at the Bella Center, it seems to me that they need to be heard.
Just as the activist message ever-pushing politicians to make greater commitments in emission reduction in line with what scientists recommend pushes the boundaries of discussion. So does this sort of meeting, as touchy-feely (literally, remember we started holding hands and singing) and old-school hippy idealistic as it may seem.
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