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Tools for System Change

Friends of the Earth, as part of Friends of the Earth Europe’s School of Sustainability, have produced a series of resources for campaigners to help them focus their work on system change. The resources are categorized into sections on Power and Privilege, People Power, Organizing Trainings and Events, Organizing Projects and Campaigns, Work on Local to Global Issues, Work together Sustainably. They include tools for facilitators, case studies, and diverse articles.

Creative Coalitions – A Handbook for Change

A useful handbook for activists, including chapters on How to Choose Where to Put your Efforts, Staying Behind the Scenes, Creative Tactics, and A Culture that’s Hungry for Impact.

This is a Handbook for people seeking to work with others to change the world. In today’s world, the injustices we’re trying to overcome, the progress we’re trying to realise – they’re too complex to bring about alone: you need other actors in your ecosystem to work well together; you need to overcome vested interests; you need to spark innovation.

This Handbook is to help you unlock effective collective action and secure the systems change that’s needed.’

Jam Facilitation Manual

From the Yes! international social change program. Not recipes for making preserves but a jam-packed (sorry) manual of ideas on facilitation when working with groups of young changemakers, from setting context to discussing power and privilege to what happens next.

“Those who participate in a Jam usually come hoping to find their next growing edge. With Leveraging Privilege for Social Change, they are often pushing the envelopes around power and privilege and their relationships to these issues. With World Jams, they are trying to connect the dots of various movements and issues, hoping to attain greater clarity and engagement in their work, while living more full and balanced lives.

To put it simply, a Jam embodies two core principles: uncompromised truth and unconditional love. A Jam is, above all, a place to be real, to take off masks, to speak one’s truth, and to be fully oneself. Simultaneously, a Jam is a highly appreciative space, where compliments and love are given freely and received with dignity and gratitude, and where the intention is towards healing, learning and growing honest, healthy relationships.”

(Follow the link for the free version of the latest manual on Google Drive, or to order a hard copy. You can also download the 2010 edition.)

More on Yes! Jams and see here for the list of current/upcoming Jams

The Change Agency CAMPAIGNERS TOOLKIT

This toolkit from the Australia-based The Change Agency contains a unique and indispensable collection of more than 1,000 resources for activists and organizers including workshop tools, case studies, articles, and signposts to many other organizations.  

You can explore particular themes such as ‘strategy’, or build your own toolkit by collating and searching specific terms as a group. Highlights include the extensive People Power Manual.

The Change Agency also runs the ‘Community Organizing Fellowship’, plus their website carries lots of great guest content – such as this review by Amanda Tattersall of Rules for Revolutionaries, the book about organizing the Bernie Sanders campaign in the USA in 2016:

“Take the “Rule” – “the work is distributed, the plan is centralised.” This is an argument for highly coordinated campaigns. That makes total sense in an electoral context where you have one objective – a candidate’s win – over a whole nation. It makes no sense, however, when it comes to running the climate movement. Climate issues don’t operate at a single scale – they run from the neighbourhood, to the state, the nation, the global and to corporations– all have potential targets and there are thousands of potential, integrated campaign strategies. If you “centralised” climate strategy you would risk losing many of your leaders (at best) if not totally pissing them off.”

If you’re curious about the Sanders campaign and where it went after the election, also check out ‘These Bernie Alums Think They’ve Found the Secret to Reaching Trump Voters

How to…Get started with campaigning

A handy little guide from UK-based Global Justice Now, a veteran of campaigns and organizing and which has its own network of local action groups. This is one of a series of Activist resources available from GJN.

Make sure each meeting has a purpose: use it to plan something new; do something practical during the meeting; invite a speaker for part of the meeting; show a film or have a social”

This guide was a collaboration with two other UK organizations – Common Weal and Campaign Against the Arms Trade

Structure of a Movement

This is a visualization tool on how movements work from the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) in the UK. It asks the following questions about how the roots of movements function:

1.Common values and principles: what guiding principles do we use to align our different struggles and ensure that we’re meaningfully tackling the root causes of the issues on which we work not just symptoms?

2. Unifying narrative: what story gives us the courage to transform society together?

3.Shared strategy: as a movement, of all the fights that we could pick, where should we be focusing our energy right now to make the most impact given the current context?

4. Active Liberation: we will only have a just movement capable of winning if we look like the society we’re trying to build – how are we cantering the voices of those most marginalised?

5. Strong leaders: if leadership means empowering others, how well are our movements doing at this?

6. Capacity: how do we build the resources we need as a movement needed to take on the fights needed from people to money or institutions?

This is just one of a host of Resources from NEON, which include a power and privilege guide, the Lumen open source group discussion platform, a systemic campaigns framework, and reading lists on things like leadership and neoliberalism.

Saving Water – Saving a Way of Life

Stories of Inspiration and Resilience from Argentina to Peru

by Lydia Caudill

I am an agricultural activist who steers away from the “NO” campaigns (‘Stop this’ or ‘No more of that’). I find strength and much more potential in fostering change by dedicating my energy to the “YES” people and causes, those that are successfully experimenting with diversifying and democratizing their agricultural systems – and I’ve committed myself to sharing their stories so that others can be inspired as well.

With this in mind, one year ago I bought a bicycle and began preparing for my journey home, from Paraguay to the NW United States. I’m giving myself two years to be on the ground, closer to the pace and the people who are producing the food for South America. I want to understand better what’s going on down here.

A home for the night, in front of a farmer’s house in Peru
A home for the night, in front of a farmer’s house in Peru

As an undergraduate student doing research, the challenges of small-scale farmers were always portrayed in such a dry and academic way. I wanted to see small-scale agriculture actually at work, befriending and working next to the farmers who are living this reality. With this driving force I picked up a camera, immersed myself in a teach-yourself- to-edit program, and am now sharing farmers’ stories from the view of my saddle.

I’ve now been cycling for nearly six months, through Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and am now in Peru. I’ve milked cows, butchered goats, harvested corn and quinoa, and celebrated birthdays and closures of community projects. I’m just starting to identify patterns. One of the emerging narratives that I hear from farmers explains why so many are leaving their farms and communities: WATER. The lack of water, disappearing rivers, contamination and the changing weather patterns. The older generations share their memories of how now-empty fields were once so full of farmers that there was no free land to be found. I am amazed by how many of the people I talk to, even those who speak a limited amount of Spanish, are powerfully and consciously using the term “climate change” to explain the altering state of their world.

I had read about climate change, but to hear it spoken about over and over again with frustration by farmers who just want to continue their lives in their homes, has been profound. The responses to it I’m finding have been even more inspiring. Watching their communities disappear, individuals are getting motivated and making changes.

Water projects in Vitichi, Bolivi

In a community with 200 houses, historically very agriculturally based, the disappearance of its river is not a priority on the national level. However, watching 85% of their graduating youth leave for cities is a concern at a very local level, and Vitichi has decided to address it.

A Vitichi youth showing me his goats
A Vitichi youth showing me his goats

In recent years, water had depleted to the point that many households only had water for about a half an hour a day, or every other day. The community and the municipality all agree that climate change and being downstream from the large mines in Potosí are the causes of their disappearing water. Individuals organized and found funds for two major projects: one is a water harvesting project and the other a water treatment project.

Water is now pumped in from a spring 6km away, doubling the quantity and improving the quality for the town. The people also value this resource so greatly that they prioritized being able to process the water and release it clean, back into the river for the communities downstream from them. The capital city of La Paz may not have a water treatment program, but Vitichi does. As it is a recently completed project with an eye towards the future, they are hoping that this improvement will give the younger generations pride in their community and reasons to stay. Here is a link to the video documenting a bit of their story.

Doña Trinidad of San Antonio, Aiquile, Bolivia

While walking through the streets of San Antonio, I asked people how they were doing and many responded, “We would be better with water!” The last five to ten years have seen tremendous, extensive drought, cutting their growing season in half and sending many people looking for jobs in cities. Doña Trinidad lives in a community of 40 houses and it is currently a disappearing community. After my time spent in her home and working with her in the fields, I saw in her an incredible potential for the future of San Antonio. Not only is she overcoming gender discrimination by having risen to be president of a local producers’ cooperative, she is passionate about educating herself and others.

Doña Trinidad has participated in any and all workshops offered to her by various organizations and is well versed in climate change and its effects on her community. She has participated in organic agriculture and international bee-keeping conventions, and women’s leadership development workshops. In her own words, “This information is an inheritance to me. I will share it with my children and grandchildren…. And I will share it with the other women in my community that have not had a chance to learn.”

Doña Trinidad in her tomato field
Doña Trinidad in her tomato field

The workshops and conferences have given her information that she has taken home and uses to better manage her farm and its production. I saw technologies new to her being experimented with, such as clay pots to water her trees. By using porous clay pots semi-submerged underground, moisture is pulled in the direction that it is most needed, effectively eliminating wasted run-off and evaporation, efficiently using every drop. It also requires less frequent monitoring and watering (this is a fantastic link for more information). She did an experiment with two trees planted side by side; the tree with this clay pot was twice the size of the tree planted at the same time and with a traditional bucket watering system.

With a shared larger vision and through their continued education, she and her husband are also saving money from their small budget to buy a drip irrigation hose, which uses less water by slowly and more directly watering the plants’ roots. This will further save the limited water they have. They see no other way and are adapting to the changing world around them.

Doña Trinidad and her husband Don Lionsio, who has supported her and her education along the way
Doña Trinidad and her husband Don Lionsio, who has supported her and her education along the way

Luis de Amaicha del Valle, Tucuman, Argentina

Lydia standing over the dried river bed
Lydia standing over the dried river bed

Luis is another community leader who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting during my travels, and he shared his vision with me. He is of the original people Amaicha, and told me the story of his ancestry and his land. In a valley high in the Tucuman province, his people flourished for hundreds of years with an abundance of harvest and animals. The introduction of the Spaniards and mining in their region changed the landscape, most notably by deforesting their valley for use in those mines. Hundreds of years later, trees have not reforested the valley. Within the last 50 years, the community has seen their river run dry. As the reducing flow slowly receded up the valley, Luis said his people followed it and left the land as well, until it was completely vacant.

Until recently that is, when their community started drilling for water. Luis moved back to the land five years ago, and he and his community have since developed a cooperative to manage the well, lowering the price of the use of water and improving general maintenance. After nearly 50 years of his community being separated from their ancestral land, the last five years has seen a shift in the opposite direction; 27 families have already moved back to their land and 50 more are on a waiting list, wanting to first have their access to the water confirmed. The community intends to take advantage of their cooperative structure and use it to collectively sell their products.

Luis holding his corn, next to the irrigating water canal that his pump made possible
Luis holding his corn, next to the irrigating water canal that his pump made possible

What impressed me the most was a still greater vision. Luis had heard of communities all together changing their regional climate, such as Wangari Maathai’s Nobel Prize winning reforestation project in Kenya, The Green Belt Movement. This reforestation project brought jobs to people by offering agro-forestry projects, and has actually increased the rainfall in the area. Hearing about the success of another people that were on the verge of losing the strength of their community, Luis and his own people are organizing themselves to create a foundation, with the intention to reforest their valley as well. With this they hope to be recognized on a new level and seek support. They hope to fully bring back their people to their land. Luis spoke to me of this vision with a conviction and an assurance that it will happen. He told me that the river will run again, the trees will hold moisture, the grasses will grow strong, and he and his neighbors will be able to pasture their animals as they traditionally had for hundreds of years.

Lydia in Tucuman, Argentina
Lydia in Tucuman, Argentina

This trip across countries has been an inspiration to me. It is teaching me about resilience in a way I had not imagined. Of course, I’m personally developing a resilience of my mind and body, as I pedal through valleys and mountains. That is such a little thing in comparison to what I have seen from these farmers. These families are watching the weather patterns around them alter, which makes a difficult gamble of a job even more challenging and risky. Many have left their land for the cities. But many others have stayed. These farmers are experimenting with how they can adapt to their new reality and they crave new knowledge, techniques and technologies to continue to live the life they’ve always led, and that they want their children to continue living. This is the resilience that has hopefully taken root in my own life, one that I can take with me and spread to those around me, as we all are learning to adapt to the changing world and climate around us.

PedalPlowLogo-finalLydia Caudill is from Washington State, where her interests began with her parents and their own work in agriculture. She has worked with African refugees in farming projects, as a Peace Corps Paraguay Agricultural Volunteer and on various small-scale farms. She is thrilled to have created a project that combines her passions cycling and food sovereignty and is excited to explore what lies ahead in her path. Lydia is thankful to her Pedal and Plow team for helping make this project possible in the meantime.

Getting Action: What Does Climate Change Mean to You?

Messages from the 21.09.14 People’s Climate mobilizations, North and South

The Democracy Center had ‘boots on the ground’ in Cochabamba and Oruro in Bolivia, and New York, London and Dublin for the events on Sunday September 21st. We asked people: “What does climate change mean to you?”

Here we offer you some of their responses (in English and Spanish).
sound_off
(You can see the whole album of over 60 responses here on our Facebook page.)

Violet, 11, London: “In 50 years the world will change completely. The sky will turn black, the grass will stop growing, and human beings will be no better than robots.” “En 50 años el mundo se cambiará por completo. El cielo se volverá negro, el pasto dejará de crecer y los seres humanos seremos igual que robots.”
Violet, 11, London: “In 50 years the world will change completely. The sky will turn black, the grass will stop growing, and human beings will be no better than robots.”
“En 50 años el mundo se cambiará por completo. El cielo se volverá negro, el pasto dejará de crecer y los seres humanos seremos igual que robots.”

 

Benjamin, Oruro: “Destruction of the ecosystem - death of innocent living beings"
Benjamin, Oruro: “Destruction of the ecosystem – death of innocent living beings”
“Me da miedo cuando la gente dice que no cree en el cambio climático. No es una creencia, sino un hecho científico. Apoya y actúa ahora.”
Dublin: “Me da miedo cuando la gente dice que no cree en el cambio climático. No es una creencia, sino un hecho científico. Apoya y actúa ahora.”
Cochabamba: "Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?"
Cochabamba: “Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?”
Jess, New York: “For me it’s a manifestation of how mother earth is actually feeling. That she's in turmoil. The crazy weather and increasing natural disasters, it's like she's going through a really rough time, kind of like having a mental breakdown but it's manifesting physically.” “Para mi es una manifestación de cómo la madre tierra se siente. Está en tumulto. El clima loco y los desastres naturales crecientes, es como que ella está pasando por un tiempo muy duro, como que está teniendo un colapso nervioso pero que se está manifestando físicamente.”
Jess, New York: “For me it’s a manifestation of how mother earth is actually feeling. That she’s in turmoil. The crazy weather and increasing natural disasters, it’s like she’s going through a really rough time, kind of like having a mental breakdown but it’s manifesting physically.”
“Para mi es una manifestación de cómo la madre tierra se siente. Está en tumulto. El clima loco y los desastres naturales crecientes, es como que ella está pasando por un tiempo muy duro, como que está teniendo un colapso nervioso pero que se está manifestando físicamente.”
Philippa, Cochabamba: "Solidarity with affected communities - we are all affected communities"
Philippa, Cochabamba: “Solidarity with affected communities – we are all affected communities”
Andy (and Riley), London: “A perfect storm of international and intergenerational unfairness. But also an opportunity for us to develop beyond fossil fuels.” “Una tormenta perfecta de la injusticia internacional e intergeneracional. Pero también una oportunidad de alcanzar un desarrollo más allá de los combustibles fósiles.”
Andy (and Riley), London: “A perfect storm of international and intergenerational unfairness. But also an opportunity for us to develop beyond fossil fuels.”
“Una tormenta perfecta de la injusticia internacional e intergeneracional. Pero también una oportunidad de alcanzar un desarrollo más allá de los combustibles fósiles.”
Dublin fracking
Dublin
Aldo, Cochabamba: "Struggling to change the system is not an option, it's a question of survival!!"
Aldo, Cochabamba: “Struggling to change the system is not an option, it’s a question of survival!!”
Raymond - New York: “I love the outdoors in Alaska & we're seeing dramatic changes that are a bit scary. Indigenous communities are being affected by lack of sea ice forming. Species diversity is falling off. With all of the different aspects it's a crisis. It's become a crisis...” “Me encanta el campo en Alaska y estamos viendo cambios dramáticos que dan un poco de miedo. Las comunidades indígenas están siendo afectadas por la falta de formación de banquisa. La diversidad de especies se está decayendo. Con todos los diferentes aspectos es una crisis. Se ha vuelto una crisis…”
Raymond – New York: “I love the outdoors in Alaska & we’re seeing dramatic changes that are a bit scary. Indigenous communities are being affected by lack of sea ice forming. Species diversity is falling off. With all of the different aspects it’s a crisis. It’s become a crisis…”
“Me encanta el campo en Alaska y estamos viendo cambios dramáticos que dan un poco de miedo. Las comunidades indígenas están siendo afectadas por la falta de formación de banquisa. La diversidad de especies se está decayendo. Con todos los diferentes aspectos es una crisis. Se ha vuelto una crisis…”
Wanda, Oruro: Wanda, Oruro: "Unconscious voluntary global genocide"
Wanda, Oruro: “Unconscious voluntary global genocide”
Liane and Echo, London: “If your neighbourhood was falling apart you'd do something about it.” “Si tu barrio se estuviera derrumbando, tú harías algo al respecto.”
Liane and Echo, London: “If your neighbourhood was falling apart you’d do something about it.”
“Si tu barrio se estuviera derrumbando, tú harías algo al respecto.”
Dublin 12
Dublin: “Climate change is affecting communities in Latin America. There are droughts and deforestation. We need to learn that a better and more sustainable world is possible.”
Julian, London: “I live 2.5 metres above tidemark, along with the rest of Portsmouth. If sea level rise increases we are all going underwater.” “Yo vivo 2.5m por encima del nivel del mar, junto con el resto de Portsmouth. Si incrementa el nivel del mar, vamos a estar todos bajo el agua.”
Julian, London: “I live 2.5 metres above tidemark, along with the rest of Portsmouth. If sea level rise increases we are all going underwater.”
“Yo vivo 2.5m por encima del nivel del mar, junto con el resto de Portsmouth. Si incrementa el nivel del mar, vamos a estar todos bajo el agua.”
Victoria, Oruro: "Don't let consumerism take the green out of you!"
Victoria, Oruro: “Don’t let consumerism take the green out of you!”
Andrea, London: “The damage we are doing to our planet is the measurement of our wrongdoing as a species.” “El daño que estamos haciendo a nuestro planeta es una medida de nuestros errores como especie.”
Andrea, London: “The damage we are doing to our planet is the measurement of our wrongdoing as a species.”
“El daño que estamos haciendo a nuestro planeta es una medida de nuestros errores como especie.”
Dublín: “El cambio climático significa juntarnos para influirnos entre nosotros para cambiar nuestras formas de vida para salvarnos a nosotros mismos.”
Dublín: “El cambio climático significa juntarnos para influirnos entre nosotros para cambiar nuestras formas de vida para salvarnos a nosotros mismos.”
Patricia Scoville (Seattle): “Climate change means if we don't do something, it's irreversible and we must act now. People must wake up and stop denying this is true. It is true and we have only one earth.” “El cambio climático significa que si no hacemos algo, es irreversible y debemos actuar ahora. La gente tiene que despertarse y dejar de negar que esto es verdadero. Es verdadero y sólo tenemos un planeta.” Ted Scoville (Seattle): “Climate change means we're going to change our lifestyle whether we like it or not. We are going to have to live with a more dynamic climate and that's going to affect us in many ways. In certain areas it's going to be a death sentence.” “El cambio climático significa que vamos a cambiar nuestro estilo de vida queramos o no. Vamos a tener que vivir con un clima más dinámico y eso nos va a afectar de muchas formas. En ciertas áreas va a ser una sentencia de muerte.”
Patricia Scoville – New York: “Climate change means if we don’t do something, it’s irreversible and we must act now. People must wake up and stop denying this is true. It is true and we have only one earth.”
“El cambio climático significa que si no hacemos algo, es irreversible y debemos actuar ahora. La gente tiene que despertarse y dejar de negar que esto es verdadero. Es verdadero y sólo tenemos un planeta.”
Ted Scoville – New York: “Climate change means we’re going to change our lifestyle whether we like it or not. We are going to have to live with a more dynamic climate and that’s going to affect us in many ways. In certain areas it’s going to be a death sentence.”
“El cambio climático significa que vamos a cambiar nuestro estilo de vida queramos o no. Vamos a tener que vivir con un clima más dinámico y eso nos va a afectar de muchas formas. En ciertas áreas va a ser una sentencia de muerte.”
Roger, Oruro: "Responsible consumption in bed, at home, at church, at school, in your life and in my life"
Roger, Oruro: “Responsible consumption in bed, at home, at church, at school, in your life and in my life. Let’s make a change.”
Mads and Caspar, London: “It's do or die isn't it? And there's no doing that doesn't involve addressing the entire global operations system, which has gone totally rogue.” “Es una cuestión de actuar o morir, no? Y no hay forma de actuar que no implica enfrentar el sistema global de operaciones por entero, ya que está fuera de control.”
Mads and Caspar, London: “It’s do or die isn’t it? And there’s no doing that doesn’t involve addressing the entire global operations system, which has gone totally rogue.”
“Es una cuestión de actuar o morir, no? Y no hay forma de actuar que no implica enfrentar el sistema global de operaciones por entero, ya que está fuera de control.”
Cochabamba: "El futuro está en NUESTRAS manos "
Cochabamba: “El futuro está en NUESTRAS manos.”
Nicky, Oruro: "Climate change is a call for us to wake up and find new ways to relate to ourselves, to each other and to Mother Earth"
Nicky, Oruro: “Climate change is a call for us to wake up and find new ways to relate to ourselves, to each other and to Mother Earth”
Tom, London: “Decoupling human progress from reliance on fossil fuels.” “Desvincular el progreso humano de la dependencia de los combustibles fósiles.”
Tom, London: “Decoupling human progress from reliance on fossil fuels.”
“Desvincular el progreso humano de la dependencia de los combustibles fósiles.”
Dublin 4
Dublín: “El cambio climático es un resultado directo de nuestras acciones desconsideradas colectivas.”

Dublin 3

Pamela, Oruro: "United we can all change the course of history"
Pamela, Oruro: “United we can all change the course of history”
Kate, London: “Either barbarism or a new global politics of prosperity committed to social justice and low material consumption.” “O barbarismo o una nueva política global de prosperidad comprometida con la justicia global y el bajo consumo material.”
Kate, London: “Either barbarism or a new global politics of prosperity committed to social justice and low material consumption.”
“O barbarismo o una nueva política global de prosperidad comprometida con la justicia global y el bajo consumo material.”
London
London

Rio+20 and Green Economics

Follow our Reporting from this Week’s UN Conference in Rio!

Dear Friends, 

This week the Democracy Center team, myself included, is in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Global Conference on Sustainable Development. Tens of thousands of heads of state, government leaders, UN officials and environmental and social justice activists will gather on what is also the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. 

For those interested, I will be providing news and commentary on Twitter throughout the week at: @jimshultz (retweeted by @DemocracyCenter), and we will be posting those and other reports on the Democracy Center Facebook page here. So please visit us in one place or the other. One of the most important debates in Rio will be about the future and shape of ‘Green Economic’ policies around the world. You can read my article on that on AlterNet and also below.  Finally, for any of our readers also headed to Rio this week, here are two events where I will be speaking. 

Dangerous Weapons: How Global Investment Rules Threaten the Environment and Social Justice
Monday, June 18, Hrs. 11:30-13:30 – Tenda 21 / Salón: Margarida Alves
Glaciers and Climate Change
Thursday, June 21, Hrs. 11:30-13:30 – Tenda 29 / Salon: Pe. Josimo Tavares

Thank you everyone for your interest! 

Jim Shultz

 

Will ‘Green Economics’ Help Save the Environment or Just Sell it Off to Corporations?

By Jim Shultz, AlterNet
Posted on June 15, 2012, Printed on June 15, 2012

 

In May at the headquarters of the United National Development Program in New York, I asked a dozen UNDP staff members to each define the term ‘green economics.’ From one end of the conference table to the other their answers were largely the same – green economics is about fusing environmental values into the marketplace so that economic growth does not have to come at the expense of environmental destruction.

At a meeting here this month in Bolivia, Latin American organizations preparing for this week’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, described ‘green economics’ very differently – “turning nature into a commodity…a huge false solution…green structural adjustment…a new plan to deliver the environment over to corporate control…”

As presidents, UN officials, local government leaders, and thousands of environmental and social movement leaders from across the world all head to Rio, they are also headed into a battle over what ‘green economics’ really means. At the heart of that debate is a basic question: Is the goal is to harness economic forces in service to the environment or to harness the environment in service to powerful economic interests?

The classic ‘green’ approach to economic policies aims at building environmental costs into the price of products and services, through taxes and regulation. As conservative icon Milton Friedman argued, accurate pricing is essential in a free marketplace because it allows consumers to make real comparisons about the actual costs of rival goods, and even Friedman conceded that environmental costs ought to be factored into that equation. If coal energy prices, for example, included coal’s long-term environmental costs we would make very different choices about its use. The environmentalist approach to green economics also includes public support for industries and technologies that move us in a more ecologically sustainable direction, such as solar power.

Corporations don’t care much for building environmental costs into their production and spend millions of dollars in political efforts aimed at blocking such policies. Political conservatives don’t care much for public subsidies for green industries and jobs, something GOP candidate Mitt Romney decries as government sticking its nose into venture capitalism.

However, there is a new definition of ‘green economics’ in circulation that many corporations and their political boosters like a good deal. It comes under the title ‘ecosystem services’.

The logic goes like this: A rainforest in Bolivia, for example, not only serves the people who make their lives in it, but also provides environmental benefits to the world at large by sucking climate-altering carbon out of the atmosphere. That value can be calculated in economic terms and be used as the basis for payments to governments and the peoples living in those forests as incentives for their preservation.

This idea of ‘payments to preserve’ may sound solid in theory, but it is the reality on the ground that has many in Latin America up in arms. The current financing mechanism of choice is carbon offset credits, essentially permission slips purchased by corporations and governments to allow continued dumping of carbon into the stressed atmosphere. As Latin American environmental and indigenous leaders point out, carbon offsets are a recipe to keep the planet on the same trajectory toward steep climate change, with people in impoverished countries, like Bolivia, paying its harshest price.

Environmental and indigenous groups also warn that when their water and lands become just another global commodity up for trade, the loss of control is soon to follow. Looking at the big global plans ahead for their natural resources, what many here see is a 21st century version of the resource theft that began when the Spanish first began mining silver out of the mountains of Potosí five hundred years ago.

As the Bolivian Climate Change Platform writes, “The proposals of the ‘Green Economy’ expressed [in the draft Rio agreement] are not an answer to the current environmental and climate crisis. Putting a price on nature is not the solution and will only benefit big capital.”

It is a fact that the climate and environmental crisis that we are handing to our children requires deep and rapid changes in the actions of billions of people. One of the few tools we have capable of provoking such change is using public policy to alter markets and the mass incentives they create.

This debate over how environmental demands combine with economic interests is crucial. We can neither afford to abandon the idea of green economic policies, nor can we allow that idea to be morphed into something else entirely. The stakes are too high. What we need most in Rio is not a superficial battle over a phrase, but a deep discussion about what it must mean.

 

Jim Shultz is the executive director of the Democracy Center, based in Cochabamba, Bolivia and San Francisco. He has worked with both Latin American social movements as well as the UN in their preparations for the Rio conference. Jim will be Tweeting from Rio all week at: @jimshultz.

 

Beating Goliath

All across the world people are engaged in urgent battles: on worker rights, protection of the environment, trade, health, and a range of other issues that shape our lives and our futures. In many of these struggles we face a powerful adversary – the corporation. National laws and international trade agreements are drafted under the influence of corporate power. Corporate interests form the donor base of major political parties, and often have bigger balance sheets than the countries they operate in. Waves of deregulation and privatization have eroded limits to corporate accumulation of profit and power. In this hostile environment, groups have had to become more and more sophisticated in how they confront companies in their workplaces and communities.

Struggles to win concessions from corporate power are not new. As the influence and reach of the corporation has grown, so has resistance to it. From early worker struggles for better wages and conditions, to the late 1990s campaign that targeted Shell’s bright yellow logo to stop it sinking an old drilling platform in the North Sea, confronting corporate interests has long been part of the struggle for social and environmental justice.

Groups confronting corporations have a range of politics and use a range of tactics. They include Christian shareholder groups that talk about increasing ‘corporate responsibility’, direct action campaigners that see capitalism itself as the root cause of climate change, well-funded NGOs and confederations of neighbourhood organizations. The Democracy Center designed this resource to be useful for both newcomers to this kind of campaigning and old hands, no matter where they lie on the political or tactical spectrum.

This resource opens with some background on corporate campaigning, and why we think it’s important to take on corporate power through individual campaigns. We then look at a series of wins from corporate targets, with a focus on what we can learn from them as we put together new campaigns.

This is followed by introductions to tools and more detailed resources for campaigners fighting corporations – including organizing, research, strategy, communications, coalition building, direct action, shareholder and financier strategies, legal strategies, and consumer strategies.

Finally, we’ve included six profiles of climate justice campaigns against corporations that are happening right now, with brief outlines of what they’re campaigning for and how they’re going about it.