.System Change Not Climate Change. banner - United Nations Climate Change Conference - COP15 - Copenhagen, Denmark
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largest environmental protest march in history, demanding action against climate
change, took place in New York on September 21st. Some 400,000 people marched from Columbus
Circle, through Manhattan's West Side, along a route ending on 11th
Avenue. The march attracted a very broad
range of participants, in part because it made no specific demands but only
asserted that people were concerned about climate change and the environment.
The march was intended to send a message to participants in the U.N. Climate Conference scheduled to convene in Paris in November, 2014. They want the participants to know that people are deeply concerned, and that progress must be made toward protecting our planet. However, in a September 14th article, Chris Hedges points out that the march had many corporate sponsors, including British Petroleum, Dow Chemical, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, and that the U.N. itself has been colonized by these corporate interests. The climate conference meeting in Paris, while officially a meeting of sovereign nation-states, will necessarily have the participation of such multi-national corporations that have colonized both the economic policies of the U.N. and the political processes of their respective nation-states.
People are becoming ever-more aware that the future of their children is in jeopardy, along with the possible demise of the entire human project. They want to act, to express their concern, to do something positive to save the environment. The march included a number of famous environmentalist spokespersons such as Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Jane Goodall, and Vandana Shiva as well as concerned political leaders such as Senators Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
However, all the concern, protest, and the making of speeches in the world will not save the environment if people do not care to change the root causes of the destruction of our planetary environment. It is likely that not one speech at the climate march by these leaders even touched on the root causes of environmental destruction. And those who will be meeting in Paris in November (representatives of sovereign nation-states and their corporate backers) will never mention these root causes, and so the likelihood of there being any progress in Paris is close to zero.
The root causes of climate collapse are not ignorance, and they are not lack of good will to protect the climate. We know a great deal about ecosystems, pollution: how the destruction works. And probably most corporate leaders, politicians, and citizens genuinely care about the environment. Neither are the root causes due to lack of popular support. Everywhere people are trying to recycle, conserve energy, and minimize their ecological footprints, and governments are offering tax incentives for environmentally friendly technology. But none of this will prevent climate collapse.
The root causes of environmental destruction are not primarily psychological but structural. It is not primarily a question of will and caring but a question of the modern world system itself. The people meeting in Paris to discuss climate change will be representatives of a global capitalism inextricably interwoven with a system of sovereign nation-states, each state promoting its own multi-national corporations and competing with the others for power, influence, position, resources, and markets.
These representatives of this system have long known the disturbing facts of climate collapse. The first U.N. environmental conference took place in Stockholm in 1972. These disturbing facts were ever-more scientifically confirmed and known to the giant U.N. environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Its famous document "Agenda 21" was in many ways right on target in its demand for significant reduction of greenhouse gases by the dawn of the 21st century. The U.N. worldwide environmental conference that followed this, in Johannesburg in 2002, recognized the near total failure of the nations and corporations of the world to meet the Agenda 21 goals. The same recognition was there in the 2009 U.N. environmental conference in Copenhagen. The nations of the world, colonized almost exclusively by global corporate capitalism, have been unable to make any significant progress in preventing or slowing climate collapse.