Off to the Races: WORLD SOCIAL FORUM HAS RESPONDED to Friedman’s Challenge

Off to the Races:  WORLD SOCIAL FORUM HAS RESPONDED to Friedman’s Challenge

By Kevin Stoda. American in Germany

Last December, after a fairly disappointing USA (and European) showing at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference, Thomas L. Friedman challenged the States of the World to a race to solve the head on natural catastrophe that foresees cooking the planet’s inhabitants at 2 degrees to 4 degrees higher over the next 50 years. The Southern Hemisphere responded with a conference in Bolivia, saying that the race won’t take place on its own as the state actors aren’t as motivated as millions and billions of peoples at grass roots level can be to the challenges of global warming. (The could be because the nations of the world are run by elites who do not seem to know how to serve up truth to the masses of people who want action now and immediately on saving the climate and planet from a change has already been too fast for the poorest to survive in.)

It was in his editorial “OFF TO THE RACES”, in the New York Times that Thomas Friedman publically made the challenge to the States of the World.  Friedman explained that after the Copenhagen failures and retreats by many nation states, he thought there was a better way:  “I’ve long believed there are two basic strategies for dealing with climate change — the “Earth Day” strategy and the ‘Earth Race’ strategy. This Copenhagen climate summit was based on the Earth Day strategy. It was not very impressive. This conference produced a series of limited, conditional, messy compromises, which it is not at all clear will get us any closer to mitigating climate change at the speed and scale we need.”

Friedman added, “Indeed, anyone who watched the chaotic way this conference was ‘organized,’ and the bickering by delegates with which it finished, has to ask whether this 17-year U.N. process to build a global framework to roll back global warming is broken: too many countries — 193 — and too many moving parts. I leave here feeling more strongly than ever that America needs to focus on its own Earth Race strategy instead. Let me explain.”

This week, we observed many stumbles in the USA in such a race.  This Earth Day Week 2010 began with the Kerry, Lieberman and Graham introduction of their climate control bill.  Most consider the bill little-more-than-a-slap-in-the-face of Earth Day and to the EPA.

Far away in Cochabamba, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, Daphne Wysham criticized the abysmal Earth Day performance in the USA.

The Kerry, Lieberman and Graham bill has offered Americans and their corporations more scams and derivative  style pollution trading.  Wysham stated as much in an interview with Amy Goodman, “Now, what’s going to happen . . . when Kerry, Lieberman and Graham introduce their bill? First of all, one of the conditions of the bill we’re hearing is that it will eliminate the EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which is a slap in the face to everything that Earth Day stands for, which is, as you mentioned, putting in place these very strong laws. Secondly, it will include cap-and-trade provisions between utilities, so you could have a nuclear power company trading with a coal power company, but if it’s too expensive for them to meet their emissions targets, they could buy offsets. And what people here in Bolivia are saying is ‘Hands off our forests. We don’t like carbon offsets.’ And unanimously, all of the statements that are coming out of the different working groups here are condemning carbon markets. They say they failed in the European Union, they are not a solution, we don’t have the atmospheric space to continue imagining that offsets are going to get us to where we need to go, which is 350 parts per million CO2. And so, here in Bolivia, there’s a lot of hope that Earth Day actually means something, that it does mean, you know, reclaiming the right to controlling our natural resources. The indigenous people have made that claim. And unfortunately, that message is not being heard loudly and clearly enough in Washington.”

Last week, in Hamburg, I met some students attending the country’s only program for bankers and financiers wanting to invest in green technology and energy.  They noted that it is well understood in Europe that competition, as offered by cap-and-trading practices (like in the Kerry, Lieberman and Graham legislation) , have not worked.  In short, cap-and-trading is not seen–even in Europe (which passed the Kyoto Protocol into law years ago and) which employs cap-and-trade–as useful for combating climate warming.

Amy Goodman asked, “Who is influencing this [current USA] legislation? Who has the ear of these senators, and who gets heard?”

Wysham replied, “Well, right now, they are paying very close attention to the usual suspects: the US Chamber of Commerce, who has in its ranks the American Petroleum Institute, some of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the country. They’re paying attention to some of the large environmental groups, like Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, others that are in favor of this cap-and-trade approach. So there are other groups. In fact, I’m part of a no-offsets coalition in the United States that includes people from all over the country who recognize that this two billion tons of carbon offsets that are in both the House and the Senate bill represents 30 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. That means the US could do nothing verifiable, no verifiable emissions reductions, until 2030. We could buy our way out of the problem by, for example, gas flares. In Nigeria, gas flares are illegal. They’ve been claiming that they’re going to end gas flaring in the Niger Delta for decades. Now, along comes the World Bank, through their Global Gas Flare Reduction Partnership, and they’re going to actually pay corporations like Chevron to end gas flaring, which is illegal, and those credits will then count toward Chevron continuing to emit in the Global North, and they can claim emissions reductions. So, in fact, a carbon offset credit project like this has already been approved involving Eni, which is an Italian oil company. The UN CDM has approved a carbon offset credit involving gas flare reduction.”

Wysham concluded, “So what we’re saying is these are not meaningful emissions reductions. We need to have strong rule of law, whether it’s in Nigeria or in the United States. And we need to make emissions reductions at home and make the transition to a clean, green economy.”

Even, Thomas Friedman, who has called for this Big Race to fix our climate, has admitted that problems in many fronts exist, “The Earth Day strategy said that the biggest threat to mankind is climate change, and we as a global community have to hold hands and attack this problem with a collective global mechanism for codifying and verifying everyone’s carbon-dioxide emissions and reductions and to transfer billions of dollars in clean technologies to developing countries to help them take part. “  Friedman explained, “But as President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil told this conference, this Earth Day framework only works ‘if countries take responsibility to meet their targets’ and if the rich nations really help the poor ones buy clean power sources.”


This failure of rich nations truly helping the poorer to obtain and develop more advanced technologies became pathetically clear in the Obama administration’s recent decision this to cut environmental- and climate change aid to those nations, like Bolivia, who have not ratified the accord from Copenhagen.

However, it looks like few races are going on.

Germany, for example, in 2010-2011 has significantly cut back on its investment in alternative technologies (and environment)–and is even trying to force a malfunctioning reactor in Hessen back on line.

The unexpected cutbacks in government aid have shaken the whole industry. Sure, the USA has made a great about-face under Obama, i.e. no longer denying the fact that climate change is real and no longer denying the fact that companies and Americans are concerned and have been responsible. However, this focus on bad incentives and on creating a race to the top in technology–that the U.S. might be and should be leading soon is just not clearly evolving—as of yet.

Meanwhile, back in South America, “organizers of the peoples’ summit (on climate change) released an Agreement of the Peoples based on working group meetings. Key proposals include the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute polluters, passage of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, protection for climate migrants, and the full recognition of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

In late 2009, Friedman pessimistically looked at the future and the possibility of peoples of the world “ever  getting riled up” enough about climate change to force their governments to do something. He wrote, “That was never going to happen at scale in the present global economic climate. The only way it might happen is if we had ‘a perfect storm’ — a storm big enough to finally end the global warming debate but not so big that it ended the world.”

Friedman claimed, “Absent such a storm that literally parts the Red Sea again and drives home to all the doubters that catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger, the domestic pressures in every country to avoid legally binding and verifiable carbon reductions will remain very powerful.”

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, who helped organize the conference in Cochabamba  this week, explains how the people of the world are tired of the Kyoto System being allowed to collapse (with no real alternative offered), “Well, this [Conference in Bolivia] is really a kind of an alternative to what happened in the plan—the failure of Copenhagen. It was the most undignifying thing that happened in Copenhagen. And it was thanks to the intuition of President Evo that something should be done, because the world was really getting sick and tired of this system, Kyoto system, getting worse and worse. And in fact, it collapsed completely in Copenhagen. So the idea is to have a summit organized basically by the people and not by the states, even though the states have been very active, some states in this case, the states from the ALBA region here. That is to say, from the states that are trying to develop an alternative here in South America—Bolivia, Ecuador, and also Venezuela and other countries that trying to get together to develop an alternative.”

Most importantly, Santos pointed out, “[T]he alternative is emerging here, with some novelties, which I think the North, the Global North, is going to ignore them for a while. But just for a while, because some novelties are coming up.”

These novelties include [o]ne “of the key initiatives of the climate conference in Bolivia is to come out with a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.”

Santos noted how this initiative is related to other initiatives. “[O]ne of—probably the most striking one, in my view, is the Yasuni-ITT [Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini], is this project by Ecuador, according to which Ecuador is ready to leave in the ground most of the crude oil that they have in this huge national park, Yasuni-ITT, where the most—probably the most important site of biodiversity in the world at this point. They are ready to leave it in the ground, provided that the developed countries will compensate Ecuador for the half of they are going to lose for not exploring and exploiting the oil there. And Germany has already agreed to pay 50 million euros per year during thirteen years, which is the period for the exploitation of this project. So this is new. It’s a non-Kyoto, a post-Kyoto type of agreement.”

He added that there were some problems, but still hope to be observed in establishing a “ fidéicommis, which is the legal instrument through the United Nations that is going to make this possible, cannot be signed here, because there were some, you know, complex issues, legal issues of last minute. But President Rafael Correa will be here, and he’s going to show the world and announce to the world that Yasuni-ITT is really to go and is irreversible at this point, even though, as we can imagine, all the oil companies are putting pressure, not just the US, but the European, the Spanish, even the Ecuadorian oil companies, they’re putting pressure in order to kill this project. But the project is irreversible. It’s going ahead. It’s a very strong project. This is just one of the alternatives.”

Finally, Santos indicated that“ we are going to—we are having here new words, which are not colonial words. “Buen vivir” comes from “sumak kawsay,” which is a Quechua word. In Aymara it’s “suma qamaña.” It’s a new model, which is beyond socialism, in a sense, and capitalism, as well, because it’s a new form of care for life, of community life, that comes from the original people of this continent that, in fact, have been excluded by all the Western modernity, but kept alive their lifestyles. And their lifestyles now, they show the world some signs of the future. They are not a part of the past; they are part of the future.”


Santos explained why new words or new languages are going to soon circumnavigating the globe after this people’s conference is over (and many participants go home).   Santos said, “It is no coincidence that 70 percent of the biodiversity of the world is located in the indigenous peoples’ territories. That is to say, they have been the guardians of biodiversity through this concept of a new lifestyle of Adam and Eve with the Mother Earth, as they call it. And the Mother Earth has some rights, the rights of the Pachamama, as they call them.”

Friedman doesn’t think that such talk and language is unhelpful either.  He had asked, “Does that mean this whole Earth Day strategy is a waste? No. The scientific understanding about the climate that this U.N. process has generated and the general spur to action it provides is valuable. And the mechanism this conference put in place to enable developed countries and companies to offset their emissions by funding protection of tropical rain forests, if it works, would be hugely valuable.”

The problem is that many American elites are just like Friedman, who admits, “I am an Earth Race guy. I believe that averting catastrophic climate change is a huge scale issue. [However], [t]he only engine big enough to impact Mother Nature is Father Greed: the Market. Only a market, shaped by regulations and incentives to stimulate massive innovation in clean, emission-free power sources can make a dent in global warming. And no market can do that better than America’s.”

Well an engine of production that is not turned on will simply not produce, Mr. Friedman/


I think the refocus on only nation states to race each other in changing our future–while billions of people get pulled along–is simply the wrong imagery.

Already, as noted above, the world leader in alternative and real green technology—Germany—has decided to sit on its laurels for a few years and determined in 2010 not promote the engine it had started up over decade ago, i.e. the race to be at the front of the world in terms of green-house-gas-combating technologies.

Germans CDU-CSU-FDP government, elected just last year, will sit-it-out a few years and see if the USA can get caught up. (or whether Asian states, like China or South Korea or Japan can).

What kind of race is that if the leader sits down and lets others run by?

The only major investment in alternative energy in Germany currently is in the area of fuel cells, etc. Meanwhile, small and medium-sized German wind- and solar energy producers are forced to go overseas to find contracts.

Besides, the well-hyped fuel cells are behind the curve in development, even in Germany,—while solar and wind technology could probably come to dominate in world energy production by 2030 if governments would simply go full-speed ahead.

That is racing.

Well, Mr. Friedman, what do you suggest if racers—like in Germany and the USA—don’t seem to really want to race in 2010 and beyond?

Well, I think that people need to do their homework and undertake some butt-kicking in Washington, D.C., Berlin, and elsewhere where state governments stand in the People’s way to protect our planet and climate.

About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Off to the Races: WORLD SOCIAL FORUM HAS RESPONDED to Friedman’s Challenge

  1. eslkevin says:

    Janine Wedel might have more to say about the disappointing SHADOW ELITE RULING THE USA–what about Germany, Inc?


  2. Great post and very useful information.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.