The other Cancún…

The following is a recent dispatch from the Climate Reality Tour, a movement-building cycling tour from the coalfields of West Virginia, now present at the UN Climate Talks in Cancún.

12/6/2010 – Seven years ago the world’s small farmer, labor, and environmental movements converged in Cancún to stop the World Trade Organization (WTO) from tightening its iron grip on people and our planet.

The stakes of those talks were so high in 2003 that one Korean farmer, Lee Kyung-Hae, a member of Via Campesina, climbed the police cordon and committed a ritual suicide. Expansion of the WTO agriculture agreement would have meant death for millions of farmers, he said. He made the ultimate sacrifice to express absolute dissent.

Yesterday, with the global spotlight back on Cancún for the United Nations climate negotiations, Via Campesina marched to commemorate Mr. Lee’s heroic act. They honored his sacrifice by continuing in the struggle, demanding an end to climate change attacking its root causes, and to halt implementation of false solutions.

It’s no coincidence that Via Campesina is again in Cancún in 2010. Their organizations are clamoring for the same solutions as seven years ago. Support for rural, autonomous, sustainable development, an end to megaprojects like dams and mines, food sovereignty, land, water and other resource rights for indigenous peoples and small farmers who feed and cool the planet.

We in the global north have some catching up to do.

Movements elsewhere in the world are rapidly organizing, and organizing around root causes. Free from the framework of infinite growth and expansion and as opposed to embarrassingly over compromised legislation in the U.S., the solutions they advocate might actually prevent catastrophic climate change. There’s a near universal understanding that we must tackle the interrelated climate, economic and food crises with holistic new approaches, or humanity just might not make it. There’s a demonstrated willingness to sacrifice not just minor creature comforts or the added monetary costs of sustainability premiums on consumer products, but to literally put their bodies on the line, to brave acts of violence and repression that we can hardly imagine. To really sacrifice, like Mr. Lee.

So let’s not forget there are many Cancúns. 2003. 2010. The Cancún of the tourists and official delegates, and that of the workers and peasants, and social movements present this week. The 1,000s of Cancúns that will rise up in cities worldwide tomorrow, Dec 7th.

Join us tomorrow in demanding Climate Justice, NOW! The spirit of Mr. Lee and countless others will be with you, wherever you may be.

Popo & Izta – Tough Names, Simple Facts – Climate Reality Tour

The following is a recent dispatch from the Climate Reality Tour, a movement-building cycling tour from the coalfields of West Virginia to the UN Climate Talks in Cancún.

15 yrs ago I was COVERED with snow

11/24/2010 - Popocatéptl and Iztaccíhuatl. We never knew how much we could learn about climate change from a pair of words that after many, many attempts we still can’t say 3 times fast. But these twin volcanic peaks speak straightforward volumes.

Everyone we ask recounts that these mighty mountains whose glaciers provide the water to the capital and various surrounding states, were once a like white knights of moisture, fighting off drought and thirst between the rainy seasons. The immaculate summits dominate more than the landscape, occupying central space in the cultural sphere as well. Today the volcanoes are still breathtaking, though the glaciers are all but gone. And if you live here, you can’t help but notice. It’s not lost on anyone, and perhaps that’s explains the unanimity of support for our mission since we arrived here. In we visited one of the volcanically filtered pools that bubble up from underneath Popocatéptl and run downhill to feed the valley with fresh water for irrigation and drinking. A taco vendor there recounted how when she was a little girl the water that now rose just enough above my ankles to require some extra pants rolling, once flowed up to her neck in the same riverbed. Incredible. In addition to seeing its source in the skyline, the water runs underfoot and in municipal canals that look like gutters, right there in the open. And it’s the most delicious drinking water you’ve EVER had. It’s got a hint of anise! Forget that adage about not drinking the water in Mexico. If you get to drink from Popocatéptl, do it! With water and its source so visible and central in the landscape and life of the surrounding populations, folks know something’s up when the glaciers melt away in only 15 years. That’s when NAFTA was enacted. Only partially a coincidence… Continue reading ‘Popo & Izta – Tough Names, Simple Facts – Climate Reality Tour’

(Green) Industrial policy IS sexy – Climate Reality Tour

The following is a recent dispatch from the Climate Reality Tour, a movement-building cycling tour from the coalfields of West Virginia to the UN Climate Talks in Cancún.

Refinery in East Houston - Neghborhood kids call it "The Cloudmaker"

11/16/2010 – For most folks, there might be nothing less sexy than industrial policy. An abstract government process for deciding how to intervene in the globalized marketplace to support what major industries – often quite polluting ones. It lacks the high-speed flare of bike culture (in which we are awash), the colorful bouquet of community gardening, the human drama of environmental justice struggle.

But green industrial policy might just be what saves the planet. It’s a tragic that it’s sultry allure is lost on us.

We were impressed in our interview with Bill Londrigan, the President of the Kentucky AFL-CIO, how deeply he understood the need for holistic green industrial policy – one that moves rapidly to phase out dirty industry and replace it with green jobs. “Hopefully we can make some rational decisions about where we need to go… to make sure we can evolve to where [energy and industry] aren’t harmful to the environment” Londrigan says. “And the government could play a great role.” Continue reading ‘(Green) Industrial policy IS sexy – Climate Reality Tour’

Southern Hospitality – Climate Reality Tour

The following is a recent dispatch from the Climate Reality Tour, a movement-building cycling tour from the coalfields of West Virginia to the UN Climate Talks in Cancún.


We’re staying in the spare trailer of a climate denier. No, not John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. A far less prominent climate denier. Her name is Lynn. She invited us onto her porch, fed Jamie a beer, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So here we are.

Clearly, it’s been a fascinating day.

We woke up and were underway by mid-morning. After about 15 miles we arrived at French Camp, MS – an idyllic little town with two churches and no stoplight, but with great little café where the local gentry seemed to congregate. We thought it was a summer language camp. Whoops.

Turns out that was founded by a French trader who married a Chickasaw princess and whose son became the last chief of the Chickasaw – before the tribe “moved” as the historical markers on the Trace disingenuously state. There’s a little museum and gift shop, and the Café had amazing broccoli salad in this thick sweet onion-pecan dressing. A-mazing! Continue reading ‘Southern Hospitality – Climate Reality Tour’

AppRising & Just Transition Off Coal

(crossposted from

It’s been an inspiring time here in DC thanks to the Appalachia Rising and the Voices from the Mountains conference. After sharing skills, strategizing, and training all weekend, Monday’s mass action was unbelievably powerful. Readers already know that over 100 were arrested sitting in at the White House to abolish MTR coal.

The whole weekend was extremely powerful. Tears flowed freely from my eyes as a man screamed at the EPA just behind me in the march. “Do your job! Shame on you, EPA! Our people are dying! Do your JOB!” he shouted, his young daughter tethering him back. Moving beyond words.

Coal poisons people and kills the planet. No doubt. Problem is that tens of thousands of us depend on it for work, and ALL of us in the U.S. enjoy products made possible by its contaminating combustion. What’s more, if we’re ever going to get suitable climate legislation, we’re gonna need just these working folks on board demanding sustainability in our economy. Continue reading ‘AppRising & Just Transition Off Coal’

Cancún or Bust – by Bike! Announcing the Climate Reality Tour

We all agree – it’s gonna take a mass movement to avert climate catastrophe. But what kind of movement?  After the Senate climate debacle, it’s clear that we need to step up our game, broaden our analysis, and bring in new allies if we’re to have any chance at winning climate justice.

The following is one attempt to expand our movement by aligning with front line groups battling the economic root causes of global warming. And what way to build the movement would be more fun than biking to COP16 in Cancún?! Dig it:

Crossposted from Climate Reality Tour:

This October, we’re embarking on a two-month bicycle documentary trip to the United Nations climate negotiations taking place in Cancún, Mexico from November 29th to December 10th of this year.

That’s right. We’ll cross deserts and climb mountains, biking roughly 2,500 miles as awareness-raising documentary project about the economic root causes of global warming. We’ll post video and written content from the tour as we meet with local front line organizations that are fighting climate changing corporate interests and promoting sustainable alternatives. But we need your help to make it a reality.

It’s called the Climate Reality Tour – because the U.S. needs a reality check, not just about global warming, but about the economic model that creates it, one that we’ve helped export over the whole world. We believe that to solve the climate crisis we must undo the root causes of global warming – namely our unfair global economy that pits working people against one another, and against our shared environment. Continue reading ‘Cancún or Bust – by Bike! Announcing the Climate Reality Tour’

2 Arrested Disrupting Massey Shareholders Meeting

Activists disrupted the annual general meeting of criminal corporation Massey Energy this morning in Richmond, VA. Two of the group were arrested as they demanded an end to Massey’s reckless disregard for human life, community health, and the environment.

As shareholders entered their meeting in the main ballroom of the sheik Jefferson Hotel, activists occupied the adjacent rotunda, chanting loudly and draping a massive banner over the ornate mezzanine railings. The 10’ x 10’ hand-painted banner read, “Massey – Stop Putting Profits Over People!”

“Coal mining is dangerous. It’s dangerous for workers, dangerous for surrounding communities, and dangerous for the future of our planet. It’s time we move off of our dependency on coal and transition to a just, safe, clean energy future.” said Kate Rooth of DC Rising Tide, one of those who disrupted the meeting. “Massey Energy is notorious not only for putting their bottom dollar over people’s safety, but for driving people out their communities and poisoning their drinking water.”

Protesters loudly read an open letter to Massey (below) demanding they cease mountaintop removal coal mining, a practice that is destroying central Appalachian communities. A similar open letter was tendered by two activists who yesterday were assigned an outrageous $100,000 bail after non-violently blocking the driveway to Massey’s regional HQ in Boone County, WV. Continue reading ’2 Arrested Disrupting Massey Shareholders Meeting’

Justice Beyond Copenhagen

Last Tuesday DC was lucky enough to host an all-star panel of global justice activists in a panel discussion called “Evaluating Copenhagen: What it Means for Ecology, Economy, and Equity“, convened by leading movement organizations and moderated by Ray Suarez of PBS.

Among the panelists were leaders and experts of the global justice movement like Martin Khor from the South Centre, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians, Victor Menotti of the International Forum on Globalization, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and Gopal Dayaneni from Movement Generation. You can view the full event online here, or by clicking the image below. I’ll discuss some highlights and possible movement-building lessons.

Movement-Melding in Copenhagen

The experts left very little doubt that the fight to avert climate catastrophe is the fight for the direction of the global economy.

Climate justice + development justice + trade justice = true global justice. Continue reading ‘Justice Beyond Copenhagen’

Minnesota: New Front For Climate Policy Space, Eh?!

Minnesota is moving to encourage renewable energy by slapping a tariff on coal energy produced in North Dakota, and challenging the global economic order in the process.Carbon-tax

And so opens another front in a much larger battle for the legal and policy space to enact common sense public interest regulations and curb the corporate profit crusade. It’s a fight that’s vital to the creation of a economic model that averts climate catastrophe and provides dignified living for workers.

Penalizing unsustainable or unethical products, or supporting sustainable and
ethical ones, is seen by public interest groups across the globe as a key tool for improving labor conditions and environmental standards. But
free-market fundamentalists have long insisted that ‘similar’ products, in this case electricity, must be treated ‘similarly’.

Disgracefully, substantial differences in the ways a product is made are purposefully erased for policy-makers so corporations can hunt for cheaper inputs and thus higher profits. A toy made by a toxic-pollution dumping factory vs. a clean factory? Same. Clothes made with slave labor vs. union labor? Same. Energy generated in a way that fuels climate change vs. renewable energy? Its all the same under corporate free-market logic.

Correction: the original post said South Dakota, when it should have been North Dakota – changed above. Continue reading ‘Minnesota: New Front For Climate Policy Space, Eh?!’

James Ploeser

James Ploeser, as Senior Organizer for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, oversees GTW's national and international campaigns, providing strategic vision, promoting grassroots outreach and education around the impacts of corporate globalization in the U.S., and coordinating with national and international civil society and governmental allies. Before joining GTW in 2008, he worked as the Coordinator of the Iowa Fair Trade Campaign, pressing presidential hopefuls for fair trade policy platforms in the lead-up to the first-in-the-nation 2008 caucuses. Prior to that he worked as an organizer with SEIU's Justice for Janitors campaign, co-founded the Madison Fair Trade Action Alliance (MadFTAA), worked with the Campesino movement in Ecuador, and has helped lead numerous electoral and issue campaigns.

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