Can societies counteract the environmental and climate crisis?

Can societies counteract the environmental and climate crisis?

René Mendoza V. and Peter Marchetti*


We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we had when we created them.

Albert Einstein

The Second Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 ended with the Sustainable Development accords signed in the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 presented the evidence of their failure to contain climate change: 1) the emissions between 1992 and 2012 increased global warming by one degree; 2) even with radical mitigation actions, the planet will get to 1.6 degrees hotter, then these levels of gases and climate warming, regardless of the actions taken, will not disappear for 100 years; 3) without radical mitigation measures between now and 2025 the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) will produce a climate warming of 2.0 degrees from 2050 on, and that warming will not change at least for another 100 years.

In light of this situation in 2015 the world will adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), replacing the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals. The fulfillment of the SDGs is more questionable than that of the MDGs. Our hypothesis is that the efforts of the SDGs, far from mitigating global warming, will increase gas emission, unless there is an active awakening from society capable of transforming its states and markets.

Capital over science and ecology

The results described for 1992 and 2013 have to do with decisions made in Johannesburg 2002. There capital dominated science, preventing compliance with the International Convention on Climate Change and the International Convention on Biological Diversity signed by 178 countries in 1992. In Johannesburg, the United States and the European Union conditioned their participation in the Summit on their bilateral declaration of not renegotiating the agreements reached in Monterrey (Mexico) on Financing for Development, and in Dohar (Qatar) on free trade. In 10 years the dream of Rio 1992 was subordinated to the unequal North-South relations and to trade; in Johannesburg, behind the curtain of the MDGs the first principle of the Rio Summit was violated: “Human beings constitute the center of concerns related to sustainable development.” The de-regulated markets would govern the social, political and evironmental spheres, thus supplanting the heart of the fourth principle of the Rio Summit: “To achieve sustainable development, the protection of the environment must be part of the development process and cannot be considered separately.”

In Johannesburg a new paradigm emerged to deal with the climate and environmental crises: the public-private alliance subordinated to the multinationals. The essence of the grotesque disfiguration of the fourth principle lies in the fact that without changing the dynamics of the multinational energy and food companies, these businesses can protect the environment under Pay for Environmental Services mechanisms (PES); in other words, markets and individual interests, and not public institutions, would protect the environment. Later these PES evolved into Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation programs (REDD) that use market, fiscal and financial incentives to preserve the forest cover. Consequently, large estate “green” enterprises appeared that had access to the $30 billion dollars committed in Copenhaguen 2009 for 2010-12; while communal forest initiatives in some reserves of Central America, like that of the Petén in Guatemala, are left stuck in endless negotiations. In other words, in the new paradigm, the environment is the “means” for “development” controlled by markets, where the deterioration of the environment is negotiated for “green” capitalism.

Within this context, the SDGs are emerging, and Sachs says: “I predict that sustainable development will become the principal organizer of our politics, economics, and even ethics in the coming years. In fact, the governments of the world have agreed to place it in the very center of the post 2015 Development agenda for the world. Soon they will help guide the world toward a safer and more just trajectory in the 21st century.” Without changes in the North-South power relations and without regulating the markets, is there hope for the SDGs? It seems that Sachs is in a fantasy world. There will be more speeches, but the markets will continue organizing the economics, politics and ethics in Central America.

The peasant and indigenous way, hope for mitigation of climate change

This global capitalism is preparing the environmental policies in Central America. Because of the vulnerability of the GDP of each country of the region to the natural disasters caused by climate change, the environmental issue is increasingly becoming the center of the analysis in the coming years. Once again disasters will come from outside, climate change as well as the voracious demand for water; while under any future, the forest and water wealth of countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala constitute an opportunity for negotation in light of the SDGs, which will require making changes in the political and economic system so that they do not continue destroying the opportunity to put human beings and future generations as the principle guiding principles for the management of the forests and water resources of Central America.

In the face of climate change, which the IPCC 2014 confirmed to be a threat for human survival itself, one of the few signs of hope are the practices of the peasant and indigenous economies of the region, facing a economic situation of market dominance, where the US, the European Union, Japan and China are fighting climate change with green capitalism, and the multinational enterprises are managing certain rules of world control. In the face of this situation our socieities urgently need to wake up, so that the expressions of territorial opposition from the peasant and indigenous families might reveal their contradictions with the markets, and that urban alliances might be woven  that would empower the rural movements. The 5 articles we have published in this magazine respond to this challenge, and show four fundamental characteristics of the peasant way (holistic, associative, mitigation practices and institutionality with the capacity to solve environmental problems) that constitute a promising (and alternative) perspective for dealing with the fissures and openings for transformation that the global climate crisis is producing.

First, the peasantry is developing a holistic vision that combines economics, ecology and the social realities to oppose a science at the service of a environmental ideology of green capitalism; that science sees the peasant families as “deforesters”; while in Latin America where there are more trees is on the farms of peasant families, and where there are no trees is on the large ranching estates or the monocropping plantations (sugar cane, soy beans, sunflowers, peanuts, rice, African Palm). Secondly, the peasantry shuns individualism because they organize into networks and cooperatives, which are the seeds for the solidarity economy that opposes the “discard” ideology of organizations co-opted by the market that see the peasant families as “individuals”, their farms as “crops” and their members as “fieldhands”. Third, in the struggle against environmental deterioration, they are diversifying their farms, are working on organic agriculture, are protecting their water sources, associate and rotate crops, combine agricultural and non-agricultural activites, and are organizing community tourism; with these practices they are ensuring their family food and are scaling up their income; and with all of this they are resisting the large estate system that make land and what is in it a commodity, manipulates the environmental laws and dispossesse them of their land, organizations and identites. Fourth, the traditional institutional structure (sharecropping, shared labor, shared harvest) of relationships of collaboration between families is resisting the institutional structure of the market that turns those relationships into commodities.

Moving to indigenous practices, we confirm that where there are forests in Latin America there are indigenous peoples, and on their borders there is, or has been, violence, not as a local expression (e.g. indigenous-mestizos), but a transnational one to do away with those forests (See: Mendoza, R y Kuhnekath, K., 2005, “Conflictos en La Costa: expresión de la transnacionalización de conflictos societales en Centroamérica,” WANI 41). There is an urgent need to study the collective management of those resources (trees, forests, water…) (See: Richards, M., 1997, Common Property Resource Institutions and Forest Management in Latin America,” Development and Change, 2), to undertand the approaches that underly those peoples (See: Mendoza, R., 2004, “Un espejo engañoso: imágenes de la frontera agrícola,” ENVIO 265), and study them from the non-equilibrium and inter-connectivity paradigm. Because we will not solve the environmental and climate crisis with the same thinking (liberalism and neoliberalism) that created it, but with new ideas coming from the peasant and indigenous way and recovering the centrality of the human being.

Is the Central America peasant way standing alone before the multinational companies? The rupture with capitalism on the part of autonomous and indigenous movements defending nature in other countries of Latin America is finding political support in Bolivia and Ecuador, where peasant indigenous pressure is making governments more open to adopting environmental, energy and social controls. Nevertheless, the possibilities for Latin America in the face of the savage capitalism of multinational enterprises, already injected into their veins, needs the BRICS countries to break their energy agreements with the US-Emirates and introduce policies for the control of capitalism to counteract climate change. This possibility (dream) of avoiding the nightmare of the disappearance of the human species from the face of the earth motivates us to address climate change in Central America in its global and local dimensions, and to imagine profound changes in the correlation of forces. The challenge is that the region configure its own trajectory in globalization, where the climate and environmental crisis will have less and less weight.

* Peter Marchetti is an advisor to the Rafael Landívar University and René Mendoza V. ( is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (

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