Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bolivia's Lithium Chapter

In the lat couple of months Bolivia has made headlines for a few different reasons. First, on a couple of different occasions, Evo Morales has made demands and declarations at the United-Nations in the name of Mother Earth. He has talked about a global referendum on climate change, about the climate debt that the industrialized countries owe to the Global South for decades of environmental destruction, and about establishing an international tribunal for crimes against Mother Earth. Second, Cochabamba, Bolivia in April hosted the first ever World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. To a degree the eyes of the world were fixed on Bolivia for a few days during the summit, although the mainstream media imposed a blackout on the gathering for obvious reasons. Good publicity for Bolivia is bad publicity for capitalism, and with popularity comes responsibility. As such, the Conference also had the effect of putting Bolivia in the spotlight regarding its own domestic environmental record and policies. And finally, in March and April broke the news that Bolivia holds massive untapped lithium deposits in its south-west, which also presents itself as somewhat of a double-edged sword for a couple of reasons.

Briefly the facts are as follows. Currently the two biggest lithium sites in the world are held by U.S., Chilean, and Canadian capital in Chile’s Atacama Salt Flats, and in Argentina. Bolivia’s share of lithium located in the Uyuni Salt Flats would trump both of these sites holding anywhere from 5.4 to 140 million tons, many different sources quote different figures, but what is widely agreed is that Uyuni possesses roughly around half or slightly more of the world’s known supply. The potential of Uyuni and the large-scale lithium extraction that will go along with it presents two problems for Bolivia.

Internationally it puts the Morales government in a difficult and potentially compromising position, with its recent ambitions and incursions of resolutions at the United-Nations, and its talk in defense of Mother Earth and against the capitalist system. There is no doubt that the Bolivian government and the Bolivian people are sincere about their earth loving intentions, but now they find themselves with a natural resource extraction juggling act of their own, and they must tread carefully. Of course this will be open season for the right-wing media if Bolivia makes any wrong moves, but all that has to be put aside, and their decisions must be based on the wishes and input of the local population, and on whether or not the operation will have negative or harmful affects on Mother Earth. Politically, the government must leave these major decisions mainly in the hands of the Bolivian people, as autonomy and decentralization has been one of the central priorities of the government in the last year and a half, it must now remain responsible to those commitments.

Of course Bolivia has no experience in extracting lithium, so it may need outside help. A French billionaire Vincent Bollore who owns a lithium battery plant and plans to make electric cars has offered technical help to the government with no strings attached, relatively. But Bolivia must be careful not to find itself in a vulnerable position in regards to foreign capital. It would probably best be served by obtaining technical assistance with zero concessions at the bargaining table, and to secure financial support either from Venezuela in the spirit of ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), and/or from other friendly South American countries in the context of Latin American integration. In terms of public industry itself inside Bolivia, NACLA explains well; “According to Bolivia’s new constitution, the country’s natural resources belong to the Bolivian people and must be administered in their collective interest by the state. Instead of exporting raw lithium, the government wants it to be processed, refined, and industrialized, with battery plants and even car factories, on Bolivian soil. The goal is to capture the value added by industrialization for Bolivians.” The multinational corporations are experienced master swindlers, so if it is decided that extraction should proceed, the benefits must remain inside Bolivia and Latin America.

So is Bolivia’s lithium a gift or a curse? The short answer is that Bolivia’s new found resource can be a very good thing, not only for Bolivia but also for the world, if and only if the project is developed properly, responsibly, democratically, and sustainably. Yes, the lithium of Uyuni is a tremendous potential, but that doesn’t mean it all has to be extracted as fast as possible. And, in terms of doing it sustainably, the process must concern itself not only with the rate at which the lithium is extracted, but also with how much and how quickly water and energy are used in the process, to respect the earth, and also to ensure that local populations are not affected negatively.

What can Bolivia’s lithium do for humanity and Mother Earth? Uyuni holds enough to provide lithium for more than 4.8 billion electric cars, which would mean an enormous step forward in ending the petroleum dependency. Extracting natural resources that destroy the planet, and extracting natural resources that have the potential to save the planet are two different things. Mining lithium could provide the solution in sustainable technology to the single biggest problem humanity faces today, oil. Nothing positive comes out of drilling petroleum; extraction displaces communities, devastates the planet, and nature, and its ecosystems, and accidents and disasters are far more likely then we are led to believe. Furthermore, its manufactured result in the form of petro-chemicals, plastics, and fuel is the champion trinity of environmental degradation.

The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in the history of humanity, and the extension to offshore drilling is another product of the unquenchable greed of capitalism. I hope that this experience has shown us clearly that we don’t have enough time left, nor can we afford to gamble with petroleum any longer. We must not let them kill our Mother. Gasoline is a modern consumption addiction that must be stopped immediately; it is the central symptom of a system in crisis.

Perhaps it is time for the age of the electric car, again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

First American Ban on Sales of Bottled Water!

A very enthusiastic Congratulations to the town of Conquered, Massachusetts which has become the first ever in the United-States to ban all sales of bottled water. The ban was lead by 82 year old activist Gene Hill who said "All these discarded bottles are damaging our planet, causing clumps of garbage in the ocean that hurt fish, and are creating more pollution on our streets."

I just wanted to touch down quickly with this important and very symbolic news piece while it is fresh, which is relevant for so many reasons. I will write a response and analysis to this shortly.

Again a huge congratulations for the courage of Conquered, Massachusetts!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An analysis on Naomi Klein, Bolivia and the Rights of Mother Earth Summit, and Our Working Groups!

The quoted content appears in Naomi Klein's April 21st, 2010 article in the Nation entitled 'A New Climate Movement in Bolivia'.

Speaking about the statements made by Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. climate negotiator in Copenhagen, Naomi writes: "Pershing's message was chilling: if you are poor, you don't have the right to prioritize your own survival." That is right on point, and exactly the type of hypocrisy and arrogance that is reflected from the actions of the US and neoliberalism.

She describes the call for the conference as "a revolt against this experience of helplessness," ei. that the small economically disadvantaged countries are not allowed a voice in the international forum. I do not agree that the call for the Rights of Mother Earth Summit was a response to a feeling of helplessness, perhaps that is the feeling coming from the victimized governments who feel cheated and short-handed following the experience of Copenhagen, but NOT from the people. The new Climate Change, Ecosocialist, Rights of Mother Earth, 'Bien Vivir', Indigenist social movement, whatever you want to call it - that is the beauty of it, that it appeals to so many different constituencies - from the people's point of view and contrary to a response to helplessness, is an action and a show of strength and confidence, an understanding that it is our responsibility to take the fight into our own hands, a recognition that the struggle is entering into a new era, and a display of the momentum that we have gained in the last year. But she goes on to say, and provides a great explanation, in describing the new movement as "an attempt to build a base of power behind the right to survive."

Next she writes about the structure of the Conference itself and the way the working groups were carried out; "The next stage was to invite global civil society to hash out the details. Seventeen working groups were struck, and after weeks of online discussion, they met for a week in Cochabamba with the goal of presenting their final recommendations at the summit's end. The process is fascinating but far from perfect..." Yes, the working group process did have its problems and weaknesses, which I will not discuss here because it is a large topic on its own, but with hundreds of people involved in every working group, seemingly unsolvable disagreements and long drawn-out discussions were inevitable.

Nevertheless, the working groups were fruitful, and creative, and very educational for many people who had the opportunity to participate in this kind of process for the first time. Essentially the summit organizers reflected that the grassroots remains relatively voiceless vis-a-vis the climate change crisis which affects them most directly, so lets create a channel for their ideas to take shape and be concretized, to let them decide, to let them create, and to let them articulate their demands. Naomi comments that "Bolivia's enthusiastic commitment to participatory democracy may well prove the summit's most important contribution." I think this is an accurate and insightful analysis of what transpired in Cochabamba/Tiquipaya.

As successful as the Summit was, the declarations and demands drafted in Cochabamba were far from perfect, and far from complete. At times encumbered, at times lacking in content, they are nevertheless a great start and a work in progress, and we can hope that next year's Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth Summit will yield, with more scrutiny and more detail, an even better, more dynamic and more comprehensive product.

Naomi closes with this analysis:

"in reality, it is such small groupings—like the invitation-only club that rammed through the Copenhagen Accord—that have caused us to lose ground, weakening already inadequate existing agreements. By contrast, the climate change policy brought to Copenhagen by Bolivia was drafted by social movements through a participatory process, and the end result was the most transformative and radical vision so far."

"With the Cochabamba summit, Bolivia is trying to take what it has accomplished at the national level and globalize it, inviting the world to participate in drafting a joint climate agenda ahead of the next UN climate gathering, in Cancún. In the words of Bolivia's ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solón, "The only thing that can save mankind from a tragedy is the exercise of global democracy.""

"If he is right, the Bolivian process might save not just our warming planet but our failing democracies as well. Not a bad deal at all."

Good words worth quoting. And with that,

Cheers, Solidarity,

And Viva the New Movement and its March of Giants, which finally links Humanity and Mother Earth as one!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love Quote

"Pressure pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you no man ask for,
Under pressure - that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets,

Pray tomorrow - gets me higher,
Pressure on people - people on streets,

Chippin' around - kick my brains around the floor,
These are the days it never rains but it pours,

Turned away from it all like a blind man,
Sat on a fence but it don't work,
Keep coming up with love,
but it's so slashed and torn,
Why - why - why ?
Love love love love love,
Insanity laughs under pressure we're cracking,
Can't we give ourselves one more chance,
Why can't we give love that one more chance,
Why can't we give love give love give love give love,
give love give love give love give love give love,
'Cause love's such an old fashioned word,
And love dares you to care for,
The people on the edge of the night,
And love dares you to change our way of,
Caring about ourselves,
This is our last dance,
This is our last dance,
This is ourselves,
Under pressure,
Under pressure,