Conference in Bolivia: who pays the price of change?

by Bryan Walker on April 21, 2010

“We are very worried because we have no water. Half the people of this community have already left. Those who remain are struggling with the lack of water.”

 

Those are the words of a villager in a small Bolivian village called Khapi which is suffering from the effects of retreating glaciers in the Andes.  A BBC news report explains how it is for the villagers. Over the past 10 or 15 years, changing weather patterns have led to irregular water flows – the streams become torrents or dwindle to just trickles. “Our crops are dry now, our animals are dying; we want to cry.”

There are only 40 families in the village, but they’re ready to take their case to international forums. One of their leaders is Alivio Aruquipa (pictured):

“For the past two decades, we, the people from the Andean regions have been suffering because of the greenhouse emissions from the developed countries. If they don’t stop our glaciers will disappear soon. We want those countries to compensate us for all the damage they have done to nature…

“We don’t know how to calculate the compensation because we are not professionals, we are simply farmers. But we would like assistance, and then to receive some money and, with that money, to build dykes to store the water, improve the water canals.”

Hot Topic carried a post last November on the necessity of adaptation in Bolivia, following an Oxfam report.  The BBC news item is another example of the increasing body of evidence which bears out predictions of likely impacts of climate change. It will be discounted by some as anecdotal but there comes a point where the sheer volume of converging stories means they deserve credence.

The call for compensation is a just one, and rightly part of the price we should pay to assist poorer people already suffering the effects of human-caused climate change. In some respects it is in lieu of the price we ought to have put on carbon some years back. It’s a call which the Bolivian government is pushing. They would like to see an international environmental court where compensation claims can be made.

Bolivia is right now hosting its own international conference on climate change, the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. It’s attended by a mixture of NGOs and government representatives, and in some respects it’s an attempt to recover the ground Bolivia considered was lost at Copenhagen when the Accord was put together by a small group of larger countries. Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s UN ambassador, who has been prominent in the organising of the conference says:

“The only way to get climate negotiations back on track, not just for Bolivia or other countries, but for all of life, biodiversity, our Mother Earth, is to put civil society back into the process. The only thing that can save mankind from a [climate] tragedy is the exercise of global democracy.”

Robert Eshelman describes the conference in the Huffington Post:

“…participants [include] Bill McKibben, NASA scientist Jim Hansen, Martin Khor, G77 + China negotiator Lumumba Di Aping, and Vandana Shiva. Throughout the conference, seventeen working groups will convene to discuss issues ranging from deforestation and climate migrants to the rights of indigenous peoples and developing technologies for poor and low-lying nations to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

He sees divergence from the kind of path the US is wanting to follow:

“While the U.S. will use the Major Economies Forum and the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas to spotlight how small group and bilateral discussions among leading economies, rather than the 192-nation U.N. process, is the best way forward on climate negotiations, participants at the Bolivian conference argue that the conversation about, and the process for, developing strategies to address climate change needs to be expanded, not narrowed, bringing more voices into the debate around climate change.”

Hopefully this needn’t indicate stalemate, but both paths can be pursued. If they’re not there is real danger of the poorest nations suffering the injustice of neglect.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

dappledwater April 21, 2010 at 11:21 am

Bryan, that's not suffering, don't you watch the news?, a bunch of podgy tourists couldn't travel back to the UK from Spain, because of that volcano in Iceland interrupting air travel. The inhumanity!.

Bryan Walker April 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Yes, last night I turned off the BBC news early in dismay/disbelief that we were launched on yet another day of visits to various airports and terminals filming notices of cancellation and interviewing stray travelers on what the disruption of their plans had meant to them. I think the Chinese earthquake was going to get a look in later in the programme, but the meantime was too much for me.

dappledwater April 22, 2010 at 10:02 am

"Yes, last night I turned off the BBC news early in dismay/disbelief that we were launched on yet another day of visits to various airports"

Snap. Me too. On the other hand I did catch the last 20 minutes of a good doco on TVNZ7 tonight about glacier retreat & the Media7 programme did a better job of covering the fake controversy of the CRU e-mail saga, than I had anticipated. Not accurate enough, but as close as they'll get I imagine.

mspelto April 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm

The shrinking of the glaciers in this dry alpine region is the visible part. The glaciers lose considerable mass via sublimation, so as they shrink it is not really more melting that occurs necessarily. There reduced size already even with more melting will yield less runoff. In addition the water supply is based partly on the limited snow fall which also can sublimate and even evaporate from the surface rocks upon melting since it is often a thin covering. This problem is becoming more widespread throughout the high dry alpine Andes such as the Zongo Glacier region

mspelto April 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm

The shrinking of the glaciers in this dry alpine region is the visible part. The glaciers lose considerable mass via sublimation, so as they shrink it is not really more melting that occurs necessarily. There reduced size already even with more melting will yield less runoff. In addition the water supply is based partly on the limited snow fall which also can sublimate and even evaporate from the surface rocks upon melting since it is often a thin covering. This problem is becoming more widespread throughout the high dry alpine Andes such as the Zongo Glacier region

Bryan Walker April 21, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Thanks for the link mspelto. Interesting commentary and great pictures. And lots posts on other glaciers which I look forward to browsing.

Steve Wrathall April 22, 2010 at 12:32 am

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100420/ts_afp/boliv
Bolivian President Evo Morales opened a "people's conference" on climate change on Tuesday with an attack on capitalism's debt to global warming, ……"Either capitalism dies, or it will be Mother Earth,"

A resource-rich nation disasterously addicted to putting fruit loops into power. No wonder it has the lowest GDP/capita in S America.

Bryan Walker April 22, 2010 at 12:50 am

I doubt whether the accession of Morales to power was responsible for the melting of the glaciers. And who knows, he might be right about capitalism, certainly in some of its manifestations.

TomG April 22, 2010 at 6:41 am

Please tell us Steve how the "fruit loops" melt the glaciers.

Steve Wrathall April 22, 2010 at 8:42 am

Glaciers have been retreating globally since the end of the little ice Age.

Capitalism has lifted billions of the world's poorest people out of povery in just a few decades. Prosperous societies have the resources to build dams, irrigation systems, strong houses, and other infrastructure to allow them to handle whatever nature throws at them.

The self-inflicted poverty of the Bolivia's of this world will only ensure that for most of their population, every day is Earth day, or dirt day, or squalour and filth day.

bill April 22, 2010 at 10:07 am

Oh yeah, the Bolivians are only poor because of Morales! You're actually saying they've only been poor since Morales? Since January 2006!

And the Bolivians didn't elect and re-elect Morales precisely because so many of them are poor, particularly the indigenous population? And I suppose the neoliberal or blatantly dictatorial (US backed) Euro elites that preceded him were giving them a great deal, if only they'd been smart enough to recognise it, were they?

Funny how so many 'unsophisticated' South Americans seem to have thought the same way about the wonderful Neoliberal policies they were subjected to. But, of course, they all fail to appreciate the beauty of The One True Idea!

You guys are the ultra-Leninists of Capitalism…

Is there a denier who isn't far Right? Oh yeah, that's right; there are some ultra-Trotskyites who have been given Op-Ed space in the Australian! And Alexander Cockburn, who cites the La Rouchies as 'evidence'! Strange bedfellows indeed…

Perhaps you'd also care to explain to us the rate/s at which glaciers have been melting since the end of the little Ice Age? And, as usual, how you, or whoever you're cutting-and-pasting from, comes to know more about this than glaciologists…

dappledwater April 22, 2010 at 9:46 am

"and other infrastructure to allow them to handle whatever nature throws at them." – S.Wrathall.

You mean like Hurricane Katrina?. That didn't go so well did it?..

Steve Wrathall April 22, 2010 at 11:13 pm

A country of 300 million, and the highest death toll from a natural disaster in a century is 1000. That is precisely my point. The same strength storm hits the Bangladeshis with their low carbon footprint and 100 000 die.

dappledwater April 23, 2010 at 6:47 am

And the infrastructure you earlier trumpeted about?. As for Bangladeshi's, having so much of their country near sea level, as well as being poor were definitely contributing factors. Low carbon footprint – not so much.

bill April 22, 2010 at 11:07 am

Good point.

You might also ask how neoliberal privatisations of essential services like, say, water supplies – such as that undertaken in Bolivia in 1999 by US transnational Bechtel – would help protect the population from the worst Nature might throw at it. Asking people who earn $100 per month to suddenly pay $20 per month for water so Bechtel's shareholders could look forward to a new Beemer – there's the glorious 'free' market for you!

Bolivians were so unable to grasp the beauty of the One True Idea that they defied the Military Emergency their 'democratic' government (led by a former Dictator!) had proclaimed in the wake of the public unrest and chucked Bechtel out. This was one of the nails in the coffin of neoliberalism in Latin America…

RW1 April 22, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I have spent quite a lot of time in South American countries, particularly Brazil. Although public opinion in the US is very slowly waking up to the fact that their country is not exactly universally loved or admired elsewhere, most US citizens still have little idea of just how much their country is disliked in South America.

Steve Wrathall April 22, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Meanwhile back in "climate change"-ravaged Bolivia

"…satellite images covering the major cropping departments of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, Chuquisaca and Tarija indicate a normal vegetation activity which could translate into good average yields." (6/4/10) http://www.fao.org/giews/countrybrief/country.jsp

Catastrophe Cancelled

bill April 23, 2010 at 4:18 am

So according to Steve Wrathall and his rather idiosyncratic whole-of-region satellite interpretive method these people simply don't have a problem, right? These people (and the BBC) are talking crap? I mean, what would they know? They're 'squalid', 'dirty' and 'filthy' aren't they?

I'm curious, would you say that the high alpine meadows below Mount Illimani – 'snow line 4570m' – are generally regarded as being a part of the 'major cropping department of Bolivia'? How high up Mount Cook does your agricultural zone go? I'd have thought a New Zealander might understand that while water on the plains might come from many places, while the higher up the mountains you go the more you're depending on one or two local sources.

And we're still waiting for an explanation on how you have managed to develop more expertise in these matters than professional glaciologists.

Oh, and any warmists not already familiar with the the glib pseudo-'gotcha' 'Catastrophe Cancelled' phrase need only do a quick search in Google to see its pedigree… These links may also help to explain the 'expertise'…

Steve Wrathall April 23, 2010 at 10:00 pm

These are presumably the same "professional glaciologists" who remained mum for years as the prediction of Himalayan meltdown by 2035 remained on the IPCC books, while "denialists" like myself called them on it all along.
(see my Tibetan Plateau: Meltdown Cancelled!! Youtube vid from over 2 years ago) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUariMW_OvY

So the answer to your recuring appeals to authority, is YES, those who are prepared to show a healthy skepticism, and demand extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims do have a better grip on reality than scientists who have learned that their funding will continually rise if hey keep on feeding scary stories to their political paymasters.

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. "-H. L. Mencken

bill April 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm

As ever we are back with the outlandish conspiracy theories, but it's nice to see a bare-faced claim that you know better than the qualified professionals. Other readers can determine the credibility of this for themselves.

I am unsure why 'professional glaciologists' requires quotation marks, since they're people who study glaciers for a living. On behalf of their 'political paymasters', of course. (Now, here we really do require the quotes, as these sinister figures exist only in certain febrile imaginations!)

As far as I know AR4 WG1 author Georg Kaser was the first to notice the error in WG2 – where they should have cited WG1 but instead chose the incorrect 'grey' claim. If you spotted it before that hooray! but it doesn't change the fact that glaciers are melting.

It's a huge report, and the claim takes all of 2 sentences. Here's a relevant quote from professor Stephen Schneider form Stanford from a recent address to the AAAS –

Why do you think the media, in my opinion, have grabbed on these three IPCC errors so far? This disinformation engine is investing all that money and all they could do is find three? I'm more arrogant. I think if I took my best students and you gave me a month I think we could probably find ten, maybe even 20. But there's about (I haven't counted them) 1,000 conclusions roughly in a report, 1,000 pages, one a page, something in that order.

Anybody reported the real story which is that despite the fact this is a human institution with 200 people from many countries, two rounds of review and review editors which keeps the error rate low, it's still a human institution, you're going to have errors, and they're not acceptable and we're going to work out ways to have an even lower probability next time. And stating that a glacier is going to melt in 2035 doesn't pass a scientific laugh test. If I had seen that, it's a bell curve with a long tail, and that's exactly why we have confidences and that's how almost every conclusion is.

Why is the story not equally that, yes, these guys are batting 99.90, let me see, that's three times what it takes to get into the baseball hall of fame. You tell me any other epistemology that has to deal with complex systems science. Medical diagnosis? Forget it, 99%, no prayer. Investment banking? Oh God, I don't even know if they're over half. And military? They're probably better than half. So that's so unbalanced it defies imagination, yet I have seen almost no mainstream studies on it.

<a target="_blank" href="http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2010/2859986.htm#transcript"&gthttp://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2010/2859986.htm#transcript” target=”_blank”>;http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2010/2859986.htm#transcript (there's also a podcast)

bill April 23, 2010 at 10:48 pm
nommopilot April 23, 2010 at 11:34 pm

thanks for that link Steve. It's great to put a face to the name. Do you always talk like that?

nommopilot April 23, 2010 at 11:38 pm

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

the only trouble with this is that our political leaders do not seem at all inclined to lead us to safety and most seem to only begrudgingly acknowledge climate change. politicians did not create this catastrophe (except in their enabling of gross pollution and disregard for the environment) and thus I don't think your claims of conspiracy quite add up…

I like your catastrophe cancelled tagline – it's bound to catch on. I know you've been doing it for more than two years now (as your video attests), but keep at it!!

bill July 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I’m going to put a link to that BBC piece here, and invite the reader to peruse the discussion above in order to identify the utter muppets in this debate…

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