Speech Sandew Hira a decolonial view on climate change

On April 22 and 23 2021 President Biden has organized a video conference with world leaders on climate change. The Plurinational State of Bolivia has organized an alternative video conference on April 23, 2021. Sandew Hira was asked to make a contribution. See the text of his contribution here.

Sandew Hira is a decolonial intellectual
and activist and a board member
of the Decolonial International Network Foundation
The Hague, Holland, 22-4-2021

Dear president Luis Arce, vice-president David Chiquehuanca, respected members of the Bolivian government and other heads of states, brothers and sisters, comrades.

Thank you for the honor to address you on the issue of a decolonial view on climate change.

Last Monday, April 19 2021, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken gave a speech on climate change. I will present a decolonial critique of his speech and an alternative view on climate change.

The analysis of Blinken can be summarized in three points:

  1. The cause of climate change is warming temperatures caused by human activity.
  2. The solution for climate change is a technical solution (clean energy).
  3. Climate change has everything to do with the long term domination of the US.

Here is my decolonial critique of his analysis in six points:

  1. A wrong analysis can lead to wrong conclusions and wrong policies. Human civilizations with cities, agriculture and basic industries have been around for 7.000 years without impacting climate change. There is a clear responsibility for climate change. It is not human activity in general, because that absolves the real culprits who should be held accountable: industrial capitalism in Europe and North America and imperialism in the rest of the world that has laid the foundation of Western civilization. Private companies supported by state government are the ones who should be held accountable, not humans in general. Blinken’s analysis is a cover-up for the actions of these companies and states.
  2. Their actions are based on a key concept of western civilization about the relationship between humans and nature. The concept is that humans are superior to nature and are therefore entitled to control and manipulate nature. If humans can manipulate nature, then there is no brake on activities that changes nature in the disastrous way that we know today. That makes this concept problematic. As long as people like Blinken hold on to the Eurocentric concept of superior human begins that have the right to manipulate nature, all their solutions will be limited.
  3. Many other civilizations have developed a different view on the relationship between humans and nature. For example, in Islam the basic elements of nature – land, water, fire, forest, and light – belong to all living things, not just to human beings. The privilege to exploit natural resources was given by God, Allah, to mankind on the basis of custodianship (khalifa in Arabic). This means that humans are the custodians of nature, and must live in harmony with other creatures. They must pass on the entrusted property to the next generation in as pure a form as possible and promise not to destroy or damage it. According to the Holy Qur’an, environmental conservation is a religious duty and a social obligation. The exploitation of a particular natural resource is directly related to accountability and maintenance of the resource. Another example of a non-Eurocentric view on the relationship between humans and nature is to be found in Africa. In the African philosophy of Ubuntu humans are humans through the interaction with other human beings. That is how you achieve a society based on happiness. The following story illustrates this. A white anthropologist was studying an African village. He saw children playing. He took a basket full with delicious fruits and put it under a tree. He drew a line in the dirt, looked at the children, and said, “When I tell you to start, run to the tree and whoever gets there first will win the basket of the fruit.” When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together to the tree. Then they sat together around the basket and enjoyed their treat as a group. The anthropologist was shocked. He asked why they would all go together when one of them could have won all the fruits for themselves?
    A young girl looked up at him and said, “How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?” Ubuntu is not limited to relationship between humans, but also bears on the relationship between humans and nature. Former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, explains this relationship when he spoke about his ‘Africanness’ in relation to the natural environment. He said: “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the everchanging seasons that define the face of our native land.” Humans and nature are on the same level. He even made the following suggestion: “At times, and in fear, I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito.”
  4. Because the imagination of Blinken is very limited, he cannot think that there is another view possible on the relationship between humans and nature. In his view the problem of climate change is a problem of technology, the solution for climate change can only be found in technology, which boils down to developing the industry of clean energy. Obviously that technology is very much needed, because the technology that Western civilization has used, has destroyed the environment. But that industry will be less effective if there is no change in the concept of the relationship between humans and nature. If you install solar panels, then, yes, you will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if you don’t change your behavior and still think that humans have the right to manipulate nature, then sooner or later another problem will arise in the environment. It is like in the movie Jurassic Park. The park owner thinks that he can manipulate nature by creating an amusement park where dinosaurs have been recreated by genetic experiments. They control one aspect (the environment of the park), but suddenly other aspects they did not think about become dangerous when it appears that dinosaurs have a mind of their own.
  5. Blinken links climate change to geopolitical problems and thus makes climate change a political tool to maintain the hegemonic status of the US in the world. This strategy is detrimental to improving climate change. If you have a broken car, and your neighbor has a broken car, you can decide to work together and learn from each other experiences in fixing the cars. But if you have a quarrel with your neighbor about something else – say about the fence – then linking fixing the broken car to the problems of the fence will hinder fixing both cars. Blinken does exactly that. He says: “It’s difficult to imagine the United States winning the long-term strategic competition with China if we cannot lead the renewable energy revolution. Right now, we’re falling behind.” What he means is that climate change is now part of the political struggle that America wages against China and Russia. So instead of talking about how to fix our cars, he will start talking about the fence, the wife of his neighbor, the dog of his neighbor etc. In the coming years the American narrative about climate change will be mixed with stories about the Uyghurs in China or the problems of Ukraine and Russia. This is a very ineffective strategy in combating climate change. And the facts prove that. And Blinken provide the facts: “Natural disasters in 2020 cost the United States around $100 billion… We only have around 4 percent of the world’s population, but we contribute nearly 15 percent of global emissions.  That makes us the world’s second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases… Renewables are now the cheapest source of bulk electricity in countries that contain two-thirds of the world’s population.  And the global renewable energy market is projected to be $2.15 trillion by 2025.  That’s over 35 times the size of the current market for renewables in the United States… China is the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles.  It holds nearly a third of the world’s renewable energy patents.  If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people.” Instead of working together on an equal basis with other countries, the USA has adopted an imperial attitude to climate change: it wants to dominate.

The need to dominate will lead to military conflicts with climate change as an argument for conflict. Blinken announces this in his speech: “Climate change can also create new theaters of conflict.  In February, a Russian gas tanker sailed through the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route for the first time ever.  Until recently, that route was only passable a few weeks each year.  But with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, that period is getting much longer.  Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces.  It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska.  China is increasing its presence in the Arctic, too.” Conclusion: prepare for war in the name of climate change. The speech of Blinken is fraught with conceptual errors, problematic analysis and erroneous policies.

  1. What is the alternative for US policy? The alternative consists of three elements:
    1. The idea that climate change is not primarily about technological causes and technological solutions. There is a technological component in the causes and solutions for climate change. But there is an issue behind technology and that is in how we view the relationship between humans and nature. Social movements need to put this relationship in the center of the discussion on how to deal with climate change.
    2. A non-western view of the relationship between humans and nature starts with respect for nature. Based on this view social movements should embrace the idea that has been developed in Bolivia of a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Just like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such a declaration outlines the basic principles about how a society should organize the respect for nature. The government of countries around the world should be pressured by social movements to adopt such a declaration.
    3. The Western civilization and the global system of colonialism on which it is based have created a system of knowledge that has colonized our minds. It presents western analysis and solutions as the only possible ones. It has colonized our minds to such an extent that we cannot imagine other, better, analysis and solutions, not only on climate change but on many others problems that humanity faces. If the only tool you have to solve problems is a hammer, then every problem should be treated as a nail. That is the crazy logic of Western civilization and the operation of the colonized mind. If we want long term solutions, then social movements should link the discussions on climate change to the discussion of the role of Western civilization and the colonization of the mind in creating these problems. I am sure that then the value of knowledge produced by other civilizations will be appreciated and used in creating new policies in the ecological movements based on decolonizing the mind.

Thank you for your attention