The Climate Games – Beyond COP21

So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.”
~ Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate


“And what did you accomplish?” was my oldest son’s question when we came back from the Global Climate March in Vancouver, which yesterday attracted around 5,000 people (including us) to march in peace and support for legally binding negotiations at  COP21 in Paris, in support for the thousands of refugees displaced by climate change and its impacts, the millions of species being displaced, corralled and pushed to extinction and the thousands of lives lost to terrorism and exploitation in every corner of this world.

Addiction is finding a quick and dirty solution to the symptom of the problem, which prevents or distracts one from the harder and longer-term task of solving the real problem.”
~ Donella H. Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Let me be clear: I don’t have too many expectations on the COP21, a few powerful countries’ leaders have already hinted they won’t support for legally binding carbon-reduction targets. Naomi Klein explained this clearly in her book “This Changes Everything”: as long as we have capitalism, growth and the rules of free trade such as NATO, NAFTA and now the TPP (all of them legally binding), no climate change talks will ever accomplish much…countries, provinces and cities are falling behind their targets (which are all already too short of what’s really needed) and this path will continue until something really changes.

The other reason why I’m not super hype by what COP21 would accomplish, is that all these “negotiations” are based in 1) emissions and 2) using old strategies such as cap and trade and taxes, which worked with less complex issues such as the ozone layer and acid rain: climate change is not at all like those issues. Climate change is not even “the” worse thing we have when we take it on itself: it is the combination of climate change impacts on ecosystems, food production and livelihoods plus all the other systems that are failing miserably from oceans’ collapse to soil depletion and water pollution. The reasons behind climate change (and all the other predicaments) are not going to be addressed by these negotiations, the reasons behind are the same behind the existence of refugees, wars, conflicts, human abuse and social injustice. They are the same behind the violence we all use in our words and thoughts and sometimes also actions: the negligence and careless with which we treat each other, both those far away as those close to us.

So why did I march? Why did I take almost an entire day from my busy life to commute so far (I live around 2 hours on bus/train from downtown Vancouver) on a freezing Sunday just to listen some speakers and drums and then march along 5,000 other people of all ages, religions and cultures for about 2.5 hours?

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

Because I chose to. And because I had to: I owed this to all the species and peoples who have been displaced or killed or their lives changed forever by climate change and resource wars born from resource depletion. Because I care for my children and everyone else’s children future. Because giving up and staying at home would have been unbearable when others who badly wanted and planned to march couldn’t do it. Because there are people and species in this world who not only cannot march, but even their voices are not being heard.


It was a peaceful and hopeful event. One of the speakers talked about hope and how it is not an expectation but a verb: how hope needs to be “acted”, otherwise it becomes a displace of responsibility…

The organizers asked us to follow different banners depending whether we identified with front liners, those with the solutions, those showing resistance or everyone else who supported change.

I missed seeing tents and signs for Permaculture and Transition as part of “solutions” and regretted not having created a Permaculture/Transition sign myself.

In the way back home, my partner and I were discussing how the same goal of these marches and negotiations was by definition impossible: if we could magically stop extracting fossil fuels (or, as some ask for, leaving 80% in the ground), the entire system would collapse in a series of horrendous clashes that would involve chaos and despair, starvation and conflicts over dwindling, insufficient or plainly inefficient resources…

Our entire system is build on various “givens”: a capitalistic structure, “the car” as main way of transportation which involves faraway jobs and centers for health, food and entertainment and complete mass forgetting of basic skills to take care of ourselves…on the top, we are now at least 6 times more than we were the last time we could sustainably take care of our own…

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: when you decide to “take the veil of dust” that covers many of us’ eyes, we will see it: we are in a big mess now and worsening ahead…

Governments will not act soon or deep enough. The “market” will not respond soon or efficiently enough. Even if they wanted, our current way of living (in western-like middle and upper class lifestyles) will never be supported by renewable: there are not enough rare metals to build solar panels (they also go useless after 25 years and are made of the most toxic materials to dispose), there is not enough land to sit wind farms, or enough rivers to dam for hydro, or enough waves for tidal and so on…

Going off the grid is not an option: how many realistically can access enough land, water, seeds and tools and create their own “off the grid” Paradise? Even if all of this is subsidized and a magical social order mandates to re-distribute land and resources, there is not enough for everybody at the pace and scale we need it.


Active Hope and Energy Descent Action Plans

All responses to the ecological crisis have value in ways that are not necessarily obvious.” ~ David Holmgren co-originator of Permaculture

“[ …] take seriously the idea that what we do in our own lives is potent but only if what we do is radical in its simplicity and abundant in its real biological and communitarian productivity” ~ David Holmgren co-originator of Permaculture


My “hope” and expectations for “achievement” are not based on fantasies: they are based on knowing what is needed (ethically and realistically): we need skills and tools and real examples of how we can navigate the necessary Energy Descent Action Plan (EDAP) both at the individual/household and community level.

We need to show others that it is possible: that is possible to live on less and imagine a world without cars or refrigerators, dishwashers and dryers and still be happy and sane. We also need to be front liners and try the skills and projects that will become more and more necessary when things become more difficult for those for whom things are still easy and comfortable.

Leaders may or may not accomplish something impactful enough this COP21 in Paris. But we individuals, households and communities can do much more.

If the march ever accomplishes anything, only the future will show. For me, it accomplished enough: it made me feel the urgency of my own commitment; but most importantly, it made my partner to attend and start talking about these things and my own feelings about them…it made my children think and know we care.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll share the things we need to do as individuals, households and communities…much has been written about these things, so I’ll share with you what I have already done, the struggles and successes and open the discussion for all of us to do our part.

We don’t need everyone to go off the grid. But we need everyone committed from their own gifts: one of my gifts (I have been told) is inspiring others by writing. I can also try things and teach them. Your gift may be riding a bike to work and demonstrate to others it can be done. For others, their gift is flying to help refugees to re-build their lives using Permaculture.

This is not a competition; this is possible the biggest project of real co-operation in humankind history. Whether we make it or now will depend on how you decide to use your gift.


I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
~ Edward Everett Hale

Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”
~ (attributed to) Albert Einstein

If you want to read more about how I perceive the role of Permaculturists, read “Crash on Demand” by David Holmgren or my translation here: “Finally in Spanish: Collapso por Encargo” These documents as well as some other Holmgren’s writings are more current and important now than ever…

3 Comments on “The Climate Games – Beyond COP21

  1. Hi Silvia. I am with you in much of what you write, but with a few caveats…

    I am reading a 2014 book called Sun Power by Neville Williams. He has worked promoting off -grid solar in poorer developing nations since the early 90’s, with incredible success…
    First via the NGO – SELF – solar electric light fund, and then many other diverse and small solar companies in that provide (via micro credit) hundreds of thousands (and now even more) independent solar systems, mostly in the 50 watt range. They have real practical value to improve the lives of many rural poor people, replacing expensive kerosene with electric LED light,etc. creating many local jobs, and enabling people to read, study or do small chores during darkness. May of this people although true, are poor, already have access to small plots of land for food and right livelihood.

    The idea of small scale solar power seems so absurd to those of us who use 100’s of times the energy. Off-grid solar electricity is a vital and efficient option for Billions of people who experience “energy poverty”.

    Secondly… I have an important correction to make with you regarding your statement that Solar Electric panels are virtually useless after 25 years. I can personally testify that my wife and I have lived with 6- 5o watt solar panels we purchased in 1985 – that’s 30 years ago – and they still have excellent power output. I imagine they have some reduction, though I have never measured it, nor is a reduction visible in our metering system. I would note that amorphous solar cells used in calculators and some solar panels do I have a short life of 10 years or so. But most solar electric modules are extremely durable and I don’t understand where the misinformation about their durability is coming from… I do understand they do take energy to create and like all manufactured goods they do have an environmental footprint as well. However, all of the materials of solar electric panels i.e glass, aluminum, plastic substrate, wire leads, etc – are valuable recycle-able goods.

    In friendship, peace and solidarity, as always


    So – I passionately disagree

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bruce, I like your passion, and coming from someone who is actually living it, I respect your point of view…however, imagine now not a hundred or a thousand but millions of solar panels…also, while technology is improving, the average life continues to be short. They are not perfect but they may be a transitional and necessary phase in the EDAP/Degrowth path…but my point is that more than trying to replicate our excessive lifestyles by just “going green” we need all learn and practice “needing less”…the Nearings were a great example of a happy and super productive couple and they didn’t have electricity…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes – less is more (i.e quality over quantity) …. I have always agreed with this, and the Gandhian expression that would likely summarize for both of us, and many others as well… “live simply so that others can simply live.”

    Liked by 1 person

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