Friday, November 18, 2016

Power Shifts Across Community Action Potentials

At the COP22 climate conference, here in Marrakech, a word that I hear frequently by French speakers is "complexe". Often, after listening to a string of phrases that make little sense to me, along will come the word- complexe. Eventually I trade my passport for a UN translation receiver. This means, for the next 90 minutes, my passport will be sitting on a table with 60 others in plain view for all who pass. So much for my admonition to the students to keep their passport with them at all times.

With the translator on my head a soft and expressionless female voice delivers the translated phrase, "... is a complex issue". And so it is- in any language. There are many components to climate (including the many human components that interact with them), many connections between these parts, and many ways for the parts to impact the climate system via feedback. Here in Morocco it is clear that most people are confident that the changes we are, and will, experience due to climate change will amplify the inequities of gender, wealth, and power as the links between the people in these groups and the earth they depend on become strained.

Where to begin to impact a system so complex? Many actions have been presented here. Tech companies and nations themselves have large-scale solutions and often the funding to get started. Others propose that regional groups of nations or cities are best able to set common goals to mitigate their contributions to climate change.

But I am hearing a clear voice in the Moroccan desert trying to empower groups of citizens to take charge of their own climate impacts in order to break some of the connections and loops that sustain poor decisions made by industry and government. Around the world these voices are acting to become responsible for their own energy, water and human resources in ways beyond turning off lights and turn off the water while brushing your teeth (both important also). Some highlights from the COP...

What options are there for those who purchase electricity from a coal or nuclear fired generator? The European group #rescoop assists neighborhoods and small communities to join together and buy shares in coop organizations that produce and distribute their own green energy. By investing in the choices they make for energy production these coop groups not only gain the power to shift to greener and greener energy they also free themselves from the myth of the need for large scale distribution systems across vast and important ecosystems.

If modifying the centralized energy distribution piece doesn't seem like enough of a change, other organizations have turbines and collectors suitable for neighborhood groups. SES has a demo site with one such turbine. In these systems neighbors buy shares towards financing an installation that produces power for the homes via the grid. As the financing is paid off the coop members share in the profits. These notions of Energy Democracy have been presented in several sessions here at COP. Noteworthy may be the work of and the gender equity related group at

Water is a significant component of the climate issue. Both climate change and continued expansion of fossil fuel and mineral exploration threaten the quality of water needed to live. Those impacted are often among the poorest of the poor. Check out #300kmsouth for one such Moroccan issue. The activist work of the Navaho #Kayla F. DeVault also focuses well on this concern.

As we work to act in ways to ensure that people across the planet have access to the resources necessary for a just and rewarding life we must examine the role that control and power play in a complex climate change system. How might we ensure that decisions are made by those most impacted by the consequences of those decisions? Certainly, putting decision-making in the hands of groups of impacted citizens is a reasonable start.

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