Countries attending the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow have made new pledges to cut their emissions, but activists say it’s not enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis. India has vowed to reduce its carbon emissions to net zero by 2070. Over 100 leaders have agreed to end deforestation by 2030. The United States is announcing a new plan to reduce methane emissions, among other measures. Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, is in Glasgow for the talks and warns the heavy focus on “net zero” rather than absolute carbon reductions suggests leaders are not planning to make serious changes. “It’s a continuing war against Mother Earth, against Father Sky,” says Goldtooth. “It is an issue of life and death to many of our Indigenous peoples, from the north to the south.” Climate campaigner Bill McKibben says the movement to divest from fossil fuels has had a major impact but that business interests are still holding back a transition to renewable energy. “Money is the oxygen on which the fires of global warming keep burning,” says McKibben.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’d like to bring in Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Welcome to Democracy Now! Tom, your reaction to the opening of COP26? What do you see? Is it a failure already at the start? And your perspective from the point of view of what Indigenous folks want out of this summit?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, Bill said something about a lot of the team players at the corporate and the country level having their war game plans. And this is what we’ve seen as Indigenous peoples for these 26 years. I’ve been coming to these COPs since the fourth, COP number four. And, you know, it’s a continuing war against Mother Earth, against Father Sky. The violence that’s perpetuated with the continuation of the dumping of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases, carbon, it’s insane. The bathtub’s overflowing. It has to stop. Our Indigenous delegation that’s here and the ones that are still coming here, we’re saying, “Hey, you know, this has got to stop,” for our communities, our Indigenous nations and communities from the United States.
You know, President Biden is here. Some heard his presentation on the screen. He’s continuing a U.S. legacy, a U.S. legacy of broken treaties. In his run for presidency, he said he’s going to uphold the treaties of our Indigenous nations and stop leasing public lands to the fossil fuel polluters. Instead, he has failed to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, he’s failed to stop the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, and with an agenda of supercharging oil and gas, leasing on pipelines and waters. This has to stop. The frontlines to Washington, to Glasgow, we’re telling Biden to reject Big Oil lies, ban federal oil and gas leasing, and stop the federal climate catastrophe. This has to stop.
You know, one of the issues that we’re bringing to here as part of a national Build Back Fossil Free campaign, a movement in the United States between our Indigenous nations, our Black and people of color communities and green groups, is to push Biden, but not only Biden, but also the Northern industrialized countries, to declare a climate emergency and keep fossil fuels in the ground and end subsidies of fossil fuels globally, but back home domestically. We’ve got to do that and end the federal fossil fuel leasing program.
But one of the things that we’re here to really lift up is this false solutions around net zero agenda. There’s no problem about us pushing for a zero agenda in emissions, but when they slide in the word “net,” that’s when it really is problematic. And it’s a process in what we see of not really cutting emissions at source. And it’s the main buzzword here, “net zero emissions,” “nature-based solutions.” And net zero has nothing to do with reducing zero — reducing emissions to zero. It has nothing to do about cutting emissions at source at the level that we need to restrict the warming above 1.5 Celsius. It’s very critical. It is an issue of life and death to many of our Indigenous peoples, from the north to the south. So that’s why we’re here to amplify that voice.
Again, you know, we’re asking that there be attention to this from the world leaders. But we’re here not just alone. We’re here with allies saying that this concept of net zero emissions does not reduce pollution. And there’s oil giants, like Shell, like BP, like ExxonMobil, all claiming to move towards net zero, so that, really, it’s a mechanism of greenwash. It allows them to increase drilling and burning fossil fuels and washing their hands of their responsibility for the climate crisis. They are climate criminals, and we’re concerned that this Conference of the Parties is continuing to be a conference of the polluters.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, Conference of Parties, or polluters, is represented by COP, C-O-P. Let’s turn to Bolivian President Luis Arce, who addressed the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow Monday.
PRESIDENT LUIS ARCE: [translated] We must be aware of the fact that developed countries are promoting a new global recolonization process, which we could call the new carbon colonialism. I say this because they’re attempting to impose the rules of the game, their own rules of the game, to continue to fuel the new green capitalistic system and to force these rules of the game upon us, with us having no option. We will not solve the climate crisis with more green capitalism and more global carbon markets. We need to change the civilization model we have and head towards an alternative model, an alternative to capitalism, which is the concept of living properly together in harmony with Mother Earth.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the Bolivian President Luis Arce. If you could address this issue, Bill McKibben, the issue of climate capitalism, and what it truly would mean to lay out the framework for a sustainable planet?
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, let me say first, you know, one of the things I’m doing today is addressing a memorial service for the 247 environment activists that were killed around the world last year, many of them in Latin America, and, in almost every case, standing up to defend something — a forest, a place that’s about to be mined — from some large corporation or another. Now, the corporation didn’t come out and kill them, but their orders trickle down to whoever was there on the ground and whoever pulled the trigger. And all of that is still underway. There’s a kind of ongoing colonialism. Indigenous peoples suffer probably hardest from it than anybody else, and a great percentage of those 247 bodies come from Indigenous communities. So let’s always remember that those lives are on the line.
And so are the lives of — well, we know that breathing the combustion products of fossil fuels, from a big study released a few weeks ago, kills 8.7 million people a year on this planet. That’s one death in five. It’s bigger than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis combined, malaria combined. And it’s all unnecessary, because we now are able to produce power by pointing a sheet of glass at the sun. Renewable energy is the cheapest power on the planet. But the reason that it’s not rolling out fast enough is precisely because there is still this huge industry that’s trying to make money off the end of the world.
The news is not all bad. We are making some progress. We announced last week that the global divestment campaign has passed $40 trillion in endowments and portfolios that have sold their shares in coal and oil and gas. It’s become the largest anti-corporate campaign in history. And it continues. Just yesterday, more universities divested; the Dutch pension fund, the fifth biggest in the world. We’re going to keep that pressure on, because — well, because money is the oxygen on which the fires of global warming keep burning. And if we can snuff off that supply of capital, of finance, we can at least slow this down some, which we desperately have to do.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of the fires of global warming, I wanted to ask Tom Goldtooth — there’s a recent United Nations report that warns that at least 10 forests designated as World Heritage sites have become net emitters of greenhouse gases, no longer absorbing more carbon than they emit. Could you talk about that and your reaction, and what must be done, and why governments need to react much more quickly to the crisis we’re facing?
TOM GOLDTOOTH: Well, here in the hallways of the Conference of the Parties here, our Indigenous caucus, from all over the world, we’ve been involved with a process of establishing protocols for sharing our traditional knowledge, our Indigenous traditional knowledge, with the nation-states. And that’s a very important and critical part of the history of this UNFCCC meeting, because it’s going to be the application of our Indigenous traditional knowledge that we feel is a solution, is a solution to this world crisis. And we’ve been saying that all along with our delegation for years, is that we have to look for solutions that are real solutions, real reductions that cut emissions at source.
And that’s one reason that we’ve been looking at ways to build mechanisms in different countries, especially those countries that are rich in trees, forested areas, especially the Amazon and the tropical regions. But that also means our forested regions of the North. And we need to do that. We need to restore. We need to have healthy nature.
But one thing that we have to also lift up, that’s part of our spiritual knowledge, our traditional knowledge, is that we cannot sell Father Sky, we cannot sell Mother Earth or the trees in the capitalistic project. And climate capitalism is something that’s going to affect our people. So we’re for these conservation projects, biodiversity protection projects, but outside of a carbon market system. Traditional knowledge means that the government is going to have to wake up and have to cut emissions at source, keep fossil fuels in the ground, and restore and maintain our healthy ecosystems of biodiversity.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you both for being with us, and, of course, we’re going to continue this conversation, Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, member of the Diné and Dakota Nations, usually is in Minnesota, today in Glasgow, and Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, his latest book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? And we’ll link to his pieces in The New Yorker, his weekly climate newsletter.
Coming up, we speak with a 23-year-old climate activist from Samoa. She addressed the U.N. climate summit yesterday. Stay with us.