Copenhagen, Denmark: “Fingers” are pointed at Corporations and Bankers as the drivers of climate change during the UNFCCC (2009)                                                                                                       Photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

The scientific UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report warning there are only a dozen years to prevent climate catastrophe. The time is ticking…above countdown as of 13 December 2018.

Intro from Orin Langelle 13 December 2018: I was going to wait until the final words were hammered out at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Conference of the Parties 24 (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland that began on 2 December and is scheduled to conclude 14 December 2018. But why wait when I already know the outcome.

The UNFCCC will agree to meet again next year and no binding deals by the parties will happen this year.

Why do I know that? From my first UNFCCC experience as an activist photographer in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2004 to my last consecutive UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in 2011, all I ever saw was business as usual as Earth’s life support systems become more fragile. Already in 2004 it was widely understood that climate change was already well underway, but this year it is glaringly apparent as extreme weather around the globe gets even more extreme, with records breaking left and right.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report in October of this year (2018) warning there are only a dozen years to take the measures necessary to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5C – beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people; not to mention non-human species.  The IPCC even went so far as to say that avoiding catastrophic climate change will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Quite a statement from a group of scientists.

We are already in the sixth massive extinction; the likes of which have not been seen on Earth for at least 65 million years. This is the alarming finding of a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

In other words, we are up shit’s creek without a paddle. The human race though, has an ethical and moral obligation to find that paddle. I have not seen any real efforts to find that paddle at any UN climate conference. Nor have I seen any political will from governments to acknowledge what it might take to find that paddle. No, it is up to us. It is up to us to work for radical systemic transformation. Not reform. Its too late for reform. We can see the iceberg up ahead. We need to stop the ship, not re-arrange the deck chairs.

Every year, the UN climate conference is the same – sort of like the Groundhog’s Day movie where Bill Murray relives 2 February over and over.

Below is an article I wrote from a hotel in San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico one week after I attended the miserable UN climate conference in Cancún (2010).  I could probably write virtually the same piece after this year’s climate COP in Katowice, Poland.

Running to Catch a Bus to the Apocalypse

by Orin Langelle     First published in Climate Connections | 17 December 2010

Not just once but twice. Two times I had to run to catch the bus that was going from the Hotel Zone in Cancún to the Cancún Messe. From the Messe one had to take a shuttle to get into the main buildings of the Moon Palace where the UN climate talks were being held or to get to the media center. The UN made it quite hard to get to the Moon Palace from the Hotel Zone or downtown, so missing a bus was a big deal time-wise.

One of the shuttle buses from the Messe to the Moon Palace. California and the Mexican state of Chiapas recently made of a bilateral deal on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) that involves African Palm plantations. The “Ecobus” was later seen being filled with normal petrol. photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Why to the apocalypse?  Because it’s the end of the world as we know it and the UN climate negotiations are about the commodification of life. To quote Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network on the UN climate talks, “It’s the World Trade Organization of the sky.”

And the sky is the limit.  Everything has a price. From trees to water to air; in fact the Earth and all life is for sale. They may as well put bar codes on tigers. But wait, they kind of are. Charismatic fauna should be used to create premiums on schemes to save the forest—as World Bank chief slimy asshole Robert Zoellick explained at a day-long conference devoted to REDD [Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation]. (The UN doesn’t even know what a forest is—tree plantations, devoid of biodiversity are considered forests in their profit-motivated brains). This was my seventh United Nations Frameworks Convention on Climate Change. I started  in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2004 – then followed with Montreal, Canada—Nairobi, Kenya—Bali, Indonesia—Poznan, Poland—Copenhagen, Denmark—and finally Cancún, Mexico. [I held out one more year and attended the climate COP in 2011 Durban, South Africa.]

Buenos Aires was my first experience with how the UN climate talks function. Business comes in and runs the show while lip service is given to NGOs and Indigenous Peoples. Buenos Aires was a fucking trade show where Clean Coal, Nuclear Power and other industries had booths to sell their snake oils of destruction.

Are things really that bad?

Indigenous Peoples with UNFCCC gags in Bali, Indonesia (2007). photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

Year after year these talks get worse and worse. Voices of opposition slowly were eroding with one the first egregious cases erupting in Bali [Indonesia].  Indigenous Peoples were invited to a meeting with the UN president. They went. He wasn’t there. He was at another place. The Indigenous Peoples went there. There, they were met by armed guards who wouldn’t let them in.  The next day, at a guerilla press conference, Indigenous Peoples showed up with UNFCCC gags across their mouths.

Fast forward to CorporateHaven (Copenhagen) last year [2009]. Finally people were catching on to what the climate negotiators were up to and finally people started to revolt. Climate Justice Action was formed to do outside actions and CJA teamed up with Climate Justice Now!, an inside group formed in Bali that promoted a more leftist analysis than the other inside NGOs associated with Climate Action Network. CJA and CJN! planned a “Reclaim Power” action where people from CJA planned to march to the convention center where the negotiators were huddled and have a Peoples’ Assembly with folks who marched out from the inside, led by a contingent of Indigenous Peoples.

The march out of the convention was met by police (2009). photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

Both of the marches were stopped and CJA and CJN! never came together for the Peoples’ Assembly as activists from both sides were brutally attacked by Danish police.

CJA did manage to have its own Peoples’ Assembly, however.

Some of us knew the negotiators’ legitimacy was slowly dissolving and the UN climate talks would never be the same again.

The next UNFCCC was to be held in Mexico City, but officials changed the venue to Cancún. Could this be because they thought outside protests could be better contained, as they were in 2003 when the WTO met [there]? To use the words of an Alaskan buffoon and Tea Party icon [Sarah Palin], “You betcha!”

This month, in Cancún, the UNFCCC was stripped bare of any legitimacy.  Business was the order of the day and NGOs, IPOs [Indigenous Peoples Organizations], smaller nations, journalists and youth had no space unless they took it. Youth took it. Indigenous Peoples took it. Some NGOs took it. Through demonstrations that permeated the talks it was evident that the UNFCCC was no more than the World Carbon-Trading Organization. UN security even beat up a Reuters photographer and stole his camera for photographing UN security over-reacting to a youth protest. (When journalist[s] are attacked it usually means those in control are afraid of being exposed; it also means that those in control will start to get very bad press).

The so-called Cancún Agreements are a farce that would be laughable except for the fact that the UN negotiators are putting all life on Earth for sale.

And why shouldn’t it be with business, the World Bank and phony environmental organizations like Conservation International dealing the cards? There is some really evil shit going on.

Robert Zoellick and his eyes wide shut during the failed Cancun 2003 WTO talks. photo: Langelle/GJEP

I was in Cancún in 2003 where the WTO was held. The U.S. trade representative was Robert Zoellick. Zoellick is also one of the founders of the Project for a New American Century and one of the architects of the ongoing oil war on the Iraqi people. Now he is the President of the World Bank.

Can you say American Empire? An empire of death, racism, genocide, and colonialism. An empire that, with the other rich nations, thinks they are in control of the world.

So is it the end of the world as we know it? Yes. It has to be. Life can’t continue in the direction that it is headed, run by these greedy fucking jerks. Is the apocalypse nigh? It depends. One version of apocalypse means a dramatic and catastrophic conflict, typically seen as likely to destroy the world or the human race. It also could be interpreted that ‘destroy’ really means to destroy unjust economic systems. This will destroy the concept of putting a price tag on life as it is now but could also result in new way of life in harmony with the earth.

Zapatista Commandante Tacho in La Realidad, Chiapas, Mexico (1996). photo: Langelle/GJEP

So is there hope? Of course. Maybe when the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, we will see a much-needed rebirth in balance with the earth. Maybe people will figure things out and band together in solidarity. Maybe social movements will swell and overthrow the maniacs that are now in charge. If any of those scenarios occur—and it’s the end of the world as I know it, I will feel fine.

I continue to dream what many say is impossible. I’m sitting in a hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico writing this blog post a week after the Cancún mess. In Chiapas, when the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect on New Years Day in 1994, a band of  Indigenous Peoples called the Zapatistas started a revolution in Chiapas stating that NAFTA “is a death sentence for Indigenous Peoples.”

That revolution continues to this day. It is a revolution of hope and dignity. Autonomous Regions and cooperatives exist in many parts of Chiapas.

The start of the Zapatista rebellion was summed up by these words:  ¡Ya Basta! (Enough Already) and La Lucha Sigue, Zapata Vive! (the struggle continues, Zapata lives!)

It’s time for a global ¡Ya Basta! or we certainly are headed toward the much more sinister meaning of apocalypse.


Orin Langelle directs Langelle Photography, a component of Global Justice Ecology Project’s Global Justice Media Program. Langelle, along with Anne Petermann founded Global Justice Ecology Project in 2003. Petermann and Langelle have worked in struggles for justice from local to national to international for many years. GJEP is a co-founder of the Durban Group for Climate Justice (Durban, South Africa 2004), Climate Justice Now! (Bali, Indonesia 2007), and Climate Justice Action (Copenhagen, Denmark 2008), all of which have deep and powerful critiques of carbon offsets and carbon markets. GJEP is also a founding member of the U.S. Climate Justice Alliance.