balance

Climate destruction in the court of public opinion

As the leaders of more than a hundred of the world’s governments addressed the U.N. Climate Summit last week, people’s organizations from around the world convened a Climate Justice Tribunal across from the United Nations to indict political leaders and corporate polluters for their failure to protect our health, communities and planet. Those testifying were those living with the real and immediate impacts of climate change and people living on the frontlines of extractive industries that are contributing to climate change. From the front window of the U.N. Church Center auditorium participants could see the U.N. building bathed in bright sunlight, its rooftop festooned with snipers.

Sponsored by the Climate Justice Alliance, which describes itself as a collaboration of 35 U.S. organizations rooted in indigenous, African American, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander, and working-class white frontline communities, the tribunal made no pretense to impartiality. It resembled less a conventional trial than a grand jury drawing up an indictment — not claiming to prove guilt but rather to show “probable cause” for charging the perpetrators with a crime. Movement activists Lisa Garcia of Earth Justice, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, Rex Varona of the Global Coalition on Migration, and I served as a “People’s Judicial Panel,” listening to the testimony and providing commentary on its significance. As judges, we saw our principal role as hearing and amplifying the voices of the witnesses.

Voices of the people

The tribunal presented a panorama of oppression, but also a panorama of resistance. Globally, the witnesses ranged from Antolin Huascar Flores of the Confederación Nacional Agraria in Peru to Mamadou Goita of the Institution for Research and the Promotion of Alternatives in Development in Mali. The many representatives of indigenous communities around the world included Jihan Gearon of the Black Mesa Water Coalition in the Navajo Nation and Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a Cree activist from the tar sands region of Canada.

Witnesses from the United States ranged from Damaris Reyes of the New York group Good Old Lower East Side to Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Two other witnesses — Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of the Colorado youth group Earth Guardians and Kelsey Julian of Eugene, Ore. — are currently plaintiffs in lawsuits spearheaded by Our Children’s Trust, a group that’s working to legally compel states and nations to protect the climate based on the public trust doctrine.

The tribunal kicked off with a local focus as witnesses from three community organizations from the New York/New Jersey region— the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark, N.J., UPROSE in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy in Staten Island — described the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy, the inequities of the response, and the self-help mobilization of local communities….more

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