New Internationalist

Sustainability resides in solidarity


I could be sitting at the table with heads of state right now. But I had to make a choice. I had to choose to sit with them or to be in the streets standing alongside the people for whom sustainability really matters. So of course I am in the streets.

We are here in Rio, in many ways a city of struggles, to strategize and build stronger foundations for struggles of the future. We cannot sit quietly and allow policy makers to hide themselves away somewhere and avoid making decisions. We must be loud, but more importantly, we must unblock stuffed ears.

Friends of the Earth International is here not just to talk about what is going on in the negotiations but to strategize for tomorrow, for the future. When you look at the official process you could go home discouraged. But when we look at the energy in the streets, when we speak with the local people, and activists who come from all over the world, we are inspired to go back home and do more work.

The People’s Summit is filled with groups, social movements and communities that are impacted by the multiple crises in the world today: the climate crisis, the financial crisis, the food crisis – just to name a few. Here is the place to connect, to make linkages, to show solidarity with people who are suffering, it is the place to mobilize and to make plans. The work is in the grassroots. Mobilizing at the grassroots level, at the national and regional levels – that’s how we will make things happen globally. We believe that everyone must think and act locally to make change happen globally.

No patents on solutions

I think the major area where we can make a difference is to show that there are multiple solutions for the problems in the world today. There is not one solution that can be patented like the industry would like to have for the purpose of making money or for speculation – but we can build realities around the world and then enjoy our diversity.

We have to listen to those who are experiencing the impacts of the crises. People just want to live. The other day in Ipiringa, a community in Mage near Rio de Janeiro, I was confronted with the sight of mangroves destroyed by an oil spill. The locals call it the mangrove cemetery. There I met with some fishermen and one said: we want to protect the environment, we want to get rid of oil pipelines, we don’t want the pollution. What we want is to fish, to live a life in dignity, and with respect, to make an income and take it to our family. We don’t want to be fabulously rich, we just want to live.

This is the message that should be given to governments: that people should be able to live, to live in dignity, to walk in solidarity and to create a more beautiful world for the future. This is the message of Rio. Besides the official negotiations we must pay attention to the struggles of ordinary people on the streets. Looked at from a distance, our struggles around the world may appear to be different. When we link hands, however, we see that our fight is one and the same. This is where sustainability resides: solidarity!

We need to be able to look power in the face and tell the truth – that our political structures have been colonized by corporations like Shell, like Monsanto, and the rest of them. It’s time they get their dirty hands off our lives, and to regain our sovereignty over our political structures.

Photo: Nnimmo Bassey preparing for a demo on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Nnimmo Bassey is Chair of Friends of the Earth International.

The June edition of New Internationalist is on the Rio Earth Summit. Buy this issue or subscribe from just £7.

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About the author

Nnimmo Bassey a New Internationalist contributor

Nnimmo Bassey is a published poet, head of Environmental Rights Action, Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International. He also runs Oilwatch International.
Bassey’s poetry collections include We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood (2002) and I will Not Dance to Your Beat (Kraft Books, 2011). His latest book, To Cook a Continent (Pambazuka Press, 2012) deals with destructive fossil fuel industries and the climate crisis in Africa.
He was listed as one of Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment in 2009 and won the 2010-Right Livelihood Award also known as the ‘Alternative Noble Prize.’

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