Grassroots Communities Key to Addressing Climate Change — Environmentalist

While the debate on carbon emissions and credits rages, an alternative solution is being offered by a woman professor and environmentalist: Live well by emulating the practices and coping mechanisms of grassroots communities.


BAGUIO CITY –- Living well might can be one of the appropriate solutions to the climate crisis, according to a woman climate change activist.

“The solution to the global climate crisis should be seen from the grassroots,” said Ariel Salleh, a researcher, editor and university professor at the University of Sydney, Australia during a three-day international conference on the impact and women’s responses to the economic and climate crisis and war. She advocates climate justice and cultural autonomy.

Salleh outlines three paradigms in the climate debate. First is the “climate denialists.” This paradigm does not recognize any problem of global warming so that people can just sit back and do nothing about the situation.

The second paradigm, which is dominant in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, blames human activities for the climate change problem. Thus, their advocacies focus on carbon capture to solve global warming and climate change. This approach includes the Kyoto Protocol and The UN program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countires (REDD).

The third paradigm is climate justice, which Green parties espouse. The solution, for advocates of this paradigm, lies in “Living Well.” This paradigm proposes to address global warming by emulating how peasants, indigenous peoples, women, and other groups from the grassroots live because, according to proponents of this approach, they do things to reverse global warming.

After traveling around the world, Salleh said, she has seen how “big white men” from the “global north” perpetuate global warming thereby affecting the “global south.” She refers to the lifestyle of the global north – countries such as the United States and Australia – as mal-development.

While Salleh agrees with the UN position, the human behavior paradigm, she argues that it is reductionist. It reduces the problem to carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

“It takes out the carbon without looking into the other aspects of the environment, for example the water cycle in nature, which has been damaged by mal-development. If restored, the water cycle has the capacity to regulate carbon in the environment and atmosphere,” she said.

“Instead, the emphasis on carbon alone results in an emerging carbon capitalism, based on the sale of renewable technologies and energy sources ,which means more opportunities for business and more pollution,” Salleh said in an interview.

The capacity for a real environmental response, however, is in the south because the knowledge is already in the south, said Salleh.

Grassroots knowledge and capacities of indigenous peoples, women and the people from the global South are older than those in industrialized countries and they are outside of the industrial system, she said.

Southern economies and peoples understand how to have a healthy economy with a healthy ecology. It feeds everybody and it has enough to feed, according to Salleh.

In contrast, capitalism breeds hunger. It captures food from people, dumps it, sells it at exorbitantly high prices and thus, creates hunger. Capitalism is starving the world, she said.

People in the global South feed the world. With 60 percent of China’s population being peasants, and the world’s working people are 40 percent farmers, Salleh said, it is the peasants, farmers and workers who feed the world.
“Development aggression happens when governments appropriate people’s livelihood resources for mega-projects like dams, mines, and other infrastructures that displace the poor populations from their homes. This leads to untold misery and drives displaced women and children into the sex trade in the cities, where there are less opportunities for livelihood for the peasants,” she said.

Sadly, though, the United Nations has market solutions to the crisis now being adopted by ruling class men in the global South. Salleh called these solutions as aspects of the speculative economy. She is referring to the Reduction of Environmental Degradation (REDD) and carbon trading, being peddled to so-called developing countries.

Salleh mentioned the case of Costa Rica, where the government enclosed 25 percent of the nation’s territory as conservation zones as carbon sink for the pollution generated by the global North. This is depriving hundreds of indigenous and peasant families from access to the forests, denying them of their traditional livelihood sources in the process.

A Peruvian researcher Ana Isla came across some Costa Rican peasants and indigenous peoples who have settled in the capital San Jose tourism areas and found that women and girls among them have taken the role of family breadwinners and are trapped into the flesh trade.

In an earlier round-table discussions on REDD in Quezon City, although there are groups of indigenous peoples who seemed convinced to participate in the REDD scheme, Joan Jaime of the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas said, even without REDD, indigenous peoples would do anything to adapt to climate change and global warming protecting their ancestral domains and addressing the adverse impacts of the climate crisis.

Salleh reacted saying “Indigenous peoples are not causing climate change, so why are they made to adapt to it and give up their livelihood to maintain the high-energy consumption lifestyle of the global North?”

“Indigenous knowledge on environmental protection comes handy, in times like these,” according to Jaime.
REDD is not the solution, It is displacing peasants. It displaces even the smallest insect from their natural habitat and is affecting the balance of nature, said Salleh, citing the Australian government-funded REDD project in Kalimantan eucalyptus tree farms, which has displaced important species that use to make up the marshland’s biodiversity in Indonesia.

Salleh’s climate justice and cultural autonomy proposal links good climate change strategies with eco-sufficient provisioning as a more just and convivial alternative to capitalist economies. Climate justice is from the people’s culture, she said. Living Well (buen vivir) takes pride in the local community as the social and economic center, protecting the land for future generations.
She also cited the Slovak experience of maintaining the water in the land and not sluicing it to the sea, recouping the carbon and the water cycles, building little catchments and planting parcels of land with trees, which serve as heat valves as a way to address global warming.

Her paper reads, “Living Well emphasizes the direct ecologically sustaining value of women’s and peasants’ regenerative labors against the false market-based and techno-climate solutions.”
Salleh said the international movement Via Campesina (The Peasant Way), has also adopted the concept of Living Well. “The turning point can also be seen in projects for landscape nurture, climate mitigation, community building and cultural identity, undertaken by villagers in Eastern Europe.”

Salleh quotes Via Campesina saying: “We are cooling down the Earth.” (

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