The next evolution of Gears of Change- Thanks for your support!

Hi folks,

It’s with mixed feelings that we’re reporting the final chapter of the Gears of Change Youth Media project.  Due to the high costs of international travel to support our work, we are shutting our doors and will no longer be updating the blog or providing coverage under this name, although we will continue to be deeply engaged in the movement for climate justice.

The Gears of Change Youth Media project was launched in the buildup to the UN COP17 climate summit in Durban, South Africa, and continued to provide coverage of the international climate policy arena through the Rio pre-meetings, as well as at the UN Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in June of 2012.

During that time, we forged strong friendships with many amazing youth and civil society leaders, and deepened our analysis of the different trends and players influencing the intergovernmental frameworks on environmental governance.  Much of our work focused on better understanding the UN’s market-based policies- policies which have, over the past decade, become hegemonic in the sense that they are considered the ‘normal’ course of action by participating governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), and the private sector.  These policies, such as carbon trading, are vigorously opposed by social movements and many civil society networks, if not for the sole reason that they have by all counts empirically failed to meet their mandate in facilitating a transition away from our current high-carbon fossil fuel based societies.

In addition to monitoring climate policy, the Gears of Change team worked to better facilitate inside/outside communication and strategy between accredited organizations participating as stakeholders at the UN, and social movement networks- especially youth networks- organizing marches, events, and awareness-raising outside of the official proceedings.  We worked alongside Global Justice Ecology Project to support and amplify the work of organizations like La Via Campesina, and the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), by providing coverage of actions and events.  We also split our time between the UN “Conferences of the Polluters (COP’s),” and concurrent peoples’ summits, like the Cupula dos Povos in Rio de Janiero.

Gears of Change also actively supported and participated in direct action at the United Nations- providing coverage of actions as they occurred, sharing press releases from groups who’d been removed from the proceedings, and participating in ‘unsanctioned’ actions such as the Occupy COP17 action, in which members of Gears of Change were carried out of the conference by UN security.  Due to our involvement in direct action, two of our team- Lindsey and Keith- have been banned from the UNFCCC conferences until further notice.  Direct action is a crucial tactic which has a history of being used at the UN climate summits, and we look forward to reports of people taking direct action at the UN COP18 climate conference to be held later this month in Doha, Qatar.

While Gears of Change may be closing its doors, our team isn’t going anywhere.  We’re continuing to work with Global Justice Ecology Project, which coordinates the campaign to stop Genetically Engineered trees, and exposes false solutions like tree-derived agrofuels and biomass incineration for energy.  Global Justice Ecology Project also manages a popular climate justice newsfeed,, which we’re involved with maintaining.

A few of us are also organizing on the ground here in Burlington, with Rising Tide Vermont.  Over the past year, Rising Tide Vermont- a local chapter of Rising Tide North America– has been working alongside Innu First Nation community members to oppose the expansion of Hydro Quebec’s mega-dams (which power Vermont, and are classified here as ‘green’ energy), and is currently organizing to stop the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would run under Lake Champlain, as well as a project to pipe tar sands oil through New England.  We look forward to continuing to build resistance to regional infrastructure expansion projects, under the banner of “No fossil fuels.  No false solutions.”

And with that, Gears of Change is evolving, and moving on.  Thanks to everyone who helped make Gears of Change Youth Media a reality, and an especially big thanks to folks who supported our Kickstarter in October of 2011!  Another big thanks to Anne Petermann, Orin Langelle, and Jeff Conant with Global Justice Ecology Project; also Rob Fish, the Durban Jungle House crew, our awesome advisors Brian Tokar, Pablo Bose, Janet Redmond, Kirsty Wright, Christy Rodgers, and Orin- We certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without all of your generous support- Thanks!

yours in movement,

the Gears of Change team

(Lindsey, Keith, Will and Avery)

World Bank pushes ‘natural capital accounting’ at Rio+20

Cross-posted from Climate Connections

By Keith Brunner, June 29th, 2012

UK deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was loudly interrupted by someone in a front row wearing a mask of his own face.

“The Great Nature Sale!” trumpeted Clegg’s imposter, “brought to you by the British Government and the World Bank.”  Sarah Reader, a campaigner with UK-based World Development Movement, rose from her seat and began hawking newly privatized natural areas to the audience, as security moved to escort her from the room.  “We’ll be selling off the river!  The sky!  Even the biodiversity!  Sumatran tigers, they’re for sale too.  You thought there wasn’t more profit in the world, but there is.  Banks, come and get your profits!”

Reader’s intervention at this high level side event of the UN Rio+20 Summit last week in Rio de Janeiro drew attention to a major theme in the battle over the controversial Green Economy being advanced by the United Nations and some governments.

Proponents of the Green Economy, such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank, claim that the only way to address ecological devastation is to view ecosystems and biodiversity as a form of ‘natural capital’ which must be ‘properly valued’ and accounted for in national accounts, financial products and services, and private sector supply chains.

Social movements, indigenous peoples, and civil society networks have denounced this approach, arguing that it will accelerate land and resource grabs by the private sector.   At the Cupula dos Povos (Peoples Summit), an entire plenary was dedicated to the “Defense of common goods against commodification.”

“Green Economy is the entry point that they’re using to further commodify and financialize nature, life and our ecosystems,” says Michelle Maynard, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.  “It is the rights of nature and the rights of people that need to be upheld, and not the narrow interests of the financial sector and the banks.”

Despite opposition, financial institutions, governments, and some NGOs are moving forward with natural capital accounting within the framework of the Green Economy.  At the Rio+20 conference last week, the World Bank hosted several “High Level Dialogues,” celebrating initiatives such as the Natural Capital Declaration, a commitment by CEOs from the finance sector to incorporate natural capital into their balance sheets.

At the heart of the controversy over natural capital valuation is the role that markets are allowed to play in society, and to a larger extent, whether the ecological and social crises resulting from industrial capitalism can be solved through even more capitalism.

Critics charge that natural capital valuation constitutes a vast expansion of the market into the commons, a new wave of enclosure and privatization of previously public goods soon to be valued by corporations as carbon, biodiversity and other ‘ecosystem service’-backed commodities.  They point to the explosion of land grabs over the past decade across South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, many driven by demand for agrofuels, and warn that the ‘natural capital rush’ will have grave impacts on already marginalized communities.

“In seeing this new makeup called the Green Economy, we have to oppose it,” said Juan Herrero of La Via Campesina, the international movement of peasant and women farmers, migrant farmworkers, landless and indigenous people.  “We have been resisting these expanding capitalist markets for a long time.”  La Via Campesina has been one of the most outspoken social movements opposing the failing carbon markets and their expansion into forests through the UN and World Bank Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) program.

“Instead of expanding the scope of markets to every domain of nature,” states BankTrack, a global coalition tracking private sector investment,  “creating a true green economy would start from the opposite; reversing the tide of commodification and financialization, reducing the role of markets and the financial sector, acknowledging the limits of business versus other spheres of life, and recognizing the collective responsibility of all people for, and strengthening the democratic control over the worlds’ ecological commons.”

Proponents of natural capital valuation, however, sidestep the question of market expansion and it’s impacts on vulnerable communities, and instead attempt to frame the debate around access to information.  Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, states that, “By saying we do not want natural capital accounting, we would be saying we are better off being ignorant…By having information and knowing more about it, a country increases its power over its own economy.”

Kyte responds to charges of commodification and enclosure of the commons by clarifying that, “[Through natural capital accounting] we are not talking about ‘pricing’ nature but ‘valuing’ it [emphasis added].  By valuing it, you are enabling better economic decisions.”

Echoed by other prominent Green Economy advocates, Kyte’s claim that the assignment of a dollar value to biodiversity and ecosystem services is different and separate from the ongoing development of markets in these services has led to sharp criticism from opponents.

In a series of telling blog exchanges following the action at the High Level Dialogue, World Development Movement cmpaigners dryly note that, “Rachel Kyte is very much mistaken if she thinks that the companies behind the Natural Capital Declaration are interested in the intrinsic value of nature as opposed to turning ‘natural capital’ and ecosystem ‘services’ into priced, tradable commodities.”

They point out that “The Natural Capital Declaration envisages the introduction of new ‘risk management tools’, which, seeing as the proposal is coming from financial sector companies, is likely to mean the further development of new financial hedging mechanisms such as ‘biodiversity bonds’ that would take control of ‘natural capital’ away from governments and the people who depend on it and put it at the mercy of highly unstable financial markets.”

Kyte responds: “We agree that including the value of nature on balance sheets alone is not an end in itself. But having good information is the critical first step towards sustainable management of natural resources….Once armed with information like how much a mangrove contributes to fish breeding and how much a coral reef protects a coastline from storm surges, then countries are in a better position to decide whether to keep these natural assets intact or allow their destruction for commercial uses.”

So what are the risks of reducing conservation decisions to a financial cost-benefit analysis?  Is natural capital accounting an economic “tool,” as UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner has claimed, or is it the expansion of a market-based ideology, which threatens to undermine traditional environmental regulation and land tenure arrangements?

In their exchange, World Development Movement built off of Rachel Kyte’s coral reef example, noting that, “We already know that coral reefs can protect coastlines from storm surges – but if we express this in a dollar figure, the implication is that it is acceptable to trash it if the profit opportunities are sufficiently high.”

“…[T]his kind of simplistic utilitarianism ignores the fact that…the benefits of destroying the reef are likely to accrue to investors rather than the poor, who are often the most dependent on free natural resources. So a government or private company may decide to let the reef die because the overall monetary return of preserving it is less, ignoring the fact that the people impacted by the decision will be the poorest.”

Social movements point out that while corporations and neoliberal states clamber to pump up the deflated carbon markets and expand them into new areas through ‘natural capital’ accounting, the voice and intention of the grassroots couldn’t be clearer.

“We see the goals of UNCSD Rio+20, the ‘Green Economy’ and its premise that the world can only ‘save’ nature by commodifying its life giving and life sustaining capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that Indigenous Peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years,” begins the Declaration of Kari-Oca II, signed last week by over 500 grassroots indigenous peoples from many countries.

“The Green Economy is nothing more than capitalism of nature; a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe, the water we drink and all the genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Earth possible and enjoyable.”

“Mother Earth is the source of life which needs to be protected, not a resource to be exploited and commodified as ‘natural capital’…The Green Economy is a crime against humanity and the Earth.”

In a widely publicized debate between Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, and UNEP executive director Achim Steiner- a chief architect of the Green Economy- Solon remarked:

“But why recognize nature as capital?  To create an anti-capitalist society?    Please, we are not naïve children.  The concept is clear…When value is assigned in capitalism, it is so it can be introduced into the market.  This is the goal of the Green Economy.”

Solon said, “We want a real change.  No more capitalism.  We believe that capitalism has created this [crisis], for nature and for humans.”

Steiner’s response was that polarization between capitalism and anti-capitalism would lead to ‘the world’ not being able to ‘move forward.’

To which one might ask ‘whose world’ Steiner is referring to.  And given global capitalism’s march towards the ecological precipice, might slowing down be exactly what we need?

Photo Essay: The people take the streets of Rio to say No! to the Greed Economy

Will Bennington reporting from the streets of Rio during the Cupula dos Povos/Alternative People’s Summit mobilization.  June 20th.

Brazilian President Dilma and Uncle Sam have gone green, and they are coming for you! Photo: Will Bennington

We don’t want more reforms to the system. We want a new civilization. Photo: Will Bennington

With the Green Economy, forests equal money. Danger in Rio+20. Photo: Will Bennington

Rio+20 in Reverse is a common theme amongst civil society, represented by this banner and the “backwards” marches that have occurred at the official summit space. Photo: Will Bennington

Stop the Belo Monte. Opposition to this mega-dam project is and the role mega-hydro plays in the green economy is abundant around the People’s Summit.  Photo: Will Bennington

Photo: Will Bennington

What’s a march in Rio without some Carnival? Photo: Will Bennington

Corporate assault on the planet at Rio+20. Photo: Keith Brunner

HIV Positive without housing. A bloc of women experiencing homelessness who are HIV positive. Photo: Will Bennington

Press Release: Civil Society Groups Denounce Sustainable Energy for All Initiative promoted at Rio +20 Earth Summit

From: Biofuelwatch, Global Forest Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Global Justice Ecology Project and International Rivers

As the final negotiations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 conference get underway in Rio de Janeiro, almost 50 civil society groups have published an open letter denouncing the UN Secretary General’s new “Sustainable Energy For All Initiative” (SEFA). The letter states: “The SEFA process and Action Agenda are deeply flawed and threaten to further entrench destructive, polluting and unjust energy policies for corporate profit under the guise of alleviating energy poverty, while undermining community rights to energy sovereignty and self determination”.

The “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative was announced in September 2011, and a “high level panel” was established by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. The panel includes major investors in the fossil fuel economy including, Statoil, Eskom, Siemens and Riverstone Holdings. The initiative’s stated goals are to 1) double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, 2) double the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030, and 3) provide access to modern energy services for all of humanity. An action agenda is being put forward for endorsement at Rio+20, along with commitments for action from countries and groups.

Groups denouncing the initiative view it as an attempt to use claims of poverty alleviation to further expand corporate control over energy policies with the aim of gaining access to new markets and investment opportunities. The letter points out that the initiative’s goals are inadequate,that it promotes dangerous and unsustainable forms of energy and that there is a deplorable lack of transparency and democratic participation in the process thus far.

Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch states “While the term ‘sustainable’ is used, there is absolutely no indication what this means. Large-scale biofuels, natural gas projects, large hydroelectric dams, waste incinerators, even fossil fuels and nuclear energy all appear to be acceptable under this initiative and all are referred to as ‘sustainable’.”

“We are concerned that this initiative could end up providing yet more support for toxic waste incinerators, subsidized and supported as “sustainable energy” stated Mariel Vilella, from GAIA. Similarly Zachary Hurwitz from International Rivers points out: “Large hydro dams referred to as “sustainable energy” are likely to gain considerable support under the SEFA initiative in spite of clear evidence that they are risky, less resilient to climate change impacts and exacerbate problems with water stress.”

Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition adds: “Lip service is granted to providing services to those in poverty, including, in particular, women who are currently dependent on fuelwood for their energy needs. But small scale community based, off-grid energy projects are not likely to generate profitable returns on investments in the manner these corporate players are accustomed to, so they are very unlikely to be prioritized by this initiative.”

Further, the open letter denounces the initiative’s process as “unaccountable and undemocratic”, pointing out that there are only 5 governments and 3 NGOs represented on the high level panel. There have been virtually no opportunities to participate or provide input into the action agenda, and there are no mechanisms in place to hold participants accountable.

Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project states: “While many are pleased to see the issue of energy access gaining much needed attention, there is little confidence that this top down, market-driven and undemocratic process can deliver human services on the scale necessary to both meet people’s needs and protect the planet and environment.”

Tatiana Roa of CENSAT/Friends of the Earth-Colombia adds: “This initiative is emblematic of the growing ‘corporate takeover’ of the UN as ‘public private partnerships’ like SEFA are becoming ever more pervasive. The private sector is now viewed as the only possible source of sufficient finance, and hence granted undue and inappropriate control and access. What we need are rights-based, bottom-up and participatory approaches that will ensure genuinely fair and sustainable solutions within the framework of energy sovereignty.”


1) The Sustainable Energy For All Initiative was established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. A high level panel was selected and an action agenda released. It is expected that the initiative will be formally launched and country and other commitments under the initiative will be announced at the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

For more information:

2) The UN Commission on Sustainable Development RioPlus20 Earth Summit begins in Rio this week. The first Earth Summit, held in 1992 resulted in major treaties and agreements aimed at protecting the environment while addressing the problems of poverty, globally.

For more information:

3) A briefing “Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For A Few”, detailing concerns about the Sustainable Energy For All Initiative (English and Spanish) is available at:

4) The open letter is available in English and Spanish at:

5) A statement from civil society groups opposing the “corporate capture” of the UN – of which SEFA is a prime example – is available here:

Report back from the land of Mega Hydro

Red Clover Climate Justice visits proposed Hydro-Quebec dam sites, meets with Innu resisting Plan Nord and dams along the Romaine River.

This past week, members of Burlington, Vt-based Red Clover Climate Justice traveled to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River to meet with Innu organizers and visit the dams that power Quebec’s-and much of Vermont’s-economy.

What we found didn’t fit in with the rhetoric we often hear about Hydro-Quebec.  Dead rivers, swaths of clear-cut forests giving way to the endless march of gargantuan transmission lines, aluminum smelters, and fractured indigenous communities in the middle of a bitter struggle for the survival of the Innu culture.  All of these images didn’t add up to what is often advertised to Quebecers and Vermonters as “green energy” and “sustainable development.”

Check back for more photo essays and stories from our trip north as we begin to mobilize in opposition to the New England Governor’s Conference, coming to Burlington at the end of July.