Normalizing Catastrophe: Cancun as Laboratory of the Future

This is a guest post from my good friend Eddie Yuen, who was in Cancun for the COP-16 Climate Conference… it follows on my extensive coverage a year ago from Copenhagen, so I wanted to keep it going, even if I wasn’t there and didn’t follow it so closely this year… thanks Eddie!

Sixty-five million years ago, an asteroid crashed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and rendered extinct 70% of all life on Earth. In December of 2010 in Cancun, a mere geological stone’s throw from the Chicxulub crater that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, a conclave of political and corporate leaders presided over a conference that failed to slow down the next great extinction event on this planet.

But for this geographic coincidence it’s unlikely that this conference will be remembered as anything more than another tedious and predictable step towards a future of managed climate chaos and accelerated global enclosures. Cancun is most significant, though, not as the scene of a crime but as a laboratory of climate apartheid.  Whatever fearsome predation the Yucatan of the late Cretaceous may have harbored, the Cancun of the early Anthropocene is the model of a
naturalized social order even redder in tooth and claw.

Even to use the language of “climate talks” is like speaking of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. As linguist Noam Chomsky said years ago, the mere utterance of this phrase validates the discourse that there is such a process. This particular conference, rightfully overshadowed by the Wikileaks saga, was both anti-climactic and anti-climatic, in the words of Laura Carlson, director of the American Policy Program in Mexico City. The Indigenous Environmental Network summed it up nicely:  “The Cancun Agreements are not the result of an informed and open consensus process, but the consequence of an ongoing US diplomatic offensive of backroom deals, arm-twisting and bribery that targeted nations in opposition to the Copenhagen Accord during the months leading up to the COP-16 talks”.

Hidden in the dismal wonkery of the summit, however, an important shift has taken place. The Economist of Nov 25th, 2010 pronounced the end of any effort by states to seriously seek to lower emissions. We are in a post mitigation world now, and elite effort will focus on adaptation. Some analysts estimate that the current ratio of prevention to adaptation in terms of funds spent is about 80 to 20, and this will likely be reversed.  But what kind of adaptation to climate change are we talking about?  Cancun in this regard is the perfect site for this conference, as it presents a vision of the future that elites are very comfortable with. Exclusion zones of concrete walled leisure, ringed by layered barricades and social apartheid. Like Dubai or Beverly Hills, its obvious who is a worker and who a consumer, and enough of the workers are security guards to ensure that “safety” and property will always be respected. Outside kilometer zero, in the city of 700,000, the highest suicide rates in Mexico. Inside the Hotel Zone, debt ridden Americans lounging on eroding beaches are convincing themselves that they’re having a good time.
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Birthday at Lake Chapala

Sunset from our hotel along Lake Chapala...

We celebrated Adriana’s birthday with her big family at Lake Chapala, a gorgeous lake a couple of hours east of Guadalajara. Her parents are building a new home near the lake, so we’ll probably spend more time there in the future. This was my first visit and I was really delighted by it. Chapala apparently was drying up a few years ago, having been looted by both Guadalajara and Mexico City, but after historically heavy rains three years ago, and some efforts to defend the lake’s integrity, the the lake is doing quite well.

This was the view from our hotel room window at Lake Chapala.

The bird life along the shore was astonishing: egrets, herons, ducks, and much more are thriving there.

I couldn't stop taking photos of the birds!

Sometimes the "action" was pretty exciting!

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After our visit to Colima we headed to the town of Manzanillo, which has the distinction of being Mexican’s biggest west coast port, as well as a resort-that-never-quite-was… Back in the early 1960s, as I understand it, there was an attempt to annoint Manzanillo as a new glamorous resort, but it never really “took.” After we parked our rental car we looked over the edge of the parking lot to see this odd sight:

A small papier mache factory producing Toy Story characters in Manzanillo...

This modern dolphin sculpture dominates the waterfront near the historic center of Manzanillo.

There was a big cruise ship in town when we arrived, which looked like a hideous way to travel. The local shops were jammed with cruise ship passengers, so we wandered away from the shore into the busy everyday downtown zone. The main drag cuts between two steep hills, and we headed up this one:

Historic center of Manzanillo.

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