On Thursday, February 25, CAGJ’s AGRA Watch campaign hosted a webinar in response to Bill Gates’ recently released book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster to unpack the role of Gates in contributing to the global climate crisis through his promotion of industrial agriculture. For more context, you can view our 4-part infographic series (linked at the bottom of this page). Over 400 people registered for the event, which is available for viewing on our Youtube channel.
We were joined by an incredible panel including Million Belay of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa; Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group Latin America; Tom Goldtooth of Indigenous Environmental Network and Climate Justice Alliance; and Jill Mangaliman of Got Green and Climate Justice Alliance. The unique perspectives shared by these speakers provided a comprehensive analysis of philanthrocapitalism, false solutions, and the links between food sovereignty and climate justice.
The webinar was opened with CAGJ organizer Noël Hutton honoring the critical time in which we are living, placing the event in its broader context. “More than 130 countries currently have no access to COVID vaccines, nor the ability to make plans to vaccinate their populations. The entire African bloc has said to the World Trade Organization that they don’t want intellectual property rights over vaccines. Yet, the US, the EU, and the Gates Foundation-supported COVAX initiative are insistent on protecting private pharmaceutical profits amidst this global pandemic, forgetting that none of us are safe until we are all safe.”
“Much of what we are highlighting today in the arena of agriculture and climate are also playing out in the fight for vaccine equity. Even more, the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit, set to be held this fall, is another massive push for corporate capture. All of this is coming at a time when civil society is stretched so thin. It is exhausting, and it is hard to focus on climate. But these struggles do not exist in isolation; our movements are interwoven and interdependent.”
About AGRA Watch
CAGJ’s Director Heather Day then gave an overview of how Gates’ new book on climate is deeply intertwined with our fight for food sovereignty. “While we appreciate Gates using his platform to add urgency to addressing climate change, we had several concerns even before the book was published that persist having read the book this past week. Given the unparalleled role of Gates and his Foundation in championing industrial agriculture — a major contributor to climate change around the world — it is quite ironic, and indeed deeply problematic, to see him become a spokesperson for climate solutions.”
Over the years, our AGRA Watch campaign has moved far beyond its focus on the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) towards exposing the role of both the Gates Foundation and Bill Gates himself in shaping global food systems, including investing in the development of new biotechnologies, to shaping the narrative, to influencing global governance.
“AGRA Watch was formed in an effort to hold the foundation accountable. However, it is nearly impossible, and we see the Foundation wielding power undemocratically in a range of sectors from education to public health.”
Day outlined three primary areas of skepticism: “First, while Gates is able to muster enormous public and private support, the solutions he promotes actually often fail … Second, the solutions that Gates and his foundation promote often exacerbate inequality … The third reason we’re skeptical of Gates’ proposed solutions to the climate crisis is that he and the Foundation have been working towards fundamental transformations in governance that are undemocratic.”
“We believe we must signal an alarm about Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation’s ever-expanding influence in policy arenas.”
Jill Mangaliman, Executive Director of Got Green, a member of Climate Justice Alliance, opened by contrasting their community-based climate justice work in South Seattle with Gates’ model: “What really disturbed me about Bill Gates’ book is that it’s pro-market solutions … We’re not trying to make profits around this situation … It makes me think of the cap and trade issue that Governor Inslee keeps bringing up here in Washington: that we can buy our way out of this crisis, that we can use smart accounting to show that we’re zero emissions.”
“We know that it shouldn’t be around making money, but really: how do we get people access to their basic needs and stop displacing them from their homes?”
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network and Steering Committee member of Climate Justice Alliance, spoke to Gates’ promotion of so-called “green premiums” and the objectification of nature within capitalist economics.
“It does involve natural capital accounting, putting nature and our ecosystems into an ecological services system – financialization of nature, green economy, reduction of our ecosystems to a commodity reality. Nature-based solutions are part of that … But it also involves a colonial system of laws and legal system.”
“We have to confront the colonial legal system, that has a structure of dehumanizing the earth and nature … The Mother Earth is deemed as a property right … We do have solutions, the food sovereignty movement that we’re part of … we need to be producing our own foods.”
Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director and co-author of The Sugar Daddy of Geoengineering: Bill Gates’ fossil fuel interests and funding for global climate engineering, honed in on Gates’ staunch promotion of risky new technologies.
“Apparently we don’t need to question the causes of the crisis, just trust the new technology that each time is more extreme, and that will solve the problem. And also the extremely concerning latent message that billionaires not only dominate markets and control technology, they can also dictate public policies and use data sources to provide the enabling environments they need.”
Million Belay, Coordinator of Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), of which CAGJ is a member, brought it all home to why Gates’ solutions are both ineffective and detrimental.
“His solutions are reductionist because his knowledge and technology is based on reduction science.”
“We adapt to climate change through diversity, not by destroying our diversity. [Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa] has reduced the diversity in the countries that it has operated … Farmers are in deficit and we are left with dead soil, and they need a lot of work to revive them.”
“One thing that worries me about Gates is the power that he has. He has power over the narrative, the narrative of climate change now, and he has power over the media. You can see how his book is reported and promoted all of the media. There is very little questioning …He’s very powerful because the doors of our governments are open for him – anytime he comes, he can go to any African government and the doors are open.”
AGRA Watch member Matt Canfield closed us out by moderating a short discussion.
“One of the ways that that Gates frames his interventions into climate is really by siloing different approaches, by a narrow understanding of innovation that doesn’t take into account the kind of holistic framework through which we see these connections that are so important for building a more equitable and community-based approach to addressing climate change and climate justice.”
“In the spirit of reweaving these connections and relations … How can we strengthen connections between food sovereignty movements and the climate justice movements? How can we connect movements across the various sectors in which Gates is working — from public health, to climate, to food — to really build a movement to challenge the power of Bill Gates in promoting his techno-driven vision?”
Mangaliman stressed the importance of speaking to someone’s context when communicating about climate chaos, as it is hard for issues such as melting ice caps to resonate with working class, urban peoples, who must address the challenges of their daily lives.
Part of Got Green’s work focuses on food access and reconnection to food for BIPOC and low income communities in Seattle, as well as addressing the ways the climate crisis is disproportionately impacting these communities on the ground. Mangaliman says it is a matter of “reconnecting to our traditional practices and cultures … reconnecting our relationship to land … How do we reconnect and see ourselves in all of this, our role? Through that, we can fight harder for Mother Earth in a deeper way.”
Goldtooth spoke to the early years of IEN, having faced this issue in a concrete way at the United Nations. “Our work with Indigenous Environmental Network, we started to take part in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1998. It was interesting at that time, because we found that most of the NGOs … operate in silos.”
“When we brought our articulation as different tribes of Canada, Alaska and US to the climate meeting, we included our analysis of the effects of global warming, a changing climate, climate change on the ecosystem, on the habitat, on our food system. Because there are many tribes in North America that still go and hunt and grow crops, and especially from seeds that have been passed on, [and] fishing. Most of the Indigenous people of North America said that the changing climate and lack of predictability in the weather has affected their rights to food; so it became an Indigenous rights-based approach.”
“[The NGOs] say things like, well, ‘we never looked at how it affects the food system of your people.’ And we kind of look at [that like], oh, they’re pretty stupid. You know, our Indigenous people say, ‘that’s not too smart of those people.’”
Ribeiro, who is based in Mexico and works in greater Latin America, emphasized that connection to land is all inclusive. “Where there are Indigenous and peasant communities, there is not such [a] line saying, ‘now we are speaking about food,’ and then ‘we’re speaking about climate’ or something. Because, in a way, everything is about the defense of the territory … This is not an abstract thing … communities are linked to the territory … I don’t think there is as much difference for communities, when they say about … defending their territory, and their right to food, and climate, and so on … working for environmental defense or food in different boxes is more like an NGO thing … But at the level of communities, it is not the same.”
“Everything is measured in carbon now … who said that carbon is more important than people’s health or people’s well being?”
Ribeiro also spoke to the concentration of power into the hands of so few, including Gates, as well as the importance of alliances, such as Climate Justice Alliance, in supporting cross-fertilization among different communities. “I think that is .. one of the most powerful, or maybe the most powerful tool we have.”
Belay closed out the session by nuancing our critique of Gates’ techno-solutions. “Don’t take it as if we are against all technologies. We are using technology now, even to communicate, to make this possible. But we have to ask a lot of questions, because at the center of technology there is power. So that is what we have to do: a power analysis — who benefits and who loses?”
Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa is doing this work to break down silos by integrating agroecology into climate policy across the continent. AFSA is on the ground strengthening connections between the climate justice and food sovereignty movements.
- Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa: Agroecology Case Studies
- ETC Group: The Sugar Daddy of Geoengineering: Bill Gates’ fossil fuel interests and funding for global climate engineering, By Silvia Ribeiro and Dru Jay
- Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) :
- Carbon Pricing: Popular Education Toolkit for Community Resistance, Volume 2
- Climate Justice Alliance’s Geoengineering website
- Got Green:
- The failures of AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa:
- False Promises: The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), By Abdallah Ramadhani Mkindi, Anne Maina, Jan Urhahn, Josephine Koch, Lena Bassermann, Mamadou Goïta, Mutinta Nketani, Roman Herre, Stig Tanzmann, Timothy A. Wise, Melissa Gordon, Rachel Gilbert
- AGRA Update: Withheld internal documents reveal no progress for Africa’s farmers, By Timothy A. Wise, Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy
- Selling the Past as Innovation, by Timothy A. Wise
Read Book Reviews:
- The Nation, Bill Gates, Climate Warrior. And Super Emitter. By Tim Schwab
- New York Times Book Review: How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?, By Bill McKibben
- The Ecologist, The Gates of Climate Hell, By Jonathan Neale
- US Right to Know, Gates Foundation’s plans to remake food systems in Africa will hurt the climate, By Stacy Malkan
- Other Words, We Need Democracy, not Billionaire Philanthropy, By Jill Richardson
- The New Republic, The Dark Side of Bill Gates’s Climate Techno-Optimism, by Kate Aronoff
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We are deeply grateful to our speakers for taking time to be a part of this webinar. Please visit their websites and follow them on social media to continue to support their frontline work!