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Blood, sweat and tears in Cancún

By Michael Kile - posted Monday, 13 December 2010


Blood began flowing early at the Moon Palace Hotel, as delegates danced to the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference theme song - “Let’s put the CAN in Cancún!

Twelve months after chilly Hopenhagen, it was all happening again, this time on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The 15,000+ representatives from 193 countries were greeted by tropical treats on opening night: salsa, karaoke, twanging guitars, stilt-walkers in sombreros, rivers of tequila, some anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and cocktails of ad hoc credulity.

The Cancún conference’s official title: “the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 6th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties (CMP 6) to the Kyoto Protocol.”


In addition, two permanent UNFCC entities - the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) - held their 33rd sessions.

Two "temporary subsidiary bodies" also met - the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA).

Christiana Figueres, however, was not dancing, at least not yet. She was too busy in conversazione with the delegates - and an ancient Mayan jaguar (and weather) goddess. The UNFCC’s new Costa Rican executive secretary used her opening statement to urge attendees to embrace the wisdom of Ixchel.

Ixchel? She was a moon goddess, Figueres explained, “the goddess of reason, creativity and weaving. May she inspire you - because today, you are gathered in Cancún to weave together the elements of a solid response to climate change using both reason and creativity.”

Ixchel, or Ix Chel, was a winning - or disturbing - choice, depending on your carbon politics and religion. The “high-segment” audience fortunately was spared details of the goddess’s darker - and bloodier - side. Could a formidable old woman with a writhing serpent headdress and crossed bones embroidered on her skirt ever be reasonable?

She was actually a moody and malevolent goddess, motivated more by divine wrath than Socratic reason. As for weaving, Ixchel’s only tapestries were destructive floods and storms. Was this why she apparently has become the unofficial patron saint for pagan climate alarmists and decarbonistas?


Ixchel is often depicted as a female warrior or “war woman” (mujer guerrera), with a gaping mouth suggesting cannibalism. In this manifestation, she is insatiably hungry for new victims. Climate change sceptics and deniers are high on her favourite takeaway menu.

As a consort of Itzamna, “lord of the heavens”, she also demanded human sacrifice. The Spanish conqueror, Cortés, wrote about a place in Acalan where unmarried young women were sacrificed to a "goddess in whom they put great trust and hope", possibly Ix Chel.

According to Bernardino de Sahagun (1540-85), victims were taken to the top of a teocalli and laid on a stone slab. Abdomens were sliced open with a ceremonial flint knife. Still-beating hearts were pulled out by priests and placed in a bowl held by a statue of the honoured goddess. Bodies were thrown down the temple stairs.

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First published in Quadrant Online on December 10, 2010.

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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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