December 15, 2009 -- Green Left Weekly -- Just over a week into the December 7-18 United Nations climate change negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15) , thousands of ordinary people from around the world have already participated in what is being billed as the “people’s climate summit”, Klimaforum09, also taking place in the Danish capital. The difference between the two forums could not be more stark.
Outside Copenhagen’s Bella Centre, where COP15 is being held, has a circus-like quality, with delegates battling their way through a gauntlet of protesters and lobbyists. One group carries a banner emblazoned with the slogan “EU: pay your climate debt” and chants “The world is watching”. Inside, registered delegates, government diplomats and NGO members make their way through airport-style security checks to participate in what is increasingly seen as a redundant talkshop.
By contrast, the Klimaforum is open, free and a genuine meeting of different groups, activists, scientists, farmers and artists to discuss a democratic, people-powered response to the climate crisis.
Organisers estimate 25,000 people have already taken part in hundreds of plenaries, workshops, stalls, films, exhibitions and theatre pieces. Issues discussed include: the impact of global warming on women; nuclear power; alternatives to the false market solution of carbon trading; climate justice and tourism; indigenous communities’ responses to climate change; agriculture; Cuba’s experience of creating a post-oil economy; and how to strengthen the climate justice movement.
The forum is truly accessible and international in scope. Interpreters translate the major talks into four languages and special efforts hve been made to include speakers and participants from underdeveloped countries already feeling the effects of global warming.
Twice daily, forum organisers share reportbacks and analysis of the latest developments from the Bella Centre.
Copenhagen is flooded with an almost hysterical atmosphere of greenwashing — the city is plastered with a “Hopenhagen” PR campaign to promote Denmark’s “green” credentials, alongside corporate partners such as Coca-Cola and Siemens.
By contrast, at the core of the Klimaforum is an understanding that the outcomes — if any — of the COP15 talks, will reflect the needs of the big businesses most governments are subservient to. The overwhelming sentiment is that the people of the world can no longer wait for world leaders and the free market — that is, those fuelling the crisis — to act, and that the solutions to runaway climate change cannot be purely technological or environmental, but must be based on social justice.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the climate justice movement — the radical wing of the environment movement — is picking up where the anti-corporate globalisation movement left off. It is adopting a more holistic critique of the system that has created not just the environmental crisis, but cyclical economic depressions and widening inequality between the First and Third Worlds.
Ten years ago, the anti-corporate movement burst onto the international stage when thousands converged to overshadow another meeting of world leaders in which the rich countries aimed to make the poor pay more — the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999.
In fact, the 100,000-strong protest on December 12, and the Klimaforum, were an explicit attempt by activists to “Seattle” Copenhagen. Like the climate justice movement, the protesters at Seattle created their own parliament of the streets and exposed the hypocrisy of the official talks.
Like those at the Klimaforum, protesters at Seattle were scathing of an inherently volatile financial system based on a tornado of speculative, exponentially multiplying debt.
Like the climate justice movement, the protesters at Seattle critiqued the dominance of corporations on governments, and the impact of unchecked industrialism and rampant consumerism on the environment, on workers' rights and on deepening Third World inequality.
The issues that the anti-corporate globalisation movement flagged 10 years ago -- the unsustainable nature of a system based on bottomless corporate greed -- seem more relevant than ever in the wake of the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression and the growing climate crisis. The two are increasingly linked in many people’s minds as having a common, systemic cause.
However, there is less clarity, and more debates, about the systemic alternatives to capitalism. The forum is characterised by a great receptivity to radical ideas and of genuine, constructive debate and discussion.
Conference participants offered sharp critiques of the market-friendly proposals put forward by the First World at COP15, particularly carbon trading. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and The Shock Doctrine, addressed the forum’s 1000-strong opening meeting. She said “the polluter pays” principal must be at the heart of any meaningful emissions-reduction deal. Cuban biologist and activist Roberto Perez hosted a workshop of more than 100 people on Cuba’s organic agricultural and urban garden system.
A session on “Capitalism and the Climate Crisis: Left Alternatives”, attended by several hundred people mostly from the European left, revealed a consensus among those present about the need to actively combat the false market-based solutions to climate change.
Ian Terry, a British employee of wind turbine manufacturer Vestas (occupied by its workers in mid-2009 after it was closed) and a Socialist Workers Party member, spoke of “the need for the workers’ movement to relate to environment sentiment” and vice versa.
Discussion was mostly limited to how to advance the immediate demands of the radical climate justice movement. Socialist solutions — the need for radical economic and social restructuring to achieve a shift to a carbon-free society while pushing for real social justice and preserving workers' rights — were briefly touched upon.
COP15 has become more and more discredited over the last week, in part due to the draft “Danish text”, leaked on December 8.
Put together by the Danish, US and British governments, the document puts forward a range of proposals that would hand administration of any emissions-reduction deal to the World Bank, the institution that has long been an instrument of First World control over the indebted Third World.
The leaked text also obliterates any difference of obligation between the poor and rich countries, treating North and South as equal. Third World nations have insisted any COP15 deal should place the largest burden for emissions reduction on the industrialised countries responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions — and these nations should provide ample financial assistance to repay their ecological debt and assist with sustainable development of the poor nations.
The Danish text leak has prompted outrage from, and threats of a walkout by, many Third World delegates, and spread public cynicism about the aims of COP15.
In contrast to COP15’s behind-closed-doors style of wheeling and dealing, the Klimaforum is putting forward its own plan for a sustainable world, which people around the world can sign onto (see below). The declaration will be handed to COP15 leaders, “supplying them with inspiration as to how a fair climate justice deal can be put together”.
The declaration, finalised by forum participants, emphasises “the need to create substantial changes in the social and economic structures in order to meet the challenges of global warming and food sovereignty”.
Major cornerstones of the declaration include: “a complete abandonment of fossil fuels within the next 30 years’ including specific five-year deadlines”; “recognition, payment and compensation of climate debt for the overconsumption of atmospheric space and adverse effects of climate change on all affected groups and people”; “a rejection of purely market-oriented and technology-centred false and dangerous solutions such as nuclear energy, agro-fuels, carbon capture and storage”; and “real solutions to climate crisis based on safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable use of natural resources, as well as transitions to food, energy, land, and water sovereignty”.
The declaration recognises that such changes would require “a restoration of the democratic sovereignty of our local communities and of their role as a basic social, political, and economic unit”.
The Klimaforum09 declaration is intended to be a unifying call to arms, a guideline for inclusive movement-building. It declares: “We call upon every concerned person, social movement, and cultural, political or economic organisation to join us in building a strong global movement of movements, which can bring forward peoples’ visions and demands at every level of society.
“Together, we can make global transitions to sustainable futures."
What is clear from the Klimaforum is that the climate justice movement has the determination and openness to grow in breadth and size — and to become broader and more radical in the wake of the inevitable COP15 failure.
[Lauren Carroll Harris is a climate change activist and a member of the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]
Copenhagen eyewitness: The rising tide of climate justice
News report by Joe Ageyo from NTV Kenya
By Lauren Carroll Harris, Copenhagen
December 14, 2009 -- One hundred thousand protesters braved near freezing temperatures and took over the Danish capital, Copenhagen, on December 12 to crank up the heat on world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit (COP15) and demand climate justice.
The protest, in a carnival-like atmosphere, brought together a broad range of groups — from the explicitly anti-capitalist to the lobbying NGOs — and was led by a group of indigenous activists on a 4.5 kilometre march to the Bella Center, where the COP15 is taking place.
The demonstration was the main focus of a fortnight of climate justice protests, and was proceeded by a 5000-strong “flood” of Copenhagen, organised by Friends of the Earth.
The protest involved mainly youth. The many groups included Jubilee South and Action Aid (who both call for reparations from the First World to repay their ecological debt and aid sustainable development in the Third World), the French New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) and the Danish group Attac, which carried a banner saying “Don't let corporate lobbying destroy our climate”.
An Australian contingent highlighted the issue of global dependence on fossil fuels for power, chanting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, quit coal now!”
A satirical contingent of green capitalists raised the issue of greenwashing —dressed tastefully in white, they carried platters of grapes, glasses of champagne and placards reading “Greed is green“, “Bangladesh: buy rubber boots“, “Stop global whining”, “We heart green capitalism” and “We love green, but we love fossil fuels more”. The lead banner screamed, “Carbon trading: the final solution”. One faux banker urged the crowd to “go home and buy some carbon offsets”.
Protesters chanted: “Carbon trading: big lie.”
Despite the widely acknowledged, clear failure of the COP15 talks, the sentiment among protesters was jubilant, positive and determined. Protesters chanted “Our climate — not your business”, “Our world is not for sale” and “Change the system, not the climate” — in fact, radical politics dominated the crowd, if not the platform.
Official speakers included model Helena Christensen and Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo. Environmental activist Vandana Shiva pointed explicitly to capitalism as the source of the current environmental crisis, telling protesters: “THIS is what democracy looks like, and the COP15 is trying to kill democracy.”
The demonstration indicated a complete rejection of the green posturing, market-friendly solutions and inaction of the COP15, and showed that solutions to catastrophic climate change will come not from leaders who represent big oil and coal, but the grassroots. It will be centred around social justice.
The protesters descended upon the locked-down Bella Center as the sun fell. The crowd was so huge that most could not see the platform or hear the speakers — instead, the demonstration morphed into a radical, candlelit street party.
Though there was an unrelenting police presence and a reported 1000 arrests, the majority of protesters remained unperturbed. Demonstrations will no doubt continue through and beyond the Copenhagen talks.
Today your Friends of the Earth representatives from the U.S. and across our global network showed up at the Bella Centre in Copenhagen to keep up the fight for a strong and just climate treaty -- only to be denied access without notice and without a reasonable explanation.
All this week, the critical voices of civil society have been
increasingly excluded from the climate talks by United Nations
officials. Friends of the Earth and other civil society groups play a
key role at the conference in advocating for climate justice and
supporting under-resourced negotiators from poor countries -- who are
literally fighting for their survival as they push for strong climate
Tell the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Mr. Yvo de Boer, that the world is watching: the voices of civil society must be heard in climate negotiations.
It looks like our efforts to stand up for justice have ruffled some feathers of UN officials and leaders from rich countries -- who'd rather be able to spin their weak commitments as success, without civil society voices there in the negotiating rooms to hold them accountable.
Limiting the access of civil society to these negotiations is not only
a betrayal of the guiding United Nations principle of participation, it
profoundly hinders the capacity of poor countries to achieve a just
Make your voice heard by sending a message to the UNFCCC Secretary Yvo De Boer now. Urge him not to deny civil society access to the negotiations so we can reach a strong and just climate agreement.
Becca, Kelly and Alyssa
Friends of the Earth US
Near the Bella Centre conference centre, I saw four people being arrested. At exactly midday, approximately 500 policemen began moving in on a protest that they had declared illegal.
The protest at the Bella Centre was organized by the Climate Justice action network. They had announced plans for a peaceful protest that would seek to break through the barriers around the centre.
The plan was to hold what it called a Peoples Summit inside the venue at one oclock, together with climate groups taking parts in the COP15 talks.
But at that time, about 2000 protesters found themselves surrounded by police in riot gear.
Police used pepper spray and police battons to keep the crowd under control.
When it became clear that the protesters no longer were able enter the Centre, the police authorities took off their helmets to adopt a less aggressive stance. Some riot police were given time to do something else.
Meanwhile, inside the Bella Centre, tensions were heating up again. Another day without real progress has passed, and, with 24 hours to go before the heads of state of a 110 countries arrive, the Danish climate minister, Connie Hedegaard, was replaced as President of the COP15 meeting.
Raymond Frenken, for EUX.TV in Copenhagen.
December 15, 2009
Report From Cop-enhagen
By DAVID ROVICS
The signs up all over the airport and various places elsewhere in town
are calling it Hopenhagen, but everybody I know is calling it
Cop-enhagen, which seems far more appropriate. The international media
has been giving this lots of coverage, and rightly so. Of course much of
the media is unable to walk and chew gum at the same time, so other
things, such as the reason the protests are happening in the first
place, can get lost.
Inside the Bella Center lots of stuff is going on. Namely the US,
Australia and others leading the way in making sure nothing meaningful
takes place there, while many other delegates and activists within try
to make the best of it, or at least make the effort to thoroughly expose
the bankruptcy of the position taken by the rich countries. The center
itself is divided into floors where the big decisions are being made,
and then the rest of the place for the little people, the delegates from
unimportant countries like Tuvalu, representatives of small NGOs and
other riffraff. Many of the folks involved with the process inside are
dividing their time between the meetings and events outside in the
streets and at the alternative conference going on elsewhere in town.
Copenhagen is a beautiful city. The architecture in the heart of the
city is understated but exudes the wealth of a place that was once the
capital of a fairly sizeable empire. Of course, though the Danish empire
brought some riches home to Copenhagen, the wealth of modern Denmark is
far greater, that being the product not so much of empire but of the
Danish labor movement and Danish social democracy. It is this check on
Danish capitalism that has allowed this wealth to be so impressively
distributed, bringing Denmark a quality of life that is the envy of most
anyone who knows about it.
Of course, as in any society there are different forces at work in
Denmark. Most Danes would identify much more with those peasants who
rebelled in the 17th century and helped pave the way for modern Denmark,
not with the soldiers who massacred them, but those soldiers were also
Danes. Most Danes would prefer to remember the heroic stories of
resistance during the occupation of Denmark in the 1940's, but there
were also many enthusiastic collaborators.
At so many points in history there are pivotal moments when things can
go different ways, and something pushes events in a certain direction.
The direction of social democracy has been the ascendant one in Denmark
for quite some time, but this was able to happen for a variety of
reasons -- the strength and purpose of the Danish labor movement, the
fear on the part of the rich of the spectre of communism, the moral
bankruptcy of the leaders of society who collaborated with the Nazis
after the war, and so on.
If people know anything about this most southerly of the Scandinavian
countries they know it's full of windmills. Germany actually has lots
more windmills than Denmark, but many of them are made in Denmark
anyway, at the Vespas factories in Jutland (where they recently laid off
thousands of workers).
There's a reason Denmark has been a pioneer in windmill technology, and
it is, to a large extent, the Danish environmental movement. In the
early 70's the Danish government was thinking about building their first
nuclear reactor, following the example of Sweden, which has one right
across the water, upwind. People inspired by ideas of communal living
and experiential learning formed a community centered around a Free
School near the little village of Ulfborg and began making plans to
build the world's largest windmill. Over the course of three years,
working with scientists, artisans and large numbers of hippies, they
built the world's largest windmill. They refused to patent any of their
ground-breaking technology, making it all available for anybody to use.
Their windmill, still standing and providing power to the community 35
years later, is the prototype for the big windmills you'll see scattered
around Denmark and the world.
This windmill provided more than just energy -- it and the movement that
built it provided political capital. Those in parliament arguing for a
nuclear reactor lost the fight, and Denmark became a nation of windmills.
For the past decade or so, however, Denmark has been run by a coalition
led by the neoliberal, xenophobic Vestre party. They have been
privatizing hospitals and passing some of the most restrictive
immigration legislation in the world. They have had troops in both
Afghanistan and Iraq, and they have been forcibly deporting refugees
back to these war-torn countries. Fueled by the changes to Danish
society wrought by EU membership, this conservative coalition keeps
winning elections. Along with a love of capitalism and a fear of
foreigners, these people also can't stand hippies or punks or other
dissenting elements, and they are on a quest to `normalize' the
900-person intentional community in the heart of Copenhagen known as
Christiania. To that end they conducted a police raid early one morning
in 2007 and destroyed a house they deemed to have been illegally
constructed. (I got my first taste of Danish tear gas there a couple
Shortly before this home demolition in Christiania, hundreds of Danish
police had landed on the five-story squatted social center known as
Ungdomshuset (ìYouth Houseî) by helicopter early one morning. They
fumigated the place with tear gas, arrested those inside, jailed them
for several months, and proceeded to follow the new government policy of
destruction of the house. Masked construction workers from Poland did
the dirty work, since Danish unions forbid their members from doing work
that requires police protection.
Over the course of the next 1-1/2 years, however, the government was
forced to backtrack on their plan to civilize Denmark. The movement to
support Ungdomshuset grew dramatically, involving a number of fairly
significant riots and probably more importantly a weekly drill of
marches every Thursday for a year and a half, involving many hundreds
and often thousands every week. Eventually the chief of police and the
mayor of Copenhagen had to admit that their policies had been a mistake
and they gave the movement what it was demanding, a new house, bought
and paid for by the city. (Leftwing foundations had offered to buy a new
building for the movement but these offers were refused on principle --
the line was that the government destroyed Ungdomshuset and they should
replace it with something comparable.)
In the course of the riots and demonstrations around Ungdomshuset the
police preemptively arrested hundreds of people on a few occasions. They
weren't technically allowed to do this, but they came up with excuses.
One eyewitness told me that the police started arresting people,
claiming some of them were throwing rocks at them, although the
rock-throwing had clearly started only after the police began arresting
the assembled crowd.
A new law was passed in preparation for the climate summit which makes
this kind of mass preemptive arrest perfectly legal -- all the police
need to do is arbitrarily determine that an area is designated as a
ìriot zoneî and then they can arrest whoever they want. Any non-Danes
arrested can be held for 40 days (including people who were born in
Denmark but are not citizens, a reality for many here that may seem
surprising to those in the US reading this). It went into effect a week
before last Thursday, and since then the Danish police have carried out
mass preemptive arrests that dwarf anything they've done before. They
don't even need to pretend they had any justification for what is
essentially collective punishment.
Those of you from the US reading this should be familiar with preemptive
mass arrests. If you haven't had your head in the sand for the past few
decades then you know this happens regularly at demonstrations
throughout our great democracy. But it's new for Denmark, and it is a
serious step in the direction of the Americanization, you could say, of
the country. Being an American, I can say first-hand that emulating US
policies in terms of law enforcement or in terms of the privatization
and outsourcing of industry is all a very bad idea, at least as far as
the vast majority of people are concerned -- but the interests of a
privileged minority are what moves people like the Danish Prime
Minister, not the interests of society as a whole.
The policies and concerns of the new Danish government were represented
eloquently by the kettling and mass arrest of a small march that was en
route to commit acts of civil disobedience at the docks run by the
Maersk corporation. Maersk is one of the world's richest men and runs
one of the world's biggest shipping companies (look for his name, it's
everywhere). Blockading docks is illegal, of course, and under the
normal legal procedures in a democratic society people committing such
acts would be told to stop and after a certain amount of time arrested,
fined, brought to trial or whatever. Yesterday, however, as with the day
before, hundreds of people were preemptively arrested, including many
who had no intention of committing any illegal acts, such as one
reporter for the Times of London.
I narrowly avoided being arrested two days ago. Of those arrested the
overwhelming majority had nothing to do with the rock-throwing incident
at the stock exchange that apparently set off the police action. The
overwhelming majority didn't even know anything had happened at the
stock exchange. All they knew was they were suddenly, randomly being
arrested while taking part in a permitted march organized in part by the
very mainstream Social Democratic Party. This was a family march
involving tens of thousands of people with no civil disobedience or
other illegal acts planned as part of it.
The new law may allow for mass preemptive arrests, but international
treaties which Denmark has signed called the Geneva Conventions outline
certain guidelines for the treatment of detainees which were clearly
violated by the Danish police. People were handcuffed in uncomfortable
positions for many hours on the frozen pavement, not allowed to move,
not allowed to go to the toilet. Some fainted, many wet their pants,
adding to the danger posed by the freezing temperatures. Elderly people
were arrested along with teenagers. Anne Feeney's husband Juli, a
66-year-old Swede who had been slowly walking beside a carriage, was
handcuffed and made to sit on the frozen ground. Among the marchers from
Tvind, the Free School movement with whom I was walking, those arrested
include headmasters and teachers from throughout Europe and Africa.
Every one of the Norwegians I had just been hanging out with the day
before from Trondheim were arrested.
I participated in a march that was very quickly thrown together
involving several hundred people, starting near the Valby train station
and going to the prison to which most detainees had been brought. The
police surrounded (escorted?) us and seemed to be thinking about
arresting all of us, but apparently ultimately thought better of it.
Instead they informed us as we were marching towards the prison that
most of those detained had just been released, and that we were welcome
to march to the prison but no further.
Outside the prison -- a temporary prison that used to be a brewery -- I
heard more stories of how the Anarchist Black Cross representatives who
had been attempting to provide soup and solace to people as they were
being released were told to leave the premises. When they attempted to
set up at the train station a kilometer away they were again told to
leave. So as most people left the prison there wasn't even anyone to
meet them and tell them where to find the train station. Most detainees
were at no point given any food by the police. After six hours some had
been given water.
Tonight after Naomi Klein, Lisa Fithian and others from Climate Justice
Action held a meeting at the Big Tent in Christiania hundreds of police
and dozens of police vehicles were involved in more or less laying siege
to Christiania, which was defended, as in the past, by hundreds of
masked, black-clad young people making burning barricades and throwing
large numbers of bottles at the police, who then fired lots of tear gas.
Tonight the police reportedly used a water cannon to extinguish the main
burning barricade and arrested 200. Most of this happened while Anne
Feeney and I were playing a concert in the Opera House, not far from the
The future is not written. There was nothing inevitable about Denmark
building a nuclear reactor, and because of the environmental movement it
built windmills instead. Equally, there is nothing inevitable about
Denmark becoming a neoliberal police state. The years ahead in Denmark
-- and more broadly in the rest of Europe, run increasingly by
pro-business and xenophobic governments -- will determine in which
direction things will go. And perhaps the next few days will be a
particularly important moment in that process.
David Rovics is a musician and activist in Portland, Oregon.
Sign on at http://www.petitiononline.com/Tadzio/petition.html
To: The Danish Parliament
Over the past week, tens of thousands of people from across the planet have taken to the streets of Copenhagen demanding real and just solutions to climate change. But on the streets, as well as inside the UN Climate Change Conference, delegates and ‘outsiders’ alike are doubting that the conference will reach a deal that isn’t a disaster for most of the world.
Inside the Bella Centre, where the UN delegates are meeting, numerous critical voices have been marginalised through technical and procedural manœuvres. Others, like Friends of the Earth International, have had their accreditation revoked. Outside, the policing of protest has been consistently draconian and occasionally brutal.
On Saturday 12 December, almost 1,000 participants in a ‘Climate March’ through Copenhagen were arrested. On Monday 14 December, hundreds more were arrested at a party in the city’s Christiania district following a public meeting, addressed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and others. On Tuesday 15 December, Tadzio Mueller, a spokesperson for Climate Justice Action, was arrested by undercover police officers following a press conference at the Bella Centre.
This morning, on Wednesday 16 December, Tadzio appeared before a judge on a number of charges relating to his public support for today’s Reclaim Power demonstration. The declared aim of Reclaim Power – also supported by social movements, many conference delegates and other civil society actors – is to hold a People’s Assembly at the Bella Centre, to discuss real solutions to climate change. At this morning’s court hearing the judge decided to hold Tadzio for a further three days, after which he will reappear in court. There are reports that the hearing was closed to the public.
Meanwhile, hundreds more protesters have been arrested today and there have been numerous reports of police brutality and the extensive use of batons, pepper spray and tear gas. We have also heard of further arrests of individual activists by undercover police officers.
We, the undersigned, not only lend our support to those in Copenhagen seeking to push for real and just solutions to climate change, but also demand the following:
• The immediate release of Tadzio Mueller and all other climate prisoners;
• A halt to the criminalisation and intimidation of activists, including the pre-emptive detaining of protesters in Copenhagen;
• The immediate re-instatement of accreditation withdrawn from NGOs and other critical voices at the Climate Summit
(This Open Letter was drafted by the editors of Turbulence: Ideas for Movement, of which Tadzio Mueller is an editor.)
/Initial Signatories (name and affiliation):/
• Ben Trott (Turbulence editor)
• David Harvie (Turbulence editor, University of Leicester)
• Michal Osterweil (Turbulence editor, US based lecturer, UNC Chapel Hill)
• Keir Milburn (Turbulence editor)
• Rodrigo Nunes (Turbulence editor)
• Kay Summer (Turbulence editor)
• Naomi Klein
• Katja Kipping (Member of the German Bundestag)
• Ulla Jelpke (Spokeswoman for internal affairs of the faction DIE LINKE in the Bundestag)
• Alexis Passadakis (Member of the Coordination Committee of Attac Germany)
• Dr. Simon Lewis (University of Leeds and UN accredited science advisor in COP15)
• Emma Dowling (Lecturer, University of London)
• Ingo Stützle (editor, ak - analyse & kritik)
• Zoe Young (writer and film maker)
• Friends of the Earth International
By Lauren Carroll Harris, Copehagen
December 17, 2009 -- There are two Copenhagens at this moment. One is the Copenhagen swamped with one hundred thousand protesters demanding climate justice and social justice, solidarity and community before corporate profit. This Copenhagen is flooded with activists, students, parents, academics and blue collar workers fiercely and co-operatively discussing ways forward out of the climate crisis, and how to create a world that is sustainable for people and the planet.
The second is "Hopenhagen". Hopenhagen ("population 6.8billion") is not a real place, but the world that Denmark and the UN would like us to believe exists. Hopenhagen is a feel-good public relations campaign, propped up by corporate partners Coca-Cola, Siemens, DuPont and, particularly incredibly, BMW. Billboards all over the city carry the campaign's trademark green-coloured scrawl and shiny photos of wind turbines in the ocean, falling autumn leaves, smiling children, thoughtful children, solitary figures on mountaintops and Third World peasants in lush green fields.
The Hopenhagen campaign lives in the centre of Copenhagen in a square called Rådhuspladsen. Here, you can watch news updates of what's going on at the Bella Centre and how many people have signed onto the Hopenhagen petition, all projected onto a giant globe. You can pedal a bike that powers the lights of a giant Christmas tree. You can learn how to minimise your power bill at home, and walk through a series of miniature model green houses. You can pick up some cool new clothes and recycle at the same time at the clothes swap centre. You can even catch a few bands who are part of the Hopenhagen Live program. At Hopenhagen's site, you can buy a t-shirt that says "I am a citizen of Hopenhagen".
Copenhagen is widely seen as a model for green, big cities, and this is part of the reason it's hosting the COP15 UN Climate Summit. Around 40% of the city's inhabitants cycle to work, school or university, utilising the excellent cycling paths. It also has a great district heating system, which uses greywater and has a very low carbon footprint. Hopenhagen promotes some of these good achievements, but it goes alot further.
At the heart of Hopenhagen is the idea that citizens like you and me can lend a helping hand in the fight against climate change by simply changing our consumption habits. The solution is as easy as switching to organic shampoo, ditching the car and cycling to work, and turning filling your kettle only halfway. Maybe you could sign the Hopenhagen petition, or even write to your local leader to let them know that you really care about the environment. The message is contradictory - consume less, but buy our t-shirts. In essence, we can make capitalism cleaner and greener, and we can forget about any fundamental shifts in the way our society functions. We should use less energy, but forget about where that energy comes from - coal-fired power plants owned by corporations that exist to generate profit for their shareholders.
For the corporate sponsors of Hopenhagen, environmental sentiment is another free market commodity that can be bought and sold and accumulated for the sake of profit, just like every resource, stretch of land, species, and source of energy the world has to offer.
Of course, as a PR stunt, there's nothing new about the Hopenhagen brand - most corporations are falling over themselves to prove their green cred. That's why one of the main slogans of the Copenhagen protesters is "Our climate - not your business!" But Hopenhagen comes at a key time. COP15 was widely deemed to be a failure before it even started. The world is watching to see if the summit can actually strike a deal, let alone one that adequately addresses the scope of the climate crisis. Most people want genuine government action against climate change. In the coming weeks and months, we'll see what kind of public response there is to COP15 - and it's likely to be one of disenchantment.
Hopenhagen is another attempt to envelop popular environmental sentiment and growing discontent about government inaction into the culture of consumerism. But it's a particularly sophisticated one that tries to capture the idea of people as being more than just consumers, but citizens. Even UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a statement of public support for the recent 50,000-strong Wave demonstration in the UK, saying "we will only get an ambitious climate change deal at Copenhagen and make climate change history if governments all around the world feel the pressure of their public calling on them to make ambitious commitments and thereby to put the world on a path toward a safe future for our children. On the eve of the Copenhagen conference it is vitally important that people lend their support for an ambitious deal." The leaders of the First World know that regardless of the outcome of COP15 and any legally binding emissions reduction deal, they are politically bound by popular sentiment to act to stop climate change and assist the Third World in its continued development. Corporations and governments know they must adopt a green shine to be appealing to consumers.
Hopenhagen, Gordon Brown and other First World leaders want citizens to know that they shouldn't be hopeless, that they should indeed be concerned and even active in acceptable, non-challenging ways - by going to large, mainstream demonstrations that don't actually demand anything of the government like The Wave, or by signing petitions or writing to parliamentarians - but know that their concern is shared by their leaders, and feel satisfied in the knowledge that their lifestyle changes are being felt, and their concern is being heard.
The truth is, many people who did determinedly put forward their message at Copenhagen were met with brutality, their civil liberties severed. Over 1400 protesters have already have been arrested, mostly arbitrarily and without charge. If the Danish government - one of the participants of the Hopenhagen campaign - are genuinely serious about listening to and enacting it's people's views on stopping climate chaos, then why has it introduced temporary draconian laws that limit the right to protest?
Further, the Hopenhagen campaign is blatantly at odds with the reality of what the rich countries including Denmark are proposing at COP15. The proposals of the initial Danish text fell far short of emissions reductions needed to stall runaway climate change, and the revised range of proposals has no quantified targets, and lacks proper guidelines for reforestation and for finance to allow developing nations to adapt to climate change. Discussion has shifted from "stopping" climate change to "adapting and mitigating" the worst aspects of warming.
Global warming cannot be pasted over and glossed up with rhetoric and branding. In reality, the climate issue is about much more than what we buy - it's even bigger than the environment. Global warming goes to the core of how our society organises itself and what kind of values we want for our society - capitalist values of ever-expanding accumulation, of profit for profit's sake, or humane values of sustainability and social justice. Even "green" capitalism has shown itself to be incompatible with the latter.
India’s leading environmentalist, Vandana Shiva had her ’’heart just sank’’ as she got off the flight at Copenhagen airport, when the first thing she ’’saw was a Coca-Cola bottle’’ as sponsor for ’’Hopenhagen’’. Sponsored by notorious corporate giants, Hopenhagen was a big campaign during the COP15. Talking to Democarcy Now’s Amy Goodman, on December 14, Vandana Shiva said: ’’ Coca-Cola should not be the symbol of finding solutions for the climate crisis’’. She pointed out: if you’ve been to Plachimada, India, where 1.4 million liters, were extracted by Coca-Cola every day, to make these soft drinks and to do the bottling of water, ’’the women had to rise up against Coca-Cola. The women had to say, ’Shut this plant down, because we are having to walk ten miles to get clean and safe water.’ That would not be Hopenhagen. The women of Plachimada would not see hope in a Coca-Cola bottle’’.
Plachimada is a little village in Kerala where the women organised and shut down a Coca-Cola plant in 2004 and this triggered a movement across India. It is because communities across India living around Coca-Cola’s bottling plants are experiencing severe water shortages, directly as a result of Coca-Cola’s massive extraction of water from the common groundwater resource. The wells have run dry and the hand water pumps do not work any more. When the water is extracted from the common groundwater resource by digging deeper, the water smells and tastes strange. Coca-Cola has been indiscriminately discharging its waste water into the fields around its plant and sometimes into rivers, including the Ganges, in the area. The result has been that the groundwater has been polluted as well as the soil.
’’Water shortages, pollution of groundwater and soil, exposure to toxic waste and pesticides is having impacts of massive proportions in India. In a country where over 70% of the population makes a living related to agriculture, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a sure recipe for disaster’’, claim the activists campaigning against Coca-Cola.
The arrogance of Coca-Cola in India is not going unanswered. In fact, the growing opposition to Coca-Cola- primarily from Coca-Cola affected communities- has spread so rapidly and gained so much strength that Coca-Cola had to hire a public relations firm, Perfect Relations in a bid to spin the problems away instead of addressing them. The oldest and by far most successful struggle has come forth in Plachimada, Kerala, where the single largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in the country was shut down in March 2004. Initially ordered to shut down briefly by the state government to ease drought conditions, the Plachimada bottling plant could not resume its production because the local village council (panchayat) refused to reissue Coca-Cola a license to operate.
Similar struggles have invoked either court rulings or state interventions to limit Coca-Cola’s savaging of Indian water. For instance, in Kala Dera, Rajasthan, ’’struggles committees’’ were formed in 32 villages to stop Coca-Cola stealing their water. Similarly, the communities in Mehdiganj, a village about 20 kms from India’s holy city of Varanasi, have given Coca-Cola a tough time. ’’Three plants have been shut down’’, Vandana Shiva says. ’’Coca-Cola does not bring hope, and Coca-Cola should not be the symbol of finding solutions for the climate crisis’’, she told Democracy Now. As expected, corporate media in India, fearing to lose advertisements, have been either avoiding to cover or downplay these struggles. (ends)
Yes! Fight the power! I definitely love when the people stand up for what is right!
I think that you should do an article on vegetarians and how they work toward a better climate, what with the efficiency of the vegetarian diet vs the mass produced meat that is quickly using up the planet's resources.
Here's some info if you wanna write this article: http://www.kaycircle.com/index.php?q=10_reasons_to_become_a_Vegetarian
I think it would be a real service to the planet! We need to save the Earth while we can!!
PS: I think I had trouble with posting this comment, so if it shows up like 5 times please don't think I meant to do that :)