The weekend before last was one of the most exhausting but inspirational 72 hours that I’ve experienced; it might seem strange in the light of what we now know about just how much our “leaders” let us down over the last few weeks, but my visit to Copenhagen at the time of the climate conference energised me enormously and re-igniting my hope that a just and sustainable future is possible.
I did not attend the offical COP15 conference at the Bella Centre, nor had any wish to do so. There was something much more relevent going on in Copenhagen – the Klimaforum09. Billed as the “alternative conference”, it ran for over a fortnight, offering a meeting place and social forum for thousands of campaigners with countless discussions, debates, workshops and much more besides. I could only be there most of Saturday 12th & Sunday 13th but even in that short space of time it was the perfect riposte to the inaction, injustice and political machinations taking place a few kilometres away (and in which international NGOs were involved to a disturbing extent).
On the saturday I took part in a 100,000 strong demo from the centre of Copenhagen to the Bella Conference centre – alongside Nishma, hundreds of campaigners from Campaign Against Climate Change, and many many others! Marching (almost running in fact) at dusk alongside indigenous activists – several of whom I had met at Climate Camp or Shared Planet 09 – was the perfect rebuttal to the feelings of atomisation and desparation which I had been feeling about humankind and its ability to tackle climate change (this experience may not have been shared by the disgusting extra-legal arrests of hundreds of activists towards the back of the demo).
Taking part in a demo can often feel like merely going through the motions or pretending that you’re making a difference, but this was somehow different. While 100,000 people is a huge turnout, it still pales in comparison to for example the Iraq march in London in 2003. As we can see all too clearly from the outcome of the talks, our messages might have been heard but they cannot have been listened to. But what this weekend was all about was people & communities coming together to deliver their own solutions to runaway climate change, channelling our outrage at what was happening behind the police batons and security fences in the Bella Centre.
As Vandana Shiva eloquently argued at Klimaforum, in the fight against climate change one of the best mitigation methods is also a critical way to fight rising emissions; living more sustainably. It is something which we have far greater control over than international climate treaties, but tackling what we consume – perhaps most importantly what we eat – wrests back power from the corporations who are driving runaway climate change, poisoning our bodies and the planet, and who very much set the agenda at COP15.
The project that Vandana Shiva presented at Klima Forum is an inspirational story of local activists, civil society group and local government working together to help promote change – check out the not particularly sexily named International Commission on The Future of Food and Agriculture. As she pointed out, not only men with white beards can write manifestoes, and I recommend reading this one: On Climate Change and The Future of Food Security. It is a very real example about how we can take back some control over our own future by refusing to wallow in self-pity or to excuse our inaction by righteous indignation at carbon traders and global “leaders” but actually getting our hands dirty in putting the solutions we want to see into practice. I hope that other campaigners who went to Copenhagen or who stayed at home during the last few weeks share this message or take a similar approach; our movement cannot allow despair and nihilism to take over after the pathetic outcome of COP15. Put simply: we cannot afford to give up.