By Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project
Cross-posted from the Burlington Free Press
As the polar ice caps melt at an increasingly alarming rate, and rising sea levels threaten billions of people living along the planet’s coastlines, the world’s attention is focused on the upcoming U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen. Many people are asking whether stopping catastrophic climate change is possible.
I believe it is.
I believe this because I am part of the growing international climate-justice movement. This global movement is tackling climate change in three important ways. It is unifying diverse groups, communities and peoples around the world. It is highlighting real solutions to climate change that are locally controlled, bio-regionally appropriate and socially just. And it is tackling the real root causes of climate change, such as addiction to fossil fuels, overconsumption, industrial agriculture and forest destruction.
At the same time, the movement is organizing opposition to false solutions to climate change that impede our ability to find the real solutions. False solutions are those primarily directed at maintaining business as usual and increasing corporate profit, while doing little or nothing to truly address climate change.
False solutions include carbon offset projects, such as industrial timber plantations grown in developing countries, explicitly designed to allow industries in the North to continue polluting. This solution is false because there is no evidence these carbon offsets actually offset the emissions in question.
Another false solution is so-called “clean” coal. The technology at the heart of “clean” coal is completely unproven and riddled with problems such as contamination of ground water. “Clean” coal is merely a PR scheme designed to allow coal companies to continue blowing up mountaintops, expanding strip mines onto indigenous peoples’ lands and pumping massive amounts of pollution into the air.
This December at the U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen (which some have dubbed CorporateHaven due to the overwhelming presence of industry lobbyists), this international climate-justice movement will confront these false solutions as they come together to “reclaim power.” Their call to action enjoins us to “change the system, not the climate,” and to transform the Copenhagen Climate Conference into a “peoples’ summit for climate justice.”
“We are advancing alternatives that provide real and just solutions to the climate crisis: leaving fossil fuels in the ground; reasserting peoples’ and community control over resources; relocalising food production; reducing over-consumption, particularly in the North; recognizing ecological and climate debt owed to the peoples of the South and making reparations; and respecting Indigenous and forest peoples’ rights,” the call to action states.
It continues, “In Copenhagen, we will come together from many different backgrounds and movements, experiences and struggles. We are indigenous peoples and farmers, workers and environmentalists, feminists and anti-capitalists. Now, our diverse struggles for social and ecological justice are finding common ground in the struggle for climate justice, and in our desire to reclaim power over our own future.”
In the United States this international movement is embodied in the Mobilization for Climate Justice, an alliance of environmental justice, social justice, indigenous rights, forest protection and other groups that have united to tackle the climate-change juggernaut right in this country. This is crucial because the U.S. produces 25 percent of global carbon emissions while having only 5-6 percent of the world’s population.
This, put simply, must change.
With President Obama in the White House, many climate activists believed the time had finally come when the U.S. would assume responsibility for its role in causing the climate crisis and make serious commitments to cut emissions.
That, unfortunately, is not what is occurring.
With the rest of the world desperate to get the United States signed on to a climate treaty, U.S. climate negotiators are using this desperation as leverage to demand a treaty with hopelessly low targets for emissions reductions.
Not surprisingly, developing countries areoutraged by this and have threatened to walk out of the talks in Copenhagen if the U.S. and other industrialized nations do not make firm commitments to larger emissions cuts.
It is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with these countries and demand the U.S. government commit to real, effective and just action on climate change.
The Mobilization for Climate Justice is doing exactly this with a series of actions planned for cities across the United States — including Burlington — this Monday.
Monday is both one week before the beginning of the Copenhagen climate talks and the 10th anniversary of the nonviolent shutdown of the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle. At the WTO protests, a global movement emerged to proclaim that another world was possible. Today this world is not just possible — it is necessary. By standing in solidarity with developing countries at the WTO protests in 1999, the balance of power was shifted, and developing countries formed a unified bloc that stopped the United States and other rich countries from forcing them to accept unfair trade deals.
We can help shift the balance of power in Copenhagen, too, by standing in solidarity with those countries already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. After all, it is our future that is at stake too.