System Change Not Climate Change

By Debayani Kar Dec 14, 2009

Climate justice activists from around the U.S. led by communities of color were part of the 100,000-strong protest march in Copenhagen this past Saturday. Not surprisingly, such a vibrant display of civil society’s power was responded to with more than 1,000 arrests by the Danish police. As world leaders await President Obama’s arrival in Copenhagen for the climate change talks, climate justice organizers are not simply waiting around for the summit’s outcome to take action. Movement Generation, an Oakland-based non-profit that links global environmental justice to the work for economic and racial justice in communities of color, led a delegation to Copenhagen including representatives from Grassroots Global Justice, Right to the City, Just Transitions Alliance, and the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum. On Saturday, their delegation braved the cold Danish winter to march four miles from parliament to the Bella Centre where government negotiations are taking place. Visit their blog for updates from Mari Rose Taruc of Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Jill Johnston of Southwest Workers Union, Alicia Garza of POWER, and Jacqui Patterson of Women of Color United. These advocates demand countries and polluting corporations that have benefited from the industrial growth that has polluted the planet pay their fair share; an end to growth-based development fueled by overconsumption and resource depletion; and community control over their food, land and energy. They are calling for system change, not climate change. The U.S. delegation joins indigenous leaders and leaders from the global South who have showed up in large numbers in Copenhagen. Unfortunately their concerns remain unaddressed by rich country leaders driving the negotiations, who continue to expect more from the least-polluting countries of the global South rather than themselves. Today’s latest drama? The African delegation walked out of negotiations, leading to suspension of the meetings for part of the day. They have correctly blamed rich countries for not being serious about reducing carbon emissions while expecting impoverished countries to make greater sacrifices and simultaneously bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. These are the same divisions we see in the U.S. Saleemul Huq, a researcher from Bangladesh — among the most impoverished countries that will also be hardest hit by climate change — has this to say:

I have jousted verbally with climate change deniers who have strong links to polluting industries and who have never set foot in the vulnerable villages and urban communities where climate change is already having impacts. If they were to do so, they would realise the damage their ideology does to the people who have contributed least to this global threat. I truly believe that Copenhagen will be remembered in years to come, not for what happens on 18 December when world leaders meet here, but for what just happened on 12 December when tens of thousands of people took the streets to call for strong, ambitious action on climate change. This marked the day that people from all walks of life all over the world seized the initiative from our so-called leaders. Regardless of the words these presidents and prime ministers decide in a "protocol" or "agreement" next week, it is the people of the world who have put the writing on the wall. The leaders who choose to read those words will take us forward. Those who ignore them will be swept away by the tide of history.

Let’s hope he is right.