A first-hand report from the largest climate protest ever
by Lauren Carroll Harris
Green Left Weekly, December 14, 2009
(Copenhagen) 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 demonstration 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.