Thursday, December 17, 2009

Climate countdown

When Democracy Now first started broadcasting live from the United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen (COP15), I thought why? Nothing’s going to happen -- the US will sabotage any agreement. But then I started listening to the wide range of people attending the talks (tens of thousands of people in all) -- yes, it’s true that the US and other rich and/or powerful countries will sabotage any meaningful structural change, but it’s still incredible to listen to people from all over the world emphasize the dramatic need for immediate action. Even the dominant slogans of SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE, KEEP THE OIL IN THE SOIL, or the Ecuadorian government-approved idea of getting rich countries to pay Ecuador not to drill for oil in a wildlife refuge -- or the idea of climate reparations paid by rich countries to poorer countries for their overwhelming role in climate instability -- all of these ideas are innovative and inspiring.

Take this quote from Indian activist Sunita Narain today, when asked about the differences between Bush and Obama:

“I think if President Bush was in kindergarten, President Obama is in first grade, but nothing more than that.”

Or, from Naomi Klein, last Friday, talking about the small island state of Tuvalu, which will disappear underwater if dramatic cuts in worldwide emissions are not instituted:

“There was a protest yesterday of people from Tuvalu, and they were making themselves visible. They were… talking about the absence of their future, the disappearance of their country, which is a form of genocide. It meets the UN definition of genocide, which is the acts that lead to the disappearance of a people. And as they were staging this protest, you watched people in business suits file by and look at their shoes and try not to meet their eyes, in the way that you see people in the streets avert their eyes in the face of a homeless person. But this was a country that was disappearing. And that’s what it feels like over there.”

What Democracy Now is succeeding at doing with its “Climate Countdown” is driving home the horrifying fact that the world as we know it is being obliterated due to the viciousness of corporate colonial governments, mostly in the global North. Democracy Now also goes outside the conference to the police state insanity that Naomi Klein unwittingly supports when she says:

I said at the opening of Klimaforum [the alternative counter-conference] that there’s a place for rage and there’s a place for civil disobedience. I was not saying, as some news reports claimed, that Copenhagen should be trashed. I really don’t think so. I think that’s a very bad idea. And I’m going to say that explicitly, even though people are always telling me, “Don’t say it’s bad. Don’t say it’s bad.” Listen, the reason why it’s bad is precisely because of what we’re seeing here. This conversation that has started here about the real face of environmentalism, as a class war that is being waged by the rich against the poor, has never happened before. There has never been global media attention on this discussion. If we allow the media to change the discussion into broken windows in Copenhagen—which is the boringest discussion in the world, OK?—we have truly failed.

Naomi Klein made this statement before the occurrence of close to 2000 mass arrests, preventative detentions, and routine pepper spray, tear gas and beatings at the hands of Danish police -- and the expulsion of mainstream environmental groups from inside the conference (by UN security). Of course, she already knew about the new law passed in the Danish Parliament that allows police to detain anyone for up to 12 hours simply because it’s suspected that they may commit a crime in the future. It’s strange that Klein starts this statement by showing how the media misrepresented her call for rage and civil disobedience as a call for property destruction. Why, then, does she find it necessary to say that property destruction is wrong, because it allows the media to misrepresent the conversation as one about broken windows? She’s just shown that the media will misrepresent whatever it wants to.

As Sunita Narain says:

“So there is a breakdown here, and there are countries responsible for it, but my suspicion is, on Friday, when President Obama does descend to the city, the world media is going to blame the poor nations and not the rich nations.”

Naomi Klein would certainly agree with this statement, but it was a bit depressing to hear her capitulating to the idea of representation within corporate media coverage in order to do the work of the powers-that-be by censuring those who might throw a few bricks. A conversation about broken windows is probably more interesting than most of what the corporate media will address. Of course there will be a few broken windows -- oh, no, don’t hit the H & M store (pictured in the background of at least one protest)-- they have a sale going on right now! As with any mass convergence, the violence comes from the police, world “leaders,” and the corporate criminals (media included) who drive the whole thing, and I do think it’s important not to further that violence by echoing their bland rhetoric.

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