Day 5: Is Half a Loaf Better Than None?

Posted by: David Shafie

Since we were no longer allowed access to the hall, Manny Smith, Chris Kim and I spent the last day across town at the shadow conference, Klimaforum 09, listening to the alternative perspectives that had been shut out of the summit. Klimaforum was billed as the “people’s summit” and it was populated with environmental activists unaffiliated with any of the NGO’s that had registered with COP15, as well as some who had been credentialed by the summit but shut out after the UN began revoking credentials to limit NGO attendance.  All week long, large video monitors streamed live video feeds from the summit as activists held their own lectures, discussion panels and art exhibits.  The venue also served as a place for the protestors to organize and blow off some steam.

Activists watch the proceedings at the Bella Center

Like others who had been shut out of the summit, we stood by for updates after President Obama arrived and addressed the delegates in a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate with China over targets and verification.  After the president reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the reduction targets, a number of the activists at Klimaforum expressed their disappointment that he had not taken a bolder stance, as well as the hope that the talks would break down.

That’s not such a radical view; NASA’s chief climate scientist James Hansen stated this position in November. Indeed, a recurring theme in the discussions we witnessed was the question of whether no agreement would be preferable to a flawed one.

Bill McKibben blogs from the shadow conference

One activist with a prominent presence was author Bill McKibben, who spoke at Chapman last Fall.  Here in Copenhagen, we saw him tirelessly addressing groups in multiple venues, and speaking with activists one-on-one.  In his talk at Chapman, McKibben discussed the launch of 350.org, a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the precise number that scientists believe is the key to a stable climate (350 parts per million of CO2).  When McKibben spoke at Chapman last year, he was just six months into the 350 campaign, but his message caught on like wildfire.  On Oct. 24 of this year, 5,200 demonstrations were held in 181 countries, to spread the word about the significance of 350 (One of them was staged in Irvine Park, in the city of Orange).

Chris Kim, Manny Smith, Bill McKibben, David Shafie

After Obama’s speech, McKibben registered his own disappointment that the proposal on the table did not go far enough.  Calling, the draft proposal a “fundamentally dishonest piece of legislation,” he expressed his doubt that if implemented, it would ever achieve the 3 percent reduction target that it promised.  As someone who had high expectations for Obama, McKibben said he was disheartened that the president hadn’t spent the requisite political capital on the problem of climate change.

By early Friday evening, it was still uncertain where the climate talks would end.  The late appearance by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise of additional U.S. money for the climate fund might have sustained the negotiations a bit longer, but any final agreement would have to come Saturday (or later).

A klezmir band rocks the house

Late Friday night, most of the young activists at the shadow conference seemed to have lost interest in the negotiations, and they were ready to party.  By then, few could be seen in the main hall watching for updates on the video monitors, but in a nearby gymnasium that had served as the main briefing room, a live band was playing and the floor was packed with people dancing.  It wasn’t clear what had been accomplished, but it was time to celebrate.

After the shadow conference

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