Future Hope column, December 13, 2009

By Ted Glick

I’m really, really glad that the Copenhagen climate change conference is halfway over, for lots of reasons:

-it means that I’ll begin eating pretty soon. This is day 38 of not eating as part of the Climate Justice Fast ( So far I’ve lost 35 pounds.

-it means that the second, huge, powerful, international day of action to address the climate crisis took place yesterday. In Copenhagen the reports are that upwards of 100,000 people took part, the largest demonstration ever on this issue. In over 3,000 other localities smaller actions took place all over the world. This is less than two months after organized over 5,200 actions in 181 countries.

-the first week turned out to be much more substantive than maybe anyone expected. This was true both for the “get real” actions organized by those representing the grassroots people of the world, especially those of the Global South, inside and outside Bella Center in Copenhagen, as well as for the official deliberations of the representatives of the world’s governments. As a result, the issues being dealt with are much more substantive than many expected, moving in the right direction. It is particularly significant that the Alliance of Small Island Nations came forward a couple of days ago with a formal proposal for the kind of world action that could actually give us a decent chance of avoiding climate catastrophe.

Of course, the environmental ministers are beginning to arrive and the prime ministers and presidents will be arriving in a few days, and who knows what’s going to happen then. Some of these people are very accomplished politicians, good at the “blah, blah, blah” hot air that allows the supra-national—and sometimes just national–corporate polluters of the world to keep at it.

But it’s hard not to be feeling much more hopeful about the possibilities for the future no matter what happens this second week. It feels like these two weeks of the Copenhagen conference may well be seen in world history as the political tipping point, the time when all of the work and efforts of activists going back years came to a decisive turning point.

I’m not in Copenhagen, but if I were I’d be strategizing with other climate activists about how to step up the pressure both inside and outside Bella Center in this second week. I know that there are nonviolent direct actions already being planned for outside, and I hope that those organizing them are firm that breaking windows and fighting with the cops is absolutely the wrong thing to be doing. It’s the kind of action government provocateurs have encouraged going back many decades, for understandable reasons. Nonviolent civil disobedience, as massive as possible, yes, counter-productive and tactically wrong window-breaking and street-fighting no.

As far as inside, I hope that the young people and the NGO activists and others are looking at different options for what can be done, especially when the presidents and prime ministers arrive, if and when there is intensified pressure by the countries of the Global North on the countries of the Global South to modify their science-based and realistic proposals for the strong action needed. Those options should include civil disobedience inside, sit-ins for example. Maybe blocking the doors of the main plenary, preventing the delegates from leaving until they pass a truly “ambitious, fair and binding” treaty.

That must be the objective at Copenhagen. It can’t be to provide cover for Barack Obama and Democrats so they have a better chance of getting a piece of legislation out of the U.S. Senate that reduces U.S. carbon emissions a measly 3-4% below 1990 levels, the objective Obama has put forward as the best the U.S. can do.

It is better that the world move forward without the U.S. on board within the Kyoto Protocol framework than to accommodate a lowest common denominator approach that brings the U.S. into some new, nowhere-close, weak treaty. The U.S. can continue to be part of the non-binding UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) framework; hopefully, down the road, because of a revitalized, more aggressive and more massive climate movement in the USA, we can get the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world.

And I hope that the representatives of the activist climate groups at Copenhagen are having productive discussions about international days of action next year, or other creative ways of building upon all that has been accomplished this year via and the tck-tck-tck campaigns in particular. We all know that this movement has to keep building and building, bringing in more and more people, becoming an absolutely irresistible force.

As I go through the next six days, eating nothing, drinking only water, I will be praying that my sister and brother activists, and many of the world’s government leaders, especially those from countries who owe a climate debt to the rest of the world, will let their conscience, not political expediency, be their guide. The future we are facing if energy policies do not make a sharp U-turn demands nothing less, right now.

Ted Glick is the Policy Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He has just completed his second book, Love Refuses to Quit: Climate Change and Social Change in the 21st Century, available on-line at