Copenhagen and the end of naïveté

The most striking thing to me – sitting on the left side of the pond from Copenhagen – is that with some exceptions it appears that the veil of legitimacy of the climate policy making process of the US-dominated UNFCCC  (which climate justice activists have criticized for year) is finally falling away…which leaves the question: “what now”?

With Obama at this moment posed to announce a “meaningful deal” (a complete dishonesty on it’s face, which all but the most head-in-the-sand environmentalist knows is a face saving greenwash at best) what is next for the climate movement?

For those of us demanding not just “action”, but just action, what are our next steps when for most of us it’s now clear that the Senate, Obama, and the UNFCCC process itself is working against our goals of 350ppm, thwarting efforts to prevent the destruction of the least developed countries and the island nations, and of recognizing the climate debt owed the world from the big polluters?

What are next steps in building a movement outside this failed framework? or do you still believe the framework can be salvaged despite 15 years of non-functionality? if so why?

let’s discuss…

11 Responses to “Copenhagen and the end of naïveté”

  1. 1 Madeline Gardner Dec 18th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I am too tired to write my own comments but here is what Friends of the Earth said:


    COPENHAGEN, DENMARK — Statement of Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., on tonight’s announcement by President Obama:

    “Climate negotiations in Copenhagen have yielded a sham agreement with no real requirements for any countries. This is not a strong deal or a just one — it isn’t even a real one. It’s just repackaging old positions and pretending they’re new. The actions it suggests for the rich countries that caused the climate crisis are extraordinarily inadequate. This is a disastrous outcome for people around the world who face increasingly dire impacts from a destabilizing climate.

    “The blame for the failure to achieve a real deal lies squarely on the rich countries whose pollution has caused the climate crisis — especially the United States. Rich countries refused to budge from the grossly inadequate emissions reduction proposals they brought to Copenhagen, and they failed to put sufficient money on the table so that poor countries that did not cause this crisis have the capacity to cope with it.

    “With the future of all humans on this planet at stake, rich countries must muster far more political will than they exhibited here. If they do not, small island states will become submerged, people in vulnerable communities across the globe will be afflicted with hunger and disease, and wars over access to food and water will rage.

    “The devastation will extend to those of us who live in wealthy countries. If we cannot find a way to cooperate with others to produce a real agreement to solve this problem, climate change impacts will devastate the U.S. economy, undermine our security, and inflict irreparable harm on future generations.

    “The failure to produce anything meaningful in Copenhagen must serve as a wake up call to all who care about the future. It is a call to action. Corporate polluters and other special interests have such overwhelming influence that rich country governments are willing to agree only to fig leaf solutions. This is unacceptable, and it must change.

    “Fortunately, while the cost of solving the climate crisis rises each day we fail to act, the crisis remains one that can largely be averted. It is up to the citizens of the world — especially citizens of the United States, which has so impeded progress — to mobilize and ensure that true solutions carry the day. I firmly believe that together, we can still achieve a politics in which climate justice prevails.”

  2. 2 Matt Leonard Dec 18th, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Great post Brian.

    To me, one of the best things I saw in Copenhagen was how many groups from more traditionally mainstream politics/analysis/strategies for change were increasingly critical and disillusioned with the process. I talked to folks that expressed hesitancy earlier in the week about participating in the Reclaim Power actions, that were fully behind it just a few days later. I saw Climate Justice become an increasingly dominant perspective – and solidarity with the Global South recognized as essential for the movement. This wasn’t the case just a year or two ago – and if anything, that is progress for us.

    Obama’s utter dishonesty and lack of integrity is hard to deny here – and I think a lot bigger portion of the movement will be able to acknowledge that. I’d like to think this will be a radicalizing moment for many people – and we will see more people realizing that movements that have actually accomplished meaningful change throughout history did it through building the power of people, not just trying to persuade politicians and navigate a system that will never deliver the world we want and need.

    What will 2010 hold for the climate justice movement? Hopefully a big step back from trying to woo negotiators and politicians, and a recognition that we aren’t going to get meaningful action through the UNFCCC, or through Congress.

    I have hopes that the movement will be stronger than ever, and focused in strategic directions that will create real change – but it’s up to all of us to make sure any disillusionment we may be feeling right now is directed as the systems and processes – not at the issues and our committent.


  3. 3 Madeline Gardner Dec 18th, 2009 at 6:51 pm


    “The President has wrecked the UN (and the planet)”

    Bill McKibben and Response to President Obama’s Speech

    COPENHAGEN — Bill McKibben, American environmentalist and founder of, responds to Obama’s press conference this evening:

    “This is a declaration that small and poor countries don’t matter, that international civil society doesn’t matter, and that serious limits on carbon don’t matter. The president has wrecked the UN and he’s wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it’s at the expense of everything progressives have held dear. 189 countries have been left powerless, and the foxes now guard the carbon henhouse without any oversight.”

  4. 4 Brian Kelly Dec 18th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    This is why we need to be explicit about the need for building a global revolutionary movement!

  5. 5 Brian Kelly Dec 18th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Check out Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s speech in Copenhagen:

  6. 6 Scott Dec 18th, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Great post, Brian. I completely agree with Matt in what we need and where we are going. Everywhere I’ve been the past few months I see new people getting involved in the more anti-establishment direct action wing of the climate movement. We need more direct action camps and direct action campaigns. Right now Climate Ground Zero is organizing one in West Virginia to keep coal in the ground. In San Francisco, the Mobilization for Climate Justice West is planning more events and action aimed at Chevron. Despite the violence and the disappointment, I feel the post-Copenhagen moment will be good for grassrots climate justice organizers.

  7. 7 Zach Dec 18th, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for the link to Chavez’s speech Brian!

  8. 8 Mathew Louis-Rosenberg Dec 18th, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    The end of naivete… one can only hope. The state of the US climate movement has been a great disappointment to me for some time now. Partially because of its limited size and ambitions, but primarily because of its seemingly steadfast insistence on faith in government and international processes. Folks like RTNA and others aside, there has been a deeply disturbing trend even among groups like Greenpeace that say essentially, “well we have to work with these people to get the best deal possible, can’t alienate them, blah blah blah.” “We need leaders, not politicians.” Yes we do need leaders, but we need to stop expecting those leaders to BE politicians. Honestly to tackle climate change in any meaningful way means a turning upside of the economic infrastructure of the world. We all know this, but refuse to act like it. And the odds on that one really aren’t very good. These are painful transitions we are asking for. We are NOT saying we all win with green jobs. We are saying that if we don’t act drastic and immediately, some people won’t win. They will die. A lot of them. Maddy just passed along a chant from a midnight rally saying “3 degrees is genocide, don’t sign the deal.” Until the climate movement starts acting like that’s true, there is no hope. The human crisis is real. Our job is not to be reasonable, responsible, negotiating partners; that’s somebody else’s job. Our job is to create a political crisis to match the human crisis. This means being a whole lot more disruptive. And less nice about it. It means taking actions that do not end with pizza and beer necessarily. That aren’t cute. That match the seriousness of the crisis we face. And it means a commitment to community level organizing so that we have numbers and the legitimacy to do what is necessary.

    But when I am honest with myself, I know that it is too late. That we are too far behind. That we are going out, hopefully going out swinging but still. At some point, it’s time to stop rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, acknowledge that we have already hit the iceberg, that the boat is sinking and instead figure out where the hell the lifeboats are and how to get as many people on them as we can. For me that means fighting mountaintop removal. Partially it’s about trying to put the hurt on coal in the hopes of averting some quantity of the coming doom. But largely it’s about trying to preserve the mountains that these communities will need to survive the coming doom and build community power and resilience.

    I didn’t do shit about Copenhagen and I won’t do shit about Mexico City. For my part, I’m sticking to local struggles and community resilience. Fighting to save things that can still be saved.

  9. 9 Cloudy Dec 20th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Hopefully, BrokenHagen will be a wakeup call for the climate movement in the US. Here is where it is key. And here are some of the most serious deficiencies in it currently:

    Brian Kelly sent me a c/c of the current Power Shift platform, which does embrace the “350” demand for lower ATMOSPHERIC LEVELS of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) and not just lower emissions, but the same collection of demands (a kind of kitchen sink, as movement demands tend to be) ALSO includes the current liberal mainstream position of an 80-95% cut in GHGs by 2050 (by the US). The latter sounds all well and good and reasonable until you realize that even if not only NATIONALLY, but, more aggressively, GLOBALLY, mere EMISSIONS were to be cut by 95% by 2050, more aggressive than the most aggressive position in that range — we would STILL have RISING atmospheric levels of GHGs FORTY years from now, when they are ALREADY too high. In short, even if that demand is met completely, we are toast! Some demand!

    Clearly this needs to be thought through more. What are needed are NET NEGATIVE GHG EMISSIONS GLOBALLY, and decades before 2050, which in turn requires a sharp and LOUD break from the liberal position on GHGs by the whole mainstream of the GHG movement — 1Sky Coalition, SEAC, Power Shift, etc. Further, the mountaintop removal people have to shed the “focus” idea on only mountaintop removal, and also embrace the right overall goal — we can’t get to where we need to unless we aim there. Demanding too little is not unheard of in the movement, like ActUp “demanding” a mere $500 million in research and experimentation money for HIV some 20 years ago, when that sounded to some like a lot.

    Once the climate movement LOUDLY and MILITANTLY unifies around the more advanced positions taken at Copenhagen (350, 1 degree warming max, net NEGATIVE GHGs and soon, massive (COMPLETE) subsidy of rapid alternative energy development in the poorest countries, etc), then the non-climate centered environmental movement, as well as non-environmental-cetnered groups (like unions, churches, and prgressive local govts) will than most likely follow suit (with the appropriate efforts) and THEN we will be able to get a passle of progressive politicians on board. What was beyond the pale (like seriously talking about “imperialism” as an issue) will then be forced into the mainstream of US politics. Soon it should be made, by a burgeoning movement, into a household word — not just “greenhouse gases” but “350”, “net negative GHGs” and “1 degree rather than 3 degrees” warming etc. (Hansen has shown that two or three degrees Celsius warming is unstable and results in runaway further warming). Another KEY demand is for Congressional Hearings in both Houses, televised, with as much visibility as the circus of condemnation of gays-in-the-military that filled the airwaves in 1993 (for those who can remember it). THEN and only then will there be some chance for the planet, who has no one to defend its future but us shnooks

  1. 1 “Copenhagen and the end of naïveté” « Mobilization for Climate Justice – London, Ontario Trackback on Dec 18th, 2009 at 8:33 pm
  2. 2 Climate action after COP15 | Toban Black Trackback on Dec 24th, 2009 at 12:53 pm
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About Brian

Brian lives in Portland, Oregon and is part of Rising Tide North America. When not challenging corporate-sponsored climate change and the oppression of the fossil fuel industry he's probably hiking, cooking or gardening.

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