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What if they held a Climate Summit, and nobody came?

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on January 8th, 2010

Source: PostCarbon Institute

“How about next time we take the lead; we show not just from our Powerpoints and placards that another world is possible, but also that by staying home and working with those around us to start practically building a low carbon economy, loft by loft and street by street, that a leaner, lower carbon future could be, and will be, fantastic.”

From “What if they held a Climate Summit, and nobody came?” by Rob Hopkins

So Copenhagen has been and gone, with no meaningful agreement being reached, and now the politicians and lobbyists have headed home having failed to do anything meaningful to address this staggeringly pressing challenge. Hugo Chavez came up with the quote of the fortnight when he observed “if the climate was a bank, they would already have saved it”. The gathering of the environmental/climate change movement in the Klimaforum with its dedicated bringing together of green luminaries and activists failed to have any meaningful impact on the proceedings, as did the mass street protests, designed to shame delegates into meaningful action and to draw a line in the sand. In short, the responses that the alternative movement/protest culture/social justice movement usually rolls into action when such events take place, didn’t work. So, might we do things differently next time?

It is, after all, what is expected. Activists and experts all head to the venue, with huge carbon implications, in the hope that this is “the one”, new police powers get passed, activists are subject to harassment and intimidating policing (George Marshall’s piece on his Copenhagen experience is well worth a read, especially for his despair at the amount of polar bear costumes on display), the media can run its “climate change demonstrations turned ugly today” stories to divert interest away from the lack of progress, in the fringe event people inspire and challenge each other, and in the main talks, most representatives arrive, as one does at any auction, with their preferred bids and the extra they will offer if pushed already worked out long in advance……

….How would it be if we all took a very different tack, if the approach of activists was one of ‘practically modelling the world we want to see’? Clearly, one of the challenges among those sent to negotiate is that they have no vision of a post carbon world. This was driven home to me last week on a more local scale, when I interviewed a senior planner in my local council about climate change, Transition and so on as part of this PhD research I am still limping along with. I asked him, as my final question, what his vision was for our area of Devon in a scenario where it had successfully reduced its emissions by 90%. It was clear he had never thought about it. When pushed, all he could come up with was akin to 1950s Britain, rather like a Hovis advert, and when I asked him if it was something that would appeal to him personally, he replied that at his age, the idea had some appeal, but to younger people he thought they would see it as rather dull.

Similarly, for the negotiators at Copenhagen, a world emitting 90% less carbon than it does today is not an attractive proposition. Their mental picture is of denial, austerity, misery, giving up things, losing things, certainly not a future they bounce out of bed each day determined to bring about. It is not a problem exclusive to them. The same is true for many of us. We expect the negotiators to come up with a deal that ’saves the planet’, but hope that we don’t have to make many actual changes to our own lives. This is what, nationally and internationally, makes it so difficult for politicians to offer any meaningful response, the fact that they are, in effect, trying to make unelectable policies electable.

So how about this, as a co-ordinated approach for the next time there is such a gathering, which will again, no doubt, be trailed as ‘the last chance to save the planet’?

We (that is, those who care passionately about climate change and the need for a proportionate response), confound expectations, and stay at home. Using the web-based technologies we now have at our disposal, we co-ordinate an international festival of meaningful change. We stay home and insulate whole streets, create community gardens, work meaningfully with our local authorities to do projects with them, eat local food diets for the duration of the conference, live without cars, insulate our schools, set up an area of the settlement in question as a model for what it would look like transitioned. We start bringing the future that we can imagine but which is still beyond the comprehension of so many, into focus.

We would have enough lead-in to the conference to be able to do something meaningful and which tells a powerful story. We could even chip in what we would have paid to get there towards helping to resource it….

…I didn’t go to Copenhagen. Other people from Transition Network did, […] and their input was well recieved and I’m sure was useful and impactful to those who attended. I’m sure that some dynamic networking took place that will prove to have been very useful.

However, how about next time we take the lead; we show not just from our Powerpoints and placards that another world is possible, but also that by staying home and working with those around us to start practically building a low carbon economy, loft by loft and street by street, that a leaner, lower carbon future could be, and will be, fantastic. Just that once, just for that one conference. The conference that they ran, and no-one came.

Read the full article by Rob Hopkins.

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