Will Copenhagen Catalyze a Movement?

Grace Lee Boggs

Climate-change activists at Copenhagen will argue that, far from solving the climate crisis, carbon-trading represents the unprecedented privatization of the atmosphere… Not only will these market-based solutions’ fail to solve the climate crisis, but the failure will dramatically deepen poverty and inequality… 

The struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people.

But activists at Copenhagen won’t simply say no to all this. They will aggressively advance solutions that simultaneously reduce emissions and narrow inequality. Unlike at previous summits, where alternatives seemed like an afterthought, in Copenhagen, the alternatives will take center stage.” –Naomi Klein, Copenhagen: Seattle Grows Up,” The Nation, Nov. 112009)

Ten years ago, the movement against corporate globalization and market-based economics took off when 50,000 Americans, including steelworkers, women, people of color, environmentalists and just plain citizens, closed down the WTO at the Battle of Seattle.”

Since 1999, this movement has been gaining depth and breadth in response to skyrocketing economic inequality, the catastrophic breakdown/​meltdown of the world and American economy, and greenhouse emissions that threaten to extinguish all life on Earth.

Yet the U.S. Congress and President Obama, always more accommodating to right-wing than liberal and left forces, continue to offer market-based solutions like carbon-trading, while the only other alternative seems to be more government regulation.

Meanwhile, however, at the grassroots more democratic and participatory alternatives are being created or explored.

Naomi Klein cites some of these in her Nation article. They include local sustainable agriculture, which is bursting out all over; smaller, decentralized projects like those in Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland and many other cities; leaving fossil fuels in the ground as Peruvian peasant communities are doing; climate-debt reparations” by rich countries to poor ones.

For example, the city-state of Bremen, Germany is spending about $1 million a year to help its partners in Pune, India, become more energy efficient by giving them digesters that convert local waste products and plant matter into burnable biogas. This is the form that Solidarity” is taking in the 21st century, as contrasted with Marx’s 19th century Workers of the World Unite.”

At Copenhagen some activists will also engage in non-violent civil disobedience. The main aim of this disobedience is not to influence those in power. It is to arouse the conscience of the people, especially of the American people who have been and still are mainly responsible for the greenhouse gases which are threatening all life on earth, just as they have been responsible for racism since our founding.

The struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not only a struggle against corporate polluters. It is a struggle for the hearts and minds of the American people who are constantly being distracted from the life and death questions of war and global warming by reality” shows, football, and the search for bargains. It is a struggle to help the American people recognize that in living more simply so that others can simply live, we can grow our souls instead of a polluting, life threatening economy.

Movement building today requires actions that can bring about this kind of radical value shift or transformation.

Fifty years ago, a relatively few activists practicing non-violent civil disobedience in the struggle against racism gave birth to the civil rights movement, which in turn inspired all the great humanizing movements of the 1960s.

Last March, writers and activists Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry organized a mass act of civil disobedience against a coal-fired power plant in Washington, D.C., near the White House. 2,500 demonstrators joined them from around the country. To preempt the action, a promise was made to convert the plant from coal to natural gas.

But there remain more than 600 coal-burning plants that need to be closed down by acts of civil disobedience, just as 50 years ago there were thousands of segregated lunch counters, swimming pools, libraries and other public places.

This article is reprinted from the weekly newsletter of the James & Grace Lee Boggs Center, in which Grace Lee Boggs’ weekly column Living for Change” appears.

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Grace Lee Boggs is a writer and lifelong activist whose career spans more than 60 years. Born in 1915, she is the author of Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (with her husband James Boggs), Women and the Movement to Build a New America and Living for Change: An Autobiography.
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