Why you shouldn’t go to Copenhagen

Posted on November 25, 2009

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A quick note before i begin: I'm currently learning a hell of a lot about energy and environment in a short amount of time so some of these ideas are based on knowledge that hasn't really had time to be properly digested. You are more than welcome to (constructively) critique. I also apologize in advance for the inevitable spelling and grammar mistakes.

So i was thinking about the copenhagen talks and what one may do about them.
I've been developing a better feel for the negociating process, i realise now i simply had no idea of the scale and interconnectedness of it all.

I feel it's important to stress that copenhagen isn't a one-off decision making event, its a step on a protracted process of negociation that's been going on for years. I say this because I didn't really appreciate this until recently, a simple result of the fact that media will obviously focus on a singular event they can turn their cameras and pens at.
Similarly the position of each party has to be seen in the wider context of their domestic and international position.

Of course that doesn't mean this particular conference should be dismissed in any way. The media attention puts participating countries in the spotlight as well as their respective positions, making it much harder to wriggle out of commitments. Polticians will be under a very bright spotlight and they'll be keen to look good.

But then why would i say you shouldn't go? Surely a politician under scrutiny is a great campaign target? This is true however, decision makers are beholden to their home populations, not others. What i mean by this is that a poltician does not have any responsibility to people not from his or her country. To them a crowd of campaigners from all over the world is just a crowd, a disturbance. However a similar gathering at home is a much more pressing issue – these are the people who will decide if they are re-elected.

I feel that an international show of support for real change in copenhagen is a great image, but i have serious doubts as to how much influence this will have on the negociators themselves. Imagine you are a negociator at copenhagen, and outside your fenced compound are thousands of protestors? What do you feel? Probably fear, or irritation. And why you leave you feel relief: that pressure is gone. But imagine the contrary. There are relatively few protestors outside the complex. However back home the streets are full of people demanding change, people who are normally on the sidelines joining in. Your national government is on your back saying "do something, or we're in the shit". And when you leave, you know its those people you'll have to face. It seems this second scenario would be much more of a motivation to leave the negotiating table with something to show for it.

A further reason I would advise against joining copenhagen protests its that its going to be a massive shitstorm, in which is seems unlikely that any rational message can be expressed. The exception is of course the NGOs who have access to the conference itself: if you can join one of these that would be fantastic (and if you need any energy info, get in touch!).
But there will inevitably be a massive contingent of angry people – not surprising considering the frustration of a modern democracy ("vote for what you want so we can ignore you in full legitimacy" – but that's another post). But angry people are rarely convincing, and it would take a serious head injury to convince me that "destroying the system" is going to do any good to anyone.

I frankly see being surrounded by people with more violent anger than coherant ideas being more depressing than anything else. This is a topic i feel strongly about. Tackling any humanitarian issue will make many people angry very quickly at the sheer level of greed, selfishness, incompetance, and general stupidity, on top of the frustration with ones own limited power. I feel it often, and yes i'd often like to go bash some heads together. But the key, i feel to a very important part of our humanity, is to move beyond that. To halt our first instincts and emotions, and consider the issue rationally to find the most effective way of tackling it. To be intelligent, in short. To lash out at the world and confuse being arrested with being effective is not a productive path.
Actions in a campaign must be well considered, all through. Maybe the deliberate destruction of civil society is a solution to climate change. In fact is it, technically, inducing something resembling the credit crunch times 100 would see consumption (and emissions) plummet. Along with life expectancy, among other things. No one can choose the revolutionary anarchist path and pretend that this isn't a likely outcome. But the fact is that for many of those who choose it that's not the point: they know, somewhere, that success is exceedingly unlikely, but then they have an excuse to hit people in moral impunity.

Anyway, that was a bit more of a digression than i intended. In short, I believe going to Copenhagen as a protester is probably not as effective as campaigning in your country, though if you have good reasons to disagree i'm more than happy to hear them – comments box is just below 🙂

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