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Fast for Climate Justice

Now a month into their hunger strike, activists are hoping for serious commitment from the delegates in Copenhagen.
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Climate Justice Fast participants, photo by Diane Perlman

Anna Keenan (center) and other participants in the Climate Justice Fast met with other youth activists at the Conference of Youth, held December 5 and 6 in Copenhagen.

Photo by Diane Perlman for YES! Magazine

On November 6, I began, with six others around the world, the Climate Justice Fast—an international hunger strike calling for immediate, courageous, and moral action on climate change.

We have refused all food and drunk only water since this time, now over a month ago. We have since been joined by hundreds of others from over 20 nations—including Romania, Honduras, and the Central African Republic—who are fasting for shorter lengths of time in solidarity with us.

Our fast began on the last day of the Barcelona round of United Nations climate talks, the last day of formal negotiations before the Copenhagen climate summit. All manner of political drama had occurred; at one stage, African nations walked out of the negotiating room in reaction to the lack of commitments from wealthy nations.

Sadly, the U.N. negotiations were not then, and are not now, on track to save the future of my generation—and all future generations—from climate change. I am 24 years old today, and in the year 2050 I will turn 65 and retire.

2050 is a benchmark year for climate change, by which time science tells us we need to have reduced carbon emissions by at least 80 percent worldwide. In practical terms, this astounding figure means that by 2050—the end of my working lifetime—we must have phased out, entirely, both fossil fuel use and deforestation.

As Al Gore said in his film An Inconvenient Truth, the best science, technology and economics available tells us that achieving such a future is possible, and even affordable—but the only thing lacking is political will. Three years after the release of his film, it is still accurate.

When we honestly assess the politics of our current situation, we can plainly see that humanity is currently nowhere near on track to meeting this goal of sustainability.

Anna Keenan in Bali

Anna Keenan during the international climate negotations that took place in Bali, Indonesia in December, 2007.

Photo by Robert van Waarden

Instead, governments, business, and indeed, citizens worldwide are still working within a paradigm that encourages eternal growth on a finite planet and which sees excess and over-consumption as a virtue rather than a vice.

In response, I, and all involved in the Climate Justice Fast, have chosen to engage, through fasting, in a deeply personal and moral call to governments, to boardrooms, and to families, urging them all to reflect, to re-examine their goals, and to commit to creating a sustainable future.

If we are to solve climate change, we will need a total, global values shift that places sustainability, instead of GDP growth, in a position of top priority and that rewards sustainable, ethical consumption levels. We need to learn to be happy with enough, instead of glorifying ever-higher personal wealth.

This U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen provides us with a remarkable opportunity to create that values shift, and to start its percolation through global political systems. We simply cannot go on consuming, pretending that there are no consequences.

One month ago, when we began our hunger strike, Agnes Kushanl, a Zambian aid worker with Cafod, said to us that she was very inspired by the move that we have taken. Referring to the situation in her home country, she said, "This year, I have seen people dying in my country, without food, because of the failed rains. It´s really, really bad back home."

Such consequences of climate change can be expected to get worse if we continue on a business-as-usual, high-consumption path. These are the consequences—raw and human—that are driving and motivating our hunger strike.

It is our hope that the Climate Justice Fast will inspire other activists to higher levels of climate activism that will move the climate debate beyond the intellectual and political—stirring people´s emotions and touching hearts.

Four of the long-term fasters will be present inside the U.N. climate summit for the duration of the climate talks, engaging with negotiators and politicians. We will also been joined by a number of others who will also fast for the two weeks of the U.N. talks, among them Deepa Gupta, founder of the Indian Youth Climate Network.

The long-term fasters will attempt to continue fasting until at least the end of the U.N. summit on December 18—over 43 days in total. The circumstances under which the hunger strike will end are not yet decided.


Anna KeenanAnna Keenan wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Anna is a climate activist from Brisbane, Australia. She also attended the U.N. climate meetings in Bali, Indonesia and Poznań, Poland.

Interested? See more of YES! Magazine's coverage of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change here.

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