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Hungry in Copenhagen

Posted by Bill McKibben at Dec 17, 2009 10:45 AM |
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Bill McKibben: A day of fasting isn't the only reason why activists in Copenhagen are hungry today.

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Hungry in Copenhagen

Protest signs stacked in Copenhagen. Photo courtesy of WWF France.

I'm sitting here in the crowded but wonderful 350.org office near Copenhagen's Central Square, surrounded by young people from America, New Zealand, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Fiji—all hunched over laptops, busy organizing. (International youth culture: Gmail). We're fighting to the last minute of this crazy conference, and then beyond.

The mood may be a touch more subdued than usual, both because the conference is going badly (more on that in a minute) and because none of us are eating today—we're taking part in a symbolic one day fast, with people from around the world. The enthusiasm for this gesture overwhelmed us—when we sent out news on our website last night that a small group of fasters who had been going without food for 40 days were asking for others to join them today, it didn't take long before more than 1,100 people had signed up. They've been sending in thoughts and reflections all day to the 350.org website:

  • Mike Grenville: Everything makes a difference. We are all more connected than is obvious from the surface. As your stomach growls send your thoughts to those making decisions that represent your country.
  • Chloe Phalan: I will fast with you on Thursday. It is a pittance compared to what so many of you are doing, but if nothing else it will focus my compassion towards those whose hunger is not a choice. Fight on!
  • Mohammed Yahia: I just had a little daughter and right now she's 55 days old.
    I want her to grow up in a world where she doesn't have to fight for her very existence.
    I want her to be able to grow up and live a happy, fruitful life like I did. And I want to see her grandchildren, and make sure they have a good fulfilling life too. That is why I'm fasting today.

I wish I could say that words like these were penetrating the conference six miles away at the Bella Center. (By this point, almost every NGO representative has been kicked out of the conference, which among other things deprives the poorer countries of the volunteer staff they need to help make their case). A few heads of state are saying similar things: about an hour ago, the prime minister of Tuvalu ended his remarks like this: "We just have to prepare ourselves for the worst. We have no where to run to. We must prepare ourselves individually, family wise, so that they know what to do when a cyclone comes or the hurricane blows. There is no mountain we can climb up. We just have to face it. And that’s why we’re making noises around the world."

It got some applause, but the powers that be—the United States, especially—are busying themselves pressuring one country after another to agree to a truly terrible treaty. How do we know it's terrible? Because we're paying attention to numbers, not rhetoric. Two floors up from our office the amazing folks at Climate Interactive are using their nifty software program to constantly recalculate the promises one country after another keeps making. They're using the scientific target as a reference—by now, everyone including the U.N. 's chief climate scientist has agreed that we need to head towards 350 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to have a chance of staving off truly devastating climate change. Currently, the proposal under negotiation would yield a world that in 2100 would have 770 parts per million CO2—which would be a working definition of hell.

So on we fight. Clearly we won't get what we need out of this conference, and the battle will have to continue. We have a lot of folks willing to make sure that happens. They're hungry today—hungry for justice, hungry for survival, hungry for a future. 


Bill McKibben authorBill McKibben wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Bill is the founder of 350.org and a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. His most recent books are Deep Economy, Fight Global Warming Now, and The Bill McKibben Reader.

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YES! Magazine's ongoing coverage of the U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen.

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