Climate Activism: The Next Superpower

Activism is the most inspiring solution to come from a week of U.N. and G20 negotiations.

Posted by Madeline Ostrander at Sep 25, 2009 06:25 PM |
Climate Activism: The Next Superpower

Demonstrators gather in Hobart, Tasmania for a Global Wake-Up Call for climate change, organized by the coalition TckTckTck.

World leaders did not leave international meetings in Pittsburgh and New York this week with ambitious or unified plans in place to reduce global carbon emissions, and leading climate experts aren't optimistic that countries will be able to broker the agreement needed at the U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in December to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.

But there is one inspiring solution that came out of this week—not from within the halls of the U.N., but on the streets and in activist events around the world.

Ten thousand protesters gathered outside the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh this week, and thousands more around the world phoned up their political leaders in a synchronized "Global Wake-Up Call" for climate change organized by the coalition TckTckTck. A protest may not sound like a way to reduce carbon, stop a hurricane, or stem a rising flood, but many climate experts say that it will take a groundswell of public pressure to give world leaders the momentum to negotiate effective climate deals.

Some political leaders are even asking for the public to speak up. At a panel that followed the New York premiere of The Age of Stupid, a docudrama that portrays a future world ravaged by climate change, British energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband appealed to the audience for "more public mobilization," particularly in the United States, where contentious climate legislation will face an uphill battle in the Senate beginning next week. The star-studded premiere was attended by several international leaders and negotiators, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who also made a plea for citizen activism. "Good leaders are good followers," Annan said. "If we shout loud enough, they may follow."

According to climate organizer Kumi Naidoo, such activism isn't just about protest; it's about asserting political power. "This isn't a protest," Naidoo says. "We're looking to have a proactive influence on the decision-making process. The size and breadth of the TckTckTck coalition demonstrates that this is something that leaders should listen to."

Naidoo's comment recalls New York Times writer Patrick Tyler's now-famous 2003 claim: "there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion."

This week the "citizen superpower" helped defeat an amendment to a budget bill in the Senate, proposed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, that would have robbed the EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Environmental groups, Alaska Natives, and the auto industry mobilized to oppose the amendment.

It will likely take a lot of push from the "citizen superpower" to create enough leverage for a successor treaty to Kyoto this December. Organizers with the group are now gearing up for a series of activist events on October 24 that they hope will create international political momentum.

You can read about highlights of the U.N. climate summit here, find out more about the week's activist events here.

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