COP21, the climate change summit, has begun in Paris. The official website isn’t working (as of Dec 1, 6pm); Obama’s seemingly “optimistic.” This is indeed, perhaps, the last chance for major action under the UN on this issue.
In the Guardian, Naomi Klein focuses on the fact that the French government has decided “to ban protests, marches and other ‘outdoor activities’,” a decision she calls “disturbing,” precisely because “it reflects the fundamental inequity of the climate crisis itself.” Klein points out that such summits are rare occasions that allow for the voices of those most hard hit by climate change to be heard: “That’s why Pacific islanders and Inuit hunters and low-income people of colour from places like New Orleans travel for thousands of miles to attend.” Klein is not ignoring the horrific November 13 events that shook Paris; rather, she argues that the French government “needed to determine whether it had the will and capacity to host the whole summit – with full participation from civil society, including in the streets,” and that if “it could not, it should have delayed and asked another country to step in.” Klein’s article reminds us that not acting on climate change is a form of violence: “Some of the violence is grindingly slow: rising seas that gradually erase whole nations, and droughts that kill many thousands. Some of the violence is terrifyingly fast: storms with names such as Katrina and Haiyan that steal thousands of lives in a single roiling event. When governments and corporations knowingly fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence.”
With Jason Box, Klein penned another piece in the New Yorker, which opens with a similar emphasis: “While many politicians pay lip service to the existential urgency of the climate crisis, as soon as another more immediate crisis rears its head—war, a market shock, an epidemic—climate reliably falls off the political map.” Box and Klein ask: “What if, instead of being pushed aside in the name of war, climate action took center stage as the planet’s best hope for peace?” They cite the case of Syria, which right before civil war began, experienced its worst drought ever (as Kerry acknowledged). The authors reconnect the immediate violence of terrorism and the slower violence of global warming, pointing notably to the recent report according to which, by the end of the century, many places in the Middle East will be experiencing temperatures that are quite simply “intolerable” to human beings. In other words, and increasingly as we go into the 21st century, it will be increasingly necessary to think global warming and global politics at the same time. This is a very useful and poignant message, related to Dipesh Chakrabarty’s emphasis that, in the humanities, we must reconnect geological and human time. Lest anyone think “OK, yes, in theory I agree, but just for the time being terrorism must be our first concern,” Box and Klein remind us that such thinking has already happened before: in 2008-09, Obama had said that his presidency would be the moment when climate change would be a primary concern—and then the financial crisis happened: “By the time the world met at the Copenhagen climate-change conference, at the end of 2009, global attention had already shifted away from climate to bank bailouts, and the deal was widely considered to be a disaster.” In other words, there is always something more immediately pressing than climate change—or so at least it is too easy to argue.
One fabulous response to the suppression of voices in Paris is Brandalism, responsible for “600 fake adverts [that] denounce hypocrisy of the COP21.” The official press release explains that “over 600 artworks critiquing the corporate takeover of the COP21 climate talks were installed in advertising spaces across Paris this weekend -ahead of the United Nations summit beginning Monday 30 November.” It’s a pretty amazing selection of images. See a video here
Meanwhile, in a different stratosphere altogether, as reported by Wired, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and other rich tech leaders are getting together to start a new partnership called the the Breakthrough Energy Coalition: “Through the partnership, the group’s members have committed to use a substantial portion of their hundreds of billions of dollars in collective net worth to invest in early stage clean energy companies.” In a video, Bill Gates explains how he sees it (which I would personally summarize as “we can have our cake and eat it”).
As I write, the front page of the New York Times details several aspects of the COP21 talks:
-Obama seems (in some ways) close to Klein’s main point here, as articles suggest titled: “Obama Defends Presence at Climate Change Talks While Syria War Rages” (read here); and “As Obama Pushes Climate Deal, Republicans Move to Block Emissions Rules” (read here)
-the page of “latest updates” makes it clear that the real work begins, the nitty gritty, once leaders like Obama and Putin have left (read here); another part of this update page discusses how “Peruvian Indians Travel to Paris to Fight for Their Existence,” again relating back to one of Klein’s main points.
-the NYTimes also provides a useful set of summaries here
Well, the debates are open. Let’s see what the next days will bring.
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