First prize in the Copenhagen Greenwash Awards must go to Siemens and Coca-Cola for branding the host city “Hopenhagen”. Siemens set up a faux city, brightly lit in a mendacious green, extolling unsustainable technologies including super-fast electric sports cars. Coke posters proclaimed the mega-corp’s sugar- and exploitation-suffused product as “hope in a bottle!” Hopenhagen makes you sick.
There was never any hope of mitigating climate change or attaining climate justice via the COP15 climate negotiations. The political, economic and social transformation required would have meant world leaders meeting in the Bella Centre consigning both capitalism and themselves to the dustbin.
The second most hopeless slogan belonged to Greenpeace: “Politicians talk, leaders act”. History reveals that national leaders across the world have a solid record of taking action – regularly acting to perpetuate social injustice, war and environmental degradation.
Protests in Copenhagen were predominantly peaceful and creative. In response, police readily handed out what the Danish press delightedly termed “baton soup”. At the slightest provocation, police “kettled” protesters and used tear gas and pepper spray. There were numerous reports of agents-provocateurs fermenting conflict. Police used the “rascal package”, legislation rushed through to justify draconian measures against climate activists, laws previously rejected as anti-terror measures. Stripped of their shoes and jackets, people were imprisoned in wire cages in freezing conditions without access to either toilets or a telephone. With their hands cable-tied behind their backs, some arrestees experienced the indignity and discomfort of wetting themselves.
Meanwhile, most of the mainstream media rewrote the same old stories, caring nothing about the quest for new truths or whether the colour in them came from the protesters’ santa suits or their blood.
Around 1,500 people were arrested during COP15. Arguably the most hopeless indication of all for humanity was that the press reported 60% of Danes approved of the rascal package. So it goes: wonderful, wonderful Hopenhagen.
Qualitatively, if not in terms of limits to temperature rise or concentrations of greenhouse gases, there was hope around COP15. For a start, all those who put their efforts into the creative resistance of Climate Justice Action (CJA) and the alternative Klimaforum09 did a great job: organisers, facilitators, cooks, first-aiders, legal observers.… Everyone.
There were numerous affinity group actions as part of CJA, involving penguins, santas, rebel clowns and academics holding a seminar while blockading a coal-fired power station.
CJA’s bike bloc aimed to “put the fun between your legs” for fast and flexible direct action. Upwards of 200 bicycles must have been reclaimed and repaired. The fact that the police carried out raids looking for “The Resistance Machine’, a pedal-powered leviathan that will live forever in the minds of many – protesters and police alike – is a glimmering tribute to the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. (Dear police, please note, the clue was in the name!)
Christiania, the semi-autonomous anarchist community in the centre of Copenhagen provided inspiring succour and sanctuary for both protesters and participants in its “climate bottom” meeting (an antidote to the “top meeting” of “leaders” in the Bella Centre).
Perhaps the most confounding glimmer of hope was when police beat back people trying to enter the Bella Centre to stage a people’s assembly, and simultaneously beat back delegates quitting the Bella Centre to try to join the assembly. As CJA’s website notes; “We are forced to notice that the theatre of democracy is a broken one as soon as one approaches the core of the power.”
Hoping against hope
For COP16 in Mexico we could consider more radically changing reality. Drawing on all our knowledge and experience, perhaps we should go anywhere but Mexico. If we mobilised 100,000 people to act more locally in trans-local solidarity, to provide much needed help to eco-villages, social centres, refugee camps, peace camps and other projects that could stand out as good examples of just environmental and social practice, well, what a wonderful world it could be.